Saturday, January 18, 2014

2013 Wrap Party

Welcome to my second annual year-end wrap-up post, where I go beyond my rankings (posted on Friday/Thursday) and single out some other noteworthy moments in The Cinema of Vancetastic in 2013. I'll more or less follow the template I established last year in the inaugural run of this piece. I said I'll go beyond my rankings, but I'll also use them as a jumping off point (and often mention them in parentheses after the movie title) in order to contextualize my feelings on the year gone by.

Three who had a good year

Nicholas Hoult - Twenty thirteen was the year that they really tried to make the kid from About a Boy happen ... and I'm one of the only ones who really bought into it. Hoult appeared in two of my surprise loves of the year, both of which occupied spots in my top ten for an unexpectedly long time: Warm Bodies (#12) and Jack the Giant Slayer (#16). Hoult may have been incidental in some ways to the success of those films, but I know in terms of Warm Bodies in particular, his Young Zombie in Love oozed the kind of starry-eyed humanism that made that film such a pleasure for me. Neither critics nor audiences were particularly kind to either film, but don't overlook them -- Bodies is directed by Jonathan Levine, who got a lot of critical love (though not from me) for 50/50, and Slayer director Bryan Singer should have earned your benefit of the doubt by now. Holt's innocent yet determined quality makes him a star on the rise, and I can't wait to see where he goes from here.

James Franco - Even those who didn't like Spring Breakers (#7) admitted that Franco brought something unusual and wonderful to the table, but this was also a year where I was impressed by him in Oz the Great and Powerful (#14) (he did not phone this one in, unlike in Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and where he directed As I Lay Dying (#50), an extremely challenging adaptation of a text written by none other than the unfilmmable William Faulkner. In short, this was the year I really began to appreciate Franco's crazy versatility, his desire to do just about anything and his success at just about everything he does. Let's also not forget that he allowed his public image to be skewered in This is the End (#30); unlike what Seth Rogen was doing (writing himself a character that every other character seemed to love) and what Michael Cera was doing (going over the top in giving us something other than what we expect from him), Franco allowed the jokes at his expense to hit close to home about the real James Franco. Then again, we may not know the real James Franco, and that's cause for further fascination.

Carey Mulligan - Inside Llewyn Davis (#3) is wonderful for any number of reasons (some of which I have yet to explore, as it was the second-to-last film I saw before I closed my rankings), but high up among those is Carey Mulligan's Jean, a precise creation composed of frustration, spurned love, delicate beauty and buried impulses toward kindness. To put it another way, she's luminous, looking particularly so under the magical lens of DP Bruno Delbonnel. The accessible yet otherworldly quality Mullligan brings with her also did wonders for her in The Great Gatsby (#15), where we do truly believe that Jay Gatsby would build an empire from the ground up just to win back her tragically fickle attentions. I just noticed that Mulligan is filming an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd -- which I happen to be currently reading -- so now I'm infinitely more excited for that project as well. Quite simply, Mulligan's "got it."

Honorable mentions: Michael Cera (Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012, This is the End), Harrison Ford (42, Ender's Game, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues)

Three who had a bad year

Jim Carrey - Carrey was only asked to play second fiddle in 2013 movies -- that may be the current stage of his career -- but he utterly failed to elevate two movies that really could have used it. In The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (#127), he plays a David Blaine-type rock star magician whose main gimmick is to actually subject himself to horrible agony and perhaps permanent disfigurement. He was my lifeboat in this terrible movie, but he wasn't seaworthy. And in Kick-Ass 2 (#111) he was a commando superhero drowning under at least three layers of shtick, which didn't work either. The reason I'm including this longtime favorite of mine on this list, though, was because he tried to publicly distance himself from the violence of Kick-Ass 2 in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school. While on the surface that's a commendable stance, it reeks of hypocrisy -- why else would Carrey have gotten matched up with this movie if he didn't dig the comic book ultraviolence of the original Kick-Ass?

Steve Carell - I really liked Steve Carell on The Office and he seems like a really nice person, but his persona in the movies flops for me far more often than it succeeds. He had two such flops in 2013: the aforementioned The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and The Way, Way Back (#89). The choices Carell makes as Burt Wonderstone are ill-advised at best; because the movie starts with a flashback showing him bullied as a kid, it's all the more of a dumb decision to play Wonderstone as an egotistical boob who is completely out of touch with the common man. Even with the character's inevitable personality rehabilitation, he never becomes any more likable. Then Carell was more or less the embodiment of why I didn't really buy The Way, Way Back -- his "bad boyfriend" is a false series of exaggerations. Why would the main character's mother ever go for him?

Naomi Watts - It's really saying something that the "best" of three Watts performances in 2013 was the critically reviled biopic Diana (#86). I couldn't full understand why that movie got such a bad rap -- though I can't say the same for Adoration (#96) and Movie 43 (#126). I was momentarily tricked by the beautiful coastal New South Wales setting of Adoration (called Adore in the U.S.) into thinking I might like the movie, before ultimately realizing that the two male leads couldn't act, and the whole "sleeping with your best friend's son" motif was pretty icky. At least Watts had her partner Liev Schrieber along with her for the Movie 43 bit involving parents who replicate a real high school environment when home schooling their child. Call it a weird coincidence that this also involves icky sexual behavior between the 45-year-old Watts and a teenage boy.

Dishonorable mentions: Stephen Merchant (Movie 43, I Give it a Year), Rose Byrne (The Internship, I Give it a Year)

You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here

Last year I used this spot to discuss a phenomenon in the movies from the previous year as a short essay, just any random thing I wanted to stick in here. I think I'll do that again.

Two differently highly ranked movies captured something that I realize is something I'm really interested in: that melancholy moment after the lights go up at a party. Whole sections of Spring Breakers were about that, but there was one two- or three-minute section in The Great Gatsby that also deals with it. The good times, so recently accessible and current, are now just a fond memory.

One of the songs Skrillex wrote for the terrific Spring Breakers soundtrack (my favorite of the year) is like an anthem to leaving the party. It's called "Ride Home," and appropriately, it plays each time one of the four central spring breakers finally concedes that the party is over and endures the gloomy ritual of riding the bus home. It's a perfect "staring out the window and remembering" song, and if you don't know it, see/hear below:

In The Great Gatsby, the scene comes at about the 20-minute mark, when Nick Carraway's first Gatsby party breaks up and people stumble over passed-out bodies and empty champagne bottles toward the exit. Something about the way Baz Luhrmann stages this scene gives it the same kind of melancholy as "Ride Home" in Spring Breakers

If I were blessed with the skills to make one of those supercuts, which edits together movie moments behind a music score for the whole internet to see, I'd probably set mine to "Ride Home" and find all my favorite movie moments involving people leaving a party. "Leaving a party" can be an emotion unto itself, and I appear to be especially interested in seeing it dramatized. 

Filling the various buckets

Everyone has genres they gravitate toward, and I am no exception. But because I like to have my year-end list function as a representative sample of all the movies that were released in the previous year, I like to make sure I've gotten in enough types of movies that are not necessarily in my wheelhouse. Or maybe are in my wheelhouse, but aren't publicized extensively so they take a little seeking out.

Okay, so let's see how I filled these buckets:

Foreign language films (8): Beyond the Hills (Romania), In the House (France), The Silence (Germany), No (Chile), Drug War (China), The Act of Killing (Indonesia), Something in the Air (France), Post Tenebras Lux (Mexico). Last year: 13. How I did: Not great. I'm going to say that my move to Australia further confused my sense of which films were coming out in which years. However, my #1 overall was a foreign film, so there's that.  

Documentaries (7): Stories We Tell, A Band Called Death, Twenty Feet From Stardom, Blackfish, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, The Act of Killing, Salinger. Last year: 6. How I did: Well, better than last year, I guess. The unusual part is that I saw five of these seven in the theater. Most years, it would be reversed, but being able to see a movie every Monday at Cinema Nova for only $6 freed me up to plunk down money for things I might not otherwise have seen in the theater. I should note that two of these were documentaries I snuck into after seeing a fiction film. 

Movies featuring primarily African-Americans (8): Gimme the Loot, Fruitvale Station, A Band Called Death, The Butler, Twenty Feet from Stardom, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, Newlyweeds, A Haunted House. Last year: 4. How I did: Double last year, which is pretty good, considering that fewer such movies are available in Australia than they are in the U.S. And this without having the opportunity to see 12 Years a Slave yet. 

Chick flicks (4): Safe Haven, About Time, The Big Wedding, I Give it a Year. Last year: 5. How I did: Poorly. Is this even worth having as a category? So many movies appealing to women are a hybrid involving some other genre these days. 

Animation (6): Monsters University, Frozen, The Croods, Epic, Planes, Escape From Planet Earth. Last year: 6. How I did: Same as last year. Among films I wanted to see, only Turbo did I miss. (For some reason, I never formulated any sense of anticipation for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, even though I liked the first one quite a bit.) 

Horror (8): Berberian Sound Studio, Maniac, Mama, The Conjuring, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The ABCs of Death, Evil Dead, The Purge. Last year: 7. How I did: Pretty good, considering. I don't mean to imply that horror is not in my wheelhouse, because I do love a great horror. There are just so few great horrors that I consider myself wary enough of the genre to avoid most of its entries.

Best non-2013 movies of the year

Naturally, I watched a lot of movies last year that didn't come out in 2013. These were the ten best, in alphabetical order.

Ace in the Hole (1950, Billy Wilder) - This just might be my favorite Billy Wilder movie, which is an absolutely ridiculous thing to say -- and tells you just how good this movie is.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996, Robert Rodriguez) - I have no idea why I always turned my nose up at this. It's incredibly fun.

The Interrupters (2011, Steve James) - Inestimably powerful documentary about street violence in Chicago.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936, Frank Capra) - Capra, man.

Mystery Train (1989, Jim Jarmusch) - After all these years, I have finally fallen in love with Jim Jarmusch. 

Playtime (1967, Jacques Tati) - What delightful absurdity.

Prince of the City (1981, Sidney Lumet) - Proof that Lumet really brings it even in lesser known movies.

Rocky (1976, John G. Avildsen) - My most embarrassing unseen movie is now finally seen.

Smoke Signals (1998, Chris Eyre) - This story of Native American fathers and sons caught me by surprise and left me a blubbery mess.

Solaris (1972, Andrei Tarkovsky) - So, so, so much better than Steven Soderbergh's remake. 

Lightning round

Best conclusion of a trilogy: Before Midnight
Worst conclusion of a trilogy: The Hangover Part III
Oldest movie: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (made in 2006)
Newest movie: Her (made in the future, I think)
Low ranking I'll get the most guff about: The World's End
Low ranking I'll get the least guff about: Movie 43
High ranking I'll get the most guff about: Oz the Great and Powerful
High ranking I'll get the least guff about: Inside Llewyn Davis
Movie I least expected to see in the theater: 2 Guns
Movie I least expected to see on video: The World's End
Worst movie by a person I really like: Katie Aselton (Black Rock)
Best movie by a person I really don't like: Michael Bay (Pain & Gain)
Director I'm writing off: Seth Gordon (Identity Thief)
Director I'm welcoming back into the fold: Joel & Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Best first third of a movie: The Place Beyond the Pines
Worst last third of a movie: The Place Beyond the Pines
Least original good movie: The Conjuring
Most original bad movie: Upside Down
Most accurate title: Struck by Lightning
Least accurate title: John Dies at the End
Worst title for a good movie: Prince Avalanche
Best title for a bad movie: Only God Forgives
Highest ranked best picture nominee: Gravity (#9)
Lowest ranked best picture nominee: American Hustle (#53)
Unseen best picture nominees: Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street (ugh)

Okay, enough of this nonsense! On to 2014.

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