Corey’s Top 10 Films of 2013

Looking back at all that 2013 had to offer, I find myself hard-pressed to really narrow down a top 10. The summer offered some stellar blockbusters in the form of Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim, and more. And there was of course the sneaky late releases that offer perhaps the premium cream of the crop. I’m talking to you The Wolf of Wall Street. For the sake of making my job here manageable, I’ve decided to only even consider movies that I’ve seen. To start, here’s a few of what I would assume to be major contenders (for me at least) that I haven’t had the pleasure of viewing just yet: Inside Llewyn Davis, Mud, Much Ado About Nothing, The Way Way BackBlue is the Warmest ColorCaptain Phillips, 12 Years a Slave, and shamefully quite a few others.

That being said, I now present to you what I considered not necessarily the “best” films of the year but certainly the ones that captured my attention both before and during my viewing and ultimately withstood the test of time and remained my favorites.

Note: where applicable, click the title of each film to see related reviews and other written materials.

Before Midnight

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In 1995, the characters Jesse and Celine met on a train in Austria and spend on magical night traipsing about in Vienna in Before Sunrise. In the 2004 sequel titled Before Sunset, the estranged pair meet again almost a decade later in a Parisian book store, where Jesse is a famous writer and Celine, his long lost muse. Yet in 2013, they are again different people and the overwhelmingly romantic tones of the previous two films are largely turned upside down in Before Midnight, where the filmmaker Richard Linklater seems to have wizened up to the realities of life. Midnight is far from a cynical movie and instead tries to take a no-nonsense look at the consequences of Jesse and Celine’s decisions over the past eighteen years. The premise is that Jesse and Celine get a romantic evening in a small Greek town apart from their adorable twin daughters to just reconnect. What instead happens is one of their typical emotionally wrought conversations that instead of being grounded in high-minded hopes is now focused on, I hate to say it again, real life. Before Midnight is beautiful in its simplicity and a must see for any Linklater or “Before” fan, but to be honest it might not be worth much as a stand alone film.

The World’s End

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How in the world did we never wind up reviewing The World’s End? The third film in what is called The Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy that included Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End offers a hilarious and intelligent mock-horror comedy that improves upon all the best qualities that made the previous two movies so enjoyable. As always, we have on the production line Simon Pegg playing our star and Nick Frost playing his best friend with Edgar Wright as the energetic director. Put the three of these guys together and I’ll watch the movie without question.

Anyway, enough fanboyism: The World’s End follows Gary King (Simon Pegg) as he drags his four best friends back to their hometown after twenty years to recreate an epic, failed pub crawl that includes 12 pubs and finishes at – you guessed it – The World’s End. What starts out as a depressing attempt of an addict to recreate his glory days quickly gets engulfed by an alien invasion. Not only are the five friends drunk and pushing into their late thirties, but they also have to make do with ghoulish human android clones and tech-based alien overlords. The whole thing is a bit ridiculous, but delightfully so. If I were actually ranking these top 10 films of the year, I seriously might consider putting this one at the very top.

PS. Film Crit Hulk offered a fantastic analysis of the movie here.

The Place Beyond the Pines

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The Place Beyond the Pines is at once both peculiar and horrifying all while feeling like a few very legitimate slices of life. It’s told in three acts, with the first centering on Luke (Ryan Gosling) as he goes from circus motorcycle rider to bank robber. At the end of the first, act once a particular crime is committed, we transition over to Avery (Bradley Cooper), a cop who becomes the wounded local hero for shameful reasons. Then, years later, we reconnect with the teenage sons of both Luke and Avery as the two young man strangely develop a friendship.

The story structure is very interesting; it feels less like three acts and more like three well-paced, tightly packed mini-movies that happen to overlap just a bit. The camera just sort of wanders on to the next subject when the timing is right. Next to Drive, this stands as one of Gosling absolute best performances. It winds up being a bit of a shame that he overshadows the more than commendable Bradley Cooper, whose acting recently in fan-favorites like The Silver Linings Playbook has been quite good. The Place Beyond the Pines is a visually stunning film in which every character struggles with their own conflicts to the point that even when you want to root for them, you don’t really know if you should. And when you finally find out exactly what that “place beyond the pines” is, well, you’ll probably poop your pants about as much as I did.

Gravity

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Directed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, Gravity is a space-based science thriller that took me by surprise. It wouldn’t be fair to call it science fiction, like some people do, because the entire aim of this movie is to walk us through a perfectly plausible slew of perilous circumstances that endanger the lives of astronauts that are in Earth’s orbit. I call it perfectly plausible, but then again physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson did hilariously troll the movie and debunk much of its “science.”

For some reason I didn’t have much interest in Gravity, yet despite my vocal lack of interest, I found myself at a 3D IMAX showing and was oh so far from being disappointed. I think my initial luke warm feelings had a lot to do with my zealous interest in science fiction, particularly the likes of Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Mass Effect, and Halo. Unless it’s Armageddon, the story behind a realistic fictional “space movie” just doesn’t do it for me. The story just feels very “blah” to me. But the point of Gravity isn’t to compel you with any kind of human driven story: Gravity is an absolute spectacle and thrill ride that will literally have you on the edge of your seat with awe and horror.

What can be scarier than orbiting the Earth in a space suit trying to make repairs when a nearby station explodes and hurdles shrapnel towards you moving at several hundred miles per hour? That’s what you watch Sandra Bullock do for 90 minutes as she dodges shards of metal, gasps for air, and struggles to literally and figuratively hold on for dear life. Take this movie for what it is with no expectations for a grand story or compelling characters and you will never be disappointed.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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I had some pretty luke warm feelings towards the first Hunger Games movie, but please do also consider Ric’s thoughts. The film was enjoyable enough and followed the book (almost too closely), but it didn’t really wow me like the book did. Reflecting back, I think it had everything to do with the director, Gary Ross. Seabiscuit and Pleasantville are the only two other films he’s directed, and from what I remember from those two movies, they didn’t really capture romantic relationships particularly well. This would explain why, despite Jennifer Lawrence’s undeniable acting prowess, the first Hunger Games movie left me feeling…hungry for more. It would seem that perhaps Gary Ross completely misunderstood the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle.

Reeling it back in, I have to say that the new director, Francis Lawrence – along with the rest of the cast and crew – have improved upon everything for the sequel. Catching Fire is fun, funny, dramatic, and so full of tension and action that it’s nearly impossible to not enjoy. Above all else, it finally found a footing on how to show the nature of Katniss and Peeta’s relationship and better yet, a better way to characterize Peeta, a point that Liam made very well in his thoughts on the film.

Pacific Rim

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If I were actually ranking these, Pacific Rim would no doubt fall in at third in my book. While not necessarily clever, over-intelligent, or artistic by any means, Pacific Rim is one of those honest movie that give you exactly what it sets out to do: giant robots bashing giant alien monsters. The story is a bit typical and the science a bit pseudo, but the few fully rounded characters blend well with the caricatures scattered throughout to make for a fun and awesome (and I used awesome quite literally here) experience. Pacific Rim reeks of cool and is gargantuan fun from start to finish. In my estimation, it was the perfect summer blockbuster and Guillermo del Toro did everything with big robots that Michael Bay could never do.

Dallas Buyer’s Club

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Matthew McConaughey stars in Dallas Buyer’s Club, a biographical drama about the life of Ron Woodruff, an electrician living in Texas who after contracting AIDs begins smuggling illegal – and highly beneficial – drugs into Dallas to help treat those with AIDs.

I largely blame my ignorance going into this movie, but I wasn’t sure where the conflict or drama was going to be. As it turns out, the story winds up being mostly about Ron’s ongoing conflicts with the FDA and other medical professionals, all of whom seem to run a racket on approving only the drugs that earn money for the right people. I’m not entirely sure how much of this movie is anti-FDA propaganda, but if we take this all to be true than there are some serious problems when it comes to the approval of Food and Drugs in this country.

Anyway, Dallas Buyer’s Club stands as a high point in McConaughey’s career. Coupled with his performance in Mud this year and his brief but electric few scenes in The Wolf of Wall Street, I’d wager he’s bound for great things over the next couple years. Jared Leto’s performance was also quite good, with both actors taking on dramatic transformations into emaciated AIDs patients.

Enough Said

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In this quiet but poignant flick, we get the last performance by James Gandolfini before his passing as a divorced father with a daughter about to head off to college. Center stage is Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a similarly single mom, also with a daughter about to begin her freshman year.

These two characters struggle with the emotional trauma of divorce and with a certain degree of struggle and effort, come to understand how to find love despite that. It’s a simple story, really, but one riddled with subtlety and intelligence. For some reason, this movie “felt” like The Kids Are All Right in that both sort of highlight the relationship and family oriented plights of the upper middle class. And both movies are top notch.

The Wolverine

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I know what you’re probably thinking: The Wolverine hardly deserves to be on anybody’s top 10 lists. But what can I say? I have been an X-Men fanboy for about as long as I’ve been walking (thanks to my brother) and if you love the X-Men then you definitely love Wolverine. Taking place after the main three movies, The Wolverine finds Logan lost and alone in the Canadian wilderness, licking his emotional wounds after losing Jean Grey. But then he is whisked off to Japan by a dying old man that he once saved before being caught in the center of a war during which his healing powers are jeopardized. Logan is forced to fight a mortal battle that just might be his last.

This particular movie is very good but certainly not great. The final portion of the movie devolves into ridiculousness and gets a little too crazy for its coconuts. But much of it, particularly the open few sequences and pretty much the entire middle portion is spectacular, especially when you compare it to previous flops like X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). Coupled with the other most recent movie, X-Men: First Class (2011) and the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), it would appear that the franchise has finally found its footing.

Iron Man 3

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Marvel’s phase one of its cinematic universe really set its cornerstone down in the character of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) in Iron Man (2008), a movie that still might be one of the best yet. Its direct sequel was a bit of a frustrating dud, highlighting the alcoholic and egotistical tendencies of the character and lacking in any serious, enjoyable development. But everything changed since “New York”; after The Avengers (2012), the world is a different place and Tony Stark suffers from PTSD.

Iron Man 3 shows us a different side to the character and quite literally removes Iron Man from Tony Stark in order to remind us that the true hero wears the mask instead of being the mask. The technology of the suit is more advanced and nuanced and Tony has to use his tinkering mechanic skills to save himself and the world from a terrorist group that is experimenting on human soldiers and turning them into walking bombs. As always, snarky dialogue and witty humor are abound in the third Iron Man movie, but this time around it’s complimented by a satisfying character arc and interesting action scenes as well. Definitely among the top tier films in the marvel franchise.

And here’s your number 11 bonus! Obviously I couldn’t leave out this one:

The Wolf of Wall Street

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First off, check out this funny article comparing The Wolf of Wall Street and The Great Gatsby.

But let’s be real, there’s no comparison. The Great Gatsby was flashy drivel and The Wolf of Wall Street is the goodfellas of white collar crime, directed by none other than Martin Scorsese and based on the book by the same name. This book is a memoir, mind you, so much of the film is based on true events, but you know Hollywood’s penchant for exaggeration. Anyway, Leonardo DiCaprio plays the scarface of money laundering stock brokers in a movie that is as much about hedonism, bacchanalia, and drug abuse as it is about the stock exchange. Actually, it’s more about those first three things than it is about stocks.

Jordan Belfort (Leo) is the aforementioned Wolf of Wall Street and he starts his own firm, Stratton Oakmont, with the help of some other shady characters, including America’s sweetheart, Jonah Hill (see This is the End to catch the reference). Together, they soon forge a multi-billion dollar company and all make a fortune illegally, all the while engaging in all sorts of sexcapades and drug usage both in and out of the workplace. Ultimately, the FBI catches on and Belfort spends quite some time trying to evade them while ensuring his own financial and personal security as he grapples with various addictions.

The Wolf of Wall Street is fun to watch throughout and an interesting story of one man’s greed and indulgence. My only concern is that some people might mis-watch it and come to revel in all of the sex, drugs, and partying that Belfort and his gang partake in. Tossing a midget at a bull’s eye isn’t meant to look like fun. We’re meant to see it for what it all is: wrong. Regardless, this is definitely one of the must-see movies of the year!

Do you agree with my assessments? Did I miss a movie you think should be here? I did warn you that I haven’t seen everything, but feel free to comment below!

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