I'm just about ready to post my Top 10 movies of 2013 (I have two more films to watch, although Her is proving to be a challenge since it doesn't screen in Utah until January. Sigh) and as always, there are more quality films than I know what to do with. This year has seen an embarrassment of riches in Cinemas, which has made whittling down to a final 10 particularly difficult.
So in the spirit of recognition, here's this year's list of honorable mentions. As a note, these movies do not necessarily represent
what would be ranked 11th, 12th, 13th and so forth from the year.
Instead, they are standout films from various categories that deserve
some kudos even while they may not have measured up for one reason or
another (mostly because the best films this year were just so darned
Best January Surprise: Side Effects
and February are the garbage dump of the Hollywood calendar, as the
last of the Oscar season behemoths trickle into wide release
distribution and studio execs turn their attention toward their awards
campaigns. But ever year, one or two gems take advantage of the less
competitive landscape to launch under the radar.
This year, that
claim goes to Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh's twisty thriller about
prescription antidepressants and the people who use them. The tagline
for the movie was "In some cases, death may occur," a riff on the
soft-spoken fine print in drug advertisements that foreshadows the fate
of Channing Tatum's reformed criminal husband, the catalyst that sets
off a cat-and-mouse game between Rooney Mara and her psychiatrist Jude
Law where things may or may not be what they seem.
Best Documentary: After Tiller
are only four doctors in the United States that practice late-term
abortions and in After Tiller, we are treated to a day in the life of
each of them. By zooming in with a lazer focus on the real-life people
at the heart (literally and figuratively) of the Abortion debate, the
filmmakers bypass the screaming protestors and demonstrate how the
individuals undergoing and performing these procedures are just people,
faced with difficult circumstances and even more difficult decisions.
Best Rom-Com: Enough Said
happens when a masseuse learns that the man she's dating is actually
the supposedly dead-beat ex-husband one of her clients has been
gossiping about for weeks?
It's the kind of schlocky premise that
would feel right at home in a mid-90s Sandra Bulloch movie, but played
with extreme earnestness by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James
Gandolfini, Enough Said is endearingly sweet, hilariously uncomfortable
and poignantly understated. The fact that it was one of Gandolfini's
last performances also punctuates the entire film with a sort of
reverent melancholy that lifts the film above its contemporaries.
Best Superhero: Iron Man 3
the other Superhero movies this year were largely an indistinguishable
mass of destructo-porn (I'm looking at you, Man Of Steel) but even with
the weak competition that doesn't lessen what director Shane Black (who
also made Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a movie that if you haven't seen you
should do so immediately) was able to do with the Iron Man franchise.
Where most comic-book heroes are investing in the Michael Bay school of
EXPLOSIONS AND MAYHEM, Black doubled down on RDJ's likeability, creating
a sort of buddy-cop comedy where our Iron Man spends most of the screen
time cracking wise, sans super suit, and making self-referential meta
jokes. He also pulled off one of the ballsiest baits-and-switches with
his Mandarin reveal, angering fanboys and making a believer out of me.
Best Indie: The Way Way Back
Nat Faxon and Jim Rash proved their moxie in 2012 by picking up Oscars
for their work on The Descendants and parlayed that success into their
directorial debut, a coming of age tale about a Waterpark of Misfit
Toys. At moments heartbreaking and triumphant, TWWB strikes an emotional
tone that speaks to the awkward teenager inside all of us and in Sam
Rockwell's waterpark manager gives us the Mr. Miyagi of the
hipster-millenial generation. It's delightful, pure and simple.
Best Head Trip: Prisoners
lot of critics have put Prisoners on their Top 10 and while I don't
think it rose that high, I can understand the point of view. Prisoners,
about the kidnapping of two girls and the lengths their parents and a
local detective go to find them, has a way of burrowing into your mind
and staying with you for days.
After the two girls are kidnapped
on Thanksgiving, a suspect turns up in the form of a quiet and possibly
confused man played by Paul Dano. With no evidence, the police are
forced to let him go, prompting one of the girl's fathers (Hugh Jackman)
to take matters into his own hands by attempting to torture a
confession out of the suspect. That's just one thread of the
multi-layered story, which follows Jake Gyllenhaal's investigation that
seems to only turn up more and more questions with few answers.
movie poses a litany of morally ambiguous questions as your first
identify with and are then conflicted about sympathizing with Jackman's
character and his "whatever it takes" attitude. The underlying question
throughout is "What would you do?" which you are left to answer on your
own after the smoke clears and the complex maze takes shape.
The 2013 Wood's Stock Balls-To-The-Wall Award: This is the End
no secret that actors of a feather tend to flock together, giving rise
to the multitude of 'verses' that critics love to write about above the
heads of more casual film viewers (i.e. The Whedonverse, The
Apatowverse, The Andersonverse, The Nolanverse). So what happens when a
group of comedy actors and all their friends get together to play
slightly fictionalized versions of themselves struggling to survive the
end of the world?
That, in a nutshell, is This is the End, but the
actual film plays like a synergistic effect as the combined powers of
all involved make a product greater than the sum of their parts.
Presented almost as a series of mock-horror vignettes we see our key
group of Franco, Hill, Rogen, Baruchel, McBride and Robinson performing
exorcisms, battling demons, making a home-video sequel to Pineapple
Express and getting robbed by an axe-wielding Emma Watson. It's outright
absurdity and probably the funniest movie of the year.