I’ve seen one more film from 2013 since last we spoke, so this part of the list starts at 41 instead of 40, giving extra space for In A World…. That being said, I think this part of the list represents the most idiosyncratic selections, movies that are mostly on the weirder side that I still very much enjoyed. As always, the titles will be links to the reviews I wrote after seeing the film at Letterboxd and the asterisk will denote a film I saw in theaters.
Boy, God Bless America was a joke, wasn’t it? This corrects all the problems that film had and transplants the story to England. I’m sure there are jokes that I didn’t get fully thanks to my yank heritage, but it’s still super funny and dark as night. Great use of song, as well.
40. In A World…
A pleasant film that has some funny elements but isn’t wall to wall hilarious or anything. It’s nice, it’s a neat insight to a world that we as movie fans interact with but never really think about, and it’s a confident debut from writer/director/star Lake Bell.
39. The Wolverine *
Another transplanting sends Logan to Japan to duke it out with ninjas and stuff. It works surprisingly well, both the fight scenes and the quiet conversations hold water. Some fantastic imagery makes this a worthy side story in the filmed X-Men canon.
There are two big highlights in this film: the showstopping “Let it Go” number and the delightful snowman voiced by Josh Gad. Everything else is an interestingly quiet take on the typical Disney story of princesses and kingdoms which demonstrates that a movie doesn’t need a villain, really, to make for a compelling drama.
I wonder if these Hobbit films, like the last two in the Harry Potter series, will work better watched back to back. This definitely feels like a middle, with nothing starting or ending. Most of the criticisms, though, don’t carry much weight for me. I liked the romance angle, plus the action scenes were excellently done. People talk about necessity a lot with respect to these films, I’d ask, what movies are necessary?
36. Nebraska *
Nebraska doesn’t want to take over the world. It doesn’t even want to take over Nebraska. What it does want is to tell a nice, small story about a man and his father as they both try to cope with the elder’s fading mind and body. It’s also really funny, which helps.
More interesting than the story of two artists is the story of a marriage which doesn’t work like most movie marriages work. This is probably due, in part, to the fact that this is a documentary instead of a fiction film, but both the husband and wife on display here exhibit some tendancies that viewers might balk at if their fictional counterparts did them. “Cutie” gets back at her husband, “The Boxer”, through comic vignettes which depict their lives in a pretty stark light. It’s a weird mix of cuteness and anger that makes for a compelling doc.
34. Saving Mr. Banks *
The film relies too heavily on flashbacks that take us away from the fascinating battle between P.L. Travers and Walt Disney to illuminate Travers’s background which has an emotional payoff, but not enough of one to justify the amount of time spent on it. Emma Thompson could have portrayed everything she needed to quite easily, given that she’s amazing, but a tear was still brought to my eye in the scene where she watches the film based on her book. It’s great.
Miles Teller plays one of cinema’s best characters of the year in this film, a young man who’s angry and sad and covers all of this with a layer of cool that hides but doesn’t dispel those deeper issues. And he falls in love, of course, and it’s a teenage love story that keeps away from treacle and grossness and instead steers into some deep drama. Really well written and acted.
A great, Mad Men-ish take on a campaign to overthrow a dictator in Chile. Both parts are fascinating, the technical advertising things and the political thriller elements blend into one well put together film. Argo, take notes. Gael Garcia Bernal is fantastic as always.
31. The Blue Umbrella *
The shorts that accompany Pixar movies are almost always good. This one especially so, as it wordlessly gets a lot out of everyday objects and even buildings that look a little like faces. Short and sweet.
French animation that feels like a storybook come to life, which is fitting given that Celestine, a mouse, aspires to be a watercolor artist. She rebels against the more capitalist tendencies of her society which thrives on stolen teeth while her opposite, Ernest, refuses to engage in his own capitalist society which seems to operate on a sweets based economy. Of course, it’s also just a nice kids movie about friendship coming from the place you’d least expect.
29. Philomena *
Like Saving Mr. Banks, this is a movie that thrives on the relationship between the two leads, here Steve Coogan and Judi Dench, as they try to figure each other out and get towards a somewhat strange goal. Dench’s Philomena differs from her usual whip-smart characters into a bit of a softer, more normal person, but one whom must be respected as much as M. Coogan, who also wrote the script, does well to not play up the humor, which still exists, and focuses instead on the heady emotional and intellectual consequences of the actions he and his charge are taking.
28. About Time
Domhnall Gleeson gives one of the best performances of the year in a role which doesn’t seem too difficult or abnormal. But that’s what makes it so great as he must show the gradual growth of the character as he jumps around in his own timeline, a gift passed down from his dad, the always awesome Bill Nighy. It’s less of a romance than the advertising would have you think. It’s just a nice drama with strong scenes throughout and a fantastic performance by an up and coming actor.
27. Drinking Buddies
I’m a huge New Girl fan, so anything with Jake Johnson will have me already in its pocket. Throw in a career best (so far, since it’s really just starting) performance by Olivia Wilde and you’ve got a pretty great movie. It feels so real, especially the moving scene, a characteristic accomplished by not really having a script and relying upon the actors to be real people. There’s some drama that doesn’t quite suit the understated nature of the rest of the film, and Anna Kendrick gets the short stick here, but it’s pretty great.
I was optimistic about this film. The book it’s based on does some interesting things that both diverge from and stick close to the formula set up in the first book and I liked the twist on the Games this time around better than the first incarnation. But would the adaptation figure out what it needed to drop from the first film and what needed greater emphasizing? Turns out, yes, very much so. The interpersonal drama gets a little hotter and heavier and the action is coherent and exciting. Jena Malone provides a much needed spark to lighten some rough scenes and the last shot is one of the best of the year. Oh, and Jennifer Lawrence is great, again.
25. American Hustle *
I am, as I’m writing this, getting flack from my friend for having this and the next film on the list “so low”. He should maybe check the number of stars I’ve given to the film just below them on this list (4.5 stars for Catching Fire). They’re very good. Sometimes great (Jennifer Lawerence, again, and everybody but Christian Bale). It’s just that I didn’t fall completely for them. Here everything feels so arch and conscious of itself that I couldn’t fully invest in what it was doing. Also, what it was doing wasn’t all that well done. But the acting was mostly great!
24. The Wolf of Wall Street *
Leo is undeniably great here. So’s much of the direction as Scorsese matches the characters excess with his filmic style. But three hours is too long, especially given that the last 40 minutes are no different than any other movie of this kind. If the movie is an exercise in topping itself from scene to scene the downfall doesn’t even begin to compare with the rise and peak. Jonah Hill, too, doesn’t do anything special. It’s Leo’s movie.
23. You’re Next *
It’s what would happen if indie filmmakers wanted to focus less on the interpersonal drama between their characters and more on the, um, murders of said characters. Notice I said “less” and not “not at all” because the character drama is what drives the murders and makes us care about the various ways they get dispatched. It’s funny, too, like the long, slow-mo run out a door into the unknown. What’s out there will shock and delight. New-ish-comer Sharni Vinson is great as the film’s final girl.
The sometimes overly-talky quality of Joss Whedon’s films meets its match in this modern-ish adaptation of Shakespeare. I liked this version much more than just reading the play, as his use of his standard players serves as a shortcut to the characters. The style is slick for the obvious low-budget nature of the thing, and the funny parts are as funny as they should be. Much fun.
21. Side Effects *
Jude Law and Matthew McConaughey should be in a movie together about stars that were brushed aside but have a comeback of critically acclaimed work. Law’s great again here, digging around to figure out just what Rooney Mara is doing. The twists are silly, but Soderbergh and the actors treat them with respect so I totally went along with it.
That’s all for this part of the list. Tune in again soon for the last part, the Ultimate Entry! Leave a comment if you feel so inclined.