Jared Bratt’s Best Movies of 2013
In previous years, I’d find myself saying things like “my favorite movie of the year is… or “that film is definitely going on my list,” and yet without fail, when all was said and done, I would never end up following through with any sort of list-related outbursts. However, this time, this year, things are different. Writing for this site and finally possessing a platform to express my own inner film-diatribes has provided me with the proper kick in the ass to compile some of my favorite films. Knowing that this isn’t an obscure Word-file sitting on my sometimes cluttered desktop accessed by my eyes only… the fact that I know I can write something and have my voice heard — Well for me, this is undoubtably what I need. It’s the fuel for the fire that keeps me in check and persistently motivated each and every week, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Exercising the critical and creative-writing juices weekly has been an opportunity I remain (humbly) incredibly thankful for.
In anxiously thinking about “what the hell am I going to say?” every seven days, the one topic I have subsequently been looking forward to was indeed this idea of finally being able to chime in with my own “two-cents” variation of an annual favorite films breakdown. So without further ado, here are 21 of my favorite films from 2013. In a necessary personal desire to try and continually keep things fresh list-wise, and because It is also virtually impossible for me to rank one film over the other (especially when the movies themselves are part of contrasting genres) I’ve simply categorized the below summation of films based on the order in which I peeped them (considering there are 21 films listed here, I’ll try and keep my blurbs brief).
Nowadays, the action-genre, more often than not, feels pretty dead to me. I am a self-confessed action-junkie, and yet even with such awareness, I still find myself generally not connecting with current contemporary action-fare. For this reason, I have to appreciate any time a newer action movie steers away from simulating many of the modern filmmaking-trends that (I think) plague the action genre of today. Neck-in-neck with Fast 5, Furious 6 drives hard in the face of CGI and makes a genuine adrenaline-fueled attempt to keep stunts “real” and practical FX-wise. Closing in on the series’ own finely tuned mythology, Furious 6 revs-up classical action-sensibilities as much as it can, and while I persist “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to,” director Justin Lin’s two-time earnest effort has not gone unnoticed.
Harmony Korine has either crafted a satirical social-commentary on capitalism and excess, or an hallucinogenic glorification of beach-party debauchery — An exploitation of fabled American dream-living. Or maybe the film is both and it’s up to the viewer to make a sub-conscious choice which movie he or she is indeed watching. Drenched in drugged-out style, Spring Breakers is an absurdist jacked-up journey fueled by a schizophrenic soundtrack, a merciless method-type of James Franco performance, and writer/director Korine’s own sheer kinetic-will to relentlessly experiment with the boundaries of film-editing.
Even a “lesser” Danny Boyle film is still a great Danny Boyle film, and while Trance may not be Trainspotting, the film still retains everything I love about Boyle’s penchant for exuberant filmmaking. There’s a constant thirst for creativity that guides this movie along that I absolutely adore. Also, James McAvoy impressively shines in the lead carrying this hyper-real ‘Neo-Noir’ heist-film on his shoulders with an expert level of ease. At times, Boyle’s camera homages Hitchcock, at times his lens feels refreshingly innovative and technically-trippy in its creative deliberate use. Trance feels like a long-overdue energetic attempt to get back to Boyle basics.
Probably the most hands-on filmmaker to come along since the dawning of Robert Rodriguez himself, writer, editor, cinematographer, composer, producer, director, self-distributor, Shane Carruth, makes the entire process of filmmaking look about as easy as closing your eyes at night and falling asleep. Upstream Color plays like a cryptic fever-dream thriller steeped in elements of Sci-Fi, suspense, and psychological-horror. With an exceptionally atmospheric, mood-induced soundtrack and an editing-template that mirrors the film’s protagonists’ dynamic of cobbling together their own snippets of assumed tampered-with memories, Upstream Color engages and entertains with a cerebral-level of focused eerie-mystery.
If you’re a lover of cinema than if nothing else, please appreciate and submit to the sheer godliness that is this film’s cinematography. Fetishistic by design, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives takes a standard genre-tale of revenge and injects it with Refn’s existentialist-desire to arouse an audience’s senses through explicit graphic-violence and themes of mental/sexual castration. Ryan Gosling (almost more of an avatar for some targeted form of higher abstract-expression than an actual character in a story) is both, at once, hard-boiled and emasculated, and his performance is so gloriously (and abnormally) subdued that it’ll either speak volumes to what the film is ultimately trying to say, or send you straight to sleep. Polarizing.
Completing an unplanned-for trilogy of films that commenced its saga way back in 1995 is an accomplishment in of itself. But to do this and completely luck out by creating one of the finest (and debatably one of the most truthful) love-stories ever committed to film — Well now that’s just obnoxiously impressive. Writer/director Richard Linklater and writer/actors, Ethan Hawk and Julie Delpy could have all bailed on the series once they had already accomplished the impossible with the quality that is the series’ first sequel, Before Sunset, but the fact that all three of them still wanted to risk all of the films’ accumulated acclaim to date, and make this third- installment happen — It shows a massive sense of heart and devotion that is rarely seen when dealing with any film’s second sequel.
Sure, Woody Allen is hit or miss, but considering the enigmatic auteur has been churning out at least one film every one to two years since 1976 (or something along those lines) it is only natural that not every film he puts out there will be an instantly hailed classic. Now I still don’t know if Blue Jasmine qualifies as an immediate Allen classic, but certainly within his recent string of releases, and within the realm of films dealing with a central character-study, Blue Jasmine excels. While Allen’s screenplay is pretty razor-sharp, his words might have not come across as memorable as they have, had the core-performance at play not resulted in anything short of an amazing portrayal. Cate Blanchett is excellent as always here, but she also takes it up several notches as her “fish-out-of-water” socialite-protagonist gradually begins to seemingly lose her mind in the most realistic of filmic-depictions.
Acclaimed director Jonathan Glazer returns to cinema to produce an ‘Art-House’ experiment in Sci-Fi suspense and all things alien. If in Spike Jonze’s Her it can be said that Scarlett Johansson simply won’t stop talking, in Under the Skin Johansson impressively plays the opposite card as she practically says nothing with regards to her dialogue (or lack thereof) in the film. Playing an extraterrestrial newly arrived on earth, we follow an unknown being in the body of an artsy biker-chick as she saunters around contemporary Scotland searching for loner-men to abduct. This is a surreal, coming-of-age type of odyssey that at times feels both Kubrickian and aimless in its unfolding structure and escalating (yet hypnotizing) ambiguity.
I was already a fan of the film’s headlining actors well before going into This Is the End, so maybe I was an easy target — That being said, this film could have indeed been such a bust, so I’m thrilled that it is ultimately anything but. Beyond being an above-average success as a comedy (it is relentlessly funny) This Is the End feels like it has some genuine heart under its gut. First-time directors, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, wisely choose to keep the film’s core group of comedians together in virtually every frame, and almost at all times, at all costs. As a result, there is never a dull moment as the organically orchestrated comedy-gold consistently fires back and forth. Add to the mix, an endearing riff on the concept of “celebrity” combined with an entertaining interpretation of every apocalyptic film that you’re probably familiar with, and you end up with the non-contrived hilarity that is This Is the End.
Ridley Scott finally scales it down from chasing one hopeful epic after the next — The Counselor is a welcome return to form for the iconic director, and it shows 10-fold. Gritty in that visually stunning (now infamous) Scott type of lens, and tightly contained by a string of ensemble performances that revel in Cormac McCarthy’s talky, lyrical dialogue, The Counselor is a dark, adult-oriented genre-thriller that harkens back to all of the reasons why I became a fan of Scott in the first place.
I love that Keanu Reeves has helmed my favorite martial-arts/action film to come along since seeing The Raid two years ago. This is a film for which the trailer doesn’t even scrape the surface of how many exhilarating toe-to-toe fight set-pieces the movie has to offer. But beyond Man of Tai Chi’s knack for well-staged combat, the film’s protagonist, Tiger Chen, draws the audience into his morally-shifting tale of innocence and influences from the dark side. Dare I say that Chen himself might possibly be even more engaging and charismatic then any Jackie Chan or Jet Li flick that I’ve ever seen. If martial-arts action is your poison, this film is worth the indulgence.
Finally tackling the opportunity to play a character that isn’t steeped in that blundering sense of comedy that has (for better or for worse) defined the earlier part of Michael Cera’s blossoming career, the actor demonstrates true range here within Sebastian Silva’s road-trip/drug-movie, Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus. Not pretentious, but touching, funny, witty, and fun, Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus features an emotionally-raw performance from its star title-character, played exceptionally well by estranged actress, Gaby Hoffmann. Ultimately this is a coming-of-age film surrounded by a collective motive for doing drugs, but (contrastingly-so) the movie aims for the heart — Not the head.
Taking an extremely unique (and controversial) approach to tackling the tragic, horrific story of of a young man’s escalating plot to undertake a strategically mapped-out school-shooting, The Dirties reminds me that some of the most innovative films are always the ones that stay true to their complex visions even if conventional popular-opinion dictates “oh that won’t work.” However, opposite to the many dark going-ons here, The Dirties is also one of the funniest films I have seen this year, and oddly enough, this movie is massively relatable (for me) as it centers on two cinema-obsessed outcasts who ultimately just want to make movies, tell stories and entertain, first and foremost, themselves.
Sandra Bullock delivers the best performance of her career to date while Alfonso Cuarón pushes the boundaries of technology to tell one of the most thrilling space-operas to come along in quite some time. Call it Castaway in space, call it 127 Hours “in a galaxy far, far away”, however you choose to classify this one, there’s no denying Gravity’s well-earned ability to make your palms sweat profusely. James Cameron referred to this picture as “the best space film ever done” — I definitely disagree with that rabid form of hyperbole, but still, Gravity lands pretty darn close to hitting something of a revelry of film going experience.
Alexander Payne’s latest (like none of his films to come before it) actually broke me at one point with the unavoidable formation of tears. The movie’s stark black-and -white cinematography sucked me into Nebraska’s universe, while its ensemble of actors pulled me into the story’s gaze even further. Bruce Dern is an iconic presence within cinema, and here, the elder-actor gets a contemporary chance to show us why that is. Also, Dern’s wife in the film, truthfully played by June Squibb, utterly steals the show, and Will Forte, playing Dern’s son, once again backs-up the theory that comedians transitioning themselves into dramatic fare are actually really following much more of an organic path then we typically give them credit for.
As if there isn’t already enough well-documented proof that Matthew McConaughey (and his career) is back with a vengeance (Bernie, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, Mud, The Wolf of Wall Street, the upcoming Interstellar) his performance as a charismatic bigot turned activist drug-healer in Dallas Buyers Club is simply phenomenal. Co-star, Jared Leto, steps up to the plate and matches McConaughey’s acting-chops, equally disappearing into the persona and physique of his character. I also left this film unexpectedly admiring its use of editing throughout.
I appreciate whatever writer/director David O. Russell produces, and with American Hustle it’s not even a case of me advocating for a filmmaker’s lesser-work. I think the film is genuinely fantastic. In terms of the con-game plot, the story is certainly nothing new for the genre, but I still found it absorbing, unpredictable, funny and epic in its own right. For me, this is one of those films that feels like three hours in the best of ways. Christian Bale is perfectly phenomenal here, and between this and playing Batman three times, Bale has become a master at portraying characters who are gradually drowning within oceans of their own inner-turmoil. O. Russell’s camera possesses this kinetic, messy (yet contrastingly fluid) energy that I absolutely adore. American Hustle also boasts the first Amy Adams performance that (I admit) is only-now making me sing her praises.
When I walked out of this one, I specifically said to myself “this film is not going on the list,” yet here it is. While the movie literally depressed the #@$%*! out of me, I have to confess, I haven’t stopped thinking about its tackled themes and ideas since I checked it out. Even with the aforementioned melancholy-factor, I still have many positives to take away from Her. Scaralett Johansson delivers more great work (this year) in what essentially amounts to a type of voice-over performance, and Joaquin Phoenix is typically fantastic. Her feels like the most restrained of Spike Jonze’s eclectic films, but his strange, whimsical signature-style certainly shines through in the film’s not-too-distant future world-building. This is an emotionally-heavy romance story about a man and his computer/operating-system that depicts love just as bitter-sweet as any other dramatic romance movie would, and there’s something brilliantly maddening to that.
Scorsese — Dicaprio — That is all. Their collaborations are consistently nothing short of memorable.
I think this film is just solid. But something tells me I’m failing to realize the epiphany of its true greatness, which will become much more evident to me over time. Featuring Woody Harrelson’s most menacing role since starring in Natural Born Killers, Out of the Furnace feels quietly old-fashioned in its filmmaking, and for this I appreciated the very subdued impact that derives from the picture’s somewhat muted execution. With a strikingly powerful climax and a grit-laced level of suspense and action, Out of the Furnace takes pride in its point-blank narrative and mature pacing. I also just endorse any time the great and grizzled Sam Shepard shows up to supervise a scene even if he’s not really saying much within the sequence itself, you kind of just know Sam Shepard the actor is 100% there within the truth of the moment.
The Coen brothers will never not be quirky, bizarre, idiosyncratic, and to a certain extent, slapstick in their filmmaking, so lets get this out there right now — Inside Llewyn Davis is all of this. Nevertheless, when the Coen brothers sincerely have something special on their hands, all of these elements fire on all cylinders, and we’re reminded why these legendary visionaries are so significant to cinema. I think Inside Llewyn Davis is a small masterpiece. According to the brothers themselves, this folk-tale is a type of odyssey in which the story’s protagonist doesn’t go anywhere. But on a more serious note, I think the film is a sublime meditation on art and vision, and I also think that every struggling-artist out there should give this movie a watch. I didn’t find the film depressing, just decisive in its depiction of the biting creatives’ road that sooner or later puts all artists to the test.