I like to reserve the bottom spot on this list for something goofy; in 2010, it was the corny bliss of Step Up 3D, and last year, the hilariously fool-hardy The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 occupied the slot. This year we've got Man of Steel, Zach Snyder's impossibly dunderheaded take on Superman's origin story. From action sequences of preposterous mass destruction and invisible heroism, to innumerable and ludicrously heavy-handed Clark Kent/Jesus comparisons, MoS prompted about twice as much face-palm incredulity as the next closest 2013 offering, and I kind of love it for that. Just don't think I'm actually saying it's good.
The ultimate woulda-coulda-shoulda movie of last year, the sequel to 2009's brilliant Star Trek reboot suffers mightily for hewing its story too closely to that of the previous film. That said, we still love this cast, and J.J. Abrams can direct a mean action sequence (rocketing through the debris field, anyone?). The film is also a joy to look at, every aspect of its aesthetic looking pricey and gorgeous. Here's to hoping there's a more original tale on hand the next time we go trekking, but lord knows our eyes are in for a treat regardless.
It's one of the rarest things in all of movie-dom; a flick that should actually be a little bit longer. Ain't Them Bodies Saints is just such a film, a swooning, melancholy take on the old west with tremendous performances by Ben Foster and, especially, Rooney Mara. It's kinship with Badlands and other films of the ilk is impossible to ignore, but the picture ends just as things are getting juicy. Still, ATBS is a pleasure while its on screen, and I for one have the utmost faith that obviously talented director David Lowrey will come out with a full-course winner some time in the near future.
In a world riddled with false advertising, Pacific Rim made good on its goofily awesome promise; giant monsters vrs. giant robots, go! It might not be Guillermo del Toro's most impactful film, but its over-sized zaniness is sure to bring out the 10-year-old inside all of us, and a few of the towering throw-downs rank among this year's finest action sequences.
Winner of the Palme d'Or at 2013's Cannes film festival, Blue takes its sweet time and revels in the small moments of which life largely consists. The story of young french woman coming of age and embracing her sexuality certainly isn't for everyone, its three hour runtime and mesmerizingly graphic sex scenes sure to turn off an audience member of two. Too bad they're missing out on Adèle Exarchopoulos, an unnervingly natural performer who's expressive face and unique character ticks carry the film.
Much ink has been spilt on Cate Blanchett's performance in Blue Jasmine, which made me that much happier when Sally Hawkins snuck up and stole a supporting actress nomination. Woody Allen's 2013 update of A Streetcar Named Desire is positively loaded with great performances, from the two aforementioned nominees on down to Alec Baldwin's smooth sleaze, and Andrew Dice Clay's two-scene masterpiece. The Woodman knows how to get the best out of his performers.
How I would have loved The Conjuring if I hadn't already seen director James Wan's previous film, Insidious. The two almost serve as identical twins, the former taking the more classical approach, while the later prefers fun-house trickery to tell essentially the same tale. As a result, this incarnation might not feel as fresh, but watching Wan do his best William Friedkin impression is still a blast, and certain moments and images will have you gasping and jumping out of your seat. It's something American movie screens have been sorely lacking for years now; horror with class.
The easy winner of this summer's Apocalypse Comedy Showdown (sorry, At World's End!), the directorial debut of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg puts a broken mirror up to the Judd Apatow fraternity, and laughs like hell at what it sees. Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Rogen himself lead a deep cast of comedians all playing warped, self-serving, repugnant versions of themselves to hilarious effect. Michael Cera may steal the movie in the early goings, but inventive gags like Pineapple Express 2 and The Exorcism of Jonah Hill ensure that the laughs don't stop until the credits roll.
Why do I feel like the only one who likes this movie? The long-anticipated return of Ron Burgundy and friends might not have lived up to its masterful predecessor, but what movie could? The sequel does an amazing job of maintaining the spirit and energy of the original, an endless stream of jokes that might not all land, but the ones that do hit like atomic bombs. If I had it my way, this wouldn't be the last we ever saw of the Channel 4 News Team.
Lone Survivor is less a traditional movie than it is an experience. Based on the book Marcus Luttrell wrote chronicling the true-life event, the film follows four Navy Seals who find themselves in an impossible situation while on a mission to assassinate a Taliban leader. Director Peter Berg places you right in the middle of the action, bullets whizzing by your ears, the pain of falling from extreme heights almost palpable. What Lone Survivor lacks in subtlety and plot, it more than makes up for with intensity and visceral grit.
Remember when we all thought that a Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland was just what the world needed? It took a few years, but Oz finally makes good on that film's failed promise of candy-land visuals, sweeping scope, psychedelic undertones, and a touch of darkness just around the edges. The film's trio of stellar actresses (Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Rachel Wiesz) all have a ball delivering deliciously gaudy performances, and director Sam Raimi keeps the eye-candy coming at a steady clip.
Holy cast, Batman! Now You See Me might not be the deepest piece of entertainment I've ever seen, but with the likes of Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Mélanie Laurent and more, it's never less than a total blast to watch. Helmer Louis Leterrier wants nothing more than to maintain a zippy speed and crisp aesthetic, allowing his actors to do the rest. The welcome return of the big cast capper.
Given his hitrecord project and allegiance with some of Hollywood's finest directors, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Joseph Gordon-Levitt knows how to make a movie, but this is still an awfully impressive maiden voyage. He tells the story of a porn-addicted meat-head (Gordon-Levitt) who falls for a tall drink of water (Scarlett Johansson) and learns a thing or two about romance in the process. Johansson is a gem in the film, and even if Gordon-Levitt's skills as a writer occasionally fail him, his grasp on tone, pace, style, and visuals is impossible to deny.
When the first filmic installment of The Hunger Games exploded in spring of 2012, it bettered even the most outlandish expectations, and pegged the franchise for 'Next Big Thing' status. Catching Fire grows perfectly into the role, expanding on the world of the first, laying the groundwork for what looks to be one hell of a two-part finale. I still might prefer the first flick, but with Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss on the prowl, and this creative team in her wake, the odds are ever in favor of this franchise.
The true story of the late Oscar Grant's last day on this earth isn't exactly an easy watch, first-time director Ryan Coogler employing fly-on-the-wall minimalism to bring us close to his protagonist. Michael B. Jordan is just fantastic in the lead role, a flawed individual with a charisma that's impossible to ignore, though Octavia Spencer is almost his match as the concerned mother. Few 2013's films could match the emotional impact of Fruitvale Station's closing frames, tugging liberally at heartstrings while prompting fiery indignation all the while.
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