Sunday, February 09, 2014

Best of 2013, Part 1: Hollywood in Review

It was the best of years, it was the worst of years. Last, year, as you’ll recall, I was feeling apocalyptic, in that the blockbuster movies were worse than ever, and, for the second time in my lifetime (2003 was the other) I felt that there wasn’t a single true classic American movie released, and many of the “critical darlings” were actually horrible. This year, however, while the blockbusters were worse than ever, the critical darlings were much better, with several movies that were great without the sort of asterisks that affected last year’s top movies.

But let’s start with the bad news: the blockbusters. I’ve already thoroughly covered my complaints about Pacific Rim, Oblivion, Man of Steel, The Hobbit 2, Star Trek Into Darkness, etc. Since then, I saw Elysium, which was more of the same. As I’ve made thoroughly clear, these movies were not only bad, but offensively bad.
As for comedies, I wasn’t even tempted to see one this year. Identity Thief? Grown Ups 2? We're the Millers? The Hangover 3? No thanks. The best Hollywood comedy was supposed to be This is the End but I couldn’t rouse the interest, because it looked like the in-joke-to-actual-joke ratio would tip in the wrong direction.

There were exceptions: I liked Thor 2 more than most people did, though it had big problems. The one blockbuster that I unreservedly enjoyed was Iron Man 3, but I don’t have much to say about it, for whatever reason.

(Of course, by all accounts, the best Hollywood movies of the year has apparently turned out be Frozen, which I haven’t been able to get out to see, but I’m greatly looking forward to on DVD.)

That leaves one more blockbuster to discuss, one that I just belatedly saw. If this was the best of years and the worse of years, then Fast and the Furious 6 was the best of blockbusters and the worst of blockbusters.

I have a tremendous amount of affection for this series, which has maintained a persistent joie de vivre and eagerness to please without the grimness or pomposity of modern action movies. (Though I’m the first to admit that the series also exemplifies many of my problems with my modern Hollywood, especially the frequent lapses into “CGI physics” that make no sense.)

But the latest one was especially fascinating: For most of the runtime, I flat-out loved this silly-fun movie…until it belatedly caved in to two of the trends that I’ve already complained about this year, to the extent that it made me laugh out loud.
I’ve complained about how so many movies this year (especially Pacific Rim and STID) seemed to be totally over at the 90 minutes mark, only to drag on for another 40 minutes. But that was so much more true of this movie. Every plot thread had been tied up neatly, we’d had just had a truly epic, totally cathartic action sequence that resulted in the bad guys being totally defeated and all of our heroes had achieved satisfying emotional closure. This movie was over. I kept checking my DVD countdown clock in disbelief: how on earth can there be 40 minutes left??

But I had forgotten about the other terrible trend of 2013 blockbusters hadn’t I? After all, they hadn’t defeated the bad guy…they had done the opposite of defeating him: They had arrested him. The fools had put him in prison, which is (say it along with me, folks) exactly where he wants to be!

As soon as I saw that shot, I busted out laughing for five minutes. Every damned movie!


Bill Peschel said...

So do you have a nom for best comedy of the year, period? For example, "The World's End"?

j.s. said...

How about THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, for the Lemmon 714 sequence alone?

For me, 2013 wasn't so much about the blockbusters vs. the art films. What's returned this year are the kind of intelligent in-betweens, the midrange, mid-budget pictures aimed at a grown-up audiences that used to be the sort of fare audiences could count on, at least in so-called Awards Season, but that lately seems to have been all but banished to long-form TV. Films of real artistic merit, created by writers and directors who come out of indepedent/art films but that strive to deliver genre pleasures too -- often, way more satisfyingly than the straight up genre pictures studios initiate -- while having something real to say about their stories and about the world.

I'm thinking particularly of ALL IS LOST, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, GRAVITY and PRISONERS. But also to a lesser extent about films like THE CONJURING, a way better and scarier film than it should have been.

Matt Bird said...

I haven't see "The World's End" yet, either, so I can safely say that I didn't see a single real "comedy" this year, although some of the movies I'll be praising were very funny.

morbidtourist said...

"What's returned this year are the kind of intelligent in-betweens, the midrange, mid-budget pictures aimed at a grown-up audiences that used to be the sort of fare audiences could count on, at least in so-called Awards Season, but that lately seems to have been all but banished to long-form TV. "

This is spot on. I'd cite "Before Midnight", "Enough Said", and " "Inside Llewyn Davis" as examples of the kind of movies I didn't think were allowed to be made anymore.

j.s. said...

Well, BEFORE MIDNIGHT I love and it's certainly all about writing. But in that case the writing is pretty inextricable from the acting and the directing. And it's really more arty than even most American Indie films, more like an Eric Rohmer film than anything else. Or certainly, in pared down form and talky content, closer to your standard Woody Allen movie than to the sorts of romcoms and relationship movies Hollywood is used to making.

Just like HER is really closer in spirit (and certainly in emotional honesty and integrity) to a Bergman film, a Cassavetes movie or Tarkovsky's SOLARIS than it is to most other American studio films about relationships between men and women.

QED said...

I haven't seen a lot of 2013's films yet but the ones that impressed me were Spring Breakers, Upstream Color, Stoker and A Field in England.

Unlike you I wasn't overly impressed with Iron Man 3, I think it was alright but it did seem like a big waste of The Mandarin and Ben Kingsley. Likewise The Wolverine was better than it's predecessor but I don't know if it was a stand out film either.

I would be interested to see your thoughts on Olympus Has Fallen. It's a terrible film but it's a classic example of the lazy use of symbols of nationalism in American media and the need to see itself as a nation under attack.

Anonymous said...

fave movies of 2013:
Under the Skin
Inside Llewyn Davis
Le Week End

Harvey Jerkwater said...


VILLAIN: "HA! YOU FOOLS! It was always my master plan to be locked up here in Sing Sing! Now my evil schemes can come to fruition!"

GUARD: "You're in the Southport Correctional Facility. About 200 miles west."

VILLAIN: "...Oh, damn."


Alex Kevin said...

I have watched all of these movies they were good I will say its a good time pass I didnt watched them on Cinema but watched on my spectum internet services online and few them watched on cable TV services

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