Sarah’s Top Ten of 2013
While I didn’t think 2013 was a banner year for film there were plenty of solid films and I struggled the more with the order of my list then the films to include. As I was writing up my list I noticed a theme of; the enduring human spirit in the face of adversity. Sometimes it is on a small scale like having the courage to love the right person and some times it is much larger like trying to survive in the harshest imaginable environment; space. There are a few movies I just didn’t get to see that may or may not have ended up on my list such as Her and American Hustle. So only time will tell on those.
10. Star Trek Into Darkness
This was the hardest slot for me to fill on my list. There were about four different films I could have put here but I went with Star Trek Into Darkness. When I looked back at the list of movies I saw this year I just had to have it on my list. Since seeing it in the theater I have read a lot of criticism of the film and while I admit it is not perfect my original opinion still holds for me; I liked it and had a lot of fun watching it. I have been a Trekkie since I was a little kid so I was already predisposed to like any Star Trek film. That being said I was never a big The Wrath of Khan fan. I am a big fan of J.J. Abram’s Star Trek reboot and Star Trek Into Darkness is another fun installment in this alternative reality. The cast from the 2009 reboot continues to pay homage to the original cast while also putting their own stamp on them. Benedict Cumberbatch acts the crap out of Khan and proves himself as a capable action star. There are some fantastic action sequences, great visual effects, and it’s a creative expansion on Gene Roddenberry’s original vision.
I am an unabashed Anglophile, so when I saw Wasteland it was an easy pick for me for my list. Wasteland is about a young man, Harvey, who gets out of prison and joins back up with his “boys” in Leeds, England. Together the guys decide to rob a local club to seek revenge on a local thug and drug dealer who set up Harvey to go to jail in the first place. It is sort of a British Ocean’s Eleven, which leads to some real tension, inventive problem solving, and really fun moments. The cast is a big part of what makes the film so enjoyable. It has some British film alumni such as Timothy Spall, some proven young talent like Matthew Lewis and Iwan Rheon, and some fun new comers like Luke Treadaway and Vanessa Kirby. The film is set in Northern England so the accents can be difficult to understand at times; this is a film that I recommend using the subtitles for. Wasteland adeptly captures the pulse of young, British culture while also incorporating the tension of planning, practicing, and executing a robbery. The ending is not a huge surprise but it is the details of the robbery that makes the film so fun and clever. There is even a nice little romance thrown in the mix. Writer, director, contributor to the soundtrack, and new filmmaker Rowan Athale certainly caught my attention with his sleek and flashy freshman full-length film Wasteland.
8. The World’s End
I was already a fan of the first two installments of the “cornetto trilogy” so it is no surprise that I loved The World’s End. The World’s End is a film about male friendship and how it changes as we age, it is a fun comedy, and it is an awesome sci-fi, action film. Edgar Wrights dynamic direction and editing and Simon Pegg and Wright’s clever writing drive the film. The cast of usual suspects in a “cornetto” film is joined by some of England’s top talent such as Pierce Brosnan, David Bradley, Eddie Marsan, and Rosamund Pike. The first part of the story is about a group of five high school friends getting back together to attempt an epic pub-crawl. That story line alone is interesting enough to carry the rest of the film, but about half way through the sci-fi element comes into play and the film really takes off. Similar to Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End tells a story of friendship and survival while also delivering big laughs, big characters, and big energy. I really like how Nick Frost got the role of ‘straight man’ in The World’s End, he pulled it off brilliantly and brought some real depth and nuance to a character we haven’t ever seen him play before. The World’s End manages to have both heart and humor and the balance of the two makes for a top-notch film and a satisfying end to the trilogy.
7. Drinking Buddies
We all know “that girl”, the one who is able to hang with the guys without being seen as one of the guys. She is often threatening to the women around her because she so effortlessly melds with the opposite sex and is able to hold their attention. Olivia Wilde is so “that girl” in Drinking Buddies. Wilde’s, Kate, and Jake Johnson’s, Luke, work together at a local brewery and are incredibly close… maybe too close sometimes. However, Kate and Luke both have significant others. Kate is a complete mess and cannot seem to make much in her life go right except for her job and her friendship with Luke. Luke loves his girlfriend but sees a lot of what he thinks he wants in Kate. Wilde and Johnson so realistically portray their characters and their many flaws and perfections so well that you fall under their spell and see them through each other’s rose-colored glasses. Drinking Buddies tells a deeply touching and complicated love story without ever getting too heavy-handed or showing its cards to early. In fact the film so perfectly plays its hand, it has stuck with me in some surprising ways. Drinking Buddies takes a big risk by letting the actors improvise and it pays off big time. Before Drinking Buddies I was only familiar with director Joe Swanberg as an actor (including from one of the films later on my list) and now I can’t wait to go back and see what else he has done.
6. You’re Next
Speaking of Joe Swamberg, he is one of the cast of You’re Next, and his performance is great. Sometimes I get worried that watching so many movies has made me jaded or hardened to things, because to be honest, it takes a lot to scare me any more. You’re Next really scared me and kept me on my toes the entire time. While the violence is graphic and maybe goes a step too far into “cartoon territory” toward the end, it kept me engaged from start to finish. Home invasion is one of those things that is truly terrifying to imagine, especially when the invaders are wielding cross-bows and wearing animal masks. You’re Next does an excellent job of making you feel like the family members and guests in the house are never safe. The film also balances making the invaders look completely in control without ever seeming super-human. By twisting some genre staples You’re Next manages to keep itself feeling fresh and innovative in a well-worn film genre.
5. Captain Phillips
I remember hearing about the events depicted in Captain Phillips with the Somali pirates on NPR but I never let myself imagine what the crew and specifically the captain went through. To see it larger then life on the screen, was emotionally harrowing to say the least, especially with “America’s Dad” Tom Hanks in the titular role of Captain Phillips. Director Paul Greengrass so effectively puts you in the middle of the action, that even though I knew the ultimate outcome of the film I found myself on tenterhooks. Sometimes the Greengrass “shaky-cam” style can really annoy me but it didn’t in Captain Phillips, instead it served to put me more in the moment. All the performances in the film were great from the pirates to the Navy Seals. The one major stand out is Hanks, who is (forgive the pun) the anchor performance of the film. Of course Hanks has been delivering excellent performances for the last thirty years but what he does in Captain Phillips is breath taking, specifically what he does in the final scene, which is transcendent. To say the Oscars snubbed Hanks is an understatement. I don’t know that I will be in a big hurry to re-watch Captain Phillips any time soon because it is so emotionally draining, but in this case I think that is a testament to the power of the film.
I did not expect to have a vampire movie on my top 10 list this year… but here we are. Byzantium stars Saoirse Ronan as Eleanor a vampire who was turned when she was a teenager. Eleanor tells the story of her mother Clara and how they both became vampires. We also see them in modern day England trying to stay one step ahead of an all-male vampire brotherhood that is trying to kill them (female vampires are against their laws). Byzantium explores the deep loneliness of immortality and the responsibility of holding human life in their hands. The film also examines the often difficult relationship between mother and daughter and how increasingly difficult it would be if you were trapped as a teenager for eternity. Eleanor and Clara have very different ideas of what it means to live and love. We see through flashbacks how they got their separate views on life and why they stick together now. One thing I like about Byzantium is that it knows when to be flashy and when to bend more towards reality. Byzantium’s vampires do not sparkle! They just have a sharp retractable thumbnail that they use to pierce human skin. There are some really cool shots and effects in the flashback sequences and some really excellent performances in the film. Byzantium went under the radar this year, maybe it is vampire over-saturation, but it is an understated and beautiful film that more people should see. It is also another excellent display of Saoirse Ronan’s amazing talent and proof that she is one of the best working young actresses and someone we should all keep our eyes on in the future.
I’ve never been embarrassed to admit that I’ve cried at a movie, but I was a little embarrassed by how many times I cried during Gravity. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was that affected me so much but I think it was the overall desperation of the situation and how much happens to astronaut Ryan Stone played by Sandra Bullock. The incredible film making by director Alfonso Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki made me believe I was in space and put me right in there with Bullock. Gravity even made me like the 3D, which is no small feat. Gravity uses 3D effectively to give depth to the images on the screen and to make it a more immersive experience as opposed to just throwing things at us to get the audience to jump. The overall plot is a little thin and a few of the emotional moments are a little heavy-handed but it as never distracting, the film worked so well overall I can’t really fault it. I was surprised by how emotionally drawn in I was by the film but the combination of the way it was filmed and Bullock’s performance worked their magic on me and I loved every nail-biting moment.
2. The Wall
More then any other movie I saw this year my mind has returned to The Wall most often. I went in with no expectations and was rewarded with this beautiful, contemplative exploration of the human spirit. I feel ok having this on my list of movies for this year because it wasn’t available in the US until May 2013. In a lot of ways this is the German I Am Legend without Will Smith or vampires. Instead it is about a woman and her dog trying to survive alone in the mountains when they are blocked from the rest of the world by a mysterious, invisible wall. The movie is quiet and slow but it is also deeply emotional and thought provoking. It is as much about survival as it is about the human spirit, the utter emptiness of solitude, companionship with animals, and finding a balance with nature. The film is set and shot in the Austrian Alps and is a visual feast. Martina Gedeck delivers a captivating performance that is both sympathetic and devastating. The woman Gedeck portrays is a survivor but it is a difficult struggle. Her characters honesty and perseverance are what I reflect on the most. While there are some emotionally devastating moments in the film, it is worth the emotional journey, trust me.
1. Much Ado About Nothing
I am not surprised at all that Much Ado About Nothing is my #1 pick for 2013. It feels like a movie made for me. It has all the elements I could ask for: Shakespeare, a cast I love, interesting cinematography, and Joss Whedon’s patented sense of humor and style. Whedon set the classical comedy in a modern setting by filming at his own house while seamlessly matching up iambic pentameter with cell phones and cars. Unlike other modern interpretations of Shakespeare’s works it doesn’t feel forced and the modern flourishes don’t call attention to themselves. The casting is probably the films greatest asset. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof are charming and fiery as Beatrice and Benedick. Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese are young and passionate as Claudio and Hero. And I love the cross-gender casting of Conrade as a woman, but sadly Riki Lindhome is the least successful with the Shakespearean language. Perhaps the most successful is Nathan Fillion as the bumbling security officer Dogberry. I think Whedon makes Shakespeare’s most accessible comedy even more accessible and even people who “don’t like Shakespeare” can find the humor and romance in this adaptation.