Top 10 Movies | Sean Lass

bestof moviesMy 2013 started out rough. The first film of the year was Texas Chainsaw 3D, which I hated more than any movie I saw in 2012.

worldsend 500

The World’s End

A Good Day to Die Hard followed soon after, and as late as April, I was still waiting to see a movie that I could fully embrace. And then, one day, out of nowhere, I found myself debating whether or not 2013 was a superior movie year to 2007. That’s a very serious question. I don’t think we’ll have an answer for a while, because what gives 2007 a leg up is that it gave us four movies (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Zodiac, No Country for Old Men, and There Will Be Blood) that at this point have proven to be modern classics. I don’t know how many films from 2013 will still be talked about with the same reverence six years from now, but I do know that in the second half of the year, I saw a staggering number of very good to great films.

Usually when I’m sitting down to come up with a year-end list, I come up with around 25 movies and work my way down from there. As of right now, my “shortlist” for 2013 is sitting at 37 (I obviously won’t list them all, but I’ll list some honorable mentions as they relate to the Top 10). And there’s still plenty to catch up on. I saw upwards of 90 films this year, but looking at all of them, I was stunned to see how many foreign films and documentaries I missed. And then there are movies like Her that don’t even open St. Louis for a few more weeks. In short, 2013 is a year that will keep on giving. Typically, there is one film that is definitely my favorite of the year, but this year, my top six are all pretty interchangeable. Luckily, there’s plenty of love to go around.

1. The World’s End | As a huge fan of every collaboration between director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, The World’s End was certainly one of my most anticipated movies of the year. I figured there was no way those three would deliver anything less than one of the most enjoyable films of the year. What I got was actually stunning, to the point where I wasn’t even sure how much I liked it when I walked out after seeing it the first time. They have always taken their characters to some dark places and boldly inserted effective drama where it really shouldn’t work, but this is on a whole new level. Pegg deserves an Oscar nomination for his incredible, brave performance as a character who is almost unbearable to be around. The film is first and foremost about addiction, and it handles that subject with the utmost seriousness. It’s also about a lot of other things, like what it means to grow up and how weird it is to return to where you grew up once you’ve been living elsewhere as an adult. There’s also the punk, antiestablishment, anti-conformity theme, which runs through all three films in the Cornetto Trilogy. The film is so thematically rich and emotionally engaging that you almost forget that it’s also a very effective sci-fi thriller, with some surprisingly wonderful action. And, oh yeah, it’s also funny. There was kind of a trilogy of apocalyptic comedies this year, with The World’s End, John Dies at the End, and This is the End. I loved them all, but this movie, like its main character, is the king.

(Related honorable mentions: The aforementioned other End movies, and The Spectacular Now, which Edgar Wright points out could act as a pseudo-prequel to The World’s End.)

2. Before Midnight | The World’s End wasn’t the only capper to a great trilogy this year. We also were treated to the follow-up to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. This rather unlikely trilogy may be one of the best things to happen to cinema in my lifetime. Before Sunrise was a great little movie that really captured the magic of first falling in love. It didn’t necessarily demand a sequel, but Before Sunset actually upped the ante, lending some serious weight to the characters and their relationships. Before Sunset had a beautiful, perfect ending, with an ambiguity I absolutely loved, so I was mildly nervous about the prospect of another follow up. But the moment Before Midnight ended, I wasn’t even thinking about it. It almost felt like this had always been a trilogy, and it was hard to imagine the other two without this one. It not only reunited me with characters I love, it added a very harsh level of reality regarding how people in love act once the initial thrill is gone. This once-romanticized relationship now feels very real, and the extensive fight that takes up the majority of the third act was more riveting than the climax most blockbusters could ever hope to have. As the characters in this series grow older, the films are maturing with them, to the point where I would welcome another one nine years from now.

(Related honorable mentions: Enough Said and About Time

3. Pacific Rim | I had the experience with Pacific Rim that regular people allegedly had with Avatar. From the very beginning to the very end, I was in complete awe of the spectacle in front of me. Guillermo Del Toro has always had a sense for scale, and making small- to medium-budgeted movies look much bigger than they actually are. So when he’s working with legit blockbuster money, the result is out of this world. He and his team of special effects artists have created digital characters (both the monsters and the robots) and a rich, vibrant world that will stand the test of time, capturing the imaginations of children for decades to come. This is everything a modern blockbuster should be: a film that inspires awe and wonder instead of dread and depression; a film with a great musical score, built on an actual theme that you can hum; a film that tells a complete story, rather than feeling like an episode in an ongoing serial. It’s pure magic, and while everyone has the right to their opinion, I have to say that the people who don’t like this movie are probably missing a piece of their soul.

(Related honorable mentions: Gravity, the other movie this year that needed to be seen in IMAX, although I’ve watched Pacific Rim several times on Blu-ray, and I don’t think Gravity will hold up as well in its transition to the small screen.)

4. Inside Llewyn Davis | I should give a fair warning and mention that because of the ridiculously packed release schedule of the last few weeks, I have so far only seen this film once. Since it is a Coen brothers film, that means that I don’t like it as much as I eventually will, which is really saying something because I already like it a whole hell of a lot. I love almost everything they have done, but I have a real soft spot for these little oddities they make from time to time (Barton Fink is probably my favorite film of theirs). Inside Llewyn Davis feels like A Serious Man in how much misfortune befalls the main character, except in this case, it’s almost all of his own doing, which in some ways makes it more tragic. Plus, I went in aware of critic Matt Singer’s theory that this film is the Coen brothers imagining a world without each other, which is just about enough to make me break down in tears.

(Related honorable mentions: Nebraska, another small road movie which strikes the difficult balance of melancholy and humor)

5. You’re Next | Criminally few people saw this one, but the great thing about the horror genre is that its fans are always eager to seek out and champion gems like this once they are out on DVD. A few years from now, You’re Next will be seen as (calling it now) a modern classic. It’s the best kind of postmodern take on a genre, one that acknowledges what has come before and cleverly riffs on it, while remaining a solid entry in said genre. I loved Cabin in the Woods last year, but the straight horror aspects of that movie really don’t work. You’re Next is every bit as funny and knowing, but it never forgets what it is. Like The Conjuring, another great horror film from this year, it’s a horror film that actually asks you to care about its characters: that should be a given, but is exceptionally rare. It takes Adam Wingard from the realm of interesting young horror directors, and catapults him to being one of the best around. Aside from Pacific Rim, this is the most purely enjoyable movie of the year.

(Related honorable mentions: The Conjuring, Berberian Sound Studio, V/H/S 2)

6. The Wolf of Wall Street | The Wolf of Wall Street is a ferocious movie that is as exciting, stylish, and, admittedly, messy as any of Martin Scorsese’s groundbreaking early work. It’s three hours long, and yet it is never dull. This is also far and away his funniest movie, and the scene of DiCaprio trying to get into his car while severely inebriated gets it a spot on this list automatically. Unfortunately, this seems to be the Zero Dark Thirty of this year, in that it has spawned a pseudo controversy thanks to certain people misinterpreting fairly obvious aspects of the movie. The main complaint is that Scorsese goes too far in glamorizing the actions of these morally reprehensible people. My response when first coming out was that portraying these things in a fetishistic way was simply mirroring the views of the characters, and did not mean that the filmmakers condoned their actions. But then I saw the movie a second time, and I don’t even think their extravagant lifestyle is all that glamorized. For all the sex and nudity in the film, none of it is remotely sexy. The characters don’t become cool when doing drugs; they act like complete imbeciles. I would even go so far as to say that Jordan Belfort is Scorsese’s least appealing protagonist since Jake LaMotta. I think the director is much less kind to these guys than the countless gangsters in his other movies. The characters in Goodfellas are vile people doing vile things, but for at least half of that movie you kind of want to hang out with them and be in that world. I never wanted to go anywhere near the characters in Wolf of Wall Street. Anyway, I love that 71-year-old Scorsese can still make a movie that upsets and offends large portions of the general public. The man is still a rock star, and this may be his best film since Goodfellas.

(Related honorable mentions: Pain and Gain, American Hustle, and every other “Look at my shit!” movie that came out this year)

7. Prisoners | I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Prisoners is the least funny entry on this list. This thing is bleak and disturbing, but also impossible to turn away from. I actually have major problems with the last 15 minutes of the film, and usually those problems would eat away at me until I had convinced myself that the whole movie wasn’t that good. It’s a testament to the first two-and-a-quarter hours that the ending hasn’t overshadowed the rest of the movie. Director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) crafts a patient, atmospheric procedural, which feels very different from most Hollywood fare. It actually reminded me a lot of Korean cinema, specifically Bong Joon-Ho’s films Mother and Memories of Murder. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is typically beautiful, and Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are delivering some of the best work of their careers. If it weren’t for the last act missteps, this film would be a masterpiece along the lines of Fincher’s Zodiac. As it is, it will have to settle for simply being one of the best films of the year.

(Related honorable mentions: Captain Phillips, which is just as gripping and just as laugh-free)

8. Iron Man Three | I love Iron Man Three (which is how it is actually titled in the awesome end credits sequence). First off, I love Shane Black, and this is a Shane Black film through and through. More than any of the other Marvel Studios movies, this really does have a strong authorial voice that sets it apart and makes it feel unique. Like most of the movies on this list, it is terrifically funny. I’m not sure that it’s better than a lot of the films that aren’t making my top 10, but I wanted to find a place for it, not just because I love it, but because I want to make a point. This movie has one of the best plot twists of recent years. Not only does it completely work for the story, and not only did literally no one see it coming, but it is also incredibly brave in what it does as an adaptation of an established property. It’s indicative of what’s great about the whole movie. And people fucking hated it. I can’t tell you how many times I got sucked into arguments online where I had to defend the fact that this movie took risks and went in original directions to people who apparently wanted to just see the same old story that they already knew. This weird conflict was exacerbated two weeks later with the release of Star Trek into Darkness, which clumsily recycled/bastardized elements from earlier movies and was largely embraced by the fanboy community. Interestingly enough, a majority of Star Trek fans have since turned on Into Darkness. Its reputation is pretty significantly different now than when it was released. I can only hope that someday soon, the pendulum swings the opposite way for Iron Man Three, and people embrace it for the smart, enjoyable movie that it is.

(Related honorable mentions: The Wolverine, another superhero movie which felt different from every other superhero movie. The climax is borderline terrible, but everything else leading up to it is pretty terrific.)

9. Only God Forgives | I’ll be honest: I wasn’t crazy about this movie when I saw it the first time. I appreciated the style and the performances by Kristin Scott Thomas and Vithaya Pansringarm, both of who are delightfully villainous, but the meandering story and the passiveness of Ryan Gosling’s character really bothered me. Watching it again, the things I liked worked even better for me, and more importantly, my earlier problems with it were completely gone. Vanished. I don’t even understand what frame of mind I could have been in that would have caused me to think that way. Looking at it now, I love the atmosphere of this film. It’s a visual masterpiece, easily the second-best-looking film of the year. The beauty of the images contrasted with the ugliness of the subject matter; while not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, it is incredibly effective, and I really got lost in this world. And, like Iron Man Three, it rudely pulls the rug out from under a certain segment of its audience, except instead of comic book fans, it’s people who loved Drive for all the wrong reasons. Did you want to be Ryan Gosling in Drive because you saw him as the ultimate badass? Here you go; now he’s an ineffectual pussy.

(Related honorable mentions: The Grandmaster, which is the #1 most beautiful movie of the year, and Spring Breakers, which has a somewhat similar aesthetic and which I also liked significantly more the second time)

10. Escape from Tomorrow | There’s an argument to be made that Escape from Tomorrow is not one of the best films of the year. In fact, many would argue that it isn’t even good. But best-of-the-year lists aren’t really about the best movies of the year. What they really are, at least for me, are the movies that have stuck with me the most since seeing them, and in the last few months, this film has never been completely out of my mind. We have to acknowledge the amazing testicular fortitude that went into making this movie. Usually, critics try to separate how a film was made from the film itself, but you can’t do that here. Escape from Tomorrow isn’t just a traditional narrative that happened to be secretly filmed at Disneyland without permission; it’s a scathing attack on everything Disney as a corporation represents. The story of the production is inherently tied in with the final product, and I don’t think you can argue that director Randy Moore isn’t some kind of mad genius for being able to pull this off. Looking at the film by itself, it is certainly flawed. The acting leaves something to be desired and there are a couple scenes that really drag. But there’s enough weird, trippy imagery throughout to win me back whenever the movie risked losing me, and by the end, it goes completely gonzo in a way that makes me love the movie for the movie, and not just for the ballsy, antiestablishment statement at its core.

(Related honorable mentions: None. It stands alone. I haven’t seen Saving Mr. Banks, but that might make a good companion piece as evidence of why we need a movie like Escape from Tomorrow.)

These best-of-the-year lists are always flawed from the get-go. It would be a lot easier if we could do them a year later, when we’ve caught up on everything we missed and had time to really contemplate which ones stick with us. For now, I have to just go with the films that had an impact on me personally. I know everyone is wondering how 12 Years a Slave didn’t make the cut. It made the top 37, and don’t think I wasn’t cheesy enough to consider recommending it alongside Prisoners. It is undeniably a good film; it just didn’t strike me as anything I hadn’t seen before. For all I know, it will end up being one of those that people do hold up years from now as a modern classic. You never know, but what I do know is that 2013 was a win for film fans. | Sean Lass

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply