Tuesday, December 31, 2013

James Franco vs. The Wolf vs. Mind Control Worms: The Top 10 Flicks of 2013

   Have you seen enough of these yet? I certainly have not, and that is why Dazz is back with the annual Top 10 Flicks of the Year: 2013 Edition. This is one of my favorite articles to write, so strap in and let’s roll.
   Right away, it is apparent that the back half of the year was bloated with quality flicks, mostly dramas, and now, these late bloomers have infected top ten lists like the plague. I mean, a lot of this is for good reason—in fact, half of Dazz’s own list was released within the last two months—but sheesh, when everyone’s list is drama after drama, it can grow pretty old.
   When the According to Dazz staff thinks of 2013, we think of a year where more and more people had the chance to be heard. We think of a year where more types of people were represented and supported than ever before. We think of a year that was diverse in its expression and style. As a result, the Top 10 Flicks list strove to reflect that. There were tons of good movies this year, spanning all genres, and in true 2013 style, we want you to know about the cream of the crop in all of these niches.
   So without further ado, the best films of 2013. Let’s bring it all home, friends.

10. Frozen
   It was the best Disney flick since Tarzan in 1999—easy. The characters were delightfully original, the humor continually on-point, and the music was some of the best since the Lion King. Sure, the story might have been plugged up with a few of the all-too-convenient Disney clichés, but the company took another huge step forward by injecting their classic princess formula with a more modern feel. The characters were some of the most interesting and multi-dimensional personalities that we have seen in an animated movie, and they were well-served by a mature, yet universal thematic approach. Frozen will soon be a Disney classic—it is that impressive.

9. Upstream Color
   Some might be turned off by the convoluted presentation, but make no mistake, Upstream Color is a technically-brilliant and surprisingly-poignant achievement in film. This is the sophomore outing for writer, director, and lead actor (!) Shane Curruth, and can be considered a grounded sci-fi of sorts, one that explores the concept of mind control in a way that simply has not been considered before. The film’s highly-limited release and distinct lack of exposition might make it seem unapproachable (indeed, background reading and plot summaries are almost mandatory), but when the work is done, something highly-memorable emerges. This is Dazz’s hidden gem of 2013, so head over to Netflix (it is available to stream!) and give it a watch. It will punish your brain and warp your mind, but you will be hard-pressed to forget it.

8. This is the End
   Say what you will, but the funniest movie of the year deserves a spot in the Top 10. In a year when the idea of the celebrity exploded into even more absurd proportions, it was hysterical to see a group of A-listers who were finally willing to laugh at themselves. The whole thing feels like a giant inside joke that everyone can be in on, and every scene from the Exorcism of Jonah Hill to the debate over the Milky Way completely delivered. What is more, this one boasts a surprising amount of re-watchability, ultimately setting it apart from the other comedies of 2013. Hilarious, self-aware, and totally appropriate for the times we live in, This is the End is money. And can you beat that ending? No way.

7. Inside Llewyn Davis
   While other movies on this list (as we will later see) did well in conjuring more tangible emotion, Inside Llewyn Davis hit me the hardest several hours later, when I found myself still thinking about the powerful songs, the beautiful imagery, and the marathon of hard knocks endured by the title character. It was a stirring reminder of the loftiness of our dreams, and how, quite simply, things might not always work out. The Coen Brothers add another stellar flick to their canon of exceptional movies, and this one above all others might do best to represent the everyman. Exploring the 1960s folk scene alongside Llewyn Davis was a gloomy ride, but thanks to some powerful acting by leading man Oscar Isaac, incredible cinematography and art direction, and the best soundtrack of 2013, retrospect tells me that I absolutely loved it. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Give me a week and it might crack the Top 3 on this list—seriously.

6. Gravity
   In a year full of “breakout” or “career-defining” performances, Sandra Bullock’s turn in Gravity might just top them all. She was nothing short of spectacular in this one; even more impressive when you consider that she is in just about every scene. Many will call it the most beautiful movie of the year, and for good reason, because it looks like this movie was actually shot in space. Couple this with the sweeping, lingering, I-refuse-to-cut-away-and-give-the-viewer-a-break direction of Alfonso Cuarón and you have a movie that forces you to the edge of your seat and keeps you there. The opening collision sequence (an awe-inspiring uncut shot clocking in at nearly 15 minutes) will go down as one of the most jaw-dropping moments of the year. A visual and technical treat, this one will give film-nerds and casual viewers equal satisfaction. At its core was an incredibly riveting experience.

5. Captain Phillips
   My only gripe is that the title sucks. In no way does it make you want to see the movie—a damn shame, because this was one of the best thrillers of the year, and (buckle up) Tom Hanks’ best performance since Cast Away (way back in 2000!). Both of those aside, however, the real star of this show was Barkhad Abdi and his turn as the Somali captain Muse. More so than many biopics, Captain Phillips truly tells you all sides of the Somali pirate story, and the result is a showcase of talent on both sides of the globe. We receive as much of a look into the lives of the Africans as we do the Americans, and that is not something many Hollywood movies are doing today. At its core is a tight, tense, and utterly captivating flick, but in a greater sense, this is the benchmark of how America should handle “based on a true story”-type movies. Oh, and did I mention that the ending features a military-ops scene that rivals that of Zero Dark Thirty? Believe it.

4. Prisoners
   Let me spew some critical crap at you before we come to the real reason this movie is so great. First off, the performances are powerful, affecting, and grounded. The direction is tight and ideal for a thriller. Finally, the storyline and plot structure is rife with twists that truly and effectively pay off.
   But here is the real reason that Prisoners is so high on this list: it was far and away the best in-theater experience this year (and maybe in many years). A movie about two kids being kidnapped is tense enough, but when this one begins to explore the desperation of the victimized parents, things ramp up to a face-covering, eye-widening, mouth-smothering level of intensity. People in our theater just started crying out loud when they could not take it. Someone screamed. You felt everyone squirm in unison during particularly impactful scenes—no one was ever relaxed during the whole two-and-a-half-hour runtime. My friend Emily and I had our jackets balled up to our faces for at least half the movie, and I was so tense that I was sore afterward. Going to see Prisoners was a movie-theater experience unlike anything else, and if that is not the sign of something great, I just do not know what is.

3. 12 Years a Slave
   Yup, sorry—it is not number one. Here is the thing: 12 Years really is a great movie. It is brilliantly well-done, and it conveys its message so effectively that it is impossible not to leave the theater in reflection. It was one of the most difficult movies I have ever seen, and I will probably remember the shocking brutality and emotional payoff for a long time, but the kicker is this: it was impossible to enjoy, and ultimately, that is why I go to the movies.
   I am not saying that 12 Years is overrated—it is not. It is probably essential viewing for anyone seeking to understand the root of one of the worst evils our nation has ever had. It will probably win Best Picture. It was phenomenal—but it sucked to watch. I go to the movies to be entertained and to watch a great story being told, and while 12 Years told an incredible story, I was far from entertained. I walked out feeling worse than when I went in, and the result is that I probably will never watch it again. It was just too much. It was great—everyone should see it—but it was not the best movie of the year. I want to be able to watch the top movie over and over again and always enjoy the experience.

2. The Dallas Buyers Club
   All hail the indie movie! Many will argue that smaller production companies have had better years than the Hollywood bigwigs, and The Dallas Buyers Club is the pinnacle of why that is. Matthew McConaughey gives the performance of his career as an HIV-afflicted man who resorts to drug-smuggling and membership deals as a way to not only bring the best treatment to himself, but to all others with HIV as well. The result is a fascinating and engrossing look into the time in America was HIV was still the “gay disease,” and McConaughey (along with Jerod Leto in an award-worthy turn as his transvestite business partner) delivers the moments that convince you that this story needs to keep being told. One of the most quietly-disturbing points of social division in America is brought to light by a story that, while underscoring this issue, also succeeds in telling something inspiring, uplifting, and triumphant. We have a sense of the larger social issue that existed, but are also encouraged by the man who was one of the first to defy it. Dallas Buyers Club is poignant and effective in all the right ways, and with the two best acting performances of the year behind it, it tells its story brilliantly.

1. The Wolf of Wall Street
   But let’s cut the crap here. Only one movie this year was captivating, hilarious, and wholly-entertaining from beginning to end, and you are damn right that it was the crass, irreverent, and middle-finger-throwing Wolf of Wall Street. As a group of overly-rich and powerful stockbrokers, Jordan Belfort and the Gang cheat their way up the white-collar ladder to a land of such utter debauchery that many will be shocked and appalled, but all will revel in the epic amount of stick-it-to-the-man-style activity that ensues. Leonardo DiCaprio has his best shot at an Oscar ever with his masterful comedic and dramatic performance as the title character, and the supporting cast (the ever more reliable Jonah Hill notwithstanding) does well to bolster the laughs. Many will be turned off by the absolutely insane amount of sex, drugs, and profanity in this one (truly, at times it serves more to detract from the proceedings), but upon some review, it seems that the excessive amount of . . . excessiveness, I guess, is a total reflection of the characters. Just like its leading man, Wolf of Wall Street sees its biggest fault in the rampant amount of crassness that it explores, but the degree of self-reference makes up for it.
   At the end of the day, you have the most entertaining movie of the year, and its three-hour runtime feels far from drawn-out. Like anything effectively edgy and line-crossing, you keep watching the spectacle just to see what sort of mischief the characters will undergo next. The list of standout scenes goes on and on—the FBI questioning on the yacht, a certain drug overdose, the lunch with Matthew McConaughey (he’s everywhere!), the “sell me this pen” scene . . . this is another killer addition to director Martin Scorsese’s collection of morally-sketchy crime movies. If you want something purely memorable, in ways that are sometimes good, sometimes bad, and always entertaining, look no further than Wolf. It is the best movie of the year.

Honorable Mentions:
The World’s End—second-best comedy of the year, excellent humor and a zany plot, all-star British cast, best of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy

Out of the Furnace—revenge flick that chooses subtlety over the typical enraged violence, great performances by Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson, good cold opening, memorable ending

Fruitvale Station—deeply moving flick about the San Fran shooting just a few years ago, powerfully acted by Michael B. Jordan, very thought-provoking

Man of Steel—best superhero movie of the year, interesting and original take on Superman, quit you bitching about the over-the-top destruction, because the action was sweet

American Hustle—incredibly acted, but left off the list because of a poorly-written ending and a distinct lack of emotional payoff, a few little changes would have made it truly great

Place Beyond the Pines—best performance of Ryan Gosling’s career, but a just-okay final act fails to live up to the incredible first half of the movie, great message on the nature of legacy

See you fools in 2014,


1 comment:

  1. I love your comments they make me excited thank you for sharing!!! -yommah