miscellaneous commentary

Favorite films of 2013 (Part 1)

with 3 comments

Each year I create a list of my favorite films and write a little something about each one. I try to do this as close to the end of the year as possible, but since studios like to cram a bunch of good films in around Christmas/New Years (the awards gambit) I sometimes don’t get to see some films until January, if not considerably later the following year if they do not come to a theater in the Cedar Valley and I have to wait for the DVD.

While I love telling people about the movies I like, sometimes writing about it feels like a chore, especially when I wait too long to do it. So to prevent that from happening this year, I’m going to try write about the films I’ve seen so far that I liked, and write a follow-up post in Jan-Feb 2014 for the end-of-year holdouts.

I used to rank the films on my lists, but I’ve tried to avoid that in recent years. Comparisons are an apples to oranges game and in hindsight make little sense other than to satisfy some primordial desire to rank things. In recent years I have not always felt enamored to one particular movie over the others (a best-of-the-best) but that isn’t the case this year.

So here goes…


Evil Dead – A respectable remake of one of my favorite horror movies. I thought this version hit all the right notes – it was disgusting, bloody, loud, violent, bizarre and funny. Fans of the 1981 original and/or the 1987 sequel/remake should welcome this one into the fold. In an era when horror films insists on being taken seriously (with claims of “based on a true story” or “inspired by real events”) this film is proud of being preposterous.


Pacific Rim – An under-appreciated summer monster movie. Think Godzilla plus Transformers, on a global scale. Another great film from Guillermo Del Toro, who also made “Pan’s Labyrinth” and the Hellboy films. My favorite scene was Mako’s flashback to childhood, being chased down the street by a giant kaiju. Notice the camerawork during the incredibly high-angle shot, how the little girl can be seen running down a rubble-strewn street.


Amour – Last year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, this movie covers much of the same ground as “On Golden Pond’ but with far more heartbreak. An elderly couple cope with various debilitations as a result of a stroke (and aging in general). Love and pain are sometimes demonstrated through the same action.


Gravity – My favorite film of the year. Previous thoughts here.


Before Midnight – In 1995 Richard Linklater directed Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in “Before Sunrise” as twentysomethings who meet on a train traveling across Europe and spend an impromptu evening together in Vienna. Linklater, Hawke and Delpy reunited in “Before Sunset” in 2004, set in Paris, where their characters reunite and attempt to rekindle the flame they once had for one another. This year the third installment came out, just as touching and introspective as the first two. The couple discuss, often at length: parenthood, marriage and divorce, juggling careers vs. family needs, falling in and out of love, infidelity and perseverance. This film is great by itself; all three watched sequentially create the finest fictional version of the “Up” documentary series.


All Is Lost – a patient film about human survival, like “127 Hours” but at a more meditative pace. Robert Redford in a one-man show as a yachter whose ship is damaged once by a floating shipping container and later by a storm. When I say a one-man show, I mean just that – he is the only person seen or heard from in the entire film (and the only name in the credits, billed as “Our Man”). He performs his tasks methodically;  patching up his rig, attempting to repair a radio to call for help,  working against an constantly-flooding cabin, navigating a storm, recovering from injury, engaging a life raft… but I will say no more. This film reminded me of Gus Van Sant’s little-seen “Gerry” (the first film in his death trilogy).


Captain Phillips – a real-life edge-of-your-seat thriller by Paul Greengrass, director of “United 93” and the second and third films in the Bourne series. I invoke no hyperbole when I say Tom Hanks does his best acting in this movie. Greengrass refuses to allow the antagonists of his film to be one-dimensional cookie-cutter villains (e.g. the hijackers in “United 93”) and first-time Somali actor Barkhad Abdi brings so much humanism to his role as the pirate captain that it was hard not to have sympathy for him by the end.

After watching “Gravity”, “All is Lost” and this film, I’m not sure I ever want to leave the safe confines of dry land ever again.


12 Years a Slave – During most of the movie I was overcome with a feeling of despair. To quote Susan Wloszczyna’s review, I felt like I had “witnessed American slavery in all its appalling horror for the very first time”. Hard to stomach but impossible to stop watching. Amongst many solid performances, I was drawn to Michael Fassbender as the wicked slaveowner Edwin Epps, and Lupita Nyong’o as his prized slave Patsey.

Other films I’ve seen this year and liked include:
-the global warming documentary “Chasing Ice”
-“56 Up”, Michael Apted’s latest documentary in his multi-decade series examining the lives of a dozen Britons from across the socioeconomic ladder
-“Flight” with its insane opening crash sequence
-Greta Gerwig’s charm in “Frances Ha”
-Joss Whedon’s modern take on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”
-Matthew McConaughey as a criminal on the run in “Mud”
-last year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary “Searching for Sugar Man”
-summertime blues flick “The Way Way Back”
-Disney’s homage to decades of arcade games “Wreck It Ralph”


Also, between my Hulu Plus subscription and the UNI Library, I’ve seen a number of great older movies, which I also wanted to highlight: classic Japanese anime “Akira”, early Wim Wenders road film “Alice in the Cities”, 60s black comedy “Divorce Italian Style”, French murder mystery “Elevators to the Gallows”, harrowing Holocaust film “The Grey Zone”, the visually stunning black & white 70s Czech medieval action art film “Marketa Lazarova”, the tender Altman western set in snowy Washington State “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”, fun adventure/escape film “Night Train to Munich”, personal minimalist story “No Impact Man”, feudal Japanese horror film “Onibaba”, the ever-fascinating Tilda Swinton in “Orlando”, Albert Finney doing some mighty fine acting in “Under the Volcano” and white-knuckled 50s French action/suspense film “The Wages of Fear”.



Written by camcarlson

December 8, 2013 at 3:57 PM

3 Responses

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  1. A great list! I wish I had more time to see movies. But mostly, I wanted to point out that it is “Joss” Whedon. Or just go all-out misspelling and call him “Josh Wheaton”. 😛


    December 9, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    • Oh yes, Joss. Oops. I really liked “Much Ado About Nothing”. You & Mia should consider it the next time you have a free night for a movie, I think you’d enjoy it. Agent Coulson is in it!


      December 9, 2013 at 11:44 PM

  2. […] few months ago I wrote about the films that I had enjoyed up through November 2013. As in most years, many studios hold onto their […]

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