Saturday, January 18, 2014

Top Ten Films I Watched In 2013

2013 has been the most productive year of movie watching that I can remember. While I didn’t watch as many films as I would have liked to, I have now begun to write and share my thoughts and feelings on every new movie that I watch. Whether it is one that just hit theaters and everyone is seeing for the first time, or something has been out for decades, I watched more than enough new material.

So much so that I am compiling a list of the top ten best films I watched in 2013. The only stipulation for this list is the film must be one I watched for the first time in 2013. Whether it came out eighty years ago or yesterday is inconsequential. Most of these will also be films I have reviewed perviously, so for more a detailed and thorough analysis, be sure to check out my older reviews. 

These are the films that consistently impressed me. Ones that left the biggest impact on me and were in my thoughts long after the film was over. The ones that moved me, whether through making me laugh, cry, frightened, excited or somewhere in between. The films which showed the creative power of cinema and just how diverse of an art form it can be. These are the top ten films I watched in 2013. 

10. “Perfect Blue” (1997)

Imagine if Hayao Miyazaki animated and drew inspiration from one of Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thrillers, and your results will undoubtedly be similar to Satoshi Kon’s “Perfect Blue.” The story follows a Japanese teen pop idol who has grown tired of sharing the spotlight and singing, so she decides to branch out and try acting. This causes much backlash amongst her adoring fans, some of whom verbal threaten her to go back to singing or else terrible things will happen. This, along with some brutal scenes she must perform to be on a television show, causes her to start questioning if she’s an actress, a pop idol or a nobody. 

This is not a movie for everyone, as it contains quite a bit of violent acts that will turn off many people. But, if you’re willing to look past that, like I am, then you get an extremely effective psychological thriller with beautiful animation and great sense of atmosphere. The film never lets up from the beginning, always making it seem like our main character is being watched and that she has a reason to be scared. I also cannot imagine this movie being live-action, as it would remove some of the charm and mystery of whether these events are in the mind of the protagonist or not. 

“Perfect Blue” shows the depth and strength of Japanese animation and how to tell an effective thriller with a likable yet simple character. Mood is everything in this film, and there are some scenes which still haunt me. It’s a little dated due to it coming out at beginning of the internet era, but once you get past that, “Perfect Blue” is a terrifying look at the conflict in the mind of a teenage girl.

9. “Kung Fu Panda 2” (2011)

I know, I’m as surprised as you guys. A film called “Kung Fu Panda 2” starring Jack Black is in my top ten favorite films of the year. Go figure. 

There are many reasons why this makes the list. Not the least of which being the emotional core of the film, and Po’s conflict with the antagonist and within himself. Not only do these characters’ colors contrast each other nicely, but they both represent moral and ethical values that each have their goods and bads. 

Po is kind, comforting, selfless and optimistic, never giving up in the face of danger, but is also doesn’t look back to learn where he came from. Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) is smart, prideful and feels that he rightfully deserves to rule China like his father, but is blinded by his own arrogance and believes in nothing but himself. 

Combine that with animation that has a wide range of colors and scope, great supporting characters and fight sequences that never feel stale or repetitive and you have a winning recipe for a film that outdoes even its predecessor. 

8. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” (2013)

Walking out of this one, I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I thought this was going to be a film about the corrupt people of Wall Street and how they’re always being hunted by the government.

Imagine the look on my face when the film opens up with Leonardo DiCaprio literally telling the narrator to change the color of his car, throwing people into a blowup dart board and crashing a helicopter in his own backyard. 

As much as I said the film tries to be “Goodfellas” with stockbrokers, “The Wolf Of Wall Street” still attempts to tell a different kind of story. Where “Goodfellas” was a gangster film through and through, this one is much more of a parody of real life events. It takes every opportunity to mention that these are insanely rich douche-bags who can do whatever they want. And they use their money like its drinking water. 

“The Wolf Of Wall Street” is funny, clever and satisfying to see these terrible people be themselves, only to get what was coming to them by the end. 

7. “(500) Days Of Summer” (2009)

“(500) Days Of Summer” impressed me with its ability to capture the randomness and unpredictability of life. The most of what life has to offer doesn’t always unfold in a story book fashion, but with some events just occurring as often as a thunderstorm. Many films attempt to tell this kind of story, like in “The Big Chill,” but it is never done to its full effect.

The reason it works for this film and not for others is for a few reasons. One are the characters, Tom and Summer, who ride this relationship out as it goes. They have their up moments and down moments, but they don’t let that change who they are until they realize much later on that the break up was their own fault. Inside of cramming change down our throats, it happens naturally and for good reason. 

The second reason is that the story is told in a nonlinear fashion. With the handy number guide to tell you which days come in order, the audience can’t get lost and can still experience how unexpected and unforgiving life can be sometimes. 

“(500) Days of Summer” works because it doesn’t try to hide behind being a love story, but does embrace how much love can change ones life, for better or worse.

6. “Tangled” (2010)

If there’s one thing I enjoy the most about animated movies, it is their ability to have so much freedom and creativity and show how powerful filmmaking can be. 

The story of Rapunzel is one that we’ve all heard about, but “Tangled” adds to this with a mythical background, a story of greed, reclaiming that which was lost, exploration and redemption. The characters are uniquely designed and each feels like an individual. In fact, some characters get this across without ever saying a word, such as the valiant and obsessed horse to the king and queen whose emotions can be described with just one facial expression. 

“Tangled” is fun, clever, exciting, hilarious and a reminder that animation can please both adults and kids.

5. “Peeping Tom” (1960)

What are the limits of film? Where should a movie go and what shouldn’t it attempt to do? More importantly, how does this affect the filmmaker?

These are just some of the psychological questions raised during “Peeping Tom” as Mark attempts to make a film that he feels he’s been working on his entire life. Mark freely admits that he is a madman for making such a film, but then again, maybe he wasn’t the one that started it. Much like Norman Bates in “Psycho,” there is a strong connection to the parent and how their actions were passed onto their children. 

Part of the reason Mark is doing this might be because film has never seen anything like this before. After all, film is something that anyone in the world can understand, and to see what Mark has to offer would touch so many lives for generations to come. Does that make what he does right? In his mind, it just might. 

4. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988)

Okay, last animated film on this list. I swear.

This is the film that always brings out our inner child. I can safely say that I always imagined a movie like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one. A movie where Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse could finally coexist. Where Daffy Duck and Donald Duck could do a piano duel and see who is the better duck. Where toons and humans can live together and appreciate what we both have to offer. 

Beyond that, this film takes full advantage of humans and toons together through Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) and his attempts to keep the toons under control. He sees toons as a minority that need to kept under control or else we would be in danger. The dip, which he creates, is one of the scariest and innovative ways to die that I can imagine. To see that in a supposed kids movie is wonderful. 

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” is a perfect love letter to the cartoons which we all grew up with. It doesn’t try to change who these characters are for the sake of modernization, but just lets them be the cartoons that we all remember. There is much passion and joy behind this film and that is what makes it so enjoyable. 

3. “The Best Years Of Our Lives” (1946)

War is so often brought to life in cinema, but it is immensely difficult to pull off effectively. Especially the psychological and emotional side. 

Yet that is entirely what “The Best Years Of Our Lives” is about. The lingering effects of war on three soldiers returning home from WWII. How it distances themselves from their family and loved ones, makes them live a society that doesn’t wish to discuss war and being handicapped and scared by the tragedies that they witnessed. 

Each of these three stories is compelling, heartbreaking and ageless, with the story of the solider losing both of his hands being the most memorable, due to Homer Russell’s heartfelt and emotional performance. Combine this with stunning cinematography from the man who gave us “Citizen Kane” and you have a war film that will live on as long as we fight one another in this brutal and vicious act.

2. “her” (2013)

Boy, I’ve been talking about this film a lot lately, haven’t I?

Considering how “her” was able to be so touching and yet so imaginative, the film does deserve to be mentioned. It doesn’t try always try to play up that one of the romantic leads is an artificial intelligence, because it always treats her as an equal character, with strengths, flaws, personality and desires. If anything, Samantha is an even more fleshed out character than Joaquin Phoenix, which is quite impressive. 

Even so, the fact that she is a piece of hardware is always in the back of the audiences’ mind. It lingers there, to remind us that even if Samantha laughs alongside Theodore, she’s not normal. Which makes the futuristic setting all the more fitting and appropriate. If this were set in modern day Los Angeles, this story would fall apart. But in a future where celebrity pregnant photos can be seen by everyone in the blink of an eye, maybe this is normal. 

That is one of the more alluring factors to “her.” For all of its realistic and uplifting romance, the world of the film is just as appealing. 

1. “Amadeus” (1984)

There is a reason I gave “Amadeus” my first A+. This just might be a perfect movie. 

It portrays both Salieri and Mozart as two flawed individuals, both with their respective sins, and in the end they both suffer due to their own folly. It is very much a tragedy of regrets, sacrifice and forgiveness. 

Every action and line of dialogue has a reason to exist and paints an even better picture of these people. The performances from F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce are touching, funny and hit right at the core of both anguish and triumph. 

While I don’t know much about opera, I do know when a story has moved me through performances of self-destructive characters. “Amadeus” impressed me on every level and is the best film that I watched in 2013. 

Honorable Mentions: 

- "Ip Man" (2008) - A movie with the most basic of premises, but packs in as much character and heart as it possibly can. Combine this with wonderful Kung-Fu action sequences that never go over the top, and you get one of the best Kung-Fu movies I've ever seen. 

- "When Harry Met Sally..." (1989) - I love how this film uses its New York backdrop to have these characters change over the course of twelve years. These two change so much that they find others they once found repulsive as trusted companions and eventually fall in love. 

- "Prisoners" (2013) - A wonderful mystery whose characters are all essentially a shade of gray, unsure of where they lie or what they'll do next in order to get their loved ones back. 

- "Big Trouble In Little China" (1986) - The first movie I ever reviewed for my blog will now always hold a special place in my heart. It also helps that this was an incredibly fun ride that is always entertaining in, one way or another. Whether that is through Kurt Russell's likable attitude, quirky dialogue or zany action sequences, this one never lets up. 

- "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (2006) - While people may look at this film now as one starring Robert Downey Jr., I see it as a smart and creative crime parody with an interesting framing device as Downey Jr. plays a narrator that keeps changing the story. It is due to his charisma and chemistry with Val Kilmer that makes this film stand out. 

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