This is part one of our adventure, that like Peter Jackson, I thought would be better in cut in half. Oh, and that movie is nowhere on the list. And I promised I won't cut it into thirds at the last second.
I know 23 seems like a lot. This started as a top 15 but I felt there were still films of note to give some props to. So there is still a top 15 with a lead up of good movies you should check out beforehand. This wasn’t a great year. A lot of ground rule doubles and triples. This year Hollywood was Billy Beane and basically Moneyball’d its way to relevance. Let’s begin.
A sorrowfully non-promoted film that was probably only in theaters for a week with an ensemble and premise that didn’t exactly have the box office albatross quality of AMOUR. Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Justin Long, Ari Graynor and Andy from PARKS & RECREATION (among others) all gather back at their own hometown for their 10 year high school reunion. Funny and poignant, it stands up there as a decent entry to one of my favorite subgenres, the One Night Only movie. Movies happening over the course of one night. Also it features an awesome cover of Tonight, Tonight by Passion Pit. Rent it, please.
A lot has been said about the plane crash that Denzel Washington’s substance abusing pilot character gets out of that spurns the events of FLIGHT, but it’s the intense emotional build up to one of the final scenes that blew me away. It’s refreshing to have Robert Zemeckis make good movies again and not spend years putting Jim Carrey’s face on a freaky looking candle.
I think this will go on as one of the most criminally misunderstood movies of our age. It was a big hit because ladies filled our local theaters drunk off their duff because they thought they were going to see a strip show. Men stayed away because we are still not secure in our sexuality. If either of them had cleared the crust from their eyes, they would have been treated to an awesome throwback to 70’s new Hollywood cinema that is shockingly not Tarantino. It even had the Warner Bros. worm logo. It even had the Warner Bros. worm logo… I guess having the best marketing campaign of the year didn't help things.
The Wachowski people have a lot of red in their ledger. They botched one of the most universally loved franchises of recent times. But in the midst of Powerade tie-ins and video game companion pieces, and all other manner of studio infused merchandise were bold ideas. Ideas that were not afraid to fail (and they often did). Here, they are offered without pretense and allowed to be weird on their own merit and even after the lights came up, it ended up sticking with me muchly. They somehow managed to craft a movie that was impervious to boredom and that’s only one of the gems left to discover in this massive multiplayer online role playing game of a movie.
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS
Films are rarely made about teenagers that don’t exploit the angst and sexual discovery for emotional manipulation. Here you won't find anyone solving crimes or finding treasure. DAMSELS chooses to focus on the innocence and optimism of being an the adult but not really that we all were at the wise old age of 19 and the hilarious naiveté that we all purposefully forget but secretly want back. Greta Gerwig continues to elevate the material she's in.
SLEEPWALK WITH ME
One of the best films about stand up comedy ever made. Highlighting the wonder of booking a gig and staying in a shitty motel room and eating horrible local pizza like it was a victory. Showing the efforts of a comedian’s act going from legitimately terrible to legitimately funny and all the troubles of the road that corrupt the show biz performer. Lots of movies and television shows have a hard time when they have to show off the talent of a character with the exceptionable hype they build up. What you get is often subpar but here it is genuine. And it managed to not demonize the lead when his path leads to darker actions because of how well it makes you like him in the beginning. Quite a feat. For some reason I have to give major kudos to Mike Birbiglia for coming up with a name for his character that sounds exactly as confusing as his while not being his.
PEOPLE LIKE US
Impossible to decipher with trailers and any sort of plot summary. Chris Pine plays a man who discovers that his father secretly had a daughter played by Elizabeth Banks with another family and his attempts to get to know her without actually telling her who he is. Sounds cheesy and dumb but it’s just a good example of writing and performances and one of the most tear jerking embarrassing moments for me with it’s final moments. Again, by appropriately earned build up. I only saw it because it was by the STAR TREK guys and what a reward I got. No rewards for the public, who didn't see it. Nanny nanny boo boo.
The second amazing dramatic film that no one has seen from the creators of GREG THE BUNNY. A young girl lives in the valley and purchases an item at a yard sale from a crotchety old woman and finds ten thousand dollars in it. Trying to determine whether or not the old woman deserves to keep it, she strikes up a relationship with her which is no easy feat. You’ll never watch it, but the movie unfolds from here as each of their pasts slowly starts to reveal themselves to each other and a common and yet unsettling human truth is revealed by the time the credits roll. The ending was so moving and I needed to discuss it with SOMEONE, but alas therein lies the burden of seeing tons of movies that no one else wants to. I resorted to emailing online movie reviewers that saw the movie. Thanks, Capone at Ain't It Cool News.
THE REAL DEAL:
15: THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES
One of the richest families in the country attempted to build the most expensive private residence in the US. Their vast fortune came from the husband’s company Westgate, largest seller of timeshares to the American people. Then 2008 happened and the housing market collapsed. And the poetic justice of having a half built palace that was too expensive to complete yet too boorish to sell off is well documented. It’s kind of hard to feel bad for millionaires but you get to know the wife and family so well and see that she’s not that different than any other mother heading a household that you’re left flummoxed when you actually feel bad for her getting rid of all the Grecian antiques she had planned to fill her home with. Films offer us views of lives and people we will never know. The real trick is getting the viewer and the subject on the same level, no matter where the point of origins come from. This one pulls off one of the hardest versions of that trick.
Rian Johnson is a genius. His previous two films, BRICK and THE BROTHERS BLOOM harken back to films that haven’t been made in decades. That’s not a bad thing but mainstream success eluded him. When this happens, your chances of making more movies gets slimmer and slimmer each time. With LOOPER, he finally got the right logline to get Sony to dump money into and the world finally gets in on the fun. A lot has been said of the logistics of time travel. There are many sci-fi nerds out there that swear by one of any number of different theories. But it’s important to remember one pivotal thing. Time travel does not exist. Therefore, it doesn’t have to stand to any scrutiny. To focus on that, is to distract yourself from the real theme of fate. In LOOPER, a young man comes into contact with the older version of himself. Being that they are both in different places in their lives, their agendas are completely different and have come into conflict with each other. In the middle of it all, is a small boy who’s destiny could conceivably go on to become a very powerful form of evil. LOOPER forms great characters with great performers, an exciting setting that enhances the plot and raises a lot of good questions. First and foremost being, why do they call shotguns blunderbusses?
Based on the true story of a small town McDonald’s who’s manager was called by someone identifying themselves as the police and made them do a forced strip search on a young female employee. It’s weird that the best nudity is often in the most creepy of circumstances in the most fucked up of movies. It ALMOST takes all the fun out of it. If this wasn’t a very detailed and surprisingly accurate reenactment of a real event, you’d dismiss this as bullshit. No one would ever go as far as these characters did just because a vague shadow of authority was telling them to do so. But they did. Horrifyingly so.
12. 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK
Julie Delpy writes, directs and stars in the story of a French woman and her husband (Chris Rock) dealing with a visit from her zany French family, included is her real father and sister. As it stands, Delpy’s character has become Americanized enough that when a wave of French whimsy invades her life, not even she is ready for it. This is a sequel to 2 DAYS IN PARIS that features the same characters but none of the joy or comedy. I guess even the French are at their best when they are somewhere else being intensely French. That’s the only way to appreciate the Frenchness.
11. HOPE SPRINGS
Here’s where the two best performances of the year lie. Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep play a couple who have been married for decades and the wife is finally realizing that some drastic intervention is needed if she is to ever feel fulfilled by her relationship again. Tommy Lee Jones who woodenly got through his 10 minutes in MEN IN BLACK 3 plays the perfect stubborn curmudgeon that is completely content with his stagnant ways and finds all manner of spicing up the marriage to be offensive and disingenuous. It takes a lot to keep up with the chameleon known as Streep, and even more to outdo her. But she rises to the challenge and you get the feeling that you’re creepily watching one of a million marriages in this situation. What was marketed as a romantic comedy is really more of a light drama driven by character and performance rather than accidentally opening up a glove compartment that a rabid hamster flies out of. Steve Carell would have been good as the hamster though.
Tune in Christmas 2013 for the exciting conclusion!