TOP 10 FILMS of 2013 and The Worst/Most Disappointing Films of the Year

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It took me a while to finally publish my Top 10 list, but my plan was to post this sometime in January anyway. Now, when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Rewatchability is a factor but it doesn’t account as high as the other virtues I’ve mentioned, because some of the films here are more of a one-time-viewing-only types (for me anyway), but I still very much appreciate the artistry and passion that goes into making them.

Last year I did something different where I posted my Top 10 of the First Half of 2013 back in July, though only one of the films I listed there made it to this FINAL list. Yeah, I’m quite surprised by that as well, but I guess a lot of great films were released in the latter half of the year. 2013 has been a pretty good year for movies so I couldn’t resist actually making a Top 20 (scroll down to read it), as well the unfortunate WORST list that we moviegoers are likely to be subjected to year after year [sigh].

So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):

10. Captain Phillips (full review)

Ten_CaptPhillipsUnder a lesser director than Paul Greengrass, this film could’ve easily been a run-of-the-mill action film. Fortunately, even when you already knew the story did end well for the Captain, Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray managed to deliver one heck of a thrill ride.

Tom Hanks once again proved he’s one of the most consistently accomplished actors of his generation with his astute portrayal. The genius casting doesn’t stop there, as  newcomer Barkhad Abdi is quite a revelation in portraying a villain that’s so much more than a caricature. The direction, performance, cinematography and score all made for a taut, cerebral thriller from start to finish.

9. August: Osage County

Nine_AugustOsageCounty It’s especially challenging to adapt from a stage play, but somehow director John Wells did an admirable job making it work. The ensemble cast worked wonderfully and it manages to be both hilarious and moving. There’s beauty amidst all that chaos and it’s quite amusing that at times the madness of the Weston family actually hits pretty close to home. It’s no surprise that Meryl Streep can pretty much play ANYONE, and as the pill-popping matriarch Violet, she made even the Prada-wearing Miranda Priestly seems warm and fuzzy! I’m especially impressed by Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale and Julianne Nicholson are especially worth-noting. Oh and Benedict Cumberbatch also proved his versatility playing a role that’s a complete opposite of Sherlock. Plus he sings, too!

8. The Act of Killing (review + interview w/ director)

Eight_TheActOfKillingIt’s truly one of THE most harrowing films I saw in a long time and not only because it involved my home country’s history. As if all the re-enactments of the gruesome genocide wasn’t enough, the perpetrators went even further in making an elaborate theatrical performances of their past that’s as surreal as it is disturbing. Major kudos to director Joshua Oppenheimer for tackling a subject matter that not many people know about, and made it in such an inventive way. Though it’s really tough to watch, I still would recommend people to give it a shot. It’s an essential viewing in that this incident isn’t just about Indonesia, but it speaks volumes about our humanity and what we humans are capable of

7. Nebraska (full review)

Seven_NebraskaThis film was an absolute surprise when I saw this at TCFF as I hadn’t heard much about it. Like August: Osage county, this one also deals with a quirky family. I feel that this one has a more compelling character development as I felt an odd kinship with Bruce Dern‘s Woody and his son David (Will Forte). I think the ending is one of my favorites of the year as it’s hilarious but also full of heart. This is one family road movie that you’d be glad you tag along.

6. The Hunt (full review)

Six_TheHuntFew films I saw last year got me as riled up as this one. It’s another film festival gem that I’m glad I got to experience, though not something I’m keen on seeing again. The way the story unfolds is most unsettling, made even more eerie by director Thomas Vinterberg‘s minimalist but atmospheric style. He found the perfect actor for the protagonist in fellow Dane Mads Mikkelsen who also subscribed to the less-is-more principle in delivering maximum impact with subtle nuances. Superb in every sense of the word.

5. 12 Years A Slave (full review)

Five_12YearsASlaveI finally get what the fuss is about with British director Steve McQueen. This is only his third film but he’s certainly made an indelible mark in the filmmaking industry. The story of Solomon Northrup, a former free man who was tricked and sold into slavery, made the darkest chapter of human history so hauntingly personal. Glad to see the talented actor Chiwetel Ejiofor getting much-deserved attention for his eloquent and stirring performance. A powerfully-breathtaking work of art, in more ways than one.

4. MUD 

Four_MUDThis is the film that got me so upset I couldn’t see it at the MSP film fest as it was snowing so hard. I’m glad I finally saw it when it’s out on rental and what a gem it is! Like McQueen, this is my intro to Jeff Nichols which is also his third film. I really like the story of unlikely friendship and this is one of the roles that brings about Matthew McConnaughey‘s career transformation. I also got to discover Tye Sheridan as one of the boys who befriended Mud. The stunning cinematography of Arkansas’ Mississippi river banks could be a character in itself, it definitely adds to the beauty of this film.

3. Frozen (full review)

Three_FrozenIt may seem like a traditional Disney princess movie as it’s also set in a Kingdom in a far-away land, but fortunately there’s more to it than that. I absolutely adore the story and the characters, with the funny and kind protagonist Anna being one of the most enchanting character that kids and adults alike can look up to. There are much fun to be had watching this film, but it’s also got so much heart. It’s certainly one of my favorite 2013 films I’ll watch over and over again.

2. HER (full review)

Two_HER2013 turns out to be full of surprises in terms of movies, and this one is at the top of the GREAT surprise. There’s barely any buzz surrounding this when I saw it, but it absolutely mesmerized me. It’s the most bizarre exploration of love in the modern world, but also one of the most emotionally-gratifying. It’s the kind of film that makes you ponder about the possibilities and effects of technology in our daily life, but more profoundly, it makes us reflect in what really makes us human. I’ve only seen one film by Spike Jonze but after this I’m real curious to see what he’ll tackle next. As for the performances, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson made the most arresting couple in recent memory despite the latter not being physically present in the film.

1. Gravity (full review)

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I saw this last October and I knew it would top my Best list. I kept wondering though if in the next two months there might have been another film that might dethrone it. Well, as of today, it still reigns as THE best film of 2013 for me. Her comes pretty darn close but overall I think Alfonso Cuarón‘s work is still more deserving to take the top spot. I have always loved Sandra Bullock and her outstanding performance here has become a career’s best even in her long filmography. As I said in my review, I ran out of adjectives to describe this film. It’s an exceptional kind of work that people will be talking about for years and people study about in film schools. A pretty simple story set entirely in space, yet it’s a feast for the eyes, ears, mind and soul. Plus, it boasts a finale that makes you want to get up and cheer. Can’t top THAT!


These 10 would likely make my Top 20:

It’s a testament to a pretty strong year of movies last year was that I have a long list of Honorable Mentions. Now, before I get to the general list of Honorable Mentions, I should prioritize films that I thought were excellent but for one reason or another, they just didn’t make it to my top 10 (in random order):

  1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler
  2. RUSH
  3. The Kings of Summer
  4. American Hustle
  5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  6. Pacific Rim
  7. Saving Mr. Banks
  8. Stoker
  9. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  10. Man of Steel

You might be surprised that Man of Steel didn’t make my Top 10 considering how much I had been anticipating it. Well, upon third viewing (3rd time being on Blu-ray), somehow I just wasn’t wowed by it anymore. In fact, I found myself picking faults with it that I either overlooked or didn’t mind at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I still like the film and I probably will watch it again, but I just don’t think it deserves to be on my Top 10.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Now some of these films are on my list from the first half of 2013. They’re definitely worth your while when you’re looking for something good to rent:


MOST DISAPPOINTING:

The Wolverine (full review)

It’s not quite a terrible movie so I don’t think it deserves to be on the WORST list, but I was expecting SO much more from this. It’s not enough that it’s better than the original Wolverine movie. Plus it had so much promise the fact that it’s set in Japan and we’re supposed to get a compelling back-story into one of X-Men’s most bad-ass mutants. Alas, apart from a few exciting scenes, I find myself feeling quite bored by this movie. I expected a great deal of emotional gravitas from the story, but I didn’t connect with Wolverine’s Japanese journey as much as I had hoped.

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WORST OF THE YEAR:

Ok I’m glad that at least my bad list is shorter than my good list and thankfully I saw less horrible films in the latter half of the year. In any case, my initial Top Five Worst List from last July still stands (listed first), with two more that I saw after that. So avoid these if you can help it, you’ve been warned!


So that’s my Best/Worst list of 2013. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d be happy to discuss ‘em with you :D

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Playing for Keeps Review… (a.k.a. my Open Letter to Gerry Butler)

[sigh] I didn’t really want to write this letter. Not only because I had done it once before when The Bounty Hunter came out, but I was quite anticipating Playing For Keeps for a while. I was thrilled when I got and advanced screening invite on the same day as The Hobbit (yay!) right before I left for vacation.

I saw The Hobbit first which I loved, and a few hours later, I went to another cinema to see Playing For Keeps with my girlfriend Becky (aka PrairieGirl). I really wanted to LOVE this movie and I thought the premise had potential. I mean Butler was [seemingly] perfect as a former soccer star (with his Scottish brogue intact), starring as a former player of his beloved Celtics no less. I’ve seen him in a soccer movie before (the based-on-a-true-story Games of Our Lives and also those Soccer Aid Charity Match), so he’s very believable in that role.

Alas, I’d have to agree with the Rotten Tomatoes summary:

Witless, unfocused, and arguably misogynistic, Playing for Keeps is a dispiriting, lowest-common-denominator Hollywood rom-com.

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Actually, the weekend I checked the RT score, it was at a woeful 0% and you know what, I really can’t disagree with that. It’s truly one of the WORST movies I’ve ever come across and to add to the sting, GB didn’t just star in this movie, he also produced this stinker (yikes!!). In the trailer post, I had hoped that it would at least be a feel-good dramedy this Winter, alas, it barely even give us that! It’s even more discombobulating that actors like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid, and the affable Judy Greer agreed to do such an embarrassingly-thankless roles. Forget one-dimensional, yes there’s that, but mostly, their characters are just bizarre, disturbing and cringe-worthy!

I’d like to recall my letter to him I wrote in March of 2010, clearly he did NOT read it…

Please don’t waste your talent on sub-par scripts, especially those that require you to be a neanderthal/ chauvinistic/ boorish/ obnoxious (and in the case of The Ugly Truth and The Bounty Hunter, all of the above). I’m inclined to say ‘get off the rom-com’ trail, but to be fair, I quite enjoyed P.S. I Love You and your ‘Gerry’ character is both charming and sexy, a perfect combination of being manly and hopelessly-romantic at the same time. What I do want to say is, stay away from bad scripts! It doesn’t matter what genre, a bad script is a bad script, and it’s just not going to help your career.

Well, suffice to say I just can’t be a GB fan anymore. Consider this my goodbye letter Mr. Butler…

Dear Gerry,

I can’t believe it’s been nearly an entire decade since I saw you in The Phantom of the Opera. It still remains one of my favorite musicals and my favorite roles you’ve done to this day. It’s a testament of the quality of your role choices lately that when I was about to update my list of Favorite GB roles for your birthday, I was quite stumped. So I kept my original list which includes one of your finest performance to date, that is in Dear Frankie, as I didn’t really think your recent performances in the past two years wowed me enough to replace any of them on that list.

PFKposter

It’s quite astounding that the movie itself could actually be worse than this poster!

Now, let me just speak for a moment of my monumental disappointment with your recent dramedy Playing For Keeps. Well, I was expecting some drama and comedy but got neither! Let me start with your performance. I don’t know if you’re trying to be understated and cool, but it came across as lethargic to me. Yes I get it, your character is down-on-his-luck as George had squandered his good fortune as a soccer star and now he could barely able to pay rent as he dreamed on being a sportscaster. George had good intentions, wanting to reconnect with his  young son, and preferably rekindle his romance with his ex-wife. It’s all [potentially] heartwarming stuff, except that the relationship with his oh-so-adorable kid was hugely overshadowed by all that creepy soccer moms lusting over him. There’s nothing fun or amusing in any of George’s encounters with any of these women, and it didn’t help that George (nor you playing the role) seemed to have much fun doing the scenes either. Don’t even get me started with the predictable ending, which you could’ve surmised from the trailer. Now, there have been some movies that I still appreciate despite the predictability factor because the journey was worthwhile, but in this case of PFK, the journey was so excruciating that it was like being kicked whilst you’re down!

I must’ve gained an extra wrinkle on my face from cringing so much during the entire movie! There’s not even a moment of sincerity I could find, or even to relate to, the whole time I kept wondering just what the heck was Gabriel Muccino trying to do with this movie, what Robbie Fox was trying to say with this script, and most of all, how did this kind of movie ever got greenlit?? There’s no depth whatsoever in any of the characters, not even George himself on whom the whole story hinges on. Poorly-conceived plot is just putting it mildly, I think the only word that came to mind about PFK is ill-advised. It’s everything that’s wrong about Hollywood’s rom-coms… and sadly Gerry, you’ve been in more than your fair share in them. I mean heck, even Matthew McConaughey had been off the rom-com trails and has since garnered some kudos for his recent performances.

Going back to those favorite roles once again, three of the movies I listed (Dear Frankie, BBC’s The Jury and PS I Love You), and I should also mention your excellent performance Coriolanus, you had a supporting role in them. You didn’t carry the movie but yet your presence was a highlight. It made me think that perhaps you should take a well-deserved break and take a good long look at your career so far. It might be a good idea to seek out supporting roles (no I’m not talking about a stint in something so far-off like Movie 43), I’m talking about a small but important supporting roles in a quality project. It’d be nice if it’s with an acclaimed director, but so long as it’s got a strong script, that’s all that matters. Forget the pay check, I’m guessing you’ve made enough to last a couple of centuries. If you truly care about acting, don’t you want to be remembered for the craft of your work? Perhaps your entourage/groupies tell you that you’re a star and you must always play the lead. Well, as your [former] fan, let me tell you that it’s far more gratifying to see an actor in a good performance in a brief screen time than seeing him/her in an awful one scene after scene.

As I said in your Birthday post, I still think you’re a talented and capable actor. I just can’t fathom your role choices, especially now that you actually have the opportunity to seek out good ones with your own production company. Please don’t let the disappointment of the marketing of Machine Gun Preacher give you an excuse to forgo strong characters. Granted not everybody loved the film, but you did your best with the role and the story of Sam Childers was inspiring, so I’m glad you did that film and I was happy to recommend it. I could even enjoy a so-so movie like Chasing Mavericks because at least I could see the value of the story and I appreciate the dedication you did for the role, even to the point of almost dying in a surfing accident. Roles like George on the other hand, just left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Pardon my harsh letter but I feel that things need to be said for my own sake, as I don’t think you’d care to read it and your still-ardent fans probably would just brush me off. I do hope that your recent flops would be an eye-opener for you and hopefully you have the humility to take a look at what you have become. Everyone needs a ‘wake up call’ once in a while and perhaps you’ve been hitting the snooze button for far too long.

Best Wishes,

ruth m.


Well, it feels good to get it off my chest. Don’t cry for Gerry Butler, folks, I’m sure he’s still got a legion of fans ready to defend him :D

So that’s one crush I’m saying good bye to after all these years. Whilst we’re on the topic, which of your movie crush disappointed you this past year?