2013 was pretty good at the movie theater — not outstanding, but not terrible.
Looking back, I didn’t see a lot of greats among my reviews of this year’s movies, not a lot of classic animated movies or dramas for the ages. But there were a relatively few complete failures as well. Most movies fell somewhere in the middle, and many tended toward above average, even if ever so slightly. Blockbusters fared the worst — there was no summer tent pole movie that really delighted, and there were quite a few “meh”s (Iron Man 3, The Great Gatsby, Pacific Rim) and worse (Kick-Ass 2, Smurfs 2, The Wolverine, RED 2, RIPD). On the bright side, looking back, there were almost no traditional romantic comedies, a genre that needed a rest.
As usual, there are a few of the big award-hopefuls that haven’t come to a theater near me yet: The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, August: Osage County, Inside Llewyn Davis, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and Labor Day. But, of movies I’ve viewed in 2013, here are my picks for the best, worst and weirdest things to come to the cineplex.
Best animated movie: The Blue Umbrella A perfect example of the “not great but not terrible” tone of the year, the animation category had no stand-out for me, but I deeply enjoyed the short The Blue Umbrella, which ran before Monsters University. This Pixar short was pretty to look at and a sweet story about an umbrella who finds kindness in the city.
Worst animated movie: Free Bird The turkeys-as-Native-Americans story isn’t offensive, exactly, but it is exceptionally weird and off-putting.
Hey, sequels aren’t that bad, horror-edition: Insidious: Chapter 2 Picking up exactly where the first movie left off, this horror film did a perfect job of recapturing that movie’s spookiness and quirky sense of humor.
Hey, sequels aren’t that bad, comedy edition: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues This sequel is at its best when it goes full-tilt stupid.
Hey, sequels aren’t that bad, blockbuster edition: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Visually interesting and given gravitas by the intense performance of Jennifer Lawrence, this second installment was enjoyable in and of itself and left me excited for the next chapter.
Oh, wait, never mind: The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug/Thor: The Dark World These bloated sequels felt like they just checked some box in a multi-movie contract. The titular characters took a back seat (welcome, in the case of Thor and its focus on the far more appealing Loki).
Best use of old dudes: Escape Plan Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone get back in the action-movie game for this ridiculous but enjoyable prison-break movie.
Worst use of old dude: The Company You Keep This very speechy Robert Redford movie makes you appreciate the nearly dialogue-free All Is Lost.
Best “Movie! In! Spaaaaaace!”: Gravity At times melodramatic and overly sentimental (and almost embarrassingly unsubtle with its life/death/rebirth imagery), Gravity is nonetheless technically impressive and a compelling story boosted by an excellent performance by Sandra Bullock.
The worst: After Earth Will Smith’s sci-fi vehicle for son Jaden is joyless and draggy.
Best movie I’m still not sure how I feel about: Blue Jasmine Woody Allen’s latest, a riff on A Streetcar Named Desire, is annoying and fascinating and you can’t take your eyes off the gimmicky but magnetic performance by Cate Blanchett.
Worst movie I don’t know how to feel about: Man of Steel Honest Trailers said it best: “God forbid a Superman movie be any damn fun for anybody.”
Best movie about dudes being dudes: Don Jon Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and starred in this top-notch comedy about love, unrealistic expectations and maturity.
Worst movie about dudes being dudes: Runner Runner Both Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake deserved better than this lame heist movie.
Best zombie movie: Warm Bodies Nicely fills the space in the Venn diagram where horror and rom-com overlap.
Worst zombie movie: World War Z Excellent source material about a zombie apocalypse becomes a messy, unsatisfying Brad Pitt movie.
Best movie cutesy about family: About Time From old-hat British rom-com guy Richard Curtis and starring Rachel McAdams, About Time’s biggest surprise is how much it focuses on familial relationships.
Worst movie about family: The Big Wedding Starring Susan Sarandon, Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton, this terrible family comedy was a complete and horrifying failure.
Best 10 (or so) movies of 2013
10. The Heat Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock proved that ladies don’t need to be running through airports in wedding dresses to be funny.
9. The World’s End The Shaun of the Dead crowd returns for another kind of apocalypse comedy.
8. Gravity About the special effects: I found myself thinking “How did they shoot this in space?”
7. The Spectacular Now / Mud Different takes on the indie coming-of-age story, both of these little movies feature standout performances (Miles Teller and Matthew McConaughey, respectively).
6. Dallas Buyers Club / 12 Years a Slave / Fruitvale Station Standout performances and smart writing make these movies about history, both recent (the first and last) and not-as-long-past as we’d like (the middle), must-sees.
5. Before Midnight / Enough Said / Don Jon Each of these movies is a smart comedy/drama that will surprise you with its look at modern love involving people older than 25.
4. Much Ado About Nothing / About Time A romantic comedy about time-travel (the latter) and a romantic comedy for the ages (the former) — both of these movies are joyous. Joss Whedon’s black-and-white treatment of Shakespeare’s play is particularly effervescent.
3. Saving Mr. Banks And speaking of things sweet and bubbly, this cotton candy Disney movie about a moment in Disney history (when Walt and P.L. Travers wrangled over the rights to Mary Poppins) will charm the nostalgia-pants off you.
2. Nebraska / Philomena Comedy and drama are deftly blended in these road movies that look at difficult family relationships.
1. American Hustle David O. Russell’s comedy-drama about the ABSCAM scandal features fascinating performances and smart writing.
Worst movies of 2013
10. Carrie / World War Z These horror-tinged movies, adapted from interesting source material, never really figure out what they are.
9. Walking with Dinosaurs 3D Pretty visuals don’t make up for the thin-soup story and writing.
8. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Speaking of soup stretched too thin...
7. After Earth Maybe you could just put your kids in home movies and spare the rest of us.
6. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters / Kick-Ass 2 Did we really need either of these sequels?
5. Battle of the Year Even by cheesy dance movie standards, this movie is so much fluffy nothing.
4. The Fifth Estate / Jobs Just because a person is interesting doesn’t guarantee that the movie about him will be.
3. The Lone Ranger Armie Hammer seems like he was genetically engineered in a lab specifically to play a brave, handsome and true superhero — just not this one.
2. The Big Wedding / The Family Robert De Niro (who “stars” in both these stinkers) should probably say no once in a while.
1. The Counselor Director Ridley Scott, writer Cormac McCarthy and actors Michael Fassbender and Javier Bardem plus the now-wasted remains of Cameron Diaz’s dignity came together to produce the most baffling and terrible movie of the year.
As seen in the December 26th, 2013 issue of The Hippo