2013 In Review (so far)Posted: September 6, 2013
As I’ve been reminded several times the last few days, life hardly ever works out exactly the way you want it to. The best laid plans, blah blah blah. When I was first planning this blog I was going to do Trimester Reviews where I gave capsule reactions to every movie I’d seen so far this year. As you’d expect the resulting posts were pages long and bloated like crazy. So instead, I think I’m just going to do recaps where I pick out my favorite movies of the year up to the time of the post. Maybe that’ll change down the road but I think this is the best option right now. Anyway, now that I’m done ranting about blog logistics, time to rant about movies. Huzzah!
More after the… jump? (Sorry I’m still figuring out the formatting stuff)
Pain and Gain: I’ve always had something of a rocky relationship with Michael Bay’s movies. When I was a kid I loved The Rock, and enjoyed Armageddon (the child’s novelization anyway), but I was bored by most of Pearl Harbor and wasn’t blown away by Bad Boys or The Island. By the time I was finishing high school I started to hate the guy’s output, especially the sub-kindergarten humor of Transformers. But now, I’ve started to appreciate (some of) Bay’s filmography, with Pain and Gain clocking in as my favorite movie of his by a good amount. The movie harkens back to the Bad Boys/The Rock Bay, the one who was the heir apparent to Tony Scott and crafted amoral, stylish bits of action candy. Aside from being a return to Bay’s R-rated roots, Pain and Gain is also (surprisingly) a well-crafted and *GASP* character-driven story about a bunch of completely selfish, idiotic criminals trying to take the slice of the American Dream they think they deserve. Featuring some committed and hilarious performances across the board, and some incredibly twisted moments from start to finish, it might actually hold water as one of my favorite movies of 2013 by the time New Year’s rolls around. Didn’t see that coming.
Iron Man 3: After Avengers (which I’m a huge fan of, don’t worry) I figured I was kinda done with Marvel movies for a bit; looking ahead at Marvel’s upcoming slate I wasn’t too excited for anything except Age of Ultron (more Whedon!) and Ant-Man (Edgar Wright!), but definitely not the Big Three’s movies. My biggest issue was that, with the Marvel Movieverse being such a producer-controlled franchise, most of the movies aren’t going to have the level of personality or specificity that I’d like to see, and so I had little reason to think that Iron Man 3 would do anything to stand out in the crowd. However, I ended up being proven wrong, and I was incredibly impressed with the final result. Iron Man 3 is, above all, a Shane Black movie. As a huge fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, I was thrilled to see Black’s trademark humor and 80s-style action movie aesthetics being applied to Iron Man. The film ended up feeling a lot more unique than I expected it to be, and reminded me how much I enjoy Black’s particular brand of pulp adventure storytelling (can’t wait for his Doc Savage movie). There were also some impressive risks being taken in terms of the villains and story, something we don’t see too often in major franchise blockbusters anymore. It gives me a renewed sense of hope and enthusiasm for the Marvel Movieverse at large; if they continue to hire filmmakers with distinctive voices and let them put their own stamps on the material, then the shelf life of this meta-franchise could be expanded exponentially. If only Warner Brothers could do that (with people not named Christopher Nolan)…
Pacific Rim: Oh right, THIS is what it felt like to watch adventure films when I was 9. While it’s true that many of the plot beats are ripped straight from Independence Day, so is the sheer sense of fun and excitement that was present in that film, as well as other old-school blockbusters like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film is chock full of great creatures and fight scenes (I’ve heard people complain about the fight scenes being hard-to-follow but I had no such problem), and a palpable enthusiasm about it that’s infectious. The cast is terrific, and almost all of them get moments to shine and do something distinct (aside from Charlie Hunnam, but that’s the cost of playing the Luke Skywalker part: you’re gonna seem a little boring). The script, while being very paint-by-numbers, still does a good job of establishing the characters and letting them run wild in the world, and uses the interpersonal conflicts to emphasize the collaborative, for-the-greater-good theme of the whole enterprise. While Guillermo del Toro might be at his best making smaller, gothic horror/fantasy films, when he makes blockbusters this exciting and outright FUN I’m there with bells on. One of my favorites of the year and no mistake.
The World’s End: Wow. As a long-term fan of Edgar Wright, I figured that The World’s End would be a solid, fun film at the very least. But even at the heights of my fandom I wouldn’t have predicted this final result, a legitimately great science fiction film with some truly deep themes as well as the usual British zaniness that Wright and company are known for. In The World’s End, Wright and Simon Pegg have crafted their most nuanced and complex look yet at the difficulties of aging and friendship, while also mixing in an exploration of globalization and addiction. Pegg gives what is probably a career-best performance, and he and Nick Frost take their usual schtick and turn it into something completely different, building on what they’ve done before and subverting it. While it might not be as out-and-out funny as This Is The End (a comparison that’s been made many times already) it is certainly much deeper and more resonant. My favorite film from Wright yet, possibly my favorite of the year so far, and a fitting end to the Cornetto’s Trilogy in every possible way. I say again: Wow.
Other Solid Movies
The Conjuring was a very impressive, effective horror flick, working more on slow spookiness until its third act and taking the time to establish the characters so you actually want them to survive. In A World… was a funny, personal and surprisingly pointed directorial debut for Lake Bell, and I can’t wait to see more from her. Much Ado About Nothing was a fun and engaging take on Shakespeare, made even better by the fact that Joss Whedon shot it during postproduction on one of the highest-grossing blockbusters of all time. This Is The End succeeded at avoiding an overabundance of in-jokiness among the celebrity cast, and showed Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are as good at directing as they are scripting (can we get a redo on Green Hornet please?).
To be honest, it’s felt like a very mediocre year so far. Outside of the movies I mentioned here, there haven’t been many that have really excited or moved me, and there have been several major disappointments from creators and franchises that I like. Most movies I’ve seen have been decent but forgettable in one way or another, which is sometimes worse than movies that just outright suck. Thankfully the fall awards season is upon us and it looks like we have plenty of good movies on the horizon. Fingers crossed.