Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 YEAR IN REVIEW: The most entertaining movies of the year

There wasn’t a lot for me to love in movies this year.

It’s sad, but it’s true.

When I sat down to do my end of the year lists – this was the hardest one.

To be fair, I have high hopes for Anchormen 2, The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle – but I just haven’t gotten a chance to see them yet.

I should mention that when I do a movie list, I do the most entertaining vs. “the best.”

First off, I’m never going to see all the little Oscar bait movies and second, sometimes a movie just needs to be entertaining – not Oscar-worthy.

So, what were this year’s most entertaining movies?

10. This is the End: This is the end of the world flick with Jonah Hill, James Franco and Seth Rogan
(not to be confused with the end of the world flick below) that features a bevy of delightful cameos, including one by Emma Watson that is laugh-out-loud funny. This takes a humorous look at The Rapture – kind of – and what happens when people realize they’re facing the end of the world. This is a tongue-in-cheek version, though, so it’s hilariously funny and yet sweet in some places. It’s just sheer enjoyment -- but there's a lot of low-brow humor in it, so I know it's not everyone's cup of tea. It's just low-brow enough for me to find it delightful, though.

9. The World’s End: There were two of these with similar titles (look above) and kind of similar themes. I liked them both. This is the one with Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead cohorts Nick Frost and Simon Pegg – and they’re worth the price of admission alone. Then you add in Martin Freeman and things become hilariously wonky. I like these actors, I like this type of humor and I love this movie. That being said, I understand it’s an acquired taste – I just happen to acquire it whenever this combination gets on the screen together.

8. Despicable Me 2: I want my own minions. That’s all I can say. As far as animated movies go, this little gem didn’t get the attention it deserved. It’s witty and touching at the same time – and it’s great for children and adults. You can’t get much better than that.

7. The Conjuring: There are very few horror movies that I can tolerate these days – and that’s coming from a huge fan of the genre. The Paranormal Activity movies are so bad they’re unintentionally hilarious. The first Insidious was laughably bad, so I didn’t bother seeing the second one.  This is a haunted house tale set in the 1970s, and it boasts a stellar cast that is anchored by Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor impressively. It boasts some genuinely chilly moments – and a decided lack of gore. I’m not against gore, but when a movie can scare you without it – you know you’ve found a winner.

6. Fast & Furious 6: I don’t care what anyone says, I love these movies. They’re never going to win any awards. They’re never going to be on anyone’s “best of” list (except for mine, obviously). They’re never going to be remembered as anything other than high octane fun. I like the car scenes. I like the improbable escapades – including taking down a tank on a bridge and an airplane before it can take off. This most recent film saw the death of two core characters. And now, since Paul Walker’s death, it’s inevitable that the next movie is going to tug on a lot of heartstrings – whatever they decide to do. As it is, I love the music, I love the cast and I love the action. That’s entertainment to me.

5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: I’m not going to lie and say that the movie isn’t padded,
but what Peter Jackson has done right here far overshadows what he’s done wrong. The elvish side story – which I was initially worried about – is both fun and intriguing. The actions scenes are crisp and awe-inducing, and the heart of the movie is as poignant as ever. My only true quibble is that Jackson seems to be trying too hard to convince the audience that Sauron is a constant threat. The truth is, The Hobbit was a simple story and Jackson should have embraced that – instead of trying to build on it.

4. 12 Years a Slave: There’s not a lot of fun in this movie. In fact, the whole thing is pretty much a downer. Sure, there’s the central theme of never giving up to consider, but whenever you’re dealing with slavery it’s not exactly entertaining. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the central character, Solomon Northup. Actually, that’s a misnomer. Ejiofor embodies the tortured character, letting go of everything but the performance – and it is breathtaking. Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard and Brad Pitt all give Ejiofor a lot of support – but the movie is his and the story is touching.

3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: I know a lot of people didn’t like the first movie in this
franchise, but I wasn’t one of them. I happened to enjoy the first movie a great deal – and I couldn’t be a bigger fan of Jennifer Lawrence, so I was understandably excited for the second book. The Hunger Games is more than a young adult series of books. It’s a commentary on politics and power – and there are going to be losses. This second movie in the trilogy revs up the pomp and circumstance of the capital and expands on Katniss’ constant trouble fitting into a mold she didn’t pick. Lawrence steals the movie – as always – and her final scenes were Woody Harrelson at the end of the movie are both chilling and heartbreaking. I can’t wait for the finale.

2. Gravity: This is a little movie about space. I know, it’s a contradiction to think that, but it’s true. This is a simple story with a lot of depth, and Sandra Bullock again proves that she’s versatile as a performer. If you had told me that Bullock would be able to sell a gritty action adventure set in space a year ago, I probably would have agreed with. Ironically, Bullock can sell a gritty story about survival and hope that just happens to be set in space. Bullock should definitely get an Oscar nomination – and maybe even a win – for her role in this movie. A lot was made about George Clooney being in the film with Bullock, but he’s more of a supporting figure. This is Bullock’s movie and it’s a moving story.

1. Star Trek: Into Darkness: The first movie in the rebooted Star Trek universe was pretty well
received – so Into Darkness had to be just as good. JJ Abrams decided to go the gutsy route and revisit one of Star Trek’s greatest villains – Khan. With the new timeline setup (which is pure genius), Abrams was able to revisit Khan but not tell the same story. What he did instead was give subtle and fun nods to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, while still telling a separate story. Benedict Cumberbatch sizzles as Khan and Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto continue to embody their big screen counterparts with both gravitas and a sense of humor. The role reversal at the end of the movie – and I won’t ruin it for those that haven’t seen it – actually brought tears to my eyes (and that’s something that rarely happens). Here’s hoping the franchise continues to live long and prosper.

Honorable mentions go to:

World War Z: This is not the book. If I try to compare it to the book, it’s a big fail. When I look at it as a zombie movie, though, it’s a lot of fun. I choose to look at it as a zombie movie and nothing else.

The Place Beyond the Pines: You had me at Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling. Still, this movie was marketed wrong. It’s a lot quieter than it looks from all the advertisements.

Her: It’s just odd enough to be poignant. A lot of people won’t get this one, but it had a lot of heart. It’s a commentary on loneliness – and it’s just wacky enough to be funny about it.

What do you think? What were the most entertaining movies of the year?


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