The final tabulations reveal I saw twenty-five films in theaters in 2013 and one via On Demand while it was still in limited art-house release. This count doesn’t include five 2012 films I attended in 2013 for Oscar-chasing purposes, or any old films I watched on home video. Because lists such as this one must have rules.
Links to past reviews and musings are provided for historical reference. On with the reverse countdown, then:
26. GI Joe: Retaliation. Once again Hollywood forgets the lessons learned from Halloween 3 and Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift — i.e., if you dump too much of the original cast, why even bother with a theatrical release? While Ray Park is good for a few minutes of aerial man’s-man ballet, Bruce Willis and the Rock are called in as scabs from other macho action series to shoulder the rest of this silly, overlong commercial for military weaponry and boys’ toys, in that order.
25. Broken City. The only advance screening I attended in 2013 was for a run-of-the-mill crime drama that tried to differentiate itself with a downbeat yet morally upright ending and some flat verbal conflicts between Russell Crowe’s sullen, over-the-hill manipulator and Mark Wahlberg’s angry Mark Wahlberg guy. A textbook example of the kind of work that actors refer to as “just a job”, and the kind of film I’d normally go see only if it were free.
24. A Good Day to Die Hard. Speaking of broken sequels: this bombastic father/son Russian vacation demonstrates a series of thoughtfully orchestrated explosions and stuntwork tailor-made for ’80s-action traditionalists, but suffers from predictable double-crosses and cheesy “character” moments, all while gratuitously taking the once-revered name of John McClane in vain.
23. Now You See Me. An all-star cast of magnetic performers are introduced and then demoted to MacGuffins, while Mark Ruffalo takes over the rest of the movie as an ineffective cop who’s quite the Inspector Clouseau until the film decides he isn’t for reasons of gotcha! rather than logical follow-through. When stage magicians try their best to dazzle you with deft sleight-of-hand and scintillating theatricality, your final reaction should hopefully be an astonished “How’d they do that?” rather than “That made NO SENSE.”
22. Turbo. The only film on this list set in my hometown of Indianapolis is naturally the kind of underdog sports story that Hoosiers love with a passion. The tale of Ryan Reynolds as The Little Snail That Could proves the animators paid attention to their reference material when rendering the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the story is largely color-by-numbers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for younger viewers new to sports films.
21. Oblivion. Director Joseph Kosinski’s second film — coupled with his debut, Tron: Legacy — shows an eye for marvelous displays of production design and visual effects. Such breakthroughs are used in service of a Mulligan stew of sci-tropes from several other classic movies and at least a few comics. Trust Tom Cruise to give his performance 115% for the sake of earnest adventure that entertains for frivolous repeat viewings, but it’s likely to wear thin once you know or guess the twists.
20. Star Trek Into Darkness. Remember that time when Benedict Cumberbatch swore he wasn’t playing Khan? And we weren’t meant to think this would recycle large portions of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? And we assumed Cumberbatch’s mere presence would make this the Greatest Trek Film of All Time? And then we found out we were wrong on all counts, and out came the torches and pitchforks? I’m glad Cumberbatch acquitted himself as expected, but here’s hoping the next nü-Trek film contains neither humpback whales nor God needing a starship.19. Man of Steel. Hands-down the most controversial film of the year in my social circles. My own reactions were so bifurcated, it took me two entries to process what Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan had done. While large portions of the movie were an incredible improvement on the last three Superman films and a worthy set of additions to the DC Comics film library, even larger portions comprised a heartless doomsday spectacle of Roland Emmerich proportions that gave us a sour-faced tragedy about supernormal creatures from beyond without giving us a single super-hero to cheer on, except possibly Jor-El’s helper ghost.
18. The Croods. This animated prehistoric romp about how family should love each other without suffocating each other is just-okay by ever-improving Dreamworks standards (Turbo notwithstanding), but it struck a chord with me during a major transitional period in my own household. It’s also arguably the best Nicolas Cage film America has seen in years.
17. Room 237. As seen on On Demand! This documentary allows various theorists to recount their off-the-wall interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining to such exasperating degrees that one has to wonder whether they’re doggedly sincere or putting us on. Same goes double for the filmmakers, but it’s so uncommon for geeks-being-geeks to dominate a nonfiction film that I had to respect them for being given this soapbox opportunity.
16. The World’s End. The weakest of Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy”, in which an alien invasion is defeated by mankind’s unrepentant collective alcoholism, as played out by actors much more prestigious than they used to be circa Shaun of the Dead. It’s always fulfilling whenever Midlife Crisis Crossover actually gets a chance to discuss midlife crisis in pop culture (and Simon Pegg’s rendition thereof was a dead-on cautionary tale in itself), but I didn’t laugh nearly as much as I did at its predecessors, possibly because the homages here are to films I’ve forgotten or never seen. Either way, drinking in general doesn’t amuse me much and doomed it from reel one.
15. Ender’s Game. 2013 was a strong year for expensive but flawed sci-fi films. That this pricey contraption ranks this high is a tribute to its strong underage-actor ensemble and their struggles against both machines and The Machine than to anything their grouchy elders did.
14. Thor: the Dark World. Our hero Loki returns to save the world from the forces of evil, aided and abetted by a comedy troupe that seem suspiciously wackier this time, especially during the climactic madcap escapade and its split-second jump-cuts that threaten to rupture all of space-time. Unfortunately the film suffers from the crippling weakness of a bad guy who truly, madly, deeply sucks. Nearly as disappointing: for stupid contractual reasons this “Thor” guy gets top billing even though his main super-powers are flying and punching and getting in Tom Hiddleston’s way.
To be continued!