Honorable Mentions: The Wolverine, Man of Steel, Sharknado
5. World War Z
Someone making a $200 million zombie is, on paper, ridiculous. You could make 200 good zombie movies for that kind of money. Why try to make a monster zombie movie when you don't necessarily have to? Well, Brad Pitt and company dared to try and, amazingly, they succeeded. It isn't a perfect zombie movie or anything like that, but it succeeds more than it fails. The opening sequence is freaking amazing, the idea of the "zombie swarm" actually works (the zombies going up the side of that wall in Israel still kind of freaks me out), and Brad Pitt does a good job playing the hero. The movie does peter out towards the end, and the way the zombie plague is dealt with isn't as big of a revelation as the movie would like us to believe, but, again, the movie succeeds more than it fails, and that's what's most important. I'm game for a sequel if and when one ever happens.
4. Star Trek Into Darkness
I'm still not quite sure why JJ Abrams and company wanted to keep the whole "Khan" storyline a secret, but the movie kicks ass from start to finish. The performances are, by and large, excellent, the special effects and action sequences are insane, and the story is actually pretty good. The movie is a little too long, but then most movies this summer come off as a tad too long. It's a shame that the movie wasn't a gigantic hit. It did respectable business, sure, but it wasn't the big movie that Paramount probably wanted it to be. I still think they should have made it quite clear from the beginning that Cumberbatch was playing Khan. And more Alice Eve in her underwear wouldn't have hurt, either.
3. The Purge
I think it's safe to say that the low budget sci-fi horror flick The Purge took everyone by surprise. I don't think anyone thought that it would open at number one at the box office or make a ton of money or piss off a bunch of right wing conservatives because of its "political content." I know I didn't. Experiencing that surprise of a political undertone in The Purge was easily one of the highlights of the 2013 summer movie season. And The Purge works quite well as a horror movie, too, which is what it needed to do in the first place. I had a lot of fun with this one, and hopefully the proposed sequel actually happens because I want to see more of this world. What else have the "new Founding Fathers" done in the new America?
2. Iron Man 3
The big question going into the third Iron Man was whether or not writer-director Shane Black could actually pull off a big special effects superhero movie. Black had only directed one movie before Iron Man 3, the relatively low budget Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and as we all saw with Gavin Hood and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, sometimes a director needs a little more practice before he takes the helm of a giant movie. Thankfully, Black managed to exceed expectations and made the best Iron Man movie to date. It was funny, it had an actual plot, a good surprise, and Robert Downey, Jr. was clearly having a blast as Tony Stark. When Downey is having fun everyone else gets to have fun. The movie more than earned its mega box office take (over $1 billion).
1. Pacific Rim
I loved every minute of Guillermo del Toro's giant robots fighting giant monsters from another dimension mega movie. It had everything: cool characters, excellent performances (Charlie Hunnam does a great job, and Idris Elba deserves an Oscar nomination), a nifty story, a fully realized universe (how many movies actually have one of those right from the start? Del Toro and company clearly spent a lot of time figuring stuff out before making the movie), and some of the best special effects ever put up on the screen. It should have been a bigger hit than it was, but that's what home video and TV are for. People who didn't dig the trailers because it looked like a Transformers rip-off will eventually figure out how wrong they were and Pacific Rim's audience will grow. Now, on to the sequel!
First of all, remember how back in May, we did our picks for most anticipated movies and were mocked in comments over none of us picking "Man of Steel?" Ah, memories....
5. Star Trek: Into Darkness
I know, there's a big backlash against this over plot holes and some seeing it as "desecrating" the greatest Trek film of all time. And yet it was still damn fun, great action pieces like battles in space and showcasing how Kirk has to learn how to be a more capable Captain while Quinto got some good stuff as Spock. And while we all saw the revelation of his character coming, Benedict Cumberbatch was excellent as the cold villain with some intriguing plot twists. Overall, another nice addition to the rebooted saga that makes you hope even more of how Abrams can spark Star Wars up.
4. Monsters University
A wonderful return to form for Pixar as this prequel recreates the magic of the 2001 movie and even enhances it. The idea of an animated Animal House/Revenge of the Nerds mash-up is brilliantly done as we see how Mike and Sully first met and grew their friendship. The morals are obvious (Sully has to learn not to get by on just his looks while Mike has to accept he's just not scary) but we got fun stuff of their quirky friends and Helen Mirren wonderful as the cold dragon dean. It reminds you of just how magical Pixar can be when they're on their game and how not all prequels are automatically a terrible thing but really can enhance the original well.
3. The Heat
While Hangover III crashed and burned, this wild comedy proved how to do raunchy humor right. A terrific female buddy cop comedy, it sent up the genre as much as celebrated it. Melissa McCarthy's in-your-face style fit the role of the rough cop while Sandra Bullock showed her comedy chops as the straight-laced FBI agent working with her. My theater was howling with laughter and I've seen videos of audiences elsewhere reacting the same from one-liners to the crazy bar dance scene. Once again proof of how female-driven films are not box office poison and damn fun as well.
2. Pacific Rim
Like many, annoyed this didn't become the monster hit it should have. Okay, a few flaws in story and may have dragged a bit too long in running time. But for crying out loud, it was giant monsters facing off against 200-foot robots in the heart of major cities. This is what summer movies were created for, pure, wild action entertainment and a showcase for how FX can serve a story, not take away from it and gave us a damn fun film for the summer season.
1. Fast & Furious 6
I got mocked back in May when I put this on my list of most anticipated summer movies but it turned out to be the best blast of the summer, not just for me but so many other moviegoers. Bringing together all the stars of the past movies was good but the fun plot and wild action were the true draws. The movie made no bones about being so ridiculous and was amazing to watch it go on with massive car chases/crashes, snappy dialogue and a terrific climax on board a cargo plane. And just when you thought it was over, we got a brilliant post-credit scene that provided a fantastic cameo that sets up the next movie and caps off the perfect summer film.
Honorable Mentions Given all the negative talk and rumoured overblown budget, it's interesting that World War Z did as well as it did and was even a tidy little zombie film. Shame about that naff final third and failure to adapt the better parts of the novel. The Purge is probably the best original idea we saw this summer but it's self inflicted trappings whilst admirable closed it off somewhat.
I'll be frank - Man Of Steel did not do a lot for me. There was a lot of problems here with characters and plot but, but, BUT it did have the best superhero fight scenes of the year with proper physics applied with Superman and co. flying for miles through buildings, which was all I needed really. Pacific Rim is a bit of a unlucky omission as I'm all over giant robot vs. space monster fights in a spectacular CGI fest under the eye of del Toro but it just lacked that emotional K.O. in a fat runtime.
5. The Wolverine
A return to form after some dodgy outings, one of Marvel Comics most popular characters is given the proper emotional treatment fans have been clamouring out for years. Logan in Japan is a surprisingly vulnearable trip with some good work in making his outing a legit threat to Wolverine mentally and physically with a great as usual portrayal by Hugh Jackman. Good work all round, especially on that impressive Bullet Train sequence.
4. Star Trek Into Darkness
High enjoyable action romp in a stealth remake of Wrath Of Khan, although not without some sneers. An all action take on the 60's version of Trek is fine but the heavy reliance on throwing in tributes and some horrendously clunky dialogue and character motivations dragged my enjoyment down somewhat. Still, things go boom, space gets explored, the cast play up to the original characters again – what's not to love?
3. This Is The End
Boasting a legitimate heavyweight A-list all star cast of the American comedy genre, This Is The End copes well with it's ridiculous high expectations and pulls off one of the best post-apocalypse films ever with all of it's comedy big guns given ample time to strut their stuff playing off their stereotypes. Also has a possessed Jonah Hill.
2. Kick-Ass 2
Expecting a dose of sequelitis, I was more than satisfied with this second outing of Mark Millar's real life street superheroes. Some say it's lost some of the charm and it's a bit rushed with one and a half to two films worth of plot smoshed in but there's tonnes of fun with Dave joining up with other street heroes he's inspired (Finding Tommy is one of the best things on the big screen this year) and Mindy struggling to adapt with both growing up and hanging up the cape. Terrific action and genuinely funny moments. We even have McLovin' as a childish supervillain man! Highly underrated. Surprised it's not doing a lot better but what do you expect in a summer where there is simply TOO MUCH to see?
1. The World's End
Yeah, it's been out in America this week but us Brits have had it for a month now and it's still watchable having paid to see it twice. I was so annoyed that they ended it actually – would have loved to see it one more time. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg along with Nick Frost bring the 'Blood and Cornetto' trilogy to a close with their best offering (I've changed my mind a few times on that) with a swift 12 rounds down The World's End. A bit more serious, dark and different than your average bar crawl but wrapped in the traditional comedy we've come to expect from the three boys, it smashes everything else at the big screen this year.
Honorable Mentions: Blue Jasmine, Byzantium, Star Trek Into Darkness, You're Next
5. The Conjuring
As someone who watches hundreds of movies a year and whose favorite genres don't necessarily include horror, it takes a lot to really scare me. The Conjuring scared me like no other horror film so far in 2013. In fact, I can't really remember the last movie to really get me like that in a long time. James Wan's old-school frightfest isn't even the smartest horror offering this summer (that'd probably go to the sneakily subversive You're Next), but on a visceral level, I think it's the most effective, even though the idea of home invasion is a more realistic and effective horror than a haunted house story. Perhaps the most underrated aspect of The Conjuring is its cast, almost uniformly excellent, which acts as the film's backbone and allows Wan to hone the film's scares and set-pieces without worrying about his cast. It's a testament to Wan's ability as a filmmaker that the man who basically began the most famous "torture porn" franchise of all time has gone the opposite way and made something so decidedly old-fashioned, a genuinely creepy haunted house flick.
4. This is the End
Perhaps the most laugh-out-loud funniest movie I've seen in ages, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's apocalypse-set buddy comedy isn't just hilarious. It's also pretty smart and is one of the best end-of-days movies you're likely to see. Featuring a top-notch cast full of elite Young Hollywood comedy stars – and Jay Baruchel – This is the End bases its comedy on a solid-if-scattershot script and the chemistry of its leading men, as well as a few against-type (to say the least) cameos from the likes of Michael Cera, Emma Watson and Channing Tatum. As a result, it works exceedingly well and while claims of self-indulgence are somewhat valid, it is also a surprisingly personal film, as the group skewers themselves, the lifestyle, Hollywood itself and how it affects their friendships – or in some cases "bromances." It's not for everybody and admittedly, it is probably a bit long, but in a year that saw Movie 43, Scary Movie V, Identity Thief and The Internship released before it (among others), This is the End was desperately needed.
3. Prince Avalanche
Welcome back David Gordon Green. Beautiful. Touching. Funny. Prince Avalanche is Malick meets Beckett by way of Apatow and with a touch of Wes Anderson...and it somehow works without falling apart at the seams. It's also perhaps the first film of Green's that feels like a perfect blend of the two styles he's worked in up to this point in his career (helmer of both indie darlings George Washington and Undertow, as well as stoner comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness). This is the best thing Green has done since Snow Angels (which I personally love) and it's the best performance and movie Paul Rudd has done (not playing himself) since I Love You, Man. Both Rudd and Hirsch are fantastic and have great chemistry (or anti-chemistry), although the best sequence in the movie is what I suppose can be called the "ashes" scene. Joyce Payne was simply a woman (who may, in fact, be a ghost in the film) sifting through the real ashes of her home whom Green came upon and eventually included in the movie. It's a stellar scene, haunting and touching in a way so few American films, even independent ones, actually achieve. Even with that, the film is still very funny, with one joke towards the end making me laugh more than almost anything else in a movie this year. In the end, Prince Avalanche (a title that came to David Gordon Green in a dream) is a quiet, contemplative and gradual film that feels like a more mature offering from a filmmaker whose career has seen lauded highs and notorious lows.
2. Magic Magic
I'm smitten with Sebastián Silva's Magic Magic, a psychological horror film in the vein of Roman Polanski's Repulsion set in an isolated region of southern Chile. Beautifully shot by – of all people DP Christopher Doyle (frequent collaborator of Wong Kar-wai) – Magic Magic shows the mental unraveling of Juno Temple's character, in the country visiting her cousin, as she is forced to travel with strangers and is frequently backed into uncomfortable situations. Silva hits on truths and feelings that we all encounter and the film has a really great sense of dislocation and ambiguity (on multiple levels) as it turns the screws unmercifully until it's bizarre, horrifying conclusion. A few things become crystal clear after Magic Magic ends: Juno Temple is a superstar; Christopher Doyle truly is one of the greatest living cinematographers; and Sebastián Silva, with this and Crystal Fairy, has turned Michael Cera's ability to drive people nuts and literally build movies around it. The crappy DVD cover makes it look like something it's not, but if you're willing to give it a chance and go with it, it's worth your time and Silva is definitely a filmmaker to watch.
1. The World's End
Sometimes, I don't know what people want. Most folks seem to love Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright's The World's End, but there are enough that find it "disappointing" to make you want to pull your hair out. It's as if Pegg, Frost and Wright are required to deliver Shaun of the Dead for the rest of their lives. Guess what? Not only do I not think The World's End is the "weakest" of the Cornetto trilogy, I believe it may – at least in time – be the strongest. Where The World's End differentiates itself from its two Cornetto predecessors, and perhaps where it falters and stings for some, is that it isn't wall-to-wall riotous fun. I know asking some folks to feel anything other than "funny" in the midst of a comedy may be asking too much, but The World's End hits a very particular kind of bittersweet, often sad note, one that is so very rare in these kinds of mainstream comedies. Wright, Pegg and Frost have always used genre conventions – whether they be zombies, cultists or robots – to work through personal issues and societal norms. In The World's End though, they've honed it to almost unbearably piercing levels, a film less reliant on spoofing and reveling in its genre elements, because it has such a powerfully emotional resonance at its core. Only when the narrative reaches its breaking point are genre conventions brought out, as if to both push the film forward and relieve some of the unresolved pain that threatens to end the festivities early. Name me another filmmaker or collaborative team that could turn in a movie this smart, this funny, this bittersweet, this personal and this powerful for $20 million and I'll call you a liar. The World's End is very clearly the best mainstream movie of the summer and perhaps the year so far.