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The 8 Ball 01.21.14: The Top 16 Films of 2013 (#16 - 9)
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 01.21.2014

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!

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Top 16 Movies of 2013 (#16 - 9)

Welcome back to the Movies 8 Ball, ladies and gentlemen! We're done looking at the worst of 2013, so now it's time to tackle the best. While there were undoubtedly some terrible films this year, there were some amazing entries into cinema as well across genres. There was something for just about everyone to enjoy and this week we begin our look at the strongest examples of film to hit theaters in the past year.

Caveat: The only real caveat for this list is that there were a scant few movies that I did not have the opportunity to see that could have made this list such as Anchorman: The Legend Continues, Lone Survivor, August: Osage County and From Up on Poppy Hill, as well as some documentaries like The Act of Killing. I am fairly confident otherwise that I saw most of the films which had a good shot of making this list.

Just Missing The Cut

Fruitvale Station
Blue is the Warmest Color
Much Ado About Nothing
Thor: The Dark World

#16: Dallas Buyers Club

File the following under "Things I Never Thought I'd Say": Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto gave us some of the best performances of 2013. This is not intended to be a slight on any of those actors; they've all been decent in the past and while each of them have more than a few dogs in their resumes, I consider them all perfectly good actors. That being said, each of them raised their game to a new level with their performances in Dallas Buyers Club, an exceedingly well-crafted drama/biopic from Jean-Marc Vallée about HIV-positive pharmaceuticals smuggler Ron Woodroof during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

The script from Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack has been noted for its accuracy regarding the late Woodroof's life but more than that, it shows the essence of his struggle and the transformation that he overcame. That is certainly due in part to the script, which captures Woodroof's transition from a drug abusing, womanizing homophobe into a better man in this critical time of his life; primarily though, it falls on McConaughey. Much has been made about the weight that McConaughey and Leto lost in order to play the roles--and make no mistake, it is severe. I would not suggest you look up pictures of Jared Leto's weight loss if you are particularly squeamish. But the body changes, and the makeup worn by Leto in the role of the transgender Rayon, are merely tools which allow the actors to really break out. McConaughey has never been better than he is here, delivering a performance that makes you marvel that he's the same guy who was mired in bad romcoms for years. And Leto disappears into the role in a way that even many of the best screen chameleons couldn't do. Garner delivers a lot of fine work as the doctor working on AZT trials who is sympathetic to their cause while Vallée keeps the story relatively free of melodrama, instead letting the natural drama play out on its own. In a year full of incredibly-acted films, this may just be the best acting of them all and the script, direction, production team and the rest don't just let the acting carry the weight. That's what makes this one of the best of the year.

#15: The Conjuring

2013 was a surprisingly good year for horror. There are always bad horror films that come along; as one of the least expensive and most profitable genres to make a movie in, there is always someone willing to churn out lesser-quality horror for the sake of a buck. But 2013 saw, in general, the highest overall quality in the genre in quite some time. Leading the pack was this fantastically creepy film. James Wan has established himself as one of the premiere directors working in horror right now and with The Conjuring he applies his old school approach to horror to great effect.

The film focuses on a supposedly real-life incident in which the famed and controversial paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren looked into a Rhode Island home that was allegedly haunted by a witch. The Warrens are most famous for their investigation that became known as the Amityville Horror, by the way. Wan has a great cast here; Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are exceptional as the Warrens while Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston do great work as the parents in the home. I loved that this film puts the ladies at the forefront and not as victims (or not just as victims, anyway). Jump scares happen but they're not cheap jump scares; the shocks and the creepy mood and atmosphere all genuinely frighten. Add in some beautiful work from the cinematographer, a story that doesn't try to be too smart and yet keeps the bar high and you have a film that earns its spot on a 2013 "best of" list with ease.

#14: The Wolverine

It was a good year for Marvel films, if not exactly a great one. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed Iron Man 3 just fine and I thought Thor: The Dark World was a fantastic time at the theater. But following the high that was 2012, a slight crash was inevitable. One film that I was very wary about coming into the year was The Wolverine. While the X-Men franchise got itself back on track for the most part with X-Men: First Class in 2011, the idea of a second solo outing for Hugh Jackman's Wolverine was one I wasn't entirely sold on considering X-Men Origins' spectacular failure. This time around though, they got it right. James Mangold steps behind the camera and delivers a film that works not only as a superhero film, but as an action film in its own right and even some dramatic aspects. Some might question what I mean by "as an action film in its own right," and it's simple. There are some films that make fine superhero films, but when viewed outside of that context fail. These films don't find the same level of overall appeal and they are lesser films as a result. Mangold knows how to make an action film and he guides the story well as written by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank based on Chris Claremont's beloved 1992 run with the character.

Jackman always delivers as Wolverine and that's no exception here; what helps him is the fact that he has better support. Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima are great as Mariko and Yukio, the latter in particular making the role her own and injecting life into the character. Hiroyuki Sanada does well as Shingen and Famke Janssen is a welcome return in her brief dream sequences as Jean Grey. Mangold delivers some fantastic action set pieces and while the movie gets a little bit silly in the final act, it is eminently forgivable when considering the way the first two acts redeem the idea of Wolverine in a solo franchise. Even the somewhat goofy of the climactic scenes are tempered by Mangold's assured hand at staging and shooting the action. The Wolverine answered my prayers as a fanboy: it continued the X-Men film renaissance made me forget about X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

#13: The World's End

There are a surprising number of parallels you can make between The World's End and (believe it or not) Grown Ups 2. While I have one film on my Worst Of 2013 list and the other film here on my Best Of list, I certainly see similarities. Both films feature a cast of actors who are also close friends and have worked together before getting together for a comic romp. The difference between the two is that while Grown Ups 2 failed to be funny or have a cogent storyline, The World's End accomplishes both feats.

The final film in Edgar Wright's "Blood & Cornettos" trilogy, this one sees Simon Pegg and Nick Frost take on rather different roles than we're used to seeing; Pegg turns his straight-laced stereotype on its ear as Gary King, the wild man well past his prime who gets his old gang back together for an attempt to complete the pub crawl to end all pub crawls. Frost, who usually plays the loutish role, takes on the more stiff-collared role as Andy. The switch gives the two a chance to play against type to great effect while Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine deliver as the rest of the pack. Wright, Pegg and Frost have simultaneously poked fun at and homaged the zombie and buddy cop genres previously with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz; here they tackle sci-fi alien invasions and it is just as good as the previous efforts. Things are goofy and over the top, but that's what makes it work. Wright's visual flair comes out at just the right moments, the script by Wright and Pegg manages to have both humor and heart and the cast--supplemented by great supporting turns from Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan, David Bradley and more--are all in. I can't be the only person hoping that the trio makes this trilogy a quadrilogy or higher; however if this is all we get it is a fantastic capper to the series.

#12: Pacific Rim

Hands down, Pacific Rim is one of the most fun times I had at the theater in 2013. Guillermo Del Toro created a blast of a fanboy film, pitting humanity in giant robots against a variety of inventive kaiju with humanity on the line. There are two films I have seen this regularly compared to, neither of which has nearly the love that this one does: Sucker Punch and Transformers. There are those who have argued that Pacific Rim is no less of a fanboy pandering effort than Zack Snyder's film and others who claim that the only difference between Pacific Rim and Transformers is the director. I can certainly see those complaints, except for one detail in both respects which point out the strengths of Del Toro's film.

The first is simple: unlike Sucker Punch, Pacific Rim doesn't attempt to be some kind of weird mind-bendy film of extremely misguided social commentary. This film aims for the simple joys of action sci-fi and it succeeds quite ably. As for the similarities between it and Transformers, the difference comes down to the fact that the script by Travis Beacham and del Toro is simply better than the first Transformers script and worlds better than the scripts to the sequels. It's all about tone; where Transformers tries to set the ludicrousness in a current-day setting, Pacific Rim goes into the future so that we can let go of our disbelief a little bit. The supporting cast, meanwhile, is all very good including Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman. The action scenes are brilliantly put together and the idea behind the "mind melds" to pilot the Jaegers is a plot device used to great effect. This is pure fun from start to finish and I felt that the tones meshed together well for a fantastic sci-fi action piece.

#11: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

By my estimation one of the most unfairly-maligned films of 2012 was The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The first part of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy was called out for being too long, poorly paced, containing unnecessary humor, botching the new 48 frames-per-second format and several other reasons, but for my money it was a great (if not perfect) entry into the Middle Earth saga. Any complaints that fans may have had with the first entry, they were certainly silenced with The Desolation of Smaug. The second part of the tale improves on the first's by just about everyone's estimation, including yours truly. Yes, it is still long. But it never feels long because Jackson and his team keep this one at a tight pace, allowing for a great balance between character development and action scenes.

There was a lot of concern about the addition of Legolas and new character Tauriel heading up to this, but Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lily fit seamlessly into the tale and deliver a lot in terms of both story enhancement and kick-ass battle scenes. Martin Freeman comes into his own in a major way here and really carries the film while Ian McKellan's Gandalf wanders off to investigate the strange rumors of a Necromancer at Dol Guldur. Richard Armitage continues to excel as Thorin and Benedict Cumberbatch is exceptional voicing both the Necromancer and the one and only Smaug. This is a beautiful film that hits all the right notes; elements that set up the events we've already seen in Lord of the Rings play out nicely and everyone brings their A-game. It's true that these aren't quite as great as the original trilogy but they stand on their own strength; the scenes with Smaug in particular deliver in a big way. I'm definitely more excited to see the conclusion than I was before this.

#10: Star Trek Into Darkness

In terms of blockbuster films, few garnered such heated debate in 2013 as Star Trek Into Darkness. There are many who have taken issue with several elements of the film, whether it is the reworking of an iconic villain through Benedict Cumberbatch or the focus on big-budget action spectacle over the Star Trek ideals. There were also the arguments that this is essentially just a ruination of one of the greatest stories in Star Trek canon. For my money though, J.J. Abrams and his talented cast and crew hit another one out of the park here, delivering a film that takes the thrills of the reboot and raises the stakes to great result.

The script by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof is sharp and certainly plays with the continuity that we've been familiar with for years. However it also works well within the new continuity established. The story works as both allegory and popcorn entertainment, with good work from all the cast. Benedict Cumberbatch continues to break out as a big-time Hollywood star, putting his own spin on the story's villain while Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg and the rest of the cast keep up the fine work they began in the 2009 pseudo-reboot. The action is well-captured and outside of a few minor flaws here and there, the end result was my favorite tentpole-level franchise film of the year.

#9: Stoker

I will admit that I was rather surprised by the reaction that people had to Stoker, a film that I don't think is getting enough appreciation. Park Chan-wook's slow-burning thriller was derided as being boring and dull, a confusing statement when one considers that his 2009 vampire film Thirst doesn't get the same complaints and yet has the same sort of overall atmosphere. Perhaps people's expectations were too high; after all, Chan-wook is one of the most beloved filmmakers to come out of Asia in recent years. The South Korean director has built up a passionate audience with such exceptional films as Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and the aforementioned Thirst, and I count myself among that passionate fanbase. As such, there's no question that I was excited to see what he could bring to the table in his English-language debut. Stoker proves that even outside of his native language Park understands the language of film better than many of his contemporaries.

Park takes Wentworth Miller's wonderfully twisted script and applies a measured, paced sensibility to it. Park is a patient filmmaker and never feels the need to rush the pace; however, neither does he let things meander overly long and Stoker walks that line. Mia Wasikowska continues to build her impressive resume as India, the girl who finds herself attracted to her uncle when he arrives after her father passes away. Matthew Goode is similarly great as Uncle Charlie, keeping his charm and sinister traits restrained yet always present in some capacity. And Nicole Kidman does great work as India's mother, who also has her designs on Charlie. The subject matter is very taboo but it is presented in a way that never shocks so much as to revulse. The end result is one of the best thrillers of the year with ease.

Disguise of the Episode

Current Series/Season: Season One (2001 - 2002)
Episodes Watched: 13
Last Serial Completed: The Box (Part 2) - Sydney and Jack find themselves in the ironic position of having to save SD-6 as former agent McKenas Cole tortures Sloane in order to obtain a mysterious item stored inside the SD-6 vault, while Will finds new leads into his story about the organization.
Episodes Remaining: 92

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.


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