Top Movies of 2013

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Movies I saw in 2012, from best to worst...

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Amour 2012,  PG-13)
Amour is a quietly remarkable affirmation of a fact of life few acknowledge. Writer/director Haneke removes any romanticised exaggerations normally associated with cinematic "true love" to deliver an exceptionally honest, often painful, yet always strikingly beautiful film. He perfectly frames the inescapable inevitabilities of life-long love with stark reality, mercifully delivered without any hint of melodrama. Part of that comes from truly outstanding performances from the two leads, Riva especially completely deserving her Oscar nomination for embracing such a brave, challenging character. Despite the difficult subject matter is, Amour is a rewarding human drama, never shying away from a truth that we all will likely face one day.
Star Trek Into Darkness 2013,  PG-13)
Star Trek Into Darkness
Many will still scoff and scorn the idea of science fiction being more than just nerdish pursuits, but it's thanks to films like this that push the genre in gaining more credibility beyond the obviousness. Thrilling action, emotional drama delivered through great characters set against a great story means that almost anyone can watch Star Trek and take something away from it; a far cry from the early days of the franchise. Whether or not Abrams returns to more adventures with his Enterprise crew is unknown, but if this is his final adventure, he's left big shoes to fill.
The Impossible 2012,  PG-13)
The Impossible
Recreating an event in film that will incite cries of necessity from critics needs to be handled with a sense of restraint, and Bayona has done a stunning job of doing that. His weighted take on this tragic event isn't an overwrought special effects extravaganza, but there is no doubting the intensity he imbues when he does show off what this level of destruction can do. In a filmic sense, perhaps the only disputable let down is your willingness to feel for the characters and their plight, but that really should take nothing away from what a powerful, intense experience The Impossible delivers.
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug 2013,  PG-13)
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
Now, well and truly beyond the halfway point of the adventures of this trilogy, its easy to see that the scale of the task at hand in The Hobbit never seems as grand as that of The Lord of the Rings. Even with the anticipated reveal of big bad dragon Smaug, The Hobbit is still a much smaller story being told in an epic The Lord of the Rings style.
Still, despite the lengthy prologue that was An Unexpected Journey, its again the mastery of Jackson and his comrades to bring to life this enormous world that never ceases to amaze. The characters are just as richly detailed as the landscapes they inhabit, the drama and the laughs are just as well balanced as they have always been, and the mix of stunning set pieces and seamless special effects continue to be as immersive as ever.
Desolation should appease the appetites of those disappointed with the arguably bloated An Unexpected Journey. A 'The Two Towers' style of narrative sees multiple, engaging stories running concurrently with each other, and an ending that gives this a distinct sense of separation from the introductory style of the first outing, and a real connection with the final instalment in 2013. You just know you'll be back for more!
To The Wonder 2013,  R)
To The Wonder
I am down with Malik's intentions. I relish the kind of cinema that doesn't make things easy for an audience, and I see that here without a hint of pretentiousness or self-importance. Many won't and that is their choice. But personally, To The Wonder is the very best kind of romanticized cinema; unconventional, audience dividing, and yet hauntingly beautiful at the same time.
Django Unchained 2012,  R)
Django Unchained
While you can certainly feel its lengthy running time towards its finale, it's a literally bloody great treat to spend as much time as possible in Tarantino's truly epic Western masterpiece. His usual penchant for stylish dialogue, his deft ability to take something serious with a sense of humour, his great staging of action set-pieces and utterly perfect casting all culminate is yet another grand, award-worthy film that is completely entertaining and dripping with his typical Tarantino-cool.
Elysium 2013,  R)
After his mightily impressive debut District 9, Blomkamp was always going to have his work cut out for him to impress as much on his anticipated follow-up. The incredible special effects are nothing short of spectacular, and he still manages to strike the right balance of frenzied action scenes and political driven narrative. Impressively, he adds more heart and soul through Damon's Max which really anchors the film. Elysium may not quite reach the ambitious heights of Blomkamp's predecessor, but there is still a ton to love.
Stories We Tell 2013,  PG-13)
Stories We Tell
It's often said the simplest stories are often the most compelling when told the right way, and Stories We Tell is likely one of the most extraordinary films about family, love, choices and memories you'll see. Polley delicately unspools the tapestry of her mothers life through the stories from the friends and family who knew her, capturing the revelatory emotions and reactions without any hint of sensationalism, often through captured home video footage.
It's perhaps too matter-of-fact at times, but the real treat is Polley's ability to seamlessly segue between the real and the fictional in her what she shows on screen interspersed with the memories being shared here. Her distorting of memory and fact is so subtle and presented so absorbingly that her ability to manipulate her own personal work and still tell the story she wants becomes even more intriguing as the film progresses.
The result is a work of pure genius; deftly adhering to her own families uncertainty of Polley sharing her personal family story in this way, while still maintaining some of that mystery, as well as perhaps inadvertently making a statement on an audience's' willingness to take documentary form at face value.
It would be easy to criticise Polley's cold unravelling of the facts here, and that she uses her own family drama as a foil for a grander discussion on the morality of choices, memories, truth and lies. But we all have stories to tell, and everyone comes away with a alternative perspective, which is what makes Stories We Tell such a fascinating journey from start to finish.
Ain't Them Bodies Saints 2013,  R)
Ain't Them Bodies Saints
It comes as no surprise that Ain't Them Bodies Saints writer/director Lowery was on hand to help edit together Shane Carruth's distractingly existential but equally beautiful Upstream Color, and it's pretty clear these young directors owe much of their visual palette and narrative pacing from the likes of Terrance Malick. Carruth struggled to make his story accessible, but here Lowery uses familiar, and very welcome, character archetypes to anchor his sweeping romance. Credit to his incredible writing; he crafts a narrative that's much grander than he allows his film to be, despite being framed in Malick-esque cinematic posturing. Thankfully though, this is just used to punctuate the film rather than make them the distracting focus of his feature like his contemporaries; the result is perfectly balanced and equally stunning. Like his keen visual eye, Lowery has also done wonders in finding his three leads. Mara continues to impress, giving depth and dimension to the characters she plays, and her Ruth is no different. Her performance is subtle, but she give it substance. Affleck and Foster are also both terrific. Both are given far less to work with; their dialogue is sparse, Affleck often feels like a mere catalyst for the plot than an actual character with depth. Foster fares better in these stakes, but they are both still excellent considering. It may be light on plot, but Lowery keeps the film moving at a brisk pace for a film that is very much set on slow-burn. It strikes the perfect balance of visual beauty and accessible narrative structure to make for an engaging, emotional, cinematic experience that won't leave you thinking you wasted away an hour and a half of your life.
Captain Phillips 2013,  PG-13)
Captain Phillips
There is nothing effortless about Captain Phillips; director Greengrass makes sure of that. His comfort in hand-held cinematography feels right at home in the close-quarters dialogue heavy drama between the characters, but as usual brings immediacy in the more obvious tension filled thriller moments. It may feel by the numbers at times, but its a welcome kind of familiarity that takes the edge off the gut wrenching unexpectedness the plot delivers as it unfolds.
Hanks too brings his familiar everyman leading man qualities to Phillips. His performance is spectacular as per usual; weighted, intelligent, remaining well and truly on the right side of Hollywood action hero mode, so much so that you may not even realise it until the revelatory conclusion.
The result is an almost flawless double handed character drama/ action thriller, one that succeeds well on both counts thanks to its director and star who know how to work at the top of the game.
Gravity 2013,  PG-13)
Gravity is the unquestionably the most impressive display of special effects work you will see in modern cinema. Akin to Kubrick's groundbreaking work in 2001, what Cuaron presents here is unparalleled technical dexterity of incredible calibre. Like Kubrick, he has redefined what is possible in filmmaking and made it accessible to all audiences.
While it's certainly gorgeous to look at, Cuaron also manages to successfully ratchet up a thrilling, often devastating, and seemingly unstoppable level of tension and edge-of-your seat thrills. Its an impossible combination that would normally stretch believability, and still does to a degree, but never to breaking point.
Bullock too deserves kudos for managing to hold the entire film on her shoulders successfully. She is still the weaker link, but its through no fault of her own; Cuaron's dialogue that she and Clooney share is a little heavy handed at times. But the dialogue is minimal anyway, and you'd be hard pressed to find someone to fault the film too harshly on this point. She more deserves plenty of praise for taking on easily one of the most physically difficult roles, and delivering it with exceptionally weighted emotional pathos.
Hands down, this is one of the very best films of the year; a technical achievement uncomparable, a heart-stoppingly intense double-handed display of beauty and true terror in one truly sumptuous, awe-inspiring, genre defining film. Cuaron, start writing your loooong overdue Best Director Oscar speech now.
The Way Way Back 2013,  PG-13)
The Way Way Back
Screenwriting champs Rash and Faxon have come up with the supremely feel good smarts yet again with their follow up to their Oscar-winning screenplay The Descendants. This time around they also take on directorial duties as well with solid results.
They easily find an effortless charm in their characters and mine plenty of warmth and humour from the narrative. Certainly helps they've managed to gather the perfect ensemble cast; all of whom manage to play second fiddle to the wonderfully awkward performance from James as the disillusioned young Duncan. Collette and Carrell tend to come off a little more caricature-ish, but an as-usual underrated performance from a scene-stealing Rockwell is excellent.
For fans of Rash and Faxon's Academy Award winning Clooney led dramedy, this by comparison will feel much more slight thanks to its overly familiar coming of age plot. They do struggle to attempt anything fresh with the genre here, and often tend to distractingly hesitate around larger, deeper backstories stories on marriage and family breakups.
Thankfully, these blemishes are very transparent. It may not be as polished as their Oscar winning effort, but their usual combination of measured laughs and relateable family drama here will keep this firmly in the viewers good books and certainly make you want to come back for more.
American Hustle 2013,  R)
American Hustle
This should have been the film that Lawrence wins her first Oscar for; she is deliriously enchanting and a complete standout in amongst this massively enjoyable ensemble. Enjoyable being the key word here; in all aspects of the film here. Pitch black humor is interspersed amongst the more serious moments, but its deftly balanced in Russell's screenplay. His direction is fluid and striking, capturing the iconic look of the 70's complete with plunging necklines and bad hair; he even opens his movie with exactly that!
While Lawrence is the standout here in a supporting role this time around, Bale and Adams are electric as crafty con-artists caught and used by an equally excellent Cooper as a federal agent with lofty career aspirations. The four just work so well off each other, their banter is intoxicating to watch.
In that, American Hustle wears its cheesy, even certifiably bonkers at times, characters on its sleeve, so there is no hustling any audience watching it. Its damn good enough to see Lawrence win her second Oscar in as many years. But even if she doesn't, this is simply one of the funniest, and most entertaining, award-contending films of the year.
Iron Man 3 2013,  PG-13)
Iron Man 3
This third instalment may leave a dark cloud over the future of Stark's story, but it does also end with hope and light. It marks the culmination of a man's journey to find himself and his place in the world, beyond ego and self-importance. As deep as that sounds, the appreciation that a Hollywood blockbuster can deliver it, and an absorbing, exciting action film with these ideas and not compromise one or the other, is truly astounding.
Cloud Atlas 2012,  R)
Cloud Atlas
Yes, Cloud Atlas does offer up much of what has been done before, just in a truly epic format; but if you lap up this kind of cinema then it's easy to be forgiving for its flaws. Along with a cast who are always up for the ride as well, it's difficult to not become swept up in this always interesting, contemporary vision of what it means to exist.
Compliance 2012,  R)
Compliance is possibly one of only a few films that wears its "based on true events" disclaimer with some degree of accuracy. While on the surface the bordering on ridiculous blind obedience of the film's main characters seems almost idiotic and even laughable, this is craftily writer/director Zobel's exact point. Such a tiny premise gives plenty of the "truth" for him to replicate, which he unceasingly uses to truly terrifying effect when you consider the deeper implications of what is being demonstrated here. Effortlessly maintaining a completely chilling, distressingly frightening experience throughout thanks to Zobel's incredibly inventive direction, taut screenplay and uniformaly excellent performances from the cast, the result is Compliance being one of the most effective, intelligent thrillers in a long time.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 2013,  PG)
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Considering the insane volume of animal/food puns the writers came up with to populate this sequel to the effortlessly quirky original outing, you would think they could have come up with a better name for this than just taking on a 2 to the original title. But don't let that lapse of judgement ruin and otherwise excellent entry to this budding new franchise.
The usual forte of bright colours, interesting, funny characters and an easy to engage narrative keeps this cheerful family flick humming along perfectly throughout. A solid hit rate of gags, both visual and verbal, both for kids and adults, come thick and fast, and are delivered with great success. It may lack the same degree of whimsy and spontaneity the first film had, and there is no missing the writers ramming home the moral undertones much more strongly here. But there is still tons of fun to be had, and for fans of the first movie, this is more of the same.
Anna Karenina 2012,  R)
Anna Karenina
There is no doubting writer Stoppard has perhaps performed a miracle in his translation of Tolstoy's epic tome. His literal embrace of the theatrical is brought to life wonderfully through Wright's visual talents, continuing to prove his worth as an underrated filmmaker with bold, stylistic flourishes that are as breathtaking as they are gorgeous. He is the perfect director to take on such the visual aesthetics required here, but Anna Karenina will divide audiences. Though the cast, particularly Knightly, commit themselves to the piece fully, there is no denying the cold, often disconnected emotional resonance, from the characters, that forever keeps them at arms length from the audience.
This Is the End 2013,  R)
This Is the End
Seth and Evan's persistence and shameless proficiency in what they're attempting here fortunately yields more positive results than negative. This Is The End is a characteristically crass, obnoxious bromance-laced comedy made for an audience that unquestionably know what they are getting themselves into. It certainly doesn't claim to pioneer the genre, but that's rarely been the business these guys are in, and in that regard, the film is a success.
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty 2013,  PG)
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
There are two types of people who will watch Walter Mitty; those who look into Stiller's airy dramedy with too much seriousness and scoff, and those who will get lost in his message take it for what it is. Forget the product placements, forget the twee sentiment; Mitty is just a great, simple, uncomplicated whimsical tale of a man who starts living his life. It's an effortless journey, one with adventures and laughs, ups and downs.
Stiller maintains an affable sense of relatability through Mitty, his quirky quietness never becomes annoying like many other characters he plays. As a director too, his visual sense gives a grandness to the story that perhaps doesn't need it, but he balances his quirkiness with his straightforwardness well.
Walter Mitty may be overly slight in the eyes of many, but its always entertaining and has a great, positive message that doesn't feel too forced and features some ace cinematography to boot. An unexpected delight of a film.
Thor: The Dark World 2013,  PG-13)
Thor: The Dark World
Familiarity usually breeds contempt, but why mess with a winning formula when it works so well. In the case of Thor: The Dark World, everything that made the first such a surprising guilty pleasure still clicks here. The Marvel boffins keep the campy gags and overly-CGI'ed action set pieces coming so thick and fast you may well find yourself easily distracted by the spectacle on offer.
Hemsworth feels right at home as the beefcake comic book hero, but its Hiddleston's Loki who quite often steals the show. The duo make for a particularly interesting pairing during the films action heavy middle act, which of course leads way to an explosive finale, and one thankfully that doesn't try to top previous entries in the Marvel canon. The film also benefits from the darker stylistic flourishes courtesy of frequent Game of Thrones helmer Taylor.
It certainly has its flaws; even under 2 hours, it drags in parts, and many of the supports, including Portman, are given much less to do here than in Thor's first outing. Many will argue I'm being a little generous, but I'm happy to enjoy a film that keeps its tongue in cheek and its audience entertained. As pure popcorn entertainment, The Dark World continues Marvel's successful trend of comic-to-film conversions very well.
The Great Gatsby 2013,  PG-13)
The Great Gatsby
Luhrmann opens up his visual bag of treats to stunning effect during the film's first half. Its a bombastic, effervescent, ecstatic treat for the senses, perfectly setting the scene for the decadence of the wealthy disregard of early 1920's new money. While Fitzgerald's story may prevent Luhrmann's glittering fanfare to continue into the second half, his equally impressive more modest directorial abilities are never put to waste, continuing to evoke the spirit of the times with his trademark flourishes, with a little more composure as the story dictates. It's here where the great cast he's assembled are allowed to fully embrace their characters, along with an incredibly evocative soundtrack, all coming together to craft an often exhilarating, emotional, epic drama. It's not without its flaws, but the result is certainly a rousing, entertaining success, and a welcome return to form for the director.
Despicable Me 2 2013,  PG)
Despicable Me 2
Much of this sequel hinges on the most obvious element of success this franchise has; the minions. To that end, they are where most of the film's laughs come from; and the success rate on their slapstick heavy sight-gags is virtually perfect. Their hyperactive unpredictability is infectiously hilarious throughout, thankfully balancing out the more obvious kids film plot devices and a sadly decidedly dull villain. Great voice work, quirky characters and as-expected top shelf animation give this a impressive sheen that, while not quite as inventive as the original, still shines as quality kids entertainment.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 2013,  PG-13)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Of course it would be pretty easy to be a cynical movie critic when it comes to yet another book series-to-film series adaptation - yawn! But admittedly, it's difficult to feel that way with The Hunger Games franchise. Like the books, these films have managed to take familiar sci-fi genre trappings and transpose them into something accessible to wider audiences.
The success of the films pretty much come down the one-two punch of the emotionally charged protagonist Katniss, and the rabbit-out-of-the-hat casting of Lawrence to flesh out her on-screen interpretation. She is unquestionably the balanced centre of which all the chaos of Katniss' world revolves, which is impressive considering that Lawrence manages herculean task of making Katniss even more the relatable heroine than in the first outing despite even less characterisation to work with.
It's here where Catching Fire does come undone a little. For fans of such dystopian fare, narrative cues embedded in The Hunger Games films never completely fire on all cylinders. Much like the first instalment, much of the plot comes across as "oppressive government regime 101", a black-and-white view of good-and-bad that helps the success of the film as a lit-adaptation Hollywood blockbuster, but isn't particularly ground-breaking for genre aficionados who've seen it all before.
That's fine, especially to those who haven't seen it all before, which is likely to be many of people watching. Yet while the film tries to add in characters with depth to counteract this, its focus is still much more on the watered down corruption of power in politics and will of the people to stand up against them. It's a shame more character depth is sacrificed in favour of the overworked plot.
Admittedly, this may all be because of the middle-chapter syndrome. Plot lines and characters are left hanging without resolution, which is to be expected. But its distracting here, especially in the second half of the film, which surprisingly feels rushed despite the 2.5 hour running time.
It's perhaps unfair to be as critical of the problems with the film considering the intended audience; the films are a commercial success because of how easy it they are to digest. The Hunger Games films could have been a lot worse, and as far as Hollywood lit-adaptation of this ilk go, they are pretty entertaining.
Pleasingly, despite its narrative and character irks, Catching Fire is marked improvement on its predecessor. Its darker and grittier tone suits the themes of the film, and the raised stakes on the new Hunger Games that feature in this film. Lawrence continues to make magic out of melodrama, and continues to be supported by a great cast. The story does push forward with its ideas much stronger, and makes clear its intentions for the next two films and exactly what will be at stake for all the characters involved, which is exciting. With the next book split into two films, it will be interesting to see how it all resolves. But for now, Catching Fire is a mostly satisfying (middle) chapter in this well above average franchise.
Mud 2013,  PG-13)
McConaughey can be an exceptional actor when he chooses the right roles, and Mud continues his streak of brilliant performances. Nichols carefully balances McConaughey's nuanced, enigmatic, but rarely scene-stealing, performance with the importance of a meaningful story of innocence of youth, family, relationships and loyalty. Nichols does fail to write his female characters with the same kind of depth or resonance as his males, but its coming-of-age tale through the eyes of his child protagonists is one of wide-eyed wonder and adventure that translates perfectly.
Pacific Rim 2013,  PG-13)
Pacific Rim
If you're a fan of director del Toro, it's honestly a little difficult to watch such a great talent dilute his usual nuanced excellence to something so chaotic and bombastic. Listening to Beacham try to unnecessarily give depth to the "Transformers vs Godzilla" plot also seems laughable, not to mention his uncanny ability to write characters with no dimension. Surprisingly though, Pacific Rim rim manages to transcend its inadequacies thanks to the spectacle and distraction of its visceral visual effects, and its proficiency in maintaining a level of enthusiastic enjoyment throughout.
Monsters University 2013,  G)
Monsters University
Unquestionably, there is plenty of bright, vibrant, colourful fun to be had here. The plot definitely has a ton of crafty in-jokes and references to the previous film that aficionados will devour and enjoy. Crystal and Goodman too share an effortless chemistry that certainly hasn't diminished at all over the years. But its far from a future classic like its predecessor. A kids film set in a frat house is shaky at best. Even many of the new characters are just caricatures of familiar chestnuts rather than original creations Disney is usually so good at concocting. Monsters University was always going to be divisive in its negatives, coming off more as a continuing sign of Disney playing things a little too safe. Perhaps its more a case of just bad timing; MU may lack the originality of the original, but this is nowhere near the worst that the studio has offered up of late and still a worthy entry in the Monsters canon.
Man of Steel 2013,  PG-13)
Man of Steel
There is an often gratifying method to the madness on display here for those that have never really felt enamoured by this Earth adopted Kryptonian son. Nolan and Goyer infuse the Supes' spirit with much needed noir-ish gravitas in his character. The obtuse Snyderfied second half will leave many disorientated and perhaps unnecessarily overwhelmed, but despite his modern lack of tact in the action stakes, Zach embodies a battle befitting of such super-powered characters in the finale that rarely feels out of place.
World War Z 2013,  PG-13)
World War Z
There are few actors that can pull off the change from everyday suburban father and husband to bad-ass action hero, but Pitt convinces. Forster tones down the gratuitous gore usually associated with these kinds of genre films but keeps the pace brisk with a continuous string of well executed, if ridiculously over-the-top, action set pieces. Lindlelof and Goddard's attempt to inject smarts into a plot that doesn't really need it is mostly wasted, but thankfully World War Z is not let down because of it. The result is one of surprise; a successfully entertaining, edge-of-your-seat, guilty pleasure popcorn action film.
Oblivion 2013,  PG-13)
It borrows from everything that's come before it, which let's the team down in those supposedly mind-blowing plot-twist moments that Kosinski tries to heist on his audience. Yet, the film never becomes as desolate as the dystopian Earth represented here, which comes down to Cruise and his supports completely embracing their roles, and Kosinski himself, continuing to prove his abilities as a sensational visualist.
The Hangover Part III 2013,  R)
Mama 2013,  PG-13)
Mama isn't terribly scary, shows some of its budgetary restraints and certainly doesn't gain many strides in originality or inventiveness in the story it wants to tell. But you can see why Del Toro leant his name to this. Despite its shortcomings, its never dull, with a spookily satisfying plot and decent performances from the cast, particularly the youngsters. Throw in some impressive production design and solid direction from newcomer Muschietti and you get a memorable, satisfying gothic-tinged horror that doesn't leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Kick-Ass 2 2013,  R)
Kick-Ass 2
Not that the first was really calling out for another, but this second helping is very much in the same vein as the original. It arguably ups the level of violence and bad language, but there is a essense of camaraderie and a very liberal idea of vigilante justice. Peppered with familiar crass gags and and abundance of colourful characters, and Kick Ass is on par with its first outing - so you'll pretty much know what your in for. Fans need only apply.
Silver Linings Playbook 2012,  R)
Silver Linings Playbook
Cooper and Lawrence are electric here, continually elevating Silver Linings Playbook beyond its humble intentions as just another film with romantic intentions in mind. The film's final act does succumb to familiar genre trappings, but its still a worthy build up, with director Russell impeccably reining in all expectations to deliver an unflinchingly honest look at fractured relationships.
Zero Dark Thirty 2012,  R)
Zero Dark Thirty
While its a completely different film to the utterly sublime perfection that was The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is just as gripping and entirely enthralling in its own unique way. What transpires never quite gets the pulse racing quite as much as Bigalow's visceral, nail-biting predecessor. The daunting task of condensing 10 years worth of behind the scenes intelligence gathering through a multitude of questionable methods makes this particular manhunt certainly one of the longest, if not exactly the greatest per say. But like The Hurt Locker, Zero shows us a very alternative, very modern type of warfare that is just as dangerous, often as ridiculously intense, and always as terrifying as any other "war" in history, and its a complete success in that regard.
Bad Milo! 2013,  R)
Bad Milo!
If you only see one movie this years that features a man with a demon living in his ass, make it Bad Milo. You do have to wonder exactly what kind of mind comes up with an idea like this, but there is an amusing stroke of ingenuity to what is delivered here. Surprisingly, writer/directors Jacob Vaughn dispenses with the obvious bum jokes and actually delivers a shrewdly balanced comedy with serious undertones. Marino does well to entertain this insanity as Duncan, showcasing his often underestimated propensity for blending comedy with seriousness. He holds the film up as well as can be expected alongside his gremlin alter-ego. Expectedly though, the rest of the cast often merely serve as catalysts fir Duncan's varying levels of stress and little else. There is no denying Bad Milo is clearly destined for cult status. And rightly so; Milo looks cheap and nasty, but the effect is brilliant realised consider its low budget aesthetics. Add to that a lean running time, and the lack of a huge amount of deliver laughs means the gags that are here work pretty well more of the time. The result is that for a movie about an ass monster, Bad Milo as a whole inexplicably works more often than it doesn't also.
The Bling Ring 2013,  R)
The Bling Ring
Unless you already get it, its difficult to understand the appeal of the glamorous lifestyle the disaffected youth in The Bling Ring crave. Still, writer/directors Sofia Coppola has managed to capture the superficialities well, and there is a craft in making something that is so dull seem exciting in film; which is clearly her point, and she's successful in that. It does come a little of a catch-22 in that its a tough sell to anyone who doesn't buy into what's being offered here with the wafer thin plot. But like the world the world these kids will steal from, Coppola delivers a film that is as deliberately as shallow as it is is somehow strangely alluring in celluloid form. She paints her exploitative pseudo-docu-drama in her typically airy visual flourishes; perfectly suited to a plot that embraces the dream lifestyle of the rich and famous through the eyes of the LA youth. Her narrative manages to lay down the events straight as they unfold, but almost inadvertently keeps our attention through the brazen acts of her band of kleptomaniacs. The young cast assembled here serve her well here; embracing and embellishing her dialogue to great effect. It's difficult to work out Coppola's exact intentions here, which does add to The Bling Ring's mystique, but its certainly not as provocative as she may have intended. Thankfully its short running times keeps this in good graces for fans of Sofia and the cast who make the most out of what could arguably be a much meatier story.
The Place Beyond The Pines 2012,  R)
The Place Beyond The Pines
With its grand, multi-generational arching narrative and Cianfrance's provocative directional flairs, Pines continually strives for that truly epic mantle it wants so badly. That it never quite gets there though is no fault of the breathtaking performances from Cooper and Gosling; both are in top form, nailing their nuanced characters with perfection. Its niggling flaws sees a plot too often hinge on obvious genre conventions, and an arguably contrived coincidence in the narrative will make or break the great build up of emotional character groundwork. It may not reach the lofty heights it aspires to, but its still an intense, edgy, even quietly effecting, adult drama that's certainly worth the watch.
Evil Dead 2013,  R)
Evil Dead
What Evil Dead lacks in scares makes up for in bloody gory fun, if you have the temperament to handle what it offers of course. More than anything else though, it's thankfully a refreshing departure from the recent spate of disturbingly ugly torture-porn horror and the oh-so-fake non-threatening ghost house movies bringing the non-scares. That's more than enough to earn Evil Dead a few extra brownie points covered in blood
Disconnect 2013,  R)
Director Harry Rubin is anything but subtle with Disconnect, a fragmented Crash-esque criss-crossing of characters struggling with the pitfalls of internet and social media. The intertwining of various stories, ranging from cyber bullying to online scams, is far too obvious for a film that is outwardly expressing its ironic cynicism at how disconnected we all are in this highly connected world.
Still, the representations of each story when taken individually are actually quite compelling. Screenwriter Andrew Stern effectively plumbs the more common criticisms of the online microcosm and distils them into his characters worlds with destructive effects that wouldn't look out of place outside of the cinema. Interestingly, Disconnect conveniently reminds us in its finale that an increasingly online world doesn't offer up many happy endings; a warning that many won't get closure here they may well be hoping for.
It's never quite as provocative as it thinks it is, but Rubin's adequate direction and some great performances from his cast give Disconnect a sheen of credibility that makes this worthwhile.
The Conjuring 2013,  R)
The Conjuring
The only comfort you'll get from The Conjuring is that you've seen many of the tricks on display here before. But Wan continues his ability to deliver interesting results with the few tricks the genre has to work with; humbling Hitchcockian odes, inventive cinematography and eerie sound production more than make up for the usual squeaky doors and behind-the-shoulder reveals. Wan gives this a glossy sheen above most others, so while you'll always see the scares coming, the result is still always effective and entertaining.
Dark Skies 2013,  PG-13)
Dark Skies
The idea that a white picket-fenced suburban facade can breed hidden conventional scares isn't new; Dark Skies is so familiar to the point where this is basically a shot for shot remake of Poltergeist with aliens substituted for spectres. Russell and Hamilton do their best with poor characterisations; Russell fares better; and even the kids follow typical horror archetypes. Still, while this all feels like just another horror film that plays too many of the obvious genre tricks too often, at least Dark Skies offers creepiness without succumbing to some of the more gratuitous methods filmmakers take to disturb their audiences these days.
Prisoners 2013,  R)
Villeneuve's bleak, harrowing drama wastes no time setting it's wheels in motion, and once it starts its a long, long haul to its conclusion. Guzikowski's screenplay is perfectly honed; he flits from the tense, to the heartbreaking, to the devastating, almost seamlessly, and Villeneuve milks all the potential from every ounce of what is there. On the screen, it translates in the dual performances of Jackman and Gyllenhaal. The consensus is Jackman has turned in the performance of his career; personally, I find he tends to overact. It's hard not to find yourself thinking he's channelling Wolverine here which to me I found distracting. But there is no denying his tenacity and commitment to a challenging character; he does well considering his own limitations. Gyllenhaal however is nothing short of revelatory. As the detective assigned to the case, he plays it as he should, but there is a past in his character lurking that Gyllenhaal flirts with. The tattoos, the nervous tic, the rage beneath the calm demeanour; it never surfaces, but its enigmatic enough to keep you wondering. Mercifully, considering the subject matter, Guzikowski shies away from the more literal representations of certain activities in Prisoners in the key scenes, and Villeneuve is wise to hold back as well; opting for the subtle over the gratuitous. Still, Roger Deakin's breathtaking cinematography provides gravitas beyond a mere grimy crime drama this could so easily have been, elevating this to something that, at times, is even beautiful despite the film this is. Even though the plot maintains a safe distance from truly judging its own characters actions, Prisoners is still bleak, and quite often truly devastating. It stumbles in a few places, and the finale is a little polarizing, but its an effectively chilling drama that will certainly haunt you long after you've seen it.
We Are What We Are 2013,  R)
We Are What We Are
There is plenty to love about directors Mickle's twist slow burn gothic horror-drama. Excellent performances, particularly from his young cast, a brilliant eye for beautiful, often arresting, visuals, and a crafty ability to play with the genre conventions to great effect. Particularly in his finale, which quickly falls into gorgeous arthouse horror. Be warned; Mickle's deceptive bait-and-switch will test the constitutions of many unsuspectingly decieved viewers with a decidedly stomach-churning finale.
Its a delicious mix of gloss and gross, but it lacks the serious grindhouse gore that horror fundamentalists love. So there is no doubt its going to split audiences.
Which isn't surprising either; much of this looks like a Terrance Malick film smashed into parts of both Stoker and Martha Marcy May Marlene; a heady mix of excellent individual parts coming together to form a delicious whole. Much like the title of the movie itself, We Are What We Are is happy to present itself as it is; take it or leave it!
Europa Report 2013,  PG-13)
Europa Report
Europa Report succeeds the seemingly impossible; a technically accurate film that refreshingly gravitates on the side of science than fiction. The lack of a well-known cast certainly help anchor the seriousness of its intentions as well, allowing the story to unfold with undue celebrity distractions. The low budget unfortunately means not-so special effects, but the results, while at times jarring, are surprisingly mostly always effective for the story being told here. It is a shame the finale does flip into the more fictional side of sci-fi film lore, but Europa Report soars when its reveling in the science; a rare treat in this often neglected genre of filmmaking.
White House Down 2013,  PG-13)
White House Down
White House Down is one deliriously graish, obnoxious action film with no real smarts and ridiculous characters and dialogue. Yet, its also one deliriously fun guilty pleasure of a movie you're likely to see this year. Said crass dialogue takes the form of well timed one-liners, the ridiculous characters have great easy-going relationship, and the plot is maniacal and one dimensional. Even at an extremely lengthy 2+ hours, as far as the throw away blockbuster action stakes with tongue-in-cheek humour goes, White House Down actually delivers the goods more often than it really should.
We're The Millers 2013,  R)
We're The Millers
It's what you'd expect from a pot-dealing road-trip flick, but We're The Millers certainly isn't the trainwreck it so easily could have been. Sudeikis delivers sarcastic barbs to perfection and milks all the jokes, even the ones that would normally fall flat, to great success. Even Aniston manages some great comic timing as his stripper neighbour, but its Poulter as faux son Kenny who often steals the show to great effect.
We're The Millers may not offer anything new in the road trip, pot-dealing, dysfunctional family dynamics of its narrative, but there is surprisingly still plenty of fun to be had.
Now You See Me 2013,  PG-13)
Now You See Me
The closer you look, the less you'll see; the film's tagline works as a reminder of how to approach the movie itself. An impressive cast and high-class production values carefully mask many of the film's contrivances; plot holes and twists here, random, unnecessary car chases and stunt sequences there. Like most magic tricks, Now You See Me is enjoyable, interesting, showy and full of spectacle; but unlike the truly great tricks, once the secrets are revealed there isn't much left to see.
Room 237 2013,  Unrated)
Room 237
Room 237's strength is fully engaging with the idea that a roomful of people can all come away with a completely different interpretation from something they've all seen. Full credit certainly goes to Ascher for gathering together the most eccentric bunch of nutty The Shining fans to share their ideas. The theories presented, while wildly ranging and often ridiculously coincidental, are nonetheless head-scratchingly observant and utterly entertaining.
Life of Pi 2012,  PG)
Life of Pi
No matter how you look at is, through the depth of its processes or just as a story of survival, Pi will speak to everyone in a different way. Life of Pi asks a lot of questions, and poses few answers. Its a spiritual and physical journey that may test the patients of some, but will be completely rewarding for others. As a film, it reassures us all of the talent Lee has as visually impressive film-maker. But its a strange journey that, while mostly rewarding, feels a little adrift despite its lofty intentions.
The Company You Keep 2013,  R)
The Company You Keep
It may feel a little long, but there is enough weight to the story to keep things humming throughout. The cast are serviceable, the direction is typically proficient Redford-esque and there are no big reveals or shocking gimmickly delivered twists here. No, The Company You Keep is just an efficient, engaging mystery drama with a few low key thrills thrown in for good measure. It's no-frills, forgettable stuff in the long run, but its more than decent entertainment for a couple of hours.
Breathe In 2013,  R)
Breathe In
Breathe In isn't a particularly bad film, but sadly isn't a particularly exciting one either. On the one hand, this succeeds - probably more than it should - thanks to restrained, evocative direction from Doremus and an interesting, muted performance from Pearce. On the other hand, Doremus struggles to offer up anything we haven't seen before in the old mid-life crisis chestnut; the beats are all too familiar for this type of film. For a film with very few surprises, one big one is Jones; she skillfully plays down Sophie, creating a character you wouldn't expect from a film like this.
While most will be distracted by the meandering, overly familiar plot, which keeps this from being essential viewing, Breathe In is well made and confirms Doremus as a director to watch.
This is 40 2012,  R)
This is 40
The problem here is that while Pete and Debbie worked great as counterpoint supports in Knocked Up, their relationship is hard to maintain over the ridiculously over-long length of the film. Of course, there are elements of This is 40 that do work; Apatow's trademark humour is hilariously funny when the jokes stick, and the performances are honest and engaging, even if the characters are not exactly likeable. Apatow certainly still has a knack for cleverly dissecting his sardonic characters' relationships, but the delivery just isn't as fresh or surprising as it once was.
The World's End 2013,  R)
The World's End
Pegg and Frost's now well honed "buddy" humor is as effervescent and easy-going as ever; even when they set their characters in different mindsets, the odd-couple laughs come thick and fast. The duo have combined their trademark laughs with a vein of seriousness this time around, which works well, but along with the science-fiction plot twist, the result is a film at times feels a little diluted with its intentions. Despite seemingly going off in many directions, the boys do know how to crafted interesting characters and a quirky, entertaining narrative, both points keeping The World's End firmly on the ground, even if its head is up in the clouds.
Trance 2013,  R)
Trance isn't quite as nifty or smart as it thinks it is. Thankfully Danny Boyle's typical bold and provocative directorial style often saves the day, suiting the story being told here in the more insane moments. The scattershot plotting will alienate many, but there are some good ideas and throwaway fun to be had.
Lincoln 2012,  PG-13)
For a film that focuses on such a short period in the man's life, there are many points where Lincoln's dreadfully slow pace outweighs the momentum it gathers as an intriguing character piece. Its truncated finale certainly doesn't help either. But with Spielberg at the helm, and Lewis delivering yet another all-encompasing, mesmerising performance, Lincoln is still an interesting biopic of one of the most loved and most well known American presidents.
Don Jon 2013,  R)
Don Jon
After 2011's Shame it seems a little crass to make light entertainment out of porn addiction. Yet here, Don Jon casually narrates his justification for his affliction like its reading the daily newspaper. It's an impossible sell, and even though that's the point, the result still doesn't really work, Don coming across as far too Jersey Shore reject to ever fully be on side with. Thankfully, an interesting narrative transition in the second half, and an excellent performance from Julianne Moore, almost saves the day.
Ironically Gordon-Levitt shows more flair in his ability to direct his film rather than act in it. He delivers thrifty and efficient direction for a comedy/drama/rom-com with some unique techniques to sell his protagonists questionable habits. His supports are decent; Johansson can do better than the character she plays, Danza serviceable as Don's father, but its Moore who is the real centre-point here; almost to the point you wish that Gordon-Levitt utilised her character moreso.
For the film itself, Don Jon is a bit messy, but its a better than decent directorial debut, and a great example of Gordon-Levitt's strengths behind the camera.
The Call 2013,  R)
The Call
Berry and Breslin do what they can with roles that require them to react rather than interact, with Eklund lumped with a lumbering cookie-cutter villain. The real ace here is director Anderson; keeping the running time brisk and staying mostly successful in racking up as much mild tension such a low-key thriller can muster, he gives The Call a Friday-night movie sheen that really saves the day.
Oz the Great and Powerful 2013,  PG)
Oz the Great and Powerful
As is the case in these modern times, Oz is far too over-reliant on its special effects, ironically creating a flashy, yet often hollow, spectacle. It doesn't help that its also far too long for the story its telling. Yet despite obvious flaws, Oz is still redeemable. Likeable, colourful, if one-noted, characters, combined with some great set pieces. and sadly restrained but still notable directional flairs from Raimi, Oz may not be great and powerful, but its not the train-wreck it so easily could have been.
The Purge 2013,  R)
The Purge
The Purge has an interesting moral quandary for us all to ponder - depending on how cynical you are of the human race. It flirts with the ideas of its high-concept dystopian future, but it sadly soon turns out it would much rather be a B-grade slasher film. For most of the time, it actually effectively combines both, proving to be a satisfying thriller when it's working. But it's reliance of the usual genre tactics in the final act, and some decidedly average dialogue, means the far more alluring potential of a destructive critique of where society is headed is squandered.
Pain & Gain 2013,  R)
Silent Hill: Revelation 2012,  R)
Silent Hill: Revelation
Horrible dialogue, inane plotting and laughable performances, yet for some reason, there is something oddly entertaining about this cacophony of white noise and not-so-special effects. The first Silent Hill was a guilty pleasure, and Revelation is just more of the same. There is really no justifiable reason to be entertained by this on any level, but alas, much like the film itself, my enjoyment of this simply defy's logic.
Stoker 2013,  R)
Stoker is a great example of style over substance. A laborious plot looks impressive through the directorial eye of Chan-wook, and the characters do hold enough interest, particularly thanks to the magnetic performances from Goode and Wasikowska. But despite the lean running time, Stoker is arduously slow paced and struggles to truly become as impressive as this surely deserves.
Gangster Squad 2013,  R)
Gangster Squad
It's almost impossible to take seriously with its relish in overplayed cliché's, sporadic bursts of melodrama and hackneyed dialogue, particularly from Penn, completely hamming it up as the snarling villain of the piece. Yet, as a throwaway action film, its authentic period setting and pulpy, violently exploitative story is solidly entertaining if not particularly ground-breaking.
The Host 2013,  PG-13)
The Host
Yes, The Host is pretty much exactly what you expect it to be; an interesting concept, borrowed from millions of other sci-fi films, watered down by hilariously laughable dialogue and a melodramatic, derivative romantic sub-plot. If there is a husk of enjoyment to be had, its from the talented Ronan. working her hardest to overcome the horrible material she has to work with, and Niccol, who stages some passable action set pieces amidst the overdramatic Twilight-esque swooning.
Side Effects 2013,  R)
Side Effects
Though screenwriter Burns crafts, for most of its length, a highly entertaining thriller, you're enjoyment of Side Effects will sadly fall on how easily you can forgive his messy, bordering on ridiculous, plot developments in the film's finale. Credible performances, usual excellent direction from Soderbergh and an atmospheric air of intrigue give Side Effects the definite edge over Burns' storytelling faux pas.
Fast & Furious 6 2013,  PG-13)
Fast & Furious 6
There is far too much plot for a film like this, and its often lost amongst the myriad of supporting characters that hold up much of the film. Thankfully though, director Lin masterfully strings together the deliciously ridiculous yet entertaining action set pieces that often save the film from itself. Fast and Furious 6 maintains its tounge-in-cheek pompousness well, despite an incredibly overlong running time.
A Good Day To Die Hard 2013,  R)
A Good Day To Die Hard
When the action is turned on, its turned up to 11. Its loud, bang-for-your-buck good stuff; case in point, the impressive, lengthy Moscow-set extended car crash opening sequence. But elsewhere, the film sadly all too often takes the safe route. No one is expecting Shakespearean dialogue or unexpected plot twists, but just surely there was more in the canon other than Willis' delivering one liners your grandad would shout at kids from his front lawn and hackneyed father-son bonding between delivering killing blows. There isn't even a "yippe-kiy-yay" - I'm sorry, that's no dice.
Upstream Color 2013,  Unrated)
Upstream Color
Writer/Directors/Producer/Leading Mean Carruth's intentions here are very interesting, and even often quite beautiful. Sadly, as daring and provocative as he is, he struggles to present them meaningfully. Its fine to be existential and thought-provoking in a film, if you have a premise worth backing it up with. But the lack of unity within the narrative prevents the viewer from really grasping the meaty ideas of shared consciousness, which renders Upstream Color's ideas and themes all over the place. Perhaps at least Upstream Color's fragmented relationship drama elements would have worked better if Terrence Malick hadn't done a better job of it earlier in 2013. Unfortunately, the result here is overwrought with far too much ambiguity and lack of real depth beyond the esoteric façade.
Carrie 2013,  R)
The one thing about Brian De Palma's original that I always struggled with was being able to take it seriously, and this serviceable but mostly pointless contemporary re-do still feels much the same. Carrie is interestingly unique in that it holds back on its true intentions until the infamous "all-hell-breaks-loose" finale, but the fact it continues to be marketed as a horror film when its mostly anything but seems redundant.
Of course it doesn't help when your cast is hopelessly miscast to the point of distraction. The very talented Moretz flounders as the socially awkward, introverted Carrie. Credit to her admirable efforts to sell this as best she can, but it is impossible to believe her here. Moore is better as Carrie's unstable mother; her slightly more sympathetic take on the character is one of the film's few highlights.
Interestingly, its almost impossible not to draw comparisons to similarly themed Let Me In, ironically also starring Moretz in a similar role. While it too is a remake, it's a vastly superior movie depicting the destructive effects of bullying and strained family dynamics, delivering a more subtle, nuanced film that balances all these ideas with well actually well constructed horror. It never feels churned out of the Hollywood machine for cheap scares like this remake does.
The result here is, like its socially awkward teen protagonist, the movie itself just feels misplaced and outcast amongst today's edgy horror films. De Palma's original may have had its issues, but this a far stretch from being anything more than snooze compared to the classic on which its based.
Hitchcock 2012,  PG-13)
While certainly an interesting journey through the creative difficulties in making Psycho, Hitchcock doesn't make for a particularly exciting or memorable movie. Hopkins struggles to convince as the notoriously difficult director, yet its not without some irony that Mirren is just brilliant as Hitch's wife Alma. Definitely not essential, but never a wasted effort for those so interested.
The Paperboy 2012,  R)
The Paperboy
Credit due to the well known cast for taking on roles that are well out of their comfort zones, but The Paperboy is an uneven, messy film. Struggling to engage with a plot that's been done to death, this will mostly be remembered for its unorthodox narrative devices that seem more like gimmicks than anything all that shocking.
Insidious: Chapter 2 2013,  PG-13)
Insidious: Chapter 2
Clearly Wan and Whannell lucked out with their entertaining if not overly original first chapter. Of course, the law of successes in Hollywood means the inevitable sequel is churned out to cash in on the audience willing to take another trip down the same rabbit hole. So here, the story continues, but the scares are absent. Which makes this supposed horror movie not so. Thankfully Whannell keeps the self-referential jokey jabs close at hand to give this a much needed kick up the behind to keep the audience from falling asleep.

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