Saturday, January 18, 2014

Shane's Favourite Movies of 2013

Another year, another batch of movies. Here we go.

5. Man of Steel
I went to see this movie on opening weekend, had an absolute blast, then proceeded to watch people shit on for the next several weeks. I recognize the movie has flaws, but this is a very entertaining film that is leagues ahead of Superman Returns. All my life I've waited to see Superman face some epic foes on the big screen and have the large scale battles fitting of a Kryptonian. This movie delivers. When Superman flies some poor bastard 50 miles across multiple counties and through several building, I was cackling with joy.

To the people bitching about the reckless destruction Superman causes while fighting Zod. I say this: I've seen plenty ... plenty of Superman 'saving the day without breaking a sweat' moments. I've almost never seen Superman in over his head. This was an overwhelmed and still inexperienced Superman facing a more powerful foe. As a result his fighting approach feels desperate and messy. And to the people whining about how Superman finally (spoiler!) defeats Zod, I say: How did you expect this shit to end? Zod was energy-humping Metropolis to ruins and had to be stopped. And since Superman was forced to kill the last of his kind, it may strengthen his resolve to preserve all life. That would be ideal if Superman ever faced an evil, but physically weak, mortal enemy. Who could that be?

4. Blue Jasmine
In a not so thinly veiled retelling of "A Streetcar Named Desire", Woody Allen presents to us, Jasmine, a socialite who lost everything, now hanging on desperately to her former lifestyle, and sanity. This is a knockout performance from Cate Blanchett, and the best work from Woody Allen since Matchpoint.

Every time I watch this movie I find new things to appreciate about the performances and the film's jumbled narrative structure. And each time I pick up on subtle pieces of the story that slipped by me before. The movie is filled with amusing, flawed characters, and tells a fascinating story of loss and denial. Plus, as a bonus you get Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay. A pleasant surprise.

3. Gravity
If I were to make a list of the most spectacular and thrilling cinema experiences I've ever had, Gravity would be in the top tier of that list, no question. It is a dazzling, riveting, nerve wracking adventure in space and feels like a real-time struggle for survival in the most inhospitable setting known to man. The sound design and immersive visuals are extraordinary, and if you didn't have the opportunity to see it in 3D at the theatre then I'm very, very sorry. I'm upset at myself for not seeing it a second time.

As breathtaking as it is on the big screen, therein lies the problem. In 2009 I put Avatar as my second favourite movie on the year. However, I have yet to watch it since writing my list, and have yet to feel a desire to watch it again. Gravity feels like a similar situation. I have watched it at home, and while it was still amazing, it was decidedly less amazing. Along with performances from Bullock and Clooney that were just fine, and dialogue that felt cliche and hammy, this film is not without issues. Don't get me wrong, though. I still fucking love this movie. But the massive screen and 3D presentation seems essential to the experience, and completing the director's vision.

For some kids, who are desperately in love with space and didn't see Gravity at the theatre, this will be their Jurassic Park. They will love the film regardless, but maybe 20 years down the road they will have an opportunity to see it in all its glory.

2. Stoker
It should come as no surprise that an entry on this list would come from one of my all time favourite directors. This is Chan-wook Park's first English film, and while it feels a bit restrained at times, it has his trademark style all over it. The story is about the Stoker family where an unstable mother and introverted daughter are coping with a death in the family. When the mysterious Uncle Charlie comes to live with them things grow exponentially creepier as both mother and daughter are drawn to Charlie for different reasons.

I think many viewers will be put off by the film's pacing, and the unsettling "crazy eye" exchanges across the dinner table, but it's all part of the fun of Stoker. It's designed to put you on edge. The film turns having ice cream in a murder mystery, a leather belt becomes a vision of gothic horror, and a piano duet is filled with suppressed sexuality.

Stoker feels like a blending of a Hitchcock thriller and a Korean horror film. I suppose that should come as no surprise since it's from the director of Oldboy. Chan-wook's films are always masterpieces of violence and perversion, and the twisted Stoker family fits right in.

1. Mud
It didn't take long into my first viewing of Mud before I know that I would love this film. It's such a wonderful display of quality filmmaking. The acting is strong all around, with compelling performances from the young cast. The cinematography is gorgeous and captures the dreamy mood of the film perfectly. As for the story, it centers on two boys, Ellis and Neckbone, and their unlikely friendship with a fugitive named Mud they discover hiding on a tiny island. They end up helping Mud reconnect with a lost love, and help him rebuild a boat so he can continue to evade bounty hunters.

You can't help but love these characters. McConaughey gives a honest and powerful performance as Mud, a beguiling role model to the two boys who has a shady, violent past. Ellis (played by Tye Sheridan) gives perhaps the strongest performance; a boy trying to hold onto the idealism of youth while being crushed by the realities of adulthood. Then there's Neckbone (played by Jacob Lofland) who has got to be the most straight-shooting kid ever, and together with Ellis, the most dependable kids of all time. Need a boat motor? You got it. Want us to go ferry a cement truck down the river? I reckon we can make that work. I was entertained by every cuss-filled bit of dialogue between them.

It's a touching film that will grab you early on and refuse to let go. It's a bit of Tom Sawyer, and bit of Stand by Me. A coming-of-age film, mixed with a fugitive on the run film, mixed with a love story. If you overlooked Mud last year, I highly recommend another look.