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The Best Movies of 2013: The Runners Up
A year so nice I have to write about it twice.

We’ve been blessed with an almost supernaturally high quality movie slate throughout 2013, which makes the task of winnowing down what I’ve seen throughout the year to a management year-end best of is a pretty daunting task. So daunting, in fact, that I’ve broken down my very favorite films of the year into one column of runner-ups and another list showcasing the top 15 films of the year that will run tomorrow. Without further ado…

30. Riddick

BUY IT HERE

Pretty much immediately lost in the maelstrom of science fiction movies that flooded the market this year (the geeks truly have inherited the Earth) was this mid-budget delight, a mea culpa from actor Vin Diesel and writer/director David Twohy for the sins of their previous Conan-by-way-of-floating-Judi-Dench misfire The Chronicles of Riddick. You get three movies for the price of one here, and they’re all varying degrees of good: the first following Diesel and a space dog as they learn to survive off of a completely foreign landscape, the second following two rival mercenary teams who both arrive on this planet looking to collect the massive bounty on Riddick’s head, and the third a straight up John Carpenter-style siege picture as the strangely phallic (there’s a host of psychosexual sub textual goings on contained within) denizens of this planet look to feast on our smorgasbord of protagonists. Visually striking and occasionally amusing, Riddick easily surpasses its modest goals.


29. Pain & Gain
 

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While I will never stop going to bat for Bad Boys II as a pitch-perfect evocation of the post-9/11 American mindset, it’s hard for me to argue against the notion that Pain & Gain is Michael Bay’s finest work as a director. Finally finding the perfect outlet for his dual loves of sociopathic humor and gross opulence through this true-ish tale of three dim-bulb bodybuilders who hatch an extortion scheme that somehow manages to work, Bay crafted a sickly funny examination of the ways in which the American Dream can curdle like milk left out for too long. Of particular note is the amazing coked-out performance by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, playing a hulking born-again beast who’s far too sensitive for the madness that ensues.



28. Blue Jasmine

READ MACK’S WOODY ALLEN RETROSPECTIVE HERE

BUY IT HERE

It’s a real testament to just how amazing a year in cinema that this had been that Woody Allen could make his best movie in nearly 20 years and still have it nearly miss my list entirely. Taking his ever-familiar milieu and whip-smart dialogue and using it to craft an unusually potent character study is relatively new for Woody; I can’t remember the last time a work of his has gotten so uncomfortably close to its main character. It helps when you can cast an actress the magnitude of Cate Blanchett as your lead, as she’s able to imbue Woody’s anxiety-ridden class-conscious screeds with humanity that only the very best could prove capable of.

27. Iron Man Three/Thor: The Dark World

READ MY REVIEWS HERE and HERE

BUY THEM HERE and HERE

Marvel continues to develop their interlocking movie universe in fun and unpredictable ways, turning over the keys to their billion-dollar money-making machine to unique authorial voices (Iron Man Three is wholly and irrevocably a Shane Black movie, and is all the better for it) and learning from past mistakes (Alan Taylor manages to make the ethereal worlds of Thor feel far more tactile and lived in, bringing to bear his fine work on Game of Thrones.) It proves to be a double-edged sword – there’s always the feeling with comic books that even as conflict is resolved in one chapter, you’re also seeing the seeds lain for the very next smash-em-up, which could prove unsatisfying to some over the long run when that concept is transferred over to cinema. But for now they’re developing a nearly Pixarian-commitment to quality with each picture, and with films from left-field directorial choices The Russo Brothers and James Gunn coming in 2014 there appears to be no end in sight for their hot streak.


26. The Act of Killing

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There was certainly no more important documentary to be released this year, with this examination of atrocity from the viewpoint of the perpetrators proving to have as audacious a hook as any film that had ever come before it (giving those who massacred dissidents in Indonesia the opportunity to recreate their evil deeds through various different film genres). That said, the film is a bit shaggy and unfocused at times. But when its firing on all cylinders, there’s no more potently upsetting film that was released this entire year.

25. Berberian Sound Studio

BUY IT HERE

WATCH ON NETFLIX HERE

Only receiving a token weekend-long engagement in the Milwaukee area over this past year, Berberian Sound Studio is a gift from the heavens if the Venn diagram of your film tastes look anything like my own. Something of a giallo of the mind, we follow meek audio engineer Gilderoy (a fantastic performance from Toby Jones) as he’s recruited to provide audio work for an Italian horror picture and slowly finds his reality and that of the gruesome picture he’s working on melding together. A deeply persuasive portrait of one man’s slow descent into madness, that goes to some visually hypnotic places by its conclusion. Unjustly ignored on initial release, I hope this film finds its audience on video/Netflix.


24. This is the End

BUY IT HERE

The funniest mainstream comedy to come out this year could’ve gone off the rails in so very many different ways. A vanity project where Hollywood’s young comedy elite all play themselves as the apocalypse makes it way through L.A, could’ve been a purely masturbatory exercise is instead both gut-bustingly hilarious (Danny McBride is given two of 2013’s finest film entrances) while also managing to be a touching portrait of the way that old friendships can are tested over time (Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen convincingly play what they are, old friends). And even though he’s only in the film for a scant few minutes, Michael Cera’s complete immolation of his popular image might be my favorite performance of the whole of 2013.

23. “Safe Haven” from V/H/S/2

BUY IT HERE

WATCH ON NETFLIX HERE

READ MY REVIEW HERE

Easily the shortest of my year’s favorites, clocking in under a half hour, this section of the overall-solid V/H/S/2 is so next-level in its sense of never-ending escalation and madness that it deserved to be separated from the anthology film that contained it. Co-written by The Raid: Redemption’s Gareth Evans and brought to nightmarish life by director/co-writer Timo Tjahjanto, this short follows a documentary crew into the secluded compound of an apocalyptic cult who just so happen to be spot on with their predictions. Starting off unsettling and then quickly veering into madness for the rest of its run-time, the found footage trope never feels tired in Tjahjanto’s hands and he ends the short with sickly funny tag that puts a gore-soaked bow on the entire enterprise.


22. The History of Future Folk

BUY IT HERE

A modest budget proves to be a meaningless impediment in the face of winning performances and clever plotting in this lo-fi sci-fi tale of an alien species meant to eradicate Earth’s population who instead find themselves hopelessly in love with this heretofore unknown invention known as music. Nils d’Aulaire and Jay Klaitz are a fantastic comedic duo as the titular space-folk band and the film’s comedic skeleton is propped up by a genuinely sweet backbone that never proves overly saccharine. Relegated to the festival circuit throughout the year, Future Folk is a duo well worth acquainting yourself with on DVD.


21. Room 237

BUY IT HERE

WATCH ON NETFLIX HERE

A hypnotic and stunning journey through theories both plausible (examinations of the Overlook’s surreal architecture as reflection of the film’s incipient madness) and thoroughly unbelievable (the film as apologia from Kubrick for staging the Apollo moon landing footage) with regards to Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining. Some critical frisson occurred from those who believed the film’s theories being displayed in a documentary gives them weight unsupported by the theses themselves, but I see the film as a portrait of the ways that we imprint ourselves on the artwork that moves us both for better and for worse. But judge for yourselves, it would be hard to come out of a viewing of Room 237 with absolutely no opinion.

20. Frozen

BUY IT HERE

Now that the pattern seems firmly established, is it safe to say that Disney’s in-house animation studio is drinking Pixar’s milkshake these past few years? While Pixar has gone down the rabbit-hole of endless sequelization, Disney has refined its formula with solid efforts such as Wreck-It-Ralph and Tangled. But Frozen is a next-level entry into the conversation, harkening back to the Alan Menken-penned heyday of Disney musicals with a soundtrack full of fantastic show-stoppers supported by a wonderful message of self-acceptance and female empowerment (so rare is the film where female heroism outstrips that of the males that this is well-worth celebrating) that deftly balances gorgeous visuals alongside its equal dollops of humor and heart. It’s the best straight-up Disney animated picture since 1992’s Aladdin, in my humble estimation.


19. Only God Forgives

BUY IT HERE

WATCH ON NETFLIX HERE

I have a particularly large soft spot for movies where the creators appear to be actively antagonizing its own audience. Only God Forgives feels like star Ryan Gosling and writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn saw those poor few people wearing Scorpion jackets in the wake of their stylish collaboration Drive and made this movie to be the cinematic equivalent of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” – taking the laconic heroism of Gosling’s previous performance and evolving it into a neurotic mess whose exterior cool belies the mother of all Oedipal complexes at his center. It’s an aggressively unpleasant experience at times, with a sickly neon color palette and soundtrack work from Cliff Martinez that forgoes all of the cool Tangerine Dream-style cues from Drive and instead provides a slow demonic pulse at the film’s center. And the bursts of violence are graphic and unsettling. But for a major movie star to help create a vision as uncompromising as this is something worth championing. And if nothing else, Kristin Scott Thomas’s Angela-Lansbury-in-Manchurian-Candidate-on-bath-salts turn as the mother at the center of this nauseating cycle of revenge and justice is must-see material.

18. The Last Stand

BUY IT HERE

All but forgotten after being dumped in the burial ground that is major movie releases in January, this return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the big screen isn’t his best performance of the year (that belongs to Escape Plan, where everything that isn’t Arnold is terrible) but I’d argue that it belongs in the conversation as to what Arnold’s very best movies are. Kim Jee-Woon’s first American effort is a delightfully propulsive action film that sets up its stakes with ease and then lets the dominoes fall with a series of expertly crafted action sequences in the film’s third act. Rarely these days does a film’s sense of purpose feel so assured, and despite Arnold being a bit creaky as he gets back on the acting horse it’s a consummately professional action picture the likes of which we don’t see often in an era of CGI bombast and meaningless monomyths.


17. You’re Next

BUY IT HERE

Perhaps a victim of its own hype as its release date continued to get pushed further and further back (resulting in a befuddling late August bow – if you’re waiting that long, why not release it in October?) You’re Next is a fantastic achievement from the creative team of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard, not so much reinventing the wheel as being an extraordinary example of just how sleek and stylish the wheel can be when properly greased. Filled with great performances from the indie scene (Amy Seimetz – who you’ll be hearing of again tomorrow as well as director Joe Swanberg stealing the show as the alpha male of the family who can’t help but undercut every other member of his family), and a genuinely upsetting animal-masked group of killers to root against. It’s just a finely executed bit of business all the way around, and deserves a massively larger audience than the one its theatrical release saddled it with.

16. Pacific Rim

READ MY REVIEW HERE

BUY IT HERE

This proved to be the toughest choice for me to excise from my best-of list proper, so it headlines the runner-up category. Residing comfortably in the teenaged pleasure receptors of my mind while remaining intelligent enough that no excuses be made for it, Pacific Rim is exactly what I want out of blockbuster Hollywood filmmaking: original concepts, dynamic visuals and just enough subtext to keep things interesting. A lot of hay has been made over the simplistic storyline, but I found its message of coming together despite our differences in order to overcome any fears and obstacles that lay in our path to be rather moving. And while Charlie Hunnam may be something of an evolutionary Chris O’Donnell (see: Bread, Wonder) in the lead role, the film is populated with enough great side characters (Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day) and OH YEAH GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING GIANT MONSTERS IN THE FACE WITH ROCKET PROPELLED FISTS that it overcomes whatever deficiencies it may hold.





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