Friday, January 3, 2014

Best and Worst of 2013 (that I've seen)

Since I'm not a professional film critic (yet), I haven't yet seen a lot of the movies I suspect I will love.  Inside Llewyn Davis and The Act of Killing, for example. Of the movies I have seen, only 2 really stick out in my memory as the best.  I saw both of the movies in the first half of this year.  That I remember these two movies so strongly over stuff like Blue Jasmine and Monsters University, both of which I saw in the fall, tells me that these two movies are the pinnacle of what I've seen.

The first isn't actually from 2013.  It's from 2014, and I saw it at a film festival.  Cheap Thrills. I'll rant more about this next year when it actually does come out, but...goddammit I really really fucking want to see this movie again.  No recent movie has made me feel so electric, exhilarated, grossed out, dirty, enlightened, and terrified in one single cinematic experience.  Just...release the damn thing already, Drafthouse!!! (Current date: March 21, 2014)

The second is no less an assault on your mind.

Best of 2013 (so far)
Spring Breakers
While I haven't seen many movies that I suspect that I will like, or even love, it is going to be hard to top this gonzo balls-to-the-wall assault on the pop culture that the conglomerates are selling to your kids. Keep in mind: Spring Breakers is, hopefully, not a timeless movie. Spring Breakers is a film that is pointedly set in the immediate now. It is a movie about the cultural movements that started as far back as 1973's Badlands and have since been commodified, exploited, idealized, and sold as the youth movement milieu by corporations to create a culture of hedonism and sociopathology.

There are images that will sear into your brain from Spring Breakers. Girls in bikinis wearing neon ski masks ransacking small town diners in horrific ways. The hilarious fear of the black man at the post-arrest party while they had been co-opting the very culture these men created...then finding safety and solace in the very white James Franco.  James Franco and the girls singing Britney songs while playing a grand piano. The whole shoot up.  Harmony Korine does something he has never managed to do for me: he has created memorable images of the American culture in a way that makes me feel simultaneously in awe and disgusted. Previously, he has tried to craft images that were supposed to be skin crawling, and instead I walked away snoozing.  But, Spring Breakers finds Korine as his visually poetic best, even as he's channeling the aesthetics of Terrance Mallick on ecstasy and LSD.  That Spring Breakers is also about girl power (one of the more recent commercial commodities), also endures to many of the best symbols of women with cocks I have ever seen.

But, most of all, Spring Breakers is a toxic heady potion that is meant to disgust you even as it entices. It's the present day, real life, equivalent of Pinocchio's Pleasure Island sequence, only as a full movie. And, without any of all that preachy let-me-spell-this-out-for-you messaging to get in the way. It's meant to be enticing and dangerous and nauseating and dreamy and alluring and disgusting. Spring Breakers is a venus fly trap of a movie that will pull you in with its commercial intents while simultaneously trying to scream at you how gross it all is.

With the visuals, the acting (Franco is a powerhouse), the methodology, the entertainment, the messaging, and just the balance of it all, Spring Breakers is my favorite of 2013.


My worst of 2013 is more equivalent to my most hated movie of 2013. It isn't necessarily the worst, just the movie I am most distraught over. There are only two movies that pissed me off this year: Monsters University, and Gravity. These are movies where I expected the best, and I got something rotten in return...for very different reasons. The thing is, these aren't the worst movies of the year. There are faaaaarrr worse movies this year, like either of Tyler Perry's movies (especially Temptation of a Marriage Counselor), or any number of bombs I haven't seen that I expect that I'll hate. But, those movies didn't set me up as these will be something great and they failed. Those movies were low-ambition, low-execution movies that just failed because they were always meant to fail. Whatever. But, then there is Monsters University and Gravity, both of which had potential, and both of which pissed me off something fierce.

Most Hated of 2013

Monsters University
Pixar, Pixar, Pixar. What are we going to do with you?

At this point, you may have grown too big for your britches. While Monsters University sounded like a dubious film just from the title, it did have promise. Something heartfelt, comedic, and set in college. Fresh and out of the box. There were various stories that could have come together.

What I didn't expect was a reimagining of Revenge of the Nerds. While there are trends and tropes in the various other films Pixar has created, this is the laziest, most formulaic trope-tastic film I think they could come up with for a "how did these guys meet" story. It's something I expect from Dreamworks, not Pixar.

And, it wasn't very funny. Or entertaining. Or, emotional. Or, challenging. It just was. And, that's one of the most damning things about Monsters University. It just was. It was almost as lazy as Cars (which was a passion project that got out of control).

It isn't a terrible movie, either. It's humorous and semi-well directed. But, it's so tired and lazy that it really makes one cry. I have nothing intelligent to say about this movie because it seems so trite.


Never has a movie with such promise delivered so little. Not since Avatar has a movie with so little meat duped so many people. This is a sexist video game of a movie that is pretending to be about depression. Because it is acting like it is such an earnest (which is a popular theme in this year's critical darlings) film, critics and hipsters gobbled it up. All it is is watching a suicidal female flounder through a video game set in outer space for 90 minutes before reaching an end screen.

That's it.

That's all there is to Gravity.

Sure, it's pretty and enormous and breathtaking in its visuals. But, counteracting that are physics errors galore, a unnecessarily overt musical score that pulls you out of the movie at every chance it gets, an obnoxious Sandra Bullock, no plot development, shittastic dialogue, and the weakest female character ever to be embraced as a feminist icon.  This is a woman who had to hallucinate the voice of a male mentor (read: father figure) in order to NOT KILL HERSELF.

Gravity is a waste of celluloid, since you could get the same breathtaking visuals by watching IMAX educational films. AND, you'd get correct physics. And, it would be about something. And, there are strong female characters in the IMAX educational films.

To say that I don't get it is an understatement. To say that this movie actively pissed me off while watching it is an understatement. This movie isn't terrible. And, that's the problem. It's well-constructed and visually stunning outside of the score, acting, plot, dialogue and sexism. And, it would seem a better movie should come out of that. But, it's just fucking Gravity.

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