You might have been too busy playing games and anticipating new consoles to notice, but 2013 was actually one of the best years for movies in recent memory. Oh sure, there were plenty of a giant hunks of crap shoved into screens simply to fill a release date (like… say… After Earth…*shudder*). But hey, that’s just how Hollywood works. The good news was that most weeks were filled with exciting and unexpected releases of brilliant movies well worth removing yourself from the comfort groove of your couch to experience. With the credits finally about to roll on 2013, the time has come to look back and judge the finest films that flickered before our eyes last year. So, since we like our movies to be genre-centric around these parts (allowing for the most possible blood-letting, monster-mashing, alien-smashing, and good old fashioned explosions), it only seemed right focus on the top ten genre movies of 2013. There were some damn good choices too. So good that some flicks I really enjoyed like Byzantium, Pain & Gain, The Hobbit 2: Still Hobbitin’, Elysium, and Captain Phillips just couldn’t make the cut. When five genre movies that good can’t crack the top ten, you know the year has been almost unfairly strong. Hope y’all enjoyed the last year of movies as much as I did. And if you missed out, here’s your first Netflix cue for 2013.
10) Furious 6
Ok… so maybe this is stretching the definition of a “good movie” a bit, but the sixth chapter of the Fast And Furious franchise was possibly the most purely entertaining blockbuster released last summer. Furious 6 (I insist upon using the onscreen title because a) its director Justin Lin’s preferred choice and b) it’s awesome) continued the journey into self-parody begun in Fast Five and raised the scale to ludicrous levels. Thanks to what Lin accomplished over the last three films in the series, we’re no longer asked to take things even remotely seriously, the action sequences have expanded to surreal heights, and The Rock is now a permanent fixture (Thank God!). As a result, this series is a $200 million dollar exercise in automotive and macho slapstick with action scenes that feel like they were designed by a kid playing with Hot Wheels. And thanks to the wonders of Blu-ray special features, it can be confirmed that Lin and his stunt coordinators did in fact play their action sequences for the film with toy cars… God bless them for that. The mixture of so-bad-it’s-good laughs, genuine comedy, and incredible physical action scenes is pitch perfect in Furious 6 and well worth the time of any cheese-loving action fan. Sadly, the glorious bad taste of this car crash franchise is now genuinely uncomfortable after Paul Walker’s untimely death, so you’ll have to ignore that as best you can. Otherwise, this is a good as brainless fun got last year and the next sequel will add Jason Statham to the mix, so it should only get better from here.
9) Iron Man 3
When Marvel Studios bumped director Jon Favreau from their marquee franchise for the threequel, it could have been a disaster. After all, this guy not only set the tone for the series, but for the franchise as a whole. Thankfully, if someone had to step in and take over the series, writer/director Shane Black was the perfect choice. Here’s the guy who not only created the contemporary action/comedy with Lethal Weapon, but also helped kick off Robert Downey Jr.’s comeback with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black fit Iron Man 3 like a glove, perfectly nailing the sarcastic heroism tone, providing Downey with all the mugging dialogue he needed, filling the flick with his patented gear-shift action, toying with comic book movie conventions (most notably in his hilarious treatment of The Mandarin), and finally giving the Iron Man series a worthy action climax that was missing in the previous two films. Iron Man 3 was hands down the finest superhero blockbuster in a year filled with them and that’s was important because aside from headlining the next two Avengers films, it looks like it might be Robert Downey Jr.’s last feature-length run as Iron Man. It would be a shame if the series ended here for him, but on the plus side, at least he went out with an epic Iron Man suit fireworks show. That seems like a good exit for Tony Stark, doesn’t it?
8) The Last Stand
Yep, that’s right. I rated the barely seen Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick higher than the most successful blockbuster of 2013. Why? Because it’s just that good. As a proud member of what seems to be the depressingly small crowd of people who want Arnie to make a comeback, The Last Stand was a damn near perfect movie. It gave Arnie a chance to do everything he does well (mainly involving ass-kickery and one-linery), surrounded him with a surprisingly strong cast of characters (including Johnny Knoxville and Louis Guzman), and boasted a tone just silly enough to contain the former governator. Credit it all to ingenious Korean director Jee-Woon Kim (The Good The Bad & The Weird, I Saw The Devil) who essentially created a live action cartoon. That he was able to transfer so much of his signature directorial style into his Hollywood debut is incredible. That he managed to do so and frame it within a pitch-perfect old man Schwarzenegger movie is miraculous. If you’re a fan of either the director or the star you owe it to yourself to watch The Last Stand at least 5 times. It’s easily the finest faux 80s action movie since Rambo and The Expendables kicked off the retro action star trend. Not to be missed by anyone with a pulse, if only because this baby is sure to get that pulse a pumpin’.
7) This Is The End
From the foul-mouthed Hollywood satire opening to the blood and semen drenched apocalyptic finale, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg delivered one hell of a directorial debut. It’s probably the funniest thing the longtime writing/producing duo have ever dreamed up, and that’s really saying something given that they’ve been responsible for some of the funniest damn movies of the last decade. Perhaps what was most surprising about This Is The End was how dark and violent the filmmakers were willing to go once their Biblical apocalypse was alive and kicking. Sure, this was still a movie defined primarily by filthy improv and bros being bros, but for a Hollywood comedy to climax with Danny McBride eating James Franco’s face is downright subversive. If there was a movie that offered more laughs than This Is The End in 2013 then I didn’t see it. If you enjoy laughter and didn’t see it, then you my friend have missed out. Do yourself a favor and rectify that egregious error immediately!
6) You’re Next
It took two looooooooong years for Adam Wingard’s home invasion horror flick to finally get a North American release and thankfully the film was more than worth the wait. The whip smart script from Simon Barrett cackled with dark comedy that never slipped into lazy parody or homage and delivered that rare gift of a worthy story and characters to match the set pieces. Wingard’s direction expertly mixed tones, and delivered genuine shocks without losing sight of the characterization or class commentary. You’re Next already feels like it will be one of the best American horror movies of the decade so how it possibly could have wasted on a shelf while the Paranormal Activity series racked up four sequels remains a frustrating mystery. Regardless, it’s finally here and, God-willing, the wait for Wingard’s next won’t be nearly as long (hopefully Barbra Re-Animator Crampton’s career comeback will begin here as well). If you’re a horror fan and missed You’re Next in theaters, I daresay that you might not actually be a horror fan.
5) The World’s End
The second all-star apocalypse comedy of last summer might not have been the funniest flick of the two, but it was the best. There’s a reason for that. While Rogen and Goldberg are developing into interesting filmmakers, the Simon Pegg/Edgar Writer co-writer/director/star combo emerged from the womb as masters with their 2004 debut Shaun Of The Dead. Nine years later, they wrapped up their Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy with possibly their smartest and most mature effort to date. Simultaneously a darkly comedic rumination on aging and alcoholism as well as a brilliant sci-fi horror lark that feels like the first real Body Snatchers flick of the 21st century, The World’s End is almost too overstuffed with ideas and influences. Yet as-per-usual, Pegg and Wright have no problem mixing tones as well as they mix together a Brit-pop soundtrack. It’s sarcastic yet sincere, personal yet driven by spectacle, hilarious yet dark, and most importantly mind-meltingly entertaining from the first frenetic frame until the last. It’s a shame that this will be the last time Pegg and Wright collaborate for a while because by the time the credits rolled on The World’s End, it honestly felt like they were only just starting to tap into their incredible potential as storytellers. Ah well. It’s not like they’re going to stop working separately.
4) Pacific Rim
It might have underperformed in the North American box office, but Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim still managed to bring giant monster mashing movie mayhem back with style. Filmed with Del Toro’s impeccable eye for design and composition, the film was a bright, shiny, neon, techno marvel that delivered popcorn-munching pleasure on a scale few blockbusters could muster last summer. It’s gorgeous to look at, surprisingly funny and sincere, and most importantly it kicks almost too much ass. This is simple entertainment done right and one of those rare Hollywood blockbusters that actually deserves a sequel. It’s pure popcorn bliss and, God willing, Godzilla will be successful enough next summer that the two WB franchises could face off in a Pacific Rim VS. Godzilla battle royale that all the good geeks of the world deserve. Here’s hoping!
Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece Old Boy may have been spoiled by a horrible remake this year, but at least the Korean genius also got to deliver a masterful English language debut to make up for it. Released to disappointingly little hubbub last spring, Park’s Stoker is a perverse feature-length Hitchcock homage that actually didn’t do a disservice to the master of suspense. It’s a coming-of-age tale of psychosis with Mia Wasikowska delivering a heartbreakingly creepy protagonist, Nichole Kidman playing the finest evil mother in years, and Park providing his special brand of filmmaking that is at once eye-tinglingly beautiful and stomach-turningly disturbing. It’s certainly not a movie for everyone, but if you enjoy Park and every other flick on this list, then be sure to check it out. You just might be pleasantly surprised and feel a little delightfully dirty afterwards. Hopefully this will only be the start of Park’s career in America. Hollywood needs more filmmakers like him and based on Stoker, the man clearly had no problem getting his distinct filmmaking voice across the culture gap.
Not all science fiction has to be about action and invasion. Case in point would be Her, a delicate, goofy, slightly creepy, and deeply touching sci-fi yarn from the one and only Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where The Wild Things Are). Writing solo for the first time, Jonze delivered a classic boy-meets-computer love story. Of course, it’s all more complicated than that, but the most important thing to know is that Jonze has rather brilliantly tapped into very contemporary themes about love and connection in the digital age to create a movie of the moment. It’s a film that everyone who uses a glowing screen to distract themselves from the physical world needs to experience and the only movie on this list that could leave you a blubbering mess (in the best possible sense of course). Her slid into theaters just before the end of the year for the purpose of awards-bait. So, you’re likely going to hear a lot about it in the coming weeks and I urge you to believe the hype and turn off your phone long enough to check it out.
Finally, for me there was only one movie that could possibly top this list. I giddily rattled on about this movie endlessly in my review and on the podcast, so I’ll spare you all too much discussion of it today. I’ll keep it to this: no film had such a visceral, even physical effect of me this year quite like Gravity. Sure, some of the dialogue was a bit cheesy, but the simplicity of the narrative and themes has its own fable-like beauty when combined with the awe-inspiring spectacle. Above all else, with Gravity Alfonso Cuaron proved that it’s still possible to dabble in personal storytelling and experimental filmmaking while making a film on the largest scale that Hollywood allows. This was a big, blazing blockbuster that still felt like the work of a single distinct artist. That ain’t easy to pull off and as blockbusters continue to take over Hollywood production schedules, it’s reassuring to know that such a thing is possible. Plus with a massive non-Harry Potter hit under his belt, it’s no longer going to be a struggle for Cuaron to get his next film produced. Considering the fact that it took him seven years to get this sucker on the screen, that’s very good news indeed.