Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Melissa Agar's Best and Worst of 2013

Mel's Cine-Files

By Melissa Agar

With the new year underway, it seems like a good time to reflect back at what Hollywood offered us in 2013. It was a huge year for the box office but not always a huge year for quality. Sorting back through the beginning of 2013, it’s tough to find a lot of gems but pretty easy to find some films that are better off forgotten. 

A quick caveat before the lists begin: I live in a small town. Access to some films is limited at best. 12 Years a Slave was in town literally for five days (and five days that were incredibly busy for me at work, leaving no time for a couple hours at the movies). Inside Llewellyn Davis, Nebraska, and Her have yet to show up with a 100-mile radius. All of those are films I suspect would be contending for my “best” list, but since I haven’t seen them yet, they are absent . . . for now.


10. Oz the Great and Powerful
A visually stunning film, Oz is largely a case of style over substance. Beautiful CGI is not enough to mask a dull script and wooden line delivery. I’m not 100% convinced that James Franco is actually a good actor when the script requires more of him than coasting on his natural charm, and this script highlighted all of his shortcomings. When a CGI monkey is the most memorable part of a film, you know there’s a problem. 

9. Identity Thief
This was one of the biggest disappointments of the year. It starred two comic actors I generally like (Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy) but strands them in a rather dull film that never quite gives them enough to chew on.

8. Grown Ups 2
Adam Sandler and crew return to the well for more fart jokes and answer all those questions left unanswered at the end of the first Grown Ups. Oh, wait, there were none. The only real mercy here is the unexplained absence of Rob Schneider’s cloying character.

7. Struck by Lightning
Glee star Chris Colfer wrote and stars in this maudlin tale of a small-town teen who yearns to flee his dysfunctional life and make it big. Upon the recommendation of his embarrassingly inept guidance counselor (who has seriously never heard of Northwestern University – come on!), he starts a literary magazine, blackmailing popular kids to contribute. The film is offensive on many levels (it’s portrayal of small-town life is bleak and condescending) but particularly for the injustice poor Allison Janney must suffer as Colfer’s strung-out mom.

6. A Haunted House
Yes, the Paranormal Activity films are probably good targets for parody, but this dull film is not the one for the task. When did sex jokes become the go-to in parody? Although the movie clocks in at just 85 minutes, it felt four times as long. 

5. R.I.P.D.
Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds star in this lifeless Men in Black knockoff. When even the stars seem bored onscreen, you know you’re in for a long couple hours.

4. Frances Ha
Greta Gerwig stars as an immature twenty-something trying to make her way in the big city. It’s like an extended episode of Girls if Hannah were one hundred times LESS likable and one thousand times MORE self-involved.  I know this film is showing up on a lot of “best” lists, but for me, it was absolutely excruciating to watch Gerwig try to manic pixie her way through life.

3. Movie 43
What a waste of talent! Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Halle Barry, and more star in this collection of short films that range between mildly amusing (a piece where Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber home-school their teenaged son and attempt to give him the complete high school experience, complete with bullying and parties) to grossly unfunny (a piece where Anna Faris asks boyfriend Chris Pratt to defecate on her). What kind of dirt the producers had on this caliber of talent to trick them into making this swill is beyond me, but it surely will appear in none of their highlight reels.

2. Admission
Like Identity Thief, this was a hugely disappointing film starring two actors I love (Tina Fey and Paul Rudd) and adapted from a book I quite liked. Unfortunately, much of what I liked about the book was chucked to become this tepid tale of romance between a Princeton admissions counselor (Fey) and the administrator of a bohemian private school (Rudd). Fey and Rudd generate next to no chemistry, and key elements of the book were changed significantly enough to undercut whatever heart remained.

1. The Lone Ranger
Johnny Depp shuffles and mumbles his way through this lifeless wannabe blockbuster. The time has come for Depp to retire the quirk and get back to just acting without relying on goofy makeup and costumes. 


10. The Butler
This gentle tale of a man who spent decades as a White House butler seemed destined for Oscar attention several months ago but has since gotten lost amongst the truly stellar releases that have dominated this fall and early winter. If anything, the film deserves attention for reminding us that once upon a time, Oprah Winfrey was a heckuva actor.

9. We’re the Millers
I re-watched this over the holidays and found this pot comedy starring Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston even funnier and more engaging than I did in August. 

8. The Heat
Here, Melissa McCarthy does not disappoint, delivering huge laughs with Sandra Bullock as an unlikely partnership is formed between a crass Boston cop (McCarthy) and uptight FBI agent (Bullock). The point is once again proven that women can indeed be hilarious when given the chance and that audiences will still buy tickets if there’s not a man’s name above the title.

7. Iron Man 3
The third installment of the blockbuster superhero series is perhaps the best as Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) struggles to recover from the events of The Avengers. It’s the biggest film of the 2013 box office and a reminder that big budget doesn’t have to mean a dumbing down of quality.

6. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Critics may scoff, but I found Ben Stiller’s adaptation of the James Thurber story a moving, inspiring tale that is visually stunning as well. 

5. Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett shines as a woman shattered both emotionally and financially when her husband is jailed for financial misdeeds. 

4. The Wolf of Wall Street
Critics are largely divided whether Martin Scorcese’s film glorifies or indicts the epic amounts of greed on display in this story of Wall Street fraud. For me, there is nothing glamorous on display as Leonardo DiCaprio snorts and cheats his way from rags to riches to jail.

3. Prisoners
An early fall gem that deserves to be remembered as Oscar ballots start being cast, this film tells the story of the effect his daughter’s kidnapping has on an otherwise upstanding family man. Hugh Jackman is raw and riveting as the terrified father struggling to find justice for his little girl.

2. Gravity
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play two astronauts trapped in space when their shuttle is destroyed by space debris. Just as powerful as Bullock’s acting, though, are the visual effects on display, making space seem to come truly alive onscreen.

1. American Hustle
Grifters and G-men go toe-to-toe to a soundtrack of 70’s classics? Sign me up! Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper soar in this fabulous fictionalized take on Abscam. My money is on this one as the awards season gets underway.

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