Best Of 2013 - Top Ten Films
January 2nd, 2014 12:20pm EST
Jason Coleman's Top Ten Films: What’s most notable about 2013’s cop of films is the sheer amount of quality cinema running rampant. Yes, there is the typical powerhouse slew of flicks in the last two months that tend to dominate most lists, but even reaching further back there were some truly fine films. Narrowing down the selections this year was a hard task (one of my personal five-star favorites "The Baytown Outlaws" got bumped from the #10 spot at the last minute!), but for a cine-geek it’s always a pleasure to try. And while I bypassed flicks that are on most lists due to everything from too many distractions (Chitwetel Ejiofor’s haunting work in "12 Years A Slave" gets blindsided by way too many unneeded star cameos!) to not enough story power ("American Hustle" should learn the art of the con from David Mamet’s "House of Games!"), I think this year’s selections are some of the finest cinema that some may have missed. Kids playing war, examinations of love, unappreciated film folks getting their due, celebrity obsessions gone awry and much more – welcome to my “Best of 2013 – Top Ten Films”
1. "I Declare War" (Drafthouse Films)
I dare anyone to find a more original, unique and arresting flick this year than the "Goonies" meets "Platoon" inspired outing "I Declare War." Told through the imagination of ruckus children with a pinch of "Lord of the Flies" infused, this sometimes real, sometimes make believe story staging of capture the flag is both deadly serious and deadly fun. And even though the filmmakers pay dramatic homage to adult war films of the past (P.K. and Skinner are like a little Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger!) and even add a little Shakespeare-esk irony (Mackenzie Munro is like a mini Lady Macbeth!), the characters in the story thankfully never forget that they’re just kids. War strategies, prisoner torture and some pizza after – kids will be kids.
2. "Mud" (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions)
Everyone hails the memorable work of Matthew McConaughey in both "Dallas Buyers Club" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" (and yes, both are decent!), but for my movie money it doesn’t get more deep and layered then his turn in "Mud." As a passionate drifter motivated by unrequited love, McConaughey gives the film just the right amount of fire and melancholy to create one exceptional and unforgettable performance. Plus with his third and equally brilliant picture, writer/director Jeff Nichols (his first film "Shotgun Stories" was #1 on my 2007 list and the second "Take Shelter" was just as brilliant!) shows that he’s no filmmaking fluke. "Mud" is a raw and real examination of love in all its guises – romantic, family and even friendship shown in its entire good, bad and ugly splendor. If it is truly dirty to lay emotions beautifully barren, then "Mud" is aptly titled.
3. "Casting By" (Submarine Deluxe)
"Casting By" is as much a documentary love letter to the unsung genius that was Casting Director Marion Dougherty as it is to the love of film in general. Sporting an impressive list of actors who all got their starts via casting pioneer Dougherty, the fascinating tales of film and its history they all share is like crack to the cinefile. Complete with funny stories (hear Director Richard Donner talk about how he initially blew off the idea of Danny Glover for "Lethal Weapon!"), warm tributes (both Glenn Close and John Lithgow who got Oscar nods for "The World According to Garp" were initally pushed solely by the persistent Dougherty!) and even an inane naysayer (DGA president Taylor Hackford’s arguments make absolutely no sense – have you no shame?!), "Casting By" has everything a great doc should. With all her years of faithful underappreciated movie service, Dougherty deserved this five-star tribute.
4. "Antiviral" (IFC Midnight)
Picking up right where his father left off way too long ago, David Cronenberg’s son Brandon thankfully carries on the family name with this strange, off beat and totally engrossing twist on celebrity-obsessed culture. (By the end of the film I was smitten with Sarah Gadon’s Hannah Geist!) Mixing equal parts "Videodrome" (hungry fans can actually get a celeb steak!) and "eXistenZ" (plug into the famous person disease of your choice!) with a pinch of Lynch (thanks to insane and pitch perfect leading man Caleb Laundry Jones!), Brandon’s delicious debut is a pure homage to all things odd. Like father, like son – thank God.
5. "Sparrows Dance" (Tribeca Film)
Following up his captivating noir thriller "The Missing Person" (on my Top Ten list back in 2009!), writer/director Noah Buschel creates one of the most simple, yet utterly complex love stories of the year. All taking place within a single apartment location, but without a single stoic vibe throughout (think "My Dinner With Andre" - but with life!), "Sparrows Dance" is a classic example of what a skilled craftsman can do when the unneeded is stripped away. Plus it’s an exercise in how essential on-screen chemistry is. As agoraphobic actress and her sensitive handy man, actors Marin Ireland and Paul Sparks interact so effortlessly here that we almost feel as though we’re peaking in on something real and personal – life and love without leaving home.
6. "Nebraska" (Paramount Vantage)
What I find funny about Alexander Payne’s thoughtful film "Nebraska" is how a lot of reviews have claimed the film is about elder gent Bruce Dern and his journey. In actual fact "Nebraska" is at its heart essentially the story of son Will Forte and his need to connect with his now ailing pop. The touching father/son tale, in true Payne form, impressively runs the emotional gamut and both Forte and Dern are certainly up to the task. In terms of dialogue, "Nebraska" seems as though it has the least of any Payne film and it fits both the quiet characters and their simple story. In the end "Nebraska" isn’t about what’s being said, but more importantly what’s not.
7. "John Dies At The End" (Magnet Releasing)
Being released early in the year is most likely what is keeping the wonderfully wacky Don Coscarelli helmed "John Dies At The End" off everyone’s Top Ten list radar. I say look again. Taking the magic he employed with "Bubba Ho-Tep" and mixing it with creative nitroglycerin, Coscarelli’s film is an exercise in what makes movies magical. A sort of "Naked Lunch" for the "Phantasm" crowd, Coscarelli uses every imaginative oddity (the drug of choice here – soy sauce?!) in his creative arsenal to crank up the fun factor. If John did indeed die here, his end would not have been in vain.
8. "Wrong" / "Wrong Cops" (Drafthouse Films / IFC Midnight)
With the potential ridden tire from hell flick "Rubber," filmmaker Quentin Dupieux showed he had some movie moxie. But with both "Wrong" and its more goofy follow up "Wrong Cops," Dupieux showed he’s the real deal. Both films are filled with wry humor (one "Wrong Cops" police nut tries to see breasts...at gunpoint!), colorful characters (William Fichtner’s Master Chang in "Wrong" is Oscar worthy!) and ridiculous situations and all with a palpable can’t take your eyes off it factor. The fact that Dupieux was able to hit both movies out of the park within the same year is a feat – so wrong, yet so right.
9. +1 aka Plus One (IFC Midnight)
I feel like I’m the only person who saw this film and in terms of pure genre blending brilliance it’s a tragedy. What’s starts off as a raunchy party movie ala "Porky’s" slowly moves into relationship territory via "Can’t Hardly Wait" and then melds into a dire "Timecrimes"-esk doppelganger thriller – all seamlessly. It would be an impressive feat for any filmmaker, but especially here with former tepid "Last House on the Left" remake director Dennis Ilaidis at the helm. (Stick with original work from now on sir!) Matched with some layered work by Rhys Wakefield as an obsessive boyfriend (forget "The Purge" – watch him in this!), Logan Miller as the resident geek trying to score and especially real-life twin sisters Colleen and Suzanne Dengel as Allison and her alluring double, "+1" is the best film of 2013 you haven’t seen. (Just change that inane title guys!)
10. "We Are What We Are" (Entertainment One)
After "Mulberry St." and "Stake Land" I would see any film made by the modern master of mood Jim Mickle. With "We Are What We Are" he once again does not disappoint, creating a film rich with somber tones, a stunning visual tapestry and morbid mood so thick that it can be cut with a knife. Any every actor here is fully in line with his vision - from the bearded Bill Sage as the family patriarch to Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers as his weary children. (Plus any flick with stellar Michael Parks work is a must see!) Not many films with one foot immersed in cannibalism can go beyond the obvious flesh eating taboos – Mickle’s morbid movie meal is hearty one.
I was gonna skip the "Top Five Worst Films" for this year, but I was so appalled and infuriated that folks actually got paid that I had to respond – check them out below!
1. "A Good Day To Die Hard" (20th Century Fox)
It’s frankly hard to place single blame for this shameful and total besmirch of the famed "Die Hard" legacy, so everyone gets a shout out here. Skip Woods needs to have his WGA card stripped for writing this trite (did he really get paid for this?!), Director John Moore needs to take directing lessons from original "Die Hard" helmer John McTiernan and then promptly quit the business anyway and Bruce Willis needs to put down the character of John McClane before he embarrasses the franchise...wait too late. Hans Gruber would gladly jump head first off the Nakatomi Building to get away from this turd.
2. "A Haunted House" (Automatik Entertainment)
My kid dragged me to this and being a good dad I wanted to oblige. Man, being an active parent is overrated as the Marlon Wayans penned "A Haunted House" is void of any and all humor – even by accident. An overkill of sex jokes, stupid characters and not a one laugh makes this film completely unwatchable. When even Wayans brother Shawn is MIA from the easy making movie money here, you know there’s trouble in crappy movie paradise.
3. "Getaway" (Warner Bros.)
When you have a flick with a cool car, moody driver and a hot gal in the passenger seat what could possibly go wrong? In the case of "Getaway" it’s everything. Ethan Hawke almost erases his memorable work in "Before Midnight," passenger Selena Gomez needs to go back to acting school and all car sequences under the amateur direction of helmer Courtney Solomon make the car bits in "Driving Miss Daisy" look like "Bullitt." Drive away all...and never come back ever.
4. "R.I.P.D." (Universal Pictures)
The main problem with this Dark Horse Comic come to life is it’s just not fun. The rip off similarities to "Men In Black" aren’t fun, bad guy Kevin Bacon who turns into a monster that looks like...Kevin Bacon isn’t fun and even our two lead heroes doing their trademark sassy stuff just aren’t fun. In fact nobody within "R.I.P.D." looks like they’re having fun – that makes two of us.
5. "Man of Steel" (Warner Bros.)
Not so much bad as a total disappointment. With Dark Knight scribe David S. Goyer, producer Christopher "Inception" Nolan and "300" helmer Zack Snider all on board this should have been a slam-dunk. But rampant with redundant action sequences that bore, an origin story that sucks and characters void of any charisma, "Man of Steel" feels like the bad parts of Snyder’s former bomb "Sucker Punch." Hey, when you make the ever-solid Michael Shannon boring and forgettable as General Zod it’s time to hang up the directing hat.
That’s all for movies in 2013 – here’s to more great work in 2014!
Related: Antiviral, Casting By, I Declare War, John Dies at the End, Mud, Nebraska, Skinwalker Ranch, Sparrows Dance, We Are What We Are, Wrong, Wrong Cops, Starpulse Exclusives, Movies, Movie Reviews, Evergreen
Photo Credits: Photos Courtesy of Drafthouse Films