Monday, October 13, 2014

And What Didn't Make the 2013 List

I write a companion piece to my Top Ten list every year to discuss some of the other major films that got a lot of positive attention, in order to give some context to my own choices and provide a sense of where and how my opinions diverged from the critical status quo (not that there really is one, but the perception of a critical consensus existing has a surprising amount of influence). I find this type of analysis piece helpful when working out how I feel about my choices, and I wish more critics would write them. Please note that I will not be discussing films listed among my honorable mentions like "The Wolf of Wall Street."

First up: the awards contenders. I think I've already said plenty about my dislike of "American Hustle," which was a collection of good performances that didn't have the support of a properly cohesive narrative. "Gravity" had been one of my most anticipated films for years, and I'm happy for it's success. However, it was far too much of a technical exercise for me, and lacked the strong human story that I associate with Alphonso Cuaron's best work. "Dallas Buyers Club" struck me as a perfectly decent social issue picture, and "Captain Phillips" was a perfectly decent action film, but that was as far as my appreciation went. "Blue Jasmine" was an interesting one, buoyed by a great Cate Blanchett performance, but I couldn't help thinking it would have probably been a better movie if someone other than Woody Allen had directed it. And though I admired it greatly, I couldn't connect to the nostalgic music or prickly main character of "Inside Llewyn Davis."

Smaller titles that won a lot of attention included "Fruitvale Station," which I admired for a few performances, but I also found that the concept was a lot stronger than the execution. "Short Term 12" was a promising effort, but there have been a lot of similar indies that have tackled the woes of troubled youth and their caretakers. Ditto "Mud," which failed to stand out from a crowd of good coming-of-age movies that came out around the same time. The mumblecore science-fiction film "Computer Chess" only succeeded in alienating me, and I have no idea how it's supposed to be a comedy. Then there's "Prisoners," which made the mistake of substituting intensity for thoughtfulness, and just became an unpleasant watch in spite of the intriguing moral dilemmas that it presented.

Foreign films are always an interesting category, as my opinions usually vary wildly from those of the major critics. Wong Kar-Wai's "The Grandmaster" struck me as beautiful but unnecessarily convoluted. I liked parts of "The Great Beauty," but found its social criticisms too inscrutable - maybe I would have liked it better if I were Italian and had a better grasp of their social problems. I wrestled for a long time with "Blue Is the Warmest Color," and while I enjoyed the film and didn't have particularly strong objections to its graphic sex scenes, I also found it overlong and occasionally grating. "The Wind Rises," Hayao Miyazaki's final film, was a disappointing bore, and oddly evasive about its subject matter to boot.

The film I found the hardest to cut was "Rush," which is the best thing that Ron Howard has made in a long time, and I thought Daniel Bruhl deserved to take home the Oscar. I also strongly considered Alejandro Jodorowsky's "The Dance of Reality," but the plague curing scene was so off-putting I couldn't ignore it.
Others in the running that I wish had gotten more attention include "The Bling Ring," "Enough Said," "What Maisie Knew," and "Don Jon."

Finally, because it was far and away the biggest hit of 2013 with the most cultural impact, a brief note about "Frozen." It's definitely a step in the right direction for Disney Animation, but the movie felt rushed, uneven, and unconscionably sloppy in a few places. I didn't like it nearly as much as "Tangled" or "Wreck-it-Ralph," and it's actually one of the few big blockbusters I'd like to see a sequel for - because I know they could do so much better by the material.

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