The Reel Deal
2013 FILM EQUATIONS & INEQUALITIES
Comparing the Films of 2013
By Tyler Malone
I”m in the process of crafting my list of every 2013 film I saw from best to worst. As I spend time ordering the 125 films I saw from last year, I decided that I”d make 15 film equations and inequalities (a la everyone”s favorite critical contrarian Armond White).
Her > All other 2013 films
I may not have situated every film yet on my best-to-worst of 2013 list, but I”m fairly sure I know how it begins. The number one spot will undoubtedly be occupied by Her, Spike Jonze”s fascinating examination of where love and technology may intersect in the not-too-distant, high-waisted-pant-wearing future.
Spring Breakers > The Bling Ring > Pain & Gain
When it came to Girls Gone Wild-style crime films in 2013, Harmony Korine”s Spring Breakers, an instant cult classic fantasia of American excess, really hit it out of the park with its brilliant Terrence-Malick-through-the-looking-glass aesthetic. Any other year and The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola”s similar examination of this particularly American brand of juvenile delinquency, might have really wowed me, but in comparison to Spring Breakers it sort of felt like a let down. That said, there was still much to love about The Bling Ring. Whereas Michael Bay”s Pain & Gain, another tale of American idiots committing crimes on the same beautiful beaches of Florida that acted as setting for Spring Breakers, just fell completely flat for me. Though should I really be all that surprised? It is Michael Bay I”m talking about after all…
12 Years a Slave > 42 > The Butler
Steve McQueen”s 12 Years a Slave may have been more difficult to watch than Brian Helgeland”s 42 and Lee Daniels” The Butler, but only because it”s the least whitewashed of these three historical depictions of race. Yet while 12 Years a Slave achieved near-perfection with its beauty and brutality, 42 remained enjoyable enough even as it evoked eyerolls for its unnecessary Disneyfication of events. It was The Butler that took the Disneyfied history too far and became a bad Forrest Gump joke as Forest Whitaker”s Cecil Gaines managed to be tied to every major happening in the civil rights movement in the last century. I like to call it Forrest Whitaker Gump.
Berberian Sound Studio ≠ Any other horror film
Peter Strickland”s surreal and creepy Berberian Sound Studio, which focuses on a British foley artist (sound fx guy) on the set of an Italian giallo movie, is a horror film unlike any other I”ve ever seen or, more importantly, heard.
The Wolf of Wall Street ≥ American Hustle
Critically acclaimed paint-by-numbers Americana crime dramedy The Wolf of Wall Street is greater than or equal to this year”s other critically acclaimed paint-by-numbers Americana crime dramedy: American Hustle. Neither are necessarily bad by any means, but both fall short of the incessant praise they”ve received. Both feel like they”re trying too hard to be generic post-Goodfellas Scorsese films. What may push The Wolf of Wall Street slightly to the fore is that it has the benefit of actually being a generic post-Goodfellas Scorsese film, whereas American Hustle is just David O. Russell miming our man Martin.
As I Lay Dying > The Great Gatsby
I seem to be alone in this but James Franco”s critically panned adaptation of As I Lay Dying (a contender for the title of “The Great American Novel” by William Faulkner) worked for me with its split-screen film-school-experiment aesthetic whereas Baz Luhrman”s schizophrenic MTV adaptation of The Great Gatsby (a contender for the title of “The Great American Novel” by F. Scott Fitzgerald) was so exhausting that even the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleberg would have trouble staying open long enough to get to that green light just before the final credits.
Leviathan > Blackfish
The experimental documentary Leviathan, a visual poem exploring the horrors of commercial fishing with barely a word spoken, moved me much more than the sensationalized take-down of Sea World that is Blackfish. Just because I politically agree with the point a documentary is trying to make does not automatically make me an ally of that documentary. Even if its heart is in the right place, Blackfish just wasn”t all that great of a film. (Though I do love that, because of Blackfish, Tilikum now has his own IMDb page.)
All Is Lost > Captain Phillips
When it comes to prestige pics and their virtuoso performances at sea, Robert Redford”s near-silent performance in All Is Lost sails into uncharted territory, whereas Tom Hanks” performance in Captain Phillips sort of floats along like a buoy barely bouncing above the water surface.
The World”s End > This Is the End
This Is the End, the Biblical Rapture film made surprisingly by non-Christians Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, starts out on a high (and not just because the whole cast is smoking a ton of weed), but it”s all downhill once the devil and his giant phallus show up. On the other hand, Edgar Wright”s The World”s End, about an alien and robot invasion, may never really reach the hilarious heights of the first half of This Is the End, but at least it never falls to such horrifyingly unfunny depths either. Even if The World”s End doesn”t live up to the first two films in Wright”s Cornetto Trilogy, it”s moderately enjoyable all the way through.
Side Effects > Passion
Hitchcock pastiche is nothing new for Brian de Palma, but it isn”t necessarily what I envision when I think of Steven Soderbergh”s wheelhouse. So I was surprised that Soderbergh”s cinema “swan song” Side Effects so resembled de Palma”s “comeback” Passion in that they were both Hitchcockian erotic thrillers heavy on psychosexual tension, lesbian love scenes, pill-popping delusions, and deadly double-crossings. Soderbergh made the better movie, but that doesn”t mean that de Palma”s picture isn”t worth the watch. Passion is probably the best thing de Palma”s done in over a decade.
Hannah Arendt > Saving Mr. Banks
As far as cantankerous women authors go, Hannah Arendt”s life and writing are both much more interesting than that of P. L. Travers. But that”s not the only thing that makes Hannah Arendt a better film than Saving Mr. Banks. Though the Arendt film may come off as stolid and slow-plodding, Margarethe von Trotta”s treatment of Arendt feels real and relevant, whereas John Lee Hancock”s take on Travers only does a disservice to the Mary Poppins writer. In an odd twist of fate, the story of the real life of Travers gets the same “spoonful of sugar” treatment that the company gave her character (over which she was so upset). They shoehorn what could be an interesting story of artistic integrity against the forces of Hollywood imagineering and reimagine a Disneyfied fairy tale with a storybook ending. I don”t mind that something like Hans Christian Andersen”s The Little Mermaid was Disneyfied and given a happy ending, but doing the same to a true story of a woman who found this kind of Disneyfication so appalling seems to me alarmingly disingenuous.
Planes > Rush
Planes, Disney”s Cars spin-off about racing aircrafts, may have been a Spruce Goose that couldn”t soar because it could never really get off the ground but at least it didn”t crash and burn like Rush, Ron Howard”s inert and inept Formula One racing disaster starring Thor.
White House Down ≈ Olympus Has Fallen > G. I. Joe: Retaliation
There were three “President gets held hostage at the White House by terrorists” films this year (two of which weirdly starred Channing Tatum). White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen were about equal in their unimaginative mediocrity, but the painful G. I. Joe: Retaliation made me wonder what I had done to warrant said retaliation. I must have really been an asshole in a past life if my punishment was having to sit through that steaming pile of shite.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone > Now You See Me
Somehow the Steve Carrell vehicle The Incredible Burt Wonderstone–a misguided concept of Siegfried & Roy vs. Criss Angel that maybe (MAYBE!) could have worked as an SNL skit but should have never made a feature-length film–managed to still be 2013″s best magic-themed movie. I suppose it wasn”t too difficult since Louis Leterrier”s abracadabra caper Now You See Me with its (not-so-)sleight-of-hand twist ending was an M. Night Shyamalan-style disaster.
All other 2013 films > The Lone Ranger
Like I said, I haven”t crafted the complete list of my best-to-worst 2013 films, but just as I”m fairly certain Her will snatch the top spot of the list, I imagine The Lone Ranger will likely bring up the rear. In a year that had unsurprisingly abysmal releases from two directors who have previously graced the bottom spot on my list (Tyler Perry and M. Night Shyamalan), I still think Gore Verbinski and his tone deaf remake of The Lone Ranger will manage to ride the caboose. It is the kind of movie you don”t watch, ke-mo sah-bee, you either avoid it (the better of the two options) or you stare at it in disbelief (as though it were a horrific traffic accident).
Written and Compiled by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Cinema Guild
Design by Francesca Rimi
Film Still from Leviathan, Photography Courtesy of Cinema Guild