May we be so lucky for the Hollywood Films of 2013 to build on those of 2012. We’ve enjoyed breakthrough indie efforts from auteurs old and new, vindication of the Marvel juggernaut, the first truly wild Oscar race in a long while, an absurd glut of fabulous documentaries, solid small budget efforts, massive blockbusters that surprised, succeeded, or failed spectacularly, and the return of some genres that cinephiles have sorely missed. But in order to properly acknowledge the standouts, we need to, you know, be able to easily identify them in a readable statistical grouping. Here we go.
Even though it doesn’t quite stick the landing, Lincoln is still material proof that Tony Kushner can write whatever he pleases, Steven Spielberg can craft an engaging melodrama out of congress, and Daniel Day-Lewis probably made a pact with Satan to portray our 16th president with such seemingly faultless authenticity.
9. The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson is a challenging filmmaker, and The Master might be his most opaque film yet, a searingly intimate portrait of two lost souls that ultimately leaves viewers grasping at the air. But for the bravura performances and consummate craft on display, it still stands out as one of the year’s best.
Casting himself as CIA extractor “Tony Mendez” might be a vanity move, but I give Ben Affleck all the credit in the world for directing an unpretentious, thoughtful, entertaining thriller. Argo is, simply, a solid film, and the movie’s integrity is pleasing in itself.
In a year where high-concept sci-fi and dystopic visions of the future had more outings than ever, Looper was by far and away the best offering out there. I don’t even want to say anything else, just go watch it.
6. The Avengers
Joss Whedon has done the impossible and that makes him mighty. By turning a jigsaw puzzle of four established franchises into a single, thrilling, hilarious whole, The Avengers earned with art all its corporate calculation and, you know, made more money than Heaven.
5. Wuthering Heights
My year’s winner for best unconventional adaptation of a literary classic, Wuthering Heights is an even fiercer answer to the raw, bleak immediacy seen in Jane Eyre; yet it retains the ghostly moors and tortured hearts at the novel’s chill core.
4. Life of Pi
Ang Lee wins the prize for finally convincing me of the viability of 3D as not mere gimmickry but a legitimate cinematic device. It’s a taste call whether its spiritual message sticks, but this an undeniably gorgeous film.
3. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarentino is a national treasure, not just because of his ear for dialog and eye for bloodshed, but because his every frame is stuffed with joy, that of a true film lover. Django Unchained is hands-down most viscerally enjoyable experience I had at the movies in 2012.
2. Zero Dark Thirty
I think we can all officially pay homage now to Kathryn Bigelow as the Queen of Tension. Zero Dark Thirty is an unflinching, nearly flawless (from a dramatic standpoint, at least) glimpse into the mean, shadowed world of Intelligence Warfare, with a focus on the cost of such darkness borne by individuals and by all of us.
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
I freely admit bias in loving Beasts of the Southern Wild so unreservedly: I share the alma mater of young director Benh Zeitlin, the origin of his protagonist Hushpuppy (southeastern Louisiana), and the film’s plot, in a very impressionistic way, mirrors my own experience of Katrina – it moved this often stone-faced cinephile to tears. Without all that baggage, though, Beasts is still probably the most assured, original, and fully realized world brought to screens this year.
Visual powerhouses that came up a little short: Anna Karenina, Cloud Atlas
Little films that daaaamn, son: Cabin in the Woods, Chronicle
If you had only nailed the camera down (and cut 30min): Les Miserables, The Hobbit
Great, but they were really damn indie: Moonrise Kingdom, Safety Not Guaranteed
Best franchise surprise: Skyfall
Best documentary (there were so many, don’t make me choose!): This Is Not A Film
Best Fan Trolling: Breaking Dawn: Part II – More Punctuation For The Last Time. There’s been good talent trapped in that franchise and they finally got to stick it to Twihards by the creative twist to its climatic battle sequence…made safe for being a fakeout.
Easiest Paycheck: John Goodman as John Goodman in…pretty much everything. Character actors seem to find work in spurts, so good for such an affable guy as John Goodman that the floodgates opened this year with roles in Argo, Flight, Trouble With The Curve, and a recurring role on Community.
Deserved A Better Movie: The opening sequence of Flight, and the Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Alfred Hitchcock in Hitchcock. The crash sequence of Flight squashes any doubts all that crappy animation has atrophied Zemeckis’ ability to direct. It’s such a shame the rest of the film is a high-budget after-school special. Anthony Hopkins, too, deserves more from his movie, which spends way too much time away from the Master of Suspense to truly be compelling in itself.
Highest Hope for 2013: That The Great Gatsby will be completely batshit crazy: I hope it has a soundtrack based solely on the Guard the Throne album, Busby Berkley dizzying geometric dance numbers, an extended WWI flashback, a car chase in bullet-time, and multiple jump-cuts of Carey Mulligan saying, “What Gatsby?” 3D that actually allows for a enveloping experience among the whispering and the champagne and the stars or compelling performances are optional. I want this live up to flop legend in Hollywood films and be the hot mess that helps a new generation of thousands of young people completely fail sophomore English.