Watched in 2013: 100 Reviews of 100 Movies in 100 Characters (or less)

While I fell short on my goals for reading this year, my movie watching was out of the park! In the end, I watched exactly 100 films this year; some were good, some were bad; a lot were middling, mixed, and mediocre. Most of them weren’t released this year, but this year marks the first time I’ve ever seen them. I thought I’d take a moment to give my two bucks on the whole collection and point out some of the best offerings of the year as well as warn people away from the worst of the bad.

Note that I’m not taking some “grand perspective” of film history or anything like that when I index certain movies as the best on this list: these are just the movies that struck me as being the most memorable, fun, and moving and that I think others should check out and enjoy. Similarly, the “worst” movies are so classified not because they are objectively awful, but because I received the least enjoyment out of watching them; several of their number have redeeming qualities which I know there’s an audience for which didn’t include me.

So here’s what I thought about the movies I watched, no bullshit.

 

® movies indicate any movies which I’d seen before this year, but just re-watched in 2013.

Yellow highlighted titles with links to trailers were my favorites among the movies I saw for the first time in 2013. (Re-watched movies were not eligible for these considerations.)

Struck-through titles were my worst movies of the year.

 

ACTION/ADVENTURE

300 (2006) ® – Unique saturated visuals and painting-like cinematography, but its lovesong to warmongering is lame.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – Eastwood’s Italian Western of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo translates the character well; seeing both is neat.

Abyss, The (1989) – The heavy-handed message and bloated runtime pale before the legitimate chemistry between two leads.

Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1938) – Possesses a pure, magical whimsy, so far-removed from today’s gritty realism obsessions: no deaths.

Beastmaster, The (1982) – A mess of a fantasy epic, like it was written by a child. Still fun if looking for a good bad movie.

Conan the Barbarian (1982) ® – Still a fun, uncomplicated action romp of strong men battling evil. Ahnold in one of his best roles.

Dark Knight Returns, The: Parts 1 & 2 (2012,2013) – Utterly faithful adaptation of Miller’s bat leaves no room for creativity, like all his adaptations.

Death Race 2000 (1975) – Great, typical 70’s, political sci-fi action flick ahead of its time: Hunger Games and reality TV.

Demolition Man (1993) ® – Kooky, mid-90’s, self-aware comedy still plays well today. Did he just mind-screw with his daughter?

Die Another Day (2002) – James Bond visits a pun factory and falls into a vat of toxic pun chemicals. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.

Die Hard: With A Vengeance (1995) ® – Final scene underscores the unconcerned “action-movie logic” of the whole movie. What a fun movie!

Django Unchained (2012) ® – Everything Tarantino did with Kill Bill crystalized and repackaged in 2013’s feel-good splatterfest.

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (2013) – Fan-service: The Movie: References! Oddly small stakes! Plot holes! Wait, what happened after Name?

Goldeneye (1995) ® – Probably the height of Brosnan’s stint as 007; ironically, spin-off game’s legacy is greater by far.

Grandmaster, The (2013) – Neo-wuxia, I feel, is too SFX-reliant, while the storylines are increasingly cliche & melodramatic.

Hobbit, The – The Desolation of Smaug (2013) – Jackson’s dialog’s on autopilot, with chaotic action setpieces to fluff up a thin plot. Nice dragon.

Iron Man 3 (2013) – Depowered Potts puzzling, as is Mopey Stark not bothering to save the day. Cliche fire effects too.

Kick-Ass 2 (2013) – Semi-inconsistent pace and story. Ending trades comic end for a tidy message about everyday heroes.

Kon Tiki (2012) – A fairly by-the-books “based on a true story, overcoming impossible odds” film, but a well-made one.

Life of Pi (2012) – Accurately translates an excellent book with the too-tidy digital FX of a big budget American film.

Man of Steel (2013) – Neither the smart Superman movie it pretended to be, nor the fun, freewheeling ride the others were.

Mummy, The (1999) ® – Though the CGI ages poorly, The Mummy still remains a fun action flick with a great sense of timing.

Pacific Rim (2013) – Big, busty, brawly kaijuu with selfsame performances; nothing too complicated, yet artistry clear.

Rurouni Kenshin (2012) – A mass of creatively-bankrupt anime cliches slavishly converted to live action like a Miller flick.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – Fascinating piece of animation history. Titular character an object, not a character? Felt cheated.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) – Confused, recycled plot used as vehicle for action set piece; emotional ending hamstrung by tribble.

Takedown (2000) – A semi-accurate account of one of the many non-publicized digital security abuses of the post-80’s.

Wolverine, The (2013) – Far better than Origins, but still only telegraphs an overly-convoluted plot, goofy comic-booky arc.

Zulu (1964) – Leaves race at the door in “us v. them” African war flick; British still framed as “heroes” however.

 

COMEDY

Being There (1979) – A zen mistaken identity tale that makes you feel good inside after watching. Best comedy sex scene?

Christmas Vacation (1989) ® – Well-timed skit comedy about Xmas jumps between scenes sans transitions. Xmaslight scene’s the best.

Four Lions (2012) – In wake of Boston Marathon bombing, hit a bit close to home. In wake of NSA revelations, hilarious.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013) – Stephen Chow comedies seem hit-or-miss; this one was a miss, self-derivative and too effects-driven.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) ® – On 3rd rewatch, character “quirk” and patter starting to wear thin; some good stuff here and there.

My Boyfriend’s Back (1993) – Toon sound effects in witty comedy with raunchy teen sex and horror; who the hell was this MADE for?

Shock Treatment (1981) – Songs not as memorable & plot too art-house-incomprehensible to outreach Rocky Horror’s long shadow.

Sound of Noise, The (2010) – So fun! Terrorist musicians attack pop with found sound. Still can’t escape its inherent Frenchness.

This is the End (2013) – No Sandler-vehicle, but the premise is similarly thin. Moralizing in a film with rape jokes? What?

World’s End, The (2013) – Ending’s purpose confused me, but maybe illustrating humanity’s species-wide deathgrip on nostalgia?

 

DRAMA

Bonsai (2011) – Insufferable “writer” main character–a hipster and a fraud–handled with undue gravitas: get a job!

Butler, The (2013) – To appeal to mass audiences, in many ways it becomes what his son rails against: whitewashed, clean.

Compliance (2012) – Not suspenseful so much as cringeful. Is to drama what Hostel is to horror. Also, a 100% true story.

East, The (2013) – Seductive eco-revenge flick starts as shallow catharsis, then shows the pitfalls of blind ideology.

Electrick Children (2013) – Quirky indie pic about family you’re born with vs. family you find; Julia Garner’s career promising.

Fargo (1996) – Hapless criminals and awkward politeness. Loved the accents. Completely deserves its classic status.

Hurt Locker, The (2008) – Tightly-wound thriller, with palpable threats from without and within. Glad I finally got to see it.

Killing Them Softly (2012) – While I remember enjoying this while watching it, I now find the experience wholly unmemorable. Meh?

Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The (1962) – Wayne and Stewart are dynamite, questions of “legends vs. reality” and the high cost of lawlessness.

Melancholia (2011) – Intriguing, beautiful, sad, and strange, this movie put me on Lars von Trier’s scent. What’s next?

Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki) (2013) – A heart-warming and -rending tale about love, motherhood, youth, becoming an adult, and letting go.

Paranorman (2012) – Eschews Hollywood kids’ film cliches for all-too-rare message about compassion and being different.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013) – Butler-itis: biopic conforms to three-act structure while remaining wholly inoffensive. Very moving.

Seven Psychopaths (2012) – Treatise on storytelling shares the same charm as The Stanley Parable, but with more action & plot.

Shortbus (2006) ® – Started watching for sexy bits/to identify with characters’ stasis. Wish I could visit their world.

Sightseers (2013) – Curious, weird passive-aggressive serial killer road trip comedy. Got bored of the trip by the end.

Untouchables, The (1987) – “Let’s go get ’em!” perky musical score cues become almost annoying given their regularity. Tense.

Win Win (2011) – Moving story about trust, family, and the nature of happiness. Great drama, characters, and cast!

 

DOCUMENTARY

Detropia (2012) – Sobering look at community-crippling effect of corporate greed on America today: a spreading plague.

Forks Over Knives (2012) – Its heart may be in the right place, but irresponsible health claims abandon education for ideology.

Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008) – Overview of Lovecraft’s life came to my attention at just the right time, while reading his catalog.

Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, The (2013) – Slavoj Žižek, the troll of philosophy, comes back with another interesting perspective on pop media.

Queen of Versailles (2012) – Unscrupulous property-pusher’s comeuppance and familial fall fuels middle-class schadenfreude flick.

Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers (2013) – A DEEP inside look at the largely unreported “golden age” of a gang of professional diamond thieves.

Sound City (2013) – I love artists expressing love for their art; Sound City an unlikely institution in the music world.

West of Memphis (2012) – Corruption, greed, and ego: incarcerated victims were the sacrifice in enraging betrayal of justice.

 

HORROR

13 – Game of Death (2013) – Dark comedy becomes pitch black becomes plain horror: Jokes work in Saw-meets-Falling-Down flick.

A Little Bit Zombie (2012) – Frat boy jokes mixed with D-grade special effects, porno-grade props, and awful acting: unwatchable.

Berberian Sound Studio (2013) – Wanted to enjoy this psychological horror about a foley artist going mad, but it’s too dry for me.

Cat People (1982) – Malcolm McDowell’s performance here is fun as hell; also, worst zoo in the world. Weird dumb horror.

Come Out And Play (2012) – Intriguing premise; third act is one long “fuck you” to audience by ego-tripping director: MAKINOV!

Conjuring, The (2013) – Ethically icky, since main characters were scumbags IRL. Pacing’s wonky; set and cast are very good!

Curse of Chucky, The (2013) – Best Chucky in years: returns to form in structure and pacing, but the end’s a steaming pile of wut.

Dark Water (2002) ® – Still one of my favorite J-horror ghost stories; a mother at her limits struggles to save the day.

Deep Blue Sea (1999) ® –  Heavy-handed Christian morality fable about man’s ambition & playing God; never noticed this before?

Dream Home (2010) – Slasher film turned morality tale in final act. Concept merges well in a post-Dexter pop-media era.

Evil Dead (2013) – Recreates the original’s trappings while losing inventive spirit somewhat. Undeniably savage horror.

Lords of Salem (2013) – Glad Rob Zombie is still directing, experimenting, fun! Rosemary’s Baby meets 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Mama (2012) – …just haunts some girls…”Del Toro’s” on the screen; what does “presented by” even mean?…Mama?

Phantasm (1979) – The best bad movie I’ve seen in years: a too-fun farrago of characters, events, and goofy horror FX.

Phantasm II (1988) – Takes a little while to get going, but eventually, it’s campy fun; with final line, hilarity ensues.

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) – It’s clear, now, that they’ll never follow Raimii’s path to excellence; they just LOVE making these!

Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) – Never rising or aspiring to be more than it was, 4th act nonetheless feels too self-absorbed/inbred.

Resolution (2012) – A road trip movie chained to a house; a horror film about storytelling; a thriller; a comedy…Cool.

Thing, The (1982) ® – Body horror and Cold War paranoia at its best. Great acting & practical effects, and what an ending!

V.H.S. 2 (2013) – Already suspect short-film found-footage compilation premise is weighed down by diminishing returns.

We Are What We Are (2013) – Picks a very brown tone and carries it through, offering a humble look at the insanity of devotion.

You’re Next (2013) – Not a lot of substance for its runtime–still fun and smart twisty-turney home-invasion meta-horror.

 

SUSPENSE/THRILLER

Go (1999) – Divided narrative takes on the high rise and hard sobering of one wild party with comedy and verve.

Headhunters (2011) – Tense, brutal thriller becomes surprisingly heartfelt by the third act; interesting lesson on worth.

Hunger Games, The: Catching Fire (2013) – Cast and crew all shine; the actual Games felt rushed after the opening’s lavish dramatic milieu.

Insomnia (2002) – Which side is the cat and which the mouse? The moral predicament in this thriller is the real ride.

Lives of Others, The (2006) – Taut East Berlin political thriller boils down to one man–a living machine–who discovers his soul.

Mother (Madeo) (2009) – Bong Joon-ho takes riffs from Oldboy in exploring the darkest depths of a mother’s love/compassion.

Mud (2012) – Polar opposite to “Prisoners”, Mud contrasts childish obsession with reality of love’s tribulations.

North by Northwest (1959) – For some reason, Hitchcock’s works always seem to wear on a bit long for me… 1950’s Peter Jackson?

Prisoners (2013) – Hopeless thriller seems determined to lambaste audience with crosses. Message? Be afraid of people.

Stray Dog (1949) – Exciting deviation from Kursoawa’s other works’ locales: a tight crime thriller examining humanity.

Three Kings (1999) – A “what else can go wrong” story that starts with greed and proceeds to fall down a foxhole of shit.

White Heat (1949) – Maniacal Cagney rages wildly in this drama about the final days of an insane small-time crime boss.

 

And now, here’s, a short list of movies which came out in 2013 which I particularly wanted to see, but just didn’t have the time or the opportunity to. Watching through their trailers really got me excited for 2014!

MOVIES OF 2013 I WANTED TO WATCH (BUT DIDN’T)

Act of Killing, The – Documentary about a genocidal war criminal who is invited to make a film about his actions, through which he begins to realize the magnitude of the atrocities he’s committed.

Blackfish – Documentary about the treatment of whales in American aquariums and our growing awareness of the damage and suffering we’ve incurred in the process.

Cutie and the Boxer – Documentary about an aging experimental artist and his live-in girlfriend; their relationship, difficulties, and unwavering dedication.

Ernest & Celestine (2012 orig, 2013 Eng release) – Charming French cartoon about a mouse artist from a community taught to fear bears who befriends a bear from a community which fears mice.

Europa Report – Sci-fi horror about a team of researchers searching for life on one of Jupiter’s moons goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Frozen – CGI family film about a princess with an uncontrollable power over ice who must be rescued from herself by her sister.

Her – An introverted man who recently broke up finds an unexpected love in his artificial intelligence assistant.

Inside Llewyn Davis – An examination of the life of a singer/songwriter living in New York in 1961.

Kings of Summer, The – A pack of boys decide to abandon their homes and live a wild life in the woods for one summer.

Nymphomaniac – A woman recounts her life of sexual adventures to the man who saved her.

Paradise: Hope – A girl at a “fat camp” falls in love with one of her instructors.

Silver Linings Playbook – A romantic comedy about a manchild with anger control issues who meets a woman just as crazy as he is.

Snowpiercer – Based on a comic book about a gang of lower-class rebels who incite a revolution aboard a globe-circling train which carries the last survivors of humanity in a destroyed world.

Upstream Color – An examination of the life of a woman whose existence has been inextricably bound to that of an ageless alien entity in the body of a man.

The Wall – Alone in her cabin in the woods, a woman finds herself trapped by an invisible, impenetrable force-field which isolates her from the rest of the world.

White Reindeer – A woman in mourning after the death of her fiancee learns of and befriends his mistress, burying her grief in a shared reckless abandon.

Wrong – Another strange offering from the creators of “Rubber”, a man has his dog stolen and goes on an insane adventure to retrieve it.




©2013 by Blake Vaughn. The text of this story may be redistributed freely in its original form with attribution to the author, Blake Vaughn, and his website, www.blakevaughn.com, as under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.