I’m going to write some thoughts on a couple of movies from 2013. They’re not ranked at all, though. I am loath to rank any movies right now because I haven’t watched enough of them yet. Nor can I be bothered right now to write thoughts on all movies from last year, so excuse the random selection; the first movies that come to mind will have to do. More will follow later.
If that’s not acceptable for this thread, feel free to delete my post.
All Is Lost: A man alone on a sailboat on the ocean. A movie like this needs an actor delivering his performance of a lifetime to even be average, let alone to shine and be good. Robert Redford surely has the talent, and he shows it here. Silent and grim determination, optimism, relief, worry, resolve, calm, hope, irritation, fear, anger, desperation, realisation, regret, resignation... He conveys all those and more with gusto. He is fantastic. And apart from Redford’s stellar acting, All Is Lost has more going for it as well: a scenario that’s smart in its soberness (both events-wise and Redford’s psychology), there are no unnecessary, cheesy soliloquies that this kind of movie all too often employs, music is sparingly and deftly employed and is restrained and evokes desolation and dread with unsettling conviction and quiet intensity, and overall the sound effects are very effective as well. The ominous creaking of the boat, the approaching storm, the crashing waves... There are two small negative things, however: the big storm wasn’t sufficiently violent (neither the images nor the sounds), and the ending was a letdown in that it drifted dangerously close to clichéd Hollywood. Still, those are just two ultimately insignificant niggles. All Is Lost is certainly one of the best movies of 2013. Thank you, Mr Redford.
Pacific Rim: I wanted to enjoy this film. I really, really wanted to enjoy it. It’s got Guillermo del Toro, who is one of my favourite directors, and it’s got giant robots fighting giant monsters. On paper, it should have been an incredibly fun movie, if nothing else. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to hate this movie. I was rolling my eyes a lot minutes in, and as the credits rolled, I was biting down on a washcloth so I wouldn’t bite off my tongue in epileptic rage. The storyline were just about all of Hollywood’s clichés rolled into one, the dialogues were either wooden or cheesy (or both), the soundtrack was uninspired and cheap, there were some weird inconsistencies, every scene was predictable and a lot of scenes were unnecessary filler that added nothing at all and just wasted time. There were a few, tiny things I enjoyed, but even those combined were a drop of water on a hot plate: the doctor Drifting reminded me of a Lovecraftian doctor almost going insane because of the otherworldly knowledge he acquired (and given that del Toro is a big Lovecraft fan, that might have been the inspiration), even though the knowledge itself was horrendous and contained many irritations in itself, dragging the ship along like a greatsword before a battle, Ron Perlman’s character (great Tom Waits-like craziness, even though I thought that whole thing was unnecessary) and the father saying, ‘That’s my son. My son.’ That was beautiful, emotional acting. Unfortunately, that was also the only line in the whole movie that wasn’t completely and utterly awful. It didn’t help that the main characters weren’t engaging at all. There were several scenes that were simply cringe-worthy in its horrid cheesiness and made it difficult for me to sit through. There were no surprises that took you aback, and even the selling point of the movie – giant monsters fighting giant robots – wasn’t exceptional; the fighting scenes were largely messy, chaotic and unenjoyable. The special effects were well-done, but the fighting itself was a letdown. Plus, controlling the robots seemed rather silly to me, and the whole theme of ‘we have to work together to win’ was undermined, really, because it’s not teamwork: it’s two minds connecting into one whole, so it’s more one mind in two bodies. Mirror images. It’s not actual team work where you have to trust each other and actively work together and take care of each other. The further the movie progressed, the worse it got. Near the end, I was numbed with its stupidity and with how bad it was. Then when the climactic battle evolved, I was revived again – by sheer rage. The stupidity, awkwardness and cheesiness of the whole movie would have made me judge it as simply ‘very bad’. But the final events made me hate the movie. I could go on and list tons of specific annoyances and hatreds, but I’ve made my point. Pacific Rim was just plain horrible. Horrible, horrible, horrible. It’s doubtlessly the worst movie of 2013 I have seen. I couldn’t disagree more with Rellik’s opinion.
The Butler: As easy as it may be to draw this comparison, Forest Whitaker’s performance as a butler to all American presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan reminded me a little of Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day. I don’t put Whitaker on the level as Hopkins at all, but both roles showcased the power of understated acting. Whitaker here was impressive. Although The Butler is sometimes too preachy and tries too hard to cram its message down your throat, it’s a movie that’s entirely carried by the performances of its actors. Whitaker is superb. Oprah Winfrey, who plays his wife, is right up there with him. I was surprised exactly how good she was. Apart from them, you have a slew of good actors doing their thing in cameos: Robin Williams as Eisenhower, John Cusack (with fake nose and all) as Nixon, Liev Schreiber as Johnson, Lenny Kravitz as another butler, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, plus Vanessa Redgrave in another small cameo. When all of those actors turn in solid performances, it’s not too difficult to overlook the sometimes melodramatic slant of the story. Furthermore, I always take special note of soundtracks and they can make or break a movie for me. Neither was the case here, but it was certainly one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a while and added the appropriate emotions and moods to the scenes without becoming sentimental.
World War Z: This was an entertaining film despite its many flaws. It also suffered from its negative progression: a promising and intense first act, a moderately entertaining second act and a disappointing final act and ditto ending. That tends to influence the final judgment. The movie didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be: adventure, action or zombie survival horror. That hurt it somewhat as well. I wasn’t as impressed with the wall-climbing scene as most people (mainly because it looked like some kind of cheap videogame), but the action was overall quite enjoyable, especially in the first part of the movie; it was dull in the last part. The ‘cure’ was silly and the ending unsatisfying, but first part was entertaining and intense, Brad Pitt carried the entire movie very well and David Morse, a highly underrated actor, had a nice little cameo that fleshed out the backstory in an intriguing manner. Overall, it’s worth a viewing.
Django Unchained: I’m not the biggest Tarantino fan. I think Pulp Fiction is highly overrated and thought Inglourious Basterds was decent at best (apart from Christoph Waltz, who was amazing). This movie, however, was great. Everyone’s acting was superb. Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio, Jackson... Absolutely superb. Normally Tarantino’s sense of humour doesn’t do anything for me either, but for some reason everything just clicks here. I’m guessing it’s because of everyone’s acting. Really, everyone’s good in this, from the main characters to the lowliest figurants (of course, the main characters are a lot better than merely ‘good’ here). I do have some complaints, though, the main one being that the final act was a disappointment. I didn’t reach the quality of what came before at all. My other complaints are pretty minor: Candy’s behaviour after he realised the truth was strange and didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but on the other hand that could be attributed to his eccentricity. Some scenes were too long and others unnecessary. The movie could have been shorter and, consequently, punchier. On the other hand, I can understand the logic of those scenes and the movie’s length; I just don’t share the belief it did what it was supposed to do, and thought it worked to its detriment. I would mention the soundtrack as another thing I disliked, but it fits Tarantino’s philosophy, so with that in mind I recognise it’s an integral part of the movie. All in all, definitely one of the best movies of the year.
12 Years A Slave: I don’t think this movie is as mind-blowingly amazing as a lot of people seem to think, although it is a very good movie with some very fine actors: the always splendid Benedict Cumberbatch, the always underrated Paul Giamatti, a stunning Sarah Paulson (perhaps the revelation), a terrifying Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt surprisingly in a small role and Paul Dano, amongst unknowns who left a shining impression. The soundtrack overall is quite good, and it has some very impactful passages, one in particular that stands out with the dread it evoked. Very powerful. It luckily never rises to overt sentimentality, which you would expect from a movie like this. I’m not a fan of the archaic language frequently used (i.e. an Americanised version of Victorian English). I understand it was the language used in the literature of that time, and I admit I am a fan of it, but when spoken, it doesn’t feel natural; it feels theatrical at best, scripted at worst. Fortunately not all the dialogue is like that, but that also makes it more clashing when it does come by – and those moments tend to be the emotional scenes, so that exacerbates it even more. That’s not a big grievance, though. In the end, although the story itself isn’t exceptionally remarkable, it has several elements that elevate it to something special: very fine acting, landscapes and settings and costumes and attributes that instil it with a sense of authenticity, sentimental restraint that make the emotions more genuine, a beautiful soundtrack and some heart- and stomach-wrenching moments. I also found that, as the movie progresses, I was dragged into it more and more. As a final note, I must admit that I was tearing up at the ending, which is a severe rarity at best, and it was not achieved by any cheap sentimental triggering. I don’t think this movie is a historic classic or a cinematic landmark as many make it out to be, but it is supremely excellent. Perhaps I’ll consider it a classic after a second viewing.