2013 is coming to a close, so it’s time to look back at the year that was and what’s worth remembering. First up: three Deadshirt writers reveal their top 5 favorite films of the year. Some of their picks may surprise you. At least one of them will not.
1. Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim is the Platonic ideal of the Hollywood blockbuster, a film that has enough sense to put real stakes and real humanity under the hood of its mountain sized punching robots. Pacific Rim is an ensemble film where its scattershot focus is the whole point; this is a movie about friendship and love and how important they are to our survival. Pacific Rim is a movie that understands SCALE and how movies with building smashing, city demolishing action have a responsibility to show real repercussions.
I’ve heard people dismiss Pacific Rim as “dumb” and I think there’s a disconnect here. This isn’t a dumb movie, it’s an ingeniously economical movie. The best similar example I can think of James Cameron’s Aliens; these are both movies with large casts that are all about human relationships. Relationships between (surrogate) parent and child, between friends, between coworkers who flat out dislike each other. They’re people on the front lines sold a bill of goods by authority. The characters in these movies are simple, familiar by necessity but no less “real”. Rinko Kikuchi’s quiet burn performance as the revenge-hungry Mako or Idris Elba’s portrayal of a desperate, dying leader of men aren’t somehow any less powerful because they’re concise and straightforward.
If for nothing else, Pacific Rim is the best movie of the year because it’s a life-affirming fuck you antidote to the “life is pointless, man is the REAL monster” zombie dystopia bullshit that’s so prevalent in pop culture right now.
2. The World’s End
Edgar Wright’s latest is also easily his best with this sci-fi take on The Big Chill that’s as much a buddy comedy as it is a meditation on mortality. Wright’s command of visuals has always been strong but World’s End’s ability to subtly impart foreshadowing and thematic tones is on a whole different level. (Click here for a longer exploration of the movie’s themes.)
It’s pretty crazy that a 100 million dollar space disaster film is essentially a quiet performance piece but that’s exactly what we got with Gravity. Bullock’s great, space is terrifying, I loved this movie. (Click here for a longer review).
4. Spring Breakers
Harmony Korine’s first Hollywood feature, centered on a group of college coeds turned criminals as they descend into madness over Spring Break, is a neon-soaked epic. A deceptively cruel takedown of class and privilege that revels in its own absurdity.
5. Star Trek Into Darkness
As much maligned as this movie was by hardcore nerds, Into Darkness was J.J. Abrams’ rebuttal to the idea that his new Star Trek reboot lacks a philosophical bent. More to it, this is the first time in a long time Star Trek has really had something relevant to say; a morality play that finds Chris Pine’s untested Kirk forced to fight for the utopian soul of The Federation against forces within and without.
1. Fast & Furious 6
Man, it isn’t better than Fast Five, but I’m sorry to all of you artsy fartsy fucks out there, because Justin Lin made a better movie than all of your favs. Ostensibly a slow burn romance between Vin Diesel and The Rock, Fast Six smartly moonlights as a car chase, pseudo heist film thrill ride, with a fair share of straight up punching and kicking thrown in to tide you over until the next heaping helping of cars driving into other cars and exploding. The Fast franchise has become an easy thing to ironically champion, but the level of skill involved in the latter films expertly realized and perfectly crafted action sequences is art, pure and simple. There’s not a real sophistication to the characterization and the plotting is anything but airtight, but there is something functional and workman-like about these films, and Fast Six in particular.
The juggling of the cast and various MacGuffins calls to mind Steven Soderbergh’s work on the Ocean’s movies, but stripped away of any smarmy fourth wall breaking. This is a film that wants to engage and entertain you. It exists to brighten your day and its secure enough not to feel the need to apologize to you about it every five minutes. Hollywood doesn’t give us the loving Frank Capra films of yesteryear anymore, but Universal is perfectly happy to fill that void in your heart with sweaty people driving cars very fast. You should let them fill that void.
2. Kings of Summer
If I was a development exec, I would pitch this as Stand By Me meets Superbad, but because I am not an asshole, I will just say it is one of the smartest, sweetest, most genuine coming of age tales to come out of Tinsletown in years. The kids are a revelation and their parents, particularly Nick Offerman, are a total delight. You might shed an Amblin Entertainment tear.
3. 12 Years a Slave
Deserves every single award, nomination, plaudit and compliment it has been receiving. Every. Single. One. (Read our full review.)
4. The Place Beyond The Pines
Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance gets his 70s-style generational epic on with this powerful crime thriller about fathers and sons, cops and robbers, and life and death. An admittedly saggy third act stops it from being number 1, but it is a brilliantly realized piece of cinema.
5. Pacific Rim
I know it’s reductive to say, but sometimes a movie that has giant robots fighting monsters is all you really need. Add to that simple, wonderful premise some beautiful cinematography, a talented and diverse cast, and some unifying themes about the human condition, and it’s easy to overlook plot holes and some popcorn contrivances.
1. Thor: The Dark World
Marvel Studios continues to hit home runs because they never make the same movie twice. While the market gets flooded with more and more big budget superhero blockbusters from the likes of Warner Bros. and Columbia, Marvel movies stand above the pack with their perfectly blended genre mash-ups and their unwavering passion for their source material. Thor: The Dark World is a superhero movie, yes, and a good one, but it’s also a terrific space fantasy. Where the first Thor presented Asgard as a shiny home of the gods, The Dark World repaints it as a fully realized and populated alien world.
The Dark World also meets another difficult movie-making challenge: can a movie give a ravenous fanbase everything it wants… and still be good? The Loki-packed, shipper-friendly and comics-lore-stuffed Dark World could easily have been a mess of “let’s give the fanboys and girls on Twitter and Tumblr something to gush about,” and boy howdy, did it deliver on that level, but it was also an exciting, emotional and visually striking movie made for the big screen.
Is there room for improvement? Certainly. Like Nero in the 2009 Star Trek, the main villain Malekith is sort of an afterthought, an engine for the protagonists to have a fun adventure. Also, while the Thor movies have more interesting and important female characters than any other superhero franchise on screen, they still aren’t given much to do and are more or less still devices rather than characters. Even with its flaws, Thor: The Dark World is the most fun a moviegoer could have this year.
2. Pacific Rim
Yeah, no kidding, we really like this movie here at Deadshirt. It’s a movie about giant mechs fighting giant monsters and doesn’t think treat you like an idiot. Raise your hand if you’ve been waiting for this movie your entire life.
3. The World’s End
The World’s End is everything you would expect from director Edgar Wright – an action comedy that’s self-aware and chock full of brains and heart. In a world where most comedies are made to be quotable meme machines, The World’s End focuses instead on building a strong connection between its characters and its audience, and also might make you go home and rethink your life.
4. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 might be the most important superhero movie since The Dark Knight, because if Marvel hadn’t delivered a big success with their first post-Avengers movie than that would likely have been the ball game – the genre would have clearly peaked, studios would lose confidence and the comic book movie’s domination of the box office would be at an end. Luckily, Marvel did what it does best and delivered something totally different, a smaller but no less confident effort from brilliant writer/director Shane Black.
5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Catching Fire is a beacon of hope, because when you break it down it’s hard to believe this movie ever got made. It’s an action movie that doesn’t revel in violence. It’s a sci-fi movie that dazzles with concepts instead of effects. It’s got a female lead who’s compelling and complex and no more sexualized than a male lead would be. But here it is, as big as life, boasting $768 billion at the box office, staring down every Hollywood exec who said such a movie couldn’t make money and flipping him the bird.
Stay tuned for more year-end retrospectives from the Deadshirt staff!