Even though I consume a lot of entertainment (books, music, sports, tv and movies), my year is usually defined by my experience at the theatre. As far as 2013 is concerned, I felt like there were 3 themes that dominated the big screen this year:
1. This was the year that sequels were better than the originals:
Whether it was the superheroes (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, The Wolverine), the animated fare (Monsters University, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2), the book adaptations (Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) or the blockbuster franchises (Fast and Furious 6, Star Trek Into Darkness) filmmakers and actors discovered new ways to evolve characters and tell stories that took us to unexpected places. For years it seemed like sequels were a crass grab at more money with recycled material, but the initial success of the first films in these series established an audience and allowed the directors, writers and actors more creative license to explore the places that these stories can go. Passionate people like J.J. Abrams, Francis Lawrence, James Mangold and Justin Lin can do incredible things when given resources and freedom.
2. This was the year that the big stars reminded us of why they are who they are:
Sometimes when someone has been famous and successful for so long we can start to take them for granted. You see an actress in a few rom-coms in a row or an actor playing a handsome cad for the umpteenth time and you feel like you have seen all that there is for them to show you. A lot of established, big-time movie stars gave us performances that were so unexpected, resonant and fresh that they hit us like a slap to the face. The first stunner this year for me was Matthew McConaughey in Mud. The vulnerability and realness of his performance made a movie that I almost decided to ignore, the best movie I saw all year, and if I had an Oscar ballot, his name would be at the top of it. Gravity was a technical masterpiece as far as the visual effects are concerned, but without Sandra Bullock’s ability to convey the shattering terror and loneliness of space, it wouldn’t have managed to keep it’s grip on the audience after the novelty wore off. Tom Hankscarries Captain Phillips on his shoulders and eschews his comfortable everyman charm to play a man trying keep his fear at bay while scrambling for a way to convince his captors to keep him alive. The moment at the end of the film when Hank’s Phillips finally succumbs to the horrors of his ordeal and goes catatonic will be etched in my mind forever. Harrison Ford in 42, Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniel’s The Butler, Brad Pitt in World War Z, and Ben Kingsley in both Iron Man 3 and Ender’s Game all gave us clear reminders of why they are among the best the business has to offer, and movies are better when the truly great are asked to push themselves.
3. This was the year that directors didn’t know when enough was enough:
If you have read many of my reviews or seen some of our YouTube videos you probably already know that one of my constant criticisms this year was that many of the movies I saw were too long. It became all too common for big budget movies to end up bloated and lumbering towards the 2 and a half hour mark. I enjoyed many of these movie, but they would have benefitted greatly from a critical eye willing to trim the fat. It is just too hard to maintain storytelling tension and plot pacing once a movie crosses the 2 hour 15 minute threshold. It should be telling that none of the movies in my top 5 for 2013 were longer than that. There were too many instances when a story would stall and completely lose its momentum as it got tangled up in unnecessary exposition or action sequences that just seemed to go on forever. I can understand wanting to put all of the money you sunk into a production on the screen, but the goal is to make the best movie possible, not to justify your budget.