My Top 20 Movies of 2013 – The Preamble
2009: Top 10
Even the bears in those fucking Coke ads reckon it doesn’t feel Christmassy until the list goes up. “Movie blog is coming, movie blog is coming… Always loads’a nob gags…” As a jaded, bitter grown-up, Christmas is naught but a miserable period of cold reflection; a metaphorical series of gleeful shouts heard through the walls of an empty room; but I still get that nostalgic glow from festive memories of my childhood. Ah, the Sinclair Spectrum magazines, and their bumper-sized December issues. Your Sinclair, Crash and Sinclair User, each with free double-tapes on the front cover, filled with demos and full-length games to get you through that exciting yet agonising week between school breaking up and the day itself. Nothing evokes a feeling of Christmas — at least, Christmas how it’s sold to us — with all of its magic and freedoms, like those thick, glossy tomes and their screeching cassettes. For today’s young generation, my Top 20 film list will fill that slot.
“I remember being a young’un,” they’ll say, decades from now, “when Millard, who you’ll better know as the most revered writer, film-maker and love-maker of his generation, was but a simple blogger. Dead inside as I may be now, one can’t help but be filled with festive cheer when thinking back to those lists, like that time he called Nick Love a cunt. Good old Millard. Such a shame what happened to him. Nasty business. Buried in an unmarked grave, to prevent desecrations.”
Anyway, welcome to the fifth annual year-end movie list. As always, let’s begin with the movies, good or bad, that didn’t crack the Top 20, but are still worth discussing, at agonising length.
If you’re looking for endless shots of dreadlocked men huffing smoke like desperate babies suckling on a green breast, then Snoop Dogg‘s Reincarnated is the documentary for you! Weed-obsession aside, it functions as a biography of a guy who’s led a super interesting life, although Snoop stopped being a real person somewhere around the late nineties. Despite his status as a living-cartoon, the story of the night Tupac got shot would make a fine audition piece monologue. I just hope Snoop Lion survives when he’s tagged and released back into the wild.
Modern big-budget comedy is so weird, in that it’s forgotten the instant the lights come back up. What’s the last big studio comedy that made any kind of cultural impact? Borat? The Hangover? Everyone’s fallen into a style of faux-improvised, sub-Will Ferrell riffing, while riding the hard rails of the “best friends fall out with big ‘home truths’ argument; make up; triumph” narrative, followed by credit-roll bloopers. Particularly this year, The Heat, We’re the Millers, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and The Internship were completely interchangeable in their rote-ness. I enjoyed them at the time — although the latter much less-so — but you’d never pull out the DVDs or throw around quotes. The Heat, at least, was a pleasant surprise, which I put off for ages — see Really Bad Movies section coming up — but kinda loved.
Indie comedies often need the tagline “Well, their heart was in the right place,” as with the likes of Ass Backwards, with more good intentions than laughs, or Rapturepalooza, the least of this year’s many films inspired by 2011’s Rapture that never was. Similarly themed Hell Baby was a blast, and a way better take-down of the exorcism genre than even 1990’s Repossessed, possibly the only film to feature both Mean Gene Okerland, and some sweet naked boobies. Hell Baby makes a good double feature with Ken Marino’s Bad Milo, the tale of a man with a murderous, doe-eyed little goblin-creature who lives inside his anus, based on the novel Push by Sapphire. Road movie apocalypse jaunt Best Friends Forever, while not strictly a comedy, is the rare treat of a Kickstarted project that 1) saw the light of day, and 2) was actually worth the donations, while the best non-Top 20 comedy and end of the world flick, It’s a Disaster, narrowly missed the list by a mouse’s bollock. Think a modern Abigail’s Party set during the apocalypse, at a couples brunch for a set of passive aggressive friends, where Julia Stiles starts sobbing because she never got around to watching The Wire. Clear History and Hangover 3 gave us exactly what we expected, respectively a feature length, alternative-dimension Curb, and another decent flick where an Asian guy had a tiny dick and Zach Galifianakis said some funny non sequiturs we laughed at at the time, but are already sick of hearing bellowed in the street at one in the morning by cackling groups of fuckwits coming back from the pub.
Another typically middling year for horror could be surmised solely by the Evil Dead remake, which was neither the offensively awful cack-pile we all feared, nor the least bit frightening. We’re too desensitised to gore, and no amount of sicked-up blood or tits being fed into mincing machines will produce anything from audiences but the kind of half-hearted “Gross…” one would emit on hearing a frail fart drifting across from the next supermarket aisle. In a world where your listless tweenage daughter has the Lemonparty picture as her home screen, horrors need to rely more on generating an unsettling atmosphere, before rearing up with a good, old-fashioned jump-scare, like the pretty fun The Conjuring did. I figure Diablo Cody’s role in the Evil Dead script was overplayed anyway, as none of the characters died after getting run over by a penny farthing.
The Conspiracy was a blend of underrated 80’s schlock Society and the sort of schizo conspiracy stuff I’ve written about before, albeit with less droolingly aggressive anti-Semitism. That’ll be because the Jews run Hollywood, I guess. Bloody space lizards. Speaking of space (rockin’ segue, Millard), The Last Days on Mars is the year’s second best zombie flick, with the astro-ghouls less terrifying than the helpless, claustrophobic enormity of space, but elevated by Max Richter’s extraordinary score. One of the year’s best horrors, lumbered with a title that plays like a joke about unnecessary sequels, is The Last Exorcism Part II. Part I is one of the most underrated horrors of the last decade, and the follow-up boasts the craziest “Fuck it, let’s just go for it!” ending ever. Although, I must confess to being quite severely in love with Ashley Bell, to the point where I even watched a film with the fucking Miz in it, just to sit with my chin clasped betwixt my hands, gently cooing over her lovely, soft red hair like a man with a string of failed CRB checks.
As movies with budgets you could dive into like Scrooge McDuck follow their trend of venturing no further than the pre-amble, Star Trek into Darkness was certainly a thing that I saw; a thing of no consequence. I realise fandom over celebrities is nothing new, but the internet has latched on to Cumberbatch and Hiddleston like they’re the last men alive. The endless shrieking over Cummy-B is like Biebermania for women over twenty-five, and his presence in Star Trek subsequently feels like a distracting, of-its-time cameo, like if Psy or Grumpy Cat had shown up as Klingon emissaries. That’s what you like is it, world? Odd-looking Englishmen? Cos I’m right here. Into Darkness did succeed in giving internet-jokers another chance to wheel out their J. J. Abrams lens flare material, as well as keeping me awake at nights with the horrifying prospect of cinema’s shit-arse, Noel Clarke, being cast in the new Star Wars films.
World War Z is another one of those weird pseudo-adaptations where they use nothing of the source material barring the title. A faux-historical take, like the documentaries your old man watches about 911 or the Nazis, with archive footage from various sources — rolling news, security cam, amateur stuff shot by eyewitnesses, talking heads — would have made for a unique take on a tired old genre, and stuck to the book. Instead, Z‘s another generic action film, and you wonder why they bothered throwing option money at Max Brooks in the first place. That said, if Hollywood wants to sling six figures at me to make a Beach Diaries movie where a paedophile saves Thanksgiving, go right ahead. The Lone Ranger was a fun way to spend a couple of hours, which is as good as you can hope for in a movie that has to make back a trillion dollars, and nobody’s emotionally tied to the source material to be outraged, unlike Man of Steel. MoS got a lot right, but as in Max Landis’ video rant, it’s hard not to come away from it bemused by (SPOILERS) how casually Superman ignored the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people, as he punched Zod through buildings, and stood victorious in the rubble of Metropolis’ like it weren’t no biggie. The Wolverine was better than the first one, while Kick Ass 2 was less obnoxious than its first one, and RIPD was Men in Black meets Ghostbusters meets the time I slipped into a coma.
In a sci-fi marketplace that’s increasingly homogenised, Oblivion had a refreshingly original look, but nothing ruins a film for me these days like the presence of Tom Cruise. As with the wrestling matches of Chris Benoit, or serial pram-botherer Gary Glitter’s fist-pumping anthems, there’s no way to watch Cruise without mentally flashing to that Scientology video where they hang a medal the size of a hubcap around his neck, as a reward for being the best crazy cult member of all the crazy cult members. The acting’s irrelevant, when you know that he’s utterly, utterly insane; a Stepford automaton with a public face of smiles and autographs, but fanatical beliefs that even Charles Manson would describe as “a bit much.”
Speaking of lunatics, albeit the good kind, Vin Diesel, a man of fascinating self-earnesty, is impossible to take seriously. The Furious franchise has become the living embodiment of Diesel’s angel-winged fan photos, with their matter-of-fact execution of wildly elaborate stunts that are less believable than Kanye and Kim’s relationship. But, like the characters do, you just go with it, even when they spend half the film speeding down a runway that seems to stretch the entire length of the planet. Fast 6 leading ladies Gina Carano and Michelle Rodriguez also co-star in that film where I disguise myself as a female inmate to infiltrate a drug gang in a women’s prison, with the cell door slamming behind me as I’m introduced as their new cellmate. I say “film.” I mean “semen-flooded dream.”
The Purge is the worst, most tedious take on an interesting, if very silly premise. Everything‘s legal for one night? So, offscreen, Tales of the City-style, there are people downloading torrented movies, and leaving their dog’s poo poos on the pavement? And more yuckily, rapists and sex-beasts having a swell old time with no comebacks? Either way, the half-arsed near-future social commentary stuff is a narrative false beard on what’s basically a blatant lift of Assault on Precinct 13, but not as good.
I’ll go into the whole ‘narrowly missing stuff’ aspect of modern action films later in the actual Top 20, but Jack the Giant Slayer is two stultifying hours of people in green-screen warehouses ducking, so’s computers can draw in giant’s clubs and feet, and falling rocks, barely missing their heads. So instantly forgettable, I was later found wandering the streets with no idea of who I was, the CG characters had so little emotion, they might as well have left in the tennis-ball-on-a-stick that Ewan McGregor was using for eyeline reference. I expected similar things from Oz the Great and Powerful, an unwanted prequel to one of the two most over-milked properties (the other being Alice in Wonderland), but was weirdly entertained. James Franco’s got an enjoyable half-asleep charisma, and he will appear in the Top 20, not though, for As I Lay Dying, a fine example of his oddball side. Told with a time-shifting split screen, the jumbled narrative feels like the near-death flashback of a drowning man. Meandering and directionless, dialogue is mumbling through beards and broken teeth, and the split screen acts more as a distraction than a storytelling tool, a result of adapting tricksy, non-linear material, but nothing that couldn’t have been better achieved with overlapping dialogue or voice-over. Franco’s presence in this ensemble, front, centre and solo on the poster, comes across like a giant, sleazy wink to camera, wearing a perpetual expression like he’s in on a joke nobody else is.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints had another arthousey feel, with its gorgeous, autumnal cinematography, and quiet lines disconsolately cowering at the back of the mix, but lacked in making a connection. The Place Beyond the Pines, another ‘almost’, with its unusual triptych structure, deflates with a third act — and protagonist — that’s far less interesting, and hinges on coincidences that stretch credibility too far. For my most disappointing movie of the year, see Wrong, written/directed by the guy behind 2011’s #5 placed Rubber. The Dadaist absurdities that worked in Rubber‘s meta-Hollywood plotting felt forced here, like the whiteboard scrawls of a tiresome class clown being wacky, just because, until it’s literally “What if turds had memories?!” Escape from Tomorrow was another let-down. I took pages and pages of notes about Escape, but later dropped the notepad in a bath I was running, resulting in an inky papier mache sculpture, but from memory; shooting without permission in Disney World is super brave, and packed with potential, but muddied by a dozen unfocussed ideas. Plus, it’s an odd choice when the aspirational girl the weary, mentally cracking father spends his weekend eyeing and chasing like it’s their destiny to be together, is clearly so young — fourteen, with braces — that you’re essentially asking the audience to cheer for a man to leave his boring family behind and become a pederast.
Every year, I talk about how I don’t see many bad movies, but this time, I don’t know if I watched more stuff, or was more easily disappointed, but aside from the guff I’ve already talked about, a ton of inconsiderate movie-making helmets wasted a lot of hours that could have been better spent continuing the search for Kony or wondering what gluten is and why nobody will shut the fuck up about it.
I’m first gonna break the golden rule of “Talk about a film? See it first!” by mentioning After Earth. Didn’t see it. Didn’t need to. Come on — Will Smith’s character is called Cypher Raige, and the acting skills of his permanently furrow-headed son are only slightly worse than the brain-damaged-Dalai-Lama dribble he spouts on his Twitter account. Incidentally, I wrote more about M. Night’s downfall here if you’re interested. Enjoy Will Smith while you still can, as his Tom Cruise-style exposure as a fucking wacko is surely right around the corner.
I did write a whole bunch about A Good Day to Die Hard, but I cut it for space issues, plus the way the Die Hard franchise has gone is a thing probably better saved for an article all of its own, at some point. Just know that the film was as pitiful as Bruce Willis’ pathetic whiny tantrums during the press tour about tough it is to be a multi-millionaire movie star. Weep me a river, you shithouse.
Directors are often known for their trademarks. For example, Hitchcock had blondes and the Dolly Zoom, while Tarantino loves him some feet and POV trunk shots. Michael Bay’s trademark — the unadulterated HILARITY of gays. Look at them there, mincing about, touching weiners, and being imprisoned and brutalised in Russia; LOL! Pain & Gain is the cinematic equivalent of being chased around a rugby changing room with a lubed-up dildo and repeatedly called a faggot. Dildos, incidentally, are used for comic effect throughout this permanently flexing, closeted fratboy, macho romp. There’s also a little person in a fight scene, for literally no other reason than to have him hauled into the air by Dwayne Johnson while his tiny legs kick against the wall, as Michael Bay guffaws offscreen into a giant mountain of coke. Bay is the worst kind of human, but oddly, even though it’s a homophobic piece of garbage, Pain & Gain is his most watchable film since The Rock (the movie), due to The Rock (the person).
Spring Breakers was an interesting experiment in what would happen if Harmony Korine made a real movie, instead of all the homeless-hipster art student experiments. For all his artsy weirdness, Korine truly has nothing to say. His ‘work’ consists of empty, cobbled together, try-hard shock, with all the meaning of a sullen fifteen-year-old photoshopping bloody tears onto their MySpace profile pic. Art is subjective, yes, but he’s just a boob with a camera; an emperor so naked, you can see his internal organs pulsating as he walks. With an actual narrative and characters, paper-thin as they are, Spring Breakers was the rope with which to hang himself. But he sheltered behind the spectacle of ‘good girl’ actresses parading half-naked, and a gold-grilled, cornrows-sporting James Franco, all functioning as the emperor’s pants, so he’ll continue to be allowed to waste all our time.
As bad as shitty dramas are, there’s something so much worse about bad comedies. Exhibit A(ss): Identity Thief, a joyless trudge through a fuck-awful plot revolving around the absolute worst of all ha-ha, hee-hee archetypes; Comically Grotesque & Wacky Overweight Person. Ha, she’s fat and foul mouthed! Morbidly obese, yet self-confident! Unconventional looking, but still horny! Oh boy, I wonder if they’ll hook up with the film’s other weirdo?! When Melissa McCarthy sang and danced along to the car radio for comic effect, I called 999 to report the director to the police.
Imagine my surprise, dear reader, when Danny Boyle’s latest film didn’t fall apart after the second act. It collapsed after the first. Hiyo! Trance‘s ‘Saw reveal section’ where they show you how smart they are with thumping music, revelations, and replayed shots now presented in a new light, you dumb-dumb, is longer than most movies. Though “show, not tell” is the rule, Boyle sits you down for a half-hour Powerpoint presentation of the previous 90 minutes, of a film that only seems to exist to give the world an HD close-up of Rosario Dawson’s shaven labs. It’s probably time everyone admitted that Saint Boyle, he of the Olympics and Oscars is, at best, a middling talent, elevated to God-dom like any Brit who finds success in the only place that matters, big-boy town America, but in truth, the most overrated highly-regarded director of the current era. For other excruciating films whose sole purpose is to rub on their erect nipples during the “fooled ya!” finale, see also Now You See Me. Or rather, don’t, as it’s smugger than Ian Hislop masturbating over a video of Ian Hislop fellating himself.
The Canyons position as one of the most derided films of the year is thoroughly warranted, but not for the reasons chuckle-fuck reviewers would have you think. Yes, Lindsay Lohan gives the performance of a badly-taxidermied elderly starlet, but the main problem, of many, is the script, with the ever-more tedious Bret Easton Ellis trying oh-so-hard to show everyone what a disaffected hedonist he is, as is his gimmick these days. If you’ve seen his schtick, you’ll know the score, as evidenced by how each atom-thin character pointedly over-emphasises the hard K on the word ‘fuck’, as though the audience should be wafting themselves in shock like a southern dame at such vulgarity. Like people always do, they’ll play the “It’s satire!” card, but it’s not. It’s just the actual thing. Ellis is a teenage boy, loudly filling a room with proclamations that Godfather 2 is rubbish and Norbit is a masterpiece, and telling the principal to introduce his highschool band as ‘Abortion Bucket and the Anal Rapists’.
“Friends tell me my Twitter account gets me into trouble,” he says, “but I can’t help being honest. It’s not my problem if people can’t take the truth…” Yeah, a fifty-year-old man taking the contrary stance, eyes half-lidded in faux-casual ennui, cigarette deliberately balanced on the bottom lip like he once saw in a photo of James Dean, “Mr. Rogers was vile. Oh, have I shocked you?” And he has the gall to blame Lohan for The Canyons’ failure, never mind her stunt-casting was the only reason anybody bothered to watch this shite in the first place. Bret Easton Ellis still thinks himself LA’s L’enfant Terrible, but he’s just a big, silly baby.
And finally, Great Gatsby was the answer to the question “What if Boardwalk Empire were directed by a prick?”
In annoying cinematic trends, we’re still doing the constant cocking of guns, with safeties clicking off and off and no-seriously-this-time-its-really-off, which is the screen disease that’ll never go away. Also, raving mad Glenn Beck characters continued to provide heavily-handed satire on right-wing media. This year’s number one fad proved to be MMA armbars in fight scenes. Regardless of the setting or time period, every single film put out in 2013 had a sequence where one character cranked on another’s arm like Ronda Rousey; although it did liven up the Princess Di biopic.
Up next, the first half of the Top 20.