Films of the Decade: Vol. 4: 2013

As the end of the year (and decade) slowly approaches, I’m getting concerned I won’t be able to finish this. But my goal remains to get to 2019, even if these become daily updates between now and Christmas.

And so on we move to 2013!

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Warm Bodies

To be sure, the movie version of a teen novel about a zombie who seems to be reversing his un-deadness doesn’t sound like fodder for a movie I’d like, but somehow Warm Bodies feels lived in and intentional in its setup, to the point where it was both funny and heartwarming, neither of which you’d expect from a movie of its kind.

It’s ultimately a love story between Nicholas Hoult’s zombie R and Teresa Palmer’s zombie-friendly Julie, the latter of whom saves the former when she’s attacked. It wears its Shakespearean influences on its sleeves (instead of Montagues and Capulets, it’s zombies and non-zombies), but it also moves at a great pace and packs in the humor, too.

While not conventionally great cinema, it does stand up as one of the more entertaining films of its year.

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Much Ado About Nothing

Seeking a break from the gargantuan nature of filming his Marvel movie, director Joss Whedon decided to follow up his massive hit with a much smaller idea: a modern day retelling of a Shakespeare play.

Whedon’s movie essentially places the play in one location — the director’s own home, in reality — and casts his friends to play the roles. What you end up with is kind of like the types of movies kids might have made in their backyard, except much more expertly made and acted.

Shot is gorgeous black-and-white, Whedon’s film feels like the director is finally able to exhale after all the work he did on The Avengers, and while almost nobody saw the movie (it took in a whopping $171,942 on its opening weekend, barely eclipsing $5 million worldwide in box office), it feels light, breezy, and infinitely watchable.

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The Way, Way Back

Speaking of delightful films with loads of heart, I give you The Way, Way Back, a film that successfully turns Steve Carrell into a grade-A douche.

The story centers on Duncan, a young boy whose mother, played by Toni Collette, is dating Trent, played Carrell, but doesn’t really recognize what an awful guy he is. They go on vacation to Trent’s beach house, a place Duncan does not want to be, since he knows nobody and isn’t the type of kid who puts himself out there.

Eventually he starts working at a beat up waterpark alongside its manager, played with his usual gusto by Sam Rockwell, and meets the quirky staff there. Rockwell serves as the catalyst for Duncan’s coming-of-age during the summer, and pushes him to talk to the Susanna, the girl who lives next door.

It’s not treading any new territory, but the film, written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (the Dean from Community), is both sweet and intimate at all the right times.

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About Time

Not including this film, which features the song that my wife walked down the aisle to at our wedding on its soundtrack, would be a travesty.

On the surface, the plot of the movie is a little ridiculous. Domhnall Gleason’s Tim is told by his father, played by Bill Nighy with his trademark goofy earnestness, that the men in their family have a special ability: they can travel back in time to change the outcome of events.

The movie never gives the audience any sense of how silly this is, but instead treats the news as fairly commonplace. Tim, who at the time he receives the news is still relatively young, at first uses the ability for his own gain. He messes up a conversation with a girl he likes, so he goes back to retry, things like this.

Then he meets Mary, played by Rachel McAdams in maybe her best role, and while some of the initial usage of the skill continue at first, it soon turns into an opportunity to save his relationship, eventual marriage, and all the things that are related to them.

The underlying message, however, steers away from the science-fiction of it all. Instead, the reminder is that time, no matter if you can manipulate it or not, catches up to us all.

It’s our job to take advantage of what time we do have.

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Gravity

The story of Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron’s space masterpiece from this year, isn’t much to discuss. Sandra Bullock is out in space with George Clooney — it’s her first mission and supposed to be his last — when something goes wrong. They have to make their way to an escape capsule or else they will die.

And yet the film, in spite it’s simple plot, is a massive achievement in terms of its scope, its visuals, and for a performance by Bullock that far outdoes that role that won her an Oscar for The Blindside.

And that is what makes the film so great. Not because the film is “about something” or is “important;” but because of what it achieves as a technical and visual marvel. It won 7 Oscars (cinematography, directing, editing, original score, sound editing, sound mixing, and visual effects), was nominated for three more (picture, actress, production design), and yet somehow still feels under appreciated.

I honestly haven’t seen the film since I saw it on IMAX when it came out, mostly because there’s no way to reach the massive heights of the visual sensation of having seen it that first time.

I should end that streak. It’s really a great film no matter what it’s seen on.

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Inside Llewyn Davis

Many people refer to Inside Llewyn Davis as so-called “lesser Coens.”

I think those people are wrong, and I think that distinction is stupid.

Sure, like most directors the Coen Brothers have films that work better than others, they have some films that are more “important” or well received than others. But why this film, about a down-on-his-luck folk singer during the 1960’s starring Oscar Isaac in an utterly fantastic, welcome to stardom performance, is among those considered in that group, I’ll never know.

It’s a smaller film in many ways, of that much I’m certain, but the magnitude of the performances and the care with which it is made suggest the this movie should be better regarded, not just shuffled into the “lesser Coens” category as if it should be happy to be invited.

I prefer the intimacy of this film than something like The Big Lebowski (yeah, I said it) or Hail, Caesar! To me, this isn’t just “major Coens,” it might be “best Coens,” save maybe for No Country For Old Men, Fargo, or O Brother Where Art Thou?

And that is my hot take for 2013: Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the best films of that year and one of the best the Coen Brothers have ever made.

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Her

To call Spike Jonze one of our more interesting living filmmakers would seem to be a slight understatement. He’s made some bizarre films — Adaptation and his version of Where the Wild Things Are — and scores of music videos for artists like Kanye West, The Arcade Fire, and Lady Gaga, which seem to be his main focus these days.

But Her, a strange love story starring Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a man living in the near future who is riddled by anguish over having lost the love of his life, played by Rooney Mara, mostly in flashback.

He purchases an AI helper, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, and as they learn about each other, Theodore falls in love for her, although the complications of the relationship are one of the many questions the film asks.

Ultimately, Jonze’s film is about loneliness and the lengths to which we will go to combat it, especially in our technologically driven society, ideas that feel more prescient than they even did back in 2013.

Phoenix, who is receiving acclaim in 2019 for his role in Joker, is much different here than in that role, but his muted uncertainty is what drives the film, and his sadness gives the film its emotional weight. It’s to his, and Jonze’s, great credit that this film, with his somewhat strange narrative, works at all; but it does, and it’s one of the best and most intriguing films of 2013.

Films of the Decade: Vol. 1: 2010

Look who has returned from the blogging dead! It’s me (so maybe you’re less excited than you thought, but then again it’s my blog, so you shouldn’t be that surprised, nor should you be that upset if you subscribed to my blog).

Anyway, I am back to begin to wrap up not only 2019 (which is down to weeks-to-live), but also the decade of the 2010’s. And true to form, I’ve decided to look back via the world of movies and music. I’ll begin with a series of the top films for each year in the decade, considering their longterm impacts, and how and why they matter to me personally.

A few things before we get started, however. First, the sizes of these lists will fluctuate from year to year, as some years are better than others. Second, I’m not listing these in any particular order in order to avoid spending hours struggling over which film of my favorites is better than the others. Last, I did not see everything for every year, so if something isn’t on the list, either a) I saw it and it didn’t matter enough to make this list or b) I didn’t see the film. I’ll try to note a few honorable mentions and movies I missed for each year to clarify the differences.

And so without further ado, my top films of 2010 looking back from 2019.

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Toy Story 3

The Toy Story series is one of the best and most successful film franchises of all time, and it’s also one that, since the four-year gap between the original and Toy Story 2, has taken the term “long gestating” quite seriously. The third installment hit theaters in the summer of 2010, 11 years after part 2 (and this year’s 4 came 9 years after 3).

One of the most special elements of these films is that while they are essentially still for children, they manage to include not just adult thematic ideas, but also struggle with the existential in a way that the kids won’t know until they re-watch them years later.

In that regard, Toy Story 3 is the franchise as its most “what does it all mean,” as our favorite toys like Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang are forced to reconcile with the fact that Andy is outgrowing playing with toys.

The third film maintains all of the quirks and silliness of the originals, but also expands its heart and, shockingly, sense of dread, which is wildly heightened for a G-rated movie. But the characters, after all the years, still feel lived in and have grown over the years, from Buzz’s realizations that he’s actually a “child’s play thing” or Woody’s loosening of expectations.

Whether its the best in the series is up for debate, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s one of the strongest and most impactful films not only of 2010, but of its decade.

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Inception

Get used to seeing Christopher Nolan in here. The director had a very busy decade, and seeing as I am the chief among Nolan fan boys, well, just expect to see his name and his films quite frequently through this series.

Inception also came out in the summer of 2010, and it was one of those movies that immediately captured my imagination and, if you’ll excuse the pun, my mind.

If I found someone who hadn’t seen it, I made sure I made time to go with them, because it was just one of those movies you have to see multiple times to get all the nuances of and see how Nolan was doing what he was doing on-screen.

It’s not a perfect film, but it was, and remains, a genre-busting tale that weaves in espionage, heist films, and science-fiction into one mind-bender of a film that features a literal wave of images and star power.

To Nolan’s great credit, Inception still feels like an actor’s film in spite of all the massive set pieces and twisty plot. There’s a lot going on, but Leonardo DiCaprio still gets to really act with a character that makes choices in ways that feel lived-in and normal. They just happen to be taking place in a world where you can break into people’s minds and alter their dreams.

Ultimately, that is Nolan’s greatest strength as a filmmaker: he manages to find the humanity inside his Big Ideas. And even if it doesn’t always work, the effort is always appreciated, especially in an era where the mindless, big budget action movies are more the norm.

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The Social Network

I’ll be frank here. In light of all the things that have happened with the world, especially with social media, and in looking at the landscape not only of film, but in the world at large, David Fincher’s film might be the best of the entire 2010’s.

That might be a bold statement, but I think it’s one that is shared by film critics elsewhere, so it isn’t as if I’ve made this up from nothing. And The Social Network is a stirring achievement in so many ways. From Jesse Eisenberg’s lead performance, to Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch’s score, to the brooding tone of the film overall, there’s always that sense of something boiling under the surface, and all of these pieces speak to this.

Fincher is less interested in what Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerburg created, and more concerned with what impacts the creation of anything and the power that comes from doing so has on the person who made the thing in question.

The film manages to make you unable to take your eyes of the chaos, while simultaneously being unwilling to keep watching these people, who are clearly unstable, self-destruct. The car-crash nature of the film makes it infinitely re-watchable, but also something you wish you didn’t want to watch so much. It’s society in a microcosm.

And that’s what makes it so excellent and a worthy addition to the top films of the decade.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Of all the films this year listed here, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is likely the most bizarre, and it’s not especially close. Strangely, this is also the last of the movies for 2010, which suggests that it wasn’t a particularly strong year.

But yeah, when it was good, it was very, very good.

Scott Pilgrim is a comic book movie pushed to the extreme, a direction that most “comic book movies” of our current age aren’t willing or able to go to in order to maintain their box office friendly mass appeal. In the case of this film, the studio managed only $47 million or so on a $60 million budget, making it a loss for Universal.

Still, what Edgar Wright created is a wild ball of kinetic energy wrapped up in a typically monotoned performance from Michael Cera as the eponymous lead character while the rest of his cast is either matching Cera beat-for-beat or dialing it up to 11, depending on the character. It’s unclear at times what it all means, but the film is never not fun, even at its zaniest.

It most ways it’s much different from the rest of the films on my list for 2010, but it’s also one of those movies I still hold up as one of my favorites, even if it isn’t as “important” was others from the decade.

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To conclude, here are some films I either saw but missed the cut, or ones that I didn’t see at all:

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Saw, but didn’t make the list (*close): Youth in Revolt, The Book of Eli, The Wolfman, The Ghost Writer, Shutter Island*, Alice in Wonderland, Green Zone, Repo Men, Greenberg, Hot Tub Time Machine, How to Train Your Dragon, Date Night, Kick-Ass, Iron Man 2, Robin Hood, Shrek Forever After, Get Him to the Greek, Winter’s Bone, Cyrus, Knight and Day, Despicable Me, The Kids Are Alright, Dinner for Schmucks, The Other Guys, The Switch, Never Let Me Go*, Easy A, The Town*, Due Date, Megamind, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part I, Love & Other Drugs, The King’s Speech, Black Swan*, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Tourist, The Fighter*, Tron Legacy, Little Fockers, True Grit, Somewhere

Didn’t see: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Brooklyn’s Finest, The Runaways, Clash of the Titans, Death at a Funeral, Exit Through the Gift Shop, MacGruber, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, The A-Team, Grown Ups, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Last Airbender, Eat Pray Love, The Expendables, The American, Buried, Secretariat, Red, Hereafter, 127 Hours, Rabbit Hole, Blue Valentine