The summer of 2013 may go down in history as one known for over-priced turkeys that flopped both with critics and at the box office (The Lone Ranger, R.I.P.D etc.), but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some terrific films out there. Here at We Got This Covered, we adore great cinema for what it can do to us. The best movies can make us laugh or make us cry, draw us in with beguiling beauty or shock us with staggering ambition and force. They can make our hearts soar or scare the pants off us, enlighten us about our own world or fully transport us to another. And the summer of 2013 yielded some films that did all of the above.
Eleven talented staff members here at We Got This Covered have collaborated to bring you the best films of this past summer. Eschewing a traditional top ten list, we’ve instead opted to divide and conquer – each writer who contributed to this list has chosen two films, one a wide release and the other limited, well-worth your time and attention.
Read on for our list of films that stood tall above the rest at the multiplex throughout the hot summer months.Next
Wide: The Great Gatsby
Comparing The Great Gatsby to Avatar might seem completely insane, like something only a moron would every attempt, but they are directly comparable in one respect – both stories had to wait for technology to catch up with them. Avatar famously boiled in the back of James Cameron’s mind for years before he felt able to convey his idea cinematically, and had F. Scott Fitzgerald been alive at the advent of digital cinema, he would no doubt have wished to see his story rendered in such a spectacular way. Of course, you’re probably thinking, “There’s already been two adaptations of The Great Gatsby,” and yes, you’re right, but neither of them are half as good as Baz Luhrmann’s version.
His Gatsby is a powerful, intense, melodramatic story of opulence and decadence gone awry, which begs to be shown in as crisp and awe-inspiring a way as possible – high definition, crystal clear digital cinema. It’s expensive, shiny, and ultimately hollow, which also just so happens to be the message of the movie. Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation is like reading the book through a chandelier coated with hair oil and bow ties – everything expanded, elaborated, Luhrmann-ised. The Luhrmannator did it again, and this is probably his best film.
Why? Well, it’s a perfect storm of contributing factors – longtime Luhrmannite Leonardo DiCaprio is quickly becoming one of the finest actors of his generation; today’s financial crisis means that the novel’s message of the hubris of wealth is especially potent; and, as stated, digital special effects are better than they have ever been, meaning all of the film’s party explosions look absolutely fantastic. Somebody had to make a Gatsby adaptation, and Baz Luhrmann took on the challenge. He’d have been remiss not to – it’s the perfect Luhrmann project. Now, a Baz Luhrmann-directed Avatar sequel would be interesting… do they have hair grease on Pandora?
Limited: A Field in England
Why choose A Field in England? Well, aside from petty nationalism, A Field in England is a great example of an incredibly promising director’s career thus far. Ben Wheatley, the director of such films as Kill List, Sightseers, and a segment in The ABCs of Death, has been on an upward trajectory that doesn’t look like it’ll stop anytime soon. A Field in England is a psychological thriller, set in the midst of the English civil war, weaving psychedelia and historicity into a thrilling and unique experience.
What made the film especially notable this summer was its original unorthodox release, on every format possible, meaning that the film’s distribution constituted a heady mix of a psychedelic vision of both the past and future of multi-platform cinematic releases. To give you an idea of how unique the film’s buzz was, to celebrate its release in theaters, Welton’s Brewery in the UK created an ale called “Open Up and Let the Devil In,” tying in with the psychedelic, occult theme of the movie. A summer release was perfect for the movie, because the British summertime is an odd mix of rainstorms and hot days spent outside, with lots of people taking loads of drugs in fields, many of them dressed oddly (Glastonbury, Leeds/Reading).
In many ways, A Field in England may have been an evocation of the chaotic festival experience. Whether this is true or not, the film gained fantastic reviews on all sides, and the internet premiere of the movie was something of a Twitter event, meaning that all those saddo internet movie bloggers (pathetic, every single one of them) got to talk to each other like they’re actually friends or something. All of this boring stuff aside, it helps that the film is also absolutely brilliant – if you’re interested in a time in English history, drugs, or the current state of low-budget British cinema, then you could do much worse than check out A Field in England. Then watch everything else Ben Wheatley has ever been involved in, and make a little shrine to him, because at this rate he’ll be a deity within three years. When he makes a blockbuster on a par with Inception, everyone will know his name, and you’ll already know it from the indie films he made a few years before. You’ll be lording it over your peers in no time, starting you on the path to becoming a movie blogger yourself.
– Rob BatchelorPrevious Next
Wide: Pacific Rim
It was billed as the blockbuster event of 2013. And though Guillermo del Toro’s visualisation of gargantuan titans squaring off against otherworldly aliens didn’t light up the box office in the way Warner Bros. had hoped, Pacific Rim still deserves recognition for its exceptional vision. Taking place in the not-so-distant future, the film finds humanity under siege from colossal beasts known as the Kaiju after the creatures rise from an inter-dimensional rift below the Pacific Ocean. Teetering towards extinction, the human resistance begins constructing Jaegers – towering robots that have the power of a WMD – in one final attempt to “cancel the apocalypse,” in the words of stoic captain Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba).
There’s a plethora of adjectives that you can attribute to the film’s immense scale – seriously, by comparison, it makes Man of Steel’s final act seem like a storm in a teacup. But what makes Pacific Rim so – whisper it – intelligent is that it is fully aware of its own ridiculousness. Del Toro’s creation has a very specific tone; it’s a film which retains the sensibilities of manga while also leaving its own, colossal footprint on the mecha genre.
Its performance at the domestic box office puts the status of the planned sequel under question. Nevertheless, Pacific Rim presents an uncompromising creature feature on an unprecedented scale. The jaw-dropping spectacle is compounded by del Toro’s laudable attention to detail. The designs of the Kaiju – which are essentially a cacophony of sub-aquatic sea beasts – feel distinctively formidable, and the patriotic propaganda surrounding each of the human-controlled Jaegers bestow the lumbering behemoths with a sense of personality.
Yes, the physics may be dubious, and yes, the characters may have the emotional depth of lowly rain puddles, but Guillermo del Toro’s enthusiastic adventure is unlike anything else I’ve experienced at the cinema this year – and how often can you say that when the credits roll?
While black comedies tend to balance dark humour with an over-arching seriousness, Ben Wheatley’s low-budget tale of caravanning across the British countryside is very much a pitch black comedy. Originally planned as a television show before being deemed too dark for the small screen, Sightseers represents the second directorial effort from Wheatley, following his eye-catching debut with 2011’s Kill List. The film charts the cross-country adventures of the reclusive Tina (Alice Lowe) and her impudent, cunning boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram). And it’s only when their travels bring them through all sorts of speed bumps that we as the audience uncover the deliciously dark personas beneath their eccentric exteriors.
Much like his previous film, Wheatley manages to retain a persistent sense of tension during Sightseers’ neat 98-minute runtime. The tone is gleefully sinister and dark; so much so that it elicits belly laughs and cringes in equal measures. Not only do their points of interest encompass the oddest pit stops imaginable – from pencil museums to the Ribblehead viaduct, this isn’t your average tour of Britain’s rural area – but as the narrative unfolds, the couple begin to resemble Bonnie and Clyde in some frivolously violent acts.
Though she starts off as a doting, bug-eyed girlfriend, through her interactions with Chris, Tina soon transforms into a crazed criminal – hilariously illustrated through her obsession with the pseudo-Poppy. This character arc gives the film a large degree of moral ambivalence, and the demented complexity of the lead characters provides food for thought long after the credits roll.
Wheatley’s bizarre odyssey injects the exotic into the everyday and is executed wonderfully. The British auteur visualises his native countryside in stunning fashion and the natural, almost effortless performances from Oram and Lowe add a sense of twisted realism to this brooding material.
– Michael BriersPrevious Next
Wide: Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek Into Darkness caught me by surprise. I went into the theater in May, fresh from the winter and not yet exhausted by the sheer mass of explosions this summer’s blockbusters were to provide. I had loved the previous Star Trek, and was ready for the sequel to contain more well-scripted action, well-scripted dialogue, and, of course, well-placed solar flares. And I did get that. But I also got something I did not expect: an anti-war message in a Hollywood blockbuster. To this day I’m still somewhat amazed they managed to put this message in there.
Here are some of the closing lines from Captain James Kirk: “There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves. Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that’s not who we are.”
When I heard these lines, I could not help but think of the way America rejoiced at the death of Osama Bin Laden, and how unsettling the whole affair was to me. And, whether you agree or disagree with the film’s message, you have to admit: it took a lot of guts to put it in a summer blockbuster. I’m amazed it made it through the powers that be. That message, along with the fantastic ensemble acting and the wonderful script and action set pieces, made Star Trek Into Darkness one of summer’s best films.
Limited: Prince Avalanche
After walking out of the theater after Prince Avalanche, all I could say for about an hour was, “huh.” I couldn’t say much more because I wasn’t sure what I had seen: a quirky indie comedy? A quiet character-based drama? A contemplative, nature-filled reflection on life? Or perhaps a supernatural story of loss? The truth is, I’m still not sure which it was. Perhaps it was a little of everything.
At the end of a summer filled with explosion after explosion, this film was a breath of fresh air. Two men, sitting in the woods, working and talking. The older, played by Paul Rudd, is a middle-aged man, and the younger, played by Emile Hirsch, is Rudd’s girlfriend’s brother. They begin in typical roles, the older one giving the younger advice, and the younger ignoring him and obsessing about women. But, over the course of the film, the roles begin to break down, almost to the point of Lord of the Flies. Both actors are at the top of their game: Rudd, playing the sad-sack with compassion, and Hirsch, managing to get us to like him despite his character’s horrendously juvenile outlook on life and women.
As their quiet drama plays out, we see the background in which the story takes place: a forest, beginning to regrow after a large fire. A particularly moving scene involves Rudd’s character meeting a woman who is sifting through the ashes of her house, hoping to find evidence of the life she once lived. This picture deals a lot with loss, but it also reflects on many other themes, and it never tries too hard to push its points. While I enjoy a simple tale with a clear takeaway message as much as the next guy, the lack of clarity in the movie was refreshing, and I have deeply enjoyed pondering it since long after I left the theater.
– Jared BursethPrevious Next
Wide: The World’s End
The World’s End, the concluding part of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, was one of the summer’s great pleasures for a few, significant reasons. 1. It is a comedy that is actually funny and has better, funnier jokes than the ones present in the trailers (a rarity). 2. It is a movie that is genuinely heartfelt, completely uncynical and lovingly made. It cares about its characters and wants the audience to care about them too (again, a rarity). And 3. It more than lives up to the high standards and reputation of its predecessors.
This is precision comedy, structured meticulously and edited to within an inch of its life. We’ve become infuriatingly inured to the idea of mainstream comedy being lazily plotted and over-reliant on self-indulgent, unfunny, unrehearsed improvisation, so it is great to see an example of the genre where the plot is just as important as the gags and where improv is practically non-existent. It also helps that we have some great performances here. Pegg gives the best performance of his career so far as the frozen-in-time Gary King, the character who starts out as irritating man-child but slowly develops into tragi-comic hero. Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman (all of whom have been under-appreciated by many reviewers in the US) never feel like third wheels in the Pegg/Frost bromance, with each performer entirely justifying their right to share the screen by perfectly mediating the two extremes of Pegg and Frost’s characters.
It is, however, the aforementioned Nick Frost who truly shines the most here as Andy, a character who has more pathos than most characters you would find in any dramatic film. Frost is the one amongst the trilogy’s founding trio who has grown the most as a performer, and after viewing The World’s End, it’s clear that it is Frost who has always been the beating heart of this magnificent, consistently hilarious trilogy.
Limited: Only God Forgives
No film this year has been perhaps more polarizing than Nicolas Winding Refn’s staggering Only God Forgives. There are those who loath it and those who love it, with very few people falling in between, and that’s part of what makes the film so extraordinary. Indeed, it seems most of its critics are upset that Only God Forgives is not a semi-spritual sequel to Drive, and this is something Refn perhaps intended. He sets up that expectation only to quickly pull the rug out from under your feet and serve up something which is equally, if not more, fascinating.
There are certain tropes that cross over: the laconic performance from Gosling, the neon-soaked visuals, a throbbingly visceral score from Cliff Martinez and a scene-stealing, against-type performance from a well established actor. But that’s where the similarities end. Drive was a low-key thriller with a very firm awareness of pulpy genre fare. Only God Forgives, meanwhile, is perhaps closer to the works of surrealist cinema, with the meaning and understanding of the film being reliant on what is seen rather than what is said. Unless, of course, the dialogue belongs to Kristin Scott Thomas. Her powerful, domineering matriarch is not a million miles away from the stuck up, upper class toff characters that made her name, but it is a credit to Refn that he could mine that bitchiness into something far more left field, far more terrifying and far more imaginatively foul-mouthed. She steals the movie right out from under Ryan Gosling’s nose.
I can understand why some people were turned off by Only God Forgives - the long silences and lack of any explanation alone will test even the most patient of viewers – but if you choose to go with it and embrace its Lynchian/folkloric style, you will be treated to one of the most unique viewing experiences of the year. Allow the dynamic visuals, the Thai singing, the brutal ultra-violence and the unbelievable performance of Kristin Scott Thomas to wash over you, and bask in the work of one of cinema’s most assured and talented pranksters.
– Will ChadwickPrevious Next
Wide: Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Despite a lack of iron men, space battles, giant robots, men of steel, or cars driving fast, The Butler became the last big hit of summer. Did it play to the general public’s love for re-living the 50s/60s era? Or the fun of seeing famous actors play dead presidents? Or maybe it’s the Oprah factor; she’s a franchise unto herself after all. Or perhaps there’s a less “Hollywood” explanation. Perhaps, like the success of this year’s Jackie Robinson biopic, 42, there’s a thirst amongst the movie-going public to see black history play out on the big screen. Or maybe after a summer of sci-fi, superheroes and sequels, the people were just ready for an old-fashioned drama about someone in the corners of history, the man who quietly comes to work, does his job, raise a family, and changes the world in the process, without even knowing it.
On the other hand, maybe it was just that time at the end of the summer, where the audience is fed up with spectacle and yearns for genuine emotion. In 2011, Tate Taylor’s The Help told a similar story about black domestic servants in the 60s, and it would go on to Oscar glory, with four nominations and a Best Supporting Actress win for Octavia Spencer. One can see something similar in the future for The Butler, especially a Best Actor nod for Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, a character based on real-life White House butler Eugene Allen, who served through eight administrations. Through the lens of Gaines and his family, we see a tumultuous century of change and progress for civil rights, from a southern plantation in the 1920s to the election of Barack Obama in 2008. To the film’s credit, those 80 years unfold like a skillfully constructed narrative, not like some kind of info dump. The Butler doesn’t break the mould, but it shows you that when you use the mould right, you can make something very good.
Limited: The Act of Killing
In all my years as a writer, and in studying the English language, I have yet to find a correlation between the word “gangster” and the expression “free man,” let alone anything to suggest that the origin of the word “gangster” comes from the term “free man.” Yet that’s the frequent repose of the men profiled in The Act of Killing, a startling documentary that got people talking this summer about serious matters other than the plot holes in Star Trek Into Darkness or what Shane Black did to The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Even the most depraved horror movie can’t prepared you for the utter lack of humanity on display in The Act of Killing, and as world leaders debate intervention in Syria, moviegoers are reminded coldly of all the times in history when horrible things have been done to people, and the perpetrators not only got away with atrocious crimes but also kept their seats of power for years afterward. As observed by one former tyrant in the movie, “war crimes are defined by the winners.”
The premise of the film is that director Joshua Oppenheimer goes all Hamlet on the leaders of Indonesia’s death squads, hoping to catch their conscience, as it were, by encouraging them to re-enact their brutality on film in whatever manner they see fit. Impromptu street-side performances give way to elaborate sets, make-up effects and a cast of thousands and, all the while, men like Anwar Congo recount their brutality with barely a hint of remorse or regret. The men brag about their movie project saying that they want to make a movie more sadistic than any film about the Nazis. Congo shows the camera the places where accused Communists used to be rounded up and executed, including the building where he and his comrades killed so many people they dubbed it “the office of blood.” There are also clips shown of an anti-Communist propaganda film from the 60s that makes Carrie look like Saved by the Bell. What you end up walking away with, aside from a sense of revulsion, is that the conscience of monsters is far more complex than we’d like to think, or that they’d like to think, for that matter.
– Adam DonaldsonPrevious Next
Wide: The Conjuring
I won’t say I was pleasantly surprised by The Conjuring, but I will say I was pleasantly satisfied, because every trailer and promotional piece I saw for James Wan’s smash-hit paranormal story had me super-duper excited. I’ll admit, I went into The Conjuring with heightened expectations, which usually ends in heartbreak for me, but thankfully James Wan conjured up (see what I did there?) one of the spookiest, creepiest, hauntiest, and most beautifully crafted horror films of the year. The Conjuring wasn’t just “horror good” - The Conjuring stacks up against this summer’s best.
Atmospherically, James Wan adapts a very weighty script by the Hayes’ siblings with sharp focus on his usual flair for musty, dirty, skin-crawlingly unnerving settings, which Wan has become a master at. Whether you like his films or not, there’s no denying Wan has developed into one of the most visually pleasing horror directors of our generation, and The Conjuring is a prime example of the scares he’s able to achieve simply through his vividly unique imagination. Don’t get me wrong, there’s also brilliant performances, highlighted by equally admirable chemistry between lead actors Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, but Wan’s style shines through as he provides long-gestating scares that don’t cheaply pop out at you, instead generating an uncomfortable, uneasy feeling that even seasoned genre veterans will have a hard time shaking.
In the battle of Wan’s two 2013 films (with Insidious: Chapter 2 having just been released), The Conjuring walks away with the Championship title.
Limited: The Spectacular Now
While every part of me is a horror nut, it’s also impossible to ignore a proper piece of cinema, and The Spectacular Now may just be this year’s most emotionally impacting film, as written by the duo who gave us (500) Days Of Summer, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. We’re once again treated to a film that pulls at our emotions, strips us down to a naked vulnerability, and then sucker-punches our already weakened psyche with one powerful blow after the next. I know that doesn’t sound too appealing, but the fact that a movie can invade your mindset in such a way is absolutely astounding, and the ride itself is equal parts enlightening, self-reflective, and oh so beautiful.
Hats off to our young stars Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller too, because without their immersive performances, the emotionality and gravity of “the spectacular now” would have been lost. Teller plays the title character Sutter, a boy all about living in the now and not taking life seriously, but there are deeper and darker reasons to his thinking. Woodley is just as phenomenal in her role as the nerd next door who gets involved with Sutter, as we watch nervously, almost as a big sibling not wanting to see their little sister get hurt. Both actors immerse themselves in the larger themes, and as layers are peeled away, we see that they have created new and different personalities that are always evolving.
However, the ultimate testament to everyone’s work, including director James Ponsoldt, is how much we care about our characters. We realize that it’s just a movie, that it’s all fantasy, and yet it’s impossible not to recognize the genuine humanity of The Spectacular Now, and for that, it becomes far, far more than just a simple movie.
– Matt DonatoPrevious Next
Wide: You’re Next
Summer 2013 might be the summer of horror, with films like The Purge and The Conjuring opening to bountiful box office weekends, but Adam Wingard’s You’re Next will not be left in the dark.
With a rumored budget of less than $2 million, You’re Next makes up for what it lacks in supernatural scares and high-tech gore with brutal survivalist violence, downright twisted characters, and the most inherently scary prop of all time: the mask.
The film, simply enough, follows a family on a retreat to their large, isolated vacation home, where they quickly fall victim to masked assaulters. But You’re Next isn’t The Strangers; there’s something special about Lamb, Tiger and Fox Mask, beyond the fact that writer Simon Barrett himself could be seen if he weren’t behind the tiger face.
You’re Next is fast, and thanks to smart editing and excellent dialogue, you won’t even notice the film progress. Its characters are clever, meaning their comments can be funny and their decision-making skills are sharp, though for some more than others. This characterization in You’re Next provides a modern horror essential: your personal desire for the characters to live.
The Conjuring – one of the summer’s greats – presents itself as a classic, terrifying horror film, and it succeeds. You’re Next is similarly victorious, though it excels in trendier categories. It’ll make you squirm, and it’s also campy enough to make you cheer.
Limited: The Bling Ring
When Emma Watson starred in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, many questioned whether she would be able to pull off an American accent. For Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, she was required to perform a dialect much more specific: that of the infamous Alexis Neiers, of Pretty Wild and, consequently, The Soup fame. Watson fully embodies Neiers and while the voice was foreign for the British actress, the lifestyle was probably all too familiar.
The Bling Ring follows the true story of a group of very wealthy teens, who stole from the even wealthier and were able to get away with it – for a while. The members of this pact, or “the bling ring,” are portrayed by a select group of young actors in addition to Watson: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Claire Julien, and Taissa Farmiga. These actors manage to bring depth to their superficial counterparts, adding some soul to the sexiness.
There’s something undeniably fascinating about rich youth stealing from richer celebrity youth, hence the popularity of Pretty Wild, the reality show that semi-documented Neiers’ court proceedings. Coppola captures the shallowness of our desire to watch with her film. Some argue that she doesn’t really manage to make a point in The Bling Ring, but I’d argue that she doesn’t need to. Real-life justice was served, and we as viewers get to live out our fantasies through the film: who doesn’t want to raid Orlando Bloom’s house?
– Emily EstepPrevious Next
Wide: Fast & Furious 6
A few years ago, if you’d told me that I’d be listing a Vin Diesel picture as one of the best films of the summer, I would have laughed in your face. The actor is not known for his dramatic chops, and his films are hardly Oscar bait. His street-racing Fast and Furious franchise, where he stars as ex-con Dom Toretto, is a prime example of fare praised only for its cheap thrills, if at all. But then, in 2011, something strange happened. I walked out of that summer’s Fast Five, which saw the series’ protagonists pulling off a ridiculous bank heist in Rio, with a big, stupid grin on my face and the pieces of a rave review already coming together in my head. Against all odds, Fast Five had vindicated the series from the repressive car-porn confines of its predecessors, turning it into something much more interesting, complete with intense gun fights, jaw-dropping brawls between Diesel and new addition Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and a new air of zippy fun.
This summer’s Fast & Furious 6 was the same kind of high-octane popcorn pleasure. Playfully ludicrous but never plain dumb, the movie pushed the series further away from street-racing with a globe-trotting, action-packed plot. In the film, Diesel’s gang of car-racing crooks teams up with Johnson’s DSS agent Hobbs to take down essentially their evil doppelgangers – a crew of mercenaries led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans, enjoyably menacing). The draw? Toretto’s presumed-dead girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is alive and working alongside Shaw.
Stuffed to brim with eye-popping action sequences, Fast & Furious 6 succeeds by never taking itself too seriously or getting bogged down by matters of plot. Director Justin Lin knows what audience members are there to see, and his film delivers more than any other installment in the series. A London-set car chase early in the film is loopy, fiery fun. Rodriguez and MMA fighter Gina Carano trade blows in a harrowing subway-set brawl as savage as it is exhilarating. A Spanish highway becomes a battleground as the crew takes on the tank-toting Shaw. And the film’s climax, set on the world’s longest airplane runway, is a dizzying, hell-for-leather, no-brains-attached masterpiece of action cinema.
Despite myself, I’ve grown to care about the badass adrenaline junkies at the center of this series, and this film gives me a lot of hope for their future. Though it’s frivolous and sometimes over-the-top, Fast & Furious 6 is also the best blockbuster of the 2013 movie season, mixing spectacle, humor and heart in tremendous ways no one ever could have expected from this franchise.
Jason Statham, though often typecast in blustery and bombastic action fare, really can act. This indie thriller, the directorial debut of Dirty Pretty Things screenwriter Steven Knight, is potentially the most thoughtful film the actor has ever done, and it’s certainly one of his most gripping.
Redemption, released in the UK as Hummingbird, follows Joey Jones (Statham), an ex-Special Forces officer hounded by his experiences in the Afghan war. Returning to the streets of London, Joey falls into alcoholism and drug abuse, only getting another chance at salvation after a random twist of fate. With the help of comely nun Christina (Agata Buzek), he attempts to get his life on track and become a good man.
No Jason Statham film would be complete without action sequences, and Redemption has its fair share, especially when Joey goes looking for the twisted white-collar serial abuser who killed his young working girlfriend. The film deserves credit for never overstepping with its violence, only allowing Joey to crack skulls when he has no other option. Most of Redemption is a character piece, exploring Joey’s fractured psyche and conflicted morality. This the film does very well. Statham showcases a vulnerability and range that we rarely see from him, and his performance is positively mesmerizing.
Redemption also captivates visually. Set mostly at night, the film revels in the grimy darkness of London’s seedy criminal underbelly, and an atmosphere of decay is palpable in every shot. Cinematographer Chris Menges inflects every shot with deep meaning and fully brings to life the film’s nightmarish urban landscape.
Exploring heavy ideas of war, poverty, class inequality, crime and guilt, Redemption has a lot on its mind and raises some truly thought-provoking questions. Its ideas and execution will stay with you long after the credits roll. For an exemplary performance by Statham, its gritty feel and philosophical quandaries, Redemption is certainly worth your time. It was one of the most unexpected pleasures of my summer.
– Isaac FeldbergPrevious Next
Wide: Man of Steel
Poor Zack Snyder. It seems that this guy can’t catch a break no matter what he does. Every film he’s made has come under intense scrutiny, receiving either tons of praise for style or equal amounts of criticism for being a pure popcorn flick. Whatever your feelings are for the director, you would have to be crazy to deny that Man of Steel was an entertaining box office blast.
I’ll be completely honest: I’m not a big fan of Supes. I’ve never dug too deep into the comics, and the Christopher Reeve films don’t hold a huge place in my heart. With that being said, Man of Steel handles the origins and formative years of Clark Kent beautifully, and the film is full of jaw dropping action. Literally jaw dropping. I literally dropped my jaw onto the filthy, candy-covered floor of the theater.
I will be the first to admit that the characterization and story were a bit sloppy, but that was part of Man of Steel‘s charm. Even people who don’t follow Superman’s every move (me) know the basics about him, and that’s why the film appealed. It didn’t waste time going over common knowledge for the umpteenth time. It pitted Supes against aliens just as strong as him and surrounded them with explosions, bigger explosions and some seriously huge explosions.
Man of Steel has been hit with a few bits of controversy from fans, but it’s all nitpicking from a fanbase that will never be satisfied. If you take the movie for what it truly is, then you’ll have a fantastic time with it. The action is nonstop, visceral and choreographed beautifully. It wasn’t the smartest film of summer, and it certainly wasn’t the absolute best. But show me one other film that can finish with an hour-long fight against Michael Shannon (just perfect as General Zod) that levels an entire city. Congratulations, Zack Snyder. You finally made the Superman movie that people have wanted to see for years.
It should be common knowledge by now that any movie Jeff Nichols touches is destined to be gold. Sure, he’s only made three films in the past six years, but look at how fantastic they’ve been. Take Shelter was my favorite film of 2011, and now Mud, the latest from the talented director, is in strong contest for my favorite of 2013.
The coming-of-age tale has been told time and time again, yet only a few films stand out as perfect examples of the genre, and those are the films that stray from the sappy side of things. Mud follows Ellis and Neckbone, two Arkansas boys who find the titular character marooned on an island with nothing but a boat stuck high in a tree, a pistol and the shirt on his back. Although his reasons for living there are a mystery in the beginning, he soon enlists the boys to give messages to his lover, Juniper, who lives in town. Even if his premise sounds ripe for sappy material, Nichols deftly avoids any sticky-sweet emotions while still conveying real love between his characters.
It’s a classic southern film that not only chronicles the formative years of Ellis and Neckbone (who are brought to life beautifully by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, respectively), but introduces in Mud a character who wouldn’t be out of place in a Mark Twain novel. Mud is a man shrouded in mystery, and even if his actions aren’t pleasant, his motives and love for the boys are pure.
Matthew McConaughey may have been a typecast actor before, but his work as Mud proves that he’s got range beyond his good looks. If anything, this is the role that he should be remembered for, as he brings heart and adventure to life in the form of his character. It may not have hit the market hard, but it’s been lauded in film festivals around the world. Growing up is a bittersweet experience, and Mud captures those feelings in a way that few other films have. Do yourself a favor and hunt this one down.
– Christian LawPrevious Next
I’ll usually try to keep my expectations at a minimum going into a movie, no matter how excited I really am for it. When my expectations are out of this world, I usually just end up being disappointed. With all that in mind, I was trying to stay hesitant going into Elysium, but I just couldn’t do it. Neill Blomkamp’s debut, District 9, is one of my favorite sci-fi movies ever, and I’m not alone. For Elysium, Blomkamp was working with triple the budget, and one of the premier actors of our time in Matt Damon. All that pushed my expectations as high as a space station in the sky.
But rather than ending up disappointed, something amazing happened: The movie exceeded my expectations in every way. Now, I know the film has gotten mixed reviews, with some critics giving it fairly negative reviews. Well, guess what? Those critics are wrong in almost every way. The film is filled with compelling characters that are impossible not to care about, and those characters are sent on one of the most epic, thrilling journeys imaginable. Furthermore, the visual effects are absolutely stunning. The opening scene alone blew my mind with how well Blomkamp crafted his dystopian world and how perfectly the effects team translated his vision to the screen.
Elysium is the sort of film that you want to think of when you think of sci-fi. It’s the sort of movie that fans of the genre should love, and audience members who usually shy away from the genre should still love. But most of all, it’s the sort of movie you should want to watch again and again.
Limited: Fruitvale Station
In 2009, Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a police officer who was attempting to subdue a group involved in an altercation on a train. When a cell-phone video shot from the train hit the web, protests broke out about the officer’s actions. Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station takes that amateur footage and works backwards, telling a bit about who Oscar is and about the events in his life that led to him being shot on the platform that day.
It’s not the sort of film that’s all that fun to watch, and it certainly isn’t a movie that will brighten your day. But it’s just too good to not watch. Michael B. Jordan turns in the best performance by a guy named Michael Jordan since the 1998 NBA finals. He’s spot-on in every moment of the film. While I can’t say that his portrayal of Grant was accurate because I didn’t know Grant, what I can say is he portrayed a flawed but good character whom the audience couldn’t help but care about, which is exactly what the film needed.
Possibly the best part of the film is it doesn’t take the stance that the police were overtly racist and all white cops hate young black men. Rather, it just tells the story from a relatively objective point of view, not even making it a film about a death as much as it is a film about a day in one very real young man’s life. The result is definitely one of the best limited releases of the year.
– Alexander LowePrevious Next
Wide: Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 marks the first reunion of director Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. since 2005′s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, a film that, though less successful than it deserved to be, acted as the springboard to bring RDJ back from the Hollywood wilderness – a film that, in short, made it possible for him to star in 2008′s Iron Man. So it’s fitting that the trilogy should come full circle in this way. Certainly there are nods to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: the voice-over introduction, the buddy-cop routine between RDJ and Don Cheadle, the knowing and tongue-in-cheek attitude to the big showdown. But beyond this, Iron Man 3 delivers exactly what we’ve come to expect from the franchise: explosions, high-tech suits and a villainous plot that doesn’t exactly make sense. This is not to say that Iron Man 3 isn’t a great comic book movie; it is, because it fulfills the anticipation of fans and neatly ties up its story with a big, comic-book flourish.
What makes Iron Man 3 particularly good is that it manages to tie up the story of its two previous films as well as resolve the ending of last summer’s The Avengers. To do this, it has to skirt around some pretty dark territory (Tony Stark’s post-traumatic stress, for one) and a storyline lifted from the complicated Extremis arc. While some of the film’s plot threads are left unresolved, this is okay - Iron Man has never been about the gritty reality of, say, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Instead, Iron Man 3 gives fans what they expect and plays to the strengths of the franchise: big bangs and impressive geekery. These it does well enough to satisfy both the summer cinema crowd and the heavy-duty comic books fans, along with just enough humor to keep things light, and an unexpected delight in Sir Ben Kingsley, who as “the Mandarin” gives (in my opinion) his best performance since Gandhi. Meanwhile, Guy Pearce, playing the villain, shows why he deserves more big-screen roles.
I think Iron Man 3 was one of the best blockbusters of the summer because it manages to fulfill its major premise and stay true to its characters, while also ending a trilogy and ensuring that enough doors are left open for 2015′s Avengers: Age of Ultron. If it didn’t bring anything new to the table, this is forgivable: in a summer remembered as much for its flops as for its successes, Iron Man 3 showed that sticking to a proven formula can be rewarding enough.
Limited: Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt is one of that breed of films which aim to dramatize a particular moment in a person’s life that also happened to be culturally significant. This is a well-worn pitch for a film – in the last few years we’ve had The Queen, The Iron Lady, A Dangerous Method and The King’s Speech, to name but a few, and they generally fall into one of two traps: they treat their characters as sacred, or they exaggerate the events they portray.
Hannah Arendt does both. It tells the story of the genesis of the “banality of evil,” a phrase that political theorist Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) uses to describe the actions of high-ranking Nazis. The film follows her travels to Jerusalem to attend the trial of Albert Eichmann, a key player in the Holocaust, by the newly-created State of Israel. Arendt’s theory, and the eventual theme of her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, is that Eichmann and others like him were not motivated by politics or philosophy but by the desire to follow orders – he was a bureaucrat who simply obeyed the law.
Hannah Arendt does an excellent job of portraying the development of this idea, at the expense of realism; in order to make the story more interesting, the film has to develop characters to a degree where they look more like caricatures. It also makes Arendt herself seem more like a questing heroine than a cool-headed political theorist. The Arendt on screen has no faults and very few weak moments, and even her actions, like lighting a cigarette in a dark room, take on a dramatic quality. In a flashback, the philosopher Martin Heidegger tells her that “thinking is a lonely business”, summing up the overriding theme of the film – individuality. As if to hammer the point home, Arendt spends most of the film alone, with critics on every side.
Yet though it is occasionally heavy-handed, this is a film with every respect for its source material and heroine, and it is at pains to make this obvious: as a work of love alone, Hannah Arendt is a great film because it manages to deliver Arendt’s philosophy in a clear and straightforward way. For being able to make political theory interesting (and dramatic), it stands out: the climax of the film is a seven-minute lecture delivered by Sukowa, which manages to be just as gripping as any courtroom drama. This is no mean feat, yet Hannah Arendt manages to be carefully measured, intelligent and insightful while generating enough energy to keep the story moving. Hannah Arendt stands out against films in which much more happens but much less is said; It’s rare to see a film in which very little happens but every scene is meaningful.
– James Rayneau
So there you have it, our favorite films of the Summer of 2013. Anything we missed? Let us know in the comments below!Previous