I tried something different with my recent 2013 Omnilist, naming 13(ish) of my favorite films, books, TV shows, and albums from the last year instead of a traditional top-10 list for each medium. But in that process I had to cut out a lot of films from the final list I otherwise would have loved to highlight. Here, then, are the movies from 2013 I loved a lot, but not quite enough to get on the podium.
Delightful soundtrack, beautiful setting, and charming voice work (especially by Kristen Bell and Josh Gad). It duplicates the Tangled model, while actually being better than Tangled. I’ve written before about the power certain types of music, especially the showtune kind, can have over me; Frozen hits that sweet spot often. It’s no surprise that Disney is turning it into a stage musical on the quick. I’ll be there.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Like most people, I thought this was much better than the first movie in the series. Like any good sequel, the stakes are higher and we get to see different dimensions of Katniss and Peeta as they struggle with new challenges. Plus: Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I really should have included this on the 2013 Omnilist, but something had to give. Mads Mikkelsen, who previously played the oily villain in Casino Royale, shows tremendous range in this film from Denmark (an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language) about a schoolteacher who is accused of pedophilia. His guilt is never assured, so the small Danish village he lives in slowly turns against him and fuels his emotional disintegration. Moments of paranoia and indignation mix with flashes of grace from unlikely places, creating a gripping story in the tradition of Hitchcock’s “the wrong man” chases.
Inside Llewyn Davis
This latest Coen Bros. fare would pair nicely with Frances Ha, another story of a twentysomething New York artist struggling to get by and get on, in a “Sign of the Times, 2013 edition” double feature. Llewyn is much less likable than Frances, but likability isn’t often a priority Joel and Ethan Coen have for their protagonists. That didn’t stop me from rooting for him—to make better decisions, to be a better human being. We all can be Llewynesque sometimes: flailing, stubborn, unable or unwilling to see the good in life or in other people. But if we stay that way too long, we too will find ourselves (spoiler alert) knocked out in a dank alley, watching someone else take center stage while we remain stuck in a purgatorial loop. I suppose the only cure is to listen to the film’s excellent soundtrack.
Love Is All You Need
I usually have a pretty good idea about movies in theaters that I want to see, but this one came out of nowhere. Pierce Brosnan stars as an irascible divorcé whose son is marrying the daughter of Ida, a cheerful Danish hairdresser who caught her husband cheating. The two meet for the first time at the wedding in Italy and form an unlikely bond that develops throughout the often uncomfortable wedding festivities. Unlike many clichéd rom-coms, this film’s conclusion felt earned. It was a pleasure watching two diametrically different people come together in an uncontrived and sweet way.
Matthew McConaughey is having quite the moment. His performances in The Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Clubs are getting a lot of attention, but his turn as a mysterious Arkansan drifter in this Jeff Nichols flick is just as magnetic. Likewise, the two boys who discover Mud squatting in an abandoned boat on an island in the Mississippi River hold their own against McConaughey, who is on the lam but looking to reconnect with his old flame. Mud lives in the same charged atmosphere of Nichols’ previous great films (2007’s Shotgun Stories and 2011’s Take Shelter), where the characters fight mysterious and deadly forces.
I’ve never seen a David Gordon Green picture before this one, so when people say it’s a return to form for him, I’ll believe it and consider it a compliment. Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch are an odd but alchemic pairing of laborers repainting traffic lines in the wildfire-ravaged Texas countryside and struggling to reconcile their eccentricities and frustrations. It’s a spartan production with an emotional core, and Paul Rudd, in an uncharacteristically dramatic role, makes it happen.
The Spectacular Now
One of the better high school movies I’ve seen, in that it captured that time honestly. I wasn’t like Sutter at all, but I knew kids like him in high school. I was more like Amy, the shy observant type who was attracted to people who seemed to live more interesting lives. Of course, Sutter’s popular-guy routine belied his budding alcoholism and strained relationship with his deadbeat dad, personal problems that caused him to make a number of bad decisions. But that’s high school, right?
Stories We Tell
Not quite sure how this documentary didn’t get an Oscar nomination, but it will live on regardless as a story that is both unique and ordinary. Director Sarah Polley tells the story of her life through interviews with her family, weaving in reenactments with home videos and talking heads while also dissecting the medium of storytelling itself. Having just completed an oral history of my grandmother’s life, for which I combined interviews with her and over two dozen family and friend to tell the story of her life, I applaud her attempt to create a clean yet complex narrative out of a messy life.
The World’s End
As someone who didn’t enjoy Hot Fuzz as much as Shaun of the Dead, I thought this was a return to the excellent mix of quick wit and cultural commentary Simon Pegg & Co do so well. One of the funnest and funniest moviegoing experiences I had in 2013.