EDITORIAL: The Best of 2013 (so far)
Coming up on the end of June, we moviegoers have reached the midway point of 2013. While I have been a little more limited than usual in becoming a first-time father, I feel I've done a decent job of getting a good feel for the best films from the first half of the year. With a few days to spare, call me confident that The Heat and White House Down aren't making the list. While I've missed a good chunk of the well-reviewed artsy fair out there (most notably Mud, To the Wonder, Frances Ha, Trance, The Iceman, Disconnect, and Much Ado About Nothing)
and lacked the press credentials to fly out to Utah for Sundance in January or to France for Cannes last month, I feel comfortable giving you a "Best of 2013 (so far)" list. Compared to 2012 at this same time, I've seen better films for sure. This is a stronger list than last year's. Of this list that follows, I think I've got two (maybe three) movies here that will make my year-end list. Last year, none of the first half movies made the cut when December came.
As always, the end of every year in cinema is backloaded with the Oscar hopefuls, and this year is no different with more movies than I can list (but can partially preview here). Once again, with this being the halfway point, I will cut the traditional "10 Best" list in half with a first half five. In keeping the theme of my reviews and this website, each is accompanied with their best lesson. Enjoy!
THE 5 BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR (SO FAR)
1. The Place Beyond the Pines-- I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm siding with the artsy over the dazzle right now. Not to be a movie snob, but with all the cookie cutter blockbusters making big money right now (aside from the next movie on this list), this is a slam dunk choice for the best pure film I've seen so far this year. It's the leader in the clubhouse and it has a chance to stick around all year. In my full review, I stated that The Place Beyond the Pines, a three-arc epic of fathers and sons between a mesmerizing Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, and Bradley Cooper, would have made the Top 5 of last year's year-end list. It's that good.
ITS BEST LESSON: FATHERS AND SONS SHARING FATES-- Traits are natural and correctable. Sins can be avoided and forgiven. However, it is an entirely deeper issue if fathers and sons are found to share the same fate. Fate and destiny are sometimes sealed things that cannot be avoided. Above traits and sins, fates are infinitely more difficult to avoid. There are definitely a few points in The Place Beyond the Pines where we see sealed fates and changed fates come to the forefronts of our characters. These three father-son dynamics and lessons go way beyond the whole "apple doesn't fall far from the tree" idiom. Far greater and far deeper connections are at work in this film. (full review)
2. Man of Steel-- The one blockbuster so far this year that is bigger than the fluff it's supposed to be is Zack Synder's epic Superman revision. Carrying a meaningful weight and daringly creative depth compared its superhero and blockbuster peers, Man of Steel remains an experience like no other of its kind. The movie completely delivered on its promised hype and succeeded in its extremely bold and calculated risks to remake a cultural icon. I couldn't have been more pleased by the end result.
ITS BEST LESSON: BEING A FORCE FOR GOOD-- Even Jor-El acknowledges, before sending his son away, the notion that his own son would be a "god to them," with "them" being us Earthlings with no superpowers. If he wanted to, he could vanquish us all with little effort. Instead, he chooses to be a force for good. While we are steeply in the real of science fiction fantasy, the idea that someone with superior power stands to be a feared and imminent threat is not a foreign concept. We innately fear what we don't understand, can't control, or that which stands greater than us. Upon his public reveal, Kal-El goes to great lengths to establish and prove himself to the world as the symbol of hope Jor-El intended and not the threat we should fear. With the panic of alien destruction, he has an uphill battle to earn society's trust as an ally and not an enemy. (full review)
3. Before Midnight-- I will admit to being a biased and fully convinced fan of this unlikely romantic trilogy from director Richard Linklater. Compared to the whimsy conversation of 1995's Before Sunrise and 2004's Before Sunset, this third chapter that revisits Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy for another day of chatter and connection is far darker and not something I can recommend to everyone. However, the quality is completely there, as is the reflective effect of watching this romance develop over nearly 20 years with the same actors and characters.
ITS BEST LESSON: THE SUSTAINABILITY OF LOVE AND PASSION-- Finally, how do a couple of soul mates make it to that level? They find a way to sustain the love and passion that brought them together. There's no doubt that age and maturity will affect and steer that love and passion to different angles as the years go on. Lovers sometimes sacrifice a little bit of that passion for their individual careers. Parents forfeit a little bit more of that passion to caring for their children. After each element of life steals their piece of your passion and spirits, soul mates need to have enough left over for each other if they are really going to sustain love for the long-term. I like to think Jesse and Celine have enough make it to the senior years they speak of. (full review)
4. Star Trek Into Darkness-- While Man of Steel has the big time gravitas as the best blockbuster of the year, Star Trek Into Darkness has, by far, the best action and entertainment value. This movie never stops dishing out the "wow" moments between awesome action sequences and story twists that add to the scope and peril. Four years was far too long of a wait between J.J. Abrams Star Trek films. This sequel was better than the first for me and I hope the third ride isn't far behind.
ITS BEST LESSON: THE MORAL CHOICE VERSUS THE LOGICAL CHOICE-- The outstanding dichotomy of the Kirk and Spock collaborative friendship and co-leadership is the pissing contest between the moral choice and the logical one. As we all know, Spock is a man of logic. He makes the safe call, the most assured one, and doesn't let emotions cloud his judgment. Kirk is driven by his gut and fortitude. He will take risks when pushed to make a moral choice over the logical one. That clash is the root of their mutual respect and acts as the balanced mixture that makes them a great team of leaders. (full review)
5. Side Effects-- Of the 20+ movies I've seen so far this year, this twisted slow-boiler from director Steven Soderbergh surprised me the most with its quality. I completely pigeon-holed it as a boring depression movie only to see it reveal itself like a lotus to be a tangible thriller. I yawned at the so-called suspense Soderbergh built a few years back with Contagion, but Side Effects is big improvement. I labeled Side Effects as the kind of movie Alfred Hitchcock would make if he was alive today and I stand by that assertion.
ITS BEST LESSON: PAST BEHAVIOR IS THE BEST PREDICTOR OF FUTURE BEHAVIOR-- This is the quote of the movie, and gets dropped as comeuppance twice. This is deeper than just saying "history repeats itself" or "insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting the same results." The line delves into the human and therapeutic side of treatment for mental illness. There's a reason psychiatrists and psychologists delve so deep and detailed into a patient's history. They know that 90% of things were triggered by either a clear or gradual event or root. Identifying those catalysts can help predict future reactions and responses. Because some of those ailments come to people at a young age, they only know that and accept their flawed condition as their level of "normal" operating capacity. Correcting someone out of that norm is very difficult. (full review)
HONORABLE MENTION (just missing the cut)
For any of my reviews from this year or any other, check out the master ARCHIVE tab above on my webpage.
NOTABLE OR AWARD-WORTHY PERFORMANCES (SO FAR)
Matthew McConaughey in Mud (even though I haven't seen it, it's too good not to list)
Ryan Gosling inThe Place Beyond the Pines
Eva Mendes in The Place Beyond the Pines
Ethan Hawke in Before Midnight
Julie Delpy in Before Midnight
Rooney Mara in Side Effects
Jude Law in Side Effects
Kevin Costner in Man of Steel
Russell Crowe in Man of Steel
Michael Shannon in Man of Steel
Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby
Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby
Joel Edgerton in The Great Gatsby
Chadwick Boseman in 42
Nicholas Hoult in Warm Bodies
Jeffrey Wright in Broken City
Nick Robinson in The Kings of Summer
Nick Offerman in The Kings of Summer
For the movies coming out later this year that I expect to challenge for a spot on the year-end "Best of 2013" list and become prominent Oscar contenders, please check out my 2014 Oscar forecast from February. Share in the crystal ball!