In Retrospect: Looking back at Summer 2013

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Summer 2013 sucked! Okay, maybe “sucked” is too harsh a term. As my friend and colleague Ruben Rosario put it – “‘twas the summer of meh.” Even if the summer isn’t historically known for quality cinema, there always tends to be at least one or even two breakout blockbusters that are unanimously loved by audiences and critics alike. Last summer, we had The Avengers and, to an extent, The Dark Knight Rises. The year before that, it was the last Harry Potter film, X-Men: First Class, and the big surprise – Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In summer 2010, we were gifted with Inception and Toy Story 3. But this summer… nothing! At least where studio tentpoles are concerned.

Both Man of Steel and Elysium – the two studio blockbusters I was most excited to see this summer were disappointments. The former erased all the good-will it earned during its first two acts with a abhorring demolition derby third act whereas the later squandered a fascinating concept with a rote and derivative plot. Star Trek Into Darkness, the most critically loved of the major blockbusters this summer, may have delivered on the thrills but it felt like a major step down from its predecessor. Even Iron Man 3, by my account the best of the big summer tentpoles, suffered from a little bit of been there, done that Marvel fatigue.

And that was probably the key takeaway of this season: fatigue. As Matt Singer of The Dissolve eloquently put it in his box office wrap-up article last week, “There was a glut of sameness.” If a movie wasn’t a sequel, it was a reboot, remake, or prequel. For instance, the top five movies of the summer (Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Man of Steel, Monsters University and Fast and Furious 6 were a sequel, sequel, reboot, prequel and sequel/prequel respectively).

As for the movies marketed as “original” – The Lone Ranger, After Earth, R.I.P.D., Turbo, White House Down, Elysium, The Internship – they were mostly expensive flops. Pacific Rim would have joined that list if it weren’t for the gangbuster business it did overseas. In fact, Guillermo Del Toro’s monster mash made more money in China than it did over here in the States. And people question why Hollywood has been transferring their marketing dollars to international markets instead of domestic audiences.

Anyway, on to the top five.

THE BEST

Honorable Mentions: Pacific Rim, Iron Man 3, Stories We Tell

Major Movies I Haven’t Seen As Yet: Fruitvale Station, The Way Way Back, The Spectacular Now, The Act of Killing, The Kings of Summer

#5.

THE CONJURING

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It takes creativity, smarts and experience to generate effective tension – especially in a genre as formulaic as horror. It’s what separates classics like The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense and The Shining from the Texas Chainsaw 3Ds and the Hostels of this world. It’s also a pivotal reason why The Conjuring, a surprisingly old-school spook fest from director James Wan, succeeds as one of the most terrifying horror films in recent memory. My Review.

#4.

FRANCES HA

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With not so subtle nods to French New Wave cinema and Woody Allen, Frances Ha is an endearing and enjoyable ode to friendships, growing up, and being a struggling 20-something. Although its bubbly nature, slight storyline and peculiar character can be unfortunately perceived as precious, a sharp, sincere and frank script by Noah Baumbach and a stunning performance by star and co-writer Greta Gerwig deserve credit for elevating the film into a defining document of the millennial generation. My Review.

#3.

BLUE JASMINE

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Woody Allen may be 78 but he’s still going strong, churning out one new movie a year – something he’s done for 31 straight years! While not all of them have been successful, the fact that he still manages to put out highlights like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris at this point in his career is just short of miraculous. Blue Jasmine, the septuagenarian’s 46th feature, is another one of those late career highlights. Simultaneously scathing and sympathetic towards the materialistic upper crust Manhattan culture it portrays, the movie is at its crux, a tragi-comic homage to A Streetcar Named Desire with the great Cate Blanchett taking on Tennessee Williams’ tragic Blanche DuBois. My Review.

#2.

THE HUNT

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People always work on the presumption that children are telling the truth. The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg’s taut and magnificently-acted thriller is a movie that takes on this idea head on. It’s about how an innocent man’s life is destroyed after a little white lie perpetuated by a supposed innocent is taken as fact. It’s a seething examination of the psychology behind mob mentality. My Review.

#1.

BEFORE MIDNIGHT

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Before Midnight is a transcendent movie-going experience: a heartbreakingly intelligent, sometimes funny, always honest, and ultimately unforgettable film. It stands as one of the most moving, raw, and mature portraits of relationships and love depicted on film. A career-topping achievement for writer-director Richard Linklater and co-writers/stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, the film left me in awe of its intoxicating acting, writing, and direction. My Review.

THE WORST

#5.

Now You See Me

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One of the running themes of Now You See Me is “The closer you look, the less you’ll see.” It’s an apt tagline for the film because despite a charming cast, a brisk runtime, and flashy thrills, there’s nothing below its surface. The more you think back on the film, the more it crumbles into a casserole of nonsense. So take it for what it is… piffle. My Review.

#4.

The Lone Ranger

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The Lone Ranger is a catastrophically-conceived, structurally unsound, and tonally misguided film that, save for some scattered moments, fails as entertainment on every level. At over two-and-a-half hours in length, the film is a bloated mess that takes far too long to tell a story that could have just as easily been told within a half-hour episode of the 1950s TV show it’s based on. The fact that this movie is still incomprehensible in spite of its bloated length is a testament to how cobbled the film’s direction and script truly is. My Review.

#3.

The Purge

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There is a scene towards the end of The Purge in which one of the film’s heroes goes on a killing rampage, blowing bad guys left, right, and center. The audience at the theater I watched the film with reacted by applauding and screaming out in choruses of “Yea!” When remembering the moment after the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder if director James DeMonaco intentionally meant to get us off on the violence during that scene, or was this ringing endorsement of violence from the audience a hint that perhaps we as a society aren’t too far removed from the dystopian future he envisioned on screen? My Review.

#2.

Red 2

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More than just an underwhelming sequel, Red 2 is also the laziest crash grab to come out of Hollywood since this spring’s A Good Day to Die Hard. Everything that made Red endearing is grating this time around. The jokes are unfunny sitcom-level piffle, the action is sloppy, the pacing is laborious, the acting is flat-out lazy, and the narrative is, well, a model of incoherence. It’s the type of movie you get stuck with while you’re trapped in line at the DMV for hours on end. My Review.

#1.

The Hangover Part III

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Lazy, dumb, vile and flat-out unfunny, The Hangover Part III is a waste of talent, a waste of time, and will almost certainly be a waste of your money. It’s an astonishingly asinine and unfunny movie that stands as an embarrassment for everyone involved, from stars Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and writer-director Todd Phillips to cinematographer Lawrence Sher to even its sound guys. It’s an abomination masquerading as a comedy, and by far, the biggest misfire of summer 2013. My Review.

Summer Superlatives

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I sprung upon the idea of superlatives after reading a piece by my friend and colleague Rene Rodriguez whose work for The Miami Herald has been a big inspiration. My first list was in 2009 (which you can find here), the second in 2011, and third later that year. You can read those here and here respectively. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did writing them.

Most Unexpected Character Reveal: The big bad reveal in Iron Man 3.

Most Predictable Character Reveal: Star Trek Into Darkness. Enough with the bullshit, J.J. Abrams! It’s not cute anymore.

Best Character Intro: It’s still September but Leonardo DiCaprio’s grand entrance in The Great Gatsby to the tunes of Gershwin is the shot of the year. It’s a moment of such insane razzle dazzle and cotton candy spectacle that it made me want to stand up an applaud the sheer absurdity and grandiosity of it.

Biggest Cash-Grab: Red 2

Best Reason to Skip the movie for the closing credits: The outrageous end credits scene in the putrid The Hangover Part III.

Clear Cut Proof that Your Franchise is Over: The embarrassing box office of The Hangover Part III.

Clear Cut Proof that Your Franchise is Booming: The franchise-topping box office receipts of Fast and Furious 6.

Clear Cut Proof that there are people who will eat any garbage Adam Sandler excretes: The $130 million grossed by Grown Ups 2.

Best Stunt Casting: Kevin Costner in Man of Steel.

Worst Stunt Casting: Basically every actor who played a President in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

Most Blatant Disregard for logic: The outrageous climax of Fast and Furious 6 in which a cargo airplane is chased by six cars for 15 minutes on what had to the longest runway in the world.

Most Blatant Disregard for Human Life and Property: Zack Snyder and David Goyer for reducing Superman to a fart-brained Wreck-it-Ralph during the abhorring destructo-porn last act of Man of Steel which according to analysts resulted in property damage worth $700 billion and fatalities at over 129,000. So much for being a superhero!

Biggest Guilty Pleasure: White House Down

Dumbest Plot Twist: The absurd ending of Now You See Me

Best Romance: Denzel Washington & Mark Wahlberg’s sizzling on-screen chemistry brought a whole new meaning to the title 2 Guns.

Interesting Concept, Butchered Execution #1: The Purge

Interesting Concept, Butchered Execution #2: Elysium

Most Disturbing Comedic Visual: The demons with throbbing hard-ons in This is the End.

Most convincing case for casting a movie star: Brad Pitt single-handedly saving World War Z from box office failure.

Most convincing case against casting a movie star: Johnny Depp & Will Smith for doing nothing to help the box office receipts for The Lone Ranger and After Earth.

Proof that Hollywood is still pulling from the 80s Movies bucket: The Heat (Lethal Weapon), The To Do List (16 Candles), White House Down (Die Hard), Monsters University (Revenge of the Nerds).

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Best Terrence Malick movie: Ain’t Them Body Saints

Worst Terrence Malick movie: To the Wonder

Best Musical Moment: The stunning Paris montage in Frances Ha scored to Hot Chocolate’s “Every1’s a Winner.”

Most Creative Use of Chopsticks: Only God Forgives. ‘Nuff said.

Most Desperate Attempt at Creating a Catchphrase: Idris Elba’s corn-tastic “Tonight, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” line in Pacific Rim.

Safest Place to be at the End of the World: James Franco’s pad in This is the End

Best Shot: The Hollywood Hills robbery in The Bling Ring.

Most Suspenseful Sequence: An airplane full of zombies in World War Z.

Proof that Lightning Doesn’t Strike the Same Spot Twice: Kick-Ass 2

Summer Trend that Needs to Die Already: The unwritten rule that every summer blockbuster must include a scene of pornographic-level destruction in which millions of people lose their lives. See Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness, Pacific Rim, White House Down, World War Z.

Most Awkward Dinner Conversation: This ingenious scene in Only God Forgives. Warning, language NSFW.

Best Action Sequence: The thrilling Rube Golberg-style train chase sequence at the end of The Lone Ranger scored to the William Tell Overture.

Biggest Jump Scare: A clap in The Conjuring.

Fictional World I’d most want to live in: The awesome Guillermo Del Toro-designed world of Pacific Rim.

Fictional World I’d least want to live in: The terrifying world of The Purge.

Best End Credits Scene: The amazing reveal at the end of The Wolverine perfectly sets up next summer’s Days of Future Past.

Best Cameo: A certain A-lister disguised in S&M gear towards the end of This is the End.

Most Violent Scene in an otherwise family-friendly film: The heart eating scene in The Lone Ranger.

Most Gratuitous Nudity: Paula Patton in 2 Guns. Is there a clause in Denzel Washington’s contract that stipulates that he must appear in bed with a naked woman to establish his heterosexuality? (Also see: Flight, Training Day).

Best 1% vs. the 99% Allegory: Blue Jasmine

Worst 1% vs. the 99% Allegory: Elysium

Best Character Name: The characters in Pacific Rim – Staker Pentecost, Hannibal Chau, Mako Mori, take your pick.

Most Brazen History Lesson: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Best Performance: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

the-to-do-list-thumbMost Overrated Film: The World’s End

Most Underrated Film: The To Do List

Biggest Disappointment: Elysium

Biggest Surprise: The Conjuring

Movie I Wish More People Saw: The Hunt

Best Sequel, Prequel or Remake: Before Midnight

Worst Sequel: The Hangover Part 3

Most Likely to Start a Franchise: World War Z

Most Likely to Rejuvenate a Franchise: Fast and Furious 6

Most Deserving of a Franchise: Pacific Rim

Most Likely to Kill a Franchise: The Hangover Part 3

Best Documentary: Stories We Tell

Best On-Screen Team/Couple: Jesse & Celine in Before Midnight

Best Performance in a Bad Movie: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby

Worst Performance in a Good Movie: Alice Eve in Star Trek Into Darkness

Best Fight: The bar brawl in The World’s End

Best Opening Scene: The dazzling montage that sets-up the world of Pacific Rim

Best Ending: The last shot of Before Midnight

Summer 2014 Movie I’m Most Looking Forward to: X-Men: Days of Future Past

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