I didn’t see as many movies this year as I usually do (see 2010, 2011, 2012). The reason: Breaking Bad (see below) which, multiplying its 62 episodes by 48 minutes, is the equivalent of about twenty-eight (28) 1.75-hour films.
★★★★ – Best movies I saw this year
Upstream Color (trailer): Nine years after the amazing Primer, one of my favourite sci-fi movies, director/actor/composer/etc. Shane Carruth does it again. If only every movie could be so engaging, puzzling, and thought-provoking. I’ve seen it again, read articles, and am currently watching it a third time, carefully, in twenty-minute doses. I’m not sure it can really be described: perhaps the atmosphere of The Tree of Life and the intrigue of Stalker? Just see it.
All Is Lost (trailer): Harrowing, maybe partly because I was feeling a bit out to sea myself when I saw it, but it’s a great almost-wordless performance by Robert Redford (in contrast to George Clooney’s yabbering in the similarly-themed Gravity—see below). It draws you in and onto the sea with the unnamed man.
Before Midnight (trailer): I haven’t seen the prior instalments in this series, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). No matter—this stands alone as a brilliantly talky movie with surprising and subtle revelations about friendship and marriage. Both Hawke and Delpy are great.
Captain Phillips (trailer): I’ve never liked Tom Hanks, and/or the movies he’s acted in. Although I’m not as sure that this quite deserves my four-star rating overall, Hanks’ incredibly affecting scene at the end puts it over the top: one of the most emotionally impactful things I saw this year, following a relentlessly tense—and believable—hour and a half or so.
Breaking Bad: Not a movie, but then I don’t watch television and I saw this at my own pace and without ads, which made it seem more like a series of films. I don’t watch television because of advertisements and quality. Breaking Bad, at least via Netflix on my iPad, didn’t have those issues; but it definitely reminded me of the third reason I don’t own a television: time commitment. I don’t regret the time I spent here, but it did cost me a number of movies in the theatre this year: there’s only so much video I can take. At any rate, despite a couple of weak episodes, this was an incredibly consistent long piece ultimately dealing with many forms of ambiguity. It was not (usually) broken into neat little episodes, and I often found myself watching from midway through one episode to most of the way through the next, without noticing or having troubles picking up the next time. The last “half season” was pretty brilliant—with the arguable exception of the last episode (see for instance Emily Nussbaum’s piece in the New Yorker, The Closure-Happy “Breaking Bad” Finale). Will I watch another series? Probably not. But it was fun to be in on the cultural phenomenon of the moment, and the VIFF interview session with series creator Vince Gilligan, on the eve of the finale, was one of my favourite live events of the year.
★★★½ – Definitely worth seeing
12 Years a Slave (trailer): It was great. And yet. Was it the music? There was something that distracted or diminished the film. Was it the usually good Brad Pitt, whose character didn’t quite gel? Was it editing? I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll watch it again some time to try to pick it apart a bit better.
Safety Not Guaranteed (trailer): I was casting about on Netflix and found this great little movie. It’s funny and poignant and sometimes surprising: a film about some young journalists from Seattle pursuing a story about a fellow who posts an ad looking for a time travel companion.
Blue Jasmine (trailer): Essentially a tour de force by Cate Blanchett, but also Woody Allen seems to have been stronger again recently.
Europa Report (trailer): Most underrated? Much sci-fi seems to be totally unrealistic and/or over-the-top. I read somewhere that NASA consulted on this. It shows in the more measured, and therefore realistic and suspenseful, tone.
Gravity (trailer): Like a roller coaster ride. Incredible visuals. There were just three problems: George Clooney’s inane chatter; some religious bullshit; and—sigh—sound in space.
Philomena (trailer): About what you’d expect, but in a good way. Some complained it was anti-Catholic. I say: more, please.
Nebraska (trailer): Saw this at VIFF. Sure, Bruce Dern was great. But overall it felt slightly slight; and I didn’t like being so obviously expected to laugh at some of the characters—this wasn’t gracefully done.
Chinese Take-Away (trailer): Funny and affecting indie film about a couple of guys who can’t speak each others’ language, searching.
★★★ – If you’re bored and you’ve seen the above, rent these
Oldeuboi (trailer): I watched this 2003 original on Netflix as the reviews of this year’s remake made me curious. It was often quite watchable, but ultimately over the top.
Star Trek: Into Darkness (trailer): Yes, well done again. But I’ve had enough of these all-evil characters, Khan or not: I hate superhero movies and this hovers dangerously close. I want an exploration/aliens film next time out with this franchise (and perhaps that word is itself damning).
Rap is War (trailer): Another VIFF film; didn’t see enough this year. Interesting documentary on an underground Cuban rap outfit; would have been better if it had been shorter.
★★½ – Credit for effort
Camera Shy (trailer): IMDB: “This dark comedy follows a corrupt city councilman whose life spins out of control after a mysterious cameraman begins terrorizing him.” Kind of amusing, and not an awful film, but ultimately a sort of amateur proof-of-concept effort.
★★ – Please promise me you won’t see even if you’re curious
The Conjuring: The worst movie I’ve seen in a long while; I haven’t seen many horror films, but this seemed to be an amateur re-hashing of the few that I have. Fortunately my friend had free tickets. Boring, often-awful acting, and docked an extra star for claiming to be based on a “true” story. Anyone in the audience who took the laugh-out-loud claims in the title cards at face value should not be allowed to vote. Or at least to see movies.
The Place Beyond the Pines: What a dreadful movie. By turns maudlin, amateurish, boring, and improbable, it was at times laugh-out-loud awful–particularly when Gosling was playing Gosling parodying Gosling in Drive. And then it turned into a made-for-TV movie.
Predators (2010): Why on earth did I watch this? I must have been drunk. I have to be more careful with Netflix. Laughably awful.
Event Horizon (1997): Another unintentionally horrific sci-fi. I don’t understand why the production crew and actors would persevere when it should have been obvious that they were working on a stinker. Acting, dialog, and especially premise were terrible.