10 Movies the Oscars Forgot in 2013
So, I didn’t release a Top Ten Films of 2013 list. There were a lot of reasons for this. Making that list every year is probably the part of being a critic that feels the most like a chore. I hate the largely meaningless ranking/numbering that takes all the fun out of appreciating movies and just turns it into math. I hate the pressure to seek out lesser-known movies so you have a few unexpected picks to make your list stand out. I hate the fact that by the time I’ve been allowed to see all the limited release stuff, most critics have had their lists out for several months already. After a while, it’s hard to get motivated when you’re long past the point where anyone, yourself included, is likely to care.
But then the Academy Awards came along, and if nothing else, the Oscars are good for lighting my creative fire with a little righteous indignation. Every year their choices are boring and predictable, and every year there are scores of deserving movies that get overlooked. Looking at the top ten list I was originally going to write, I noticed that more than half of them didn’t even get so much as a nomination this year. So I thought instead of the usual routine, I would make a list of those movies instead. So here, in no particular order, are 10 Movies the Oscars Forgot in 2013!
It always piques my interest when an actor takes a stab at directing. Some keep at it (George Clooney), and others just see it as an experiment and move on (Gary Oldman). I don’t know if Joseph Gordon-Levitt will ever direct again, but if this is an example of his talents, I’m definitely hoping he will. One critic described Don Jon as a “more fun version of Shame”, which I think sells it a bit short. It isn’t just more fun than Shame, it’s also more complex and emotionally honest. It’s not simply about a man with an addiction, it’s about the root of his addiction, and objectification and emotional intimacy. It’s a fun, poignant piece with a woefully under-lauded performance by Julianne Moore, who should have warranted at least a nod for Best Supporting Actress.
People have come to expect fucked up things from Chan-wook Park. That’s kind of what happens when you’re best known for making Oldboy. His first English language film Stoker does not disappoint. The film is immediately yet subtly unsettling, putting you on edge in ways you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s a dark, deterministic coming of age story in which growing up does not necessarily mean becoming a good person. It’s stylish, eerie, and ever so slightly camp, and I dug the hell out of it. It’s not likely to have quite the longevity of Oldboy, but it does bode well for future American-produced films from Chan-wook Park.
I admittedly was initially turned off by this movie. It had what I perceived as a kind of “get a job, hippie” vibe that was rather unwelcome. But whatever else the movie might be, it’s never condescending and it’s never mean-spirited. It’s a quiet, charming piece about getting your life focused, and how that doesn’t need to mean sacrificing identity. Greta Gerwig is great in the role of the slacker, which is something you don’t often see a woman playing.
I’m cheating a bit with this one, since it did technically get two nominations, but seriously: Best Sound Mixing? Best Cinematography? The Coen Brothers were definitely given the brush-off by the Academy this year. This is probably my favorite Coen film since Barton Fink. To me, they’re at their best and most personal when they’re writing about creative mediocrity. They really seem to relate to the struggle of being untalented and unremarkable, which is odd for two guys responsible for some of the best movies ever made.
This is what I love about Joss Whedon: he never allows himself to get stuck in a rut. He finishes the first and biggest blockbuster success of his career, then follows it up with a low budget Shakespeare adaptation with his friends… as his vacation. I’m unsure as to whether this is a better version of Much Ado About Nothing than Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version (as much as I love Amy Acker, there’s just no following Emma Thompson’s Beatrice). But any deficiencies in the cast are made up for by the style. The decision to translate the play into essentially a Cary Grant screwball comedy makes this version stand out, and because the cast is absolutely game for it, the sense of fun is so infectious that it hardly matters even when things get a bit hokey at times. It would have been nice to see Nathan Fillion get a Best Supporting nod for Dogberry.
This has been one of my pet favorites all year, a great little movie that got good reviews, yet was never really talked about that much. Jeff Nichols is fast becoming one of my favorite directors working today, and I think Mud might be his best work yet. Forget Dallas Buyers Club; As far as I’m concerned, this is the movie Matthew McConaughey should have won for. It’s a great S. E. Hinton-esque coming of age story that genuinely captures the confusion and torment of a young boy just discovering affection and relationships.
I’m not really sure why Fruitvale Station didn’t get much traction this award season. Maybe it played too early in the year. Maybe people are fine with 12 Years a Slave reminding white people how awful things used to be, but aren’t so keen on being reminded of how awful things still are. Who knows? What I do know is that Fruitvale Station was one of the most effective dramas of the year. Michael B. Jordan is perfectly grounded and natural in the role, and the movie takes on a terrible tension as we grow more attached to him even as we’re aware he’s marching toward his inevitable doom. It honors the memory of the real Oscar Grant III in the best possible way, by humanizing him rather than romanticizing him.
You didn’t think I’d forget, did you? The unquestionable last minute savior of the summer, Pacific Rim is likely to end up being the most successful fandom-starter of 2013. By that I mean, its greatest success is that it’s likely the only movie of the year that went in with the express intent to “world-build”, and construct a new mythology for its audiences’ imaginations to inhabit, and it absolutely succeeded in hooking them in. People embraced the movie’s world wholeheartedly. They remembered the names, the terminology, the places. They absorbed Pacific Rim’s universe and expanded upon it. It’s the “fanboy” movie of 2013, primarily because it’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s unashamed. It’s childlike in just the right way, and is never self-conscious about it. Hollywood tends to overlook this, but people aren’t above having fun.
I’ll be honest: I don’t actually like this film that much, in the sense that I’ve only seen it once and I’m not in much of a hurry to see it again, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that it wasn’t nominated for anything. That said, it probably should have been, because I think Spring Breakers is going to end up being one of the definitive films of my generation. Unapologetically crass, it’s a film so brazen in its willingness to be unlikable that it becomes strangely compelling. It’s Easy Rider for Millennials, a tribute to hedonistic young adults of the early 21st Century in the form of both a dark swan song and an almost worshipful empowerment anthem.
I’m still not ranking this thing, but if I were, The World’s End would be number one with a bullet. It was unquestionably my favorite movie of 2013, and now one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s easily the best performance of Simon Pegg’s career, and the fact that he didn’t even get nominated, let alone win, was the Oscars’ biggest injustice to me. I’ve already written at length about how multilayered and challenging I find the film’s narrative and themes, and since then I’ve only discovered more ways the film can be interpreted. The World’s End is the gift that keeps on giving. Every time I watch it, I discover new details, new things that were set up or paid off in ways I didn’t even notice before. It’s pretty much the perfect film in every respect. It’s a brilliant character study, a thrilling action film, a hilarious comedy, and a thought-provoking sci-fi film all in one. I couldn’t ask for more.