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!

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Don Jon
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.

Stoker
10 Movies the Oscars Forgot in 2013

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.

Frances Ha
10 Movies the Oscars Forgot in 2013

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.

Inside Llewyn Davis
10 Movies the Oscars Forgot in 2013

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.

Much Ado About Nothing
10 Movies the Oscars Forgot in 2013

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.

Mud
10 Movies the Oscars Forgot in 2013

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.

Fruitvale Station
10 Movies the Oscars Forgot in 2013

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.

Pacific Rim
10 Movies the Oscars Forgot in 2013

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.

Spring Breakers
10 Movies the Oscars Forgot in 2013

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.

The World’s End
10 Movies the Oscars Forgot in 2013

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.

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  • Sergeant343

    The films that get released earlier during the year tend not to get nominated sadly some big snubs for me was The Place Beyond the Pines and Short Term 12. I think you your bias for World’s End (Which I also loved) may be clouding your judgement, but that is just me.

    The rest of your list I mostly agree with, for, Greta Gerwig deserved a nomination for best actress (replacing Judi Dench and the film deserved a best original screenplay nod (replacing American Hustle). Inside Llewyn Davis by all means deserved way more awards, like best actor in a leading role for Oscar Issac (replace Christian Bale), Best direction (replace Alexander Payne), best original screenplay (replacing Dallas Buyers Club), and best picture(they had a spot open for it). I think Mat would have gotten the nod for Mud if Dallas Buyers club did not come out. Fruitvale Station should have replaced Philomena for best picture and Octavia Spencer as best supporting actress over Julia Roberts. Pacific Rim should have gotten the nomination over Lone Ranger for best visual effects, which in my opinion had some horrible effects at times. Spring Breakers deserved a nomination for best supporting actor for James Franco over Barkhad Abdi and replace the Grandmaster for best cinematography.

  • Mike Smith

    I think the reason Mud didn’t get much talked-about, was due to bad timing, thanks to Reese Witherspoon’s arrest prior to the film’s release. That’s why I called her role in Mud “The funniest role since Wimona Ryder in ‘Mr. Deeds'”.

  • Jackie

    Totally agree with Stoker and The World’s End. They even became two of my favorite films in general.

  • Alexa

    Yeah I think that I can’t help but find it sad that Spring Breakers is thought of what best represents my generation. I mean the 70s had Easy Rider, the 80s had The Breakfast Club, the 90s Empire Records and we have Spring Breakers, which is easy one of the dumbest and most pointless movies ever. Yes my generation is considered pretty selfish I just wish that a better film would represent that. You know one where James Franco isn’t saying “Spring Break” every five minutes and it didn’t look butt ugly. Emphasis on the word butt, since there’s a lot of shots of that particular body part.
    Seriously it looks more akin to The Doom Generation, but at least that movie had decent editing and the camera man had a tripod.

    • The_Stig

      Easy Rider was the 60’s. The 70’s had Saturday Night Fever, the 80’s had The Breakfast Club, the 90’s had Empire Records (my choice would have been Clerks), and the 2000’s had Superbad. I think the movie that defines the 2010s has yet to be made, but if that doesn’t happen then yeah, so far it’s Spring Breakers. Unfortunately. The title of “Film that Defines a Generation” should go to a GOOD movie, but in the case of Millennials maybe it’s more appropriate that their defining film be terrible.

      • Muthsarah

        Empire Records defining the 90s? Good Lord….

        I’d say Clerks too.

        • Alexa

          Hey that movie is good, certainly better than Reality Bites.
          😛

      • Alexa

        Forgot about Clerks, but I guess I just like Empire Records a bit more. *shrugs*
        But yeah the decade is still young, but maybe Frances Ha would be a better representation. It is about a young person trying to reach their dreams but they let themselves get in the way. Sounds like Millenials to me…

  • Dennis Fischer

    While I will continue to agree with you about the greatness of THE WORLD’S END (in fact, yours was one of the most perceptive reviews I read about the film), I hated SPRING BREAKERS, thought the Whedon MUCH ADO far inferior to the Branagh version (which is far more amusing except for its awful performance from Keanu Reeves), and I noticed that INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS wasn’t overlook, but though it was well made, was far less a great Coen Bros. film than THE BIG LEBOWSKI, FARGO, or even NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (except for the sucky ending, which was retained from the novel rather than improved upon).

    • Muthsarah

      There’s nothing wrong with the open ending of NCfOM. It’s an integral part of the novel’s theme: the ever-changing nature of evil, and how everyone (law enforcement, or just a man) will eventually outlive his usefulness. It’s as simple as mortality itself. A simple, catch-the-baddie ending would defeat the entire purpose, as it would imply that you can conquer evolution, time, and death. And you can’t. Chigurh isn’t just a murderer and a thief. He’s a personification of death if not evil itself.

      That said, I can absolutely understand why the ending can be unsatisfying. I’ve seen movies with maddeningly non-closed endings – not just open endings that don’t resolve everything, some just end abruptly, or give reasons for ending without wrapping anything up, or even worse, make it seem the entire story was pointless (I’m mostly thinking of Atonement, which also kept the novel’s theme, and man did it piss me off) – and I know what it feels to want closure and not get it. But in the case of this story, you just can’t have a neat and tidy ending where the baddie gets his due and the hero gets to hang up his hat at the end of the day, content in the knowledge that he saved his lil’ part of the world for a short time at least. The point of the movie/book – implied from the title – is that time, and the world, eventually pass all of us by. We may not understand it, we prolly can’t do anything about it, but we have to face it all the same. Tommy Lee Jones’ character realizes by the end that he just cannot keep up with the Chigurhs of the world – because he can’t even conceive of it. Maybe someone younger than him will be able to do so. But it’s implied that this kind of progression is inevitable. Time conquers all.

      It may not be satisfying, but I think it’s pretty hard to argue it doesn’t reflect one of the major inevitabilities of life. And that’s the major theme of the story: you cannot evade the inevitable, particularly death. If you wanted a different ending, something more conclusive, maybe happier, then you’re treating the story as a fantasy, when it was really about reality.

  • Quaz

    LOLS Pacific Rim for an Oscar?? hahaha. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE Pacific Rim, I haven’t had so much fun at movie till the Lego Movie this year. But, I don’t think its quite Oscar material, a fun romp of a summer blockbuster…Oscar? better put Avengers on that list too. yah special effects where pretty good, but with this being the norm in so many movies nowadays, I think instead of just looking good, the academy looks at if it was used differently as part of the story. I haven’t seen gravity yet to see if the special effects are “better” or used as part of the narrative more effectively. The World’s End is pretty much the same, it had some really interesting sub-text, but its odd pacing in places, and really off ending I think put it out of the running. Personally I still wish Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead had gotten a nod too though.