2013 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

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If you haven’t been to the movie theater over the past few months, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 2013 wasn’t a very good year for film. In fact, my own year-end list was looking pretty suspect before October, but as is usually the case, the awards season blitz was jam-packed with enough great movies to fill more than the customary ten spots. That made compiling this year’s best-of list a little more challenging than in years past, especially with so many popular choices relegated to honorable mentions or missing entirely. With that said, after much deliberating, flip-flopping and even revisiting certain films, the following represents what I believe to be the best of 2013.

Best Movies of 2013

1. “GRAVITY

It’s been six years since Alfonso Cuarón’s last feature film – the criminally underrated “Children of Men” – but his outer space survival thriller was well worth the wait. “Gravity” is the kind of movie that will likely change the way films are made in the future. From the stunning, single-take opening sequence that lasts more than 12 minutes, to the numerous set pieces throughout, “Gravity” is such a technical marvel that it looks like Cuarón shot the whole damn thing in space. Though the story is ridiculously simple, not a single second of its 91-minute runtime is wasted, extracting so much suspense from the film’s terrifying setup that the brief injections of comedy (courtesy of George Clooney’s easygoing astronaut) are a welcome reprieve from the almost unrelenting intensity. Sandra Bullock delivers one of the best performances of her career as the rookie astronaut caught up in a seemingly impossible situation, but the real star of “Gravity” is Cuarón himself, and he deserves every bit of praise for creating what can only be described as pure movie magic.

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2. “AMERICAN HUSTLE

David O. Russell has always been a quality filmmaker, but he’s quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with thanks to movies like “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and this farcical con-artist caper. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ‘70s, “American Hustle” is immensely entertaining, impeccably structured and features top-notch acting from the entire cast. Forty pounds heavier and rocking the most elaborate comb-over you’ve ever seen, Christian Bale gives a wonderfully nuanced performance as the straight man of the bunch. His co-stars aren’t quite as committed physically, but they’re just as good. Amy Adams oozes sexiness as Bale’s cunning partner in crime, scene stealer Jennifer Lawrence is an absolute riot as his unpredictable wife, and Bradley Cooper is hilarious as the short-tempered FBI agent in charge of the sting. The whole film is a lot funnier than you’d expect due to Russell and Eric Singer’s darkly comic script, and though some have argued that it’s too long, the characters are so richly developed and crackling with personality that I would have gladly spent another hour in their messed-up world.

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3. “ABOUT TIME

Richard Curtis has written and directed some of the greatest romantic comedies of the past two decades, so it should come as no surprise that his latest movie follows in the same footsteps. Curtis’ films have always been about much more than the superficial meet-cute between boy and girl, and “About Time” is no different, aiming for something a lot deeper and more emotionally rewarding than the typical rom-com. Breakout star Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams have some fantastic chemistry, but it’s the relationship between Gleeson and Bill Nighy (playing the world’s coolest dad) that best serves the story’s central themes and leaves a more lasting impression, especially for anyone who’s ever lost a member of their family. Equally charming, funny and touching, “About Time” is classic Richard Curtis, through and through. And if the rumors about it being his directorial swan song are true, Curtis can take comfort in knowing that he went out on top, because this is not only his most mature and personal work to date, but it’s just a really beautiful film.

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Blu Tuesday: Pacific Rim, The Heat and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Pacific Rim”

WHAT: Set in the not-too-distant future, giant beasts called kaiju have emerged from an inter-dimensional rift below the Pacific Ocean to wreak havoc on the planet. In response, the world’s governments came together to build giant robots called jaegers to combat these monsters, but when the program is shut down, commanding officer Marshall Pentecost (Idris Elba) recruits a retired pilot named Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) to spearhead one final attack in the fight for humanity’s survival.

WHY:Pacific Rim” is about as close to a Transformers/Godzilla mash-up as you’ll ever see, so it’s not surprising why fanboys were quick to jump on the bandwagon of Guillermo del Toro’s latest film. But while the marketing campaign focused almost entirely on the robots vs. monsters angle, the action is a pretty big letdown. While it’s hard to deny the gleeful sensation of watching giant robots pummel giant monsters, it starts to get a little repetitive and would have benefited greatly from more distinct battles and creatures. As it is, every major fight sequence takes place either at night in the pouring rain, or underwater where it’s just as murky, and that makes it really difficult to see things clearly, especially when del Toro relies so heavily on extreme close-ups and quick cuts. After all, if you’re going to promise robots vs. monsters, then you should at least be able to make out what’s going on. There’s more than enough CGI-fueled destruction on display to categorize “Pacific Rim” as a fun popcorn flick, but it’s lacking the substance that you would normally expect from a filmmaker like del Toro.

EXTRAS: The two-disc set includes an audio commentary by director Guillermo del Toro, five Focus Points featurettes, deleted scenes and a blooper reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Heat”

WHAT: Straight-laced FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is up for a big promotion, but while she’s the perfect candidate on paper, Sarah hasn’t earned the respect of her peers. To prove that she’s a team player and the right person for the job, Sarah’s boss (Demian Bichir) sends her to Boston, where she must partner up with an uncouth and unconventional local detective named Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) to bring down a ruthless drug lord.

WHY: Though fans of “Bridesmaids” will likely enjoy Paul Feig’s latest R-rated romp with Melissa McCarthy, anyone that wasn’t already sick and tired of the actress definitely will be after sitting through two more hours of her annoyingly boorish and over-the-top brand of humor. “Identity Thief” should have been the final nail in the coffin of America’s love affair with McCarthy, but if her irritating performance in “The Heat” doesn’t put an end to that reign, then the moviegoing public deserves more lowbrow comedies just like it. “Bridesmaids” may be overrated, but at least it has some genuine moments of laughter and a decent story at its core. “The Heat,” meanwhile, never merits more than a few chuckles, and a major reason for that is the overdependence on McCarthy’s loud-mouthed buffoon. It’s supposed to be hilarious, except that it’s not. You know what would have been funny? If Sandra Bullock and McCarthy had switched roles. At least then we could have seen both actresses do something a little different for once, and it probably would have led to a more entertaining movie. Instead, we got “Miss Congeniality 3: Boston Boogaloo.”

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy, the Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette, a collection of deleted and extended scenes, two more commentary tracks (one with the original “Mystery Science Theater 3000” guys and another with the Mullins family), a blooper reel and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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