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: Olympus Has Fallen, Girls 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.

“Olympus Has Fallen”

WHAT: When former Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) gets trapped inside the White House following a terrorist attack, he must rely on his special skills to rescue the President (Aaron Eckhart) from his captors before they detonate the country’s entire nuclear stockpile on domestic soil.

WHY: Antoine Fuqua may have beat Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down” to the punch by being the first Presidential action flick out of the gate, but not without the final product suffering as a result. The special effects, in particular, look a little unpolished (undoubtedly due to its tight post-production schedule), and although it features an excellent cast, many of the actors are wasted, perhaps none more so than Eckhart, who’s given very little to but grimace and grit his teeth. It’s also completely ridiculous in just about every way, from an unidentified Black Hawk flying straight into Washington, D.C. (when it would have been shot down as soon as it entered U.S. airspace), to North Korean terrorists overtaking one of the country’s most heavily guarded buildings in a matter of minutes. The film takes a while to get going, but once Banning gets into full stealth mode, “Olympus Has Fallen” becomes quite enjoyable – a poor man’s “Die Hard” in the best sense possible.

EXTRAS: In addition to a making-of featurette titled “Under Surveillance,” there are four more featurettes on the cast, special effects, stunts and the Black Hawk sequence, as well as a short blooper reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Girls: Season Two”

WHAT: The further adventures of Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) and her group of twenty-something friends – Marnie (Allison Williams), Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) – as they traverse the ups and downs of adulthood in New York City.

WHY: I had a very love-hate relationship with the first season of “Girls,” but Season Two is such a complete train wreck that it made me want to stop watching the show altogether. Dunham has created one of the most unlikable protagonists on TV (between her coke-fueled meltdown and the Patrick Wilson episode, she hits an all-time low), and Williams’ laughably insecure Marnie isn’t too far behind. In fact, the female characters have so few redeeming qualities – even Mamet’s lively Shoshanna resorts to some bad behavior this season – that it’s a wonder how the audience is supposed to keep rooting for them. Thankfully, their male co-stars at least make “Girls” tolerable. Season One standout Adam Driver continues his strange but endearing performance as Hannah’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, while Alex Karpovsky seizes his expanded role with aplomb. Unfortunately, the show isn’t called “Boys,” although as far as spinoff ideas go, giving Driver and Karpovsky their own series sounds infinitely better than whatever Dunham cooks up next.

EXTRAS: There’s certainly no shortage of bonus material here, highlighted by cast and crew audio commentaries on seven episodes. Also included is a series of deleted scenes, Inside the Episode featurettes, a table read for Episode 5, a Charlie Rose interview with Lena Dunham, a making-of featurette, a roundtable discussion with the show’s male co-stars, and if you can believe it, much more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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