Listmania ’13! Miscellaneous Movie Observations Part Two

The end-of-2013 list boat has sailed, and here I am, yelling at it from the shore as it disappears over the horizon. As mentioned in previous LISTMANIA! ’13 posts it’s been a trying time these last few months, so blogging is a luxury I can’t really afford, but thanks to abnormal cerebral architecture and deep psychological problems, once I embarked on this journey I had to finish even though too much time has passed, so consider this last post the equivalent of me defiantly leaping into the ocean and chasing that list boat, my feeble arms windmilling away with all of the force and speed I can muster. Note: as I’ve now seen The Wolf of Wall Street I’ve added references to it in the post below, even though it isn’t in any of the other posts. But damn, what a movie. That would have found a place in my top ten of last year for sure. But then international release dates are the bane of my blogging existence, as you’ll see below…

Best Movies I Saw In 2012 That Were Released More Generally In 2013, If At All: Compliance, Dans La Maison, Painless, Wolf Children

Best Movies Released In The US In 2012 That Got On US Critics’ Top Ten Lists But Would Look Weird If I Added Them To My 2013 List Even Though They Were Good Enough To Get On There: Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Lincoln

Best Hero: Tonto – The Lone Ranger

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Honorable Mentions: 

Tony Stark - Iron Man 3

Our Man – All Is Lost

Mako Mori - Pacific Rim

Superman – Man of Steel

Alan Partridge – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Best Anti-Hero: India Stoker – Stoker

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Best Villain: Donaka Mark – Man of Tai Chi

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Honorable Mentions:

Lt. Chang – Only God Forgives

Terry Stankus – All Cheerleaders Die

President Snow – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

General Zod: Man of Steel

Warden Willard Hobbes – Escape Plan

Worst Hero: Jack – Jack The Giant Slayer

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Dishonorable Mentions:

Adam – Upside Down

Gerry Lane – World War Z

Percy Jackson – Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

John McClane – A Good Day To Die Hard

Heather Miller – Texas Chainsaw 3D

Worst Villain: Khan (WHOOPS SPOILER) – Star Trek Into Darkness

Dishonorable Mentions:

Whoever was the villain in A Good Day To Die Hard, I can’t even remember who it was now. Vladimir something?

Malekith the Anonymous Accursed – Thor: The Dark World

Women exercising free will – Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

The Voice – Getaway (not the terrible talent show, it’s just Jon Voight’s mouth in a bar)

America, or something… erm… youth? No, gangstas? Or are they the good thing? Oh dear… – Spring Breakers

Most Annoying Character of the Year: Lyle – The Internship

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Dishonorable Mentions:

AJ – The Place Beyond The Pines

Bruna - I’m So Excited

Haha – Drug War

Frank – Byzantium

Ian the Intern – Thor: The Dark World

Best Live Action AnimalSilver – The Lone Ranger

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Best Animated Animal: Sven – Frozen

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Best Digitally Created Animal: Riddick’s space dog – Riddick

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Worst Digitally Created Animal: Finley – Oz: The Great And Powerful

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Badass of the Year: Erin (Sharni Vinson) – You’re Next

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Honorable Mention: Yukio (Rila Fukushima) – The Wolverine

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Best Purist-Annoying Badass of the Year: Tauriel – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Best Double Act: Robert ‘Bobby’ Trench (Denzel Washington) and Michael ‘Stig’ Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) – 2 Guns

Worst Double Act: Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) - Insidious 2

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Best Bromance: Dom (Vin Diesel) and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) – Fast and Furious Six (the Internet, disappointingly, doesn’t have a video of their final scene together, which brought the house down at the screening I attended, so filled was it with heaving bosoms, sweaty brows, and promises of perspiration-inducing drama and meaningful looks during any future entanglements)

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Honorable Mention: Tony Stark and his “therapist” - Iron Man 3

Best “Sismance” Yeah I’m Coining That Shit, Don’t Tell Me If Anyone Else Came Up With That First Because I’m Feeling Pretty Good About Myself Right Now: Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) – Frances Ha

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Honorable Mention: Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) and Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) – The Heat

Best Couple: Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) and Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) – Beautiful Creatures

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Worst Couple of the Year: Adam (Jim Sturgess) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) – Upside Down

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“Seriously, They’re So Bad That Even Their Names Are Annoying” Couple of the Year – Adam (Jim Sturgess) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) – Upside Down

Most Doomed Couple of the Year: Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux) – Blue Is The Warmest Colour

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Dishonorable Mention: Gary (Tahar Rahim) and Karole (Léa Seydoux) – Grand Central

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“I Refuse To Believe These Guys Are Doomed” Couple of the Year: Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) – Before Midnight

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“I Hope These Guys Make It” Couple Of The Year: Leena Miller (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) and Maddie Killian (Caitlin Stasey) – All Cheerleaders Die

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“I Wish These Guys Had Made It Which Probably Makes Me A Ghoul Considering This Actually Happened And It Was Quite Fucked Up To Be Honest” Couple of the Year: Liberace (Michael Douglas) and Scott Thorson – Behind The Candelabra

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“I Am Actively Praying For This Relationship To End And Never Begin Again” Couple of the Year: Sutter (Miles Teller) and Aimee (Shailene Woodley) – The Spectacular Now

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Most Offputting and Biologically Incompatible Couple Of The Year Because It Doesn’t Matter How Much You Rewrite The Rules Of Zombiedom You Are Still Basically Asking Us To Celebrate That The Heroine Falls In Love With A WALKING CORPSE WHO ATE HER BOYFRIEND’S BRAIN AND THEN ABSORBED HIS MEMORIES BEFORE ABDUCTING HER JESUS CHRIST ARE YOU INSANE?: R (Nicholas Hoult) and Julie (Teresa Palmer) – Warm Bodies

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“Even Taking Into Account The Odd Personalities And Circumstances Involved Here, There Is No Way In A BILLION LIFETIMES OF THE UNIVERSE That This Even Slightly Feels Like Real Love” Couple of the Year: Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) – Byzantium

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Most Perfunctory Couple of the Year, What With Them Probably Existing Only As Playthings Of A Cruel and Unfeeling God: The Counsellor (Michael Fassbender) and Laura (Penelope Cruz) -The Counsellor (Note that this is the scene in which The Counsellor gives his great love a diamond ring, and as Bruno Ganz says in an earlier scene, “To partake of the stone’s endless destiny, is that not the meaning of adornment? To enhance the beauty of the beloved is to acknowledge both her frailty and the nobility of that frailty. At our noblest, we announce to the darkness that we will not be diminished by the brevity of our lives.” That’s an actual quote. And that is why The Counsellor is awesome.)

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Most Formidable And Unusually Solid Married Couple Of The Year, Considering Married Couples Are Almost Exclusively Portrayed In Films As Being On The Brink Of Divorce And/Or Adultery About 99.9999% Of The Time, And Are Very Rarely Given As Cool A Job As “Demon-Hunting Badasses With A Nice Line In 70’s Fashion”: Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) – The Conjuring

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Best Platonic Couple of the Year: Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) – Pacific Rim

“Ehh, Whatever” Couple of the Year: Clark Kent / Kal-El / Superman (Henry Cavill) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) – Man of Steel

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Best Love Triangle of the Year: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (OMG look at them they’re adorbs)

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Worst Love Triangle of the Year, If Indeed It Is A Love Triangle, I Wasn’t Really Sure What Was Going On For The Most Part What With The Rules Of This Particular Fantasy World Requiring A Flowchart The Size Of The Chrysler Building To Keep Up With But I Got The Feeling That At Least For This Film There Was Meant To Be A Tension Between The Three of Them, Though A Quick Look At The Fifteen Thousand Wikipedia Pages Devoted To This Series Shows That It Resolves Itself Pretty Quickly THANK GOD NOW I CAN RELAX And Not Get Into Any #TeamJacob-style Nonsense Over A Franchise That Quite Frankly Makes No Sense Whatsoever, At Least As Depicted In This Garbled, Ponderous Movie: Clary (Lily Collins), Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) and Simon (Robert Sheehan) – The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

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Most Existentially Tortured Love Triangle of the Year: Neil (Ben Affleck), Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Jane (Rachel McAdams) – To The Wonder (Ben’s hiding behind the fence, being all stoic and closed off because of God or something)

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Best Love Rectangle of the Year: Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper), Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) – American Hustle (though to be fair, with the addition of Jack Huston’s Pete Musane the whole thing becomes a hellish and even more fractious pentagon)

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Worst Love Rectangle of the Year: Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), Jared Howe (Max Irons), Ian O’Shea (Jake Abel) and Wanda (Saoirse Ronan) – The Host

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Worst Love Fucktangle of the Millennium, Having Been Written By A Child-Man, Probably In Crayon, All The While Crying At The Thought of Women Directing Films And Not Knowing Their Place, That Colossal Fucking Asshole: All of the thinly sketched clowns humping each other like rats in a coke frenzy in Bret Easton Ellis’ almost unwatchably amateurish The Canyons

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Best Scene: India Stoker has a shower and thinks back on a traumatic night in Stoker

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Honorable Mentions: 

The last ten emotionally devastating minutes of Captain Phillips

Jonathan Kent teaches his adopted son Clark a terrible lesson about sacrifice in Man of Steel

Solomon Northup and a song, in 12 Years a Slave

An intercom buzzes in The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears

“Our Man” and a letter in All Is Lost

Honorable Honorable Mention Now That I’ve Finally Seen The Wolf Of Wall Street: Lemmon Quaaludes – The Wolf Of Wall Street

Best Action Scene: The incredible Buster Keaton homage that is the finale of The Lone Ranger

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Honorable Mentions:

Dom and his crew battle their evil alter-egos on a plane travelling down the world’s longest runway in Fast and Furious 6

Hong Kong, Pacific Rim

Smallville to Metropolis to the Indian Ocean and back again, in the exhausting finale of Man of Steel

Our heroes escape Mirkwood via barrel with the help of Tauriel and Legolas in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Tom Cruise pilots a rad ship through a canyon with numerous drones in tow in Oblivion

Best Scene in a Bad Movie: The diner robbery in Spring Breakers

Most Erotic Scene: The piano scene – Stoker (yes, I know it’s all implied and weird, but hot damn nonetheless)

Least Erotic Scene: Cameron Diaz has sex with a car while Javier Bardem watches in horror – The Counsellor (yes, this really happens. And this is also why The Counsellor is awesome)

Best Opening Scene: The Place Beyond The Pines

Honorable Mention: Man of Steel

Best Opening Credits: Oz, The Great And Powerful

Best Opening Scene Of An Otherwise Undistinguished Movie: Welcome To The Punch

Best Opening Scene Of A Terrible Movie: Prisoners

Most Satisfying Finale: Frances Ha

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Honorable Mentions:

Iron Man 3

Upstream Color

Frozen

All Is Lost

The World’s End

Most Satisfying Finale in a Movie I Otherwise Wasn’t All That Crazy About: The Congress

Most Satisfying Finale in an Actively Dreadful Movie: 47 Ronin

Best Set-Up For A Sequel: Fast and Furious 6

Best Closing Shot: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Honorable Mention: All Is Lost

Best Closing Credits: Iron Man 3

Honorable Mention: The Grand Beauty

Ending I Really Would Like To Talk To Someone About But No One Has Seen It And I Don’t Want To Give Anything Away About It, Whether It’s Good Or Bad Or Effective Or Surprising Or Ridiculous Or Anything, I Just Can’t Say, You Just Have To See It, Okay, And Then Let Me Know So We Can Ponder It At Length – Scenic Route

Ending That Gets Better The More I Think About It: Europa Report

Most Fucked-Up Scene That I Wish I Could Stop Thinking About: “Bolito” – The Counsellor (Awesoooooooooooome!)

Best Running Joke: The ice-fishing story – American Hustle (Warning: This clip acts as a big spoiler, in a way)

Worst Running Joke: The “disguises” worn by Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds – R.I.P.D.

Worst Opening Scene: Jobs

Least Satisfying Finale: Upside Down

Dishonorable Mentions:

Star Trek Into Darkness

The Zero Theorem

A Good Day To Die Hard

Lovelace

Spring Breakers

Most Evil Finale: Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counsellor

Dishonorable Mention: 21 And Over

Most Frustrating Finale In An Otherwise Excellent Movie: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Dishonorable Mention: Riddick

Worst Set-Up For A Sequel: Machete Kills

Longest And Most Wearing Final Act: The Croods

Honorary “The Killer Inside Me” Award for Most WTF Macabre Shit-Storm Ending of the Year: Drug War

Best Trailer: Upstream Color

Worst Trailer: Fast and Furious 6 Superbowl Spot (It’s actually a perfectly fine and exciting trailer, but as the summer approached and the rest of its trailers arrived, I realised that this one had blown its wad by showing the bit with the plane, while the subsequent ones hid that awesomeness. Oh how I wish I’d seen the full movie for the first time without seeing that moment, though there’s a chance that that level of unexpected awesomeness coming after all of the previous moments of awesomeness might have sent me to an early grave.)

Stupidest Joke Trailer That Nevertheless Made Me Laugh A Whole Bunch: Iron Man 3 Extended Look Superbowl Teaser:

Best Poster: The Wolverine

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Honorable Mention: World War Z

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Worst Poster: The Wolverine

worstposter

Dishonorable Mention: Trance

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Best Single Variant: Gravity

bestvariant

Most Misleading Character Variant: 47 Ronin (this guy is in the film for all of 40 seconds)

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Best Series of Variants: Nymphomaniac

bestseriesofvariants

Best Variant Featuring A Rad Mech: Pacific Rim (Gipsy Danger variant)

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Series Of Variants Most Likely To Make F. Scott Fitzgerald Pull Himself From His Grave And Ominously Intone “Srsly WTF SMDH Over This Ish”: The Great Gatsby (“I’ve always wanted a poster of the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, old sport,” said Gatsby as he drained his martini glass with such silky ease it was as if he had become a handsome sheet of chromatography paper.)

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Worst Anatomy: Jack The Giant Slayer

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Dishonorable Mention: Thor: The Dark World

whatsgoingonhere

Most Fucked-Up Poster of the Year: A Madea Christmas

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Most “Will This Do?” Poster Of The Year: The Host

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Worst Photoshop: The Heat

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Dishonorable Mention: Now You See Me

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Most Unappealing Foreign Variant: Movie 43

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Best Foreign Variant As Voted For By #TeamTauriel: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Most Unexpected Use Of Guyliner In A Poster: The Immigrant

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Least Helpful Poster In Giving Any Idea Of What The Film Is About: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

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“Oh God Please Fuck Off” Poster of the Year: A Good Day To Die Hard

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Dishonorable Mention: Despicable Me 2

“I Don’t Know Why This Poster Works, But It Works So Well” Poster of the Year: Her

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Most Elegant Expression of a Film’s Message Via Poster: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

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Most Elegant Expression Of A Movie’s Tiring Manic Tone Via Poster: The Croods

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Best Retro Poster: Computer Chess

computerchess

Honorable Mention: The Heat

heatposter

Most Instagram-Filtery Poster of the Year: Side Effects

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Epic Flopsweat Of Desperation Poster of the Year: Girl Most Likely

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“Who Directed This And Who Does Greta Gerwig Play?” TMI Poster Of The Year: Frances Ha

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Worst Font On A Poster: The Bling Ring

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Most Unexpected Poster Quote of the Year: Interior. Leather Bar.

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Least Accurate Bold Statement On A Poster: Evil Dead

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Most Amazing Poster Of All Time: Pacific Rim (I can’t put it on the blog; you have to see it to believe it)

Best Publicity Campaign: Iron Man 3

Firstly because even with the tailwind of The Avengers I don’t think anyone expected Iron Man 3 to make $1.2bn internationally, so some of that has to be down to the publicity campaign. Disney’s PR department organised a number of good trailers and TV appearances around the world with the cast, not to mention smartly courting China’s audience, which accounted for 10% of its gross. But yeah, all of that is fine but what was so great about that campaign is that they kept the year’s coolest secret hidden by not even mentioning that there was a secret in the film, making the eventual reveal even more effective. Compare the joy of that scene to the moment where Benedict Cumberbatch reveals his name in Star Trek Into Darkness with the most ridiculous line reading of the year. Just awful.

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But Marvel did it right. They pimped out their film really smartly, they made a ton of money (and a good film to boot, which is more important), and that campaign actually added value to the project. A lot of comic fans were up in arms about the whole thing but seriously, who gives a shit about these clowns anymore. I’ve identified as a hardcore nerd for years now but I’m so ashamed at these entitled idiots and their abusive behaviour and insular nature that I’ve walked away and will never look back. If the choice is between Iron Man 3 and behaving like Smeagol over every single aspect of the things I love, there’s no choice at all, really, especially when they’re up in arms over Shane Black and Drew Pearce trying to make a statement about the real world by cleverly using one of the most racist characters ever to appear in a comic in order to make a point about that very racism, like some kind of delightfully playful intellectual judo. You really want to campaign to see that grotesque Fu Manchu horseshit on a screen? Feel free to die on that hill, motherfuckers.

Worst Publicity Campaign: The Lone Ranger

As with John Carter last year, which was promoted with hideous fonts and baffling imagery that gave no sense of what the movie was about, Disney’s The Lone Ranger was given a half-hearted push with trailers that were no fun and posters that were perfunctory. You hear tell of the publicity campaign being incredibly expensive, leading to an enormous write-down, but this was a movie that got nothing like the push that other movies released this summer received. Perhaps in the US there were TV spots literally every ad break but outside the US we got nothing; over here in the UK I was always shocked whenever I saw a poster in a cinema, reminding me that the film actually existed. Admittedly there was a torrent of bad word to overcome, which arguably doomed it before it came out if Johnny Depp is to be believed, but there was no sense that Disney were even bothered about fighting back. Considering this was a $250m movie, its promotion left it feeling like it was intended to go straight-to-video but got bumped up to the big screen a la Toy Story 2. I mean, look at this thing. Did they really think this would work?

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A million conspiracy theories come to mind but Shades of Caruso is a rational blog so let’s leave the madness aside for now, but even if you don’t want to draw a connection between the baffling choices made to promote John Carter and The Lone Ranger, you do have to look at how Paramount fought back against the terrible rumours surrounding World War Z and practically willed it into becoming a hit against all odds. Admittedly The Lone Ranger is a tough sell; it’s kinda nasty and ornery and filled with anti-capitalist sentiment and has a message that the audience has blood on its hands (or should I say cheeks) regarding the genocide of the Native American population, but hell, you could just LIE about that shit. World War Z had ten minutes of zombie action in it, all told, and the trailer showed about 35% of that. It was a genius move; it’s only once you’re watching the film and you know it’s mostly going to be Brad Pitt trying to talk to Mireille Enos on the phone for two hours that you realise you were sold a lemon. Too late! You paid your money. Disney couldn’t even be bothered to do that. The failure is on their hands; whether they actually care about that in a year that their other movies made mad bank (see above) is a question for another time.

Best Publicity Coup of the Year: The Mere Existence Of Jennifer Lawrence

Most Clever and Yet Also Most Bone-Headed Publicity Campaign of the Year: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

There’s been some coverage of the clever and unique publicity campaign for the latest Hunger Games movie (try this and this for starters), which matched startling and futuristic posters with some peculiar corporate match-ups including Cover Girl and Subway. This article expresses it better than I can, though I think I could be allowed to say my own little thing about it; OH MY FUCKING GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS? HOW CAN YOU USE SHITTY SANDWICHES TO PROMOTE A MOVIE ABOUT POOR PEOPLE BEING INTENTIONALLY STARVED BY A FECKLESS ELITE IN ORDER TO KEEP THEM DOCILE? The posters are amazing, the trailers were superb, but as soon as advertising money steps in to help out everything just turns to sewage. Watching the film after seeing this was to be perpetually braced for the sudden appearance of Primrose Everdeen nibbling on one of those hideous M&M cookies and talking about how she likes Copper Bliss Queen Collection lipgloss.

Biggest Publicity Gaffe Of The Year (Or Is It?): The Canyons

Paul Schrader allowed the New York Times to run a piece on the shooting of his wretched collaboration with Bret Easton Ellis, and the result was a riveting but uncomfortable glimpse into the desperate world of low-budget independent filmmaking, except with a bona-fide cinema legend stuck in the middle of it (no, not La Lohan). Before it had been released The Canyons was labelled a farrago in the making, and, well, it really isn’t worth defending. Did the producers and Schrader make the worst mistake imaginable by letting a journalist onto their set? Considering it made only one fifth of its shooting budget on theatrical release you could say yes, but if IFC Films are to be believed, it did well on iTunes. Why? Because while Schrader and BEE thought they were making a thrilling peek into the dark heart of Hollywood, they were actually making Sharknado with Lindsay Lohan instead of Tara Reid. Of course people were going to want to watch it, preferably in a group and with a cooler full of beer nearby. And god help us all, this is a movie that demands to be seen and ridiculed. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Worst Product Placement: Disney itself – Saving Mr Banks

Most Product Placement: Man of Steel (The sight of poor Diane Lane forced to wear a Sears uniform is possibly the grimmest moment in cinema, 2013)

Worst Title: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

In this impossibly pretentious interview with writer/director David Lowery, we find out that the title has no meaning, but is merely there because “it’s right”.

There are all sorts of reasons why it’s right, but the simplest one is that it puts you in the right mindset for the type of experience this film provides. It puts the first wash on the canvas, so to speak. You buy a ticket for a movie with this title, and you sit down in the theater knowing that this is the title of the movie you are about to see, and then the movie begins and on a subconscious level you take that title with you as you watch it. It is the pitch by which the rest of the film finds its key.

In which case it worked perfectly, because that title is obnoxiously precious, meaningless and irritating, just like the movie. Job done!

Best Hair: Emma – Blue Is The Warmest Colour

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Worst Hair: Det. Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) – Prisoners

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Dishonorable Mention: Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) – Runner Runner Runner Runner Runner Runner Runner

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Best Facial Hair: Jeff Bridges – R.I.P.D

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Worst Facial Hair: Christopher Mintz-Plasse – Kick-Ass 2

motherfuckerHonorary Ruth Wilson Award For Services To The Science Of Eyebrowology: Ruth Wilson – The Lone Ranger / Saving Mr. Banks

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Honorable Mention: Lily Collins – The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones / The English Teacher / Stuck In Love

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Best Wig (Actress): Naomi Watts – Diana (I gather that people think this wig is risible but it’s the touch that makes Naomi Watts look enough like the late Princess that she can summon all of the energy she could have wasted on emulating the Queen of Hearts in a vain attempt to make that hysterical dialogue seem less ridiculous than it actually is, even if only by about 6.3%)

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Best Wig (Actor): Christian Bale – American Hustle

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Worst Wig (Actress): Carey Mulligan – Inside Llewyn Davis

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Worst Wig (Actor): Steve Carell – The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (I get that it’s meant to be kind of a joke but just like everything else in this film, that’s all it is; kind of a joke)

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Wig I’m On The Fence About: Evangeline Lilly – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Best Hat(s): Denzel Washington – 2 Guns

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Most Distractingly Large Hat: Jason Statham – Hummingbird

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Oldest Sport: Nick Carraway – The Great Gatsby

Most Platitude-Heavy Speeches: Jobs

Dishonorable Mention: The Internship

Most Standing Ovations Following Platitude-Heavy Speeches: Jobs

Dishonorable Mention: The Internship

Most Tantrums: Sean Penn - Gangster Squad

Honorary Mention: Ashton Kutcher – Jobs

Most Convincing Limp: James McAvoy – Welcome To The Punch

Most Eccentric Gait: Ashton Kutcher – Jobs

Douchiest Elf: Thranduil (Lee Pace) – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Hottest Elf: Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Most Surplus-To-Requirement Elf: Legolas (Orlando Bloom) – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Best Impersonation of John Cusack: Richard Nixon – Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Best Answer To The Question “What Would John Cazale Look Like If He’d Been A Badass Chinese Martial Arts Expert?”: Tiger Chen – Man of Tai Chi

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Best Impression of Iron Man With The Faceplate Removed: John Travolta – Killing Season

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Most Unsettling Jowls: Liev Shreiber – The Butler

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Most Mucus: Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Honorable Mention: Pacific Rim

Fewest Bras: American Hustle

Honorary Steven Seagal Award For Services To Excessive Head-Stabbings And/Or Shootings: Gerard Butler – Olympus Has Fallen

Best Soundtrack Choices of the Year: The Wolf of Wall Street (Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Devo, Bo Diddley, Foo Fighters, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Cannonball Adderley, Charles Mingus, Naughty By Nature, Malcolm McLaren’s Double Dutch; all perfectly chosen, all used at exactly the right moments. Sheer bliss)

Most Conservative Soundtrack Choices of the Year: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (though of course that’s the joke)

Most Unexpected Choice on the Most Conservative Soundtrack of the Year: Philip Glass’ Opening Theme to Koyaanisqatsi - Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Most Unexpected Soundtrack Choices in a Period Piece: American Hustle (There were a few expected selections, but if you’re making Duke Ellington a plot point in your film, it’s going to make me happy)

Best Soundtrack Choices in a Lousy Movie: Battle of the Year

Most Perfect And Powerful Use Of A Bon Iver Song At Exactly The Right Moment: The Place Beyond The Pines

Most Obscenely, Depressingly Beautiful Cast: Spring Breakers (Oh Franco…)

Honorable Mention: The Croods

Most Depressing Mise-en-scène: Byzantium (NSFW)

Honorary Mention: Pain & Gain

Best Narrator: Olga Kurylenko – To The Wonder

Worst Narrator: Jim Sturgess – Upside Down

Best Unreliable Narrator: Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

Honorary Manuela Velasco Award for Services to Scream-Queen Culture: Jane Levy – Evil Dead

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Heaviest Reliance on The Golden Hour: Wrong

Honorable Mention: Spring Breakers (but oh what a look that film had, oh my oh my…)

Movie I Boycotted The Most Because Of Worthy Reasons: Ender’s Game

Emotion I Expect You To Be Feeling Right Now: Admiration

Emotion You’re Actually Experiencing: Ugh dude what-the-fuck-ever

Most Openly Racist Movie: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Who would be a dwarf in Middle-earth? Holy crap)

Dishonorable Mention: The Croods

Thing I Learned While Writing This Series Of LISTMANIA! Posts: How to spell “Exarchopoulos” without checking

Thing I Did Not Learn While Writing This Series Of LISTMANIA! Posts: How to spell “Saoirse” without checking

Most Logistically Impressive Movie: Man of Steel

Honorable Mention: 

Gravity

All Is Lost

Fast and Furious 6

Upstream Color

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Location Shooting: The Great Beauty (Rome, Tuscany)

Honorable Mentions:

Fast and Furious 6 (London, Gran Canaria, Glasgow, Liverpool, Hong Kong, Los Angeles)

Before Midnight (Messinia [Greece])

To The Wonder (Paris, Mont Saint-Michel, Oklahoma)

Under The Skin (Glasgow, Wishaw, Glencoe, Angus)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Bree, Esgaroth, Mirkwood, Erebor, Dol Guldur)

Most Pontificated-Upon Recurring Theme In Cinema 2013: Survival

Ah, the trend that launched a thousand blogposts! Thanks to the arrival of Gravity, All Is Lost and Captain Phillips, not to mention Riddick (at least its first half), Scenic Route (please please watch this film so I’m not alone), and literally millions of others that we have all conveniently forgotten about (inc. The Croods), there seemed, for a little while at least, to be a trend in cinema for stripped down tales of survival, prompting much pontificating about how this is a reaction to “dark and threatening times” or “uncertainty about the future” or blah blah blah, hey presto, fifty-five link-baity articles on the Guardian film site about Alfonso Cuaron. Writting am eazy.

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You know, “uncertainty about the future” is pretty much the reason attributed to any kind of trend in cinema. Movies about superheroes? “Uncertainty about the future means everyone has regressed emotionally and wants to remember the comfort of their youth.” Remakes of shows or films from the 70s and 80s? See above. Films about slavery, as seen last year with Django Unchained, Lincoln, Cloud Atlas, Hunger Games, The Croods, &c.? “Uncertainty about the future means we’re worried about economic disparity and the trap that is modern capitalism”. Films about White Houses being attacked by terrorists? “Uncertainty about the future means we’re yearning to see helicopters crashing into buildings we recognise from the news”. And hey presto! More Guardian articles. It’s literally as easy as pooping. (Sorry if my not-currently-constipated privilege is showing.)

Of course there are other reasons for this mini-trend, most notably that All Is Lost, Riddick and Scenic Route were made for peanuts (relatively speaking), and in an era when mid-level movies are making zero money — leading to studios investing either in huge blowouts $250m gambles or $10m-or-lower safe bets to be targeted to audiences with laser accuracy — there will be more of these small-scale projects capitalising on the current studio strategy, and nothing says “economic storytelling opportunity” than a film about a small cast of characters fighting for their lives. It’s high-drama on a low budget and if it’s done right — as all of these movies were, to one extent or another — then you’ve saved yourself a lot of hassle for maximum impact.

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Of course Captain Phillips and Gravity were not cheap to make, but again that simplicity and directness is appealing in the age of sprawling narrative. You won’t hear Shades of Caruso complaining about the expansion of The Hobbit from a book to a nine-hour epic — if it’s evidence of Peter Jackson’s profligacy it’s also further evidence of the richness and malleability of Tolkien’s original work, with literally millennia of backstory and mythical underpinning to draw upon, all of which makes The Hobbit trilogy feel almost as substantial as The Lord of the Rings. However as movies look to serialised TV drama and begin to utilise those methods to expand franchises (i.e. superhero universes, the increasingly complex Fast and Furious franchise), some filmmakers are reacting and trying to show how a reduction of scope can best reveal the magic of cinema, that intense hit of story-telling satisfaction lacking from these other projects. Films are short stories, TV shows are novels. Both are great in their own ways, and this year gave us some of the best examples of both. Of that I’m certain. #CircularReferenceLearnedAtJournalismSchool

Actual Most Important Recurring Theme in 2013: Crappy depictions of magic

I’m sorry, but Now You See Me (which was reasonably entertaining) and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (not even slightly entertaining) replaced wonder with lazy CGI-arrhea in an affront to anyone even vaguely interested in magic. Where were all of the thinkpieces wondering why Ricky Jay wasn’t at least called in to give advice? They called him in for The Prestige and that revolved around science-fictiony claims that Tesla invented teleportation. This is easily the biggest cinematic crime of 2013, even more so than the existence of Movie 43. And no one seemed to care. Hmmph.

Drinking Game Rules For 2013:

  • Every time someone gets shot or stabbed in the head in Olympus Has Fallen: pour some petrol over a copy of White House Down.
  • Every time Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson or Chris Brown appear onscreen in Machete Kills or Battle of the Year: pour some petrol over the Patriarchy.
  • Every time Jake Gyllenhaal remembers his character is supposed to have a blinking tic in Prisoners: drink a bottle of Ol’ Crazy Bastard’s Night Night Juice and fall down a hole.
  • Every time Ryan Reynolds sucks the energy out of any scene with Jeff “God” Bridges in R.I.P.D. thanks to his ever-growing anti-charisma and sour screen presence: enthusiastically eat a curry (only about fourteen people will get that reference).
  • Every time you hear Ryan Gosling utter a line of dialogue in Only God Forgives: is he in a scene with Emma Stone or Josh Brolin? LoveFilm sent you Gangster Squad instead.
  • Every time A Field In England disappears into a vagueness-hole rather than take the time to make sense or generate an emotion or tell a comprehensible story: eat a magic mushroom and wash it down with mead.
  • Every time Wrong disappears into a vagueness-hole rather than take the time to make sense or generate an emotion or tell a comprehensible story: clutch a copy of McKee’s Story to your chest.
  • Every time Upstream Color disappears into a vagueness-hole rather than take the time to make sense or generate an emotion or tell a comprehensible story: OMG IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!?!?!?!?!
  • Every time a joke fails to land in Kick-Ass 2: drink a pureed copy of CLiNT then donate $10 to Planned Parenthood.
  • Every time Michael Cera is brilliant in This Is The End: eat a celebratory mayonegg.
  • Every time a movie star flushes their career away with an appearance in Movie 43: stare at the box office gross (It made almost five times its budget) and drink a gallon of rat poison because seriously, fuck this reality.
  • Every time a skyscraper gets totaled in Man of Steel: write a thinkpiece about how vile and tactless Zack Snyder is.
  • Every time a skyscraper gets totaled in Pacific Rim: write a thinkpiece about what a visionary genius Guillermo Del Toro is.
  • Every time a skyscraper gets totaled in Before Midnight: write a thinkpiece about how confusing the layout of the Empire Leicester Square is.
  • Every time you realise that you’re reading a blog that once got so pissy about the reaction to Man of Steel that the writer gushed a 10000-word thinkpiece at his tiny audience in an attempt to fanwank away every single concern about it and so isn’t really in a position to stand in judgement on anyone else writing about it: look! A cat that can drum! ::runs away::
  • Every time James Franco manages to suppress his urge to grin through a take in Oz, The Great and Powerful: eat a poisoned apple and become really eerily smooth.
  • Every time Dwayne Johnson is the best thing in any movie he is in by, like, a billion light-years because he is PURE STAR POWER: do five sets of wide grip pull ups, go straight to cable pull downs, kiss your biceps (a must) and then smell what he’s cooking (something smothered in awesomesauce, obviously)
  • Every time Don Jon returns to his family dinner table for some life lessons from the caricatures that spawned him: eat a bowl of pasta Adele-Exarchopoulos-style (i.e. noisily and in uncomfortable close-up) then masturbate.
  • Every time Jared Harris whips out some swords immediately before being replaced by a far-more-nimble body double for some demon-killing action in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: drink from The Mortal Cup, one of the three Mortal Instruments given to the first Shadowhunter by the Angel Raziel, now sought after by the rebellious and evil Valentine, who seeks to use its power to defeat the Clave and turn Mundanes into half-Angel Nephilim who will then destroy all Downworlders, not to mention his eventual use of the cup to summon and control Agramon, the Greater Demon of Fear (spoilers for later books/films), all the while playing mind-games with Jace and Clary by making them think that they are siblings who are MAD HOT FOR EACH OTHER okay I admit it I’ll probably end up reading all of these books.
  • Every time Sung Kang is cool as ice in something, such as the otherwise forgettable Bullet To The Head: Get a bit excited about Gang Related, which might be hot balls but goddamnit it’s got him, Terry O’Quinn and The RZA in it so I’m obliged to watch the damn thing.
  • Every time someone talks about fear in After Earth: suck on a futuristic Jammy Dodger (as with R.I.P.D. only about ten people will get that reference. The things I do for you people).
  • Every time Reese Witherspoon is poorly used in the otherwise solid Mud: drink a shot-glass full of rattlesnake venom all rahht all rahht all rahht.
  • Every time Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters defies expectations and turns out to be passably entertaining despite feeling like an over-noted re-edited over-thought wild card gamble that nevertheless managed to gross over four times its budget: inject yourself with Ye Olde Insulin.
  • Every time Jack The Giant Slayer fails to entertain on four times the budget of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters despite having Old Dependables Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane and Bill Nighy in the cast: eat a loaf of bread made from the bones of an Englishman.
  • Every time Tauriel does something awesome in The Hobbit: The Desol…: Okay we get that you have a crush on Evangeline Lilly, it’s getting creepy now.

Most On-Set Publicity Pictures of a Director: Baz Luhrmann – The Great Gatsby

As ever we have to discount pictures of actor/directors who are appearing in their own movies, so no Keanu, no Franco, no Joseph Gordon Levitt (which is a shame as there are a couple of crackers on IMDb), no Seth Rogen (or Evan Goldberg, I guess), no Jim Rash / Nate Faxon, and no Shane Carruth. The immediate urge after doing that is to check out notorious famewhore and noted public speaker Michael Bay, who has three brilliant examples of the fine art (with one weird replication) to add to his enormous collection (I especially like this one of him pointing with great authority, probably at a sex toy or some breasts). Three is good but then Park Chan-wook also has three on the Stoker set. As for directors with namebrand recognition on their side, Alfonso Cuaron has four as do Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle and Bryan SingerPeter Jackson gets three, JJ Abrams gets three (including this one which is pretty nice, I have to say), Lee Daniels gets two on the set of Lee Daniels’ The Butler Directed By Lee Daniels: A Lee Daniels JointPaul Greengrass gets one, Guillermo Del Toro gets one, Sir Ridley Scott gets one, Sam Raimi gets none.

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It looked like Zack Snyder would take the crown, with seven pictures of him looking commanding on set (and yes, I’m counting the shot of him with Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven because it’s obvious he’s giving them info about what he’s about to shoot: “So basically Superman scythes through twenty-five skyscrapers in a row. Trust me, it’s going to look the tits”). This made sense as last year’s winner was Christopher Nolan on the set of The Dark Knight Rises, and WB are potentially making a habit of bigging up their directorial talent (look, the passing of the torch!). But no. There can only ever be one winner. I doubt that this record will ever be broken…

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ELEVEN ON-SET PHOTOS OF BAZ LUHRMANN! Talk about someone being a brand now. There are only three on-set photos of Leonardo DiCaprio, for God’s sake. I’m amazed that Luhrmann didn’t have his face grafted into every frame of The Great Gatsby. Maybe he did! Maybe I should test this theory, though that would mean I would have to watch The Great Gatsby again and that’s not going to happen any time soon unless someone wants to pay me. Amazing. I am genuinely in awe of the man, but then considering how everything about that almost parodic movie is excessive, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

And that’s that, with one more little list to add to the already weird number of lists so far: a Letterboxd list of the 142 movies I saw last year that were released last year (okay, I cheated by adding The Wolf of Wall Street and Carrie, both of which I watched yesterday, i.e. the 19th of January 2014, but give me a break, man, that took me forever). So if you still give a damn about anything I think, you can go crazy over there. Until next year, muddyfunsters!

Listmania ’13! Miscellaneous Movie Observations Part One

As I said in my Best Movies post and about a dozen times since, 2013 was a golden year for cinema, in my occasionally humble opinion, so much so that LISTMANIA! expanded to elephantine proportions as I attempted to honour everything that had blown my metaphorical skirt up. Even so, there were a number of films that I neglected as time was tight while I attempted to juggle writing this series of posts with the task of dealing with the incredibly annoying vicissitudes of this most crappy of holiday seasons. So consider this my quick catch-up of the also-rans for best and worst, and the films that either caught us pleasantly unaware or micturated all over our steak-frites.

Honorable Mentions

You’re Next

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Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s much-praised home invasion horror movie opened not long after James Wan’s box-office behemoth The Conjuring, in a period when it should have done well (and had in fact been held back for a long time to capitalise on the traditional summer slowdown). Who would have known that The Conjuring would still be sucking all of the oxygen out of the room that late in the year? Hopefully You’re Next will receive more attention in the years to come; its slyly funny and subtle unpicking of the rules of the genre are far less obvious than Scream or Cabin in the Woods, but are no less effective at wrongfooting the audience. It also features a terrific new horror icon in Sharni Vinson’s badass Erin; a distaff Ash who should be given a franchise just because it would improve the world.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

catchingfire

At first it seems startling that this eclipsed even the first movie, thanks to increased interest from around the world, not to mention the talkshow powerhouse that is Jennifer Lawrence. The first Hunger Games caught the imagination but as a film it didn’t quite succeed; Gary Ross’ vision wasn’t radical enough, depicting a lacklustre Panem (possibly a consequence of the accelerated shooting schedule) and filming the action in a hectic fashion to hide the grisliness of the story. New director Francis Lawrence had the same constraints, but also his incredible eye, and palpable anger. This is the most passionately filmed YA adaptation so far, a blast of radical and unflinching fury at an unjust system, one that transcended its origins and stirred the blood of an increasingly disenfranchised audience. Its success is actually no surprise at all.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

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Early reports that Alpha Papa‘s plot involved the archaic DJ becoming embroiled in a hostage situation were dispiriting; were we being offered another thinly-stretched sitcom adaptation, or were we moving back toward the kind of unreal scenarios first experienced by Alan Partridge on Radio 4’s On The Hour, such as the death of his wife and her subsequent return as a zombie? Thankfully this was more In The Loop than Keith Lemon: The Film, giving Partridge a heroic edge while ensuring he remained a pitiful figure. This is either testament to the skill of the writers, director and star Steve Coogan performing yet another miraculous balancing act, or it might be the result of a staggering onslaught of gags that handily obscures their failure. The success rate of this exhausting bombardment of jokes was second-to-none last year.

All Cheerleaders Die

cheerleaders

Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson have expanded their 2001 short film into a vibrant and funny horror comedy which touches on some of the same themes as McKee’s other projects, primarily the empowerment of women and the misogyny of the patriarchy. Less grim than McKee’s The Woman, it still features a male villain of such galactic vileness that what could easily have been a wafer-thin joke about carnivorous zombie women turns into a genuinely suspenseful and affecting drama with substantial stakes and a final act that generates real concern for the protagonists. Points are also awarded for featuring one of 2013’s most interesting gay relationships, and for not relying on overused horror rules to power itself; the clever otherwordly mechanics behind the cheerleaders’ resurrection are deftly explained and fully explored.

The Wolverine

wolverine

Far too often audiences are forced to endure mystery plot set-ups that need an incomprehensible middle act to obscure details that must be revealed in the third act for maximum effect (Danny Boyle’s Trance was 2013’s most egregious example). The Wolverine suffers a similar problem; its complex web of familial relations, double-crosses and hidden motives threatens to weigh the film down, but it stays afloat — just — thanks to Hugh Jackman (his best performance as the furry mutant), an appealing cast of secondary characters, and a serious tone leavened with just enough wit — even this Man of Steel fan wishes it had a fraction of this film’s humour. It’s also one of the most thematically satisfying films in this genre; James Mangold and his writers deftly play with motifs of healing and poisoning in ways that most movies wouldn’t think to attempt.

Pleasant Surprises of the Year

Saving Mr. Banks

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If you’re immune to the appeal of films about the obscure inner life of writers, Saving Mr. Banks isn’t made any more appealing by being a hysterically pro-Disney Disney film that contains questionable content regarding P.L. Travers and her response to the movie adaptation of her books. The movie’s claim that seeing the completed film “fixed” her psychological problems has raised eyebrows but what makes this such an interesting film about writing isn’t just the gangbusters performances from Thompson, Farrell and Hanks, but the exploration of the idea that writing is a tool for self-examination. Watching the movie Mary Poppins doesn’t “fix” Travers; revising her character gives her new perspective on her work that helps her realise why she created the magical nanny and beleaguered Mr. Banks, and what that says about her history and psyche.

Escape Plan

escapeplan

Released to general indifference from the public between the blowout of summer and the new blockbuster second-wind in October/November, this unassuming prison drama gathered only a few words of praise before vanishing from sight. A pity, as it’s a world away from Sly and Arnie’s solo outings in 2013 (the underpowered Walter Hill disappointment Bullet to the Head and the also underwhelming The Last Stand from Kim Jee-woon), and a billion light-years away from the ongoing clusterfuck that is the Expendables franchise. Admittedly borrowing a few ideas from the middle-section of John Woo’s Face/Off, this is still a far more inventive and witty movie than a late-career team-up between fading action stars should be, featuring a terrific villain, thrilling set-pieces, a great cast of character actors, and Arnie’s best work since Terminator 2.

Beautiful Creatures

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Post-Twilight cinema is littered with the wreckage of malfunctioning YA franchises that crashed and burned on take-off, with the baffling exception of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, thanks to some creative accounting and the equivalent of a few million fans of absurdly convoluted mythologies wishing on a star. Far better, and far less lucky, was Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s series about witches and warlocks. The same over-complicated rules and back-story that sank Mortal Instruments and the similarly dull The Host are present but LaGravenese manages to keep the plates spinning so entertainingly that the viewer barely notices. The result is a charming and funny tale of young love thwarted, with appealing leads, good jokes, and great hamminess from Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons.

Man of Tai Chi

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Long live Keanu, secret awesomeness-fount of cinema, long sneered at for not knowing his craft. Surely we can put that dismissal to rest now, and enjoy his later years and the maturity that comes with it. His melancholy work in The Day The Earth Stood Still and 47 Ronin (both wretched movies elevated by his presence) has been worthy of note, but could he handle the job of director? In a year that saw James Franco deliver a pretentious head-scratcher, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt let his worst instincts run riot, the actor/director gong was Keanu’s to lose. Thankfully he gave us this dark and austere low-fi kung fu flick starring his stuntman Tiger Hu Chen, which would be exciting enough as it is without the coup-de-Keanu; casting himself as the loathsome villain Donaka Mark. We’d hoped for a good movie; Keanu gave us that and then some.

2 Guns

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In a million years of guessing, there is no way that I would ever have predicted that the best A-list pairing in 2013 would be Grand Old Film Star Denzel Washington and Gabble-Mouthed Bruiser Mark Wahlberg, but here we are. Adapted from a Boom! Studios graphic novel by TV writer Blake Masters and Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur, this felt like a straight-to-video actioner given an unexpected injection of star power, but despite some plotting issues and an underused Paula Patton (no room for women in this testicle stew), this is surprisingly potent stuff, with some tricksy plotting and nice villainy from James Marsden, Edward James Olmos and Bill Paxton. But the greatest pleasure here is seeing Denzel kick back and rough it up with Wahlberg. After the risible Safe House last year, the explosion of chemistry between the leads here is thrilling.

Dishonorable Mentions

Evil Dead

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Who would ever remake a beloved, influential movie? Isn’t the possibility of failure, no matter what the artistic project undertaken, already way too high? Sam Raimi’s anarchic, nasty debut might seem bleak when compared to its more comedic children but amid the gore and misery and regrettable tree violation there was still a sense of humour, or at least a giddy air of harrowing absurdity, a sense that the viewer had crossed a line into a world of oppressive unpredictability that was more unsettling than the violence. Fede Alvarez’ attempt at updating that classic barely even recognises that vertiginous atmosphere, instead spraying untold gallons of viscera at the lens. Thankfully Jane Levy is there to ground the horror; her manic energy and appealing vulnerability is the one thing that stands out while everyone else just screams, bleeds and dies.

Kick-Ass 2

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The first Kick-Ass looks like a bratty exercise in spitting blood and snot at audience expectation but is actually a sweet-natured plea for public engagement in civic life, stopping just short of endorsing actual vigilantism in its call to arms. Who knows where this appealing sentiment came from; Matthew Vaughan and co-writer Jane Goldman don’t usually offer up much in the way of reflection in their films, though they’re intellectual titans next to Mark Millar. This sequel doesn’t need that element to be a success but it would have helped, as Jeff Wadlow brings nothing new to the table except an expansion in scale. This lacks the energy and craft of the original, seeming to run longer despite being shorter, and featuring two scenes involving superheroes promising their parents that they will give up their antics; did no one think to point out this repetition?

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

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The US indie aesthetic, post-Malick, has become a seemingly endless montage of identical hand-held shots; we’ve seen the backs of enough heads for one lifetime. Complaining about this in a year that saw me praise To The WonderThe Place Beyond The Pines and Upstream Color might seem rich, but those were substantial films with a viewpoint and at least some variety or exceptional visual strength. David Lowery’s impossibly affected crime drama eschews momentum in favour of languorous pace and mumbled, under-written dialogue, smothering some talented actors in indifferent direction and affectation. From the irritatingly-worded title card — “This was in Texas” — to the obstinately anti-suspenseful late-movie action sequence to the unsurprising finale, this was a slog, albeit a pretty and well-scored one.

Insidious: Chapter 2

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The first Insidious film was another surprise hit in the shockingly successful career of James Wan, nicely timed to catch the imagination of a generation that had never seen Poltergeist. Other than some divergent detail regarding the rules of the possession affecting the Lambert family, the major difference between the films was the mythology involving The Further, and the inclusion of a distinctively designed demon. This sequel sadly eschews that demon and much of the Further mythos, instead recycling ideas from both Exorcist III and Poltergeist 2: The Other Side, with Josh becoming host to the essence of a serial killer. Add to that yet more woeful shenanigans from Tucker and Specs, and a visually confusing, time-consuming “Ouija Dice” device for contacting the dead, and you’re left with a frenzied mess, pitched at a nigh-unbearable level of hamminess.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

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The second G.I. Joe film could have bolstered this nascent movie franchise, but what we ended up with was a movie with a case of the flop sweats, losing the what-the-fuckery that at least gave Stephen Sommers’ original installment a bit of an edge, replacing it instead with a kind of defeated smoothness only momentarily leavened by Jonathan Pryce and Dwayne Johnson. John Chu turns the unnecessarily complicated plot into a trudge from location to location and dull action scene to dull action scene (not counting a fun mountain fight), but at least he honours the character of Storm Shadow; once more the sub-plot involving him and Snake Eyes is the most interesting thing here, and every second spent with the rest of the cast — especially Zombie Bruce Willis — is an unforgivable waste of our time. Just spin them off and leave the rest of the action figures in their boxes.

Disappointments of the Year

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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This long-mooted follow-up to the 2004 comedy masterpiece that launched the cinematic dream-team of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay is not without its laughs, some of which are among the funniest moments of the year. But my god, what a miserable mess surrounds that brightness. The first Anchorman is so confident that it’s almost nonchalant, thanks to exhaustive rehearsals and test screenings used to hone the gags, as shown by the fact that the unused material could form another whole movie. This time around there’s a sense that they just winged it; far too much of it is filler, drawn from the first film and played right into the camera at full volume, leading to a horrible moment when I wanted Dylan Baker to not be onscreen any more. Unacceptable! By the time the lengthy cameo-packed finale comes around, the fan-placating desperation is unbearable.

Exhibition

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Joanna Hogg’s Archipelago is a brilliantly crafted tale of class tension and familial disintegration that thrilled us at the 2010 LFF, so her follow-up was weighted down with expectation. Perhaps that was the reason this stiff, unlovable movie was so dispiriting, or perhaps it was the terrible venue (the Curzon Renoir was, on that day, plagued by phantom noises) or the restless audience (by the mid-point there was a torrent of disgruntled viewers pouring through the exit). By the final scene, this portrait of the fractious marriage of two artists trapped in an over-designed London apartment begins to make some sense, though the explanation of what we might have seen — which is not set in stone and invites some reflection, if you feel up to it — could make the preceding 95 minutes even more exasperating in hindsight than while the viewer endures them.

The Double

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First things first; Shades of Caruso is STRONGLY pro-Richard Ayoade. Submarine was an extremely promising debut from someone who obviously loved cinema and wasn’t ashamed to reference it in a movie about how a precocious young person would bolster his self-esteem with the culture he loves. Sadly this sophomore project — an adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s novella about a shlub whose life becomes entwined with that of his more dynamic doppleganger — is buried under the weight of its cinematic references. It’s a double shame considering how good Jesse Eisenberg is in the lead role(s), accompanied by Mia Wasikowska in what can be taken as a subversion of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, but early on the suffocating debt owed to both Terry Gilliam and David Lynch in terms of design and atmosphere becomes too great to ignore.

The Congress

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This adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s Futurological Congress could become one of Shades of Caruso’s favourites; certainly Daisyhellcakes thought it might be the highlight of the 2013 LFF. Sadly this film of two ill-matching halves risks estranging the audience by replacing a sensitively played and thought-provoking tale of aging, obsolescence, and the use of technology to usurp humanity and artistry with a garish Cool-World-like fantasia of turbulent animation that arrives with insufficient explanation. The switch from live-action to cartoon is eventually explained, and the final act of the film is beautifully handled — a rewatch could resolve that frustration over the middle section. On first viewing, however, that choice seemed like a ridiculous and inexplicable act of sabotage, especially as Robin Wright was right there giving the performance of a lifetime.

Thor: The Dark World

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After Iron Man 3 dominated the summer, there was a hope that Thor 2 would continue that incredible post-Avengers momentum, and certainly this made more money than the original adventure of the Asgardian warrior, stumbling only at the last hurdle by the arrival of box office behemoth The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It doesn’t help that while IM3 only showed a few signs of stress, this looks like a terrible rush-job, with under-powered sound design, slack editing and extra scenes featuring woeful FX work that were obviously slotted in at the last minute. And yet despite all that, and the worry that Marvel Studios are now running to catch up at the expense of its usual high standards, I loved the hell out of it. Perhaps its true crime is in revealing just how vulnerable I am to That Marvel Touch, how helpless I am before this dementedly ambitious superhero project.

RIGHT, ONE MORE POST AND I’LL LEAVE YOU ALL ALONE FOR A YEAR!

Listmania ’13! Crew Contributions of the Year

This post does exactly what it says on the tin; it allows me to hail the best and worst non-performorial achievements of 2013. Not much to add to that other than to note that I’m becoming more interested in the way editing shapes a movie, despite coming to that with even less technical knowledge and awareness than anything else on this page. I mean, I’m basically just picking the stuff that I thought looked nice, for the most part, which is all I can offer, being merely a guy looking at things and applauding like a performing seal. In comparison to, say, a pretty costume that supports the personality of the character, editing is such a mysterious and crucial aspect of the process, and one that involves judgement calls we’re not really given a opportunity to learn about. All we can do is hail editing that enhances our enjoyment of the movie (or, in the case of Under The Skin and Upstream Color, to name two examples, emphasises mood over atmosphere-ruining expositional mechanics), and decry editing that makes a mockery of understanding or sabotages our ability to engage. Annoying, though, that I haven’t yet seen The Wolf of Wall Street; I know enough to know that Thelma Schoonmaker is a God of editing.

schoonmaker

As with the Performances of the Year post, none of these are judgement calls on the people themselves, merely on their work. In the case of the worst lists, who knows what mistakes and bad decisions led to the poor work we were given. Who knows what these professionals could do in different circumstances. For instance, it feels cheeky and quite mean to pick on anyone involved with The Canyons (who didn’t once write American Psycho) because that movie was made with no money and it looks like it), but dang that film was a mess and it made me sad. For the record, I do not feel bad about selecting talentless hack and desperate provocateur Bret Easton Ellis for censure because ugh, just ugh. Anyway, let’s have some praise to wash this nasty BEE juice out of our mouths.

Best Director: Shane Carruth – Upstream Color

carruth

Honorable Mentions: 

Chan-wook Park – Stoker

Noah Baumbach - Frances Ha

Steve McQueen – 12 Years A Slave

Jonathan Glazer – Under The Skin

Paul Greengrass – Captain Phillips

Best Directorial Debut: Alphan Eşeli – The Long Walk Home

Honorable Mention: Keanu Reeves – Man of Tai Chi

Best Screenplay: Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha

Honorable Mentions:

Shane Carruth – Upstream Color

Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke – Before Midnight

Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell – American Hustle

Nicole Holofcener – Enough Said

Shane Black and Drew Pearce - Iron Man 3

Most Divisive Screenplay That I Will Endeavour To Quote From Until I Lose Even The Few Friends I Currently Have: Cormac McCarthy – The Counselor

Best Cinematography: Philippe Le Sourde – The Grandmaster

Honorable Mentions:

Emmanuel Lubezki – To The Wonder

Sean Bobbitt – 12 Years A Slave

Bojan Bazelli – The Lone Ranger

Bruno Dubonnel - Inside Llewyn Davis

Benoit Debie – Spring Breakers

Best Digital Photography: Emmanuel Lubezki – Gravity

Best 3D Photography: Guillermo Navarro – Pacific Rim

pacificrim

Best Editing: Jennifer Lame – Frances Ha

Honorable Mentions:

Shane Carruth and David Lowery – Upstream Color

Christopher Rouse - Captain Phillips

Paul Watts – Under The Skin

Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger – Gravity

James Haygood and Craig Wood – The Lone Ranger

Best Soundtrack: Mica Levi – Under The Skin

Honorable Mentions:

Shane Carruth – Upstream Color

Hans Zimmer – Man of Steel

Steven Price – Gravity

Max Richter – The Congress

Randy Newman – Monsters University

Best Original Song: Let It Go, sung by Idina Menzel – Frozen

Best Costume Design: Trish Summerville – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Honorable Mentions:

Michael Wilkinson – American Hustle

Janty Yates – The Counselor

Bob Buck / Ann Maskrey / Richard Taylor – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Catherine Martin – The Great Gatsby

James Acheson / Michael Wilkinson – Man of Steel

Best Visual Effects: Framestore / Rising Sun Pictures / Prime Focus and others: Gravity

Honorable Mentions:

Industrial Light & Magic / Stereo D / Rodeo FX and many others: Pacific Rim

Double Negative / Weta Digital / Legend 3D / MPC: Man of Steel

The Embassy / Whiskeytree / Image Engine and a bunch of others: Elysium

Weta Digital: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Weta Digital / Digital Domain / Stereo D / Framestore etc.: Iron Man 3

Best Sound Design: Steve Boeddeker / Richard HymnsAll Is Lost

Honorable Mentions:

Glenn Freemantle – Gravity

Scott Hecker / Eric A. Norris – Man of Steel

Chuck Michael / John Morris – Stoker

Scott Martin Gershin – Pacific Rim

Peter Brown – Fast & Furious 6

Best Production Design / Art Direction: Andrew Neskoromny and Carol Spier – Pacific Rim

Honorable Mentions:

Philip Ivey / Syd Mead – Elysium

Dan Hennah / Ra Vincent – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Alex McDowell / Kim Sinclair / Chris Farmer – Man of Steel

Catherine Martin / Karen Murphy / Ian Gracie / Michael Turner / Damien Drew – The Great Gatsby

Jess Gonchor / Crash McCreery – The Lone Ranger

Worst Director: John Moore – A Good Day To Die Hard

johnmoore

Dishonorable Mentions:

Oliver Hirschbiegel – Diana

Joshua Michael Stern – Jobs

Robert Luketic – Paranoia

Courtney Solomon – Getaway

Harmony Korine – Spring Breakers

Worst Screenplay: Bret Easton Ellis – The Canyons

Dishonorable Mentions:

Stephen Jeffreys – Diana

Skip Woods – A Good Day To Die Hard

Juan Solanas – Upside Down

Pat Rushin – The Zero Theorem

Matt Whiteley – Jobs

Worst Cinematography: Yaron Levy – Getaway

Dishonorable Mentions:

Jonathan Sela – A Good Day To Die Hard

Michael Barrett – Battle of the Year

John DeFazio – The Canyons

Robert Rodriguez – Machete Kills

Eric Alan Edwards – Lovelace

Worst Editing: Dan Zimmerman – A Good Day To Die Hard (This clip is itself edited down from the actual thing but to be honest the original scene is exactly this choppy anyway)

Dishonorable Mention: 

Ryan Dufrene – Getaway

Paul Jutras – Upside Down

Alessandra Carlino / Peter S. Elliot: Battle of the Year

Dean Zimmerman – The Internship

Quentin Dupieux – Wrong

Most Direction: Baz Luhrmann – The Great Gatsby

Next up: miscellaneous stuff to cover everything else that happened this year, which is utterly inessential and will have no effect on your life or your happiness and yet I will beg you to read it anyway. Prepare thyself.

Listmania ’13! Performances Of The Year

There’s very little preamble necessary for what is a pretty straightforward post, in which I pick the best and worst acting of the year. If you scroll down you’ll notice I was particularly taken with the performances in 12 Years A Slave and American Hustle. David O. Russell’s most recent films have seen him being embraced as an actor’s director on slightly screwball projects, and Hustle proves that this new reputation is justified. Steve McQueen is more often treated as a icy stylist, which is unfair seeing as how good Michael Fassbender, Nicole Beharie and Carey Mulligan were in Shame. When 12 Years wins best actor and best supporting actress Oscars later this year (yeah, I said it), he’ll finally be seen as one of the great all-rounders, a sensitive interpreter of emotion as well as a technical and artistic master.

mcqueen

Okay, time for my usual caveat: when I say Worst Performance by an actor or actress, I’m not picking on the performer themselves. Some of the work in those bad categories isn’t necessarily the fault of the performer, and might be a consequence of poor direction or a malfunctioning interpretation of the material. Conversely, some of the performances I liked might have been a consequence of good work from a number of people (though I’d argue the Blue Jasmine nominations are good despite the direction, as they’re complex and nuanced examples of the craft that have not been seen in a Woody Allen film for a long long time, and many of the people acting in his films say he’s quite hands-off in his direction). So I pick on or praise the work in that situation alone, and it’s not a screw-you to the actual person. I’m sure they’re all lovely and sincere and don’t deserve to be the opprobrium of some dumb, half-asleep blogger recovering from a carb-heavy roast dinner. Now let’s get the praise and pissiness done.

Best Performance by an Actress: Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Honorable Mentions:

Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha 

Amy Seimetz – Upstream Color

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Scarlett Johannson – Under The Skin

Julia Louis-Dreyfuss – Enough Said

Best Performance by an Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years A Slave

Honorable Mentions:

Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips

Matthew McConaughey – Mud

Robert Redford – All Is Lost

Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis

Steve Coogan – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Best Supporting Performance by an Actress: Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years A Slave

Honorable Mentions:

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine 

Shailene Woodley – The Spectacular Now

Zhang Ziyi – The Grandmaster

Sarah Paulson – 12 Years A Slave

Rooney Mara – Side Effects

Best Supporting Performance by an Actor: Bradley Cooper – The Place Beyond The Pines

Honorable Mentions:

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave

James Franco – Spring Breakers

Colin Farrell - Saving Mr. Banks

Richard Armitage – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Sir Ben Kingsley – Iron Man 3

Best Ensemble Cast: American Hustle (I can’t pick a favourite performance out of the whole cast. Remarkable work.)

americanhustle

Most Likable Ensemble Cast: Now You See Me

Best Individual Voice Work: Steve Carell – Despicable Me 2

stevecarell

Best Voice Cast/Direction: Chris Buck / Jennifer Lee – Frozen

Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: Adele Exarchopolous – Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Best Performance by a Singer (Female): Viv Albertine – Exhibition

Best Performance by a Singer (Male): Justin Timberlake - Inside Llewyn Davis

Best Performance by a Film Director: Joe Swanberg – You’re Next

Best Cameo: Uncredited Male Who Cannot Be Named As It Would Ruin One Of The Film’s Best Jokes – This Is The End

Scenestealing Actress of the Year: Amy Acker - Much Ado About Nothing

anyacker

Scenestealing Actor of the Year: Arnold Schwarzenegger – Escape Plan

Most Incredible, Entertaining Effort Expended On A Movie So Far Beneath The Actor’s Talents That It’s Painful And Also Hypnotic To Watch: Jeff Bridges – RIPD

“Dude, I Don’t Think Your Agent Thinks Very Highly Of You As A Person” Performances Of The Year: Paul Dano (a loathsome racist scumbag in 12 Years A Slave, a potential child-abductor and winner of the Man Most Likely To Be Tortured For Ages To No Avail award of 2013 in Prisoners)

pauldano

Best Performance By An Actress Who Never Gets The Roles Or The Praise She Deserves And Then Turns Up To Blow The Doors Off In The First Half Of This Only To Be Replaced By An Animated Version Of Herself During An Ill-Advised Fantasmagorical Sequence: Robin Wright – The Congress

robinwright

Best Performance By An Actor Who Has Been Undervalued For Years And Then Returns From Illness To Play A Role In A Way That Can Be Treated Like Camp But Is Actually Infinitely More Interesting Than That And Shows Just How Skillful He Is And Always Has Been: Michael Douglas – Behind The Candelabra

douglas

Best Career Moves of the Year (Actress): Sandra “Sandy” Bullock – Gravity / The Heat

Honorable Mention: Melissa McCarthy – The Heat / Identity Thief / The Hangover Part III (only one of those was good but man, she is making money right now)

Best Career Moves of the Year (Actor): Bradley Cooper – The Place Beyond The Pines / American Hustle

Honorable Mention: Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips / Saving Mr. Banks

Most Reliable Movie-Improving Actress of the Year: Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle / The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Most Reliable Movie-Improving Actor of the Year: Dwayne Johnson – Pain & Gain / Fast & Furious 6 / GI Joe: Retaliation

“Holy Crap, I Never Knew You Had This In You” Actress of the Year: Olga Kurylenko – To The Wonder (so much so that I wish she was given more to do in Oblivion)

“Holy Crap, I Never Knew You Had This In You” Actor of the Year: Paul Rudd – Prince Avalanche (we know he can do comedy, but he’s never stepped so deftly between laughs and pathos as in this)

Worst Performance by an Actress: Jodie Foster – Elysium

elysium

Dishonorable Mentions:

Jennifer Lopez – Parker

Kirsten Dunst – Upside Down

Alexandra Daddario – Texas Chainsaw 3D

Gemma Arterton – Runner Runner

Jurnee Smollet-Bell – Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counsellor

Worst Performance by an Actor: Ashton Kutcher - Jobs

Dishonorable Mentions:

Liam Hemsworth – Paranoia

Jim Sturgess – Upside Down

Jamie Campbell Bower – The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

James Corden – One Chance

Nicholas Hoult – Jack The Giant Slayer

Worst Supporting Performance by an Actress: Sharon Stone – Lovelace

stonelovelace

Dishonorable Mentions:

Kim Kardashian: Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

Melissa Leo – Prisoners

Katherine Heigl – The Big Wedding

Patti LuPone – Parker

Lola Dueñas - I’m So Excited

Worst Supporting Performance by an Actor: Bruce Willis – GI Joe: Retaliation

bruce

Dishonorable Mentions:

Nolan Gerard Funk – The Canyons

Josh Gad – Jobs

Josh Peck – Battle of the Year

Timothy Spall – Upside Down

Jonny Lee Miller – Byzantium

Worst Ensemble Cast: Lovelace

Least Likeable Ensemble Cast: Movie 43

Worst Individual Voice Work: Dane Cook – Planes

danecook

Worst Voice Cast /Direction: The Croods (Not counting Rage Cage, as good as ever)

Worst Performance by a Singer (Female): Selena Gomez – Getaway

Worst Performance by a Singer (Male): Gavin Rossdale – The Bling Ring

Worst Performance by a Film Director: Gus Van Sant – The Canyons

Worst Cameo(s): All of the cameos in the final ten minutes of Anchorman 2, none of which are funny

Unluckiest Actor Whose Work In A Movie Was Almost Entirely Left On The Cutting Floor But Still Showed Up In A Couple Of Shots Thus Making The Audience Go, “Why Was He Used As An Extra, That’s Really Distracting And Mysterious.”: Matthew Fox – World War Z (That might be the back of his head on the right, or he might be behind the bulkhead, or crouching out of sight. He’s like the Scarlet Pimpernel of cinema.)

isthatmatthewfox

Most Mannered Performance of the Year: Tim Blake Nelson – As I Lay Dying

Most Wasted Actress: Ruth Wilson – The Lone Ranger / Saving Mr. Banks (She’s given a bit more to do in the latter, but her treatment in the first is one of the few things I disliked about it)

Most Wasted Actor: Laurence Fishburne – Man of Steel (I dream of a longer cut with more Perry White)

Most Entertaining Performance by an Actress in a Bad Movie: Saoirse Ronan – The Host

Honorable Mention: Rinko Kikuchi – 47 Ronin

Most Entertaining Performance by an Actor in a Bad Movie: Christoph Waltz – The Zero Theorem

Honorable Mention: Josh Brolin - Gangster Squad

Best Accent: Amy Adams – American Hustle (I’m not sure her British accent is very good, but the fact that it’s almost good but is just slightly off is delightful)

Worst Accent: Jodie Foster – Elysium (Bad enough that this normally excellent actress misjudges her villainy, it’s adding insult to injury that she has to use this wacky futuristic agglomeration of upper-class transnational accents. It distracts from everything she says)

Most Entertaining Accent(s): Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons – Beautiful Creatures

Most Offensive Accent / Dodgy Impersonation Of Peter Sellers In The Party: William Fichtner – Wrong (I invented this category last year as a one off to “honour” the horrific accent used by Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I could never have imagined I would need to use it again. Maybe it isn’t an accurate description of whatever the hell this thing is. Who knows? Who could know? Nothing in this tiresome movie makes any sense.)

Most Incomprehensible Cast: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Dishonorable Mention: Escape Plan

“Where Have You Been?” Actor of the Year: Kevin Costner – Man of Steel

costner

Best Performance By Hott Sam Rockwell: The Way Way Back

Most Impressive Display Of Range: Jesse Eisenberg (Cocky and obnoxious in Now You See Me, introverted to the point of catatonia in Night Moves, neurotic in one role and malevolent in the other in The Double)

eisenberg

“More Of This And Less Of This, Please” Actress of the Year: Olivia Wilde (more excellent, thoroughly charming work like in Drinking Buddies, less… well, also very charming work in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, where she’s the best thing in it but gets barely any screentime, unfortunately for us.)

oliviawilde

“More Of This And Less Of This, Please” Actor of the Year: Hugh Jackman (More bringing gravitas to unfairly disrespected genre films like The Wolverine, less removing gravitas from more “respectable” but inferior genre films like Prisoners. Also, while we’re on the subject, please don’t accept any requests to appear in shit like Movie 43 either, because honestly your judgement is beginning to look really suspect)

jackman

Winner of the Patrick-Dempsey-In-Transformers-3 “You’re So Much More Believable As A Villain Than A Hero” Award: Jim Caviezel (as shown in the Escape Plan clip above)

Hammiest Performance By Michael Sheen: For the first time since Listmania! began (yes, this category has existed since it began), there has been no Michael Sheen hamminess at all. Nothing. Not even in Masters of Sex, where he’s doing relatively quiet work. This makes me sad, but all is not lost. Finally Sheen’s finest movie moment is online, and I now share it with you all. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the thing that justifies the existence of the Twilight Saga…

Hammiest Performance By Naveen Andrews: Diana

Hammiest Performance By Benedict Cumberbatch: Star Trek Into Darkness

Hammiest Performance By Kristin Scott Thomas: Only God Forgives

Hammiest Performance By Michael Shannon Prior To Being Encased In A Space Dildo: Man of Steel

Hammiest Performance By An Entire Cast: Insidious 2 

insidious2

Next up: crew contributions of the year, and then miscellaneous gubbins, once I’ve slept off that goddamn roast dinner.

Listmania ’13! The Worst Movies Of The Year

A New Year arrives and once more LISTMANIA! is just getting up to speed; some years I think I should quit my job and dedicate myself to getting this done on time for the sake of those rare few who give even a small damn about all this extravagant wordage (how galling it was to see Nathan Ditum’s end of year list, which is a model of efficient brevity of laser-like accuracy that puts my adjectival avalanche to shame). As I said in my first film post it was an exceptional year, but without dark there can be no light, and this list shows the absolute worst of it, ranging from disappointing misfires to odious works of actual evil. Unless I really go to town on anyone specific in these entries, bear in mind that these are value judgements on the films and not the people involved; for instance entry number 30 is painful as I’m a usually big fan of the director. It’s especially bad when it’s a movie with something on its mind. Beating up on ambition feels like the behaviour of the most mean-spirited bully; trying to accomplish something significant should be championed.

biff

But be a douchebag I must. Maybe it’s because I’m getting on now and have less time to waste on badness (especially as I’m making such headway with #TheProject), so instead of being understanding when it comes to underperforming movies, I’m angrier now about time wasted. Everything here left me with a sour feeling, and exasperation at what feels like theft. And not just me but from the world, who will now not see #TheProject — a series of books that will change the way we see existence and bring about transcendence to a non-corporeal, immortal species of pure thought — until after we have to put up with the stress of the next round of US / UK elections. Blame a dozen terrible action movies for the extra months of misery humanity will face, and shake your fists at these thirty absolute stinkers.

30. I’m So Excited

imsoexcited

In a time of such political upheaval, it’s expected that filmmakers would respond and add commentary about dire world events to their movies. What’s depressing is when that era of strife goes on for so long that our culture becomes saturated with metaphorical representations of the exact horrors that we’re trying to escape from. Almodovar’s I’m So Excited has all that plus forced high camp, a melange of fractured and unsatisfying sub-plots with a number of lifeless and underdeveloped ciphers, and a poorly judged tone that aims for light but ends up leaden-footed and joyless. Every bumbling symbol for the malfunctioning economy and its terrible aftermath lands with even more unwelcome force than a crashing plane full of broadly drawn, overplayed parodies, and that’s before we get to the two most unappealing aspects of this regrettable misfire from the great director; a scene in which an unconscious member of the “underclass” is sexually assaulted by one of the more affluent business class passengers but, you know, FOR LAUGHS and also satire except that at the end of the film they’re happily together so that’s all right then, and the miserable “showstopper” at the halfway mark, with the three flight attendants sullenly lip-syncing to the Pointer Sisters’ I’m So Excited. Nothing else this year has made this blog cringe in such exquisite, toe-curling horror, made worse by the realisation that that song is, apparently, twenty-five minutes long, or at least seems to be. Let’s hope Almodovar has got this out of his system now and can get back on track.

29. White House Down

whitehousedown

If anyone told me in 2012 that I would end up preferring a relatively low-budget Antoine Fuqua Die Hard rip-off set in the White House and starring the increasingly irrelevant Gerard Butler to a pretty high-budget Roland Emmerich Die Hard rip-off set in the White House and starring the increasingly lovable Channing Tatum I would have told you to get the hell out my house and stop trying to predict the future, don’t you realise that sorcery is the devil’s work? But that seemingly demented mutant clairvoyant would have been right; Olympus Has Fallen defied all of the odds and became one of this blog’s secret pleasures of the year, mostly for all of the unnecessary cranial trauma. White House Down, on the other hand, could only be a success if it turned out Emmerich and writer James Vanderbilt were paying homage to Team America: World Police via The Rock and Air Force One. A grotesque hodge-podge of shitty green screen and flimsy sets distract the eye so much that the audience couldn’t lose themselves in the moment even if the action was staged with any imagination or the dialogue was actually funny instead of being just a litany of shoe-horned plot points and set-ups. Perhaps if it was a little crazier, or a lot angrier (Emmerich is a noted liberal, and let his political freak-flag fly during 2012) it might have transcended its limitations. Instead we’re left with a cheap-looking disappointment that stopped Tatum’s star momentum dead and led to Sony reducing its film output. A damn shame.

28. Trance

trance

Shades of Caruso is not fond of the cinematic works of Mr. Danny Boyle. The Olympics Opening Ceremony? Marvellous. But other than Sunshine and Shallow Grave you can spare us having to sit through his visually messy, choppily edited exercises in empty style. This remake of Joe Ahearne’s TV movie looks exactly like any other Boyle movie; the camera goes hither and thither for no real reason other than that kineticism seems to be its own reward, while the editing tries to hide the fact that the second act is nothing but preparation for the finale. Movies featuring twists about identity often sacrifice coherence, plausibility or emotional throughlines in order to get to that last shocking reveal, and Trance is no different. For about an hour here nothing makes sense as we wait for the plot-plates to stop spinning, meaning it’s impossible to care about the protagonists, who feel like pawns in a game. Only Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson come close to being interesting, just through star-power alone; Dawson’s character is necessarily thinly-sketched for the most part in order to preserve that surprise. The worst thing is that Boyle, the sentimentalist, wants to end on the same uplift as in his other films — look at 127 Hours, which was a lot of repetitive emoting from James Franco just so we could get to a nice Sigur Ros song at the end — and so for Trance we’re meant to feel a charge of positivity about the possibility of a relationship blooming between two of those two-dimensional game-pieces. He’s a cheeky monkey.

27. Don Jon

donjon

It’s hard to dislike a movie when the person responsible for it is obviously sincere about his intentions. Even more so when those intentions are honourable, and the targets he’s aiming for tally with your own bugbears. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s exploration of misguided male sexuality and treatment of women is laudable for taking an established genre and using it to expose not only the shortcomings of that genre but also the effect that the Internet has had on ideas of what are sexually acceptable, but for everything JGL gets right here, there’s something wrong just waiting around the corner, either in terms of his argument or in his depiction of, well, pretty much everything. The family and friends of Don Jon himself are the most appalling and cretinous stereotypes imaginable, so broadly played that the sets almost quake with the effort; extra minus points for making Scarlett Johansson play such a miserable caricature in the same year that Under The Skin was unleashed. JGL is at least using her character as The Wrong Woman, so as nigh-unwatchable as this character work is it does have a point, but Julianne Moore’s character doesn’t even get that much fleshing out. She appears too late in the day, with her single moment of tragic exposition, before fixing our hero with all of the sex she improbably has with him even though he’s little more than an emotionally regressed clown. Yes, JGL’s railing against something. That’s a good thing. But he hasn’t actually replaced the bad thing with anything better. The horribly edited, clamorous result is almost unendurable.

26. The Internship

theinternship

Vince Vaughn co-wrote this laughless commercial which might, as this astute piece makes clear, be considered part of a project where he’s cataloguing the failures of middle-aged men in a changing world. However, while The Break-Up is a surprisingly heavy drama-com with an uncommercially bleak message, this abandons such reflection in favour of a multitude of campus comedy cliches; nerds becoming men through the acceptance of hot women, a “empowering” trip to a strip club, loudly delivered content-(and joke)-free speeches which win the day, &c. Didn’t Homer Goes To College put a stake through the heart of this shit? That impossibly lazy script’s crimes are legion, with both Vaughn’s and Owen Wilson’s characters being identical except that Wilson gets to stalk Rose Byrne, and a big finale that amounts to a five-minute advert for Google Business Solutions, not to mention a dispiriting love letter to the idea of getting a job or expanding your business into a franchise being presented as the ultimate good (Vaughn’s libertarian politics shining through). Shades of Caruso isn’t asking for movies to unquestioningly promote spirituality — Crom knows we could barely make it through Life of Pi without chewing our knuckles bloody — but when self-actualisation and hope for the future is reduced down to “you could become the next Papa John”, society has taken a wrong turn. Following that up with a scene in which a roomful of people cheer our “heroes” for ensuring they remain unemployed is just twisted.

25. The Great Gatsby

thegreatgatsby

There are some movies that go so big and so crazy that they end up straddling a mental line between awesome and just no. Ever since seeing John Boorman’s Excalibur in the mid-80s, this blog has almost annually ping-ponged back and forth between thinking it is a gargantuan folly and being utterly, obsessively smitten with it. There’s a chance that Baz Luhrmann’s infinitely gaudy and frantic adaptation of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel will trace a similar confusing pattern in my mind; after all, many of its worst excesses are the same as in the almost identically paced Moulin Rouge!, which is a particular favourite. However that excess is not just restricted to that uniquely Luhrmannian eruption of cacophonous noise and nauseating chintz, the kind of maddening effervescence that makes the audience feel like it’s trapped in a closet with a PCP-enraged marching band. As with Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen, Luhrmann is all too eager to isolate the themes of his beloved source material and bang on them as loudly as possible, all while pointing at them and bellowing “This is the point!” Yes, the movie’s look — Peter Jackson’s King Kong by way of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element — will work or not work depending on the mood of the viewer, but that insistence on bringing the subtext to the fore, and garbling Fitzgerald’s prose by taking it out of context and rewriting it (literally onscreen a la the final scene of Twilight 5), has the regrettable effect of diminishing the remarkable original. And that’s unforgivable.

24. The Purge

thepurge

The premise of this low-budget unexpected box office success is the kind of thing you hear and for a second think, oooh, that’s quite clever. The next second of mental processing will be spent trying to figure out the dramatic possibilities of this idea. Five seconds later you’ll probably have something better than this, a risible and ultimately simplistic home invasion film with a flimsy shell of philosophical inquiry sprayed over it. The idea that an annual Purge — a night where any crime is permitted which leads to a corresponding drop in crime for the rest of the year due to the catharsis of this unbridled mayhem — could only possibly work if you eliminate all shreds of recognisable human behaviour from the equation, especially as seen here when our protagonists end up preyed upon by their neighbours. And they’re meant to live in the same area for the next 364 days? This will be a universal problem, surely. Writer/director James DeMonaco’s eagerness to use this metaphor to make a statement about the war on the underclass by affluent America, and the fascism hidden under the topsoil of civility in a country that permits widespread use of guns, is utterly commendable, but as the movie treads water for the majority of its running time you realise he hasn’t quite done his homework, and the result is a listless waste of time that flirts with profundity but squanders any chance of saying something new and insightful on an hour of people skulking through a dark house before reaching an unworkable finale.

23. Machete Kills

machetekills

Once upon a time it looked like Robert Rodriguez was a natural, the kind of filmmaker who breathed cinema like magical breath-light right through the lens onto the film (or video tape). Now all he does is vomit sewage all over his digital camera before clocking off and bragging about his Mariachi-style ethos as if spending a couple of weeks on a screenplay before rushing to production is the equivalent of forming the Dogme movement. After years of producing little more than garish kids films (and depressing promises that Sin City 2 is on the way, thrilling pretty much no one), he’s now treading water making the cinematic equivalent of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, but without even the minimal love that he lavished on Planet Terror. Without that kind of enthusiasm, it’s worth asking one vital question; when does pretending to be a bad filmmaker cease to be a pretence? Answer: pretty much about five minutes into this rehash of the already feeble and overstretched original when it becomes obvious that any idea, no matter how incongruous, will be hauled onto the screen for a couple of minutes in order to placate an undemanding audience that Rodriguez apparently assumes has all of the intellectual capacity of a particularly stupid egg. Perhaps he had a good time in the editing room watching his friends larking about on the set, but we demand more from our exploitation. Some actual jokes would be a start; Black Dynamite might not be art but it’s at least got some real laughs in it.

22. Battle of the Year

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Dance movies often prove to be a hot mess but as long as the dance sequences are filmed well they can still win out. Fluff the big set-pieces, and you’re doomed. This fictional follow-up to the successful documentary Planet B-Boy favours cliche over innovation, but on top of that unadventurous plot director Benson Lee often edits the dancing in a staccato rhythm that works against the routines, turning them into a montage of stunts instead of a narrative within the narrative. This is all bad enough but there are a number of other amusing misjudgements throughout, such as the in-movie plugs for Planet B-Boy — “it’s got, like, a billion rentals on Netflix!” — meaning a number of scenes with the characters mutely sitting in front of TV screens to watch other members of the cast talk about B-boy culture, or the addition of Caity Lotz to prevent the film from becoming a sausage-fest, only to then give her three lines of dialogue. That said, it does feature one of the year’s most accidentally brilliant scenes, with poor Josh Holloway trying to get through a roll call scene during which he has to dramatically utter the names of his chosen dream-team candidates — “Sniper… Flipz… Lil Adonis… Kilowatt… Mayhem… Intricate…” — evoking memories of this 30 Rock scene. At least he’s got acting chops; nobody else here has a hope with the relentless and dry exposition, and without being able to understand the routines or the rules of the final dance battle, the result is almost two hours — TWO HOURS — of exhausting tedium.

21. 47 Ronin

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2013 has had its fair share of notorious expensive genre failures that deserve to be pilloried; any studio model that offers us charmless Men-In-Black “homage” RIPD or the mechanical Jack The Giant Slayer needs to be shaken up as soon as possible. 47 Ronin is perhaps the most egregious of these doomed projects, matching a vast budget with a first-time director and a story intentionally sabotaged to alienate the one audience that could respond to it. The tale of the 47 Ronin of Akō has inspired numerous Chūshingura, so it was inevitable that a Western depiction of this tale would have to tread carefully so as not to cause offence, but despite an impressive cast of Japanese character actors including Hiroyuki Sanada and Tadanobu Asano, what we’re presented with is an act of cultural warfare not seen from America since Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun, thanks to half-hearted fantastical ornamentation and the needless inclusion of Keanu Reeves (who is perfectly fine nevertheless) as a half-Japanese, half-British orphan with magical powers who gets about fifteen minutes of screentime but the majority of the film’s wow moments. Carl Rinsch was removed from the project after the budget spiraled from scandalous to insane, and the film was recut, but what here justifies this project’s existence in the first place? The original story is perfectly fine without embellishment, though a fully-fledged journey into fantasy might have been more interesting than this half-measure. Instead we have something fatally wounded by its hesitance, its lack of humour, its crippling inertia, and its almost infinite incompetence.

20. We’re The Millers

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When a director like Malick or Carruth takes a long break from making films we mourn the medium’s loss, the possibility that the singular insight into the human soul might never come back, that we have an incomplete idea of what this artist has to say about the world. When Rawson Marshall Thurber took an eight year break following the success of his wafer-thin sports comedy Dodgeball Shades of Caruso just felt a bit better about the world, like it had corrected itself. But no. Other than a quick cameo in Easy A (“Not now, Quizno’s guy.” “You’re a slut!”) it looked like we’d all had a lucky escape until he came roaring back with another joke-an-hour fratboy comedy that waggles its eyebrows in the direction of cocking a snook at polite convention but is actually only as subversive as not flushing after a number two. Perhaps it would have been funnier and more challenging if Thurber (hurts to type that name) had included more ad libs from star Jason Sudeikis, here mostly stripped of his bawdy but inventive wordplay as seen in Going The Distance and Horrible Bosses, and left instead to rely solely on his trademark laidback malevolence, like early-career Chevy Chase. Instead of jokes or even appealing energy we get malfunctioning setpieces and rigorous structure, with no exploration of the dichotomy between straight-laced nuclear family dynamics and the slacker ethos, leaving the few comedic moments toothless and forgettable. And yet it made $270m. SMDH.

19. The Zero Theorem

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Though Terry Gilliam has never been a director to hide his intentions or intellectual curiosity under the gauze of subtlety, there was nevertheless a grubby elegance to his earlier works beyond all of the excess and the fish-eye lenses and the detail-bukkake that assaulted the eye. Films like BrazilTwelve MonkeysThe Fisher King and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen — Gilliam’s best — touched on the theme of fantasy as a form of coping with the unbearable awfulness of being, and whether such fantastical constructions were as real as the reality around them. If he ever expressed interest in the bigger questions about the nature and ultimate purpose of our existence, they were secondary concerns. The Zero Theorem depressingly aims right at the “big questions”, and with that widening of viewpoint comes a dissolution of Gilliam’s focus from an occasionally badly aimed point to a muddy soup of teenage philosophising and hysterical tantrums against modernity. Poor Christoph Waltz does his best to bring the cipher that is Qohen Leth to life, but there’s nothing to this character other than a thinly sketched sub-Kafkaesque victim pushed and pulled by the repetitive tides of Pat Rushin’s incoherent screenplay; even Sam Lowry was a tornado of personality in comparison. Still, at least Leth wasn’t a plot device like the pneumatic Manic Pixie VR Girl played by poor Melanie Thierry, required to walk around in her smalls and be the target for Qohen’s — and our — priapic interest.

18. Texas Chainsaw 3D

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As with most horror movies of the 70s and 80s, the inbred offspring of the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre are numerous, with a confusing lineage and developmental problems — many of the sequels are reboots of the original, or remakes, or proper sequels to the original that ignore the other sequels and so on and so forth. This latest installment serves as a direct sequel to the first, deleting the other films and creating a new timeline as yet another set of producers tries to create a franchise despite the general apathy of the public. What’s most egregious about this latest attempt is the retconning of the first movie, as we see the Sawyer homestead, previously a grisly charnel house occupied by a few memorably terrifying characters, was apparently also home to another family who are murdered in a Waco-like siege in the opening scene, leading to a dreary plot involving inheritance and revenge that neuters the primally terrifying Leatherface and turns him into a sympathetic, simpering hero. It’s unwise to compare something this amateurish to the masterful original, but in a way we have to compare any horror movie to Tobe Hooper’s debut, because nothing before or since has surpassed it. This never stood a chance, made as it is with no spark of life, offering nothing but characters acting illogically, a structure almost cyclical in its repetition, and young women removing their clothes and then putting them back on with metronomic regularity. It has no place in a post-Cabin-In-The-Woods world. Watch You’re Next instead.

17. Paranoia

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At some point after the release and immense success of the first Hunger Games movie some movie executive, lounging in a comfortable chair in a meeting with other movie executives and running short on real ideas, said, “I wonder, is it possible to turn Liam Hemsworth into a movie star?” The result was this movie; the answer is no. Everything about this flavourless corporate thriller screams “test balloon” in much the same way as 2011’s Abduction was a trial to see if Taylor Lautner could elevate the material. Liam Hemsworth doesn’t stand a chance, having as much dramatic range as a photograph of Liam Hemsworth. His only methods of creating the illusion of variation are looking up during moments of reflection, inexplicably panting during dramatic moments, or repeatedly showing off his buff bod as a sop to the poor teenage girls who showed up to see him and were subjected to half-baked corporate intrigue and the remedial filmmaking skills of Shades of Caruso bête noire Robert Luketic. It’s probably unfair to slate the director for farting out a schedule-filler designed to be so bland it makes The Net look like Coppola’s The Conversation, but really, shouldn’t we despair at the thought of the continued employment of a man whose artistic legacy is the equivalent of off-brand sausage made from fiberglass and sphincters? Keep your arguments for Bay or Snyder as the worst filmmakers in the world; I’d take teal and orange over beige any day of the week.

16. Lovelace

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Lovelace is a perfect example of keeping your lip zipped until you have a better idea of what a filmmaker is trying to do even when early moments in the movie seem laughable. The first half’s peculiar temporal jumps and narrative elisions look like the work of amateurs who have no idea what they are doing, hinting that Lovelace is a bad movie classic a la Madonna’s W.E.; call it Boogie Shites if you will. It’s only once we reach the mid-point that directors Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein’s intentions become clearer as we revisit those early scenes, the mostly happy moments of Linda Lovelace’s porn career now cast as a terrifying experience caused by her abusive husband Chuck Traynor. So it’s not the disaster it seems to be, but instead it’s a different kind of flawed experience. What is the point of this narrative structure? It’s obvious from the start that she’s trapped in a terrible situation so it’s just timewasting tricksiness. The inclusion of the polygraph subplot suggests that this is a way of addressing the controversy over Lovelace’s differing accounts of her porn career, and the ways in which later campaigning efforts were distorted or challenged by the people in her life, but this is never made clear or capitalised upon, and isn’t helped by the exclusion of so much that makes this story worth telling, either for legal reasons or cold feet. It’s rare that Shades of Caruso downgrades a movie for what it’s not rather than what it is, but this poorly-scripted, weakly-played biopic does no justice to the complex and tragic person that inspired it, either through timidity or incompetence.

15. Spring Breakers

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Harmony Korine’s gaudy State of the Nation address was lauded and pilloried in roughly equal measure; a sign, perhaps, that he had tapped into something special with this dream-like ode to aimless youth and wish-fulfillment gone awry, but beyond the brattily provocative decision to take his four innocent-seeming actresses and make them wear bikinis for the majority of the movie, and to pair them up with the most extravagant send-up of a white man co-opting black culture since True Romance‘s Drexl Spivey, it’s hard to know what Korine was aiming for. Was he saying that young people today are amoral, except for the religious one (called Grace; ZOMG mind blown!)? Or is he just trying to prod our sensibilities with a tedious, circular montage of bouncing breasts for approximately 90% of the running time? Does he really think that announcing an imminent smash cut with the sound of a gun cocking and firing will be anything other than annoying after the 50th time he does it? Are we meant to forget that for all his bravado what he’s really doing is merely aiding in the PR-led “adultening” of some teeny-bopper actresses as they prepare for stage two of their careers by making them play sexbot ciphers? Is he honestly trying to send a message about racism by showing a dozen black men being gunned down by two affectless white girls in the finale when he’s previously used the presence of black men in that most insidious way, as a signal that those white girls are in danger? Do we really need to hear the otherwise-excellent James Franco drawl “Sprannnnng brehhhhhhhhhk” A MILLION FUCKING TIMES? Still, it might be hollow and inane but thanks to Benoît Debie at least it looks nice.

14. Planes

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In what has to be the most underwhelming year for mainstream animation since Pixar’s heyday, everything that wasn’t Frozen was disappointing-to-miserable; Monsters University was fun but lacked the originality of the first, The Croods was just about tolerable, Despicable Me 2 was as grating as DM1, Turbo was pretty (thanks to Wally Pfister’s input) but tried too hard, etc. Planes is easily the bottom of the barrel, a grievous insult to the very young children it’s aimed at, with cheap animation that’s about as expressive as a painting and a protagonist who overcomes all of his hurdles either through dei ex machina or the assistance of others, rendering him little more than a passive prop. It also delivers a lazy message for its young viewers: Believe In Yourselves! Go The Extra Mile! You Can Transcend Your Origins! Noble sentiments easily voiced and worth about as much as the shitty merchandise it has inspired. It’s only upon seeing this insincere product that you realise just how precious Ratatouille was. At first glance that was a superficial parable about self-confidence but beneath that was a complex commentary on creativity and public reaction to artistic endeavour. More importantly, you bought into it completely because Brad Bird did; it was a personal tale about overcoming adversity and convincing others of your worth, one with truly valuable lessons about the obstacles you will face if you chase a dream. There are no lessons here, other than “wish harder”. If kids go into the world with only this pablum in their stomach, they’re never going to get anywhere.

13. The Hangover Part III

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Credit is due to Todd Phillips — and his writing partner Craig Mazin — for defying expectations and using the success of the first two Hangover movies to take a right turn and create a third installment of such startling, visceral perceptiveness, ditching the comedy of the first two to create something so bleak and alienating that Peter Greenaway would blanch. Who would have thought that the man who “directed” the Starsky and Hutch movie would have something so daring up his sleeve, a lantern of blinding light that pierces the darkness surrounding America’s soul, that shows how a once great nation has lost its way. Recasting the Wolfpack as a menacing Neanderthal, a mentally-regressed void and a sociopathic man-child is an incredibly bold decision; they are a triumvirate that represents perhaps the three legislative branches of the United States. His masterstroke is turning the creepy Leslie Chow into a Trickster God, possibly representing the effect that the growing Chinese superstate is having on the American psyche, turning it into a knot of paranoia, depression, and self-destructive tendencies at the cost of its best qualities; a directorial choice that cost Phillips and Mazin an American audience but saved their creative soul. How bold a vision, how excoriating a critique, how…. Hold on, what? It’s actually just meant to be another underwritten fratboy comedy about a bunch of loathsome assholes? Fuck me. Still, at least Mike Tyson wasn’t in this one.

12. Wrong

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Championing the impenetrable can sometimes seem like a display of attention-seeking contrariness, so to prove that Shades of Caruso’s love of numerous experimental films such as Computer Chess or Upstream Color is not some kind of perverse display, please consider Quentin Dupieux’s follow-up to Rubber, concerning one man’s quest for his abducted dog. Very few films released this year are as exasperating as this vapid waste of time, simply because the cavalcade of absurdities and non-sequiturs have no internal logic and very little point, being little more than a randomly shuffled series of confounding scenarios that might, if one were being generous, concern one man’s avoidance of intimacy. Even if this were the case, by creating a world where anything can happen means there are no stakes and nothing has any weight; it makes Napoleon Dynamite look like Tootsie. This is a childish, purposeless, intellectually barren fart of a movie, almost entirely composed of deadpan reactions to absurdity instead of actual humour or insight-generating juxtapositions. Even divisive anti-comedians like Tim and Eric or Dadaesque baffle-merchants such as Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer understand that relentless oddness needs some spark of imagination or charm; this lacks those qualities and doesn’t even contain any artistry, with Dupieux relying on a visual template so monotonous that every shot looks the same. That something this shallow was funded by anyone is an insult to filmmakers with something to say but no resources to say it.

11. The Big Wedding

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We’ve been getting a bunch of these large ensemble comedies for a few years now, which all star Katherine Heigl (or at least feel like they star Katherine Heigl), as if by now the only way she is tolerable onscreen is to dilute her acidic persona with the gratuitous inclusion of other, more likeable stars. The Big Wedding is different from your Valentine’s Days or New Year’s Days by being based on an already existing property; the French farce Mon frère se marie. Bucket List creator Justin Zackham has adapted this for American audiences, but while the bedhopping seen here might be more palatable in a European setting, when it’s done by Robert De Niro with Diane Keaton behind Susan Sarandon’s back, what is meant to be mischievous suddenly comes across as sour and mean-spirited. Farce only really works if the winking used to justify the sexual shenanigans is aimed at an audience that either doesn’t mind the impropriety, or is made to not mind it. What we get here is a lot of weird judgemental choices that don’t feel like puckish challenges made against conventional morality, but shrieking accusations against the players. This is before we get into the portrayal of the Columbian family who are guests at the wedding of Alejandro, the son adopted by the affluent white folks (played by British Ben Barnes in ghastly make-up). We get both the highly religious and judgemental mother and the spicy hot promiscuous daughter who just can’t help herself! A bonanza of facepalm-inducing bullshit. A film to be watched though gritted eyes.

10. Jobs

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Hard to believe that this hastily-constructed biopic of the Apple co-founder got shown in cinemas outside of Sundance, that the negative wasn’t just given to Ashton Kutcher as a birthday present and then never spoken of again in public in order to clear the way for Aaron Sorkin’s more restrictive but also more ambitious three-slice project. But this blog is immensely grateful that it lumbered onto the screen because until the last Atlas Shrugged movie crawls onto screens (thanks for nothing, Kickstarter), there’s a corporate-bullshit-shaped hole in our lives, and Jobs came along to fill it with uninspiring but emphatically-enunciated speeches, slow claps from amazed and near-tumescent shareholders, and all the hot boardroom-putsch-porn you could ever hope for. Kutcher furrows his incredible brow with extra effort for this, his most dramatic role yet, pushing every word out of his mouth as it were his last, but then everyone here has to risk inducing a stroke in an attempt to make the brazenly expository dialogue sound less like an SNL Digital Short spoof of The Social Network. Though Jobs does contain some insight into this tantrum-throwing, back-stabbing, creepy arrested adolescent, most of the time we just see a visionary thinker whose genius was to say, “Let’s make this non-awesome thing into an awesome thing because awesome things are awesome”. No one could make this material work, but that doesn’t let Kutcher off the hook entirely. This is still resolutely Not-Awesome.

9. One Chance

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The best thing that could be said about this granny-sating piece of fluff is that technically it could have been worse, though after what feels like decades of Britain extruding these anti-cinematic sausages it’s depressing to note that by hiring Americans David Frankel and Justin Zackham we’re now outsourcing our pap. They bring to the project a miserable competence, a gleaming but uninspiring professionalism that almost makes you forget you’re watching the inbred great-great-grandson of Billy Elliott lumbering around onscreen, all rough edges shaved down, all quirk or life extracted in order to ensure every beat is hit. And those beats sure are hit, again and again and again, as protagonist Paul Potts falls down and gets back up again at fifteen-minute intervals like clockwork. But that’s not why this is on the list, nor is it the miserable waste of Alexandra Roach as Potts’ wife. It’s the fact that One Chance is produced and endorsed by Simon Cowell, the inspiration for Futurama‘s Hypnotoad, a humourless robot covered in pâté, a creature who happily signed away his ability to understand art in a Mephistophelian pact that gave him the ability to psychically locate the least challenging acts and exploit them like a really shit X-Man, someone so in love with himself and so stupendously dumb that he would actually think the term “Svengali” is a compliment. For aiding the building of the myth that has allowed this homonculus to walk the earth unassailed, fuck this film until the stars burn out. And don’t get me started on Corden, who stops just short of begging the audience to love him and his smarmy tics.

8. Getaway

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For a brief moment early on in this unpleasantly relentless car chase movie, when you realise what writers Sean Finegan and Gregg Maxwell Parker, and director Courtney Solomon are trying to achieve, you think that maybe this might end up being a fitting swansong for Joel Silver’s 25-year stint at Warner Bros.; a stripped-down, minimalist actioner evoking memories of Walter Hill’s The Driver. Midway through the first car chase all hope fades, as we cut from one webcam to another to another to another to another, Ethan Hawke’s tooled-up speedster going back and forth across the frame, the 180-Degree Rule broken every tenth of a second, like each headache-inducing shot is being fired out of a juddering machine gun dangling from a piece of string. The screenplay that you hoped would be an elemental skeleton of a story, mixing Melvillian cool with modern brashness, is literally Selena Gomez and Hawke yelling, “Who’s doing this?!” “I don’t know!” “But why is he doing this?” “My wife!” “But who is he?” “I don’t know!” for approximately two-thirds of the running time. The decision to film most of the action using webcams is either a stylistic choice or a pragmatic one, but either way the result is easily the ugliest film of the year; it looks like Solomon constructed the film entirely out of B-roll footage, thus obscuring what might be some impressive stuntwork. The risible denouement makes things worse, proving that the writers came up with the format first then half-arsed the justification for it all.

7. Diana

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Shades of Caruso has no shame in announcing its love of the heroically awful W.E., which should by now have its own Showgirls-esque following. Oliver Hirschbiegel and writer Stephen Jeffreys’ adaptation of Kate Snell’s autobiography is, at times, the equal of Madonna and Alex Keshishian’s camp masterpiece, coming off like a throwback to that ghastly sub-genre of TV movies about royalty that would usually feature Anthony Andrews or Stephanie Beacham. Nevertheless, it’s also fascinating in the way it portrays Diana Spencer as an unhinged stalker with the emotional maturity of a child, sabotaging her life with her impetuousness, struggling to define herself as anything other than a restless embodiment of need and, most convincingly, as a terrible foe who freely uses the media to manipulate the men in her life, as shown here by poor hammy Naveen Andrews in a bad pub staring at a succession of depressing headlines about his lover gallivanting around with Dodi Fayed just to make him jealous. And this is the depiction that impressive mimic Naomi Watts and her director think honours Diana? Sadly this makes it sound like a better and bolder film than it is, which is mostly an ill-judged and unconvincing romance featuring the year’s best bad dialogue — once Andrews describes the work of a heart surgeon by saying, “You don’t perform the operation; the operation performs you,” and then noting you tend to get tired after an eight hour shift, it’s hard not to love it, for all the wrong reasons.

6. Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

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Let’s get some patronising but sincere caveats out of the way before we dive into the wrongs of this, the first Tyler Perry-directed movie seen by this blog’s weary, bleary eyes; what Perry has done in terms of making a career in an industry so hostile to African-American artists is little short of remarkable, and is testament to his tenacity and the strength of his vision — no doubt this is a man who believes what he’s saying and sticks to the basics of his philosophy — and it’s thrilling to see black Americans in leading roles playing confident characters in some kind of hypothetical post-racial America. But that doesn’t change the fact that this heavy-handed morality tale is still home to some of the most questionable views — and shitty filmmaking — of 2013. Adapted from his play, Perry tweaked his original story of a fallen woman punished for the sin of not respecting her man and losing touch with her bible learnins and actually made the hysterical final act more punitive. Not only is our protagonist disciplined by God with the loss of her husband and a vicious beating by her insane, near-demonic lover, but in this version she also contracts HIV into the bargain. Why Perry didn’t make her wear a sandwich board with a crimson, bloody letter A on it remains a mystery. Many religious tales of wrong paths taken have a sweetness or innocence at their core, and the childish silliness of Temptation hints at that. But make no mistake; there is real malice here, a crazy-eyed glee in bringing low a woman who got too big for her britches.

5. Upside Down

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When a movie starts with five minutes of rules explaining the elaborate hypothetical and fantastical physics of its world, you expect that the inevitable sacrifice of good will that comes with it will be rewarded with the pay-off of a cohesive imaginary setting. Juan Solana’s incomprehensible sci-fi romance manages to last three more minutes before breaking those rules, misinterpreting itself either through storytelling laziness or ignorance of the meaning of the word “matter”. From there the film’s absurdities multiply with every scene, and not just on the level of those impossible, ridiculous parameters. Upside Down makes no sense allegorically either, making Neill Blomkamp’s clumsy Elysium look subtle and coherent in comparison, not helped by visuals as pretty as they are eye-scramblingly unfathomable. Neither the tangled physics or the gallumphing political statement are necessary for the film to work; something more magical, that relied solely on the forbidden relationship could power the story, but even this malfunctions, with no chemistry between the leads and an amnesia sub-plot added just to pad out the running time. It doesn’t help that we’re asked to relate to Jim Sturgess, his emotions set to “Ultra-Emphatic”, delivering a voiceover of such unctuous vehemence that he sounds like he’s narrating an advert for Marks and Spencer’s chocolate. Also, -1000 points for the ultimate bad finale, with everything turning out OK cuz “reasons”, followed by a teaser for a sequel no one could possibly want.

4. 21 And Over

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By now it’s obvious that a sub-section of American filmmakers are engaged in a spiteful war against any concept of generosity or decency or empathy, preferring instead to celebrate the callous outliers of society — almost exclusively the white men who enjoy the status quo and the complacency it grants them — and to promise them that everything will remain the same and they can continue to carouse until the cows come home. What could be a celebration of the joys and freedoms of youth has transformed into a battle against the concept of reflection, of thought, even, leaving us with innumerable examples such as this; a tawdry and joyless splat of petulant rebellion, acting like a cultural Canute holding back a tidal wave of “conformity”, not realising that it is one of seemingly countless examples of the same empty protests against civility or progress. This neanderthal exercise in scat-throwing is another brainchild of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who gave us The Hangover even though most of us begged them not to. This time they derive much comic mileage out of two fetid child-men — one semi-reluctant, the other sociopathic — sexually abusing two women in a sorority while they attempt to find the mentally ill Chinese friend they have cajoled into getting drunk in an attempt to remove the stick from his insuffiently Ahmurrican ass. In the end their friend loses both the stick and his foreskin in “hilarious” circumstances, and the sociopath? Gets everything he wants. Because of course he does. He always does.

3. The Canyons

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When a movie attracts terrible publicity even before it gets released, it’s hard to prevent that bad word from colouring your opinion, either by making you try to stick up for the project out of underdog sympathy or to take everything said at face value and write it off without a second thought. Stephen Rodrick’s production diary from the set of Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis’ strenuous attempt to channel the zeitgeist gave the impression of a film shoot from hell, but then most such accounts do, so it could be discounted, right? Wrong, because this is a film that feels like a student project with its flat photography, its stilted performances, its sluggish editing. All of that is a consequence of Schrader having next to no money to shoot with –who’s to say Soderbergh could even have saved it — so again, allowances can be made. But my god, you would have to pay me a trillion moon dollars to make me give BEE’s laughably poor screenplay that kind of second chance. What must have been pitched as a searing expose of Hollywood corruption and lost souls lashing out comes off more like a soap opera directed by Zalman King on quaaludes. Even Tommy Wiseau has more understanding of human nature. Schrader places lugubrious shots of closed-down cinemas throughout his static expose of the seedy truth about LA (People Working In Entertainment Are Assholes Shocker!), as if to mourn a better time rendered obsolete by a culture addicted to porn, transfixed by mundane, miniscule screens. Yeah, but ponderous exercises in chiding the audience like this won’t save cinema either.

2. Movie 43

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Sweet Jesus, where to begin? Okay, first: WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY? Secondly, IS THIS MOVIE THE WORK OF SATAN? Thirdly, a quick look at the Wikipedia page for this gargantuan insult to humanity shows that Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman filmed their segment ages ago and this scene was used as a reel to attract other actors. Which should mean that Winslet and Jackman are now officially the most hated people in Hollywood after blasting so many promising careers with a gushing discharge of effluent that will never wash off. To watch this startlingly pointless, brazenly joyless cavalcade of taboo-breaking “what-if’s” presented without any effort to think them through or to add any kink or detail or gleam of imagination or even SOMETHING RESEMBLING A JOKE FOR CHRIST’S SAKE is to stare into an abyss that looks like an enormous distended rectum, and the taint it leaves on a person is something that will affect them forever. Why else do you think I keep talking about shit and arseholes? I’m a better person than this, I tell you. I once had hope that I would create something beautiful and true, that would inspire hope in anyone who experienced it, but after enduring this towering stack of turd pancakes all I can do is write poopy fart shits and balls and fuck piss doodies. Beauty can no longer exist in the same world as Movie 43. This is the anti-matter of love and virtue and respect for women. It is absolute evil. I HATE YOU, HUGH JACKMAN AND KATE WINSLET! I HATE YOU!

1. A Good Day To Die Hard

Is this number one because it really is the worst film of 2013? Or is this choice merely the outcome of a tantrum from an entitled Die Hard fan that has lasted almost an entire year? Shades of Caruso considers the three worst crimes of cinema to be not really giving a damn (see above: Planes or Paranoia or We’re The Millers), giving a damn but not knowing how to express oneself clearly, (Spring BreakersDon JonThe Purge), or thoughtlessly shoring up aspects of popular culture that are problematic, i.e. not only being part of the problem instead of the solution, but gleefully reveling in one’s reinforcement of anti-social dogma because of some knee-jerk belief that to be civil is to lose the right to promote precious ideas such as “bitches be crazy” and “foreign people are all the same” and “being even minutely considerate of other people is for fucking losers” (21 and OverMovie 43The Hangover Part III). A Good Day To Die Hard is that rare thing; a movie made by someone who doesn’t give a damn and doesn’t even know how to do that right; even Luketic is “proficient” in the most damning sense of the word. Not only is this the worst movie in the Die Hard franchise by an order of magnitude, it’s a film so poorly edited and shot that has no right to be released at all in this form. Some scenes here are so thoroughly wretched that it might be possible to prove that they are actively bad for the viewer’s health; certainly this is the kind of shatteringly incompetent filmmaking that stings the eye and erodes the soul.

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Who knows what happened here, what confluence of events caused this cataclysmic traincrash of a movie to happen. John Moore has been responsible for a number of calamitous projects in the past but this is on a whole new level of ineptitude. Was it studio interference? Have we reached that terrifying bad movie singularity where a filmmaker is just expected to go out with three or four other units, shoot a bunch of random footage and then hand it over to a diabolical algorithm to compile into something that “hits the beats” and “tests well” but actually doesn’t make any sense narratively, thematically or emotionally? Die Hard 5 isn’t just a film that says nothing about the world; it says nothing about itself. This is a yawning abyss of non-meaning, a procession of images with all the informational content of a muffled grunt, a betrayal not only of John McClane and the legacy of that character within the action genre (not to mention cinema as a whole) but of what we expect from a narrative experience in terms of internal coherence, relevance, or even the laws of physics / temporal logic. Never let any of the fools who made this malignant, chaotic fiasco near a camera again, and that includes Bruce Willis, who is now hazardously radioactive for punching a card and doing little more than walking in front of a camera for thirty pieces of silver. God bless America for rejecting this film, but curse you, international market, for turning it into a success. Never forgive this crime, never forget. Die Hard 6 will literally have to cure the sick to make up for this pestilential stain. There’s still more to come; best performances, best crew contributions, and a bunch of miscellaneous guff to wrap up every other spare thought I’ve had about the 140 films I saw last year and didn’t get around to writing down because I was working on #TheProject (and not playing thousands of rounds of Halo 4 multiplayer no matter what the NSA say).

Listmania ’13! The Best Movies Of The Year

LISTMANIA! should be a fun thing to do, but last year’s monumental exercise in opinionising was quite dispiriting. There were plenty of good movies around but nothing truly great, though Holy Motors and The Master came close. I ended up selecting The Avengers as the top film of 2012 simply because it was the only thing I saw all year that really made my heart beat, and that was a movie that was, for the first thirty minutes, a bunch of fart noises (I exaggerate because I care; bear in mind I’ve watched it about seventeen times since last year and would quite happily watch it again right now, twice in a row, while eating a celebratory bag of satsumas). While I wrote that gargantuan post I wondered if this was a symptom of some malaise; perhaps I was burned out on cinema? Could I blame Vine for it? The Daily Mail says the internet erodes the attention span and they literally (really literally) shit truth and vomit integrity so perhaps it was all on me and films were still super-awesome.

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Guess what; movies still are super-awesome! Because 2013 was, without a doubt, the best year for films since I started Shades of Caruso, and I say that even though I still haven’t see Her and The Wolf of Wall Street. My Letterboxd account shows that I didn’t give anything five stars last year (not even The Avengers despite it featuring the greatest scene in cinema history, i.e. Hulk versus Loki); this year I’d give the full whack to my top four, and four and a half stars to the next 10. Two of those five star movies showed up early in the year, so my fears were already allayed by the time I saw the third and realised we were experiencing a rare cultural moment. This run of incredibly high-quality cinema continued right until December, with my pick for number eight on this list delighting me so much it almost made me forget all of the horrors of The Worst Christmas Ever which, without wanting to get into it too much, was a maelstrom of mishap and misery that could turn Santa himself into an Ultra-Grinch.

It was such a good year that I’ve broken with convention slightly. Usually I write about my favourite 25 films of the year, with a quick scribble for five additional Honorable Mentions. At times I’ve struggled to find 25 I’m sufficiently passionate about to justify writing an entry, but this year was so much more feast than famine there wasn’t a problem going all out. In the interests of symmetry this means I will do the same with my forthcoming worst movies list (this might have been a great year for film but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a ton of visual sewage out there as well), though I might forgo some of the supplemental posts about the year just to save everyone from having to drink even more of my adjective soup. Also because I’ve already put in so much work on these while my house literally (and again I do mean literally) falls apart around my ears I’M REALLY NOT EXAGGERATING ABOUT HOW TERRIBLE THIS CHRISTMAS WAS somebody hold me and tell me everything’s going to be all right.

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Quick disclaimer here about the films on this list. Yes, a number of them shouldn’t really be listed as they haven’t even been released yet, either in the UK or anywhere at all in the case of list entry number four. There’s a case for me missing them out but right now release schedules are so confusing I’m making up the rules as I go along; if I say a film has a place on this list, then it does. What are you gonna do about it? Nothing, and besides, I think I’m already doing the right thing with regards to blogging, if the praise I get in my comments is anything to go by (quick sampler: “I most indisputably will make certain to don’t disregard this web site and give it a look regularly.” “You’re an excessively professional blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look ahead to in quest of more of your great post.” “I’ve liked reading each word. Who said writing was a lost art?” Who indeed, MilfSexChat, who indeed?). Now let the excessively professional blogging begin!

30. Prince Avalanche

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It’s tempting to include this minor gem from David Gordon Green simply because it stops the endless complaints that cinema has lost an empathetic director to the lure of the big bucks; a characterisation that ignores Green’s autonomy in favour of regurgitating that canard about Hollywood absorbing artists and turning them into the equivalent of fry cooks. Luckily Prince Avalanche has a lot more going for it than proving some people wrong, thanks to some affecting atmospherics, sensitive pacing and unpredictable elements such as the appearance of a woman searching through the wreckage of her burned-out home in a touching homage to her real-life predicament. Despite its different tone this shares some DNA with Pineapple Express, as two men come together in friendship over time, though this is a far less raucous exploration of male bonding and aspiration than Rogen and Goldberg’s stoner classic, relying instead on a tone of reflective but humorous tranquility. Shades of Caruso always hesitates to use the word “heart” to describe anything; too often it connotes a wishy-washy, dishonest sentimentality. However no other word describes what sets this quietly moving character piece apart from so many ponderous indie dribblings, though it should be noted that Green’s able to harness the power of David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky’s lovely score, and a career-best performance from Paul Rudd that shows a new-found maturity that still leaves room for his uniquely gonzo energy.

29. The Counsellor

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There’s a terrible mistake at the start of this film/audience-estrangement-exercise: the title proclaims that this is A Ridley Scott Film. Surely this is a Cormac McCarthy film, even taking into account Scott’s trademark cool aesthetic and intellectual distance, both on display here. McCarthy’s nihilistic exploration of morality and inexorable consequence speaks so clearly with his voice that we can only dream of the day he steps behind the camera himself so we can get a full shot of his genius without mediation. Until then we can rejoice in the fact that Scott didn’t try to temper that unmistakable bleak timbre, leaving us with a curio that will either madden an audience of critics and viewers until they rage against its exasperating incoherence, or strike like a lance at a lucky — or unlucky — few, who forgive its rhythmic lapses and knotted narrative curlicues and enjoy the experience of seeing and hearing something unheard-of in this day and age: an experimental mainstream movie. If this confounding but unforgettable trip into the heart of darkness had been made in the 70s it would be lauded and put on a pedestal alongside Cutter’s Way or Night Moves. Released now it’s treated like an incoherent failure. No cats are saved; instead we see people flirt with danger and end up consumed whole. There’s no process here, nothing that you expect from a traditionally satisfying story. Instead we’re strapped into a car and thrown off a cliff; the worth of this film is in the gleeful terror of waiting for the impact.

28. Man of Steel

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Zack Snyder and David Goyer’s Superman movie is this year’s Prometheus in terms of how swiftly it became a target for some of the most vociferous hatred ever inflicted on a mere movie; the price you pay for tampering with a beloved property without the correct deference. Man of Steel angered fans by tainting a pure ideal with an interpretation that many felt betrayed ignorance of what makes Superman so important. Another way of looking at it is that Goyer and Snyder have intentionally created a version of the hero’s myth that reveals a tension between the ideal of Superman — here denoted by the impossible expectations of Jor-El — and the reality of human life — the foolish suspicion and fear of Jonathan Kent. Both forces fight for control of Kal-El’s future, leaving him adrift until his nemesis forces him to choose a path that neither father prepared him for, leading to the birth of a new version of the hero, a flawed hybrid of God and Man. Those who consider this a betrayal of something pure are well within their rights to be annoyed — Lord knows we need inspirational figures — but some of us found this exploration of the gulf between the fantasy of an omnipotent force for rightness and the disappointing reality as meaningful as mere hero worship, no matter how appealing that archetype has been for so long. It’s also a demented and imaginative space opera of almost unprecedented scale, and features an exhausting final third that, if you’re on its wavelength, shocks and amazes like nothing else in this genre.

27. Inside Llewyn Davis

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Once upon a time the films of the Coen Brothers were pretty easily categorised into either comedy (Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski) or drama (Miller’s Crossing, Blood Simple) but since Fargo they have explored the middle ground with increasing regularity. This feels of a kind with A Serious Man; a point-of-view period film with a barely-sympathetic protagonist whose attempts at facing down the vicissitudes of life are mocked by the uncaring forces arrayed against him. As with A Serious Man the period details are perfectly rendered, this time bolstered by the expert assistance of T-Bone Burnett on music duties but, surprisingly, this is arguably a less musical film than O Brother Where Art Thou; a clever choice considering how much difficulty Davis has in sharing his gift with anyone, what with his spiky personality and uncompromising talent. And that’s the key to this movie’s success. Though Davis is a self-destructive jerk he isn’t a shlub. What we hear of his music is excellent, but he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time making the wrong enemies, unaware that he is about to rendered surplus to requirements by changing times. That melancholy air that the Coens have mastered is one of the best things about this, yet another instant classic from America’s most scarily consistent filmmakers, but special praise must be offered up to Oscar Isaac, who is usually the best thing about some pretty rotten movies. How wonderful to see him be the best thing about an exceptional one.

26. The World’s End

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American comedy — certainly in the fratboy sub-genre — has often been interested in the idea of shirking the responsibilities of the mainstream, of challenging the staid conventions of the country in favour of anarchic individualism and imagination. Lately, though, this genre has either thankfully challenged the long-accepted idea of the exuberant man-child — e.g. Judd Apatow’s ongoing series of films about growing up and accepting responsibility — or doubled-down on the genre’s excesses, ignoring the celebration inherent in the idea and instead pandering to the most inebriated and disgraced keg party casualties. How wonderful that the best examination of this trope in 2013 comes from England, home of the stiff upper lip and the disapproving, curtain-twitching Daily-Mail-reading prude. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have cleverly finished off their Three Cornettos trilogy with another intricately detailed comedy soaked in genre conventions — both upheld and overturned — but haven’t shied away from the dark side. Pegg’s protagonist can only win by dooming himself and his friends, and the way this inevitability plays out is thrilling to watch, with an unexpectedly powerful finale posing more questions about free will and the consequences of progress than most non-genre movies of recent times. Certainly this trilogy puts the rest of the British film industry’s populist attempts to shame; nothing else released this century has this much imagination, emotion, and — in that bold and unexpected epilogue — sheer storytelling courage.

25. Pacific Rim

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If a movie ever deserved to be loved and embraced just for giving an audience what it wants with the enthusiasm of a crew in love with their work, Pacific Rim is it. Guillermo Del Toro and Travis Beacham’s berserk monster movie got the fanbase onside even before release and managed to hold onto almost all of them by adding even more thrilling ideas onto the already super-thrilling central concept. That dedication to building a living world is rare enough in an age of cardboard fantasy, but this went beyond anything we could have anticipated. The saddest aspect is that they didn’t attract enough people outside that circle; a shame considering how rarely we now get to see such ambition on this scale. For those who fell for it, however, this was the kind of imaginative revelation that could wash away decades of cynicism; this viewer is not ashamed to admit that Pacific Rim‘s retina-scorching images, seemingly unstoppable torrent of insane fantastical concepts, and unwavering commitment to possibility pinged his emotions back and forth from giggling with joy to crying with joy, all the while muttering “how can it be?” So why is it not higher on this list? A second viewing unfortunately revealed the narrative joins, or rather they were fully exposed once the element of gasp-inducing surprise was removed. Not a deal-breaker, but a bit of a downer. Nevertheless, it is still remarkable; a giddy, unpretentious celebration of togetherness and trust bolted onto the most spectacular gamechanging visuals since Jurassic Park.

24. Computer Chess

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Andrew Bujalski took a leap off the deep end with his fourth movie, reportedly working from vague ideas of where his story of a 1980s computer chess programming convention would lead, then letting his cast of editors and technicians improvise their way towards these defined end-points. As a result the entire film feels like it could spin off into irrelevance and chaos at every moment, and for some the confounding last twenty minutes would certainly qualify as such a failure. But that unpredictability, and the chances taken by Bujalski and his cast, are also electrifying in a way that few other movies are, aided by the fact that its players are naturally funny and awkward in the most deadpan way so this experiment never feels stodgy or leaden. The reality of the performances and the amusingly petty squabbles between the programmers runs against the deliberately bleary images filmed using technology of the period, a stylistic choice that primes the audience for the flights of fancy in the last third where realism fades and we’re catapulted into a series of mystifying fantasy sequences that more accurately mimic the nightmarish style of David Lynch than anyone has managed, while still maintaining the good-natured tone that permeates the rest of the movie. The result is challenging but endearing, not to mention packed with nonchalantly delivered ideas, and features one of the great comic creations of the year; the abrasive and cocky Michael Papageorge, played brilliantly by “gardener and chocolatier” Myles Paige.

23. The Great Beauty

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Paolo Sorrentino’s lettera d’amore to Rome is, on the surface, a ravishing visual treat thanks to glowing and swooping photography from Luca Bigazzi that qualifies for this year’s Shades of Caruso Honorary Rian Johnson Award For Unpredictable But Exhilarating Camerawork. That beauty is a thin veneer hiding a moral decay and intellectual ossification that has slowly ruined the life of protagonist Jep Gambardella, a man whose early promise has been squandered on a life of spectacular but empty bacchanalia, surrounding himself with a fawning coterie of gossipy pseuds that he courts like a fickle emperor. Toni Servillo and director Sorrentino bravely walk this character along a tightrope, making him simultaneously charming and deeply irritating, his capacity for pyrotechnic arrogance tempered by the slowly dawning realisation that his rosy life is a lie and the beautiful city he loves is not just a dream-scape but also a prison of his own making. This frustrating know-it-all suffers the weakness that torments us all; a regret at time lost that can never be alleviated. Whether or not Jep manages to find a state of grace is unimportant; the victory is in deciding to strive towards it in the first place, and giving hope to a similarly afflicted audience. If Sorrentino bangs on his points too emphatically he can be forgiven due to all the things he does right, with the movie flirting with fantasy imagery in its depiction of a city that’s as much a product of fiction as the delusions Jep employs to keep his darkness at bay.

22. Fast and Furious Six

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How to write about this without a heavy heart? Since its release we fans of cinema’s most consistently underrated action franchise have received the most terrible blow with the tragic death of star Paul Walker. His virtuous presence onscreen was one of the keys to the Fast franchise’s success, his dorky sincerity as important as the stoic machismo of Vin Diesel, the slapstick incompetence of Tyrese Gibson and the monolithic presence of Dwayne Johnson. To write this I have to cast my mind back beyond this horrific event and remember what it was like to watch this on opening day, to attempt to put into words the mental frenzy triggered by Justin Lin’s almost perfect action direction and Chris Morgan’s delightfully unpretentious soapy plotting. If Fast Six isn’t as thrilling as the previous installment it’s not for lack of trying; a dump truck full of kitchen sinks are poured over the audience from the first frame to the shocking finale, the glee of the filmmakers in providing exactly what the fans want so palpable that it’s hard not to watch this bonanza of hectic but clearly shot action without applauding throughout. Its joys are almost too numerous to list, but it’s imperative I single out the breathtaking setpiece finale, a masterpiece of cross-cutting between multiple protagonists that evokes the complex narrative wizardry of last year’s editing triumph Cloud Atlas. So we are sad now, but let’s try not to let that get in the way of celebrating this insanely thrilling, indecently entertaining familial drama.

21. To The Wonder

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Judging by the tone of the criticisms levelled at Terence Malick’s latest freeform visual poem, you’d think that reducing the scale of his movies from the cosmic scale of The Tree of Life down to the intimate relationship traumas of three people in Oklahoma was the worst thing he could do. Can’t he keep going bigger?, they seemed to cry while lambasting this as a trivial diversion compared to that ambitious work. Arguably he has, though the largest and most impressive thing Malick’s camera catches here are those breathtaking wide Southern skies. Instead he tackles romantic love, one’s obligation to God and the people we live amongst, and the way we poison love by not trusting in it, thereby turning it into a prison for the soul. Dinosaurs and Douglas Trumbull effects sequences pale in comparison. We get a sense that Malick is now filming countless hours of footage — all shot with the piercing sharpness of Emmanuel Lubezki’s traditionally world-class cinematography — before sitting in an editing room for months on end, working on his psyche as much as these movies as he works towards a finished product that is felt more than understood. Perhaps this magical end-product, simultaneously airy and weighty, is the only way he can present his internal monologue as he tries to understand his own heart. The reason for this film’s inclusion in this list, above and beyond its visual and emotional majesty, is that by giving us a codex to his own soul he might help us decipher our own.

20. The Grandmaster

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There has been a glut of movies about Ip Man in recent years, but Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster is the most singular and lyrical, tweaking the previously told tale of a quiet man being thrust into unwanted battles — as is the way of the genre — into a rumination on loss and regret, on paths wrongly taken and the price paid for chasing a folly. Though it contains plenty of exquisitely choreographed combat from Yuen Woo-ping, The Grandmaster is more interested in depicting the impact that a person can have on another even if meeting only for a moment, and the ways in which ideas and emotions are passed through time, either unintentionally through longing, or intentionally through education. The original cut of this movie has been treated as if it is incomplete, and certainly some of the digressions initially seem to distract from the emotional core of the film, but we’re being presented with fragments of history, the key moments in lives connected by yearning, yet broken by tragedy and hubris. The martial artists in this ravishing period drama are part of a long line of experts carrying their knowledge through strife and warfare, and our awareness of the fragility of this knowledge when held in the heads of people vulnerable to the whims of fate makes their lives and connections even more precious. Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai evoke this longing beautifully, but the most valuable player here might be Philippe Le Sourd; his cinematography is exceptionally evocative and atmospheric.

19. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Peter Jackson’s project to insert his own vision into Tolkien’s continues apace, which viewers and fans will either think is a ballsy and occasionally inspired move or the height of arrogance, depending on the strength of their connection to the source material. The majority of the criticism is still aimed at the length of these movies in comparison to the single volume that partially inspired it, but as noted last year, what we have here is demonstrably not a thin tale, “sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread,” but a robust and wide-ranging fantasy epic that explores the parts of Tolkien’s world unseen in the previous trilogy, fleshing them out with the same pleasing attention to detail but with a different tone. Where The Lord of the Rings was mostly a tale of nobility either thwarted or attained, The Hobbit trilogy has proven to be a scrappier tale, with impetuous or conniving kings seeking glory through foolhardy choices or hiding from the world in fear and disdain, while melancholy low-born survivors are exploited by their masters as they seek greater power. The Desolation of Smaug is not without its flaws — that ornery tone means there are fewer delightfully florid passages than the previous films, and the abrupt cut at the end makes fools of we who have defended Jackson’s decision to craft three films instead of two — but what joy when it works at full tilt, providing epic scope, a pleasingly large cast of well-crafted characters, and some of the most exhilarating action sequences of Jackson’s career. If you’re onboard with this mutation of Tolkien’s work, this is pure joy.

18. Iron Man 3

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Another year, another twenty-eight-thousand superhero movies (actual number: five). This year we got The Wolverine (compromised by a softening cut but mostly strong), Thor: The Dark World (an unholy mess that was fun despite itself), Man of Steel (highly controversial but loved by some) and Kick-Ass 2 (bollocks). The best of the crop was Shane Black and Drew Pearce’s Iron Man 3, and not just because it was the funniest superhero movie of the year. The genius of this lively, thematically resonant adventure is that we’re given a concrete sense of progression in the character of Tony Stark, with consequences fully explored in a way we don’t often see in “serialised” cinema. We expect to see characters evolve in prestige TV shows, but in films it’s a rarity. Black and Pearce don’t shy away from the ramifications of the enormous battle at the end of The Avengers, showing Stark dealing with the psychic fallout from his near-death experience and his ensuing crisis of confidence. It’s arguable that this movie is a sequel to the moment in Avengers where Cap insinuates that Stark’s power lies solely in his armour. Iron Man 3 is a statement about what heroism really is, a paean to intelligence and ingenuity, and a fascinating character study. All that and it’s hilarious, surprising, exciting, and features the year’s best satire on the military-industrial complex’s use of propaganda to further its goals. If only all protagonists were this rounded, or all summer movies this complete.

17. The Place Beyond The Pines

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Derek Cianfrance’s previous movie, Blue Valentine, fractured two exceptional performances with a structure that must have seemed interesting on paper but led to a dissipation of emotional power as the crosscutting leached energy from the “happy” sequences. It wasn’t helped by an over-reliance on the current voguish US indie aesthetic that matches pretty photography with predictable hand-held, sun-burst composition. The few of us who found Valentine underwhelming could never have imagined that Cianfrance would follow that small-scale drama with something this ambitious and visually confident, not to mention something so bold and crazy and emotionally satisfying. The Place Beyond The Pines dares to tell an unabashedly sincere three-part tale of virtue wrestling with unfettered ambition, of moral strength fighting weakness, risking audience frustration by continually defying expectation, breaking numerous precious story rules by throwing coincidence and convenience at the story in order to make its point. It shouldn’t work but miraculously it does, building to an ending of almost operatic scale. All the while Cianfrance displays the breadth of his visual repertoire, creating a cinematic experience that pays homage to the touchstones of modern film without ever directly referencing anything else. His next project cannot come soon enough, but until then we have this crime classic, with thematic layers we can peel back over and over again, and performances and photography to cherish.

16. Blue Is The Warmest Colour

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Much of the criticism levelled at this adaptation of Julie Maroh’s Le Bleu est une couleur chaude has focused on Those Sex Scenes, a number of lengthy and contorted pieces of extravagant erotica that bear all of the marks of the Male Gaze, with lesbian sensuality arguably translated into the equivalent of high-end porn directed by a man with a dismaying, blundering lack of tact. But even if you argue for these gallumphing scenes by saying they match the frantic passion of protagonist Adele in almost every other scene, they represent only a fraction of this film’s immense running time, which is used to unsparingly explore the sexual and social awakening of a young woman over a period of years in the most exhaustive detail imaginable. As important as the representation of lesbian sex is, this portrait of a single person’s formative years is an emotional rollercoaster unmatched in recent cinema, with Abdellatif Kechiche filming very nearly the entire movie in close-up to force us to confront these feelings almost as if there is no barrier between our eyes and poor Adele Exarchopoulos’ snot-stricken, agonised face. The tragedy of the film lies not in the ultimate fate of the relationships between Adele and Emma, but in how that first explosive relationship can simultaneously open a person’s world and then close it off; Adele finds happiness and immediately stagnates, stuck in a rut for years by love and its aftermath. This film’s primary achievement is in facing that truth with such unflinching commitment.

15. Enough Said

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As with Fast Six it’s hard not to let terrible real world issues leak in and affect one’s enjoyment of this movie; no matter how happy the ending, the empathic part of your brain that is perpetually tricked by cinema’s power to generate feeling will ignore the artifice and connect the late, great James Gandolfini to his role here as the quiet paramour of frantic Julia Louis-Dreyfus, lending a bittersweet note to what would otherwise be one of the feel-good movies of the year. Shades of Caruso has previously come out as a hardcore pro-Nicole-Holofcener blog, decrying the critical temptation to dismiss her as a purveyor of lightweight fluff, so it’s no surprise that this latest triumph hit our sweet spot so successfully. As ever Holofcener includes far more than mere romcom trappings, depicting a mid-life crisis with her traditional attention to detail; Louis-Dreyfus’ Eva finds herself emotionally at sea as her loyalties are torn between her lover and her newest and most interesting friend, and her soon-to-depart daughter and the surrogate daughter who looks to her for guidance. The unsurprisingly great Louis-Dreyfus adds a new kind of energy to Holofcener’s work, which usually revolves around Catherine Keener’s brand of oblivious sourness, but her scattiness is coloured by an immense sadness at the consequences of her childishness, and the realisation that she has to risk losing everything in order to gain any control over her life. Perhaps the movie was bittersweet already but we didn’t notice.

14. The Lone Ranger

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First thing’s first; yes, a $250m budget is an absolute obscenity, and for this to happen to Disney twice in about 15 months is shocking. But as with last year’s John Carter, the result of that terrible profligacy is an accidental classic thrown on the shitpile of history for all the wrong reasons. Gore Verbinski’s semi-fantastical Western has a number of flaws, none of which matter a damn in the face of such bravura filmmaking. No other populist film this year was as radical in portraying uncomfortable truths without flinching; only Iron Man 3‘s use of The Mandarin comes close, and that didn’t contain the furious anger against the capitalist system that Verbinski sneaks in under the cloak of amiable adventure. The casting of white Johnny Depp as a Comanche certainly raises the hackles but despite that deeply questionable decision the movie’s sincere attempt to portray and denounce the genocide of the Native American by white settlers and to connect it to corporate greed — and from there, to modern America — is so total that every frame of the film seems to quake with anger, that critique of the White Man and the lies used to subjugate an entire people and despoil a landscape etched into Verbinski’s visual language. The fact that on the surface this seems like a mere frippery is what makes this such an unexpected treasure; there is a thrilling friction between the text and subtext that justifies every longueur and directorial decision. On top of that, Verbinski stages the most thrilling action setpiece of the year, if not the decade. If you don’t feel every hair on your body rise when That Theme kicks in, then I weep for you.

13. Frozen

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Hailing Disney’s latest lovable fantasy saga as the studio’s best original film in years does a disservice to 2010’s beautiful Tangled; one of Shades of Caruso’s favourites and a classic unfairly neglected since its release. Nevertheless, it’s gratifying to see that Frozen has been hailed as a real step forward for the company and for its long-running unofficial series of Princess films. To say more would be to ruin some of the surprises of the final act for anyone who has yet to enjoy the movie; suffice it to say, writer / director Jennifer Lee and co-director Chris Buck have avoided the “Strong Female Character” problem that so infects modern attempts at addressing the gulf in gender representation in modern culture by creating two female characters with inner lives that not only pass the Bechdel test in the first minute of the film but also have an emotional relationship and personal goals that don’t revolve solely around men, though that traditional swooning romanticism is also present (just in a different form; look, it’s very hard to talk about this without spoiling its best moments). If the middle section is a little dry — with a lack of clear villainy to focus on, the use of some lazily-designed trolls, and even more unsubtle emphasis on themes and motifs than Tangled — this is forgivable for the sly subversion of expectations and those character-driven highlights, which include one the best scenes of 2013; Elsa’s rite-of-passage as dramatised during the ear-blasting rendition of Let It Go, sung by Idina Menzel with a voice so powerful she could put out a fire with it. Just thinking about it starts the tears again… ::choke::

12. Before Midnight

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How strange to admire a movie, to revel in its artistry and the strength of its message, and yet to resent its existence and to hope to never endure it again. To watch Before Midnight after following the real-time growth of Jesse and Celine’s relationship for eighteen years, to sit through the tumultuous horrors of this sweet and sour conclusion to the trilogy of their lives together is, as the Internet would put it, to experience ALL OF THE FEELS. For those of us who have lived a shadow of what Jesse and Celine have, to have grown in life in much the same way that they have, this is a horribly difficult film to experience, one of painful honesty that you don’t want to recognise as truth, wincing with every dagger thrown during the exhausting final third. Kudos to Linklater, Delpy and Hawke for not shying from the challenge here, to visit the darkest moment (we hope) of this couple’s life and present such a contrast to the heady romance of the first two films, even if it then recasts those films as almost tragic. It’s also a rarity to see a movie that is able to create a disagreement that can be appreciated from both sides; a happy consequence of the length of time we have spent with these people. And yet it’s hard, I can’t lie. Coming out of the cinema I was grateful to all involved for making a movie this intelligent and forthright, but I was fucking angry too. And I’m even angrier now that this exceptional film has shown me how willing I would have been to accept a lie even if I’d known it to be so. Stop making me think, guys!

10=. Gravity / All Is Lost

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Forgive a poor blogger for being unable to separate these entangled cinematic experiences, but they were watched so close together, and share so many similarities, that it’s hard to think of them as separate entities. Alfonso Cuaron and JC Chandor are both worthy of praise and garlands and awards  for making two movies of such stunning focus and technical mastery, depicting the travails of lonely protagonists in life-or-death situations. What’s telling about both films is how they differ in the most subtle ways, beyond the settings and the scale of the threats they face. Cuaron has turned the world-spanning scope of his survival film inward, so that Dr. Ryan Stone’s attempts to save her life are matched by her unconscious attempts to save her soul: the wave of debris that chases her as metaphor for the guilt and remorse she cannot escape, enhanced by imagery that matches her embryonic state and subsequent rebirth, all while giving us suspense sequences so exhausting and exquisitely crafted it’s too much to take in with one viewing. Cuaron has always been a master of the fantastic; here he has created something that will redefine the cinema of science, and perhaps even reinvigorate our interest in space exploration — one can hope.

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Chandor eschews the temptation to add frills to his survival tale where none are necessary. Instead he makes his protagonist as blank as possible, but that intentional erasure of detail transforms this into a universal tale of humanity battling not only with the threat of extinction, but the struggle to even find something to live for; it is something so much grander than just a guy on a boat. The sophomore director doesn’t put a single foot wrong, and ends his tale with a beautifully-timed image of such simple, perfect beauty it took a feat of strength not to leap into the air with gratitude. Both films are anchored by exceptional performances, with Sandra Bullock triumphing over some ill-advised emotional arm-twisting by Cuaron to give a career-defining display of thespian artistry, and Robert Redford bringing incredible fortitude and grace to his own battle against the elements. They are backed up by two filmmakers with astonishing, elegant control over their pared-down but technically complex movies, both of which say so much about the human condition and its triumphant resilience, but with so few words.

9. The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears

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Is this even a movie? It’s barely a story, certainly not in the sense of giving us a glimpse into human nature. Is it a homage to cinema? Certainly the genre conventions are there, after a fashion, harking back to the classics of the Giallo sub-genre, often only in symbolic terms but enough that it is classifiable as such, and thus worthy of consideration alongside its peers. But other than that, this is less a tale told than a fever-dream forced into the eyes and ears like an assault, a kaleidoscope of Freudian imagery, discordant sound and recycled music designed to rattle the audience and continually challenge its expectations. As a result you will either resist it as if fending off a violent attack, or you will happily succumb while Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani play around inside your mind’s eye with their aggressively unpleasant and disorienting collage of horror and hysteria. None of it makes any sense, but it all makes perfect sense somehow, because by using primal imagery as colours in their palette they create an inferential narrative using dream logic that bypasses our expectations of what storytelling should be. Come to it with expectations of order, and you will likely be nonplussed, but if you can tune into this perplexing mish-mash of cinematic styles you will be rewarded with an experience like no other, something like a lightning bolt fired right at the amigdala. It’s the Holy Motors of horror; praise not offered lightly.

8. American Hustle

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The current “period” in the career of David O. Russell has seen him abandon the extravagant eccentricities of Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees and the unreleased Nailed for an earthy quirkiness which, for fans of his more outré projects, has been a bit of a drag. The Fighter was competent and mostly well performed, and Silver Linings Playbook was notable as a showcase for Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper but my God, that finale was hard work. Early word on American Hustle was muted but it’s easily Russell’s best film since his Gulf War morality fable, a smorgasbord of deceptively powerful character moments bright enough to shine through even this beige 70s veneer. Russell has been collecting brilliant character actors for years now and he corrals them here to incredible effect, orchestrating an obscenely talented cast — all of whom are at the top of their game — and a chaotic but coherent screenplay where the double- and treble-crosses of the deceitful protagonists are underpinned by longing, fear of rejection, and turbulent emotion. At any moment American Hustle could disappear beneath a sea of gaudy period tics, or Russell could misjudge the tone and obscure these confused and recognisably venal people behind an easy caricature, but he walks along a tonal precipice with the confidence of a master. There is a real affection for these people, a gaggle of losers who yearn for better things and can, at least some of the time, find dignity and even love amidst the frenetic chicanery. The result is the best kind of madcap crowdpleaser; one with a nigh-perfect balance of absurdity, honesty, and satirical bite.

7. Captain Phillips

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Though Shades of Caruso praised Paul Greengrass’ previous film, Green Zone, it was with the caveat that the ending was a falsehood that damaged its journalistic depiction of life in Baghdad during the recent invasion. Captain Phillips has also had its share of criticism from the crew of the MV Maersk Alabama over its authenticity, but nevertheless Greengrass and writer Billy Ray have hewed closer to the reality of the situation than Greengrass and Green Zone writer Brian Helgeland. This is more United 93 than Bourne on a Boat, but this fealty to the real horror facing the crew doesn’t mean the director can’t wring the maximum amount of tension from the story; he could film a tea party and rip our nerves to shreds. No one else working today has this total command of suspense, no one else can utilise the disbelief-suspending powers of cinéma semi-vérité to generate such a relentless, propulsive force, an agonising command of tension that drags the audience through hell and high water. His facility with actors is neglected in all of the tedious talk about his shakycam aesthetic; both Barkhad Abdi as the reluctant hijacker and Tom Hanks on his finest form ever as the titular captain are exceptional. The last fifteen minutes of this colossus of the docudrama genre are beyond comparison, leaving even a knowledgeable audience breathless as Hanks unleashes a veritable tornado of acting as intense as Greengrass’ direction. His catharsis is the highlight of this nigh-perfect document of a broken system that leaves everyone a victim, swept along on tides no one can control.

6. 12 Years A Slave

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We think we know the experience but we cannot ever. All we can do is observe the horror of slavery from a distance, depict it coolly and dispassionately and let our own disgust and mortification rush in to fill that gap. There is no better filmmaker working today to make a film that looks at the intellectual fraud and infinite inhumanity of slavery without succumbing to the temptation to make the film about his own reaction. Steve McQueen has already, twice, made aesthetically beautiful but emotionally neutral films about humans doing terrible things to themselves as either as protest or cry for help, which makes this the third part of a loosely-linked trilogy. Though Solomon Northup is abducted by external forces and trapped in a desperately cruel world, the only autonomy he has left is how much he succumbs to the horrors around him. To a certain extent he is hardened by the ordeal he faces; one of this magnificent movie’s coups is in showing the full dehumanising extent of enslavement, even at the risk of damaging audience sympathy for its protagonist. But essentially the human spirit does triumph here, hope finding a way out of the most desperate situation. Northup survives, but with psychological and physical scars that would crush anyone else. In the year’s best performance, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s greatest feat is to bring us close to understanding the damage caused by both Solomon’s ordeal and slavery on the whole, while also allowing us feel there is a way out, for those who suffered at the time and for us, who live in a world still tainted by these crimes.

5. Under The Skin

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It’s been too long since Jonathan Frazer assaulted us with the ghostly dark fairy tale Birth, a movie that defiantly danced to its own tune in a way that inevitably annoyed huge swathes of the audience. Nine years later and Under The Skin was received with the same boos and critical seething that greeted Birth; Glazer must be getting used to this by now. But then this adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel is bound to aggravate many of its viewers, being so opaque as to dance on the edge of incomprehensibility. Amusing, considering that this economically- and poetically-told story of an alien who hunts humans as food and slowly begins to feel empathy with her prey, then becomes lost as she tries to reconcile her new feelings with her old self, is familiar to anyone who has seen The Man Who Fell To Earth or The Brother From Another Planet. Stripping away all of Faber’s clumsy detail and ponderous metaphors about animal cruelty, Glazer’s adaptation is one of the purest cinematic experiences of the year, as alien and alienating as its protagonist, depicted with the precision and stylistic restraint of a true artist. His mastery of mood is second-to-none, offered with such confidence that his nightmare imagery becomes even more powerful; truly there are moments that will haunt the receptive viewer for months. Kudos also to a never-better Scarlett Johansson, who manages to be both alluring and terrifying, and a groundbreaking score by Mica Levi set to become the stuff of legend.

4. Stoker

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Bringing non-American directors with clear visions into the US studio system rarely works out, certainly with very few success stories. Either the qualities that made those directors interesting are leached out, or their works are co-opted and tampered with by nervous producers; anyone who has followed the miserable story of Harvey Weinstein’s treatment of Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer will know what I’m talking about. How wonderful, then, that the macabre sensibilities of Park Chan-wook should survive intact when adapting Wentworth Miller’s challenging screenplay, bringing his exciting eye to bear on a tale of murderous inevitability and warped familial relationships. It’s a compelling tale already, filled with surprise and darkness, but Park elevates it even further with some of the year’s most electrifying directorial flourishes and the kind of commitment to diving into the subject material’s thematic depths that makes the viewer’s hair stand up straight. Several of Stoker‘s setpieces are among the highlights of the cinematic year, particularly a mid-movie hook-up gone awry that so brilliantly plays with audience expectations of narrative and teenage psychology that this awe-struck viewer almost fell out of his chair with ecstatic glee at the master’s choices. As with a number of this year’s best, mood and symbolism take over from plot as the engines of this grisly tale; we follow the narrative with intuition rather than the plodding steps of most movies. It casts a spell on us; we surrender happily.

3. Frances Ha

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Sometimes a film is daring because it dances so close to being intolerable that the audience is held captivated, waiting for the moment to sour and hurl the entire movie into an abyss of unwatchable preciousness. This was exactly the fate avoided by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig in this portrait of a young woman lost in her imagination, oblivious to the needs of the people around her and her effect on them as she repeatedly mooches off her friends, concocts hairbrained schemes for her future that can never possibly work, ignores chances for success because they don’t match up to her self-image — it’s Blue Jasmine without the blues. In short Frances is intolerable, but Gerwig is, paradoxically, a delight; her twinkling charm keeps us hooked as Our Anti-Hero sabotages herself over and over again, in much the same way as Anne Hathaway managed to bring humanity to the role of exasperating Kym in Rachel Getting Married. This makes a perfect double bill with Groundhog Day, with both movies sharing the theme of looping behaviour dooming the protagonist to a kind of living hell; the difference between the two being that Phil Connors knows he’s in hell, and Frances doesn’t realise until it’s almost too late. So we have the tension of whether the filmmakers will pull off the feat of keeping the audience onside, and the tension of hoping that Frances finds her feet, making this the most stressful film of the year that also sends audiences from the cinema with a spring in its step, not just because of the gorgeous Nouvelle Vague stylings of Baumbach or the pitch-perfect choices of Gerwig, but because it provides the most precious resource of all; hope for the viewer that there is always a way out.

2. The Act of Killing

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Usually LISTMANIA! segregates documentaries from fictional films as they so often work with different tools, but the unfortunate consequence of that choice is that it can make it seem like there is also a judgement on quality there. Joshua Oppenheimer’s shocking project deserves to be hailed alongside the rest of the year’s movies; indeed, it should be praised as fit to stand with the greatest cultural achievements of the decade, offering sights and truths that could literally change the world while also presenting a recognisable and relatable emotional arc for its protagonist that is simultaneously, paradoxically, unlike anything seen before. Oppenheimer, his co-director Christine Cynn and his crew journeyed to Indonesia to make a bizarre offer to the corrupt and morally despicable men of Suharto’s death squads; giving them an opportunity to re-enact the murders they committed over 40 years ago, this time through the medium of cinema. What comes next is a nightmarish lesson in the psychology of evil, as his tyro filmmakers begin dramatising their crimes in a number of different genres, at first with obnoxious enthusiasm and bravado, and then with growing awareness of the enormity of their crimes. The result of this experiment is unforgettable; our “protagonist” becomes so haunted by the unconscious growth of his conscience that he undergoes an almost physical change. What is even more incredible than Oppenheimer’s fortune in stumbling upon and following this story is what he did next, offering the movie to Indonesia — via geoblock — to be downloaded for free, to ensure that the truth about Suharto’s crimes could finally be addressed. For us it’s a shocking film; for the people of Indonesia, it could be the cure for a sickness that has afflicted their country for decades.

1. Upstream Color

If you look closely enough you can find proof that every movie is divisive to some extent, but it’s rare that a film comes along that generates such passion that its critics angrily denounce it as a fraudulent and empty insult to the audience, and its fans argue that it is actually the future of the medium. Has Shane Carruth created the cinematic equivalent of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring? I can only draw that comparison from the position of vociferous defender of Carruth’s incredible vision, his audacious rewriting of the expected rules of narrative, his faith in the audience to follow the inferred story beats from mysterious opening to cathartic but secretly bleak final shot. This is a Cronenberg film by way of Malick, taking both filmmakers’ style and weaving them into a new form, one in which mood, tone and emotional colour are narrative building blocks as much as the obvious ones of plot and character. It’s brave enough that Carruth chooses to tell a story about two people who are essentially blanks, but that decision works so well because they are the product of a crime that would horrify anyone; non-metaphorical identity theft and the invasion of their body by parasite and by alien thought.

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These are the things we dread now, depicted here in the grisliest and most discomfiting ways. Carruth’s concerns are modern; that we are losing touch with others, that we are flailing in a chaotic sea of information and opinion, that we are too scared to connect to anyone else. These fears are realised through the most elegant of metaphors, nightmarish and unique analogies which play alongside an unexpectedly charming depiction of the mystery of love, that overwhelming feeling that seemingly has an origin outside of oneself, a delirium that completely takes over your personality and rewrites who you are until both lover and beloved become one organism with a shared point-of-view. This is science fiction used to depict the ugliness, confusion and beauty of the human experience in the most lyrical terms, but one unafraid to disturb the audience, to discombobulate and distract, to confuse and confound, creating a sensory experience that’s like dipping your soul into a lake of benevolent pink ooze. The result is challenging, no doubt, but if it speaks to you there’s nothing else like it on earth. This is the Shock of the New, the Velvet’s first album, a film that could change the rules of cinema if we let it.

Right, that’s enough hyperbole for one day. Next, the worst movies of 2013, featuring literally (and once more I really do literally mean literally) zero hyperbole (literally).

Listmania ’13! Music Round-Up

Got no time for pre-amble or fannying about this year: let LISTMANIA ’13! commence with no fanfare. If you’re not interesting in absorbing the cosmic rightness of this list (even though I spent ages arguing with myself about the ordering because this is how I choose to expend my mental energy, for better or worse) hop down to the bottom of the page for a link to a Spotify playlist that features all of these tracks, alphabetically ordered because I’m an idiot who doesn’t know how to change the track order on the mobile site and hell, you’re just going to use shuffle to listen to it anyway. Hope you enjoy at least seven of these songs.

Best Albums:

20. Mon Pays – Vieux Farka Touré

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19. Cerulean Salt – Waxahatchee

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18. Fade – Yo La Tengo

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17. The Chronicles of Marnia – Marnie Stern

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16. Repave – Volcano Choir

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15. Hummingbird - Local Natives

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14. Settle – Disclosure

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13. The Electric Lady – Janelle Monae

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12. York – Blu

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11. Hard Coming Down – Gun Outfit

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10. Light Up Gold – Parquet Courts

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9. Cupid Deluxe - Blood Orange

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8. The Bones Of What You Believe - CHVRCHES

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7. Wakin On A Pretty Daze – Kurt Vile

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6. Immunity – Jon Hopkins

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5. Trouble Will Find Me – The National

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4. Yeezus – Kanye West

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3. Slow Focus - Fuck Buttons

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2. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

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1. Monomania – Deerhunter

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Best Singles:

15. Thumper – Dan Friel

14. Hate or Glory – Gesaffelstein

13. Ceilings – Local Natives

12. Mute – Youth Lagoon

11. Nothing Is Easy – Marnie Stern

10. Chamakay – Blood Orange

9. Gun – CHVRCHES

8. Demons – The National

7. Song For Zula – Phosphorecent

6. Ohm – Yo La Tengo

5. Still Into You – Paramore

4. Ya Hey – Vampire Weekend

3. Blood on the Leaves – Kanye West

2. Get Lucky – Daft Punk (feat. Pharrell Williams)

1. Monomania – Deerhunter

Best Album Tracks:

20. On Blue Mountain – Foxygen

19. Diack So – Vieux Farka Touré

18. Weight – Mikal Cronin

17. Only 1 U – M.I.A.

16. Tamale – Tyler, The Creator

15. Gary – Speedy Ortiz

14. Master Of My Craft – Parquet Courts

13. Peace and Quiet – Waxahatchee

12. I’ve Got A Gift – Gun Outfit

11. We Sink – CHVRCHES

10. Calling Cards – Neko Case

9. Sun Harmonics – Jon Hopkins

8. Hours – Blu

7. Was All Talk – Kurt Vile

6. January – Disclosure (feat. Jamie Woon)

5. Givin Em What They Love – Janelle Monae (feat. Prince)

4. Sea of Love – The National

3. Stalker – Fuck Buttons

2. Pensacola – Deerhunter

1. Don’t Lie – Vampire Weekend

Best Album Cover of the Year: Wolf – Tyler, The Creator

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Worst Album Cover of the Year: Yeezus – Kanye West

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Runner-Up: Aleph – Gesaffelstein

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Disappointment of the Year: Antiphon – Midlake

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“Why Wasn’t This One Of The Biggest Hits Of The Summer?” Single of the Year: My Sunshine – Blu (feat. Nia Andrews)

Best Track That Barely Passes A Minute In Length: Careers In Combat – Parquet Courts

Piece of Music I Listened To More Than Any Other This Year, So Much So That For About Two Months I Didn’t Hear A Single New Album: Finale (William Tell Overture) from the Lone Ranger OST – Hans Zimmer / Gioachino Rossini

“You And Get Lucky Alone Almost Make That Daft Punk Album A Contender For Best of the Year But I Just Get Bored By So Much Of It” Track of the Year: Lose Yourself To Dance – Daft Punk (feat. Pharrell Williams)

Track That Sends Me Into A Reverie Every Damn Time I Hear It: Girl Called Alex – Kurt Vile

Best Opening Track of the Year: Tiderays – Volcano Choir

Best Closing Track of the Year: Time Will Tell – Blood Orange

Best Video of the Year: IFHY – Tyler, The Creator

Best Video of the Decade: Bound 2 – Kanye West

And for the lucky souls with Spotify, here’s a link to a playlist of 44 songs.