Our Favorite Movies of 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street movie

1. The Wolf of Wall Street- The funniest film of the year was made by one of the world’s greatest directors, Martin Scorsese, who is now into his 70s and nearing the very end of his career. You wouldn’t know it watching The Wolf of Wall Street, an impossibly energetic riff on the true-life exploits of Wall Street crook Jordan Belfort. The film depicts behavior most would find irrefutably lewd, misogynist, or downright amoral; most of which is played for uproarious laughs. The men in Wolf act out of humanity’s basest impulses; snorting drugs and screwing prostitutes in the office just because they have no one there to tell them “no.” Scorsese, much like the protagonist, never slows down to moralize anything on the screen, keeping the focus on the excessively sexual and drug-fueled life of Belfort and all of his brokers. It is in these outrageous slapstick moments and revolting conversations that the director becomes a sly satirist, allowing us to laugh at and observe this lifestyle from the self-aggrandizing narrator’s point of view. The uniformly great supporting cast, paired with DiCaprio’s career-best performance, carry out exhilarating, even visceral, comedy scenes that keep the film bouncing through its three-hour run-time.  Scorsese’s damning portrait of greed has a well-secured place in the canon of America’s great black comedies.

spring breakers

2. Spring Breakers- The perverse pleasures of cinema were mined and radicalized in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, an apocalyptic beach party and an unforgettable deconstruction of modern America’s excesses and wastelands. Aesthetically, it mirrors the sex-and-drug infused paradise of an MTV spring break, filmed under bright pink skylines and seedy red nightclubs. Malevolence has always been a way of coping with marginality for Korine’s characters, but for Brit, Candy, Faith and Cotty, it is a way to reach the ultimate high; attaining a transcendent euphoria, not through debauched revelries but through dominance and power. Big Arch and the indelible Alien are the walking, boasting incarnations of this ever-lasting Dream, and the girls’ eventual foray into criminal warfare is all an inevitable part of their quest for insatiable pleasure. As a major release in 2013, Spring Breakers is purposefully indefinable, and so nonplussed reactions from Gen-Y are unsurprising (strangely, our drug-obsessed culture doesn’t seem too interested in art inspired by drugs?). But not working directly as an obvious critique of anything is exactly why the film will endure; by evading a definite “purpose,” it is a piece of art that can be observed from a multitude of angles. If anything, the year’s masterpiece will serve as an important corrective: it’s not style over substance, style is the substance.

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Short Takes: Saving Mr. Banks, Anchorman 2 and More

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Saving Mr. Banks- A Disney propaganda film intent on making the definitive statement on how Walt came to pry the movie rights for Mary Poppins from the claws of its author, P.L. Travers.  It’s surprisingly nimble and entertaining propaganda, though, leaning heavily on the dry wit of Emma Thompson, who plays Travers, and the natural charm of Tom Hanks, whose casting as Disney is a huge indicator of the movie’s slanderous intentions.

Despite the sour taste the movie’s historical rewrite leaves, there are many funny and well-directed sequences involving Travers combating the Disney crew over the Poppins film adaptation.  I felt like I was being forced not to identify with her, though.  Like director John Lee Hancock did in The Blind Side, he overplays the fairly decent hand the story and actors gave him by suffocating it with Disney sugar.  Thompson is fantastic here, but the movie never misses an opportunity to make her seem like a shrew who needs taming. Grade: C-

anchorman-fros

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues- For a movie that tries desperately for two hours to elicit laughs at any cost, Anchorman 2 isn’t nearly funny enough.  Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) goes global on a CNN spinoff with the rest of his news team, played again by Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner, and their idiocy is a natural fit.

The script gets a few good jabs in about the ridiculousness of the 24-hour news cycle, but most of the jokes that don’t involve the comedic anarchy of Carell’s weather guy Brick are just stale.  It exists more as an SNL episode with a bunch of celebrity cameos than a movie.  Grade: D

Upstream-color

Upstream Color- Shane Carruth’s second feature is a wondrous creation.  Unlike his first, Primer, it thrills more on a sensory level, and he surpasses what’s in the script instead of just presenting it.  The story focuses on a woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) who is subjected to mind control and stripped of her identity, but he keeps the narrative in constant limbo by being more interested in examining the experience than stopping to explain it.

Kris meets a man (played by Carruth) who also seems to have undergone the same procedure as her, and the two fall in confused love, their identities and memories eventually clashing but not getting in the way.  Describing the movie’s story does little justice to the spontaneous beauty Carruth sustains throughout.  Its meaning unfolds for the audience at the same time as the characters, though to apply any concrete meaning trivializes the breadth of its power.  Grade: B+

movie43

Movie 43- I’m offended that this movie exists.  Grade: F