Every year we all make these “Best of” lists, and every year I bitch and moan about having to assign arbitrary rankings to the movies that I enjoyed. Actually, scratch that. Every year I bitch and moan about it, and then cheat in some way, negating the ranking all together. 2013 is going to be no different. I think “ranking” your enjoyment of all of the films you consumed throughout a year is pretty useless. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a plethora of different films for different reasons, and it is impossible for me to say that my enjoying of Film X is any better than my enjoyment of Film Y. So, instead, here is a multi-part list of films I saw in 2013 that I found to be exceptional, and worthy of your time. Some of these will have not been released yet, but they’re going to be here anyway, because I watched them this year. You are more than entitled, if you see AND enjoy said films as well as I did, to include them on your best of 2014 list, as that is likely when they will be unleashed upon the general population. Keep in mind that there is no rank to this list, It’s just sort of a stream of consciousness type of situation. This is part one of the list, expect at least one more part to this list within the next couple of days, and possibly even a third part, depending on the word count.
This is one of those cheater ones I spoke about. I didn’t attend Toronto After Dark this year, but as you know, Jeff from the site/podcast, along with Heather from VDA Net, as well as our Walking Dead podcast were in attendance. And since I’m people who knows people, I was able to get some screeners for the films that were being exhibited. Cheap Thrills is a shining example that sometimes a film can take a familiar plot, and execute in a way that not only feels fresh, but blows previous attempts out of the water. If one were to compare Cheap Thrills to any other film that was released during the year, it would be Would You Rather. I’ve seen some high praise for Would You Rather, but personally I thought it was just an average film, elevated slightly by the presence of genre legend Jeffrey Combs. Cheap Thrills, on the other hand, is an exceptional film, with great performances by Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton and David Koechner. The film was directed by E.L. Katz, an alumni of the school of Wingard, and was one of the slickest, most satisfying independent genre films I saw in 2013.
I know it’s cool to hate Eli Roth, but I’m not here looking for scene points like some clearly are. Roth didn’t direct Aftershock, but he had a big hand in the creative side of the film, and also performed a major role within. It’s also important to note that a lot of the same people that worked with Roth on Aftershock, also worked with him on his upcoming “cannibal” film, The Green Inferno. It appears to me that Roth has been busy during his downtime, assembling a crew of filmmakers with which to create, rather than relying on Tarantino’s buddies as he has done in the past. If Aftershock is just the beginning of this new reign, then I think we’ll see some solid output from Roth and company in the coming years. Aftershock was a low budget affair, with big ambitions, and I think it managed to pull it off. Rather than being straight horror, Aftershock is half disaster film, half horror film, and I think the formula worked to its advantage. Much like Roth’s Hostel films, we spend the first portion of the film getting to know all of the characters, so when some of them(and not in the order that you would think) meet their inevitable demise, it is much more effective than it would have been to just throw us into the carnage immediately.
Pawn Shop Chronicles
Wayne Kramer’s Pawn Shop Chronicles was quietly released to VOD, and then DVD/Blu-ray this year. If you are unfamiliar with that name, he is responsible for the fantastic Running Scared, featuring the late Paul Walker in one of his best performances. Walker is back for Chronicles, but the formula is different this time around. Instead of being a standard narrative, Kramer weaves seemingly disconnected stories together in a way that makes it feel like sort of a redneck Pulp Fiction. Walker is great, in his role as a confused racist(but not) redneck, and other extremely talented actors such as Elijah Wood and Matt Dillon lend their expertise to this hyper-violent and profane take on the Anthology film. The entire film is great, but the scene involving Matt Dillon and Elijah Wood is worth watching the movie for all by itself. Pawn Shop Chronicles was one of the shockers for me this year, as I had heard nothing about it previously, and had no idea that Kramer had even directed it until after I rented it on VOD, and I immediately fell in love. It saddens me that, save for a friend or two, I’ve barely even heard anyone mentioning sitting down to watch this flick, let alone raved about its quality. I wholeheartedly recommend Pawn Shop Chronicles to any fan of anthologies, crime movies, Paul Walker, Elijah Wood, or even profane movies in general. It’s a hell of a good time.
Another cheater title. Again, I was unable to attend Toronto After Dark, but thanks to a friend that did, I was able to score a screener of this fantastic little grimy independent powerhouse of a movie. The score alone is reason enough to experience Motivational Growth for yourself. Styled after “8 bit” music from oldschool video games, the score really sets the tone for the insanity that you are about to witness. To be honest, I don’t even know how to summarize this film without spoiling it for you, but suffice it to say it is nothing like you’ve ever seen before. An introvert who has given up on life, tries to kill himself by mixing some different chemicals in his bathtub, wakes up from his chemically induced sleep to a pile of talking mold in his bathroom floor(voiced by Jeffrey Combs), and after that remarkably odd event, THEN weird shit starts to happen. I can see how this will not be for everyone. Some casual viewers may feel alienated, having no reference as to the different cult classics that are being referenced, or any idea what the fuck is going on, honestly. But, I can’t imagine any seasoned genre veteran not loving this movie from start to finish. It blew me away early on, and continued to do so throughout the duration of the film. I can’t recommend this movie highly enough, and strongly urge you to jump at the opportunity to see it when and if it presents itself.
Pain & Gain
Michael Bay, another filmmaker who draws immediate vitriol at the simple mention of his name, released one of the funnest movies of the entire year with the “true story”, Pain & Gain. I knew absolutely nothing about this film, beyond the fact that it was directed by Bay, and starred Marky Mark and The Rock. I expected it to be entertaining, considering Bay had returned to his R Rated roots, much like his Bad Boys films, both of which I enjoyed greatly, but didn’t expect it to be one of the most entertaining movies of the year. Amazingly, though, that’s exactly what Bay accomplished with this one. I haven’t done any research into the actual true story behind the film, but I will say that I found it to be genius, that just as it gets to its most ridiculous, most unbelievable point, Bay pauses the action with a caption that reads “This is still a true story.” I won’t say much more about this one beyond “Snatch that cabbage patch”, and let you know that you NEED to watch this movie, even if you’re one of these people that are guilty of judging it before knowing anything about it, simply because it came from Michael Bay.
Some would say this was a highly divisive film. I don’t see it that way. I see it as a film that was enjoyed by the majority of objective viewers, and trashed by those that were never even going to bother trying to enjoy it. You know the type, hell half of you reading this probably fit the profile. The supposed purists, the ones that live in denial of the fact that they are a hipster and the ones that criticized this retelling of the original cult classic by claiming the acting was bad. One of the reasons the original is so popular is because of bad acting, which made an otherwise serious film feel like a comedy. The Evil Dead was not a comedy. Evil Dead 2, on the other hand, undeniable, but Raimi and company set out to make a straight up horror film with the first one, and that’s what Director Fede Alvarez did with this reimagining. 2013’s Evil Dead was brutal, brilliantly paced, and contrary to (not so)popular belief, 97 percent of the special effects were handled practically. If you don’t believe me, there is plenty of B-Roll footage floating around on YouTube to prove me right. Despite always giving the remakes their day in court before coming to judgment, I’ll admit to having my own apprehensions prior to seeing the film, but I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.
This Is The End
I am a fan of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruschel and especially Danny McBride. I’ll admit that right up front. That being said, that doesn’t mean these guys are incapable of making a bad movie. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen again. If I had to pick a #1 of the year, This Is The End would probably be it. I’ve sat through this movie more times than any other movie I saw in 2013. From start to finish, it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen for a long time. I understand that it might not be for everyone, this brand of humor, and I can also understand how you could cover-judge the type of humor as being mindless dick and fart jokes. However, if you think that, you aren’t paying attention. Yes it’s dick and fart jokes, but it’s dick and fart jokes in an intelligent way. If you can’t appreciate an actor that is this good in an improv situation, perhaps you’ve ventured too far past your comedy safety zone. I’ll never fault a person for disliking a movie that I like, so long as they can articulate their reasoning. I’ve just grown sickened by the bandwagon jumping and the cock riding politics behind certain groups of people. This Is The End is one hell of a fun movie. It’s okay if you disagree, but let’s just say that I’m glad that I’m not you.
The World’s End
Make no mistake, I enjoyed the hell out of The World’s End the first time I saw it, but something about it made me feel a little bit disappointed as I walked out of the theater. However, I have since revisited the film twice on Blu-ray after its home video release, and whatever issues were bothering me before, have magically disappeared. I can safely and loudly claim, now, that The World’s End was one of the best movies of the year. I don’t know if I was expecting it to be identical to Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, or if it’s the fact that the nods to the genre are a little more subtle this time around. Whatever the case may be, it’s no longer an issue. I actually think I might like The World’s End better than Wright’s other films at this point. The story hits closer to home than I’d like to admit in some areas, and it definitely feels like a more intimate, personal film than the other two in the trilogy.
I’ll be honest, the only reason I decided to order The Batter on digital VOD was the remarkable poster. I knew absolutely nothing about the film beyond what was advertised in just that awesome poster. Sitting down to watch it, I was absolutely blown away. I know everybody is tired of zombies by now, which is why it is so commendable that, even to this day, smart filmmakers can take the concept and create something unique, and dare I say breathtaking? Imagine my surprise when I did my usual post-movie research, when I learned that the film only cost six thousand dollars to make. That’s right, The Battery had a budget of just over six thousand dollars, but you could never in a million years guess that unless you already knew. It looks like a million dollar movie, and has the performances and soundtrack to match. I’ve raved all year about this film, and I’ll continue to recommend it to everyone I know for the foreseeable future. If you haven’t managed to catch The Battery yet, you can buy it digitally on their website for super cheap. So, get on that shit.
Insidious: Chapter 2
Back in 2010, I dubbed Insidious “The Return Of The Scary movie”. And I maintain that stance. Insidious was the scariest movie I’ve seen in the theater, possibly since I became an adult. I’m sure you’ll see Insidious: Chapter 2 on a plethora of lists in the coming days, but it seemed like, when it came down to choosing between this sequel, and The Conjuring, most people are team Conjuring. I make no bones about it, I liked The Conjuring quite a bit, but I’m team Insidious, because this sequel rocked my world. I will go as far as to say that this was a perfect sequel, and better than any other in recent memory. When they used the subtitle Chapter 2, they weren’t fucking around. The two films flow seamlessly together, and any answers you had after sitting through the first movie, will be answered this time around in one way or the other. Couple that with the fact that, even with a premise I am now familiar with, Insidious: Chapter Two caused me to jump in my seat several times. I would argue that this sequel takes the “franchise” into even darker territory than before. I wish they would let this series die, and ditch the production of the third film, as well as the rumored television series, because Chapter 2 would be the perfect way to end this story for good. If you’re on the fence, jump on over, because this shit is intense.
That concludes Chapter 1 of my favorite films of 2013. There will be a second installment within a day or two, and possibly even a third after that. Despite the moaning and groaning of the secret hipster crowd, 2013 was a fuck of a year for movies, especially of the genre flavor, so rest assured there is still plenty more to talk about. Until next time.