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Movie Curiosities -- 2013: The Wild Rides

Blogs, Movie CuriositieswilliambComment

In every "top list" of movies/TV shows/music/whatever, there's always the question of what constitutes "top." Is preference given to those entries that were most fun for the author, or is it given to those entries that prove what the medium is capable of? Or maybe it's some combination of the two? The first time I wrote my year-end articles, I resolved this issue by making two separate "top" lists. We've already gone over the Masterpieces list, which ranks the most intellectual and advanced films of the year. So now it's time for my last and favorite list, ranking those movies of 2013 that startled me, made me laugh, and made me pump my fist in the air. These are the Wild Rides, ranked in order of how much fun I had while watching them.

10. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug / The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

These movies are both notable for being tremendous improvements on their predecessors. The stakes were bigger, the scope was greater, the characters grew more developed, and the action was far superior. However, both films have their faults: Hobbit still can't find a good use for Gandalf that doesn't involve setting up the next trilogy, and Hunger Games can't get past the stupidity of its villains and its premise. More importantly, both of these movies suffer for being the middle part of a trilogy (or a quadrilogy in the case of Hunger Games, since the third book is being split into two movies, but who's counting?). The films both slam to such an abrupt halt that it hinders their enjoyability somewhat. Still, these are solid middle entries and I look forward to seeing where the rest of the series go.

9. The World's End

This one loses a few ranks for how it completely falls apart in the third act. Also, the action scenes don't always sell the illusion that a few middle-aged alcoholics could take on a group of androids. Still, even when this film is at its weakest, it never failed to make me laugh. Not only is this a hilarious film from start to finish, but it's remarkably effective as a capstone to the "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy. That makes it more than worthy for this list.

8. Iron Man 3

Again, this makes the list for being a superb finale to a trilogy, but it's also a fitting epilogue for Marvel's Phase I. More importantly, it makes the list for taking the concept of power armor and playing with it 42 ways from Sunday. The suits, their applications, and their uses were all presented in such a jaw-dropping variety that it made for some absolutely dazzling action sequences. It also helps that Shane Black is on hand to inject some new energy into the franchise, and Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic as ever in his signature role. Though the film has some aggravating plot holes and I'm still not happy with its treatment of the Mandarin, this is still the best superhero film of 2013.

7. The Conjuring

I've seen horror films forsake character and plot, putting a greater focus on scares (see: You're Next). I've seen movies call themselves "horror" with nothing but buckets of gore and cheap jump scares. For too long, the genre has either been claimed by no-budget filmmakers or by mainstream studios who wouldn't dare make audiences uncomfortable. This is why we must pay respect to filmmakers like James Wan.

With this picture, Wan puts tremendous effort into maintaining atmosphere and timing his scares just right -- completely unafraid to abandon the safe and familiar -- without compromising character development. Wan has earned recognition as the next modern master of horror.

6. Frozen

I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't a fan of the trolls, and I absolutely loathe that snowman (seriously, Josh Gad, just go away). Even so, this was a perfectly delightful movie that was funny and heartfelt in all the best Disney ways. The animation was incredible, the voice acting was solid, and it was remarkably effective how the film subverted certain Disney Princess norms. Also, for better or worse, this song (that sequence, really) has been stuck in my head on a loop for the past month and a half. That's gotta be worth something.

5. Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

I had a hard time placing this one, but I chose to put it on this list -- and so high up -- because it's that much damn fun. Joss Whedon and company are clearly having such a good time getting drunk and dancing while reciting Shakespeare that it's absolutely infectious. Of course, it helps that this is a sterling production of Shakespeare's romantic comedy, presented with all the energy, humor, and wordplay that marks the Bard at his best. It's a delightful modernization of the text, so accessible and yet so faithful that it will surely be a high school staple for many years to come.

4. Fast & Furious 6

This franchise never ceases to impress me. I love how this movie was so elegantly structured in such a way that callbacks to previous films are neatly weaved in without leaving newcomers hanging. I love how the overarching theme of family isn't complex enough to distract from all the mindless action, but it's just present enough that the audience has a reason to emotionally invest in the action through the characters. Best of all, I love how the filmmakers keep coming up with increasingly elaborate stunts and fight sequences, making them so enthralling that I threw all disbelief out the window (yes, I know that runway would have to be impossibly long, and I don't care).

It's fantastic to think that this franchise is going on seven films deep and still finding new reasons to justify its own existence. This makes Paul Walker's recent death all the more tragic, since we'll never know what plans the filmmakers had for his character or how Walker's newfound success might have led to a brighter career. Nevertheless, the show will go on, and I have faith that the brains behind this franchise will find a way to keep doing the impossible and stay on the road.

3. Olympus Has Fallen

I know there are many who prefer White House Down, another 2013 film with similar subject matter, and I respectfully disagree. OHF was far more effective as an epic shoot-em-up fueled by testosterone and one-liners. I also appreciate that the plot of OHF was very straightforward, with a single villain masterminding a single worldwide catastrophe, as opposed to the convoluted hat-switching that went on in the closing minutes of WHD. As for the film itself, it felt so extremely good to see Gerard Butler back in his prime. I also loved how Antoine Fuqua embraced the '90s-style actioner concept and ran full-tilt with it. This movie blew my hair back through nearly every moment of its runtime and I loved every minute of it.

2. John Dies at the End (2nd take)

I admit that I'm biased because I love the book so much, but I don't care. The film superbly represented pretty much everything that I love about the book, and it's a better movie for it. The book's gonzo humor, grotesque horror, batshit lunacy, and incisive satire all translated perfectly in the process of adaptation. Even better, the film itself features a phenomenal cast and an effective blend of visual and practical effects. This was clearly a low-budget affair, I grant you, but there's a kind of charm with crude puppeteering that you don't see much of anymore. All in all, this is an example of what happens when the right material gets adapted by the right talent.

1. Pacific Rim

With the possible exception of Sharknado, this was easily the year's greatest cinematic guilty pleasure. The film is aggressively stupid, but it's so completely unafraid to be stupid that it goes back around to being charming. The film is loaded with plot holes and Travis Beacham can't write dialogue for shit, but he and Guillermo del Toro still managed to craft such a vast cinematic universe with tremendous affection and care for detail. Seriously, if you want to know how deep this rabbit hole goes, give the Pacific Rim wiki a read sometime. You'd be amazed how much supplemental material there is for this picture. I haven't seen anyone put this much effort and ambition into creating such a comprehensive mythology from scratch since Joss Whedon created "Firefly."

Pacific Rim itself is enormous in scope, portraying a truly international effort that doesn't depend solely on 'Murica to charge in and save everyone else's hide. In point of fact, the movie offers a variety of subtle and creative ways to express the themes of courage and teamwork, both of which were huge parts of the Japanese entertainment I watched while growing up. Of course, it also helps that the action scenes were phenomenal, the effects were mesmerizing, and the production design was exquisite. Moreover, you can keep your "Get Lucky" and take "Blurred Lines" to hell; this was my summer jam of 2013 and I'm not ashamed to say it.

As someone who grew up watching giant robot deathmatches, I absolutely loved every moment of Pacific Rim and I hope to see Gipsy Danger 2.0 onscreen someday. In the meantime, this is my favorite movie of 2013 without a contest.

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