Here are my lists of the most enjoyable and least enjoyable /most disappointing/most overrated films I saw during 2013. The negative category includes some films that, while not the worst, were disappointing or overrated, or, while enjoyable, had huge flaws. The positive category is just how much I enjoyed them, not rated as I would rate an Oscar®-winner. The “Most Disappointing” are listed by rank of how much I loathed them with #1 the most loathsome. There weren’t as many this year, but there were more truly despicable movies than any year since I’ve been writing this column.
1. 42: A fitting testament to Jackie Robinson, one of the most courageous Americans of the 20th Century and one who influenced American society more than any other, showing what he had to go through and endure to break the color barrier in baseball. The word “hero” is thrown about pretty easily these days. Jackie Robinson was a true hero, in the strictest sense of the word and this movie captures that.
2. American Hustle: Lots of fun surrounded by lots of bouncing breasts.
3. Lone Survivor: One of the most realistic war movies ever made, a fine tribute to the Navy SEALs and what they have to go through in Afghanistan.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis: A fine, if depressing, examination of the Greenwich Village folk scene just before Bob Dylan, with very good music.
5. Gravity: Mind-boggling special effects.
6. Rush: Ron Howard’s cinematography displays Hitchcockian influence in one of the best auto racing films with exceptional performances.
7. Erased: A terrific Liam Neeson thriller only it stars Aaron Eckhart.
8. Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen scores again; this time in San Francisco.
9. The Great Gatsby: A terrific remake of the Fitzgerald novel that wasn’t nearly as good as this movie.
10. Stuck in Love: Greg Kinnear gives a wonderful performance in an excellent movie that was so little publicized nobody knew anything about it or even when or where it was playing.
11. Love Is All You Need: It’s the rare film that gets me to laugh and cry within the space of 110 minutes. Trine Dryholm validates Alec Baldwin calling her the best actress ever.
12. Swerve: This is a brilliant noir that would have felt right at home in ‘40s Hollywood.
13. Salinger: A fascinating documentary on the elusive over-publicized author of one good book that became a classic. He had a good reason to go underground.
14. The Hunt: Supports the thesis that the best movies are generally made by foreigners, with a terrific performance by Mads Mikkelsen and a little girl, Annika Wedderkopp.
15. Jobs: Ignore what any other critics say, Ashton Kutcher becomes Steve Jobs in this exceptional biopic.
16. The Family: An enjoyable film with Robert DeNiro giving a fine comedic performance as a mafia sociopath.
17. RED 2: A bunch of old geezer operatives kill more people and spew more bullets while creating more laughs than any film this year.
18. Fruitvale Station: The last half hour more than makes up for the slow first hour that had me wanting to bolt.
19. Admission: An entertaining film with good pace and sparkling performances especially by fellow Wahoo Tina Fey.
20. Snitch: Dwayne Johnson once again shows he is not just a pretty face with the ability to lift one eyebrow. In fact he’s an actor of acceptable range who can take on disparate roles, like this one where he gets beat up rather than doing the beating.
21. Side Effects: A neat little thriller that starts out as one thing and completely turns 180° in the middle and becomes something else; thoroughly entertaining.
22. Identity Thief: Even if a movie isn’t wonderfully terrific throughout, if it contains a line that can make me laugh uncontrollably I will probably give it a good rating. This movie, however, has both. It is wonderfully terrific throughout, and it does contain one line that had me laughing uncontrollably and still had me laughing long after I left the theater. I wasn’t a Melissa McCarthy fan until I saw her in this.
23. About Time: Rachel McAdams and a time warp movie? What’s not to like?
24. Ginger & Rosa: A fascinating expose of existentialism and kind of a roman à clef of the Bloomsbury Group. Alice Englert, although not stunningly beautiful, exhibits a unique steamy sexuality that marks her as a star in the making.
25. Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s: A delightful, informative, educational, and highly entertaining documentary about the 111-year history of the iconic New York department store Bergdorf Goodman.
26. The Summit: This documentary is one of the best mountain climbing movies ever made.
27. The Call: A fine, tension-packed, rewarding thriller about a 911 operator.
28. The Purge: If you can suspend your incredulity and accept the premise, this is a gripping thriller.
29. At Any Price: An educational view of farm life that shows it to be far from what most people in the city imagine it to be, abetted by outstanding performances of the entire cast.
30. Lovelace: This answers the question of whether Amanda Seyfried, 21st Century sweetheart equivalent to Doris Day, can appear topless playing a notorious porn star effectively without wrecking her career à la Meg Ryan. The answer is an Oscar®-worthy performance.
31. Thanks for Sharing: A realistic film of words and emotions, the type in this day and age of special effects and idiotic cartoon characters one generally only finds in art houses specializing in foreign films.
32. Disconnect: A movie with mounting tension, not an easy one to watch, but one that ends with a thud. Up until the last five minutes, though, this is thoroughly engrossing.
33. Oblivion: Based on an idea pretty clearly taken from Robert Henlein’s 1950 radio program Universe without any credit whatsoever, this is still an effective entertainment, even though it’s the kind of major studio film I usually loathe.
34. The Iceman: The only thing off-putting about this film about a serial killer is the graphic violence. Many of the murders are shown in relatively explicit detail. But the story is so well told that even if you have to avert your eyes a couple of times, it’s an entertaining film.
35. Weekend of a Champion: This documentary of Jackie Stewart as he prepared to drive in the 1971 Monaco Grand Prix could be the finest auto racing movie of them all.
1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler: They didn’t entitle it “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” for nothing because this is not the story of the real White House butler, Gene Allen. It is almost 100% fiction, the most blatantly racist movie since Birth of a Nation in 1916.
2. To the Wonder: Terrence Malick has finally gone a road too far with this, an incoherent jumble of scenes, each of which is totally unrelated to what precedes and what follows.
3. Oldboy: This Spike Lee film is so morally depraved that it is fit for nobody.
4. Only God Forgives: A despicably graphically violent film that has no raison d’être.
5. Grown Ups 2: Director Dennis Dugan continues on his quest to make the worst movies in the world, ably abetted by Adam Sandler.
6. 21 & Over: Sheer, unadulterated agony.
7. Stand Up Guys: The audience was applauding when it ended. I did, too, to express appreciation that it had, in fact, finally ended.
8. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: The only magic in this movie is that it actually got made and distributed.
9. G.I. Joe: Retaliation: This film was scheduled to be released in June, 2012, but when Paramount received dismal feedback from screenings it was yanked for some reshoots, apparently to build up the role of Tatum Channing who dies at the outset. But he still dies at the outset and it’s still mind-numbingly moronic.
10. White House Down: The only thing that separates director Roland Emmerich movies from a Roadrunner cartoon is that the characters are not animated (although there might be some question about star Channing Tatum).
11. The Hangover III: It’s not close to being as good as the first, but it’s not nearly as bad as the second. In fact, it would be almost impossible to write a film as bad as the second. The fact that it might be better than the second, though, doesn’t mean it’s not dreadful.
12. Don Jon: It’s probably not possible to make a tasteful movie about a subject as distasteful as masturbation, but this movie doesn’t even try. Written and directed by star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, it is not only misogynistic, it’s got misandry thrown in, too. Whatever was intended, after only five minutes I started looking at my watch and continued to urge those hands to move faster throughout the rest of the film.
13. Prince Avalanche: When the film ended I said to the person sitting next to me, “How do they get money to make things like this?” The reply was that they might have made it for a tax loss. My response was that they knew what they were doing because this was a real loser.
14. Her: Channeling the idiotic 2007 groaner, Lars and the Real Girl, films like this make a critic’s job worse than hard labor on a rock pile.
15. Kill Your Darlings: The only possibly interesting part of this movie “based on real people” (the dopes who defined The Beat Generation) came before the end credits when graphics indicate what really happened to the characters. I could not have cared less.
16. The Invisible Woman: This fictionalized supposition about Charles Dickens’ 13-year relationship with his young mistress makes one sympathize for poor Charles if it was as boring as this movie