Moviegoers were well-tended in 2013. The past year in film was certainly diverse, with plenty of highs and lows along the way. With a decent slew of quality popcorn flicks and some very pleasant surprises in multiple genres, this was a big year for the silver screen.
While it wasn’t quite the sequel-dominated year that, say, 2007 was, 2013 still gave us a number of new entries to big blockbuster franchises. Marvel continued to generate cargo ships of box office revenue, with both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World among the highest grossing films of the year. Through a mix of humor and smart writing, both sequels vastly improved upon their respective predecessors. Despicable Me 2, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug all contributed supporting arguments on the financial viability of sequels. As Tina Fey recently said at this year’s Golden Globes, “This is Hollywood, and if something kind of works they’ll just keep doing it until everybody hates it.” Based on the numbers this year, though, it seems it’ll take a while for these audiences to prove Fey right.
Now, that isn’t to say we didn’t see any duds this year, because we most certainly did. Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, a lovably epic and perhaps unintentionally corny giant-monster-versus-giant-robot bonanza, was, despite its grandeur, not nearly the box office smash it could have been. The Hangover Part III was dry and lifeless: a drained, diluted third serving of a movie that worked much better the first time around. Elysium also offered a striking premise, promising a portrait of a suffering, impoverished Earth orbited by a paradise for the rich and powerful. But with its fumbling execution and outright infuriating final act, Neill Blomkamp’s dystopian vision was muddled and disappointing.
The world did not end on December 21, 2012, and it seemed that Hollywood was trying to remind itself of that regularly in 2013. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year, however, was a film that followed that trend while turning it on its head: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This Is the End. The film, which featured an ensemble cast and a mile-long list of celebrity cameos (all playing versions of themselves), ingeniously infused outright world-ending destruction with razor edged laughs. It was utterly fearless, a blast to watch, and was lauded by critics and audiences alike.
It may sound trite, but a number of movies in 2013 stood out by breaking the mold. The Heat shook up the buddy-cop formula by giving us two female leads, a straight-faced Sandra Bullock and a wonderfully crass Melissa McCarthy, and was one of the funniest movies of the year. Zack Snyder gave us a darker, polarizing, re-imagining of Superman with Man of Steel. Baz Luhrmann’s take on The Great Gatsby was an unrestrained spectacle and a fresh embodiment of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic sendup of the American Dream in the Jazz Age. Admission, starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, was a reasonably enjoyable romantic comedy. But more importantly, it was perhaps the bravest and most candid lampoon of the absurdities of the college application process in a long time.
And then there’s awards season. The last three months have been absolutely packed with excellent, original films. Frozen was just plain adorable and, as many critics have claimed, one of Disney’s best animated musicals in over a decade. Daniel Radcliffe broke free of the Potter box with his compelling portrayal of Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, a noir-infused coming-of-age story that explores the beginnings of the Beat Generation. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, directed by and starring Ben Stiller, was both earnestly affecting and wonderfully visual, an intentionally dreamlike rush of cinematic escapism. David O. Russell did it again with American Hustle, which is garnering plenty of buzz for its compellingly multilayered and genre-defying story and for a knockout ensemble cast that includes Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence.
Her is Spike Jonze’s arrestingly ruminative and achingly beautiful love story, featuring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with an intelligent operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Joaquin Phoenix is terrific, but Johansson’s purely vocal performance in Her was a revelation. Inside Llewyn Davis, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen, is dark and strikingly intimate. The hardship-filled journey of its hero (Oscar Isaac), as he struggles in the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961, is powerfully haunting. And with The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese reaffirms his directorial genius, as frequent Scorsese collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio both captures and infuriates the audience in what may be the wildest performance of his career.
This was a packed year in cinema. Though there have been a few large misses, plenty of films released in the last twelve months have largely made their mark. With a successful spring and summer marked by blockbusters and comedies alike, a winter loaded with Oscar bait, and plenty of interesting and engrossing films in between, this year was a truly memorable one for movies. The bar has been set high for 2014.
This article was published in its original form in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian on January 21, 2014.