Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Ten Favorite Films of 2013

Not the best films, I may not have even seen the best films that came out this year. But as for the films that entertained, enlightened, informed (especially entertained), here’s the top ten.

10) “Much Ado About Nothing” – Directed by Joss Whedon

This might have ranked higher if the Kenneth Branagh’s version of the classic wasn’t out there. I’m not ready to say one is better than the other, but I do wish Whedon had covered new Shakespearean territory. But two roles were certainly cast better than in the KB version. Sean Maher captures the pettiness of Don John is much better than the awful Keanu Reeves, but most anyone would be. And Nathan Fillion is really funny as Dogberry and reminds one that Shakespeare wanted people to laugh.

9) “Frozen” – Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck

It is good to see a love story for children that is not about lovers (primarily), but instead about siblings. At turns funny, at others moving, but always gorgeous to look at. After Pixar’s amazing steak, for three years in a row the “Disney” film is better than the “Pixar” film (both are actually Disney now and many of the same people work for both divisions.) I liked Pixar’s “Monster’s University” but “Frozen” was better. Last year “Wreck It Ralph” from Disney was better than “Brave” from Pixar and the year before that “Winnie the Pooh” was greater than “Cars 2”. And next year there is a Disney film, but no Pixar film.

8) “Frances Ha” – Directed by Noah Baumbach

Baumbach often makes cynical and abrasive film, but this tale of a young woman (the darn cute Greta Gerwig) growing up in NYC is quite sweet. If you wonder about the title, you’ll have to wait to the end. It’s worth the wait. (Now on Netfilx.)

7) “Gravity” – Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

I wrote about this film in the blog here, but for now I’ll just say that not every filmmaker is making a false choice between a good story and amazing special effects. Both are possible.

6) “No” – Directed by Pablo Larraín

I wrote about this Chilean film as well, the only foreign language film on my list. One of the best films about politics since the foreign language film with a shorter title, “Z”.

5) “Mud” – Directed by Jeff Nichols

This is my only film on the list that I didn’t see in the theater, caught it on DVD from the library. It would have been fun in the theater to see the beauty of the Mississippi River. The story of two young boys helping a man on the run will remind many viewers of Huck and Tom and the amazing thing is it stands up to the comparison.

4) “Inside Llewyn Davis” – Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen

After I see the film another time or two, this film might become by favorite of the year. But I saw this film recently and like many Coen films I need time to mull it over some. The wonderful thing about this film is you want to mull over this episodic story of a folk singer in Greenwich Village in the early ’60’s. A marquee in Minneapolis captured some of the spirit of the film advertising the film starred “A cat and John Goodman” and on the other side, “Inside Llewyn Davis, Outside Very Cold.”

3) “12 Years A Slave” – Directed by Steve McQueen

Maybe the most important film of the year, maybe the best, and I like it very much, but it wasn’t my favorite. The true story of a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery is at turns grueling and heart breaking and at other times inspiring. As a Christian, it is a good reminder that some at this dark portion of our country’s history were inspired by their faith to fight evil while others used the trappings of faith to hide their evil.

2) “The Way, Way Back” – Directed by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon

I wrote about this film as well. Two things I loved about this film so very much: Sam Rockwell channeling early ‘80’s Bill Murray and an example of how to love teenagers.

1) “Nebraska” – Directed by Alexander Payne

Maybe it was dealing with the loss of my mom this year that made me appreciated this film all the more. Will Forte plays a son dealing with his father, who is convinced he won the Publishers’ Clearing House big money and must go to from Montana to Nebraska to collect. A funny, tough and tender look back at a man’s life; the accomplishment and failures, dreams unfilled and unexpected gifts.

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Films I Watched in 2013

Warm Bodies – Theater***

Side Effects – Theater**

56 Up – Theater***

No – Theater***

The Place Beyond the Pines – Theater**

Ironman 3 – Theater***

John Dies at the End – Netflix*

The Sapphires – Theater**

Star Trek Into Darkness – Theater*

42 – Theater**

Francis Ha – Theater***

The Numbers Station – Netflix*

Monsters University – Theater***

Upstream Color – Netflix**

The Last Stand – DVD**

Much Ado About Nothing – Theater***

Broken City – DVD (No stars)

Pacific Rim – Theater**

The Way, Way Back – Theater***

Fruitvale Station – Theater**

Snitch – DVD**

The Purge – Theater**

Blue Jasmine – Theater***

The World’s End – Theater***

What Masie Knew- DVD***

You’re Next – Theater**

Parker – Netflix*

Trance – DVD*

The Wolverine – Theater**

To the Wonder – DVD**

Bullet to the Head – DVD*

Mud – DVD***

Gravity – Theater***

Emperor – DVD**

Captain Phillips – Theater***

Olympus Has Fallen – DVD*

The Great Gatsby – DVD*

The Counselor – Theater**

Mama – DVD**

The Heat – DVD*

Redemption – Netflix*

Phantom – Netflix**

12 Years a Slave – Theater***

Stand Up Guys – DVD*

Escape Plan – Theater**

Thor: The Dark World – Theater***

The Conjuring – DVD**

Only God Forgives – Netflix*

Nebraska – Theater***

Computer Chess – Netflix**

The Call – DVD*

Europa Report – Netflix**

Frozen – Theater***

Inside Llewyn Davis - Theater***

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone – DVD*

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – DVD*

Zero to three star scale, only one film bad enough for the zero. A film a week average, twenty nine in theaters.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Five Films I Hated the Most in 2013

This isn’t a film of the worst films of 2013 or even the worst films I saw in 2013. There are bad films I enjoy. “Olympus Has Fallen” is not defensible as a piece of art or even coherent narrative. But I still was amused watching it, like a junior high production of “Die Hard”.
And there are many films I knew would bore my or disgust me, so I didn’t take time to watch them. These five films I had hope for, and those hopes were dashed. So I’ll say why I had so hope going in, and went out without pleasure.

5) Trance

Why I had hope – This film was directed by Danny Boyle who directed not only some of my favorite films, but my favorite films in a variety of genres. “28 Days Later” is a great zombie film, “Trainspotting” makes you laugh as well as cry along with heroin addicts, “Millions” is a wonderful children’s film with a rich spiritual message, “Slumdog Millionaire” won the Oscar for best picture….The guy is no slough.
And this film starts well, with a cleverly planned art heist. But then it brings on the plot twists. Questions of identity and guilt and sexuality come fast and furious and then it starts to seem that the screenwriter and the director don’t have the answers to these questions and the whole thing collapses in a big, wet mess. And James McAvoy is annoying, as he often can be.

4) The Heat

Why I had hope – The director, Paul Feig, is a very funny guy. He created the wonderful one season wonder “Freaks and Geeks” and has written some hysterical autobiography. And a number of critics and audiences really liked this Sandra Bolluck/Melissa McCarthy vehicle.
But I found this tale of female odd couple cops boring and obnoxious. Every buddy cop cliché is repeated but without anything fresh added. And it had one trope that never fails to annoy me. Bollock’s character is an uptight FBI agent who doesn’t swear. And obviously, you can’t be a cop if you don’t use foul language. So it’s a big turning point when she finally lets F-bombs fly. Clue to film makers – vulgar language in our society is not a rare thing, and converting someone to its use is not a plus.

3) Redemption

Why I had hope – Jason Stratham bests people up. That’s usually all I require from a film. A bad action film is not a bad thing in my book. This year I watched Sly in “Bullet to the Head” and Arnold in “The Last Stand” and then Sly and Arnold in “The Escape Plan”. Their action films make me laugh. I’m not going to see Sly in “Grudge Match” because when these guys make comedies I don’t laugh. I also enjoyed Stratham in “Parker” and will probably see him in the Sly penned “Homefront”.
But then they had to bring bad politics and religion into my action film. Stratham is another of those soldiers turned by the government into a “killing machine”. Unless he’s drunk, he’s going to kill people, it’s not his fault. He meets and nun and they have a peculiar relationship. He kisses her and feels he needs redemption, which apparently he gets through killing people. Hey writers and directors of JS, just provide fights, chases and shootings. We can get our religion, philosophy and politics elsewhere.

2) Only God Forgives

Why I had hope – Director and writer Nicolas Refn and actor Ryan Gosling had recently teamed up for a fairly good modern noir film – “Drive”.
But this is not “Drive”. Our “hero” is asked by his mother to avenge his brother’s death. His brother was a child molester who was killed by mobsters for his crimes. Stylish, but empty and morally bankrupt. No thank you.

1) Broken City

Why I had hope – Look at that cast… Russell Crowe, Mark Wahberg, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barry Pepper, Jeffery Wright, surely they wouldn’t sign on if the script was dull, pedestrian and paint the numbers, would they?
They would. A boring political thriller that reminds us that TV does these things so much better these days in shows like “House of Cards” and “Boss”. There is more political insight to be found among campaign managers for 9th grade class president than is found in this film. And yet for some reason I watched the whole stupid thing, hoping it would get better.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all these films were rated R. Hollywood does a fairly poor job making films for adults these days.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Top Ten TV Shows of 2013

Not exactly breaking news to say TV is different now than it used to be. Growing up, you'd choose at any given primetime hour one of the shows three networks or perhaps an old movie on an independent station. But you could be pretty sure when you went to school the next day that a number of your friends watched the same thing.

Now, few of us watch the same things at the same time. We don't even have cable TV at our house. I watch most things on Hulu or Netflix or perhaps on DVD. So I may watch something that airs on TV the next day on Hulu or months later on Netflix or DVD. So these are my rules for my list. Shows on my list have to have been broadcast in 2013 and I have to have seen the show in 2013 (even if I'm watching them later then people with cable do.) So here are my top ten, five comedies and five dramas.

Sadly, none of the shows below are really family friendly ("Moone Boy" comes the closest.) But these are things that I liked and the drams particularly show the need of a fallen world and fallen people for a savior.


5) "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (on FX and Netflix) - Highly offensive material performed by vulgar, degenerate characters. I cannot in good conscience recommend this show to anyone. The Christmas episode featured prostitution, thief, violence, mild cannibalism, and Danny DeVito nude. But is is funny. Very funny.

4) "Arrested Development" (Netflix) - I watched the first three seasons of this show "live" when it played on Fox. Apparently, I was one of dozens that did and then it was canceled. But it got a following on DVD and Netflix brought it back for a season and there may be more. Many complained it wasn't as funny as the original series, but when you start with one of the best sitcoms ever, not as good can still be pretty good. Nothing funnier this year to me than Will ("Getaway") Arnett and Ben ("Wonder") Stiller finishing each other's word groupings.

3) "Brooklyn 99" (Fox and Hulu) - One of my favorite sitcoms was "Barney Miller". Set in a police station, there are police officers that say it was the most realistic show ever to portray their profession. I'm sure they won't say the same about this show, as realism is not a priority, but it's almost as funny. And it shares an actor from my all time favorite cop show ("Homicide"), but now Andre Braugher has been promoted from detective to captain.

2) "Moone Boy" (BBC and Hulu) - A show about the imaginary friend of a young Irish boy growing up in the 1980's. Rather like the great "Malcolm in the Middle" except Martin Moone had sisters rather than brothers. The worst thing I can say about it is it only has six episodes so far. But more will come.

1) "Parks and Recreation" (NBC and Hulu) - From entries #4 and #5 on this list, one might get the impression that you need to be mean and cynical to be funny. But this show features a whole lot of nice. There are married couples that really love each other, friends that will go to elaborate extremes to help each other and people who try be excellent in there jobs. Most everyone on the show would make a good friend. Except Jerry...I mean, Larry...He's the worst.

Honorable Mentions: "New Girl", "Veep", "Modern Family" and two shows that ended this year, "30 Rock" and "Don't Trust the B"


5) "The Walking Dead" (AMC, Netflix and DVD) - Arguably the most popular show on TV, it certainly has its ups and downs. It can be slow at times, but it is important to remember it is not chiefly a show about zombies, but rather a show about how people deal with zombies or any kind of catastrophe. It has moments as powerful as any drama on TV. (Cute dogs and even cute children are not safe on this show.) And Daryl is the best redneck ever presented on the air.

4) "Ripper Street" (BBC and Netflix) - How rough was it for the police force that didn't solve the crimes of Jack the Ripper? This show answers that question. It is a procedural of a kind, with stand alone episodes, which can be nice. It's characters are people I enjoy spending time with. (But it does have that old BBC blessing and curse of not many episodes.)

3) "Mad Men" (AMC, Netflix and DVD) - People have complained that season 6 of the show was the weakest in the series. But I watched season 5 this year and it had great episodes in the life of this mid twentieth century ad execs and their family, friends and lovers.

2) "Justified" (FX and DVD) - Raylan Givens is a 19th century lawman who happens to live in the 21st century. I listed it as my favorite show last year, but this year it was beaten by...

1) "Breaking Bad" (AMC, Netflix and DVD) - There are people writing now that this may be the greatest TV series of all time. I'm not ready to go that far, but than again I've still not seen the series final episodes. But I loved those I watched this year. Sure it's about a cancer patient turned meth maker but that doesn't mean it can't at times be fun. One word that proved that true..."Magnets".

Honorable mentions... "Almost Human", "Game of Thrones", "Luther", "Top of the Lake", "Sons of Anarchy", "The Blacklist"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 Books I Read in 2013

Goodreads reminded me of the books I read in 2013. It excluded the children's books and graphic novels and said I read about an even hundred. These are the books that I read that were published this year:


7 Men by Eric Metaxas

Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm by Monte Reel

The Deserters by Charles Glass

The Friedkin Connection by William Friedkin

Gulp by Mary Roach

Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky

How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God by Ian Punnett

Lincoln Unbound by Rich Lowry

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain


Dexter’s Final Cut by Jeff Lindsay

Evil Eye by Joyce Carol Oates (Short stories)

Identical by Scott Turow

Joyland by Stephen King

Never Go Back by Lee Child

Nine Inches by Tom Perrotta (Short stories)

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Many of these books I reviewed over the year here at my blog. "Nine Inches" was probably my favorite new fiction I read this year. "How to Pray" by Punnett may well be my favorite new nonfiction book of the year (with "Man and Beast" as my favorite history book, if catagories were divided further), but Goodreads doesn't list a great book I read that comes out December 31; "The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Who Held on to a Strong Faith While Wrestling with the Mystery of Human Origins" by Tim Stafford. It's a great book and I'll review it soon. (I also started "Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell" by Chas Smith.)