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Brief Reviews of Every Movie I Saw in Theaters in 2013

I wasn’t a big fan of most of the movies I saw last year but that didn’t stop me from spending my hard earned money to sit in a dark room and watch glorified TV with a bunch of strangers.

I wasn’t a big fan of most of the movies I saw last year but that didn’t stop me from spending my hard earned money to sit in a dark room and watch glorified TV with a bunch of strangers in 2013. I wouldn’t say that this year was a lot better than last year, and in retrospect there were several movies I did enjoy—even if in some cases it was just because they were so bad, how could you not love them? And then there were the ones that were just so bad they were actually just bad.

Stoker

I remember being confused as to what was going on when I was watching this movie, and I feel confused trying to remember it now. Something about a guy killing his brother and fucking his brother’s wife and daughter. It seems like Park Chan-wook’s films love piling on perverse plot twists one after another, so that pretty soon what seems like the original story is suddenly up to its neck in shit. All that stuff is great, and I love being confused, but I prefer to be confused by imagery and time rather than by what the ridiculous plot is doing. At least Park knows how to compose a shot, making this another film that might be better if you never hear the dialogue.

Spring Breakers

I think always go into a Harmony Korine movie with a certain set of expectations, and a corresponding range of expectations as to how those original expectations will be totally thrown off. Spring Breakers is maybe the furthest afield of all his movies. So much so, it left a strange taste in my mouth. So many scenes here felt manipulated into ridiculousness beyond the point of what could even seem unsettling as art. Everyone seemed to think that the Britney Spears bit was funny, but I was just like, “Nah.” Long after, I still keep thinking about so many of the film’s images (specifically Gucci Mane's cameo) and the fact that I can still remember how weird it felt sitting in a room full of people watching what often felt like a mix between a thug mafia epic and a college bro’s wet dream means there will never really be anything quite like this playing at mainstream box offices for a long time.

Evil Dead

It’s no secret most remakes are total shit. I think I went into this expecting to either fall asleep or laugh my ass off, not with it, but at it. And yet, it wasn’t all that bad. For once, the director framed the remake not as an update or a recreation of the original, but more so as a totally different story told using only the framework of the original setup. I imagine you could remake anything in that way: playing out the story using any one of the hundred nearly arbitrary plotlines that could unfold at any point during a film. Welcome to having somewhat of an imagination.

Upstream Color

Wow, an actual American film featuring an onslaught of cryptic imagery, mazey plotlines, ambient noise, beautiful shots, continuously unfolding repercussions, and more importantly, setting out to make a film that’s more a puzzle than a picture. For me, this was easily the best film of the year, with a lingering impact somewhat like what I imagine seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey in theaters might have felt like. In an ideal world, there would be dozens of films of this breadth coming out every year, but for now it remains a beacon of hope amidst mediocrity.

Frances Ha

I mean, I guess I wanted to like this. It's clearly well directed, and Greta Gerwig is charming enough that you can easily spend 90 minutes watching her do whatever it was that she was doing. I don’t know, I felt like I was watching someone’s blog playing out on screen. I know the “contemporary young person trying to find his or her place among the rich kids in New York” genre is really popular these days, but I’d probably rather watch Days of Our Lives.

The Bling Ring

What is the song in this movie that they used that goes, 'Duh / duh duh duh / duh duh duh... Wee / wee wee wee / wee wee wee'? That song is catchy in the “I fucking hate that song, but I’m going to listen to it so I can feel angry about life” sort of way, which is also pretty much how I feel about this movie. I pulled up the trailer from YouTube for this movie to give myself a quick refresher on it and honestly mistook the advertisement before the trailer as part of what I remembered of the film itself. I don’t think idolizing douchebag celebrity culture is cute, even if you end up robbing celebrities.

Jobs

Dude. This movie. I don’t really know where to begin. Mostly when I told people I went to see the Steve Jobs movie starring Ashton Kutcher they were like, “Why the fuck would you do that?” I don’t know, but this movie was so far beyond bad, it went beyond bad back to good, through bad again, and into totally transcendently brain damagedly awkward and unforgettable. I kind of wonder if whoever directed this had ever seen a movie before he tried to make a movie, and for some reason he decided to start with a fucking Steve Jobs biopic. There are so many inexplicable elements of what went on here, I don’t even know where to begin. Ashton Kutcher is, well, Ashton Kutcher, so he cancels himself out even if he’s trying to put on his “serious actor” pants. It’s sad, and it’s amazing. The plotline jumps like a song written by the Shaggs, leading even the clear story of a boring man’s life through Wizard of Oz-like timeline leaps. There’s a five-minute hallucination scene where Steve Jobs takes acid at college and we follow Ashton around frolicking in fields seeing colors for no real reason. There’s also that feeling of manufactured importance to every moment, as if Steve invented the cure for cancer or walked on Mars, instead of just, you know, being the guy who invented the iPod. Moreover, and I don’t know if the filmmakers realized this, but it makes Steve look like a total dick—he never really does anything of genius, just steals ideas from others all while being a fuckface to his wife and denying his only child. I could see this movie becoming, one sad day not too far in our future, the new Rocky Horror

The Conjuring / You're Next

I wish I could just give up on trying to believe that there will ever be another truly terrifying, haunting, beautiful popular horror movie. No matter how much money they have to spend or what weird premise that seems compelling and fucked at first, it always seems like by halfway through the film, everything has already fallen apart and you’re sitting there waiting for it to be over. Have half of the directors of movies like these two ever seen a horror movie? Did they ever imagine that what’s often most effective when trying to be unsettling has nothing to do with plot, and that if you’d just focus on fucked images and sound and disorientation and other elements besides why the ghost’s mad and what their past is or who the killer is and who survives, you’d already be miles ahead of these shitty dressed up melodramas? 

Runner Runner

I don’t know why any movie even remotely related to poker has to be so bro-ish. Oh wait, yes I do: almost everybody who plays poker is a bro. If you were looking for a movie that got into the gambling world like Rounders, don’t look here. Ben Affleck is looking a little chunky, and he hasn’t taken any acting classes. Justin Timberlake is still the main guy from N’Sync. This is another one I went into expecting to maybe fall asleep or get up in the middle and go buy some nachos at the concession stand and maybe never come back, but I made it to the end, which is saying something. Maybe it’s saying, “Here’s a sweet place to waste your time”which, I guess, is how a lot of people think about most movies.

The Counselor

I knew something didn’t add up when I kept hearing how awful this movie was, and yet it was written by the masterful Cormac McCarthy and directed by the sometimes masterful Ridley Scott. The truth is this film got shit on because it’s not the fast-paced Scorsese-like thriller that the trailer predicted. It’s mostly made up of long conversations about death, remorse, and culpability. At face value, it's a drug cartel heist movie, but instead of coming on with body counts and car crashes, that hopelessness is delivered in straight language around action more conceptual than a regular old shoot ‘em up. And that's great. Immediately after this movie was over, ending not with a bang but with a whimper, one of the bros in the theater shouted, “WHAT THE FUCK?!” That should happen way more often.

12 Years a Slave

As if to counteract the poop fests of Lincoln and Django Unchained, this film went straight for the gut. We saw it on Thanksgiving, a good time to be reminded of what reams of hell provided the foundation for America. There were several times throughout this movie that it provided a feeling almost like it was daring you to turn away with long takes of misery that created a tension in the theater that could be cut with a butter knife—a rare trait among most contemporary films. I did think it was funny that Brad Pitt showed up as the sole abolitionist in the movie, and later was revealed as an executive producer, like, “Here’s some cash to make your film, as long as I get to be the good guy.” That’s cool, though. Brad Pitt’s just fine. 

Nebraska

I don’t usually get off on movies whose greatest asset is depicting a certain locale really perfectly, but by far the best thing about Nebraska was how Nebraska-y it was. Obese old white people sitting in their living rooms watching TV, getting drunk, and losing their memories while waiting to die. The premise of an old man thinking he’s won a million dollars based on a Publishers Clearing House-like sweepstakes advertisement and the false hope that comes with it is more than just a placeholder for a tour through one Alzheimer’s-ridden old man’s nearly forgotten life. Overall, this movie was pretty fucking sad, despite how well it tried to drown out the sadness with humor. So, you know, buy popcorn and nachos and you can drown it out even more.