NJAM Picks It – 2013

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NJAM is sure that you’re hankering for more after our most recent episode #29 about our top film picks of 2013.  As promised, here are our complete lists of 2013 fiction films we screened.

Note:

Since Timmie and Ryan saw most of the same films we have combined their lists for your viewing convenience, along with Ryan’s ratings. Michael also chose to share his ratings, which you’ll find in his entry. 

Click on the links for more info about any of the films we’ve been watching this past year.  


Timmie and Ryan’s List of 2013 Films

(Accompanied by Ryan’s Ratings)

The Place Beyond the Pines  94%

Her 92%

12 Years a Slave 89%

Inside Llewyn Davis 88%

Much Ado about Nothing 88%

Blue Jasmine 87%

What Maisie Knew 87%

Philomena 86%

American Hustle 85%

Nebraska 84%

Enough Said 83%

The Spectacular Now 83%

Dallas Buyers Club 83%

Mud 83%

The Way Way Back 83%

Before Midnight 82%

Frances Ha 82%

This is the End 79%

Gravity 78%

Don Jon 76%

Monsters University 75%

The World’s End 73%

Warm Bodies 70%

The Wolf of Wall Street 69%

Star Trek: Into Darkness 69%

The Great Gatsby 69%

The Hobbit: Decimation of Smaug 69%

Side Effects 69%

Upstream Color 68%

Iron Man 3 67%

To the Wonder 63%

Despicable Me 2 61%

Oz the Great and Powerful 61%

Spring Breakers 55%

Thor: The Dark World 50%

Movies Only Timmie Saw:

Captain Phillips

Stoker

Frozen

Epic


Michael:

2013 Movie Rankings

Remember, fair reader, that my movie activity during 2013 was quite lackluster and the list you see before you paints my entire picture of last year’s cinema experience. That my depress some (most) of you, but I will do my best to rank these as fair as possible. Some might even achieve a few percentage points higher, due solely to my ignorance.

Star Trek Into Darkness – 90%

Frozen – 90%

Her – 85%

The Great Gatsby – 80%

Monster’s University – 80%

Sandra Bullock is a Fetus, Get it?! Symbolism!: The Movie (Gravity) – 60%

James Franco: The Great and Powerful (Oz: The Great and Powerful) – 60%

We Should Really Pay More Attention to Our Drinks: Part III (The Hangover: Part III) – 60%

Ghost Wife (Safe Haven) – Shyamalan%


Ryan:

My Personal Top 5 List vs My Ratings List

    It’s strange seeing all these movies together in one space, since when I rate them on a scale of 100, I try my best to grade them on their own merit, avoiding comparisons. When coming up with my personal list though, comparisons are pretty much inescapable. You’ll also notice my rankings list differs in some areas from what I mentioned on the show were in my top 5 of the year. My criteria for what I enjoy personally is slightly different from my attempt at being objective in my scores.

    For my personal “top 5 of the year list” (Place Beyond the Pines, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine, and What Maisie Knew) I tend to go for what engages and challenges me on an emotional and intellectual level. I look for bold, ambitious filmmaking (often from an editor/filmmaker’s perspective) that takes risks and really uses the medium itself to its advantage. I’m a sucker for moments of “pure cinema” and storytelling that surprises me, which is why I prefer a film like Inside Llewyn Davis or Blue Jasmine to 12 Years a Slave. (See what I mean about comparisons?) It’s also the reason Place Beyond the Pines and Her just managed to sneak above the rest. Objectively speaking, I recognize that 12 Years a Slave is pretty flawless, and at times, brilliant filmmaking. But perhaps, in seeing so many films, there’s a boredom that comes with more conventional style. I can recognize and appreciate a stellar film, but don’t always find it exciting.

    The critique I often hear for 12 Years a Slave is that it is too brutal, when for me, that aspect helped me appreciate it as a standout work of art. The brutality is what jolts the audience the most and was the biggest risk the studio took. Otherwise, the film felt very conservative in other choices (save for an incredible wide shot/long take that really forces you to focus and dwell) which I found disappointing in contrast to director, Steve McQueen’s previous work.

    For my ratings, I try to determine how many aspects of cinema (Directing, Acting, Writing, Editing, Cinematography, Sound Design etc.) a film succeeds in. It’s less about “does a film surprise me?” and more about the balance it reaches between different elements. Of course, knowing it’s impossible to truly be objective, how much it entertains me and overall enjoyment are also a big factor. Enough Said for instance, did not do anything wildly creative with the medium — it could have easily been a staged play instead of a film, but the chemistry and performances of the late James Gandolfini and Julia Louis Dreyfus were very compelling to me. So, while it loses points in the purely cinematic elements of motion, visual composition, rhythm and sound-scapes, it still had enough points in the acting, writing, and the always intangible, “overall enjoyment” category to earn an 83%.

    Everyone who rates films, just like the filmmakers themselves, inevitably has a flawed system, so many would argue it’s silly to try to be objective. In the end, it will always come down to personal preference, but I find the debate itself is always what’s most fun and meaningful. Rating films gets people talking, and forces you to determine an opinion, which is the whole point.


Timmie:

Movies to See and Some…Maybe Not

     2013 brought several excellent films, and also several mediocre films as well.  Assuming you’ve already listened to Episode #29 I’m not going to spend much time discussing my top five films of 2013.  To briefly reiterate, they are: Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, The Place Beyond the Pines, Much Ado About Nothing, and Nebraska.  A more in-depth discussion on all of these films can be heard in Episode #29.   

     There were many films this year that didn’t make the top of my list, but I thoroughly enjoyed and absolutely recommend any cinephile views.  They are: American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Enough Said, Frances Ha, Mud, Philomena, The Spectacular Now, This Is the End, The Way Way Back, and What Maisie Knew.  In general, each of these had a solid story and cast.

     I could go on and on about how great the releases of 2013 were, but honestly I’m more interested in discussing a few of the films that I didn’t care for, some of which were highly regarded by many critics.  It should go without saying that my enjoyment level of any film is severely subjective.  If you have a different opinion I would love to hear it.  But for now, please enjoy my insight…

Captain Phillips

      I am fully aware that the newest Paul Greengrass release has been highly regarded by many people.  However, I have to say that I did not enjoy this film, at all.  Based on true events from 2009, the story centers around a pirate hijacking of a carrier ship near the Horn of Africa, which leads to the abduction of Phillips.  Tom Hanks plays the title character of Captain Phillips, and to be fair, he does a decent job, as does the rest of the cast.  Barkhad Abdi, a new face in American feature films, plays Abduwali, the head pirate, and Hanks’ main antagonist throughout the film.   

      Although I’m a fan of films that delve into nature of humanity, Captain Phillips offers no release in tension throughout the entire experience.  That alone wouldn’t be enough to deter me, but the cinematography stylings of Greengrass left me feeling literally sick by the end of the film.  I can appreciate the attempt to create a full “experience” for the audience, however it really missed the mark for me.  The combination of camera movements that require sea legs, and the gut wrenching story in which no one is the real hero was not for me.  More importantly, it left me wondering about whether the movie was actually good or not.  All I can say is: give yourself ample recovery time if you’re planning on screening this any time soon.  

Gravity

      If you’ve already listened to episode #29 I’m sure you saw this one coming, and before I say anything, know that I did not hate this film.  I simply didn’t love it, emphatically so.  There were many positive aspects of Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 space drama.  No one, not even I, can argue that it wasn’t extremely cinematic, or that it wasn’t extremely ambitious.  However, it takes more than that to make a great film, and I feel that some aspects that are important to me were sorely missing.

       The bulk of my issues with Gravity stem from the script.  It seemed quite slapdash to me.  You may have also heard me say that it was “immature.”  The Cuarón’s (both Alfonso and his son Jonás) bit off a bit more than they could chew with this endeavor.  The blatant visual symbolism, sudden character shifts, and forced emotional connections feel much more akin to an undergraduate student film.  But Cuarón and son are too old for that kind of lazy, uninspired writing.

     Lastly, I take real issue with the casting in Gravity.  Again, if you’ve listened to the podcast you’ve heard my rant about Sandra Bullock, who plays the main character, Dr. Ryan Stone.  Although I don’t personally have an issue with Bullock, I don’t think she has the acting chops to truly carry a film like this.  I was constantly aware that I was seeing Bullock, and not Dr. Ryan Stone.  To be fair, there aren’t that many mainstream celebrities that could pull off this role for me, and a lot of that comes back to the the writing problems.  A great actor can make anything good, but even a mediocre actor can excel with a good script.

Gravity is worth seeing, but it suffers from seeming more like an amusement park ride than a cinematic masterpiece.  Enjoy the visual, but don’t expect a life changing experience.  

The Wolf of Wall Street

     After bashing the last two films, let me wrap up with the latest from Martin Scorsese.  I was excited to see this movie after watching a preview in the summer.  Generally speaking, I love this director’s films.  I was also very interested in the cast.  I’m a sucker for Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jonah Hill, and actually went out on Christmas to see this.

     My first worry about The Wolf of Wall Street stemmed from the running time of three hours, but I was hoping for the best.  Unfortunately, I felt every minute of those three hours.  In my opinion, this film would have benefited by some severe cuts in length, as many of the scenes were non essential to the story.

     I really did enjoy some of the acting, particularly from Jonah Hill, who plays DiCaprio’s friend and partner, Donnie.  DiCaprio, who plays Jordan Belfort, was made for a role like this, but by the hour mark I was pretty tired of just hearing him yell.  Surely the character of Belfort had some subtle moments despite his constant drug induced state.  

     There were some excellent moments in this film, and I did appreciate the point Scorsese was trying to make about the gratuitous nature of the characters, but it did become tedious, and led to me feeling excited, and then bored, and so on.  There are a lot of meaty and interesting parts to this story that were barely touched on.  For example, I would have loved to see and learn more about FBI agent Denhem (Kyle Chandler).  The interactions between Belfort and Denhem were palpable and intriguing, and definitely left me wanting more.  

     I want to end on a positive note by mentioning the featured appearance of Matthew McConaughey who plays Belfort’s boss in the first ten minutes of the film, Mark Hanna.  He really steals the spotlight in a “working” lunch scene on Belfort’s first day of work on Wall Street.  I would recommend seeing The Wolf of Wall Street, but be prepared to settle in for the night.

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