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The 10 Best and the 5 Worst Films From the First Half of 2013

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | July 1, 2013 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | July 1, 2013 |

The 10 Best


1. Mud — Derided as a one-note actor earlier in his career (or, worse yet, accused of simply playing himself in every role), McConaughey has come into his own, particularly with the recent trio of The Lincoln Lawyer, Magic Mike and Killer Joe. This performance is where he throws his shirt into the ring (dude just can’t help taking his shirt off) and announces himself, without question or derision, as a true and proper actor. This is easily the best performance he has ever given. There are almost none of the typical McConaugheyian affectations we’ve come to expect. His Mud, a wise storyteller and a hopeless romantic, is quiet and reserved, with an inner fire that McConaughey lets come to the surface at just the right moments. — Seth Freilich


2. Frances Ha — The myths we tell ourselves and each other, our origin stories and the building of our histories are just as important as the actualities and realities of our daily lives. To be aware of the looming future, to remember most of our shared past, and to recite that lyrical awareness back and forth, back and forth, to tell the story of us — Frances Ha is a remarkable, visceral meditation on the power of loving and being loved, and our endless attempts to even understand what it might be to love ourselves. — Amanda Mae Meyncke


3. Upstream ColorUpstream Color is a remarkably beautiful and technically proficient film. The slow and deliberate direction, cinematography, sound and scoring quietly highlight, rather than distract from, Carruth’s complex script. Carruth, as a director, is sharp and smart. As an actor, he is rawer when it comes to performance, although it serves his character well here. Seimetz, on the other hand, is purely excellent. Many filmmakers try to make “art” of their movies, to bring an air of poetry and allegory beyond the simple A-to-B-to-C storyline. Most attempts fail, resulting in grating pretension. Others succeed, resulting in beautiful pretension. Upstream Color is more articulate in its themes, and far more coherent in its plot, but like the work of Terrence Malick, that pretension often throws people off. It’s certainly not for everyone. However, if you’re willing to go with a film and let it take you where it wants in the way that it wants, even if that way is sometimes bizarre and disjointed, while you may not understand it all, you’ll find yourself with an enriching and beautiful ride. — Seth Freilich


4. The Iceman — Buyer beware, there’s lots of stabbings, shootings, bloody messes all over the place, gross out moments upon sickening nasty imagery. While The Iceman is certainly not Oscar-worthy, and at times feels only like a high-class version of a sensationalized Lifetime film, but there’s still plenty to like about this creepy little movie, mainly Michael Shannon’s endless reserve of calm, threatening low-level horror. — Amanda Mae Meyncke


5. Before Midnight — The film’s shaggy structure mirrors its predecessors’, unfolding at an amiable pace over the course of an afternoon and evening on the Greek coast. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are still the same people they were 18 years ago, which is to say they’re still flawed people trying to balance their better intentions against bad habits. Jesse loves the son he had by another woman and wishes he got to see the boy more, but he’s also still naive and a little manipulative when it comes to relational politics. Celine’s passion and love have now spread to the two young daughters she’s had with Jesse, but she’s still quick to spar or see the worst in a situation. That’s a daring concept on its own — to show what happens after the credits roll on a romantic drama, to dig into the dirt and compromise that comes with years living together — but it only works because Linklater and his cast execute the story with the nuance and frankness they brought to the first two films. Over the course of an afternoon with friends and an evening by themselves, Jesse and Celine are drawn into wandering conversations about the nature of love and the duty of marriage. On paper it sounds abstract at best or dull at worst, but it’s neither. It’s bracing and real precisely because of how much is at stake, and how believably loving and wounded these people alternately become before our eyes. — Daniel Carlson


6. This Is the End — There’s a bracing simplicity to This Is The End. It’s a film that is utterly without depth, nuance, or subtlety. To top that, there’s also a somewhat embarrassing sense of self-indulgence to it. How could there not be? The film is written and directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, and it stars Rogen and all of their close friends — Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride — as well as a host of other well-known actors, all playing themselves. There’s an element of “look how much we’ve made it” to the whole thing that, at first glance, feels arrogant and distasteful. And that feeling would be easy to maintain, except that there’s also a brutal element of self-parody to the film as well that makes the entire endeavor much more palatable. It’s far from a perfect movie, but it is an enjoyable, often hilarious diversion. — TK


7. Iron Man 3 — Iron Man 3 is unquestionably a wildly enjoyable action film, even if it isn’t always very good at being a superhero film. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s puzzling and weird and awful and dark in places, a film very unlike any of its predecessors. For those who have seen the Lethal Weapon films as well as Black’s other directorial effort, the tremendous Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, it will feel comfortably familiar, even as the more ludicrous aspects of it explode across the screen. The plot is at times a bit bewildering, and there’s little-to-no explanation as to how the Extremis program creates such amazing and dangerous super soldiers other than some gobbledygook about unlocking the brain’s potential, and often it’s a bit frustrating that a two+ hours film about Iron Man seems to have, quite frankly, not enough Iron Man. Yet all of that is forgivable — especially after the balls-out bonkers finale and the sheer enthusiasm that is clearly imprinted all over the it — and unlikely to affect the overall enjoyment you’ll get out of the film. — TK


8. Warm Bodies — It’s plain to see that it’s a film about change and love and all those adorable things, and it manages to mostly deliver that message with a goofy, self-aware sweetness that makes it easy to see that this came from the man who gave us the wonderful 50/50. But while that film allowed its thematic elements to unfold organically, Warm Bodies occasionally takes a blunt force approach that is at times aggravatingly on-the-nose. Yet that shouldn’t be cause to avoid the film, because overall it’s an absorbing bit of romantic candy that still manages to avoid being too precious or treacly. That’s due to some mostly solid writing (although from my understanding it veers away from the novel in many ways) and wonderful directing, and a pair of strong performances from the leads who seem to fall easily into their very peculiar roles. In the end, Warm Bodies is a mildly flawed film, but there’s enough charm and excitement and yes, even a healthy dose of action and gore thrown in for good measure to make a genuinely unique vision, proving that yes, there is indeed love after the zombie apocalypse. — TK


9. Much Ado About Nothing — Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing succeeds to the degree you’re willing to accept its genial “Let’s put on a show” vibe. Shakespeare’s play is famous for its wit and romance, and Whedon’s skills with both make him a nice fit for the material, but as an actual film, the final product is only somewhat successful. Whedon shot the film in under two weeks at his house and employed a stable of actors he’s used several times over in various TV and film projects, and there’s no doubt he’s got a love for the play. But the film’s execution raises a number of questions that Whedon can’t, or won’t, answer. The action is updated to the present day yet the language is the same as it was 400 years ago. The logistical reasons are clear — it’s cheaper to have your cast wear regular clothes and talk Elizabethan than the other way around — but the narrative ones are never addressed. Similarly, while they play’s conceits could be justified in its original setting, it’s less clear in the film why, say, the villain is allowed to spend so much time milling about with people who have openly avowed their distrust of him. Whedon makes a few nods here and there to modern life (characters have cell phones and luxury sedans), but beyond that, he doesn’t so much update the story as exhume it, pulling it from the tomb of history and dragging it around a Santa Monica estate. It’s a worthy experiment, with all the tension that entails. — Daniel Carlson


10. Star Trek Into DarknessStar Trek Into Darkness is both a fantastic space action film, and an excellent Star Trek film. The two are not necessarily coterminous, and they could easily be mutually exclusive. There are battles, a mystery to be unravelled, Benedict Cumberbatch utterly nailing the role of both villain and sympathetic foil to Kirk, a scattering of comic relief, and repeated call backs to the previous films of the franchise. And those call backs work most deeply because they are not simply references but partial reconstructions of scenes such that the new and old resonate like tines of a tuning fork. — Steven Lloyd Wilson

The 5 Worst

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1. Movie 43 — It is meant to be a Kentucky Fried Movie kind of experiment, but whoever put the wheels in motion on this film clearly doesn’t understand that that kind of film — a series of intentionally offensive shorts designed to be as shocking, appalling and as politically incorrect as possible — doesn’t work in our current cultural environment, especially when the shocking and appalling pitches aren’t actually funny. I mean, Trey Parker and Matt Stone backed out of this, not because it is offensive, but presumably because they didn’t want to be associated with something as abhorrent to comedy as Movie 43. The whole movie — from why it was made, to why the stars agreed to do it, to why it was released — is just baffling. I’m not trying to sound hyperbolic; I honest-to-God don’t understand. — Dustin Rowles


2. A Haunted House/Scary Movie 5 — I suppose Paranormal Activity and the like have had it coming. Marlon Wayans’ latest horror spoof aims to do what “South Park” did to “Ghost Hunters”; that is, to illustrate through all manners of crudeness and wicked humor the logical fallacies inherent in such source material. Unfortunately, A Haunted House manages to muster up the crudeness in spades, but the effort falls flat due to nonexistent humor and one of the most inept scripts ever known to man (despite slick as hell production values). It’s a shame that Wayans has seen fit to poke fun at the found-footage subcategory of horror flicks without actually making sure that his audience would take delight in the output. Nobody expected a truly good movie from A Haunted House, but this didn’t need to be an experience that was not only completely pointless and miserable but also shrill to the extreme. A Haunted House comes off as almost exactly the same as its source movies spliced into one 90-minute, goopy mess with absolutely no scares but lots of added drugs, ghost-fucking “jokes,” and wholly gratuitous use of the N-word. Somewhere in the mix, there’s a giant pile of Wayans poop on display as well, but it’s not really important for you to know the specifics on that note. It goes without saying that I may never feel clean again. — Agent Bedhead


3. The Big Wedding — It absolutely cannot be emphasized enough how boring this movie is. So, so, criminally boring. Boring in a way that finds itself fascinating. A specimen from Planet Boredom. Like overhearing someone’s conversation at dinner who finds themselves fascinating and witty, when everyone else in earshot is trying not to pass out from boredom. Every scene sort of listlessly peters out, like the last gasps of air fluttering from a deflating balloon. Half the time the acting feels so phoned in it’s as if the actors just went off script because they couldn’t be bothered to learn their lines. Hopefully that is the case because nobody could truly write a script this bad and think it had enough merit to turn it into an actual movie. The worst part about it is that it isn’t actually bad enough to be fun. There’s no guilty pleasure to be found here, just mediocrity that is forgotten the instant the credits begin. — Amanda Mae Meyncke


4. Safe Haven — Safe Haven is far from the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly not Footloose-bad. It’s weak, watered-down, bland, utterly predictable, pointlessly mawkish and emotionally manipulative, but still, I’ve seen worse. No, the more egregious crime is how unbelievably, staggeringly boring it is. Clocking in at just a hair under two hours, it’s an interminable slog, a film so gooey and syrupy in pacing and content that after a while you start to forget what the outside world is. You’ll begin to think that all there is is darkness and light and flashing pictures of smiley faces and frowny faces, as the people next to you haplessly trying to hold onto their own dignity in the face of the poor decisions that brought them to this place. It creates a sense of camaraderie, as if you’re all comrades-in-arms in the same tepid, endless vortex of saccharine, emotionally overwrought suckiness. Seeing Safe Haven in the theaters isn’t so much a filmgoing experience as much as it is the physical embodiment of the death of hope.TK


5. A Good Day to Die Hard — It’s a weak and disappointing film for many, many reasons, but the biggest is probably the sad manner with which the film eagerly tries to wind the clock back and trick the viewer into think that it’s still 1988 outside. The hero here is once again John McClane (Bruce Willis), and the villains are once again scuzzy Europeans. It’s been 25 years since the first Die Hard, but there’s no attempt here to update the story or evolve with the times. The film longs so desperately for the narratively simpler days of the Cold War that the enemies are actual high-ranking Russian political figures. What’s more, director John Moore and writer Skip Woods don’t hesitate to re-enact moments from the original film, which does nothing but underscore just how amateurish and forgettable their sequel is. The writing is thudding and predictable, the direction shows a staggering lack of understanding of basic visual space, and the filmmaking is so clumsy that certain scenes and beats have been omitted presumably because no one figured the viewers would care. It coasts smugly on its namesake, unable or unwilling to do anything to feel fresh or entertaining. If it weren’t for the franchise branding, it’s unlikely this film would even have been made. If only. — Daniel Carlson