MOVIES of 2013:
The Best, the Worst and the
Could-Have-Beens
by Phil Boatwright
 

Though there are several 4-star films whose artistic and technical merits have captured the attention of critics and moviegoers, I wanted to choose a few BESTS with themes that uplifted the spirit as well as entertained the heart. Though these entries were my favs of the year, some include content you may find objectionable. Due to space restrictions, please read my full reviews and get the reason for their ratings by clicking on the link. As for the COULD-HAVE-BEENS: though containing powerful messages, the filmmakers couldn’t manage to tell their stories without the use of crude or excessive content. This raises the question; does their profundity outweigh the profanity?

THE BEST

Gravity
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are stuck in space. Then just Sandra. Lots of twists and turns occur in this beautifully photographed lost-in-space action thriller. Seeing it in 3D and on the IMAX screen is a visceral experience unlike anything since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now, maybe I’m reading more into it than the writers intended, but its thoughtful moments about life and death suggest the sanctity of life. While not a tool for proselytizing any particular religion, it does contain ethereal questions amid its action sequences. (PG-13) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

Captain Phillips
This true story of a freighter hijacked by Somali pirates gives Tom Hanks his best role in years.
Its central theme, much like Gravity’s, revolves around man’s instinct for survival. And like Gravity, as well as Robert Redford’s All is Lost, Captain Phillips’ reflective moments concerning the preciousness of life give spiritual dimension to its storyline. (PG-13) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

Unstoppable
In this thoughtful, heartfelt documentary from Provident Films, Kirk Cameron addresses the age-old question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” Unstoppable is the most riveting and inspiring documentary I’ve seen in years from a technical, artistic and spiritual perspective. For me, it was 60 minutes of passionate examination that asserts we are more than mental and physical beings, and that our Creator is with us through the good and the bad: “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). (PG) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

The Ultimate Life
The Ultimate Life is a solid parable, handled by a filmmaker with a definitive style. Proficient and prolific, director Michael Landon, Jr. has been successful in delivering homespun optimism within his films. And what a pleasure to view a theatrical release that focuses on story and character while avoiding the crude and the profane. (PG) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

The Sapphires
It's 1968, and four Australian aboriginal girls learn about love, friendship and war when their all-girl group entertains the U.S. troops in Vietnam. I suppose if we critics got really, really picky, we could find and bring up flaws in the production such as some material seeming a bit too lightweight, with each problem quickly resolved (oops, I wasn’t’ going to do that.), but here’s what resonated with me throughout the screening – it made me feel and it made me feel good. I absolutely loved the performances, the dialogue, the story and most of all, the music. (PG-13) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

42
Chadwick Boseman stars as Jackie Robinson in this powerful indictment against prejudice and bigotry. 42 also exemplifies courage, faith in the ultimate good of man, and reminds us that one man, backed by another, can turn our world around. 42 is an engaging film, and despite the reenactment of injustice and the evil of bigotry, it is a film that offers hope and goodwill.
(PG-13) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

Despicable Me 2
A mix of The Addams Family’s Uncle Fester and Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil, Mr. Gru delighted in popping children’s balloons and threatening to kill the neighbor’s dog for doing on his lawn what dogs do-doo. Like Scrooge, he is converted by love by the end of the first film. I brought my 90-year-old mom and 7-year-old great-niece, Megan, to the follow-up, DM2. Both enjoyed the comedy and action antics. Miss Megan, however, said it was better than the first one. We debated this on our drive home. It seems we critics never can completely agree. (PG) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

Saving Mr. Banks
Walt Disney wants to bring Mary Poppins to the screen. Author P.L. Travers doesn’t want to see her creation mixed up with those Hollywood folk. But Mr. Disney wasn’t just a great businessman and showman, he also believed that his creations would better the lives of millions. He sure did that. But Saving Mr. Banks is about a whole lot more. (PG-13) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

HONORABLE MENTION

Turbo
I admit, it’s no Wall-E, Up or Brave, but here’s what I like about this story of a snail who enters the Indy 500 race. Several ethnic groups are represented in a positive manner, which I believe helps unite us as a nation, and reflects the American culture. There’s a great deal of racial disharmony in our land right now, so I’m pleased to see elements of a movie used to draw us together. I suppose some might consider the characters a bit stereotypical, but Turbo is imaginative, uplifting and completely engrossing. (PG) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

THE WORST

The To Do List
In this youth-aimed comedy, a teen girl feeling pressured to become more sexually experienced compiles a list of erotic sexual activities to accomplish before attending college in the fall. It’s not just a movie that exploits vulgarity; The To Do List also reflects the casualness of sex in today’s society. Never a good thing. (R) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

The Lone Ranger
So here’s a great idea for a film: take a beloved iconic cowboy figure and update him as a klutzy moron. That should bring the folks in. (It didn’t.) Along with the over-produced look, the several subplots too many, and the fact that Johnny Depp as Tonto does the same shtick he does in all his action/comedies, it’s also an offensive, biased, insulting characterization of the pioneers. The movie further frustrated me by presenting every Christian character as either an imbecile or a villainous hypocrite. You can be sure that’s the way some (many) in Hollywood see us. I thought that thinking was called prejudice. (PG-13) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

The Great Gatsby
When F. Scott Fitzgerald first wrote what would become a thematically rich American classic about the empty pursuit of wealth and status it was somewhat scandalous, containing subject matter that just wasn’t talked about in polite company. But the spirit of Fitzgerald’s great story of love found, lost and then lost again, is treated with an excess of visual flair by director Baz Luhrmann. This may not be the filmmaker’s fault, as it is difficult to be scandalous in this age, but Mr. Luhrmann’s take on the wild party life of the Roaring ‘20s is more a salute to a decadent lifestyle than an indictment of it. (R) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

The Big Wedding
A dysfunctional family gathers for a weekend wedding celebration. Containing not one single fresh idea or true emotion, just stale gags, crude and often irreverent humor and few insights, The Big Wedding becomes a big vulgar mess. The subject of a young couple entering into wedlock is ripe for incisive satire, but here we are given nothing of true substance or clever wit – just puke jokes and bawdy sexagenarian jokes and irreverent religion jokes. And Robin Williams playing a “funny” priest? The comedian shouldn’t play a pastor, he should see one. (R) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

THE COULD-HAVE-BEENS

All Is Lost
After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor (Robert Redford) finds himself staring his mortality in the face. I only have one fault with the film. At no point does the protagonist call out to God. Even if you’re not a religious person, if the end seems at hand, don’t you, out of desperation, cry out to a Higher Power? Yet, neither God nor the sailor’s place in the afterlife are ever considered by the film’s protagonist. (PG-13) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

The Way Way Back
This coming-of-age story of 14-year-old Duncan’s (Liam James) summer vacation with his mother and her overbearing boyfriend had humor and poignancy. But its PG-13 content got in the way of both. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

12 Years a Slave
The film is based on real accounts taken from the autobiography by Solomon Northup, a free black man in 1853, kidnapped and sold into slavery. This powerfully acted, artistically directed look at black slavery in America may be the most difficult film I’ve ever watched. We are not spared any detail of the anguish blacks endured in the South 150 years ago. Evidently moviegoers have reached the point where they can now stand the sight of any and every violent perversity known to man. (R) READ OUR FULL REVIEW

Man of Steel
Superman, our flying caped defender of the American way, gets a bit of an overhaul in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Though he can still leap tall buildings and is faster than a locomotive, now we see him as a vulnerable, introspective outsider with doubts. Filled with spiritual metaphor, this is a good film, one that gives dimension and thoughtfulness to an overly familiar screen presence. Sadly, the Christian symbolism that radiated throughout the proceedings was overwhelmed by the bombastic and endless carnage. There was no blood, hence, the PG-13 rather than an R rating; but make no mistake, by film’s end we were all beaten up as much as that guy from Krypton. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

The Bling Ring
While deserving attention for its artistic achievements, it is also a film that makes several powerful statements about today’s youth and how they view their role in society. The Bling Ring reminds us that the culture that molds and influences our youth is straying further and further from the spiritual element that completes the mental and physical components of our makeup. Writer/director Sophia Coppola’s characters are manipulative and as quick with a lie as a good comedian is with a quip. Their social nature comes across as disturbingly aloof, suggesting a psychopathic tendency, and as cold and bleak as a starless night. (Good teens: don’t take offense to that statement; there are plenty of you out there, but there are far too many of your generation self-absorbed within their own electronic gizmo-obsessed universe.) Whether or not the director is attempting to suggest we need to turn to biblical principles when raising children, for me that’s the lesson learned via her amusing and frightful exposé. Sadly, to get to these powerful points, we must endure a great deal of R-content. READ OUR FULL REVIEW

Her
Joaquin Phoenix plays a lonely man who falls in love with his newly purchased electronic operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The performances are pitch-perfect (can Ms. Johansson get an Oscar nomination for voice work only?). And director Spike Jonze uses an incisive camera to relate his thematic vision and to warn of this dispirited future we can still evade. With its seductive, yet disquieting premise, Her may be the best cautionary tale you’ll see in quite some time. But it is also one peppered with obscenity, promiscuity, and an overall feel of melancholy. Rated R. READ OUR FULL REVIEW