I haven’t seen the majority of the movies that critics are praising, so take the following list with a grain of salt. I can only tell you what I have seen and what I have loved, and so many of those movies didn’t end up receiving the attention they deserve. 2013 wasn’t as much of a banner year for movies as 2012 was, but it had its gems. Here were the (mostly) hidden ones:
The Great Gatsby: If you didn’t love this movie, that’s fine. I totally get it. It was long, it was kind of blunt about its themes, and it’s admittedly not even possible for any movie to live up to the titanic quality of the classic book- nay, literature!- that was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. But my love for this movie is an unashamed love. I love it when filmmakers go all out to the point of ecstasy, and I think Baz Luhrmann very nearly achieves that here. He unabashedly runs head-on into the story, filling it with over-size characters and anachronistic music, much like his nearly-as-divisive masterpiece, Moulin Rouge!* I thought it was the bigness of Luhrmann’s ambition, which translated perfectly to the screen, that made The Great Gatsby truly great.
Much Ado About Nothing: Speaking of bigness, this movie has none of it. Filmed almost entirely at director Joss Whedon’s house and in black and white, Much Ado About Nothing wasn’t designed to be remembered at the end of the year. Instead, Much Ado appears to work best as a Sunday afternoon frivolity, built to wrest you from any doldrums you might be experiencing. Since the script is Shakespeare, there’s more depth here than an ordinary comedy, but rest assured, there are plenty of laughs to be found especially in the performances of Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof and in the winking way Whedon blocks his scenes.
No: Seems wrong to call an Oscar-nominated movie underrated, but No’s lack of attention during Top 10 List Season is disproportionate to its greatness. Chile’s submission last year in the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Feature category, No follows a young marketing genius (Gael García Bernal) hired to head up the campaign against the incumbent president for Chile’s first election in years. Director Pablo Larraín and star Bernal find ingenious ways to convey the impact of modern advertising ideas on the public’s mindset about mobilization, as well as the sense of unrest that slowly became palpable.
Room 237: There’s literally nothing flashy about this movie. It consists only of scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (along with other archival footage) voiced over by six people with different interpretations of Kubrick’s vision for the movie. These interpretations vary from possibly plausible, such as ideas about Stanley Kubrick’s inspirations for certain themes to the wildly implausible, such as the idea that the entire movie is an apology from Kubrick for helping to fake the moon landing. We never see the narrators, which colors their ideas as truly stemming only from the art itself. If this sounds boring, I thought so too. Then I found myself fascinated by both the ideas and the approach. If you like The Shining or conspiracy theories or Stanley Kubrick or just movies in general, you should find something to appreciate about Room 237.
Star Trek into Darkness: Apparently J.J. Abrams hit a huge misstep with this one. I was totally unaware, considering I immediately loved it and no argument has abated that love. The movie’s critics said that Abrams and the filmmakers paid more attention to paying tribute to the series’ past and not enough attention to character development**. I didn’t feel that way at all. In fact, I thought that the way the characters developed in Darkness was a huge improvement on the first movie and that the filmmakers tied the characters’ development into the plot very well. The first movie was great, and this one was even better, with a fantastic redemption story for Captain Kirk based around his self-sacrifice.
*Is this trailer not horrendous? Watching the Great Gatsby trailer right afterwards is like the shock you get from jumping into really cold water. My have times changed since just ten years ago.
**Which, coincidentally, was the problem I had with this season of Legend of Korra. But you don’t care.