Sure, the seasons don't officially change for a little while, but this past weekend saw the unofficial end of the summer movie season for 2013. As the kids go back to school Hollywood eases off the blockbuster throttle and begins releasing the true garbage until they gear back up for the Oscars. As we enter that twilight zone now is a good time to look back on the best films of the previous few months.
On the one hand summer 2013 was a horrendous wasteland of shitty, useless movies. But if you lived in the right places - the markets that get smaller, indie movies - summer 2013 was one of the richest in years. It was so rich, in fact, that I upped my top 10 to 11 because I couldn't figure out which movies to leave out. So I left 'em in. Some of you will not have had a chance to see many of these movies, but that means the good news is that your fall season will be filled with the opportunity to see quality films as they go wide or hit home video.
11. The Conjuring
James Wan has always been an interesting filmmaker, but The Conjuring is where he truly blossomed into a very good one. Considering that Wan got his start on the Saw films, The Conjuring is a model of horror movie restraint. What's more, Wan plays the scare scenes like musical pieces, building up to crescendoes and then bringing it back to quiet before building the scare back up. Even better, The Conjuring is a movie about grown ups starring grown ups, and they're pretty much all grown ups we like and want to see make it to the other side unscathed. The fact that this classical scarefest resonated with audiences gives me hope for mainstream horror.
10. The Kings of Summer
2013 is a good year for coming of age stories, and Jordan Vogt-Robert's film of Chris Galleta's script calls to mind the delicate mix of comedy and drama in movies like Stand By Me. That's heady company to keep and The Kings of Summer earns its place with three charismatic leads who present real - but very funny - aspects of boyhood turning into manhood. Mix that with a murderer's row of comedy stars and The Kings of Summer becomes one of those rare movies that balances belly laughs with honest emotional insight.
9. Fast & Furious 6
Is there a more surprising franchise in modern history? What started out as a lunkheaded lark has turned into a lunkheaded delight. While Fast 6 can't possibly match the sense of discovery in Fast 5, it delivers everything you want from a summer blockbuster: meaty action, likable characters, breezy and fun plotting and a story that goes on and on about thematic concepts of friendship we all picked up in kindergarten. There's something so unpretentious about this franchise that its stupidity becomes endearing. And the series' strangely convoluted continuity comes to a head this time, getting us psyched for the next entry. This is the franchise that most has the spirit of the old serials, a sense of 'What's next?' that has audiences itching for next summer.
8. You're Next
Delayed not because of quality but because of business, You're Next finally hit screens this weekend. It didn't do as well as we all hoped, perhaps because Lionsgate - who cannot be faulted for their efforts at marketing - never got across how much fun this movie is. The first fifteen minutes make You're Next seem like it's going to be yet another dour indie horror film, but once the action begins so do the laughs and the cheers. You're Next is legitimately funny, and that comedy comes from the characters. It also more than succeeds as a horror film, jamming in plenty of scares and great kills.
7. Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro promised us a movie that would speak to the kid in us, the child who grew up watching monster movies on afternoon TV and who banged toys together in the backyard, and that's exactly what he gave us. Some were put off by this - they expected a movie pitched at 30 year olds, not 13 year olds. But Guillermo's mission wasn't to please the manchildren, it was to indoctrinate a whole new generation in the love of kaiju and mechs, to take them away from a landscape dominated by crap like Transformers and let them know it could be done better. Pacific Rim is a gateway drug - a gateway for kids to a new world and a gateway for the rest of us to what it was like to watch movies with awe and giggles.
6. This Is The End
I like surprises and was I ever surprised by This Is The End. What sounded like an in-jokey wankfest turned out to be an in-jokey wankfest that might be the most purely hilarious film of the year. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have a sense of absurd that they bring to both the comedy and the fantasy elements of the movie, constantly heightening and ramping up both. The movie's biggest laughs come at the end just as do the biggest effects, including a giant Satan whose big swinging dick looms over the ruins of Los Angeles. I saw this movie multiple times in theaters and I know it'll be one that I watch with regularity going forward.
5. The Spectacular Now
Sweet and tender, The Spectacular Now edges right up to being an Afterschool Special. Instead it steps back and lets its messages about growing up and drinking and being in the shadows of our parents and finding love for both ourselves and others speak for themselves. Or at least speak through Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, two young actors who prove that they're among the best of their generation. Their performances are naturalistic and nuanced and contain only truth and honesty.
4. Blue Jasmine
Turning out a movie a year for the last few decades means that Woody Allen's quality controls aren't what they used to be. But every time we think we can write the Woodman off as a fondly remembered relic, he reminds us why we care so much about his work. Blue Jasmine isn't just a great movie for a 77 year old man, it's a great movie for a filmmaker of any age. While movies like Whatever Works (terrible) and Midnight in Paris (very great) could only come from an old guy, Blue Jasmine is a movie of the moment that has the urgency and anger of youth. At the center of this tragic decline and fall story is Cate Blanchett, giving the performance of the year. She's damaged and awful in equal measures but never anything less than riveting in every moment. It seems ludicrous to imagine the Oscar going to anyone else this year, and for once it will be quite earned.
3. Short Term 12
The summer is the time of year when our movie screens are filled with explosions and screeching metal and pixels doing impossible combat. It's the time of year when we sit in the dark with even darker 3D glasses on while our ears are assaulted by the latest technology designed to deliver loudness. It's the time of year when 'turn off your brain' is a viable option outside of a hospice. But lately we've been seeing smaller, better films try themselves in this season, and Short Term 12 is perhaps the bravest comer yet. So small as to approach slight, Short Term 12 trades bombast for intimacy, destruction for hope and pixel orgies for well-drawn characters. But don't think this is a twee bit of niche moviemaking - Short Term 12 packs a mainstream emotional punch that's as calculated as the debris trajectories in every shot of Transfomers.
2. The World's End
With the conclusion of the 'Three Flavors' Trilogy - the first two parts being Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz - Edgar Wright proves that he is unparalleled at mixing heart and humor. The World's End marks a huge shift from where it all started in Shaun - it's more mature, more nuanced and smarter - but the themes stay the same. Wright and co-writer Simon Pegg are charting what it means to be a man, what it means to grow up and what it means to be friends. Here they tackle those questions in ways that are messy and complex and always completely satisfying. While This Is The End may wring more laughs per minute out of its apocalyptic scenario, The World's End comes in a close second, and it gets those laughs while also delivering lots of other deep and wonderful emotions.
1. Iron Man Three
I'm going to publish a Best Of 2013 list at the end of the year, and it's quite possible that Iron Man Three won't make that list. It might - I really don't keep a tally throughout the year or anything, I compile these lists when the mood strikes - but it could just as easily not. And yet here it is as the best movie of Summer 2013. What a paradox. I'll tell you why I've put Iron Man Three here, at this position, ahead of some other movies that are pretty much guaranteed slots on my end of the year list: this is what I want all blockbuster summer movies to be like. It's smart. It's funny. It's well-acted. It has characters undergoing actual character arcs. It is written and directed by a guy who put his personal stamp on it as opposed to making something generic. Also, his personal stamp isn't horrible. What's more, Iron Man Three deftly does the dance of both fulfilling and subverting expectations. If all summer blockbusters were as good as this one, we'd never want the silly season to end.