Friday, December 27, 2013

Best, Worst, and Ok Movies - Part 3

Now it's time for the third and final part of the BEST, the Worst, and the Just "Ok" Scifi/Fantasy Movies of 2013. The first week I typically highlight the "Just OK" scifi/fantasy films of 2013 and the second week I highlight the Worst. You can see those posts below or here and here. Now it's time for my picks for the BEST scifi/fantasy movies of 2013.

There are very few movies on my "BEST" list because it's not much fun if it's not EXCLUSIVE. Mind you, some of the films below didn't necessarily receive glowing reviews, but most of them did. Good movies tend to receive a lot of word of mouth, so there are no surprises here. These are the best movies of the year! Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the commentsI enjoy a healthy debate.

Dark Skies
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'Dark Skies' was a surprise. January and February are typically a dead zone for movies, but 'Dark Skies' broke the mold. 'Dark Skies' is a suspenseful alien/creature feature and is genuinely scary. It succeeds where 'The Fourth Kind' failed, by making the possibility of alien abduction truly horrifying. The film smartly taps into the current mood of the country by focusing on a struggling family. In addition to the otherworldly stuff, the characters are also dealing with unemployment, a mortgage, and two kids. Keri Russell carries the film with a solid performance. There are a few predictable spots, but for the most part the film is quite good. This estimation was not shared with most reviewers. It's rated a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I loved it.

Synopsis: A young family is dealing with the horrifying reality of alien abduction. Time loss, trances, and mysterious happenings are just the tip of the iceberg.

Director: Scott Stewart
Writers: Scott Stewart
Starring: Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton

The World's End
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Kevin Tong, Mondo
'The 'Shaun of the Dead' team, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright are back. Nick Frost too! It's a predictable, yet novel concept with an all-star cast. What I like about it is that it's a "guy's movie," but unlike other male comedies, 'The World's End' is a guy's movie without all of the bathroom humor, crudeness, and misogyny. And it's still funny. Take that 'Hangover' franchise. Rosamund Pike stars as a potential love interest/heroine.

Synopsis: High school drinking buddies all 'growed' up return to their hometown for one final pub crawl. What they don't realize is that their town has been taken over by blue blooded alien robots.

Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike, and Martin Freeman

The Conjuring
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Hemstead Wrights
Director James Wan, formerly of the 'Saw' franchise, really knows how to scare people. Thankfully he's left the blood and gore with the 'Saw' franchise. Now Wan's films focus on psychological horror, which in my opinion is much scarier. This is the quintessential difference between modern movies and pre-1979 films (or pre-'Halloween' and 'Friday the 13th'). Modern scary films focus on "gotcha" moments. Whereas horror films of the 1970s focused on psychological terror. The horror films of the 1970s got into you, wormed their way into your psyche and refused to leave. 'The Conjuring' is one of those films.

'The Conjuring' is also a great success story, proving once and for all that word of mouth can still make or break a film. Whereas several well-marketed blockbusters went down in flames earlier this year, 'The Conjuring' was a low budget hit. Made for just $20 million, it went on to gross $313 million.

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Synopsis: The film focuses on Ed and Lorraine Warren (demon hunter extraordinaires) and one of their most famous cases, the Rhode Island family farm, which is second only to the Amityville haunting. I believe that Lorraine Warren was also a consultant on the film, which only adds to its authenticity. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga believably portray the Warrens. The Warrens were paranormal investigators way before it was cool. They are called in to help a family of seven with spooky happenings in their old farmhouse.

Director: James Wan
Writers: Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, and Ron Livingston

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
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College Humor
Unlike most sequels, 'Catching Fire' is actually better than the original film. Based on the bestselling novels, the first film was solid, but not great. 'Catching Fire' manages to captures the essence of the book and even improves upon it. Directed by 'I am Legend' director Francis Lawrence, 'Catching Fire' is well-paced and exciting. It appears that Hollywood has finally decided to take this franchise seriously. Katniss Everdeen is not just some love lorn teen in need of attention, she's strong and can hold her own-- with anyone. Woody Harrleson is the heart of the film franchise and plays Haymitch well. Harrleson proves time and time again that he is one of the most underrated A-List actors.

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Synopsis: The Hunger Games continue. This time President Snow has decided that the quarter quell will consist of former winners of the Hunger Games, which of course includes Katniss and Peeta. After surviving the first Hunger Games, Katniss has to figure out a way for her and Peeta to survive a second time. This time their up against former winners. Whatever happens will not happen easily.

Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt, and Suzanne Collins (Book)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, and Jenna Malone
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Leave a Trail

Europa Report
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'Europa Report' is a science fiction film that may be a generation or two away from becoming science fact. Scientists have already determined that one of Jupiter's moon, Europa, has tidal flexing within its interior, which is a heat source, thereby allowing its oceans to stay in liquid form underneath its icy surface. As life on earth began in the oceans, it has been theorized that Europa may support a primitive form of marine life. The 'Europa Report' builds on this concept. 'Europa Report' takes science seriously and it's precisely this pseudo-reality that makes the 'Europa Report' something special.

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Synopsis: 'Europa Report' follows a team of astronauts in search of extra-terrestrial life. Unlike most films, the 'Europa Report' doesn't focus on mythical little green men, the Europa team is focused on the search of primitive life forms. Likewise, the astronauts in 'Europa Report' are not traveling the speed of light. It takes them years to reach Europa. The artificial gravity in their living quarters is created by centrifugal forces, as the spacecraft spins--not the push of a button. Along the way, they encounter a slew of problems and they lose people along the way. After all, space travel is dangerous and complicated. Excluding Sharlto Copley ('District 9'), the cast of the 'Europa Report' is not well-known, which makes for a great Indie movie. The music of scifi darling, Bear McCreary ('Battlestar Galactica'), gives the movie an extra nudge towards awesomeness.

Director: Sebastian Cordero
Writers: Philip Gelatt
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, and Christian Camargo

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Kevin Tong, Mondo
What can be said about this movie that hasn't already been said? Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are both amazing. The director, Alfonso Cuaron ('Children of Men'), is amazing. Everything about this film is amazing. Everything. The opening sequence of 'Gravity' is textbook Kubrick/Space Odyssey/Brilliant. Very few films deserve to be seen on the big screen or even in 3D, 'Gravity' is one of those films. I typically hate 3D films. I hate paying an extra $3 to have some random silly little object thrown at me from a movie screen, but 'Gravity' is a movie worthy of 3D and an extra $3. 'Gravity' is what I would would consider "high art." This film is a work of art and yes, that is a rarity in an industry that typically abuses our senses with CGI explosions.

The effects are top notch, thanks in no small part to the effects created by James Cameron's 'Avatar.' Say what you want about 'Avatar' and I have ('Avatar' is essentially 'Fern Gully' meets 'Dances with Wolves'), but the effects in 'Avatar' were groundbreaking. 'Avatar' was the first film to use a motion capture stage six times larger than any stage previous. 'Avatar' used over 100 cameras to follow every angle and movement. The effects of 'Gravity' are a product of that innovation. Even astronauts have commented that the cinematography and visuals of 'Gravity' are not only spectacular, but spot on.

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Synopsis: The effects of 'Gravity' may be a star unto themselves, but the heart of the film is Sandra Bullock. It takes a real movie star to carry this film and Bullock nails it. 'Gravity's' storyline is rather simple. At its core, 'Gravity' is a wilderness survival tale. The vacuum of space is the harshest wilderness possible.

Sandra Bullock is an inexperienced astronaut (Ryan Stone) sent to make repairs to the Hubble telescope. George Clooney is the wise-cracking veteran (Matt Kowalkski) on his last mission trying to make sure things go smoothly. Of course things go wrong or we wouldn't have a movie. The Russians explode one of their satellites causing a ripple effect. This is where the film loses its scientific integrity, as most of these satellites and the Hubble telescope are in completely different orbits, but just go with it. This is not a space documentary, this is a fictional tale. The film is beyond suspenseful. You find yourself breathlessly rooting for poor Ryan Stone the whole way through. Against all odds, will she survive or won't she? If you haven't seen it, I won't spoil it for you.

Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Writers: Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron
Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney


  1. The Conjuring really surprised me. A solid horror film and one in which evil does not win. (How refreshing!)

  2. I have not seen most of these movies and did not know that two existed. Whaaaa!

  3. Alex-- Yes, I couldn't agree more!

    Libby-- Oh, which ones? I assume 'Europa Report' and 'Dark Skies?' Those seem to be the least popular.

  4. Nice list! I so need to see The Conjuring, and after being disappointed by Mama, I had a tough time figuring out if I wanted to see Dark Skies. Maybe I'll give it a chance!
    I'm totally on the opposite page against the entire world with Catching Fire; I liked the first movie more. The second felt too much like a Hollywood blockbuster though it was almost exactly like the book - with some key elements left out, of course. And, I also have ~problems~ with Katniss in general. :/

  5. Good list lots of food for thought.
    Europa looks very interesting. Have a Happy New Year!

  6. I actually did not enjoy Gravity. It was a quality film with two amazing actors, but I just did not enjoy the storyline at all.

  7. Katy-- I understand about your hesitation about Katniss. I guess I like her b/c she's the anti-Bella.

    Paul-- Yes, Europa was incredible.

    Gina-- I think you would really like 'Europa.' To be honest that movie was almost my number 1.

  8. Loved Gravity, the soundtrack, the visuals, the feeling of being out in space, just an amazing cinema experience.

    Many loved Hunger Games sequel, The Conjuring, and World's End, and I see them featured on other year-end lists. Sadly they didn't do much for yours truly. Maybe they were just not for me. Oh well.

  9. Thanks Chris, yes the #1 slot on my list was a toss up btw Gravity and Europa, but Gravity just had it all.

    I understand about the others on this list. The rest of the films on this list were my favorite films of the year, but they are definitely not my favorite films of all time. Overall, I think 2013 had slim pickings.


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