The Review of the Year in Film and Annual Whitfield Awards 2013

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Hello everyone, Ed here with the annual celluloid roundup that hopes to put the cat amongst the pigeons and the pigeons amongst the stale bread crumbs when it comes to evaluating 2013’s big screen filler.

I despise lists and their cynical use as a means of soliciting page views; hence this piece is divided amongst three pages for your convenience. Like you I’d rather let a relative of Hitler tarmac me in a room full of my nearest and dearest than endure some two penny online hack’s 10 favourite uses of the colour green in film, or the best 50 uses of the word “bottom” this year, so those lists will wait until January. Movies aren’t designed to be cut up and quantified this way; it’s anathema to the stuff that matters, namely whether the bloody things were any good; whether they moved you, bored you, made you angry or stirred your dormant loins. This is what matters, not stripping out the incidental to fill space on the Internet.

So to be clear that’s not what this is, right?

Once a year, only once, I give you a list you can believe in, namely which of the year’s films were worth the extraordinary amount of time, energy and money that went into their creation, and which releases were so crude, ill-conceived and thought so little of their target audience that their very existence stands as an insult to human achievement and creativity. As ever that crucial distinction will be bookended by an overview of the last 12 months and the 2nd annual Whitfield awards, celebrating achievement in the motion picture sciences in a way not recognised nor endorsed by the American Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences, The British Film Institute, or any other so-called arbiter of taste and culture.

You’ll find the best and worst of the year waiting nervously for your patronage on page 2, while page 3, this year sans bare breasts thanks to the efforts of campaigners crusading to rid film critic’s websites of unnecessary female nudity, is devoted to this year’s Whitfields.

Let’s crack on, shall we?

The Year in Review

So what kind of year was 2013 as far as cinema was concerned? Well if you exclude the avant-garde, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Bollywood, South Korea, China and Russia, it was pretty much business as usual. Anglo-American effluent dominated the international box office, though of course this was product with most of its cultural distinctiveness sanded down to guarantee success in the key markets.

Iron Man 3 included scenes shot specially for Chinese audiences to make an extra few thousand dollars, while the likes of A Good Day to Die Hard, Fast and Furious 6, Thor: The Dark World and Pacific Rim, took us on a tour of all the countries important to Hollywood accountants without investing the actual movies with any of the colour, character or intrigue of those nations. No matter where in the world you went it seemed, you were doomed to be menaced by a bland, tick-box international cast of characters, plot holes, errors in geography and villains you’d forgotten long before the journey home ended.

2013 was predictably another bad year for women. No matter what the ladies tried it seemed they couldn’t get a firm foothold in the stories written by their bepenised colleagues. Natalie Portman was ornamental in the Thor sequel, Rosamund Pike filled space in The World’s End, while Diana took the world’s most bankable actress, Naomi Watts, and gave her lines like “you brought me to this godforsaken park!” The Impossible cast her as a mother trying to survive the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, yet despite the unpromising non-titillating subject matter, managed to crowbar in a shot of her tits. Gemma Arterton had to resort to painting herself orange to stand out in Runner Runner, while poor Alice Eve was told to stand in her underwear and look sultry in Star Trek Into Darkness, suggesting that Hollywood execs still inextricably link Trekkies with spontaneous acts of masturbation.

Even a flick designed to showcase female talent, like The Heat, mined its laughs by having Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy act in as masculine and aggressive a way as possible. McCarthy’s year was already looking bad as she’d suffered the double humiliation of Identity Thief and The Hangover 3 (the joke being she’s annoying and fat, respectively), but The Heat made it obvious that no male writer or director had any idea how to make her funny without turning her into some kind of grotesque. Hollywood tried to compensate with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but by then men everywhere saw women as innately ridiculous and inconsequential. The damage was done.

For the 30th consecutive year summer blockbusters failed to improve. Man of Steel had half a brain, though sadly it only featured in the first half, long gone before our hero, Kal-El (the name Superman is passé) destroyed Metropolis in a fight that made 9/11 look like a broken window. After Earth, or Nepotism: The Motion Picture, sent audiences to sleep, Wolverine went to Japan to do an impression of mid-‘80’s Clint Eastwood, which wasn’t enough to garner interest, The Lone Ranger may still be going on, while the aforementioned Star Trek Into Darkness, touted as the movie that would launch Gene Roddenberry’s once cerebral franchise into the box office stratosphere despite its stupid title, underperformed, grossing 80% of the 2009 film’s spacebucks. Suggestions that this could be attributed to a terrible screenplay and a profound lack of on screen intelligence were quickly dismissed. The marketing wasn’t up to scratch, thought Paramount, which made the success of World War Z, with pre-buzz barely enough to raise a single whoop in a capacity stadium crowd, that much more mystifying. Z had managed to overperform despite climaxing in Wales with a scene in which Brad Pitt vandalised a vending machine and walked slowly through a corridor. Suddenly, filmmakers like Baz Luhrmann, who’d spent millions on glossy, CG visuals for vapid, glitter-seasoned candyfloss like The Great Gatsby, looked very stupid indeed. Other effects heavy blockbusters, like Oblivion and Elysium, also looked to have been caught out, though cynics argued that Tom Cruise’s creepy relationship with a woman 20 years his junior and Sharlto Copley’s impenetrable accent hurt the movies’ respective chances far more. As ever it was the poor audience that left the summer months bereft of a single, memorable film they could cherish into old age.

If that wasn’t enough 2013 boasted its fair share of difficult questions. How, asked audiences, could James Wan make a horror movie as good as The Conjuring and follow it up with one as bad as Insidious: Chapter 2? Who wrote the third act of Halle Berry’s ludicrous thriller, The Call, and why? What string of events had led to Sunshine on Leith being made and why did anyone think Dexter Fletcher was the right director for a musical based on the music of The Proclaimers? What did they put in the bottled water handed to the critics who wrote glowing reviews of Blue Jasmine and Big Bad Wolves? Why didn’t the BBC act sooner when casting Danny Dyer as Mick Carter in EastEnders, when a 2012 start might have prevented Run for Your Wife AND Vendetta? And why is Michael Bay still working in an American film industry dominated by Jewish businessmen and talent, when it’s clear he’s a fascist, as Pain and Gain so brutally confirmed? Answers, Ooh Trayers, came there none.

2013 saw the shock deaths of movie legends. Whereas just about everyone expected Paul Walker, Cory Monteith from Glee, Tommy “the Machine” Gunn from Rocky V and Lewis Collins to leave us, the likes of Peter O’ Toole, Richard Griffiths, Joan Fontaine, Tom Clancy, Morons from Outer Space actor Mel Smith and composer Wojciech Kilar were hammer blows. Expected or no they all made their indelible mark  on the movies and we pat their bottom as they ascend the stairs to celluloid heaven with thanks.

So 2013 was a curious year indeed. For every sublime moment, the rich gothic stylisation of Stoker and the naturalism and insight of Before Midnight, we were treated to cine-farts like Oz: The Great and Powerful: a movie that took the unprecedented step of staging its climax to resemble the ident of the corporation that made it. For every film that challenged orthodox thinking, deference to authority drama Compliance, John Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon, or Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, we were asked to watch movies in which it was hoped we wouldn’t think at all, most notably Ender’s Game and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – film culture’s nadir. And for every great comeback, namely the return of Richard Gere in the enjoyable “rich bastard gets his comeuppance” thriller Arbitrage, there were some that defied explanation, with Sylvester Stallone reheating his old muscles in Escape Plan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger proving that he really was too old for his particular strip of shit, in The Last Stand: a movie in which he could barely stand.

Ultimately 2013 was a year when most of the standouts were photochemical fuck ups. On the next page you’ll discover the worst of these, plus those few, rare gems that stood out from the crowd, as they had the good sense to wear bright colours and occasionally angle their shank.

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2 Responses

  1. tim earnshaw says:

    Don’t get too depressed by the standard of 2013 movies, Ed. It’s not just movies – the emptiness, the seen-it-all-before-ness is culture-wide. Big money whipping up excitement for product that’s past it’s sell-by before it hits the shelves. Music, books, possibly games (I wouldn’t know), art (does that happen any more?) – it’s all been mediocre at best, a desperate grinding of the gears for its own sake. We’re dumbed down so far it looks like up to us. There – feel better now? Happy New Year!