The good, bad and ugly in 2013 movies

Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comDecember 24, 2013 

Movies in 2013 can best be defined as two-dimensional. It's an odd way to describe a year, but it fits. Studios gave us more 3D movies than ever. This year, movie effects in 3D and two rewrote the effects "how-to book."

Promoting movies is also bigger and louder. Too bad the content doesn't match the hype.

According to Box Office Mojo, there were 654 movies released in 2013. About half are unfamiliar to just about everybody except the people who made them. The 300 or so that most of us recognize weren't all that good. More films than ever qualified to be on my worst list. Best of the year is slimmer than I can remember in the 25 or so years I've been doing this.

The box office winner is Iron Man 3. It took in $409 million. The fewest box office dollars in 2013 belong to a flick called Storage 24. It took in just $72.

A few of my favorites of the year ended up in the top 10 earners. Iron Man 3 isn't one of them. Despicable Me 2, a terrific, very funny animated sequel is the second top grosser with $367 million. The guilty pleasure of Fast and Furious 6 is there too.

Gravity, the film that showed me what it's really like to be in space, is sixth with $253 million.

Some of my least favorites are there too. Monsters University, Man of Steel and the disappointing Star Trek Into Darkness are in the top 10 earners. The worst of the 10 best is Oz the Great and Powerful. It ranks eighth and took in a staggering and undeserved $235 million.

A big change in 2013: The major box office draws -- stars who used to rake in the dough -- like Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and Clint Eastwood have seen their lights dim. They still make movies and those movies make money, but producers really wanting to make a killing are tabbing second-tier stars who, ironically, are carving a new A-list.

This list is how much these stars made for their producers in 2013:

1. Dwayne Johnson: $1.3 billion

2. Robert Downey Jr.: $1.2 billion

3. Steve Carell: $964 million

4. Vin Diesel: $887 million

5. Sandra Bullock: $862 million

6. Paul Walker: $789 million

7./8. (tie) Billy Crystal/John Goodman: $743 million

9. Chris Hemsworth: $701 million

10. Jennifer Lawrence: $700 million

One more note. Some of the films being tabbed for awards this year fit in the two dimensions talked about earlier. A few of the most seriously considered "best of" films are on my worst list.

The Good

Nebraska tops my good list. Wonderfully written and shot in glorious black and white, Alexander Payne's film's simplicity and basic, two-dimensional characters, ironically, gave us the year's most three-dimensional movie. Bruce Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb did three of the year's best performances.

Dallas Buyers Club and Mud: Matthew McConaughey is showing acting chops no one suspected he had. He bagged the pretty boy, shallow rom-coms and blew us away last year with Magic Mike, Killer Joe and The Paperboy. The exceptional acting continues this year. Dern's performance in Nebraska is my favorite, but McConaughey's work in Dallas Buyers Club is a close second.

Dallas Buyers Club is also my second favorite of the year. It's the deep, basically true, dramatic but often funny story of the battle a man with AIDS carried on with the Food and Drug Administration over what drugs can be used to help those with AIDS.

American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street: Two films based on true stories of the kind of greed that can only be found in a free society. Both films feature exceptionally talented casts and deserve the accolades and nominations they're receiving.

Three small films stand out: The Kings of Summer, Short Term 12 and writer/director Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said. All are well written and acted, and Enough Said gave us James Gandolfini's last performance. It's a beautiful piece of work that shows how much we'll miss him.

Gravity: This film let me spend a three dimensional, hour-and-a-half in space. Thank you Alfonso Cuaron. At times, I wanted stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney to act on the side of the screen and get out of the way of my view of Earth below.

Others on my best list: Despicable Me 2, The Stories We Tell, 20 Feet from Stardom, The Way Way Back, Lovelace and Saving Mr. Banks.

Disclaimer: I have not seen and they have not yet screened the highly acclaimed Her and Labor Day for smaller market critics.

Some last comments on actors: Jared Leto and Michael Fassbender shined in Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave. I also loved the work of Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle. Meryl Streep blew my mind in August: Osage County and so did Julia Roberts.

The Bad

(Listed alphabetically)

This is a list of movies I've seen and does not include those not screened like Grown Ups 2, all of the too many Tyler Perry movies and a few others.

-- After Earth

-- Blue is the Warmest Color

-- Kill Your Darlings

-- Monsters University

-- Oz the Great and Powerful

-- The Hangover III

-- The Place Beyond the Pines

-- To the Wonder

-- The To Do List

The Ugly

(The year's worst movie)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Peter Jackson, is this J.R.R. Tolkien's fun adventure or a prequel to The Lord of the Rings? Why did you introduce characters and events that didn't happen in the book? Did you do it to stretch this thing out to three, three-hour movies when two, two- to three-hour flicks would have been incredibly good and more than enough?

I'll answer my own questions. Greed. The idea is to make many more millions.

Guilty pleasures

Every year, there is a group of films that are just fun. These are B-list popcorn movies that best define why we love movies and why I still love reviewing them.

-- Warm Bodies

-- The Last Stand

-- Beautiful Creatures

-- Jurassic Park 3D

-- The Wizard of Oz 3D in IMAX

-- The Iceman

-- Fast & Furious 6

-- Red2

-- 2 Guns

-- We're the Millers

-- Escape Plan

-- Grudge Match

-- To comment, go to Mr. Movie's blog at arts/mrmovie.

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