Best Movies of 2013

Let’s take a look at the best movies the year 2013 has to offer days before the most prestigious award-giving body for movies airs on the United States. These are my top choices for time-worthy and money-worthy cinema:

TOP 14- BEFORE MIDNIGHT

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I want to start this yearly countdown with the third installment of the romantic Before trilogy starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Thanks to the good word of mouth from people who have watched this movie in theaters I got interested in watching the first two Before movies. And I was flabbergasted by how good they were. The directing was brilliant and the acting done by Hawke and Delpy never seemed be acting at all. And the writing, hmmm, the writing! It was nothing short of great! The last installment, Before Midnight, thankfully did not disappoint either. I was happy and fulfilled about how the characters came to be.

TOP 13- PRISONERS

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Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal star in the most thrilling and one of the darkest movies of the past year. The story of child abduction is never light and it wasn’t treated lightly in Prisoners. Apart from the believable acting done by the cast, this movie showed great editing, suspenseful directing and smart writing. Too bad it was one of the most underrated movies of the past year which is why only a small number of people were able to watch it.

TOP 12- FROZEN

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Frozen is the best film Disney has produced for a long time. Using their magic formula of putting a princess as a lead character, they made a great change this time in terms of resolving the always predictable conflict. Not to spoil anything but this great change made Frozen one-of-a-kind.

TOP 11- CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

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Paul Greengrass is a master of action. I wasn’t convinced at first that a ship and its captain that are being taken over by pirates could make such a very suspenseful narrative. But it could. In more than two hours of scenes involving the captain and his crew protecting the ship, falling for the mean pirates, negotiating with them and finally resolving the conflict, the movie depicted the most astounding hostage-taking drama film. Greengrass, along with his brilliant lead actor, Tom Hanks, presented a very interesting tale about how it is to be taken at sea.

TOP 10- BOY GOLDEN

Boy Golden

Just when I thought no good film would come out last year in the Metro Manila Film Festival come the little promoted Chito Rono film called Boy Golden. The title must have a premonitory effect as this is gold compared to the other MMFF entries.

I love how Chito Rono took care of the movie. He tied up all the scenes without lose threads. He did not allow mediocrity sip into his actors’ performances. And I just really like how he works with colors in the film’s scenes. He found beauty in each scene no matter how unlikely it was and this gave a much profound effect to what he wanted to convey about his characters or what’s happening in the story.

TOP 9- HER

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Want to watch a film that will really make you think about human relationships? Watch Her, the latest film from acclaimed director, Spike Jonze, and brilliant actor, Joaquin Phoenix, as they tackle how humans express love with each other now and how it might be in the near future.

Joaquin Phoenix displays his brilliance once again as the lonesome lead character in the movie named Theodore. Every quip, every act he made seemed so natural. But he wouldn’t do it that well without Samantha, which is voiced by Scarlett Johannson. “Her” quirkiness and poignancy as the super smart computer made it believable that a human could really fall in love with a machine.

TOP 8- AMERICAN HUSTLE

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David O. Russell did it again with American Hustle. In comparison to his previous great efforts, this movie is like an organized chaos of ideas. A great chaos, that is. And much like how Russell directs his films, this one seemed blurry at first until one gets over the blurriness and seemingly understands what the whole films is all about. That’s how Russell shows his brilliance. He’ll let you in little by little until you find yourself wanting more. But his directing would be futile if not backed up by a brilliant cast led by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. None of these actors were seen as themselves in the film. Why? They were not seen because they became their characters. And you just got to be awed by how amazing these talented individuals were when given a smart script that they could toy with. American Hustle is definitely one of the greatest movies of 2013.

TOP 7- THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

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Martin Scorcese’s latest offering, The Wolf of Wall Street, trumps many a great movie about money-making schemes. Watching it is a blast from start to finish! It’s got that great vibe of helping you understand how people in the stock market do what they do good. I kind of expected Leonardo diCaprio to be great, but I was nicely surprised to see him a lot better than what I was expecting him to be! He would surely given Chiwetel Ejiofor of the brilliant 12 Years a Slave a run for his money in the Oscar race for Best Actor. I actually thought he’s given the best performance of his life in this movie, being really the wolf in the Wall Street.

The movie seems to be an amalgam of deadly sins: greed, gluttony, power andlust. Leonardo diCaprio characterized all of these in his characterization of Jordan Belfort, the notorious stockbroker who owned Stratton Oakmont and made lots of millions swindling investors in the stock market. The way he spoke would seem to persuade even the most skeptical person to invest in his company. He didn’t really care about the investors; he cared about making loads of money. He, together with his friends and employees, drank and partied hard, took drugs as if they’re meals, fornicate anyone even those he is not fond of. He was addicted to power by not just trying to maintain being rich, but doing all he can to become richer and richer. All of these drowned him into the well of immorality, a world where everything seemed to be fun even though they’re not.

Scorcese still has his magic. In three hours, Scorcese showed how such a character like Belfort could have done such outrageous things. It is a testament that he really excels in doing movie that shows a study of character. He effectively showed how a small-time dreamer turned into a great but wild realist in the Wall Street. Belfort had a vision of what he wanted to be, and Scorcese made that evident in his frequent collaborator, Leonardo diCaprio, who’s insanely good in this movie.

TOP 6- THE WAY, WAY BACK

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Probably the most underrated movie in this list, The Way, Way Back is a coming-of-age movie that touches the heart, reels up the mind and brings out the good in every viewer’s soul. Yeah, that’s how deep the movie is even though it appears as just one of those teenage movies, which it definitely is not. It is the total opposite of the senselessly “fun” teenage movies as it deeply explores relationships of a child to his family, his friends and his crush. Putting in great performances are Lian James as Duncan, the 14-year-old central character of the film, and Sam Rockwell as Owen, the newly-found childish yet wise friend of Duncan when their family went to a beach house for a vacation. They, along with the rest of the cast, made the brilliant script come really alive. Thanks to its directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash for bringing this movie into fruition. Would you believe the movie is their directorial debut? What a great start!

TOP 5- NEBRASKA

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“It’s a long time ago. Why are you bringing that up for?”

This movie is a funny, straight up story about a senior man and his family who went back to their roots in Nebraska. I had reservations before watching this film but after watching, I realized I should have not. I liked it actually. A lot.

I was wondering why the director chose the movie to be filmed in black and white. But while watching, I thought it must have been for a good reason. Reminiscing the old times? Looking for what’s good and what’s bad? We may never know. But what I know is that it was beautiful even only with its black and gray hues. In addition, there were a lot of shots that show a lot of very picturesque sceneries and scenic moments.

It never hurts to watch a good movie. Nebraska is one of those movies that you would really appreciate watching. You won’t only enjoy, you won’t just be entertained. You’d certainly feel good. But not just that, you’d pick up a lesson or two.

I like the movie’s quiet. I like its easygoing feel. I like its soothing music. I like the belongingness and the cheers. I like the confrontations and the bickering. I like its bright and dark contrasts. I like everything about it. In one way or another, every person is going through one of the roads any of the character is experiencing in the movie. Some will rise above the others, some will do just fine. Some will die early, others may grow old yet the may grow old in misery. It’s nice to know, though, that everything seems to be just fine. Believe in something… because it never hurts to believe.

TOP 4- CATCHING FIRE

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Catching Fire is one of those rare occurrences that a sequel of a movie is much, much better than its predecessor. Whether it’s because of the bigger budget or a better director, the movie is certain to give the moviegoer a great film experience upon watching.

I have read the book where the movie is based and I can say that this movie version is much more faithful than The Hunger Games. It’s been roughly two years since I’ve read it but after watching one scene after another, glimpses of what I have read suddenly came back.

Ten minutes into the film, I was already feeling the drama and the heaviness of its themes. Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss) and Josh Hutcherson (as Peeta) are, without a doubt, two of the best actors in this generation. They make small scenes seem big and important with the way they act: their nuances, their delivery of lines, their movements. They made me believe once again in their characters. Meanwhile, I like the supporting cast much more in this movie than the last one.

Amazing visuals. Good musical score. Great directing. This movie seems to have it all!

TOP 3- ON THE JOB

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Top-notch directing and editing, very credible acting, excellent production design, great musical score, this movie has it all. To tell you the truth, I already had high expectations before watching because of good word-of-mouth feedback from people and raving reviews from critics. It was that high that I prepared myself to be disappointed. But, no. The movie was worth the hype. On the Job delivered greatly that acclaimed movies of many years past were not able to achieve.

TOP 2- 12 YEARS A SLAVE

12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave is one of the most buzzed films of 2013 and it is deserving to be so for one very good reason: it is a great movie. The way director Steve McQueen touched the topic of racism would truly affect you, inspire you (to do what’s good) and discourage you (from doing what’s bad). It didn’t come off as preachy, but it set the drama for every eye to see what was happening in America almost 200 years ago.

Come to think of it, the movie served as a reminder, too, that it’s much the same today, albeit a different kind of use and abuse are being done to other people. Despite the preaching of good people, awareness and knowledge about what’s right or wrong, some people still enslave other people in more ways than one.

With great directing/ editing, credible acting, impressive writing and brilliant production values, this movie is a great contender for Oscar’s Best Picture. I wouldn’t be surprised if it upsets my 2013 favorite Gravity.

Read the rest of my review here.

TOP 1- GRAVITY

Gravity

A visual spectacle and an emotional masterpiece, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity takes off as one great 3D movie a film enthusiast will definitely love.

It’s an understatement when I say that watching this movie is a great 3D experience. It’s a joy to float with the characters in space and their space shuttles and yet it’s a tragedy to tumble with them unto the unknown. You would be able to grasp that idea of emotion they must be reeling to feel while enduring the idea of being really there in the outer space. Every single move they do with their body, every single twitch of their eye, every word their mouths articulate, you will feel. All of these things are present in the film without lacking in visual aesthetics. The space setting was so real you’ll feel you’re there all those times. The space shuttles, the debris, the stars and the Earth all felt real. Add to that the sometimes subtle, sometimes roaring musical score and you’ll definitely know you’re in a great ride. Because of these and more, the film went beyond spectacular. Gravity seemed like a character study in a display of technically perfect showing. Kudos to all the visual effects people, the sound masters and the meticulously great director of the film, Alfonso Cuaron.

The story might be very simple but it’s got great lessons for everyone. We all go through changes. We all go through sorrows. We all experience alarms and unpleasant surprises. We all sometimes just want to tune out everyone and just be with ourselves and ourselves alone. In the end, you will know that you’re still there with yourself, all changes or not. In the end, you will know that you can’t forever wallow in sorrow. In the end, you will learn to survive any astonishing thing that comes your way. Because in the end, if you have the will to live, you will always make it through.

RUNNERS-UP:

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY

SAVING MR. BANKS

LE PASSE

METRO MANILA

WORLD WAR Z

IRON MAN 3

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Starting Over Again

Starting Over Again movie poster

So far the best romantic comedy movie I have ever watched (I haven’t seen One More Chance on the big screen so maybe that made a difference), Starting Over Again is easily the most relatable and probably has the most realistic portrayal of hearts who have loved, lost love and found it once again. The movie stars Piolo Pascual and Toni Gonzaga as former lovers who have crossed paths once again. Are they going to relive their romance even though one of them is already attached to somebody new? Or are they still trying to find answers from each other about what happened before while yearning for what could have been if they had stuck together?

“It’s complicated. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Starting Over Again is one interesting movie. The story of two couples breaking up and trying to start over again was already made before, but this one is very different story-wise and how it was told. Some people may find the ending sad, but for me, it was not just satisfying, it was also what’s most likely to happen in a story like this. The whole feel of the movie might be too idealistic, but in its roots it was based on what’s realistic.

“Naniniwala ako na kung may gusto kang sabihin, dapat sabihin mo na.”

Films about love can start a whole discussion about loving. One realization I had while watching this movie is how fragile the heart can be. The heart is used to love, but sometimes it goes against us if we love too much. Because once it breaks, with or without a good reason, it may take a very long time to be whole again. Another realization would be: hoping, even though always good in a sense, can also go against us. We can be all too hopeful in love but we have to be grounded on what’s real and true. Or else, we might just be surprised we no longer know ourselves after yearning for something we cannot have and being torn about it for a long time.

“Adik ka na naman sa pag-asa eh. Try mo na kaya lumaklak ng realidad?”

There were surprisingly a crazy lot of funny scenes, some heavy dramatic scenes and a combination of comedy and drama in a number of scenes in this movie. For years, I’ve never seen a movie that made me laugh out loud in a second and pained me just right after. I was impressed by how the director, Olivia Lamasan, and her lead actors, Pascual and Gonzaga, made that possible.

“In love, there is no fear.”

Speaking of Lamasan, I have never been a fan of her films. However, after watching this movie, I may just check out her previous works. The way she handled the scenes, especially the heavy drama stuff, was nothing short of great. Those close-up shots she made of the actors magnified the emotions they were trying to convey on their scenes together. And it worked! Add to that the many flashback scenes, which were gradually given as if to tease the audience, really worked out well to tell the story more effectively.

“I deserve an explanation. I need an acceptable reason.”

Piolo Pascual may just have proven once again he’s still the leading man to look up to after all these years. He showed in this movie that his good acting skills certainly did not leave him after being absent on the big screen for a long time. Toni Gonzaga, on the other hand, can claim the title rom-com queen for consistently hitting it big in the movies whoever her partner is. Her charm and effortless comic skills certainly pushed her on top of the game.

“Closure.”

I don’t always watch romantic-comedy films but when I do, I make sure it’s really worth it. And Starting Over Again is more than worth it.

Starting Over Again’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 4.5 out of 5

12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave“Your story is amazing and in no good way.” –Mr. Bass to Solomon Northup

12 Years A Slave is one of the most buzzed films of 2013 and it is deserving to be so for one very good reason: it was a great movie. The way director Steve McQueen touched the topic of racism would truly affect you, inspire you (to do what’s good) and discourage you (from doing what’s bad). It didn’t come off as preachy, but it set the drama for every eye to see what was happening in America almost 200 years ago. Having a black president in the white house would be an impossible dream to the Black Americans then. Why would they ever think of that? Many of them might be free (as in they did what they wanted to do), but more of them were kidnapped or traded off as slaves. The movie served as a reminder of how other people then were used and abused by other people, even though they knew from the heart that what they’re doing was wrong. Come to think of it, the movie served as a reminder, too, that it’s much the same today, albeit a different kind of use and abuse are being done to other people. Despite the preaching of good people, awareness and knowledge about what’s right or wrong, some people still enslave other people in more ways than one.

“If I can’t buy mercy from you, I beg it.” –Patsey

The story about Solomon Northup, a free man who was abducted and sold up as a slave, is superbly told in the movie. My eyes just couldn’t escape the screen while watching. The scenes were amazingly edited to the point that I didn’t anticipate the next scene much more than I want to linger on what I was seeing onscreen. Steve McQueen’s mark as a director could be seen on scenes where the camera stays for a long time on an actor, capturing his emotions and reactions to the situation he is in.

“It would be unspeakable happiness to see my wife and my family again.” – Solomon Northup

Speaking of actors, I didn’t know who the lead actor or even the supporting cast is before watching the movie. I was kind of surprised when I see familiar faces pop up on screen and that’s good, of course. The lead actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor, held his own against the great support his co-actors gave. Paul Giamatti, in his brief appearance as a slave trader, impressed on his scenes. Sarah Paulson, in spite of her small stature and having not that big of a voice, startled as the jealous wife of a slave owner. Michael Fassbender, as the slave owner husband of Paulson’s character, astounded once again with the frenetic ways of his character that he embodied effortlessly. I would give the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor to him in a heartbeat.

The cinematography of the movie was brilliant. In some scenes, the hues that were created by the sky in contrast to the silhouette the light created to trees, houses and other structures were a visual feast. Even the scenes at night or those that happen inside the houses created a beautiful play on the little amount of light present as it fell on the subject or subjects in contrast to the darkness that enveloped them.

The music created for the movie by Hans Zimmer reverberated the sad and tragic fates of many Black Americans back then. It complements the great visualization of the story.

With great directing/ editing, credible acting, impressive writing and brilliant production values, this movie is a great contender for Oscar’s Best Picture. I wouldn’t be surprised if it upsets my 2013 favorite Gravity.

12 Years A Slave’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 5 out of 5

The Lego Movie

The_Lego_Movie_posterHighly creative and solidly funny, The Lego Movie satisfies with its extraordinary story and awesome visual effects.

The movie is about Emmet Brickowski, a seemingly ordinary construction worker, who happens to find a Piece of the Resistance, which is said to be the only thing capable of stopping the use of Kragle, the super weapon that can destroy the Lego universe. He is assisted by Wyldstyle, Batman, Metal Beard and rest of the Master Builders to go against Lord Business, the tyrant owner of the Kragle. Will they be able to save everyone from harm? Watch this movie to find out.

Technically speaking, The Lego Movie was everything I was hoping for in a movie about Lego. Could you imagine the toy many of us played and loved (and still love) being made into a full motion picture? It must have been very taxing to make this movie years ago! But thanks to advanced CGI technology, the Lego blocks were created in this movie in a way that suited every kid’s Lego movie dream, complete with towering structures, fancy vehicles, amazingly detailed Lego characters and grand settings. It was visually perfect!

The voice cast was delightfully good. Every spunky or funny dialogue in the movie was brought alive and on point by Chris Pratt who voiced out Emmet, Will Ferrell as Lord Business, Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle, Will Arnett as Batman and Nick Offerman as Metal Beard.

The witty script, which brings out many pop culture references, was really funny, making it relevant not just for kids, but also for adults. The twist in the end might not be that unexpected, but it was totally appropriate. The satire shown in it proved the major points of the story: stop the rigidity, explore creativity (which could just actually be Lego’s motto if you think about it).

However, I was actually expecting more. It was undoubtedly original, yes, but it somehow lacked that awesome fun some other animated movies bring. The over-all concept of the movie might be a genius, but it fell short in a few of its individual parts. I liked some of the featured songs, though I lingered on the thought of something better. The musical score is lively, but it could have been a lot livelier. Nevertheless, this movie was a great start for the animated movie genre this 2014. I hope more movies like this would be featured this year.

The Lego Movie’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 4 out of 5

Ender’s Game

Ender's_Game_posterA fantastic take on a fictional war against aliens, Ender’s Game mostly satisfies with its compelling cast, amazing stunts and stunning visuals.

I haven’t read the book by Orson Scott Card from which this movie is based so I have no idea what it was about. Science-fiction movies do not really attract me in a way that would make me want to watch them as soon as I can, that is why I wasn’t that giddy before watching Ender’s Game unlike when I was about to watch, let’s say, an action or a horror film. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised while watching the movie. It got me hooked right from the start and the interest I had with it stayed until the end.

In the near future, a technically advanced Earth has been gearing its engines to destroy aliens that have previously attacked. The U.S. government hires children to enter Battle School and uses them in the operation to destroy the aliens for good. Ender, a young cadet, shows promise with his great strategical thinking and the government hopes he is the one they have been waiting for all along. His adventure and rise from Battle School towards the International Fleet make up for a great story that is Ender’s Game.

The whole cast is compelling on each of their roles. Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin is very good in showing off a brave, smart and determined youth touted as the hope of the future. Harrison Ford is good as as Colonel Gruff, the chief-in-command in the International Fleet. Meanwhile, Hailey Stanfield made an impression as Ender’s friend and love interest.

The idience womages and visual effects used in the film are so good the auuld be wanting to fly out there in outer space in no time. They are consistently beautiful, satisfying the eyes of everyone watching. These great visuals really complimented a solid writing and good acting from the cast.

My biggest criticism about the movie, though, would be its very fast pace. With movies that have a lot to tell especially if they’re a version of a novel, fast pacing would be something good to do so as not to bore the audience. The director and his writers would have to satisfy the readers of the book while not alienating those who haven’t read it. However, the pacing done in Ender’s Game is too fast for me. There were times that when I was just about to enjoy an elaborate action sequence, a new action sequence would be introduced, making me somewhat dissatisfied and disappointed.

Nevertheless, the movie is still good so watch it still if you can.

Ender’s Game‘s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 3.5 out of 5

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Paranormal_Activity_-_The_Marked_Ones_2014_posterThis movie banks on the successful found footage horror film, Paranormal Activity. It is said to be a spin-off of the original franchise but the story of The Marked Ones cross with that of the original.

The movie is about Jesse, an eighteen-year-old high school graduate who lives in an apartment building with his dad, grandma, and a woman named Anna who everyone thinks is a witch. One day, Anna is murdered, and a former classmate of Jesse is suspected for the crime. He, along with friends Hector and Marisol, go and seek Anna’s apartment only to discover black magic rituals, book of witchcraft and a number of Jesse’s pictures. Things go awfully weirder when he wakes up with a bite mark in his arm and later on displays some inhumane strength. Who has bitten him? Why is he displaying some great strength? What is he got to do with the suspected witch called Anna? These and more would be answered when you watch the film…

…or just search online. I would really, really recommend great, or just even good, horror movies for people to watch but The Marked Ones isn’t just one. Yes, it shows a lot of freaky and frightening stuff but ultimately, it just fails to live up to the hype of that first Paranormal Activity movie. The highly intense and frighteningly scary last minutes where Paranormal Activity movie is known for is still here in this movie, though. It’s just saddening how absurd the writing is especially during these last scenes, making the whole story really implausible.

I wish Oren Peli and the rest of the creators of the Paranormal Activity franchise get sick of milking a starving cow from getting something out of a very thin script. What could have been an opportunity to turn things around, tie storylines better or do something different for found footage genre is wasted with this film. I hated the camerawork, and giving a reason to make it shaky and all to make it more believable is just very annoying. Nobody in their right minds would video something they think is important and not make it look good. And who even carries around a camera to record videos of their banal moments or even those times when they could get killed? So much for a found footage, I’ll tell you.

Nevertheless, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones still got the usual scares that people loved or hated to watch. If you want something freaky, scary and funny to talk about with friends and family who care about these things, then watch it. If not, don’t. I just don’t want any other people wasting their money to buy tickets and find disappointment later on.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 2 out of 5