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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Kimmy Dora: Ang Kiyemeng Prequel

Kimmy_Dora_Ang_Kiyemeng_PrequelAfter watching Kimmy Dora: Ang Kiyemeng Prequel, the third Kimmy Dora film, I said to myself that I have chosen wrongly on which MMFF entry to watch first this year.  The film seemed to be okay based on the reports from the media. I’ve read that the film’s producers and stars have been saying that this film is not only good but also is the best among the three Kimmy Dora films, which, as you already know by now, is not true. For me, it just might be the worst.

Filled with humorless dialogues and uninspired delivery of these unfunny lines, Kimmy Dora 3 fails to make the audience laugh or even smile for a very long time. I caught myself trying to force a laugh after a good joke gone wrong in the delivery or a poorly written dialogue caught up in a mediocre act by the actors. It ultimately fails to recapture the charm of the original film or even the surprising quips found on the second. Eugene Domingo may have tried her best to save the film from its senseless scenes but her antics as both the utterly smart yet mean Kimmy and the somewhat slow yet kind Dora did not give any anticipatory sense to the audience. Even the good support made by Ariel Ureta (as Kimmy and Dora’s father), Angel Aquino and Joel Torre (as board members in their father’s company) did not help save the film.

What could have led the film into its own destruction? The answer: its very thin storyline. The original film, Kimmy Dora: Ang Kambal na Kiyeme, is wonderful because it introduced us to the two fascinating characters who happened to be twins in the form of Kimmy and Dora. The actors involved then were really good and the screenplay was filled with funny wisecracks and clever dialogues. The sequel, Kimmy Dora 2: The Temple of Kiyeme was a misstep because it did not make anything in the story of the twins better. It was just all flash with its heftier production values but with only just a little substance in the story department. This prequel, on the other hand, was a major mistake because it did not correct what the second film failed to do. Instead of making it big in production values while enriching the story of the twins, it made the mistake of thinning the story some more while showing its big budget with only flash once again. And what’s with the action scenes? Not that they only failed to convince the audience who was expecting to laugh because of the jokes. It made matters worse because it made the audience laugh because of the comedy behind the film trying to be an action film and ultimately failing.

May this film be a lesson to every producer out there who has made a good comedy film. Don’t make a sequel or a prequel if utterly unnecessary. Don’t make films just for the money. Make them worthwhile for the audience to see.

Kimmy Dora: Ang Kiyemeng Prequel’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 1 out of 5

On the Job

OTJ movie poster“Wow!”

That was the expression I used after watching On the Job, the latest Filipino film to grace the silver screen. I have never watched a Filipino film that did not only make my heart race but also made me think while watching and right after watching. I might have guessed some of the plot points towards the end even before they happened, but when they did happen in the movie, I was still surprised thanks to the brilliant execution of those scenes. That’s how great the hands that made this movie were.

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

The story surrounds 4 major characters: Francis Coronel, Jr. (portrayed by Piolo Pascual), an NBI agent whose lawmaker father-in-law (Michael de Mesa) supports an evil general (Leo Martinez) who’s planning to run for politics; SPO1 Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez), a capable policeman who helps Francis in his case about the general; Tatang (Joel Torre), a prisoner who is hired by cohorts of the evil general to assassinate people linking him to illegal activities, and Daniel (Gerald Anderson), the brutal yet naïve apprentice of Tatang who joins him in his assassination jobs.

It is scary to think that these things really happen in the country. Criminals get to run and be elected in the government. Prisoners get to go out of the jail and kill. Dirty policemen get to have what they want while the clean ones die young. But when you think about it, these scenarios really seem familiar. Just take into consideration the latest issue of the pork barrel scam, then you’d think that the movie’s plot doesn’t seem so unlikely. This current issue has unmasked politicians that were touted as the good ones before. It has also reminded the people that criminal masterminds tend to get special treatment and were even thought to be state witnesses that could escape punishment. Also, witnesses were barraged with different issues to taint their reputation. I don’t want to sound hopeless, but won’t you agree if I say that this world that we live in aren’t really ruled by the good ones? It’s so hard to live right if everyone seems to live in an unrighteous way. Maybe that’s the ultimate challenge for us, humans: to stand out in a tainted world.

Going back to the film, the stories mentioned above about the four people intertwined in a way that only the movie’s brilliant writers, Michiko Yamamoto and Erik Matti (also the movie’s director), could only create. Of course, the story also benefited well by its great pacing. The suspense was not always present, but during those “quiet” times, good action was still ongoing. There was no idle moments all throughout the film.

Today’s popular actors in the film actually did great. Gerald Anderson was believable as a young prisoner whose naivety and willingness to kill clouded his whole morality. Piolo Pascual embodied a character whose conscience and barely dirty hands could not afford to give up his principles in spite of familial ties. They were great, but it was the veterans Joel Torre, Leo Martinez and Joey Marquez who stood out in the film. Torre was able to turn himself into a ruthless killer-prisoner, Martinez was really irritating as the evil general while Marquez was flawless as the policeman whose integrity would make other policemen hide in shame.

Brace yourself, many praises about the film are still to come.

The shots, have you noted how they were shot? They were meticulously made in order to tell the story well. Watch out for each scene as many of them hold clues as to what’s going to happen next. Erik Matti is such a great director that he’s able to bring to life a complicated story line about the nation, its government and its people. In addition, the cinematography made the whole film seem so authentic and real.

Finally, the songs. Oh you’d just feel them at heart once they start playing. Most memorable for me was Dong Abay’s Mateo Singko. The said song was very apt for the whole concept of the film.

On the Job’s movie rating by the pondering movie fan: 5 out of 5