Top 13 of 2013: Cinematic Productions

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Shayna Hume, Editor-in-Chief

With the holiday season well under way, many students at Jefferson are turning to reminiscence as they reflect on the events of the past year. One of the hallmarks of every year is the movies that are released during it, and 2013 was no exception. From the melange of disney releases to the action-adventure flicks that populated the fall, there were a number that were huge successes both with movie-goers as with the box offices, and will become indicative of their year of release. However, among those, there were 13 that stood out in many’s minds as the top movies of the last year. In ascending order are the top four winners, with the runners up placed in no particular order from numbers five to 13.


The honorable mentions…


13. Pacific Rim


A science fiction monster film, “Pacific Rim,” hit the theaters with a bang on July 12. The perfect summer action movie, “Pacific Rim” lived up to expectations, inciting fear and excitement in viewers as the onscreen struggle consumed Earth. In essence, the plot was simple: monsters are attacking Earth, and they are coming from the Pacific. However, contained with that are myriads of levels of plot structure waiting to be uncovered by viewers more observant to the movies’ cues, and a background world carefully constructed by director Guillermo del Toro.

The visuals of the movie were both sophisticated and enormously outsized, creating a larger-than-life feel onscreen that tied to the viewers reception of the films sometimes-complicated plot. However, what made this movie memorable was, more than its huge media campaign, was the effect it left on the audience. Perfect for a introductory summer action flick, it was not emotionally convoluted by the science fiction it hailed from, and allowed each and every movie-goer to be drawn into its world in a flurry of flying metal and crashing water.


12. Saving Mr. Banks


Many know the tale of Mary Poppins, however few know of the genius and struggle that led up to it. “Saving Mr. Banks,” a late arrival to the scene of 2013 movies, was a December production that introduced Tom Hanks as a Walt Disney struggling to bring his dream of a children’s story to the big screen. However, despite the euphoric children’s movie that was the real-world result, “Saving Mr. Banks,” is anything but whimsical, portraying gritty and unstable emotions and complex reality.

Hanks was far from the only talent, however. The entire cast was inspirational, and a group of individuals far easily to empathize with than the flighty Poppins with her spoonful of sugar. Despite it’s co-production with Walt Disney studios, the movie managed to stay almost completely cliche-free, while addressing a series of serious issues using landscapes and scene transitions that were aesthetically pleasing. This film was a without a doubt a memorable one of the year, despite its late arrival and unusual content, not only despite, but specifically because of its address of the desolate background our dreams come from.

Read more of what our staff thought about this movie HERE!


11. Despicable Me 2


Historically, Disney sequels don’t go well. There’s something magical about the first film in every franchise that manages to fall flat in sequels, so when “Despicable Me 2” was announced, most of its older viewers waited in worried anticipation. However, there was little to be afraid for. Unlike so many others, “Despicable Me 2” remained both funny and relevant, entertaining teenagers and adults as well as enthusiastic children, while retaining the original flavor of the first movie.

What made the film particularly interesting was while it followed Gru’s adventures with his three new adopted children, as left off at the end of the first movie, it also addressed change, including the loss of minions and what it means when children move on in life and become more independent. While the laughs it got were more difficultly drawn from its audience, the themes of “Despicable Me 2”  were even more potent compared to the original installment of the franchise, while all of the starring voices remained fresh and charming and the graphics were unequivocally expressive.


10. Star Trek: Into Darkness


As a 12th installment of the “Star Trek” film franchise, “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” was not one of the most publicized movies of 2013, however nonetheless managed to establish its own position among the top 13. A sequel to the popular 2009 “Star Trek” movie, “Into Darkness” follows Kirk (Chris Pine) and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise as they journey to the Klingon home world in order to recover ex-Starfleet terrorist John Harrison.

Despite the expectation of the continuation of a classic science fiction series, for many fans, “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” was more to the flavor of the 2009 film: an action flick taking place in the “Star Trek” universe. Filled with references to past films, “Star Trek” was an interesting watch, however for many long-time followers of the story, disappointing as a movie in its own right. Many of the characters seemed to echo their counterparts played by earlier productions’ actors, and seemed to carry out the plot of the story based on personal motivations non-afficionados would not be aware of. However, this film was memorable not just for the continuation of the “Star Trek” universe that was advertised in the media prior to its release, but the action sequences that kept the audience from noticing its other flaws during the filming itself.


9. Frozen


Amid the myriad of films that came out this year, “Frozen,” the newest of a line of recent movies produced by Disney, was a breath of fresh air. The film, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, “The Snow Queen,” features popular singers included Idina Menzel (of “Wicked” fame), Kristin Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad and Santino Fontana. The plot of the story bases out of the rift caused between two sisters, Princesses Elsa (Menzel) and Anna (Bell), the former of which possess the power to form and move ice. During their childhood, Elsa injures Anna, however long after the memory of that is removed, the two sisters are once again set against each other during Elsa’s coronation as Queen, when, on accident, she casts her kingdom of Arendelle into frozen winter.

What may seem a simple plot however, and more gimmicky than would usually be a success for a Disney production, in fact turned out to be both impressive in terms of its modern CGI and morals. The graphics of the film were resplendent, miles ahead of the animated films of the last decade, with the talent of its design artists prevalent in the shimmering snow and ice landscape. Similarly, the moral of the film seemed to take a more modern turn, with two strong female characters that held distinct character traits and personal goals. However, what truly brought this film to the forefront of this year’s crop was without a doubt the talent of the songs and singers present. Christophe Beck’s music included numbers such as the popular “Let It Go,” sung by Menzel, and “For the First time in Forever,” between Bell and Menzel. Those vocals, aided by the contemporary nature of the story itself, ensures “Frozen” its own place among the most memorable Disney films of recent years.


8. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug


For many, the second installation of “The Hobbit” was both long-in-coming and well-worth waiting for. Peter Jackson’s production of the classic fantasy story has long been a topic of debate for fans of the series, however after the performance given by actors such as Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) and Richard Armitage (Thorin), it’s difficult not to appreciate the phenomenal amount of work put into the film, in both the memorable Smaug and striking visuals.

Far more action-packed than last year’s installment, many fans of the series found “The Desolation of Smaug” to be an overall improvement, as well.  While not based entirely in the material provided in Tolkien’s text of “The Hobbit,” the plot, from the initial meeting at the Prancing Pony to the release of the dragon Smaug, was nonetheless a strong depiction of the world of Middle Earth and of the lighthearted nature of “The Hobbit” itself. Most admirable is the fact that while the first installment, traditionally covering one of the most active parts of the novel, was notably lacking, this middle film both gripped audiences and left them impressively excited for a third and final film adaption.


7. Thor: The Dark World


The “Thor” franchise, one among many of the recent superhero installments, was far from the first. However, despite that, its second produced film, “Thor: The Dark World,” was anything but a flop. Highly anticipated even months before its release, “The Dark World,” followed the story of Asgardian gods Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). As they fight off opposing forcers in their own world, astrophysicist Jane (Natalie Portman), a love interest of Thor, works to solve the problem of the bridges opening between the worlds.

A Norse story brought to life both in comic books and in a previous movie, this story managed to remain both action-packed and scientifically interesting, although lacking factual details in many respects. The cast held the plot together excellently, remaining interesting for the duration of the film. One character in particular who rose to prominence was Asgardian female warrior Sif, played by actress Jaimie Alexander. Because of the hype that led to its release, “Thor: The Dark World” wasn’t a top release of the year, however despite being on the tail end of the series of superhero franchises, was and remains a movie worth seeing.


6. Iron Man 3


An early May release, “Iron Man 3” was an entertaining, if not ground-breaking film. The plot of the story followed seamlessly from the previous movie released by the “Iron Man” franchise. In the present, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is experiencing flashbacks to the alien invasion of New York, coping by building dozens of new Iron Man suits and fighting with his girlfriend, Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow). After a series of adventures and investigations that led to the climax of the film, Stark finds solace in his own identity as both his additional suits are destroyed and the chip embedded in his chest from the first “Iron Man” film is removed.

Filled with the witty dialogue and cleverness the “Iron Man” story is famous for, “Iron Man 3” was a superb conclusion to the trilogy. However, despite the heart-stopping action of the movie, the plot seemed to take on too much, tackling a myriad of issues and only managing to salvage itself in Stark’s internal crisis stubbornly dragged to the denouement. A perfect introduction to the summer, “Iron Man 3” didn’t overtly impress, however contained many of the positive qualities fans of the “Iron Man” movie franchise know and love.


5. Ender’s Game


A classic in the science-fiction genre, “Ender’s Game” was a film more than one fan of Orson Scott Card’s novel was afraid to see ruined. A cast filled by a mix of notable and unknown names, the melange of characters nevertheless were brought to life in a vivid environment. The plot of the story is simple: battle school. A place where children under the age of twelve train to become the military leaders of tomorrow, and wait for an alien civilization that already devastated Earth once to return. While only able to cover a fraction of the moments emphasized in the novel, “Ender’s Game” was nonetheless graphically inspiring, from the looming battle room above the almost innocently revolving Earth to the mission control that Ender’s jeesh operated from on Eros.

For many fans of the novel, the movie was understandably disappointing, with side characters falling flat and a new plot arc at the end that removed any possibility of a sequel true to the series. However, the true flaw of the movie came in the fact that it was based around a cast of child actors. Seeing them mesh perfectly would have been unbelievable–what they managed to do in reality was far from mediocre. Despite initial apprehensions and missed opportunities in the movie, overall, “Ender’s Game” was a movie able to be enjoyed by both aficionados and illiterates of the novel.


And this year’s top four winners…


4. Gravity


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A medical engineer and astronaut get caught in space, and have to work together to save themselves. Doesn’t sound too thrilling, does it? Now, make that engineer Sanda Bullock (character Dr. Ryan Stone), and the astronaut George Clooney (character Ryan Kowalski). Despite all odds, and the very Gravity of the Earth itself, “Gravity” emerged this year as an ascending forerunner of memorable cinematic productions. A result of years of popular films’ productions in 3D, “Gravity” easily surpassed all the rest, the plot striking the audience as powerfully as the high-speed space debris. Following Stone and Kowalski as they journeyed towards the damaged International Space Station (ISS), the audience is given a glimpse into the two’s personal trials even as they have to confront life-or-death tribulations.

While the plot may seem initially difficult to empathize with, as a majority of movie-goers are Earth-bound humans, “Gravity,” did anything but isolate its viewers in a vacuum. A fast-paced and dramatic film, “Gravity” not only portrayed the fear of the isolated astronauts as they dealt with physical dangers, but was an emotionally riveting film. Even without the unforgettable 3D effects, “Gravity” had a plot whose groundbreaking nature sets it as a precedent for other cinematic productions interested in breaking into the final frontier.


3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


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Books are very rarely brought to movies in a way that depicts their true nature. The “Hunger Games” series, by all accounts, has been one of those few. The first film, a popular success by all accounts, was not left hanging by its sequel. “Catching Fire,” the story of how Katniss and Peeta were thrown back into the Capitol’s terrifying games, followed as all of the winning tributes from the 12 districts were returned to the 75th annual Hunger Games for what was promised to be a spectacular show. However, as problems arose and characters inevitably murdered, it was the production of the movie itself that held its readers in awe, rather than the disgusting grandeur of the Games themselves.

Unsurprisingly, both Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen) and Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark) acted terrifically in the rendition of their characters, backed up by names such as Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne) and the sadistic personalities of President Snow and Caesar Flickerman. However, better than the already stellar cast that seemed to be well in sync was the direction this film seemed to take. Rather than obsessing over the inevitably created love triangle, this second installment promisingly focused on the magnificence and tragedy of the Capitol’s Games from the very get-go, with fantastic and splendid costumes and an explosive ending that left its watchers exactly where they had been since the film began–on the edge of their seat.


2. Les Miserables


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Written by Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo and it’s stage adaptation, “Les Miserables” arrived on the big screen in the last days of 2012 to tell the tale of convict Jean Valjean. Placed in 19th-century France, “Les Miz” was a long-anticipated product by many members of the Jefferson community. Tom Hooper produced the film in a way, however, that few can call less than spectacular.

Despite it’s Dec. 24, 2012 release date, this film deserved a top spot on the list of 2013 movies. Despite the jokes that ensued from Russell Crowe’s “wooden” performance as Javert, the cast were wonderfully in sync, with famous actor Anne Hathaway taking on a more serious role and for the most part, succeeding, while Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfriend, Aaron Tveit and Eddie Redmayne continued to delight, all the while singing so many of the stanzas fans of the story know and love.

“Les Miz” without the iconic revolving stage and live performance could have toppled as easily as Les Amis de l’ABC’s revolution did, but December’s release succeeded magnificently and was a cinematic icon of the 2013 calendar year.


1. The Great Gatsby


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On May 10, 2013, “The Great Gatsby” blew into theaters as quickly as the jazz age did in America. Director Baz Luhrman’s film captured the essence of the hollow fragility of the 1920’s, while presenting a host of memorable characters. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby was a mysterious figure whose character development rivaled that of the novel, and the supporting roles of Daisy (Carey Mulligan), Tom (Joel Edgerton), Jordan (Elizatbeth Dipicki) and Nick (Toby Maguire) were well-performed and convincing. Despite the strange effect of words rising from the page’s of Nick’s diary, overall, the movie was memorable for all the right reasons.

“The Great Gatsby” easily deserves the top spot on this list, not only for the phenomenal production that it was in the spring, but for standing out among so many other fantastic films while bringing a classic novel to light in a way even long-time readers could enjoy and appreciate. When the film was done, the story wasn’t, and most moviegoers left the theater with the Jazz age still ringing in their ears.