In a few more weeks, yet another year of cinematic highs and lows shall be left behind us. It was not a great one, like last year, which brought us everything from “Les Misérables” to “Moonrise Kingdom,” but it was a commendable and creative year nonetheless.
Soon we will see a deluge of “best” and “worst” lists meant to put that year into perspective. For this last column of 2013, I would like to take a look at some of the overlooked works that will not make those lists as well as some overrated ones that probably will.
Let us start with the bad—or, more accurately, the not-as-good-as-they-say.
For me, no major release this year was greeted with hugely undeserved critical hosannas quite like “Gravity,” a theme park ride disguised as a thinking man’s picture. I, too, was awed by the special effects, but even as I sat staring in amazement at the immaculately constructed CGI environments, I could not help but roll my eyes at the faux-deep “story.”
With this picture, Alfonso Cuaron fell victim to the George Lucas Curse, growing so enamored with the world-building abilities afforded by special effects that he forgot to fill that world with interesting characters.
Meanwhile, in “Iron Man 3,” the most critically and commercially successful of this year’s super-flicks, Shane Black was struck by the Marvel Movie Curse, which I discussed in a previous column. Almost every major character is threatened with death, but the sheer franchise feel of the picture makes that highest of stakes feel impossibly low.
Also, did Tony Stark totally have that Mandarin attack coming, or what? Dude literally gave the bad guy his address.
That man of iron, combined with “Man of Steel,” overshadowed the strongest superhero film of the summer: “The Wolverine,” a perfect example of how to marry character-building with big explosions.
Speaking of marriage, a word of advice: even if a romantic dramedy about Orthodox Jews does not sound like your thing, check out “Fill The Void” anyway. It may be the best of all Israeli films, and that’s coming from an amateur Israeli film buff. You will be bawling by the time the credits roll, and not in a soporific, Nicholas Sparks way. This bold and careful drama earns your tears.
Yet perhaps the most overlooked film of 2012 is “The East,” an eco-thriller starring Ellen Page, which did not even earn back its own budget. You should help it do so by renting the thing.
The picture does not just use the social and political climate of the United States as a backdrop—it foregrounds urgent questions of reason and responsibility and does so with as much moody intensity as any film featuring Jason Bourne. It is not perfect, and you must forgive it a few moments of unintentional silliness, but it is more than worth your patience.
And with that, I put down my metaphorical pen and go on holiday. Have a great break, everyone. Drink hot chocolate from a mug. Watch some great movies. Read some great books. See you again in the spring.