Now that we’ve gotten past the disappointments and atrocities of 2013 we can move forward in sharing the positives that Hollywood delivered. It was a big year at the cinemas, the largest on record, and there were many solid films that did their part in entertaining the buttery-fingered masses. But there were also a handful that went above and beyond the expectations that were established from the marketing. Check out my list for the top 10 most surprising movies of 2013 after the break.
10) The To Do List (Maggie Carey)
Ever since The To Do List was announced as a thing, originally entitled The Hand Job, it was placed at the top of the “Blacklist” of unproduced screenplays in 2009. The subject matter set my Spider-senses for hilarity off the charts. They even had a sit down with Jessica Alba and Bill Hader to do a reading of the script. The big question on everyone’s mind was how would Aubrey Plaza fair in her first leading role? Will she be her typical deadpan self? Turns out she succeeded in giving us a fabulous comedic performance that took branched her out of her comfort zone. The script is very strong, quirky even, with a nice unconventional ending. Definitely one of the most underseen, delightful comedies of the summer.
9) The East (Zal Batmanglij)
I appreciate what Brit Marling (Sound of my Voice; Another Earth) has going on in the indie scene and The East is a good push toward more commercial work. This is definitely her most relatable work for audiences to discover her, especially with a cast consisting of Ellen Page and Alexander Skårsgard who put on some intensely engaging performances. The themes are very hard-hitting and Marling and Batmanglij (Sound of my Voice) take you to some pretty dark places that ask pretty deep questions of morality. There’s never a dull moment in The East and I look forward to seeing what Brit and Zal work on next together.
8) Beautiful Creatures (Richard LaGravenese)
OK, now bear with me on this one. Although Beautiful Creatures is a B-level, silly young adult adaptation, it has elements that you cannot find pushed out by the machine that keeps developing those other wannabe Twilight films (The Host; The Mortal Instruments). Beautiful Creatures has energy, charisma, and fun characters that have depth to them with actors who seem interested in the story. And wouldn’t you know it, the romance between the leads (Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich) is actually believable sans terrible southern accents. Sadly the third act of the movie gets a bit zany and drags on. It was also the weakest YA adaptation of the year and will most likely not be coming back for a sequel.
7) Dark Skies (Scott Stewart)
Here’s an underappreciated horror thriller that received little press and was in and out of the minds of moviegoers faster than you could say “the truth is out there.” Sure the family (Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton) weren’t the most compelling part of the film, nor was the material anything original, but by golly did it know how to build great tension. Dark Skies had that old school vibe that worked well in creating that tingling sensation on the back of your neck. All of the scares and creepy elements built up on top of each other to a decent climax that puts many of the horror remakes out there to shame.
6) Olympus Has Fallen (Antoine Fuqua)
Despite the most silliest of concepts and how serious it took itself, Olympus Has Fallen is an incredibly action-packed movie assumed it would be. It is hard R at its finest. Gerard Butler returns to form after a bender of crappy rom-coms. The body count is high, the bullets were plentiful, and Butler kicked many asses. What was expected to be just an eye-rolling, run of the mill action thriller turned out to be a tolerable, popcorn flick. By all means is this far from a good movie, butif you can get past the shaky cam, dark cinematography, and little personality you’re set. THIS IS BETTER THAN WHITE HOUSE DOWN. You can also find this on Netflix right now.
5) The Call (Brad Anderson)
Speaking of a ludicrous premise for the silver screen, The Call is the most insane, so weird it’s good movies of the year. Here we’ve got Academy Award winner Halle Berry parked in an LA 9-1-1 call center for practically 80% of the film, talking to someone on the phone. It’s like Phonebooth meets Taken. Berry delivers one helluva entertaining performance to keep viewers captivated and adrenaline pumping. Sure you’ll be laughing at it most of the time with how serious it takes itself, but the script is well thought out with an ending too ridiculous not to find enjoyable.
4) The Croods (Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders)
Nicolage Cage, genius or loon? That’s a question we will never be able to answer. Who knew he was a reasonable voice over actor? (Did you honestly see Astro Boy, G-Force or The Ant Bully, I thought not.) What’s likable about The Croods is the world it builds its characters around. The family road trip dynamic is also very unique to the genre and of course wholesome for all to enjoy. The jokes become better with each iteration that inherently strengthens the movie. The animation is very colorful and well executed, and surprisingly there are no annoying little snowman creatures to suffer through.
3) The Wolverine (James Mangold)
Fans of the superhero genre have been getting a little fatigued outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, moviegoers caught a glimmer of hope this past summer with The Wolverine. This isn’t your ma and pa’s save the world from destruction superhero blockbuster, Wolvey actually has to solve a personal problem linked to his past. And the story isolated to a little area in Japan. This has got to be one of the most small stakes, big budget superhero films in a long time. It was a nice treat to see a superhero bring us to a more intimate part of their character rather than rally behind him to save the universe against a giant cloud or nameless alien creatures.
2) Europa Report (Sebastián Cordero)
With all of the bloated, alien invasion, high caliber science fiction epics out this day and age, Europa Report is a nice change of pace for true believers in science fiction. This small look at the intricacies of space exploration is an amazing departure from anything we’ve seen from the genre as of late. This stellar film asks the big questions about finding new life and reaching new worlds and isn’t afraid to take the road less traveled. One movie that comes to mind is The Abyss. I went in expecting nothing, so I hope you leave as surprised with how careful and fantastically executed Europa Report as I did.
1) Instructions Not Included (Eugenio Derbez)
So here’s a film that came out of nowhere. Instructions Not Included is an amazingly, heartwarming family comedy that hits you right in the feels. The fascinating part of it all is that it comes out of Mexico. Aside from the fact that it was surprisingly wonderful, a true delight to behold, it also made history as the most successful Spanish speaking film in the U.S. Grossing over $44 million domestically, it has made more money than The Call, Beautiful Creatures, Dark Skies, Europa Report, and The To Do List combined. The script and the dialogue is sharp and witty, the little lead girl, Loreto Peralta, is adorably sweet, and the direction by Eugenio Derbez, who also is the leading man and helped write the film, takes you on a lovely story with an ending you’ll never see coming. Truly one of the most touching movies of the year for the whole family to experience.
And there you have it. What movies surprised you in 2013? Tell us in the comments section below.
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