2013 brought a plethora of quality films to the home video market in a variety of genres. Normally, this would have been a “top ten” article, but I had such a hard time choosing on ten good films, I expanded it to encompass what I think were the top 25 films on DVD and Blu-ray for the year. There many more I could have added, and the list does not include foreign offerings, television shows, or documentaries. In descending order, the top 25 are:
25. The Seasoning House was one of the most painful movies of 2013 to watch. An unusual offering from Well Go USA, it is in turns enthralling, horrifying, and depressing. An orphaned deaf mute, Angel (newcomer Rosie Day) is essentially pressed into indentured servitude in a house of horrors where young girls are prostituted to members of the Balkan military. She moves within the walls and crawlspaces cleaning up after customers, tending to the girls’ physical wounds with bandages and their psychic wounds with drugs, all the while observing the violence meted out within. When her only friend is raped to death by the same soldiers who killed her mother in front of her, she plots her bloody revenge.
24. Director Michael Bay brings us another large scale action-comedy in Pain and Gain. Based upon a true story set in 1990’s Miami, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, and Anthony Mackie star as a group of personal trainers who get caught up in the excess of the era and pursuit of financial success when they kidnap a rich local businessman (Tony Shalhoub). The businessman hires a PI to find them and recover his money causing their ill-thought-out plan to unravel with morbidly hilarious results.
23. Now You See Me pulls a bit of cinematic sleight of hand in convincing you it is larger and more far reaching than it really is. Even so, it was an entertaining romp through the world of magic and revenge as four magicians are united as a sort of touring dream team. As they travel across the country, they pull off a series of heists culminating in the ultimate caper: revenge against someone from the past. Slick and beautifully presented, the film will delight the entire family.
22. The Lone Ranger may have been panned by some critics, but they missed the beauty of its simple story of good and independence. Sure, it was an unfocused mashup of action sequences, strange wanderings, and missed love connections, but it was fun, action packed, and had some gorgeous special effects with something to please all ages.
21. Only God Forgives is a hazy trip through the drug addled Bangkok underground with Julian (Ryan Gosling) a smuggler pressed by his mother to find his brother’s killer. Director Nicholas Winding Refn teases out excellent performances from Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vihaya Pansringarm, and Gordon Brown.
20. Action veterans Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg find themselves as unlikely allies in 2 Guns. A DEA Agent and a Naval Intelligence officer, they are forced to rely upon one another for survival when an attempt to infiltrate a drug cartel goes bad. They learn the nature of their connection: both are undercover. They must band together to get out alive and find whomever is responsible for setting them up.
19. In the vein of Bonnie and Clyde and Natural Born Killers, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints depicts a pair of doomed soulmate lovers on a crime spree. Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) end up cornered in a cabin in the Texas hills pursued by the law. When Ruth shoots a police officer, Bob takes the rap to save his love and gets a 25 year prison sentence. Years later he learns Ruth gave birth to their love child prompting him to make a daring prison break determined to reunite with his daughter and true love.
18. Iron Man 3 was everything a summer blockbuster should be: it was loud, action packed, funny, and full of special effects. Robert Downey, Jr.’s third turn as the superhero Tony Starke finds him anxious and unable to sleep after his last efforts at saving the world. A new threat attempts to destroy Tony and those he loves the most, forcing him to overcome his challenges. This film brought smiles to the faces of audiences with its jaw dropping effects which are expertly displayed in 1080P.
17. Steven Soderbergh claims Side Effects is his last theatrical film. If so, he is going out on a high note with this taut, expertly filmed drama. The atmosphere in this seductive work calls to mind such classics as Fatal Attraction, yet Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum bring a fresh twist to their characters while Soderbergh has the time of his life misdirecting the audience in this stylish Hitchcockian thriller.
16. The Place Beyond the Pines presents the dilemma of choice in this gripping drama. Luke (Ryan Gosling) struggles to provide for his new family and decides to participate in a string of bank robberies. His path collides with rookie do-gooder cop Avery (Bradley Cooper) trying to make his way in a corrupt local police department. The link between fathers and sons and a man’s role in his marriage and home is an overriding theme throughout this intense thrill ride which also stars Ray Liotta and Eva Mendes.
15. Shane Carruth’s follow up to 2005’s Primer (are you sensing a paint theme here?) is an opaque and sometimes-surreal story about a woman and a man and their strange primal connection. A woman Amy Seimetz) is kidnapped and hypnotized by the essence from a rare flower. She falls for a man (Shane Carruth) and realizes he may have been subjected to the same experimentation, thus deepening their bond. They struggle to find mooring in their fragmented lives in this piece of speculative cinema.
14. In The Kings of Summer, the three teenage protagonists take to the woods to build their own shelter and live off the land in the ultimate rebellion. What follows is not just your ordinary coming-of-age tale as they strengthen their friendship and self-confidence and emerge closer to manhood.
13. Sometimes successful science fiction novels do not translate well on the big screen. Ender’s Game had no such problem with its story of a young prodigy groomed to lead the battle in the salvation of Earth from evil alien invaders. Asa Butterfield gives a solid performance as Ender. The film also stars Harrison Ford as Colonel Hyrum Graff and Ben Kingsley as the legendary leader Mazer Rackham.
12. Divorce can be a messy affair, even when parents try to be discreet about their differences and minimize the impact on their children. What Maisie Knew tells the story of her parents’ desperate breakup from the point of view of a six-year-old. A contemporary retelling of a Henry James novel, Maisie’s mature-beyond-her-years dignity in the face of her parents’ manipulations and the disintegration of her family brings tears to the eye.
11. The release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey undoubtedly made The Lord of the Rings fans’ year. A lush, beautiful and intricately filmed work, the journey follows Bilbo Baggins on an epic quest to reclaim Erebor with Gandalf the Grey, Thorin Oakenshield, and 13 dwarves. Packed with extras, prepare to settle in and be transported to the wonderous world of Middle Earth.
10. Based on the Richard Stark novel Flashfire, Parker is transformed into a high octane action vehicle by new action top dog Jason Statham. Double crossed and left for dead after an ill-executed heist, Parker (Statham) recovers in hiding and plots to regain the money he was cheated. His quest brings him to beautiful Palm Beach, Florida where he crosses paths with the unfocused but comely real estate agent played with surprisingly deft humor by Jennifer Lopez.
9. A normal Thanksgiving in Anywhere, America is shattered when two little girls go missing in Prisoners. Their distraught families take matters into their own hands when a cop (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrests the only suspect, a slow witted man in a cargo van. Frustrated with the slow pace of the investigation, their fathers (Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard) develop a vigilante streak and will stop at nothing to recover their girls from whomever has stolen them and their innocence.
8. Mads Mikkelson continues his streak of excellent performances as a lonely teacher in a bitter custody battle in The Hunt. He slowly pieces his life together finding fledgling love and repairing his relationship with his only son only to have it cruelly snatched away by false accusations of molestation.
7. Matthew McConaughey proves his comeback with Magic Mike was no fluke in his stirring performance as a fugitive on the run who befriends two young boys. They form a pact to help him hide from bounty hunters and find his lost love in Mud.
6. In Red 2, retired CIA operative Frank Moses reunites with old colleagues to thwart yet another world threat in this satisfying action sequel to Red. Starring John Malkovich, Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, and Anthony Hopkins, Red 2 delivers in explosions, bullets, and belly laughs.
5. Despicable Me’s Gru returns in this sequel as a recruit for the Anti-Villain League to combat a new supercriminal threatening world harmony. Those lovable minions about throughout and Despicable Me 2 is every bit as cute and entertaining as the first one.
4. Jackie Robinson’s story of triumph receives a fresh telling in Brian Helgeland’s 42.The story follows his humble beginnings all the way to his history-making signing to the Brooklyn Dodgers and stars Chadwick Boseman, T.R. Knight, Harrison Ford, and Nicole Beharie.
3. In the utopia Elysium everything is perfect and trouble free—except when it isn’t. Matt Damon stars as a worker irradiated in an industrial accident and given only days to live. His only hope lies in making his way to the heavily guarded space station Elysium, home to the wealthy elite, which hovers above the ruined Earth left to the poor, criminal, and forgotten masses. Elysium is fiercely protected by Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) who will stop at nothing to prevent social contamination of their paradise.
2. Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert DeNiro all give standout performances in Silver Linings Playbook, a quirky romantic comedy from David O. Russell. Cooper plays Pat, recently released from a mental institution into the custody of his parents (DeNiro and Jacki Weaver). His retired parents have their hands full tip toeing around his feelings and dealing with his bouts of mania and obsession with his ex-wife. All that is upended when Pat meets Tiffany (Lawrence) a depressive borderline widow with nymphomaniac tendencies and they embark on their own version of crazy love.
1. Daniel Craig suits up for his third turn as suave British intelligence agent James Bond in Skyfall and delivers deliciously on everything from charisma, to action, to cheeky humor. In this installment, an aging Bond literally comes back from the dead to track down a rogue agent (Javier Bardem) bent on destroying the agency at its core. He targets M (Dame Judi Dench) and goes head to head with Bond in a test of the most talented and dysfunctional favored son. Skyfall takes us back to Bond’s origins and explains a bit of what makes him tick like the tightly wound luxury timepiece he is. It serves up not one but two beautiful Bond Girls (Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe) and loads of explosions with sumptuous cinematography, direction by Sam Mendes, and a fine cast including Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, and Ben Whishaw. It all culminated in a tight work that stands atop a heap of fine 007 offerings and was a fitting celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Bond franchise.
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