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The Decade Decathlon: 2013

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The best year of the decade

Welcome back to the Decade Decathlon, where we're taking an extended look back at the past decade of filmmaking to see what worked, what didn't, and what stories we can learn from the past.

I'm sure that there are more tactful ways of going about this, but I'm going to make the bold claim that 2013 was the best year for movies for the 2010's. It may have not been the most profitable year for cinema, but in terms of sheer quality of titles you can't really beat the amount of critically acclaimed movies that popped up over the course of the year. 

It seemed like every month had a handful of releases that were universally praised from a variety of different genres. Animation fans had a lot to like, same as action fans, fantasy nuts, and even the oft put upon horror community. Several of the industries biggest directors had notable releases that still stand up today, while new up and coming directors released features that wowed audiences and made them pay attention. Filmmakers were more willing to experiment and be creative with their releases, pushing out concepts that would never had been viable in previous years or even today.

When I was creating the notable movies list at the end of the piece, I felt like I needed to cut a handful of titles because the list was going on for too long. There are that many good movies.

But were those movies important? It's one thing to have a year full of classic movies, but were they relevant in changing the face of Hollywood? Did they alter the landscape of film and transform it into something different? Remember, there's a difference between a great movie and a historically relevant one, so are these movies the trendsetters, or the product of trends and ideas already in development that finally achieved actualization?

Now let's get ready to go.

Most Decorated Movie: Gravity
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Total Awards: 14
Oscar's Best Picture Winner?: No

Behold, one of the best movies of the decade. Period. During this year, it was a neck and neck competition between Gravity and 12 Years A Slave for golden glory, but while 12 Years won multiple smaller awards, Gravity won the most awards that had significant weight behind them. Not to diminish the success of 12 Years A Slave, but Gravity's technical acumen was almost impossible for major awards circuits to overlook. On a more personal note that hits closer to home, Gravity was the first movie Flixist ever gave a perfect 10. Think about that. In the site's decade existence, there have only been three movies to ever get a perfect 10 out of 10, with Gravity being the first and arguably being the best.

Nearly every second of this movie feels powerful and grips the viewer like no other. Even when watching in the comfort of your living room in sub-optimal conditions, the scale and scope of Gravity is impossible to ignore. From the 13 minute single shot opening, to the beautiful sound design, imagery, and editing, I can't think of a movie that's as perfectly constructed as this. It's the textbook definition of a modern sci-fi masterpiece, but for as strong as the movie is with its revolutionary tech, there was one major takeaway I took from it when examining it in the scope of the 2010's. 

Sci-fi as a genre had an interesting time in the early 2010's, with sci-fi movies doing well enough, but not lighting the world on fire. It was the success of Gravity that not only firmly changed the direction of the genre, but changed the kind of sci-fi movies that audiences wanted to see. Gone were the days where high concept movies like Source Code scraped by on good word of mouth. Nowadays sci-fi features feel like they're trying to replicate the style and success of Gravity, which means being more realistic and authentic to real life. Sure, concepts could still be goofy and planted firmly in the high concept wheelhouse of 80's and 90's experiments, but they were all framed to be as close to real life as possible. The Martian, Arrival, Annihilation, Interstellar, and Blade Runner 2049 all, in some level, replicated the experience of watching Gravity. This serious, grounded depiction of science fiction became the new norm. Now, of course, there had been movies before Gravity that were scientifically accurate depictions of scientific concepts, but how many of those movies made over $700 million at the box office?

Outside of its fundamental change to modern sci-fi, the technical prowess was enough to justify the hype surrounding it. Taking over three years to complete due to the extensive special effects, they still command your attention when you watch it despite it being nearly six years since its initial release. There are only so many other ways to say this, but if you were to tell me that Gravity was the best movie of the decade, I would believe you. Most important might be a bit of a stretch, but definitely notable. 

Worst Movie: Movie 43
Director: Too many too name, but mostly Peter Farrelly.
Razzie Wins: 3
Were the Razzies Right?: Yes...?

Movie 43 is a strange beast. Regarded as one of the worst movies of all time, there are a plethora of rumors and myths surrounding the production of the movie. Being filmed over the course of many years, Movie 43 features over a dozen vignettes by some of the biggest stars of Hollywood at the time in a crass, unfunny, bizarre, and frankly inept comedy. Legends arose that some stars were forced into filming it, but most complied willingly. Granted, most were very unaware of what they were actually shooting and tried to wait it out hoping that the main director of the project, Peter Farrelly, would forget about their involvement. However, Farrelly was a patient man and waited on some actors for more than a year just to get them to film a sketch for it.

The result is so unreal that it's hard to believe that it actually exists. While you can easily understand how a movie like Jack & Jill could be made (give Adam Sandler a shit ton of money and call it a day), Movie 43 still feels like a weird fever dream. It doesn't work AT ALL and all of its sketches are tragically unfunny. For instance, a sketch where Chris Pratt is asked by his fiance and real life ex-wife Anna Faris to poop on her or a sketch featuring Hugh Jackman with chin balls. Sure, it's funny at first from sheer shock value, but that's all Movie 43 has; shock value as humor and nothing else.

Despite its now legendary status among the bad movie community, it's not the kind of bad that elicits fear in people. This was a movie that was mostly advertised on Pornhub and no, I'm not making this up. It was a January release that few people saw, but the legend of Movie 43 was more than the movie could ever be. People will actively avoid watching The Last Airbender, but there are people with morbid curiosity for Movie 43, so maybe with some booze and drugs you can have a good time, but having to dampen your own state of mind to possibly enjoy a movie isn't a ringing endorsement. 

Highest Grossing Movie: Frozen
Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Total Gross: $ 1,276,480,335

Ladies and gentleman, I present to you what may be one of the most important movies of the decade. Yes, I'm being completely serious.

While The Avengers proved the viability of the shared universe format that every major studio is trying to recreate, Frozen instead became such a monstrous hit that people to this day wince in fear of hearing a little girl sing "Let It Go." Yes, it's mega popular beyond belief, becoming a franchise in and of itself in the span of six years, but that's not why it's so important. This movie changed the trajectory and focus of Disney. DISNEY. 

For as successful as Disney was in the 2010's thanks to Marvel and their recent string of live-action remakes, the 2000's were not a good time for the company. Most of their non-Pixar releases did well enough, but were met with apathy from audiences at best and outright derision at worst. Don't you remember such classic movies like Meet the Robinsons or Home on the Range? During this time, it felt like Disney was trying their best to be Dreamworks and steer away from their kiddy demeanor, with Disney being seen by many as lame in comparison to Dreamworks' hip and cool animated movies. It wasn't until Tangled that Disney started to regain pop culture relevance, but it wasn't enough. For most fans, Disney movies felt uninspired and very "been there, done that."

Frozen, from a narrative standpoint, subverted a huge percentage of Disney's own tropes. Falling in love in a day, true love's first kiss, the central romance, the ultimate identity of the villain, as well as featuring minor LGBT characters and making the primary relationship between two sisters instead of a young couple were all examined to some capacity. This was Disney criticizing its own legacy, the library that it spent decades building up and carefully maintaining. It pointed out the flaws of nearly all of its Disney Renaissance films, a move that could have been a complete disaster in most scenarios, and yet it wasn't. Frozen felt fresh, it felt new, and upon rewatch is easily one of Disney's best. It reminded people that Disney didn't need to be cool in order to be good. Disney just needed to recapture that magic of childhood that Dreamworks could never capture in Shrek.

Nearly all of Disney's future animated movies, as well as their live-action remakes, have shades of Frozen in them to some capacity. Zootopia and Big Hero 6 use the villain misdirect, Maleficent had almost the exact same moral as Frozen, LGBT characters began to appear more prominently in Disney's films, and the remakes of Beauty & the Beast and Aladdin made alterations to theirs romances to circumvent the criticisms that Frozen brought up with them. 

Now for any other company, making a movie that has the production company reevaluate how its makes its future projects is one thing, but this is Disney. Disney is one of the largest media companies in the world. When Disney goes through a metamorphosis, people take notice. Disney is now all about subverting its own history, addressing the faults of their brand, and re-updating their image, all of which stemmed from Frozen. Tangled didn't bring out this change. Wreck-It Ralph didn't do it. Frozen did it on its own. 

Plus "Let It Go" is actually a pretty great song and totally deserves the praise it gets.

Biggest Bomb: The Lone Ranger
Director: Gore Verbinski
Budget: $215 million
Gross: $260 million

While not as much of a box office disaster as John Carter, The Lone Ranger is still one of the biggest bombs of the decade, if not of all time. The difference between the two movies is that while time has been kind to John Carter, with critics giving it a solid reevaluation, The Lone Ranger sucked in 2013 and it sucks now. While some bombs can be a complete mystery as to why they failed to create a spark, it doesn't take much effort to find out why The Lone Ranger failed as hard as it did. 

Like its brother the prior year, The Lone Ranger fell victim to Disney not understanding exactly what the public wanted and grossly mishandling its budget. While John Carter had an uphill battle to appeal to modern audiences as a pulpy sci-fi movie, The Lone Ranger was a reboot of the classic Western franchise of the same name that most younger audiences may not have been familiar with. It was probably too late for Disney to make any major changes to the production of The Lone Ranger after John Carter's failure, with Ranger's filming beginning in March of 2012, a few weeks before Carter's release, but there was no reason for Disney to shovel $150 million into marketing on top of the $215 million budget. None whatsoever. Audiences didn't want to see a big, action packed Western. Sure, Westerns once had a place in Hollywood, but outside of the odd Western here or there like True Grit or Django Unchained, ones that were more geared towards awards audiences, Westerns haven't been big box office draws for years. 

And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about Johnny Depp as Tonto, the Comanche freedom fighter that teamed up with Armie Hammer's Lone Ranger. This was marketed as Depp's movie and it was the worst move that Disney could have done. His casting was already suspect due to his questionable native American heritage, so putting his face front and center as the Native American hero Tonto almost certainly detracted people from seeing it. Despite his claims at the time, there was no proof that Depp was Native American and the movie's release was right at the tail end of his draw as a box office superstar. People were getting tired of Depp, so seeing him star as a strange character from an old Western franchise didn't appeal to people. 

Westerns don't have the same appeal as they once did. That fact seems like a foregone conclusion in hindsight, but Disney clearly wanted to try and make a new live-action franchise to rake in Pirates level of money. That clearly did not happen. Disney has been more interested in returning to its classic Disney Renaissance franchises for some guaranteed revenue from younger generations instead of appealing to older viewers from a genre that hasn't seen much mainstream success in decades. Again, the lesson to learn here is obvious, that reviving classic properties from nearly half a century ago and giving them over $400 million in production and marketing costs is a recipe for failure, but I guess Disney didn't see that at the time.

Most Underrated: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Director: Isao Takahata
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

So we've reached an interesting intersection for the Decade Decathlon. For the past three years, I've measured the Most Underrated category by finding out what Flixist viewed as the most overlooked movie of the year during its year-end awards. It was simple and easy to follow, but the problem for 2013 through 2017 is that Flixist didn't have a Most Underrated category for those years. So instead, I had to a weird combination of a movie's IMDB score, its Rotten Tomatoes score, Metacritic score, as well as examining their budgets and making sure that no movie took home any major award at the end of the year to determine what the Most Underrated winner would be. To make a long story short, you all forgot about The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and that mistake should be rectified. 

If Disney is all about mass producing as many releases as possible, Studio Ghibli is more content to release a handful of movies every decade and call it a day. Their releases are always universally well received, but unless you're a diehard Ghibli fan, their modern releases tend to be forgotten. For Princess Kaguya, I would argue that it's Ghibli's most beautiful and artistically fulfilling movies it's ever released that is unfortunately attached to a plot and story that doesn't quite nail its full potential. 

As a modern retelling of the classic Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, the movie moves at a near glacial pace to faithfully retell the story. There are a whole host of scenes where barely anything happens, with Kaguya herself being more of a catalyst for the other characters instead of being fully developed herself. She's not all that compelling as a main character, with most of the story revolving around how others interact with her rather than her trying to accomplish some sort of goal. Because of that lack of a clear endgame, events happen without much rhyme or reason. They're beautiful to watch, with the entire film animated in the style of classic Japanese charcoal paintings, but the style is only used to its full effect for one scene and one scene only. The rest of the movie, while visually striking, can come across as flat because of it. 

But why did people forget about this movie? Because Ghibli doesn't have the power it once had. With Hayao Miyazaki announcing his retirement upon the completion of his prior film, The Wind Rises, most eyes were away from Ghibli. Their library was fundamental in the development of otaku in the states and thanks to Disney helping dub most of their movies and several of them gaining theatrical releases and showings on anime blocks like Toonami, Ghibli became more well known for its catalogue of titles rather than what they were currently making. As sad as it is to say, people only cared about Miyazaki and his projects, with most other projects helmed by other directors like Isao Takahata getting overlooked or snubbed because of it. Princess Kaguya is still a Ghibli movie, but it's not a Miyazaki movie, and a claim like that matters to some. 

If you get the chance to track it down, it's still a good watch, but doesn't rank as one of Ghibli's best. Ghibli's star has waned in recent years thanks to the rise of 3D animation and Ghibli's overall lack of new releases, but if Miyazaki's NEW final film, How Do You Live?, actually releases next year in time for the 2020 Olympics, maybe Ghibli can get one final, well deserved hoorah in the film industry.

Favorite Movie: Spring Breakers
Director: Harmony Korine
Why?: Criticism of Millennials and the state of pop culture

Look, I wrote all about Spring Breakers a few months ago in a Deep Analysis that went on for several pages and an ungodly amount of words. I love the movie, it's brilliant, it's totally not for everyone, but it's the kind of provocative filmmaking that we don't get a whole lot of anymore. Go read my thoughts, give the movie a watch, because I think it's fundamental to understanding exactly what kind of year 2013 was not only in cinema, but for pop culture as a whole. 

Was 2013 a good year for movies?

In terms of sheer quantity, you'd be hard pressed to find a year that was filled with as many good releases. So many great movies came out that still hold up today that it's kind of ridiculous. As for whether or not these movies are historically significant is an entirely different story. While most of the movies discussed here did offer some perspective on understanding the major trends of the decade, with the exception of Frozen and maybe Gravity, 2013 isn't the best year to accomplish that. 

2012 had landmark moments. There are definite moments in 2012 that historians like myself would look back on and identify them as being game changers. Most of the movies discussed here in 2013 weren't exactly game changers, but rather just good movies. And that's perfectly fine. There's nothing wrong with being just a good movie because the world needs plenty of those. We need good movies, and at least I can say that 2013 gave us a selection of movies that feel so at odds with the rest of the decade. Seriously, what other year would give us a romance between a man and a computer program, giant robots fighting giant monsters with a budget most directors would dream of, a three hour romance starring two lesbians, and a good Michael Bay movie? 2013, that's what. The largest spread of high quality movies, though without as much of an impact as I thought they would have had. 

Unfortunately, we can't be sunshine and rainbows all the time. No matter how good a year may be, there are bound to be years that are just a slog to get through where no joy can exist, only pain and suffering. So please join me next time as we look at one of the worst years of the decade, if not the overall worst year, 2014. 

Movies from 2013 you should still see: Bullet to the Head, Warm Bodies, Evil Dead, Pain & Gain, Only God Forgives, Much Ado About Nothing, Pacific Rim, The Conjuring, The World's End, Captain Phillips, Machete Kills, 12 Years a Slave, Blue is the Warmest Color, The Counselor, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her.

Past Years Completed: 

2010
2011
2012

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    Filed under... #Alfonso Cuar´┐Żn #Animation #Disney #Feature #Flixist Originals #Frozen #Hayao Miyazaki #Johnny depp #Sci-fi #Studio Ghibli #The Decade Decathlon #Top Stories

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