Best Films of 2013

The year in film included many Disney missteps plus a spot-on skewering
of the Happiest Place on Earth
NOT HAVING A BALL: A trip to the Happiest Place on Earth turns surreal and paranoid for a family man under pressure in 'Escape From Tomorrow.'

A bad year for The Mouse. Watch Disney try to burnish its image with the lie-filled Saving Mr. Banks—where they imagineered the story of a starchy Brit (Emma Thompson) learning to lay back and enjoy market penetration, almost literally so, as when Thompson's P. L. Travers—world traveler, disciple of Gurdjieff, journalist—ends up trysting with a giant stuffed Mickey Mouse.

Cut to The Lone Ranger—a Disney franchise that no one knew how to launch. Who was that movie for? For kids? For psychotic kids? For cineastes with fond memories of Dead Man? The studio's artistic content showed self-doubt, as in Frozen. What the hell is this movie about, asks the person looking at the posters? Is it another Ice Age movie?

And then there was 2013's Revolt of the Disney girls. The critical love for Spring Breakers is due in some respects to Palo Alto's own James Franco's grilled, cornrowed pimp. Defenders of this movie (I'm not really one) decided that the transgressive qualities of this MTVish thang were proved by defecting Disneyites Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, going down and dirty. And Spring Breakers came out even before the former Hannah Montana decided to twitch her undernourished hams at that awards show.

I preferred Randy Moore's all-out attack on Sleeping Beauty's castle. Escape from Tomorrow even has a counter on its website tabulating the number of hours the film has been available via VOD, ticking off the time until the filmmakers are sued by The Mouse. It's the greatest cultural swipe since Todd Haynes went after Karen Carpenter in Superstar. Moore adds to the encouraging black and white revival of '13: Frances Ha, Much Ado About Nothing, Nebraska and the nighted, charcoal and snow-tinted colors of Inside Llewyn Davis, which one remembers in black and white as if one had been the cat watching it. While proving the viability of monochrome, Moore also snatched his movie out of the most heavily monitored places on earth. You'd rather steal chump change from Smaug.

Even when I was a kid, we called Disneyland "The Magic Dictatorship"—they knew how to keep an eye on the revelers back then, and I imagine their eyesight and hearing has only improved over the years. Moore's composite Kingdom (of Florida's Disneyworld and California's Disneyland) demonstrated effrontery that matched the stunt. The budget may have been small, but it was a million-dollar idea to bring David Cronenberg to the Happiest Place on Earth.

I laughed like a hyena at one bit: that film-noir sucker, the horny middle-aged dad (Roy Abramsohn), needed to be lured by a pair of ooh-la-la Disney princesses. It would have been one French girl in the old days: that's inflation for you. Lucky coincidence that the two temptresses leading the sap into a labyrinth of hallucinations—"It's a small, small world for you to DIE in"—were part of my own 2013 personal l. of h.; my favorite movie of the year was Blue Is the Warmest Color with its two mesmerizing leads, but I also loved the two unfortunate women facing religious mania (or is it religious solace?) in the Romanian tragedy Beyond the Hills. Or the troubled class-riven women's friendship in Frances Ha, or brave Beatrice sticking up for her kinswoman Hero in Joss Whedon's typically feminist take on Shakespeare.

It's the reason why the Bechdel Rule means so much as I get older, and why male buddy films mean less to me. I like seeing a woman shoot an arrow into an oppressor as much as the next man. On the whole, the fight and flight of the action hero is not the default mode in drama with women. Again, on the whole, women, like slaves (12 Years) or old men (Nebraska), have to get crafty, to learn to endure and escape.

IN NO ORDER, the top ten of 2013:

Captain Phillips


Beyond the Hills

Blue Is the Warmest Color


The Grandmaster

Much Ado About Nothing


12 Years a Slave

Escape from Tomorrow

Runners up: Short Term 12, 20 Feet from Stardom, Inside Llewyn Davis, Frances Ha.

The worst of the worst:

The Lone Ranger

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