Best films of 2013: Jake's personal picks

The Spectrum

Were you expecting someone else?

For those unaware, I wrote movie reviews for The Spectrum for two years. Every December, I compile a list of the best films I saw within the year. I graduated last spring, but my passion for reviewing films is far from expiring.

By tradition, I will sort the films by genre instead of making a Top 10 list, as that would be premature before the year has ended.

Best action film:Pacific Rim

Olympus Has Fallen and The Lone Ranger tied for a close second, but Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim set the bar for 2013. Del Toro (Hellboy II: The Golden Army), a master of including full-scale visuals in films like the Hellboy series and Pan's Labyrinth, has raised the stakes in modern special effects. Set about a decade in the future, Earth is ambushed by the Kaijus - colossal, reptilian beasts that enter our world through portals (cousins of the creature from Cloverfield, perhaps). Humans retaliate by constructing robots that make the fighting bots from Real Steel look like Happy Meal toys. Del Toro goes the extra mile by developing a backstory to the war, providing context to the riveting action scenes with the Kaijus slashing and the bots bashing.

Best animated film: Monsters University

Pixar is back on track after last year's underwhelming Brave, which won a pity Oscar for Best Animated Feature over clearly superior movies Wreck-It Ralph and Frankenweenie. Monsters University revisits monsters James Sullivan (John Goodman, The Internship) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal, Parental Guidance) years before they broke the all-time scare record at Monsters, Incorporated. While Monsters, Inc. was more sentimental, this sequel is funnier, probably because Crystal's character takes the lead this time. Hopefully the Academy doesn't hesitate to award Pixar this year over the overhyped Frozen, but my initial predictions tell me I won't get my way.

Best comedy: This is the End

A comedy that can coax Emma Watson to cuss and threaten people with an axe has something special going for it.Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have outdone themselves. The duo, who wrote first-rate comedies like Superbad and Pineapple Express,have finally made its directorial debut with This is the End, an expansion of the short film Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse. This obnoxious comedy follows Rogen (The Guilt Trip) and Jay Baruchel (Cosmopolis), essentially playing themselves, attending a party at James Franco's (As I Lay Dying) house. Rogen and Goldberg's screenplay allows the actors to parody themselves and their relationship with the industry, like Franco recalling his unfortunate involvement in Your Highness. The jokes are vulgar and cruel, but honest to how these actors think about themselves. I don't doubt these guys would act this way during Judgment Day, although maybe the cannibalism was a bit much.

Best Horror Film: The Conjuring

The Conjuring is the only shoe-in victor in this year's list, as the quality of the horror genre seemingly plummets each year. It's always about possession this, and exorcism that, and don't get me started on the aggravating "Found Footage" nonsense. And while The Conjuring contains possessions and exorcisms, it takes delicate care of each scene with such precision, all aimed to haunt and linger over the minds of the audience. Director James Wan, of Insidious and Saw fame, pays homage to his unconditional attachment to the horror genre by making each scene as unsettling as the next. He focuses more on building suspense and limits the jumpy 'Gotcha!' moments that clunkers like Paranormal Activity 4 have used.

Best sci-fi film: Gravity

Gravity is a rare film that values the experience of sitting in a theater. It might be a lesser film if viewed on a smaller screen. Alfonso Cuar??n, whose last feature film Children of Men was one of the best films of 2006, has crafted a space thriller comparable to Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. A crew of scientists is abandoned somewhere in Earth's orbit when satellite debris crashes into their space shuttle. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, The Heat) and Cpt. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, The Descendants) survive the initial incident and are left adrift. Cuar??n's analogy for the insignificance of life compared to the vast power of the universe is remindful of Terrence Mallick's great The Tree of Life. Director of cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki, who also photographed The Tree of Life, should be a shoe-in for his sixth Oscar nomination and first win come March. And if the Academy recognizes Bullock for her transforming work, it will be a sign that it has changed for the better.

Best superhero movie: Iron Man 3

Man of Steel absolutely face planted this summer, retelling the tale of the herculean alien as if it took place within Michael Bay's Transformers universe. Iron Man 3 ranks in the first class of superhero epics, along with the first Iron Man entry, Spiderman 2, The Dark Knight, Watchmen and the first two Superman films with Christopher Reeves. Robert Downey Jr. (The Avengers), much like Woody Harrelson, brings that quirky motor-mouth quality to him that glues your focus to the screen. He'll try anything for a laugh while managing to remain in character and sustain credibility to the role. This time, Tony Stark faces off against Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce, Breathe In), who must be the evil doppelganger of The Human Torch. Killian is a great villain, driven by his lust for scientific innovation, like Doc Ock in Spiderman 2. Stark has post-traumatic stress from the events of The Avengers, and Downey Jr. portrays a darker, more conflicted man this time around, which may include him in the Oscar conversations.

Worst film of 2013: Movie 43

For some time to come, when discussions are had about the terrible movies, those who partake in said discussions need to make a pet name for this film, like It-That-Must-Not-Be-Seen. From now on, when we talk about bad movies, we must stand in awe of the new species of atrocity discovered in Movie 43. This movie made me nostalgic for Lay the Favorite, the worst film of 2012. No remorse will be shown for those involved in this project. They should have been aware of the disaster to come when the script was released. Anyone who signed his or her name to make this movie is mentally adrift. My emotions flat lined when I saw the skit of Apple executives trying to market the iBabe - a naked woman in a box. Then came the story of parents who verbally and physically abuse their mentally handicapped son. Finally, when we think the storm has subsided and the credits begin, the last and worst skit involves an ugly animated cat barfing and dropping feces all over the place. If you ever see Movie 43, you can never read an issue of The Spectrum again.

Best film of 2013: The Place Beyond the Pines

I may change my mind after December when more films are released, but so far nothing has acted upon me more than Derek Cianfrance's elegant The Place Beyond the Pines. Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) interconnects three stories that linger on through the years. He understands and replicates how we live our lives. Life is an intangible variety that involves destruction, rebirth, tragedy, regret, revenge, blissfulness and acceptance, and everything comes full circle when that final shot of a motorcyclist riding through the hills mirrors the opening sequence at the carnival. We are told that life is what we make it out to be, and while we do affect certain aspects by certain decisions, there is a universal balance that keeps the gears cranking. Our choices alter the lanes for the fates of ourselves and people of future generations.

You'll notice I didn't reveal much of the story here. This film is special, and providing too much will lessen the quality of watching it. The Place Beyond the Pines is one of the best films of the decade so far.