Bee critic Rick Bentley reveals best, worst films of 2013

FresnoDecember 28, 2013 

This publicity image released by A24 Films shows Emma Watson in a scene from one of Rick Bentley's least favorite movies of the previous year, "The Bling Ring."


Some years, putting together my list of the 10 best and worst films of the year is difficult. Not this time.

It was a great year with movies that challenged our emotional souls, forced us to take a grand look at the world and even find humor in a world-ending event.

Depending how you look at it, it was an equally good year for bad movies. True stinkers.

Odds are high this list will cause some arguments. That's proof this was a year with so many choices that there's plenty of room for disagreement.

Here are my picks.



1. "12 Years a Slave": If the sign of a great movie is that it stays with you long after the closing credits, then no film had more of a lasting impact than this one from director Steve McQueen.

The film, based on the true life story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the New York state citizen — a free man — who was kidnapped and made to work on a plantation in New Orleans in the 1800s, is a powerful look at the human and inhuman condition. There are moments of such hatred and torture it's difficult to watch. But that's the main reason this movie should be seen.

2. "American Hustle": Director David O. Russell has taken the emotional rawness that was the center of his Oscar-nominated "Silver Linings Playbook" and added layers of intrigue. The forms of seduction and corruption, painted against the excessiveness that was the late '70s, create a production that's even more Oscar-worthy than "Playbook."

Amy Adams turns in the strongest work of her career in this tale of the '70s Abscam investigation. And, Christian Bale physically transforms himself to become the low-level con man at the heart of the story. But, in a film filled with incredible performances, Jennifer Lawrence continues to prove that she's one of the finest actors of this or any other generation.

3. "Gravity": From the beautiful opening shot to the final emotional seconds, "Gravity" exemplifies the majesty of movie making.

Director Alfonso Cuarón's tale of two astronauts separated from their shuttle doesn't just paint a dazzling and compelling portrait of an emotionally stunted medical engineer (Sandra Bullock) and a roguish astronaut (George Clooney), it also transports us to that cold vacuum as an ad hoc participant.

The first 20 minutes of the movie — presented without a single edit — is a masterpiece of filmmaking.

4. "The Way Way Back": In their Oscar-winning script for "The Descendants," Nat Faxon and Jim Rash had remarkable skill for showing the fear and confusion adults face when they reach a major crossroads in their lives. With "The Way Way Back," they use the same sparkling writing style to show the emotions young people deal with during their own life-changing moments.

This is one of the few coming-of-age movies that feels more like a look at a real teen than Hollywood's vision of how a real teen should act.

5. "Before Midnight": A beautiful reminder that a movie with nothing more than two people talking can have just as many explosions and fireworks as any high-tech blockbuster. And, big relationship moments can be even more entertaining than a car crash or planet's demise because they resonate with anyone who has ever felt the joy and the pain of being in love.

Not since the brilliant work of John Cassavetes in the 1970s has a movie found so much power in the simple things people say to each other.

6. "42": There's a natural beauty and romanticism about baseball that transitions to the silver screen as perfectly as a well-turned double play. If you add in a powerful story that resonates through history as sharply as the crack of the bat on a warm spring day, then what you have is "42," the story of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier.

Sports movies are inherently powerful because we invest so much in our favorite teams. Director Brian Helgeland could have walked his way safely through the movie on that strength alone. But he's put together a first-rate lineup of actors who do great justice to this already amazing story.

7. "Captain Phillips": You know a movie is superb when it can build tension about a news event so heavily covered the ending's no mystery.

It starts with Tom Hanks, who adds another Oscar-caliber performance to his already stellar résumé. This is the latest performance that has Hanks playing an average man forced into extraordinary circumstances. Hanks keeps the role grounded, and that's why it is so easy to relate to the performance.

Director Paul Greengrass displays the same skill that he brought to "United 93" for building tension despite the outcome being a matter of public record.

8: "Nebraska": Alexander Payne has crafted a story that finds emotion and power in the story of a man trying to create the proper legacy, while also showing an equally impassioned and harsh look at the loss of the American Dream. Both topics are examined through a fool's mission by a man (Bruce Dern) who believes he's about to be a millionaire.

Payne strips all excesses away — even the color from the movie — to make sure there are no distractions from the story and performances.

9. "Frozen": It's been a good year for animation, but it's this movie that tops them all. The production, based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," has the successful Disney combination of a solid story, strong animation, breakout character and memorable music. That's the blend that has worked for decades and continues to work here.

Toss in voices by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell and a story about ice has never been hotter.

10. "This Is the End": No other movie was as funny as this twisted look at a handful of Hollywood celebs trying to survive the end of the world.

The film makes an unapologetic assault on everything from religious beliefs to sexuality with humor that's pitch black in tone. It even takes gross-out material far beyond conventional social limits. That's what makes it so good.



1. "Bling Ring": This is the 2008 story of how teens living in and around Calabasas broke into the homes of celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Lindsay Lohan and Megan Fox to go "shopping." Their targets were high-end fashion, jewelry, money and any other bling they could find. The teens spent nearly a year on their crime spree before their bragging resulted in arrests and convictions.

If only their crime had been to steal all of the copies of this disaster of a movie. "The Bling Ring" sets a new standard for film failure.

2. "The Hangover Part III": Think of it as the gonorrhea of filmmaking — something you should avoid at all costs because it causes nothing but lingering pain and misery.

The name might suggest low-level hijinks, but it never delivers. If there was ever a movie made just to bleed a few dollars more out of loyal fans of the series, it's this badly written, painfully paced flotsam and jetsam of the film world.

3. "Identity Thief": Everyone involved with this festering sore of a film should immediately change identities and go into the Cinema Protection Program. On second thought, it wouldn't help. A stink this bad never goes away.

Melissa McCarthy continues to make huge mistakes with her film selections. She's shown through her work on the TV shows "Mike & Molly" and "The Gilmore Girls" that she has great skill when it comes to comedy. But the films she picks always have her playing a female version of Jack Black where the comedy is always over-the-top, annoying and painful to watch.

4. "Last Stand": Arnold Schwarzenegger has said in films, "I'll be back." If this is the result of his return, he should go away again.

The tale of a sheriff facing off against the leader of a drug cartel is loaded with stereotypes and poorly staged action scenes. And the dialogue is laughable when it's supposed to be serious and bland when it's supposed to be funny. There are so many problems with the movie that even a month-long filibuster couldn't hit them all.

5. "The To Do List": Brandy, the nerdish character who wants to lose her virginity, is unlikable, annoying, grating and so unpleasant, there's no reason to care whether she will or won't.

Director/writer Maggie Carey embraces neither the comedic nor emotional transformation of the character. The script wanders from comedy scenes, such as when Brandy bites a disgusting pool floater, to being so emotionally deep that one character tells Brandy, "I hope you get AIDS." In what world is that funny?

6. "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa": Johnny Knoxville disguises himself as a senior citizen to pull pranks. He had better have kept the disguise to get away from those who paid good money to see this mess.

"Bad" is really not the right adjective to describe the film. Words such as "uninspired," "juvenile," "stupid," "slow," "a waste of time" and "lame" are better ways to express the total failure of this latest offering from the twisted mind of Knoxville. It doesn't fail because of the low-brow humor, it's the horrendous filmmaking.

7. "R.I.P.D.": It's D.O.A.

Director Robert Schwentke obviously knew he had little to work with in the script by the numerous writers who tried to adapt the Dark Horse comedy. He loads the movie with odd camera tricks, such as shooting scenes from weird angles and having the camera make odd treks to finally get to the scene.

A cap on the lens would have been a better option.

8. "Grown-Ups 2": The regurgitation of old jokes, sight gags and bathroom humor from Adam Sandler looks like it was put together from suggestion box ideas supplied by third-graders high on Yoo-hoo.

What little structure there is to this sequel to the 2010 offering only serves to loosely tie together bad material about a group of buddies who spend the day together and top off the evening with a party. Sandler's partners in comedy crime include David Spade, Chris Rock and Kevin James.

9. "Homefront": The script was written by Sylvester Stallone, but it comes across like it was penned by Rocky Balboa after too many rounds with Clubber Lang. It's a punch-drunk story that wobbles between a family film and an over-the-top action movie that fails to utilize the best parts of either.

The film gets the award for the worst plot contrivance in any film of 2013.

10. "Pain & Gain": The movie earned the pain part of its name.

Mark Wahlberg is hit and miss when it comes to comedy. He wasn't bad in "Ted," but the teddy bear did all the work. And when Dwayne Johnson tries to be funny — think "The Tooth Fairy" — it's unforgettable, no matter how hard you try. Because their comedy skills are so thin, the film is saddled with moments that just seem mean.



The Fresno Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service