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The Best & Worst Trends Of 2013

Features
by Gabe Toro
January 3, 2014 2:33 PM
11 Comments
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YA Flops
Where were the people who consistently drove the dubious “Twilight” films to massive box office heights? Apparently at “The Hunger Games,” which seems to have surpassed Stephenie Meyer’s YA juggernaut in mainstream popularity. They certainly weren’t at “The Host,” which was based off another Meyer book, but didn’t generate anywhere near the same amount of enthusiasm. “Beautiful Creatures” and “The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones” also failed to crack that demographic in attempts to turn Alice Englert and Lily Collins into the next Kristen Stewart and putting the kibosh on intended franchises. Targeting the boys didn’t work much either for Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”: the expensive blockbuster opened big, but eventually faded from the public consciousness quick, failing to connect beyond a small niche audience.

Underperforming Tentpoles
There were 31 movies last year that crossed the $100 million domestic mark. Unfortunately, a lot of those films were so expensive that many didn’t turn a theatrical profit. 2013 didn’t seem like the doomsday scenario many had predicted until the summer hit. A tank like “After Earth” didn’t make a ripple when it landed, but soon the bombs were dropping left and right. The period between the end of June and all throughout July was a wasteland, with “White House Down” and “The Lone Ranger” as particularly high-profile failures. Underperformers like “Pacific Rim” and “Turbo” followed, while out-and-out disasters “R.I.P.D.” and “Red 2” opened on the same weekend. Matters began to improve at the end of June, but not before “The Wolverine” became the lowest-grossing domestic performer in the thirteen years of “X-Men” films (despite being the first 3D installment) and “The Smurfs 2” grossed about half as much stateside as its predecessor.

In The Future, Earth Is Fucked
The future is soon, and it sucks. The Oscars might go to Spike Jonze’s utopian world-building of “Her,” where a hyper-clean future sees us falling for our computer operating systems. But in blockbusters, Earth was either bombed out (“How I Live Now”), constantly under siege (“Pacific Rim”), under draconian rule ('Catching Fire'), borderline abandoned (“Elysium,” “Oblivion”) or totally abandoned (“After Earth”). And if you were rich and stuck around, guess what? Your security systems weren’t strong enough to protect you from “The Purge.”

This Is Based On A True Story, Except For What Actually Happened
“Some of this actually happened,” goes an opening title card at the start of “American Hustle,” an almost-totally fabricated account of the infamous ABSCAM scandal that forced law enforcement officers to collaborate with con men and women. It’s a nice way for that film to cover its own ass, which is more than can be said about a host of other “true life” movies this year. Disney played fast and loose with “Saving Mr. Banks,” which took great pains to whitewash the creative conflict between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers into a typical American opportunist vs. British snob story, changing massively colorful details about Travers’ life and her opinions of the film Disney commissioned based on her work. At least P.L. Travers was still a real person: “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” may have roots in some sort of true story, but lead character Cecil Gaines is entirely fictional. And the second time text appears onscreen during “Pain And Gain” to remind you, in jest, that this was “still” a true story, it was focusing on the actions of Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), a character invented solely for the movie. Spoiler alert: movies lie.

Sequels No One Wanted, Or Asked For
It sort of makes sense that Bruce Willis would kick the tires on a “Red 2,” it stands to reason that the Hasbro brand could milk some cash out of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and massive grosses suggest “Grown Ups 2” could maybe be Adam Sandler’s first sequel. But the original films in each of those “franchises” were time-wasting Redbox films at best, dreadful wastes of time at worst, and each one performed weaker domestically than their predecessors: 'Retaliation' at least pulled in solid international numbers, even if, aside from NINJA MOUNTAIN, you’d be hard-pressed to remember a single scene. Similar franchise stretching occurred with “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters,” a transparently cheap sequel that followed up on plot points only the diehard fans of the books could recall. Comic-Con sensations “Kick-Ass” and “Machete” were underwhelming box officer performers the first time, and whatever audience for those films absolutely cratered by the time “Kick-Ass 2” and “Machete Kills” reached the marketplace. The most perplexing sequel of the year, however, has to be “Riddick,” a completely inessential addition to the “Pitch Black” mythos years after the expensive “The Chronicles of Riddick” lost Universal tens of millions.

Filmmakers Hitting Kickstarter
It seemed like a joke: Warner Bros. pretty much said that, if you paid them, they would make a “Veronica Mars” movie. And just like that, through Kickstarter, they had a few million dollars and the fans had a greenlight. Such an absurd idea, and somehow it worked: years after the show’s cancellation, a “Veronica Mars” movie is slated for release in spring. Zach Braff followed, one of a few more established filmmakers who used the crowd-funding site with the promise of perks for contributors that less-seasoned names unfortunately couldn’t replicate. Spike Lee’s venture into that world was less successful, as he took weeks with a user-unfriendly request for his new film, but his number was met. The message was made loud and clear: people were willing to pony their cash to get smaller-budgeted films made. The other message was even clearer: studios are barely trying to make smaller movies, forcing filmmakers to risk ridicule and scorn just to get a micro-budgeted indie off the floor.

Docs That Played With The Format And Re-Wrote The Rules
Never before had the documentary form been so in-flux as 2013, where a number of unforgettable examples of the form tested the boundaries of what was acceptable. The filmmakers behind “Sweetgrass” furthered their ontological interest in exploring the intricacies of the mundanities of nature with the furious “Leviathan,” a film that felt philosophically inquisitive with barely a word spoken, on-screen or off. The beguiling film nerd treat “Room 237” also kept its subjects obscured, focusing instead on the spoken digressions of a number of cineastes as their object of obsession, “The Shining,” played over them. Sarah Polley segued from narrative filmmaking into the autobiographical “Stories We Tell,” a doc that toys with the idea of perception by cloaking a straightforward tale of mothers and daughters in a puzzle box of reveals and secrets. And few committed an act of brazen political bravery as Joshua Oppenheimer, who soldiered beyond enemy lines to make “The Act of Killing,” filmmaking without a net in dealing one-on-one with Indonesian gangsters, turning them into filmmakers and letting them become the mouthpieces for their own identities through art.


What other trends did you notice at the movies? Let us know in the comments section below.
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11 Comments

  • David | January 19, 2014 10:35 AMReply

    It seems that we are in a transition period for movie making. I believe there are a lot of flailing projects out there, that a kid could have directed better, but, at the same time, there is pure genius being born. Just last night, I watched the new Carrie. It's horrifically fun. The director's a woman. Genius. That's just one example. Gravity is another. How a movie not just about space, but about loneliness can grip you and leave you changed.
    Movies are growing into something else as we speak. No longer are they just stories, but experiences. More and more movies are growing in their power to pull us in to their world. And that's awesome as long as I get to come back.

  • Jonathan | January 9, 2014 2:25 PMReply

    It's also unclear to me how Our Man "won" in "All is Lost."

  • Chris | January 6, 2014 12:45 PMReply

    One sound: BRAAAAAAAM.

  • dylan | January 22, 2014 1:08 PM

    That was 2012.

    2013 was reasonably BRAAM free, other than the PACIFIC RIM trailer, late to the table and paid for it.

  • K | January 4, 2014 3:51 PMReply

    Blackfish

  • D. J. Fone | January 3, 2014 11:51 PMReply

    If there's one trend that has hopefully jumped the shark, it's the obligatory vomiting scene. OK, we get it; the character is so sick he has to ralph; but please....just suggest it. We don't need to see the chum spew. I wonder how many minimum-wage movie theatre clerks had to bring mops in after screenings of this nasty and totally unnecessary human quirk.

  • Dryer | January 3, 2014 3:20 PMReply

    Th worst trend which I'm surprised you overlooked is the infantizing of Hollywood with superhero movies. Or better yet the Disney/Marvel franchise syndrome which seems to plague the cineplexs with mindless sequels and integrating or rather shoehorning characters into movies so as to introduce them for upcoming unwanted juvenile bang bang pow b-movie serials. I'm waiting patiently for this experiment to fail and can only hope by the time this new generation of filmmakers growing up on Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon as the gold standard that I'll be deaf and blind or in a Chinese internment camp.

  • PRESIDENT MAO | January 3, 2014 3:06 PMReply

    Saving Mr. Banks is like a Mein Kampf-ish ad of Disneyland. This is not a biopic of P.L. Travers or Walt Disney: is a shovel full of sugar pushed into the collective throat of an unaware audience.

  • Joe | January 3, 2014 2:47 PMReply

    Wait, you thought Our Man WON his war against the waves in All is Lost? Jesus. You must be one of those literal-minded types.

    Also: should have GONE with the flow, not "should have went." Because English.

  • Joe | January 3, 2014 3:44 PM

    Perhaps I am. But I also A) understand visual language (re: the ending of "All is Lost"), and B) know basic grammar. I'm OK with that trade-off. I'm only an arrogant jerk when it comes to things that educated grown-ups should understand, but don't.

  • bah | January 3, 2014 2:51 PM

    Arrogant. Jerk.

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