2013 is long gone, but it’s not too late to check out some of the films that did not get the credit they deserve and certainly earned a spot alongside the year’s greats.
Nearly everyone at this point knows Elijah Wood for his iconic role as Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Since then he’s mostly been playing the lovable indie guy and not much more. If you’ve seen a lot of his films, you may have noticed that he has creepy character undertones that are rarely pursued due to the nature of the films. What many don’t know is that Wood is a huge fan of horror films. He has produced many, but last year marked his first time starring in one.
Maniac is a remake of the 1980 film by the same name. It stars Wood as Frank Zito, a deranged psychopath who sells mannequins. To make ends meet when he was a child, his mom would moonlight as a prostitute and would often bring customers home.
For Zito, his mother’s guests created in him an inability to have any sort of meaningful relationship. This trauma comes to a point where all of his sexual impulses bring on violent urges that he thinks of as his mothers will.
From here the film goes all the way down the rabbit hole, having Zito stalk, murder and then scalp a woman. Wood’s performance as Zito is mesmerizing as you watch his psyche crumble. While hard to watch, the performance from Wood and the chaos of his situation is more than enough to keep your eyes open — making Maniac one of the best horror films of 2013.
Drive was the surprise hit of 2011, cementing Ryan Gosling’s name as an iconic actor and putting director Nicolas Winding Refn out in the open. When it was announced that both Gosling and Refn were returning to make a spiritual sequel of sorts to the film, Only God Forgives, people were beyond excited for another deliberately paced and exciting thriller.
When the film hit theatres it received little financial success and poor critical reception, leaving little in the way of word of mouth and putting it in the shadow of its predecessor.
While it was generally said that the film was all style and no substance, what Refn did with Drive and to even greater degree with Only God Forgives is subvert expectations and turn the style into the substance. Every shot is delicately crafted and feels like a fragile work of art, with each character and object holding some hidden meaning. The film moves at a manic pace, going from quiet and slow to sudden explosions of gruesome violence.
Following Gosling as Julian, an american running a large and respected drug front in Bangkok, Thailand, the story weaves around the politics of avenging his brother who was killed after commiting rape. The story quickly spirals into a game of who killed who.
The movie is not like anything else you’d see in theatres. It’s story is carried through the careful orchestration of all it’s characters within the scene and the flashing neon lights of Bangkok. For those who are looking for something truly unlike any other cinema experience, Only God Forgives is the right choice.
To take things in a lighter direction, the masses seem to have had enough of Michael Bay since he successfully dug the Transformers series into the ground. However, it’s a shame since he seems to have finally found his groove with Pain and Gain.
The film stars Mark Wahlberg as ex-con Daniel Lugo, recently released after doing time for medicare fraud, while Dwayne Johnson plays another ex-con in Paul Doyle, a former cocaine addict.
These two lead a surprisingly poignant satirical action comedy about “bro” culture and consumerism. Wahlberg and Johnson show great comedic chemistry together, pushing the films narrative forward into a compelling spectrum that most never thought Bay was capable of.
While Pain and Gain does meander into the spectrum of Bay’s trademark fascination with explosions in its second half, it suits this over-the-top comedy style of film far better. It seems that Bay has finally found out where his strengths lie while two action stars show once again that they certainly have the chops for comedy. Don’t expect any oscar bait here, but it’s damned hard not to have fun with Pain and Gain.