2013 in Movies — Top 20 List

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The other day I did a “Best of” list for the books I’d read in 2013. That got me to thinking about the movies I watched in 2013. Since I didn’t write down what I watched, I had to find a release schedule for the past year and find the movies I saw. Turns out, I watched 16 movies in the theatre as well as four that were released in 2013 that I saw later on DVD or some premium channel. I will now rank these movies as to which I enjoyed the most to the least. My criteria for this follows this line of thought: Would I watch it again? If so, which would I watch first?

Another thing to remember as I begin. This is the year I told my daughter (she turned 9 in August) that I was not going to take her to “crappy” movies. Basically, if Daddy decided they looked stupid, we weren’t going. For the most part, that worked. There are a few regrettable choices, however.

Image1. PACIFIC RIM. Big, loud, and silly. Yes, yes, and yes. I loved it. It was the only movie on this list that I’ve seen twice and both times in the theatre. I’ve got a Pacific Rim movie poster hanging above my desk at school. I know it didn’t do well at the U.S. box office, but that means nothing to me. It was my favorite 2013 release, in spite of the lack of A-list stars.

2. FROZEN. I’m a sucker for Disney musicals. Frozen looked good before I went to the theatre a few weeks ago, but after seeing it, I knew it was GREAT. So great, I bought my daughter the soundtrack for her to play endlessly in her bedroom. Just like when I was young, I listened to the Lion King soundtrack over and over, she can now do the same to an equally good movie. Go see it if you haven’t already.

3. OBLIVION. Can you keep a secret? I’m a big Tom Cruise fan. Mission Impossible, Jerry McGuire, War of the Worlds. I love to see that man run. He is great at running. And yelling. And being near things when they blow up so he has to run and yell. You take that and put him into an ORIGINAL sci-fi movie, and you’ve got my second favorite movie of the year.

4. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. Alright. I know there are the haters. THE ORIGINAL TIMELINE! some will shout. I do love the original timeline stuff, but I gotta say, I loved J.J. Abrams’ second Star Trek movie as well. The lens flares do get a bit distracting and the whole “Khan” reveal got to be a bit tedious, but overall I thought it was a well done movie.

5. THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE. Better than the first movie by far and I loved the first one quite a lot. It almost seems so ridiculous to have a sequel to movie where so many of the characters die and then they do it again! I thought it was really well done and am anxiously awaiting the Mockingjay movies (and yes, I liked Mockingjay and I know I’m in the minority).

Image6. CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2. Silly and not afraid to show it. The first one gets put on repeat by my daughter and this one will be a mainstay in the DVD player as well. All the food puns…she was quoting them before we even saw it and it was even better than I thought it would be. Would watch again in a heartbeat.

7. IRON MAN 3. This movie worked on many levels. The kid in the middle was fantastic and worked very well with Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark when it could have fallen flat on its face. What really put this movie over so many others was the final action sequence. Wow.

8. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. My second animated movie on this list and ahead of a few others…one of which you might find a little shocking. I so-much loved Monsters, Inc. that perhaps my feelings towards that transferred to this movie, but as an adult, I loved the hints towards movies like Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, and dozens of other “college” movies. I loved that they managed to get a prequel out of Sully and Mike and will definitely watch it again.

9. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Peter Jackson should have stuck with the plan to make two movies. I could have understood that. But when my daughter turns to me halfway through this movie and says “This movie is long,” then I know it’s long and drawn-out. She doesn’t usually comment on movie lengths, but what saves this movie from being farther down the list is the barrel scene as the dwarves and Bilbo escaped the Mirkwood Elves. I am looking forward to the final Hobbit film, but there is a certain aspect of simply checking it off the list with these movies.

Image10. THOR: THE DARK WORLD. The second Marvel movie on this list and yet I will say it was a million times better than its predecessor. Thor is a tricky hero to capture on film because he is a “god,” but this movie was much better at making him relatable and showing his world as opposed to him as an outsider on Earth.

11. ENDER’S GAME. Finally. That was the reaction of so many after reading the book as adolescents and finally seeing the dream fulfilled this year of seeing Ender on screen. Asa Butterfield did as good as could be expected and I actually thought Harrison Ford did fine in his role. What I didn’t like was the lack of Peter and Valentine’s storyline on Earth as well as the Battle Room sequences sped up a little too much, but you’ve got to trim for a movie and that’s where they had to cut, I guess.

12. DESPICABLE ME 2. I know this will be a little unpopular, but I honestly enjoyed Cloudy 2 and Monsters U better than DM2. I thought the girls were a huge part of why the first part was so good and yet this one was all about those yellow minions. I think they are a little funny and cute, but not enough to base the whole movie and its marketing around. Just not as good as what it could have been.

13. MAN OF STEEL. This past summer, I probably would have put this higher on the list. I was so disappointed after the last Superman movie that this one had me feeling positive after leaving the theatre about the future of the franchise. I thought Supes did an outstanding job of destroying IHOP and other businesses in and around Smallville, but there were some serious flaws with the movie and I’m not so sure that adding Batman and Wonder Woman to the sequel is the way to go.

Image14. WARM BODIES. I didn’t see this in the theatre, but looking back I kind of wish I did. Great zombie movie with a twist. Not lighthearted like Zombieland, but a good turn on the genre anyway. If it is possible to have a zombie romance, Warm Bodies did it well.

15. THE CROODS. I waited to see this one for a while, but my daughter and I had some free time to kill one day and this was playing, so I caved. It wasn’t as bad as I feared. Nicolas Cage as the father certainly didn’t help in my opinion, but overall the movie was better than I expected from the previews.

16. A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD. Did this movie really come out this year? I saw it on DVD this summer — must’ve been a quick turn-around from theatrical to DVD release. I love Die Hard 1 and 2 (Yes, I know they are essentially the same movie) and the third is highly underrated. The 4th was okay, but this one was just disappointing. I love the John McCLane character, but I hated his son. A lot. The action was good, but I found myself checking my phone a lot, which was good that I was at home, instead of at the theatre.

17. PERCY JACKSON AND THE SEA OF MONSTERS. My daughter loves the Percy Jackson books, so I took her to see this. She liked it, but there were so many (I lost track how many) times during the movie that she leaned over and said, “that’s not what happens in the book.” I eventually had to remind her that sometimes the books are different than the movies even with the same name. For a movie directly named after a children’s book, they really did a poor job of trying to connect with the source material.

18. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. I also saw this on DVD, but I kind of wish I hadn’t. I just really didn’t get into it. I like the Wizard of Oz, but some of the things they did in this movie didn’t really work for me.

19. THE LAST STAND. It’s a fun and stupid movie. I saw this a few weeks ago on TV and Arnie is about the only thing that saved it for me.

20. FREE BIRDS. This is the worst movie I watched that was released in 2013. This means one thing. I didn’t see Disney’s Planes. Again, my mantra to my daughter of not seeing stupid movies worked for Planes and Turbo, but we had some Daddy-daughter time in November and no kid-friendly movies, save for Free Birds. I saw it and I can now say I’ve seen an animated movie about time-traveling turkeys. Oy.

 

So….what does that mean? It means I didn’t see some (what I’ve heard are) great movies like Gravity or some really dumb ones like After Earth. Summer is also prime movie viewing time as I’m not teaching then with winter coming in second with a few weeks off for Christmas. Because of this, some movies simply get missed simply because I couldn’t get to the theatre when they were out.

Overall, I liked a lot of what I saw this year and only regret a few of the movies I saw. Hopefully my discernment will lead me down wise paths in the future as well.

Books and Movies

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We all love stories, to sit back and enjoy a good yarn.

But, where do we get those stories? More and more, those stories are coming from all sorts of different places. It could be plays, musicals, books, blogs, TV, movies, radio, podcasts, YouTube videos, and I could keep this list going forever and ever and ever…

But, what I want to address is books and movies. I gotta say – I love me a good book, but also love me a good movie. I’ll never be a filmmaker, but I can write a book, so I do have a somewhat vested interest in how books are re-translated to the big screen.

The issue came up for me today as I started showing a film in one of my classes after we read the novel together. The book is the 1964 Civil War novel, Across Five Aprils, that tells the story of one family’s experiences as they see sons leave for the war in rural Illinois. It received a Newbery Honor when it was first released, and has some great historical lessons. I wouldn’t say it’s a great book, but it isn’t bad.

But, then I found out there is a movie. “Great!” I thought. I can do the book and show the movie to cap the unit. One problem – the movie is terrible. I hate to criticize movies that are derived from books, but this is as much “based” on Across Five Aprils as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based on Ol’ Abe’s life story.

There’s a point when you are no longer telling the story the author set out in the first place or when you are telling a whole new story. That latter camp is where Across Five Aprils finds itself. The characters are weak at best, the acting reminds me of a class project I might have shot on a weekend when I was in 8th grade and the plot is convoluted. The book, while is simple at times, at least has a clear and concise plot that is easy to follow.

In other words – it is terrible.

There are always going to be differences between the source material and the movie, but finding that balance is the trick. All of the Harry Potter films toe that fine line and, I think, come away for the better. Are they the same as the books? No. But, do they work as a movie and tell much of the same story? Oh yeah. As a companion to the books, they work amazingly. They get the key plot points dead-on and don’t mess with those who have longed to see their beloved characters on screen.

Not every book can be made into an effective movie. Well, at least that’s what I thought when I read World War Z. As a direct adaptation, it would have been unmakable as a film, but tweaking the plot and giving the story a main protagonist made for a very effective movie.

I get a kick out of watching movies with my daughter after she’s read the book first. This summer we watched the two Percy Jackson movies. She polished off the PJ books back at the end of last school year and was eagerly anticipating the new movie all summer. We watched it and the entire time I got, “Well, he wasn’t supposed to look like that!” or “They didn’t do that in the book,” or “Wait…that’s not what they did in the book.”

At a certain point we all need to step back and separate books from their movie adaptations, but filmmakers also need to sometimes do a better job of recognizing if the source material is better than the stuff they are filming.

 

Write faster = write worse? Maybe…maybe not…

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“RT: hurry up writing, Rick! / (Yoda voice) “There is no ‘hurry up.’ Only ‘get it right.'” Write faster = write worse.”

The tweet above was from Rick Riordan a few days ago…just one tweet in the midst of responding to readers on Twitter. Riordan is the author of the Percy Jackson series — books I have loved and now my daughter has devoured them as well before she turned nine. But about the comment — a throwaway line, sure, but how true is it? 

I definitely haven’t sold as many books as Mr. Riordan and I can only dream of the success he has achieved, but I do take a little exception to the sentiment. What it says to me is this: Don’t write fast…that would be wrong and mistake-filled. That a writer needs to slow down and take their time. 

A few things: 

1. Riordan is now in the class of writers who basically puts one book out a year. One. To him, perfecting the book takes that long and by the time the book has been released, it has been your entire life for 365 days. In fact, I just checked…his newest, House of Hades will be released in hardback on October 8. The previous book in the series, Mark of Athena was released October 2 last year. 

2. Not all writers are in a position to write like that. For a lot of indie authors, we depend on quantity. The more books and stories we have out, the better chance of being discovered and building on the success of each additional title. I don’t want to make it seem like we sacrifice quality for quantity, however. With almost every indie author I know, we spend A LOT of time studying and analyzing each word we write and most of us get many opinions before we publish a single word. But it doesn’t mean we wait a year. I’m fairly new to this and I published a novel, a short story and a novella over the summer with another novella coming next week (I hope). All have over 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon and I worked my butt off on each one. 

3. Writing quickly can produce some excellent work. When I was in college, I took a creative writing course and the times that I liked the best were the “free write” times where the professor set a timer for 10 minutes and we just had to write whatever came to mind during that time. True, most of it was junk. But, there was always nuggets of awesomeness buried in the mess. You can always go back and edit. I say write quick and get your thoughts down on paper or on the computer and edit later. The other day I was watching Hugh Howey (Author of the WOOL series) speak at a creativeLIVE event and he said he really preferred to write quicker in a smaller time frame like a month to three months — it keeps the plot more coherent in the writer’s mind and the plot can build on itself quickly and efficiently. 

4. But, I also don’t want to discount Riordan’s words, either. Obviously he knows what works for him and the Percy Jackson success shows it has worked. But, for the casual reader, it might show that writing is a long and laborious process and that is simply not true for all writers. 

So…whatever your writing process is…make sure it works for you. Rick Riordan’s writing process works for him, but it wouldn’t work for me or you. Whatever you do….keep writing.

The Joy of Discovery

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So yesterday I was driving home after dinner out with my daughter. She’s in fourth grade and is reading Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban currently. She blazed through all the Percy Jackson books at the tail end of last school year and is a voracious reader. 

Anyway, as we’re pulling into the driveway, I hear a gasp from the backseat. I had to look around to make sure I hadn’t accidentally hit something and then she said it. 

“Daddy, Sirius Black was friends with Harry’s Dad! I can’t believe it!”

I read Azkaban probably back in 1999 or 2000. I starting reading the series when Chamber of Secrets was in hardback, so it was probably shortly after it was released. Suddenly, I was transported 14 years into the past. To a time when I first read the book or any other book where a plot detail startled me and derailed my train of thought. 

I was jealous of my daughter. She experienced a wonderful thing — discovery. That moment when you learn something for the first time and it just bowls you over. Like the end of The Sixth Sense, but in a book. I wish I could go back and re-read J.K. Rowling’s fantastic HP series with fresh eyes and discover all the twists and turns for myself once again. 

Ultimately, I think that’s what I look for in a book. What can the author do to surprise me? I’ve read so many things that it is a rare thing to discover something new and unexpected along the journey. 

I think that’s also what I do as a writer — how to incorporate my own twists and turns into my plots to keep the readers engaged and guessing along the way. 

As the night went on, my daughter talked to me about her suspicions as to who Sirius Black really is (She thinks he is disguised as the Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher). I just told her — you are going to have to keep reading — as I smirked, knowing the answer would shock and surprise her, just as it did me when I read years ago.