The 2014 Biggie Awards (& The 25 Movies from 2013 That You Should’ve Seen)

The 25th Annual Biggie Awards

aka The Biggies

celebrating achievements in cinema for the year 2013

First off, this is me patting myself on the back for 25 years of recognizing excellence in film. It’s pretty cool to hit a milestone like that. I’ve been doing these awards since I was 17 years old, aka half of my life. I started in 1997 with awards for that year’s amazing roster of movies, but eventually I retroactively went back and did my awards from 1989 forward. Why 1989? Well, basically it was so I could recognize Glory (one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time) as my first Best Picture winner. What other reason do I need? I take this very seriously, and I’m proud of the legacy I’ve been able to build here, even if that legacy exists only in my own mind. Hopefully that pride shows in how much time and care I put into this post every year.

Gatsby - glass raise“Happy 25th anniversary, Old Sport.”
Thanks, Gatsby!

As part of our 25th anniversary celebration, for those interested, here are all of my previous Best Picture winners, with the Oscars’ Best Picture winner that year in parentheses for comparison:

1989: Glory (Driving Miss Daisy)

1990: The Hunt for Red October (Dances With Wolves)

1991: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (The Silence of the Lambs)

1992: Unforgiven (Unforgiven)

1993: Schindler’s List (Schindler’s List)

1994: Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)

1995: Braveheart (Braveheart)

1996: Fargo (The English Patient)

1997: Titanic (Titanic)

1998: Saving Private Ryan (Shakespeare in Love)

1999: The Insider (American Beauty)

2000: Gladiator (Gladiator)

2001: Black Hawk Down (A Beautiful Mind)

2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Chicago)

2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)

2004: Collateral (Million Dollar Baby)

2005: Munich (Crash)

2006: Letters from Iwo Jima (The Departed)

2007: There Will Be Blood (No Country for Old Men)

2008: The Dark Knight (Slumdog Millionaire)

2009: Inglourious Basterds (The Hurt Locker)

2010: Inception (The King’s Speech)

2011: Drive (The Artist)

2012: Lincoln (Argo)

I’d say mine are better, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. You’re smart and you have good taste. I’ve only agreed with the Oscars’ Best Picture winner 7 times out of 24 (29% of the time), and not at all for 9 years running. Sometimes I’m okay when Oscar disagrees (2004, 2006, 2008), while other times the Academy’s choice makes me physically angry (1998, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012), which is the primary reason I started my own awards to begin with. Sometimes my winners aren’t even nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars (1989, 1990, 1991, 2001, 2004, 2008, 2011), and vice versa (2002, 2005, 2011, 2012). In one instance (1989), I haven’t even seen the Oscars’ Best Picture winner. Sorry, Miss Daisy. Although I do have to say, without spoiling which way I’m leaning, if trends hold, the Decade of Disagreement between myself and Oscar could finally end this year.

And that brings us to the present. What a strange year it was. 2013 got off to an incredibly slow start and was basically flatlining for about 9 months. Why has it been that the odd numbered years recently have been hugely disappointing? 2009 and 2011 were both blah years on the whole, while 2010 and ’12 were really strong. The trend continues for 2013, which didn’t see a real uptick in overall quality until two of our Best Picture nominees, Gravity and Captain Phillips, opened on back-to-back weekends in early October. That was a nice jolt to the system. Gravity arrived in theaters riding a tsunami of hype I hadn’t seen since The Dark Knight was being compared to The Godfather before it opened in 2008. Not only were people saying Gravity was the best movie of the year by far, but many were saying it was one of the best movies they’d ever seen. That level of praise gets me excited, but also fearful of a heartbreaking letdown. While it is a brilliantly executed, amazing movie, it’s not one of the movies I’ve ever seen. Regardless, it’s sure as hell one of 2013’s best, and it shows up strong at the Biggies with 9 nominations, second-most overall, including three for director/producer/co-editor Alfonso Cuarón.

Gravity - flying away

It goes without saying that Gravity was also the best 3D experience I had all year. Then again, that’s not saying much, since it was one of only 3 movies I even saw in 3D last year (the others being The Great Gatsby and The Desolation of Smaug, both of which were also superb theatrical experiences with the additional dimension). I guess it’s 4 if you count the Jurassic Park 3D re-release, which was UH-MAY-ZING.

There were no real gems early in the year, and almost all of the big budget summer blockbusters disappointed in one way or another, much like they had in 2012. Most years, there’s at least one movie that opens before May that refuses to leave my thoughts all the way up to awards season. This year, the most pleasant early-months surprise was actually Snitch, the horribly titled Dwayne Johnson flick. It isn’t good enough to warrant serious consideration in any of the major categories, but it was certainly good enough to give a shout out to here. It’s Johnson’s best performance to date, the action is really good, it had a decent script, a terrific score, fine supporting performances, and some epic Barry Pepper facial hair. If you haven’t seen Snitch or were on the fence about giving it a shot because of its straight-to-DVD style title, this is me telling to you see it.

SNITCHDwayne Johnson & Jon Bernthal evading zombies Mexican cartel hitmen in Snitch.

I’ll also throw some love to Broken City, the political thriller with Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg that absolutely nobody saw. Coincidentally, this one also had Barry Pepper in a supporting role, sadly with no facial hair this time. Broken City was ravaged by critics, which I still don’t understand having watched it at least twice since (it debuted on HBO in the fall). Yeah, it’s fairly generic, but a well-made, entertaining generic movie is still a good movie in my book. I’m recommending you give it a chance and judge for yourself. Another movie that was widely panned but that I loved was the college comedy 21 & Over, my favorite comedy of 2013 (there weren’t many good ones). This flick was made great by its lovable, relatable cast, including the on-the-rise Miles Teller, Skylar Astin (who I think has real star potential if he makes the right moves in the next few years), Justin Chon (aka Jeff Chang!!!), and the supercute Sarah Wright. It was written & directed by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore, the two guys who wrote the original Hangover (it needs to be said they did not write either of its useless sequels). We’ll get to some other recommendations at the end of this post, but those are the ones I feel most deserve their day in the sun.

21 and Over - carded

While 2013 was a mediocre-to-average year on the whole for quality films, it was an exceptional year for acting. Narrowing down 5 nominees was extremely difficult in all four acting categories this year, even in Supporting Actress, which is typically the weakest of the four simply because of the lack of quality supporting roles for women in most films. You’ll see my anguish in each category when you see the runners-up lists below each one.

Now we can hit on a few of last year’s disappointments. Based on the track records of the filmmakers involved, I had hoped Man of Steel [MY REVIEW] and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug would be good enough to warrant serious Best Picture consideration, but ’twas not to be. As much as I still love both of those movies, they each have a few noticeable flaws holding them back from true greatness. It pains me to say that The Desolation of Smaug is the first of Peter Jackson‘s 5 Middle Earth movies to not be up for Best Picture and Director. I enjoyed the hell out of Smaug, and saw it twice, but as an individual movie, it felt a bit too episodic for my liking. I love the final moments of this film, but the fact that it ends so suddenly and I have to wait a YEAR to see the finale is incredibly frustrating. Maybe my opinion will change once I’ve seen all 3 films, but for now I can only tell you how I feel after part two has been released. I’m probably one of 9 people on Earth who enjoyed An Unexpected Journey more than The Desolation of Smaug, but it is what it is. As cool as it was to see Orlando Bloom as Legolas again, I felt that almost none of the main characters from the first film experienced any serious changes to their outlook or circumstances in the 2 hours and 40 minutes of the movie, which makes you again question why this needed to be stretched out into a trilogy. We couldn’t have killed off one or two of the dwarves in this one for drama’s sake? I swear to Christ if all 13 of them survive this entire trilogy I’m going to be very upset – and no, I haven’t read the book, so don’t judge me (or spoil anything) for not already knowing how things turn out. That said, the addition of Evangeline Lilly‘s ludicrously beautiful elf Tauriel (a character that doesn’t exist in the book) was totally worth every second of screen time she got. Hopefully, the best is yet to come for The Hobbit trilogy, and I fully expect to see There and Back Again in the running for Best Picture this time next year as the story links between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take center stage. Should be awesome.

Smaug - Tauriel hot How does one say, “O, HAI” in elvish?

And on and on it went with big budget disappointments. The Wolverine could have been great, but fell apart during its messy finale and was seriously inhibited by its PG-13 rating. Star Trek Into Darkness [MY REVIEW] had moments of greatness, but I hated the idea of bringing Khan back, and the destruction porn at the end of the movie was a bit unnerving, much as it was in Man of Steel. Elysium wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, despite its incredible VFX, due in large part to its absolutely atrocious dialogue. Like, seriously. I rewatched it for Biggies consideration a few weeks ago and was blown away by how bad some of that dialogue is. Iron Man 3 [MY REVIEW], while incredibly fun, had serious third act issues as well (too many Iron Man suits in that final battle, and the Gwyneth Paltrow saving the day stuff was almost comically silly, no pun intended). After waiting 9 years, we finally got our Anchorman sequel, and it too, unsurprisingly, was a bit of a letdown. I liked it, but I think the best explanation for all its flaws is simply “they tried too hard”. In the plus column, the biggest mainstream surprise for me was The Hunger Games: Catching Fire [revisit my gushing review HERE], which I wound up enjoying more than Smaug, more than Star Trek Into Darkness, and more than Iron Man 3. I never would have predicted that going into the year.

Almost all of the aforementioned were on my Most Anticipated Movies of 2013 list at the beginning of the year. Now that I look back at it, from that list only Gravity actually lived up to expectations. Pacific Rim and The Counselor are two more disappointments, and I’d nearly forgotten The Hangover: Part III even came out in 2013. Fast & Furious 6 and Pain & Gain were also not quite what I wanted. Goddamn. Now I’m depressed. Anyway, you can understand my lament at what 2013 should have been had just a few of these big movies delivered as hoped.

Looking on the bright side, for me personally, maybe the most satisfying thing about 2013 was seeing the completion of Matthew McConaughey‘s epic career comeback. I’ve seen it called The McConassaince, which I quite like, but I’ve been calling it simply McConaughey 2.0. McConaughey 2.0 began in 2011 with his fine dramatic turn in The Lincoln Lawyer, and then shifted into overdrive in 2012 with his brilliant performances in Killer Joe and Magic Mike (which earned him a Supporting Actor nomination at last year’s Biggies). If that weren’t enough, he may have topped himself in 2013, first starring in a great little indie called Mud (see it!), then he had a memorable supporting role in Best Picture nominee The Wolf of Wall Street, and now he’s up for Best Actor in perhaps the performance of his career in Dallas Buyers Club, for which he will almost certainly win the Oscar. I think it’s suffice to say that Matthew McConaughey is done with cheesy romantic comedies. The rest of the world now knows what I’ve been saying since 1996 (when I nominated him for Best Actor in A Time to Kill, his first starring role in a studio movie); this man is and has been an amazing actor. If there’s a Matthew McConaughey bandwagon, if I’m not the conductor, at the very least I’m the guy at the front of the train shoveling the fuckin coal into the engine. And the train ain’t stopping, either. In 2014, he’s already made his HBO debut with their gripping new show True Detective (alongside Woody Harrelson, who has similarly made a nice comeback in the past few years), and this November he’ll headline the next Christopher Nolan movie, Interstellar. I could not be happier for him, and it’s fitting symmetry that he and his Time to Kill co-star Sandra Bullock are both nominated in the lead acting categories this year. Bullock had quite the year herself between Gravity and The Heat, which were both very good and both giant box office hits.

McConaughey is back“Which one of you doubted me?”

McConaughey TD credits stylized

Perusing this list, you’ll find that this year more than most, the majority of the nominees opened in the last quarter of the year. I love that mid-November thru January brings so many great movies every year, but it’s also incredibly stressful, because I end up having to watch 20-30 movies in a month and a half to stay current and make sure I’m as prepared as possible to put the Biggies together. This awards season in particular has been very busy for me as a moviegoer, as 2013 may have been the most back loaded year ever.

2012 saw Steven Spielberg‘s masterpiece, Lincoln, take home 8 Biggies out of its massive 14 nominations, making it one of the most dominant Biggie winners in history. In fact, only 6 films have won more Biggies than Lincoln did last year. I think 2013 will be different, with awards spread around to a few different films. Though there are several great films in contention this year, there is no clear cut, “this is one of the best movies ever made” favorite. Sometimes that’s more fun.

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