2013 in film has been a year of spectacular bookends; a sandwiching of a disappointing summer between two periods of really high class cinema. Despite there being some gems within the May to August movie season, I think we can all agree much of what impressed this year in the cinema came within the first and last four months of the year. I very much feel this Top 10 will demonstrate such a notion, as well as highlighting to you, my much appreciated readers, what films are worth your time should you not have caught them yet. I have done my best in the last couple of weeks to cram a good few films in before composing this list in order for it to be as comprehensive as possible. But hey, even I can’t watch everything. Anyway, sit back, relax, and take in my film highlights of the year that was: 2013.
Honorable Mentions: Drinking Buddies, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Cloud Atlas, About Time, Rush, Les Miserables, Django Unchained
10. The Kings of Summer (Dir: Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
As this list will go on to demonstrate, I am a sucker for coming-of-age movies. There is always something to relate to for anyone who has had to tackle the dark storm clouds of adolescence. Coming-of-age films all have the rather difficult task of differentiating themselves from the large pack of teen based dramas, and The Kings of Summer manages to find it in its unique blend of offbeat humour, bittersweet sarcasm, and boy’s own adventure spirit. The film sees three friends; best pals Joe (soon to be seen in Jurassic World, Nick Robinson), & Patrick (Super 8’s Gabriel Basso), and weird lone-wolf Biaggio (The Middle‘s Moises Arias), running away from the stresses of suburban life and over-bearing parents into a forest, where they have built their own house together. With the plan to spend the summer on their own terms, it is not long until the realities of life and young love bring their fantasy crashing down to Earth. Everyone has had this kind of summer; the summer of unrequited crushes, the one where your parents never really know what you’re getting up to, and the summer where you just feel a burning desire to break free and discover who you are. As well as inflicting a heartwarming sense of nostalgia, debut director Voght-Roberts crafts a rather beautiful film, focusing on the natural surroundings of the lush forests of suburban Ohio, giving the film a unique visual identity to accompany its well trodden thematic path. The cast are also spot-on, with Robinson in particular turning in an impressive performance. It also feature a couple of sit-com favourites in the form of Alison Brie and the hilarious Nick Offerman. A little seen gem that deserves more love!
9. Frozen (Dir: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee)
A great surprise this year came in the form of Disney’s latest cinematic offering, and is one that can join the ranks of their animated greats. While too late to say if it is part of a new renaissance period for Disney, it marks a continuation of quality from Disney, starting with The Princess and the Frog, through to Tangled and Wreck-It-Ralph. Featuring memorable songs from Robert Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson Lopez, Frozen takes Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen tale and crafts its own story from it, namely through the relationship between two sisters; the older magical and tormented Elsa, and the free-spirited optimist Anna. Frozen has an infectious spirit, so while there is plenty to nit-pick, its good-natured tale, charming characters and wondrous visuals win you over within the first 10 minutes alone. It is a film which lures you into thinking that you know the tale, know exactly how everything will pan out to the Disney formula. Yet, Jennifer Lee’s script manages to throw in enough little surprises to allow Frozen to stand apart from recent Disney adventures. Frozen is still at cinema’s across the country now, so be sure to catch it while you still can. Also free to check out my full review here: https://andygaudion93.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/review-frozen-let-it-snow/
8. Prisoners (Dir: Denis Villeneuve)
An icy affair in a much different way to the previous entry, Prisoners is a film of dark, brutal potency, and stands out as one of the most impressive thrillers in recent memory. After his and a friend’s daughter has been kidnapped, with the lead suspect released due to a lack of evidence, determined father Hugh Jackman takes matters into his own hands, capturing the suspect and exacting his own form of interrogation. All the while, meticulous detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) continues to lead the kidnapping investigation to find the girls as soon as possible. A tightly wound, amazingly taunt thriller, that never once loses your interest, despite a 150 minute run-time. I have not seen a thriller this efficient and stylish outside of a David Fincher movie in modern day Hollywood, with French/Canadian director Villeneuve orchestrating a nerve-shredding atmosphere of dread and despair. The film also features some of the best cinematography of the year from the master that is Roger Deakins, whilst also playing also to a powerful performance from the man beast that is Hugh Jackman. An angry performance fueled with primal rage that, in a film that has a lot going for it, proves to be the most memorable aspect of it.
7. Pacific Rim (Dir: Guillermo del Toro)
The only summer blockbuster of my top 10 this year comes in the form of the Robot/Monster brawling epic; Pacific Rim. One of the rare original films this summer, (which in itself is a tribute to the Japanese Monster movie), Guillermo del Toro has produced a film that, on face value, looks like a film very much in the vein of a certain Michael Bay franchise. You could not be more wrong! The world of del Toro’s Pacific Rim is much more well thought out and passionately designed than any toy commercial Bay may produce. With Earth being invaded by inter-dimensional monsters (known as Kaiju) from deep within the Pacific, humanity’s last hope relies in the form of Jaeger robots: twin-piloted giant robots built specifically to battle the Kaiju to the death. Leading the final assault is Marshal Stacker Pentecoast (Idris Elba), who enlists the talents of young skilled pilot drop-out Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) to join a team who aim to end the terror of the Kaiju once and for all. The character’s are somewhat stock, but the involving action (in which you get a great sense of the physical toll these machines require to operate), gorgeous neon laced visuals, a commanding Elba performance, and all levels of weird and wonderful quirks make del Toro’s love letter to monster movies of the past the best blockbuster of the year. An action adventure powered by child-like glee and enthusiasm. In a word: awesome. Full review:https://andygaudion93.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/review-pacific-rim-domo-arigato-mr-del-toro/
6. Blue Jasmine (Dir: Woody Allen)
A Woody Allen film, despite all the great ones he has made, is still a hard thing to truly get excited about. He is one of the most hit and miss directors that one can think of. Yet, it is always easy to spot when he has delivered gold, indicated mainly by critics going a bit ga-ga. The last time that happened was Midnight in Paris, which found its way onto my top ten of 2011, and I am very happy to include another Allen gem this year. Detailing Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine’s attempts to re-organise her life after losing every penny she owns, Blue Jasmine is an engaging and witty exploration of depression and portrayal of life in a post-crash America. It is all anchored by the best female performance of the year in the form of Blanchett. Pure text-book acting, Blanchett modulates through numerous emotions within a scene with utter conviction and devastating grace. Jasmine is a modern tragic figure, who most of the time only has herself to blame for her misfortune, yet still manages to seem worthy of our sympathy. A very funny film with a sharp cynical edge that has been missing from Allen’s films of late, even his good ones. Allen hasn’t quite tapped in to the modern state of mind in such a way since the 70′, making for a refreshing change of tone and topic for him, delivered by one of the best ensemble casts of the year.
5. Gravity (Dir: Alfonso Cuarón)
The film that has topped many ‘best of’ lists this year comes right slap bang in the middle of mine. It is by far the best film of the year in regards to innovation in film-making; no other film this year, or for quite some time for that matter, has pushed the envelope of the form in quite the same way as Gravity. It is undoubtedly a masterpiece of technological brilliance, but in regards to emotional investment, it was somewhat lacking for me. Many more films worked much better on an emotional level, with Gravity relying heavily on its innovative effects and techniques, leaving much to be desired in the story stakes. Yet, it does not prioritize character development and story because it simply does not need to. Efficiently giving you just enough to work with, the film was an awe-inspiring experience in I-MAX 3-D. The visual spectacle of Gravity is second to none in the format, with amazingly immersive 3-D that enhanced the films visceral, nerve-shredding experience of human survival. That is what it boils down to in the end; it is a film about the strength of the human spirit in the face of danger and over-whelming odd, thematically rich in its imagery. It all amounts in the greatest visceral experience of the year, which should make filmmakers begin to look at the implications of 3-D and special effects in an entirely new perspective, with the hope being that Cuarón has inspired more creative and engaging means of employing the third dimension. Knowing Hollywood, it won’t be the case, but at least Cuarón is doing something different. And over $600 million at the box office speaks thousands of words.
4. Mud (Dir: Jeff Nichols)
Another ‘coming-of-age’ picture comes in the form of Jeff Nichols third film, which also came to highlight a significant film in the rather fascinating resurgence of Matthew McConaughey as a dramatic actor. Following the young Ellis (Tye Sheridan), Mud is a modern American classic, as Ellis and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) find a wandering stranger called Mud (McConaughey). Striking a friendship with the young boys, Mud enlists their help to repair an abandoned boat and reunite him with his true love, Reese Witherspoon’s Juniper. The film embodies a strange whimsical fairy-tale spirit, with a dashing of Gothic sensibilities to deliver a film about like-minded spirits inhabiting a world in which their nature and character cannot co-exist with the reality of situations, where both a young boy and a man must face who they are and establish their stakes in this world. It is a film that does not condescend their naivety, it allows it to play its course, letting the characters grow within this distinct American environment. McConaughey is provides an emotive performance, playing highly on his character’s naivety, but also provides a great anchor for an impressive performance from the young Tye Sheridan, allowing the young actor to carry the picture with him, as both carry much of the emotional heavy-lifting of the narrative. A gorgeous, earth-soaked film with a unique visual aesthetic.
3. The Spectacular Now (Dir: James Ponsoldt)
A film which will hopefully gain a wider UK release in the early months of this year when Shailene Woodley’s popularity grows as a result of the upcoming Divergent; The Spectacular Now is a coming-of-age (oh hey again) film that manages to avoid a great many deal of the pratfalls of the genre, simply down to how honest it is. Working as almost a re-working of Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything, the film follows Miles Teller’s Sutter during the summer beginning with his high school graduation. Fresh off a break-up with his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), Sutter finds friendship in the seemingly unremarkable Aimee (Woodley). While initially seeing her as a project, Sutter begins to find that he has genuine affection for her. All the while, he battles his own demons concerning his absent father and the looming decisions he has to make about his future. The pairing of Teller and Woodley is nothing short of beautiful; both are natural and charming performers on their own but together they create something quite, well, spectacular. Woodley in particular demonstrates why her star is rising, turning in a performance very different to that of The Descendants, while also demonstrating quite how naturally beautiful she is, in a role which requires her to wear little to no make-up for most of the run-time. Teller invokes the spirit of a young John Cusack and mines surprising depths, particularly in the film’s emotionally charged final third. A film that is very much about living in the now, but mindful of how what has happened in the past, and what may happen in the future, can shape the person you are ‘in the moment.’ Irresistible, genuine, and sweet; The Spectacular Now is impossible not to fall for.
2. The Act of Killing (Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer)
If you only see one film from this list, then please, for the love of all that is human, make it this one. Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary is a bizarre and unique beast. The film’s subject matter concerns ex-members of state Death Squads from under Indonesia’s Military Dictatorship in the 1960’s; namely two gangsters who went from selling black market movie tickets to leading Death Squads across North Sumatra, killing anybody suspected of being a communist or who chose to disobey the regime. The two men, Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry, agree to allow Oppenheimer to film recreations of their killings through the discourse of any genre of their choosing. As Oppenheimer helped make their film, he made one of his own, highlighting the bizarre and utterly unbelievable behavior and attitudes of these men. The re-creation of the atrocities they performed on behalf of the state bewilder and disturb, as does their manipulation of people around them as they embark on making their film. What is hardest to swallow though is the demeanor and attitude that these men still have, believing themselves to be men who simply did the right thing. An uncompromising vision of a dark underbelly of human nature which also provides the most fascinating figure of the year in the form of Anwar Congo. The only man who seems to regret his past life is shown to have a crisis of self and is quite clearly haunted by the memories of his past, which are brought back to life during the course of his film-making experience, making him re-evaluate his past life. Powerful, important, and unmissable. Special thanks to Paul Mcloughlin for bringing this film to my attention.
1. The Place Beyond the Pines- (Dir: Derek Cianfrance)
There you have it, my number one film of the year, and one that I came to rather late in the game, having only just watched it in the past month. Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines can easily sit as an American classic, with an utterly epic sense of scope and thematic landscaping. Accounting the tale of two men and their path of collision in life (Ryan Goslings motor-cycle Stuntman, and Bradley Cooper’s police officer), the film offers a journey of narrative complexity and invokes a macabre sense of mysticism and predetermination in human destiny. Following on from his Blue Valentine, a film that I frankly found to be something akin to depression porn, Cianfrance shows that he is a director of sophistication and filmic prowess. Every single shot of this film is utterly beautiful, easily standing as the best shot film of the year that didn’t require green-screen. Accompanied by an haunting and absorbing score and carefully measured performances, Pines is practical film-making at its most bare boned; allowing characters to form, relationships to build, and eventually crash and burn. A truly great film is measured on how much of a rewarding experience it is, and by its re-watchability, with the hope being that each time you witness it, the film will offer more secrets and even more rewards for you to un-earth. I viewed Pines twice in quick succession and found it utterly mesmerizing each time, and cannot wait to delve back into its exploration of innocence lost, familial relationships, and human destiny once again. An assured, confident, and masterful piece of film-making.
As always, to see out the year in film, I shall now provide you with a brilliantly edited tribute to the film’s of the year, courtesy of Gen Ip. I hope you all have a marvelous New Year, and enjoyed this year of film, one that has been littered with some true greats. Here’s to the next 12 months of cinematic exploits!