2013 has drawn to a close and we are greeted by a brand new year, which can mean only one thing; that you have to suffer my opinionated view of the best (and worst) of the year’s cinematic output.
It’s been a hell of a dense year for films. I haven’t checked into it but I wouldn’t be surprised if 2013 had seen the most mainstream cinematic releases in history; great for a fan of all things filmic, but a little intimidating and leaving little room for anything truly independent, which now have to be viewed at festivals or on movie streaming sites (the future of all independent cinema?… erm… I mean film… wait it’s hardly ever shot on that anymore… Is independent movies a term?).
Almost every week saw a big release due to the fact that films that were big enough to be classed as a blockbuster a decade ago are now just kinda standard, to be replaced by two-hundred million dollar plus behemoths, which themselves saw a new release nearly every other week.
There aren’t too many surprises in my year’s picks this time around, be they selections you agree with or not, and there’s perhaps only one or two that you’ve never even heard of. So with without further adieu I present my twenty best films of 2013 (in the order of viewing).
Oz the Great and Powerful
Iron Man 3
Fast and Furious 6
Man of Steel
The World’s End
The Way Way Back
Thor 2: The Dark World
Big Bad Wolves
Okay, let’s run through the selections, starting with the big’ens, the blockbusters, and my favourite subsection, the superhero movies. Thor 2 (read full review) didn’t polarise fans in the same way that Iron Man 3 (read full review) and Man of Steel (read full review) did and as such most people enjoyed it, even more than the original even. I think what polarised the fans, for the most part, about IM3 and MOS was specific story choices that the films made, which is entirely understandable. I happen to be very forgiving of certain things, so let it go and enjoyed the ride; I dug all three in a big way. What no one can dispute is that all three films had been excellently realised, have some fantastic characters and have massive and exciting climatic battle sequences.
Of the rest of the blockbusters, Pacific Rim (read full review) and Fast and Furious 6 (I know, a sixth instalment made it to the list, who’d’a thunk?) were, predictably, huge and ridiculous and as much fun as one could expect to have at the cinema, neither adhered to the laws of physics and no one cared. Best of all, they were no less excellently realised than the more well respected blockbusters. The major surprises this year came with the ‘sleeper’ blockbusters, I expected nothing from OZ but was treated to the best family film of the year, it was funny and beautiful and found a way to do a big fantasy ending that DIDN’T entail two armies going to war, it also used 3D in an effective and imaginative way, a trait it had in common with Gravity, a film, being a fan of director Alfonso Cuarón, I expected to enjoy, but not to the level I did. I found it to be literally breathtaking, the slender running time and visual magic culminating to create a cinema experience I find it difficult to describe. Whatever you thought of Gravity, take my word for it that it is without a doubt the best film of the year from a technical standpoint.
There were a few decent animated films this year, The Croods and Wreck It Ralph for instance, but Turbo, the story of a fast snail, was the only one I enjoyed enough to actually make the list, and again, I suspect my low expectations played a part in my later enjoyment. It’s a lot of fun, very colourful and occasionally quite exciting. The rest of the animated films this year made for poor trailers even, never mind the films (and more on Pixar later).
I liked a lot of crime films this year but none of them were quite what you picture when you think of a ‘crime film’, and they pretty much fell in to two categories, the first being action heavy, movie-centric crime movies. Ganger Squad was hard and hammy and played out like a noir/pulp adventure, very sexy and very violent. Django Unchained (yes, this is getting lumped with the crime films because the lowly western doesn’t have its own category), was more violent than Gangster Squad, in fact it was bloody as hell, it was also a platform for Tarantino to produce the best dialogue he’s written since Pulp Fiction, full to the brim with hilariously un-PC outbursts spouted by actors at their best. Another surprise of the year was 2 Guns, the first film since the 80s to really hit that action/buddy comedy spirit to full effect. In this so-so story the chemistry between Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washinton is so enjoyable that you never really want the film to stop. It’s old school action with lots of laughs and explosions; I can’t wait for 3 Guns.
The other category of crime was films that, though produced by studios, had the distinct feel of independent films. Stoker (read full review), directed by Korean madman, Park Chan Wook, skated a very fine edge of pretension, but the beautiful visuals and an ending that pulled everything together made it a memorable and effecting oddity. Side Effects, even on first viewing, placed itself amongst Steven Soderbergh’s very best work, only loosing out to Ocean’s Eleven and Out of Sight. So few people saw it that the many changes in direction have probably not been spoiled for you, so it’ll likely blow your mind a little. Mud, from Jeff Nichols, the director of Take Shelter, gives further evidence that he crafts the best character pieces in contemporary cinema, it also has the best child performances of the year. Filth, a story about an unhinged and corrupt copper, and the only British film on this years list, isn’t in any way an easy watch but it’s moral ambiguity, intense pacing and excellent performances bring uneasy laughs and sears it into the mind; you’ll either love it or hate it with a passion.
There were a lot of amusing comedies this year but not too many that really stuck out from the pack. My obvious choice is The World’s End (read full review), Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s alien invasion action/comedy, though it has to be said, it was the excellent action and Wright’s visual flare that really made it stand out. Neither The Way Way Back nor Don Jon were side achingly hilarious but they had something else about them that made them good beyond their comedy (or comedy/drama) standings. Both had wonderfully rendered characters throughout and a feel good factor that lasted, Don Jon especially deserves extra kudos as its Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s pinned down and lovingly crafter directorial debut (he also wrote it).
And the last choices were the only really good horror films that came out this year, a poor year for horror (though, I missed The Evil Dead and The Conjuring); one of them isn’t on general release outside of Isreal and the UK yet (it has a limited US release in January) and can’t really be described as a horror film per se, but Big Bad Wolves is a pitch black comedy about revenge and torture (!), potentially more morally dodgy than Filth, this Israeli curiosity skips between torture porn and farce, generating big laughs as it does so. Maniac is the only through and through horror of the year to get a (limited) cinema release. A remake of an 80s video nasty, Maniac (read full review) goes through the motions of the average stalk and slay film, only we see everything from the literal point of view of the killer, who happens to be played by an uncomfortably convincing Elijah Wood. The violence is extremely, wince inducingly, graphic and visceral.
And there we have it, not everything on the list is for everyone, but I loved ‘em all.
So comes the yearly tradition of dishonourable mentions, the films that were truly terrible, over-hyped or crushingly disappointing… or all the above. First is one of those ‘how the hell is this film getting such good reviews?’ deals, and this year it’s Spring Breakers, a film with enough story to fill about twenty minutes of screen time, only two characters with character, the rest of the cast just being there and eventually disappearing with no emotional consequence, a soundtrack that, at the cinema at least, was horribly overbearing, and repetitive editing that was annoying to the point of distraction… Good trailer, terrible film! The Purge also got reasonable reviews, which I couldn’t believe as it turned out to have a flimsy plot consisting of characters reacting in bizarrely random ways to a core concept that falls apart if you think about it for more that a second and a half.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation managed to be a half sequel, half re-imagining that somewhere along the way took the fun, Saturday morning cartoon elements of the first film and threw them in the bin, leaving a hollow, uninteresting film-by-committee; the worst part was that there was a nugget of cast inspired hope there, which was bypassed in favour of a crap story twist. The most disappointing film of the year was Monsters University, which lacked any kind of grandeur and charm and had no place at the cinema, other than the fact that it retained the original cast. It was no better than the average, straight to video, spin-off movie; for shame Pixar, out done at every turn this year by Dreamworks and Disney, though it must be said, the trailer for Disney’s Cars spin-off, Planes, was SO woeful that there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d go out of my way to see it.
Getting back to the positive, some honourable mentions go out to Pitch Perfect and Riddick. Pitch Perfect officially came out in 2012, but I didn’t catch it at the cinema until after the new year otherwise it would most assuredly have ended up on that year’s list; utterly surprising and genuinely hilarious Pitch Perfect ain’t Glee The University Years, as the trailer made it seem, but is the very best kind of chick flick, one that twists all the conventions. Riddick rejuvenated a franchise that had killed itself; the first half is better than the second but it’s a corking sci-fi adventure that shouldn’t be missed just because The Chronicles of Riddick was rubbish.
Other films that just missed the list included This is Forty, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Star Trek: Into Darkness and Prisoners.
2014’s releases seems to be already overshadowed by the extraordinary release schedule of 2015 but I for one am very much looking forward to Marvel’s releases, the trailer for Captain America: Winter Soldier is excellent but Guardians of the Galaxy promises to be to be Marvel’s first grand oddity, with the awesomely off-kilter James Gunn at the helm, and I can’t wait. Also one to look out for in 2014 is a brilliant low-budget (but visually stunning), British, indie sci-fi film called The Machine, which I had the pleasure of watching at a festival this year. Keep and eye out for it, you won’t regret it.