There are several reasons to hate a Top 10 list such as this. The main one is that it will always be inherently unfair as I haven’t seen every film that was released in 2013. There are several major releases I missed, let alone the swathe of independent films. So before you scroll down be aware that I am yet to see Rush, Frances Ha, John Dies at the End, Warm Bodies, To the Wonder, Stoker, Filth….to name a few.
The films you see below are the ones that I enjoyed the most. There may be better films than what I have listed, but these are the flicks that either stayed with me, made me want to re-watch them over and over again, or both.
Despite this preface, please feel free to disagree massively with my opinions and use the comments section to set me straight.
Guillermo Del Toro was given his biggest toy box to play with yet for Pacific Rim. So of course he went about as big as anyone could possibly go. This enormous blockbuster brings together giant mechs and giant monsters to fight it out in our most famous cities. It also features some of the best world building of recent years. The future earth feels very real here. There’s nothing shiny and new about Del Toro’s vision, it is all very lived in and therefore believable. It also helps that the screenplay by Travis Beacham and Del Toro contains genuine heart and genuine stakes that make it easy for us to empathise and rally around the central characters.
The latest film from Zombieland’s Reuben Fleischer cemented him as a genre hopping master a la John Carpenter, who is definitely one to watch for the future. There is a sense of fun as well as real gravitas to Gangster Squad which makes it easily accessible and utterly gripping. Josh Brolin is brilliantly cast as the rugged, world weary O’Mara, charged with bringing down LA mob boss Micky Cohen (Sean Penn). What ensues is a fast paced, innovative and often graphic take on the gangster flick. I can’t wait to see what Fleischer comes up with next and my hope is that, like Carpenter, he can carve out a niche in creating wholly original cult classics across every single genre.
This intimate Sci-Fi tale sees an ageing jewel thief (Frank Langella) being gifted a companion robot by his son as a means to while away the twilight of his life. What starts as a stilted relationship between Frank and his machine, slowly blossoms into a true friendship that sees each character give something to the other. It is a truly unique film that addresses life, love and family in a way that is never schmaltzy, but is instead heartfelt and sincere. It’s also very very funny and features an incredibly nuanced central performance from Langella. If you haven’t seen it (or even heard of it) I urge you to seek it out. A real hidden gem.
I loved Derek Cianfrance’s first film (Blue Valentine) and its unflinching portrayal of the grey areas in a relationship; that nobody is ever truly in the right when it comes to difficult decisions and arguments. I love that his camera work aids his scenes and storytelling as much as the script itself. It is these things that make The Place Beyond the Pines an equal triumph. Very much a segmented story, we see the complicated lives and hidden secrets of the main characters played out in ways that overlap and intertwine whilst always distancing one personality from another. Ryan Gosling is mysterious and chivalrous as the biker with morality issues, and Bradley Cooper gives a steller performance as a policeman who lets a secret eat him away from the inside over a period of years. This is by no means an easy film to watch, but is one that will reward your attention with a slow burn that truly represents the darker sides of our lives. It also contains the best line of dialogue in any film this year: “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder”…genius.
I heard a lot of complaints about this film before I saw it. Other critics reported that Tom Hooper’s overuse of extreme close-up gave the film a strange quality that created a disconnect with the audience. They also said that this same technique left the film devoid of emotion when it needed it most. I’m happy to say that I disagreed with these sentiments. Whilst I admit that at times it felt unnecessary, it didn’t take away from the sheer power of the story, the songs and the incredible performances. Both Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman give stunning turns, whose impact is heightened by the fact that Hooper had his cast sing live on set, rather than have them lip sync to a studio recording. This gives much more freedom to the performances and means that this musical feels more believable than almost every other. My only beef was with Russell Crowe’s Javert. As a long standing fan of the show I was expecting big things from my personal favourite song “Stars”. But Crowe’s untrained singing voice simply did not live up to the demands of the music. Nevertheless this film is a true epic and doesn’t leave a dry eye in the house.
Pixar returned to stunning form this year with a prequel to my favourite ever Pixar film. I was worried going into this film as I have such a love for Monsters Inc that I didn’t want to see its legacy spoiled. But those fears were completely assuaged. It was brilliant to see the origin of Mike and Sully’s relationship and it made total sense that they would be in rival fraternities in college. The raft of new monster characters, which could so easily have detracted from the story, in fact added to it in ways that are both hilarious and heart warming. The simple fact is that when Pixar are on form there is no-one who can touch them. Their now legendary grasp of storytelling carries all the things that make golden age Simpsons episodes so timeless; they focus on the core of the tale first and let the comedy flow organically from it, not the other way around. Oh and the scene following the final event of the Monster Games is one of the most mind-blowing moments of animation you are likely to see. So much going on, so many monsters, so amazing!
I was kind of disappointed last year when the first Hobbit film was released. It was easy to make direct comparisons with LOTR and realise that this film was nowhere close to as good. Since then I have gone on to really enjoy An Unexpected Journey, but it took a few viewings. Not so with Desolation of Smaug. This is Peter Jackson in true Middle Earth form. The pacing, the dialogue, the characters and the action are all stunning. Whereas with the first film there were long periods of not much happening, this time it feels, if anything, like certain moments are too rushed. Most importantly, the dragon is realised in a way that surpassed all my expectations. The scenes as Bilbo wakes Smaug are instantly iconic, and the voice of the beast (Benedict Cumberbatch) is as silky smooth as it is totally terrifying. I am now fully invested in the final chapter and the upcoming battle of the five armies. Assuming Jackson is saving his best for last we will be in for a real treat next December!
I am a huge fan of everything Marvel Studios has done in bringing the most iconic superheroes to the screen over the last few years. They haven’t just invested in financial terms, but have gone out and found the best filmmakers possible to take on each of their franchises. From the off it seemed like Shane Black would turn out an irreverent and unique take on Tony Stark’s journey, but nobody expected the brilliance of Iron Man 3. The script pops with all those signature Black lines, but also takes Stark on a personal path that sees him largely without his suit for most of the film. In doing this Black has created a superhero film where we actually crave the moments outside of the action. That’s not to say the action isn’t great; it’s actually fantastic. Whether that be scenes that see Stark fighting his way into a guarded mansion using only his wits, or a huge showdown with multiple armours and seemingly indestructible super men, Black has mastered all the elements that make a comic book hero movie so superb. Both Marvel and Shane Black should also be commended on their brave handling of villain The Mandarin. The twist (which I won’t spoil here) is not only unpredictable, but also goes against every iteration of the character’s history in the comic books. It was a risk that for me paid off immensely. I wonder how long it’ll be until Marvel Studios is to the film world what Tesco is to shopping!
It was a very difficult decision between my top two films this year. Gravity is by far and away the best film of the year, but that does not quite make it my favourite. It is a technical marvel and one which has smashed open the boundaries of filmmaking. Alfonso Cuaron is a visual master and some of the things he has created for this film make him worthy of a Kubrick level of directorial commendation. There is such an attention to detail here; an unwavering commitment to a vision that is unendingly impressive. I guarantee you have never seen a film like this, and to see it properly it must be seen on a big screen and, surprisingly, in 3D. You can read my full review of the film here, which will explain why I have u-turned on my normal distaste for 3D, sufficed to say Cuaron does things with the format that no director has ever done before, and it is mind blowing. Though the story is an important emotional struggle that manifests itself very viscerally (thanks to a stunning turn by Sandra Bullock), to me the star of the show is the visual feast it presents. I sat with my jaw hanging open for much of the running time and it took a good couple of days to process the experience properly. If this had been last year, Gravity would have come top of my list. But it didn’t in 2013 because this year saw the release of…
For me Quentin Tarantino has improved as the years have gone on. I know that for many Pulp Fiction will remain the man’s masterwork and I agree it stands head and shoulders above most modern movies. But I have an even deeper love for Kill Bill (as a whole saga), Inglourious Basterds and now more than ever with Django Unchained. Tarantino is a self confessed lover of Westerns. They were his genre of choice growing up and he has carried his influences from both Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone throughout his career (often using the latter in his musical choices). It is perhaps this true love for the genre that meant Tarantino gave everything he had to telling a story of slavery in the deep south. Perhaps he felt he had to wait until a certain point in his career to take on his most beloved of cinematic styles. Whatever it was he definitely proved himself ready with Django Unchained. A sublime script, a stunning soundtrack, an ensemble cast to die for and some truly unflinching visuals made this film at once terrifyingly real and yet pulpy, stylistic, arty and sweeping all at the same time. It takes a true master to take a genre so recognised and give it new life in ways that are totally unexpected, but that’s what Tarantino has achieved. His legendary back catalogue shows why it is essential for our best filmmakers to have a knowledge of all film that is unsurpassed. Where some say he simply takes from his predecessors, I say he absorbs all that made the golden age so incredible and uses his own voice to forge a new age for us modern day cinephiles. Django Unchained goes down as one of the best westerns of all time, and for me, one of my all time favourite films. A well deserved number 1 spot!