2013 is drawing to a close now so it’s time to do a little overview of the year in cinema. I’m going to do my top ten then talk about some of the films that almost made it onto the list, and some that didn’t. A little disclaimer first – I live in England so I’m basing this on UK releases. I know at least one film on my list came out in America in 2012 but it wasn’t out over here until February. Conversely, there are some films that I’ve heard amazing things about but they haven’t been released over here yet. I probably don’t need to point this out, but this is just a list of new releases, not a top ten of every movie I’ve seen in 2013 (Gone With the Wind would top that list, just for the record).
10 – Frozen
I was really stuck between a few films to make the #10 spot but Frozen managed to squeak in. I didn’t think it was a perfect film; the beginning was a little uneven and I didn’t think the motivations of the characters were made clear enough at the start, but by the end I was totally into it. The songs weren’t classics but they fit the movie really well. It was funny, charming and I like how it played with the conventions of Disney films. It didn’t totally disregard them, so it was still recognizable as a Disney film, but it felt more contemporary and fresh. I also liked how there wasn’t a traditional villain, and the fight was more against self-doubt. It was a fun film and I got swept away by it.
9 – You’re Next
I don’t usually like these type of horrors because the characters always seems to act stupidly so I end up wanting the killer to succeed. You’re Next, however, plays with the tropes a little bit and it becomes more of a revenge thriller. I though the explanations regarding who the murderers were was believable and the twists were exciting. There was plenty of tension, gore and the horror was offset by some humourous moments. This is probably my favourite horror film of all time, I had a riot watching it and I actually found myself invested in the characters rather than rolling my eyes at the decisions they made.
8 – Philomena
Great performances by Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. They played off each other superbly in this heart-wrenching tale, based on a true story, of an old woman looking for her long-lost son. The film was genuinely affecting with some powerful emotional moments and the ending was amazing, showing that sometimes forgiveness can be more powerful than revenge. Great performances, Judi Dench deserves an award for this.
7 – Django Unchained
Love Tarantino. Love Westerns. This was certain to make my list. Leonardo DiCaprio gave an incredible performance and the script was filled with the trademark action and slick dialogue that Tarantino is famed for. As always, I can’t wait to see what he does next.
6 – Prisoners
This was a dramatic film about two girls that go missing, and the drama that follows as one of the parents takes matters into his own hands. It was an unsettling, thought-provoking film that was pretty heavy and I felt a little drained by the end. The mystery was intriguing and I only realized what was happening at the same time as one of the characters, so I was able to truly immerse myself in the film. It blurred lines between justice and vengeance and it really made me question where my sympathies should lie. Great performances all around here from Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano et al.
5 – Rush
Ron Howard directed this picture about the rivalry between two F1 drivers. I don’t like Formula 1, but the essence of it was captured perfectly in this riveting film. The contrast between the two drivers, played by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, was balanced and neither of them outshone the other. The kinetic energy bled through the screen but the personal drama overshadowed the drama on the tracks. I didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did.
4 – Les Misérables
Hugh Jackman appears for the second time, and deservedly so because he gave one of the best performances of the year he. He carried this film on his shoulders and he was incredible. The film itself was excellent. I’d never seen the stage show or read the book but I found it captivating. The only minor complaint I had is that Anne Hathaway was so excellent and her rendition of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ so affecting that nothing that followed could move me in the same manner. But the whole film is an amazing accomplishment.
3 – Saving Mr. Banks
Just a quick note here – the top three are basically equal but I liked them all for different reasons, and they all could easily be my #1. Saving Mr. Banks was one of the most emotionally moving movies I’ve ever seen. Emotions were running high when I watched this and I think I went through the whole range of feelings. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson were absolutely brilliant and I can’t praise this film highly enough because it worked on every level.
2 – Pacific Rim
While Saving Mr. Banks was deeply moving, Pacific Rim was just plain fun. I was laughing all the way though. It’s by no means a perfect film and you can poke holes in the plot and the physics of the thing, but I was grinning the whole way through. It’s just pure enjoyment that’s completely over the top and it’s brilliant.
1 – Cloud Atlas
This is the type of movie I love. It’s a philosophical look about how we’re connected to things on a plane beyond space and time, and how everything links in together. The different stories aren’t linked together in a narrative sense but they are linked thematically, and they complement each other well. There’s a lot going on and it’s a film of great substance. It’s also fun to spot the different actors and who they play in the different stories. It has a lot to say about life and our purpose and it really spoke to me.
So that’s my top ten list of 2013. Agree? Disagree? Let me know!
I mentioned earlier that I found it difficult to choose my number 10. There were a few films that were vying for that spot so I’ll talk about them a little bit.
Before Midnight – I love this trilogy, but I decided that my enjoyment of Before Midnight was based a lot on the two films that came previously, so I didn’t think I could justify putting it into my top ten.
Iron Man 3 – I really enjoyed this and I love what they did with The Mandarin, but I thought the ending was a bit messy as it seemed like they were trying to put a bookend on the character of Iron Man while still moving him forward.
Red 2 – I thought this was a solid ensemble movie with some great performances and this was really close to making it on my top ten.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Again I really enjoyed this, but I felt like it was setting up a lot for the third film, so it wasn’t really a self-contained story.
The other big one that people may have thought would be one my list was Star Trek Into Darkness since I’m a huge Trekkie and usually something to do with Star Trek will make it into things I write, but in all honesty I never even considered it. I liked the film but it did have a lot of problems. I never understood why they were so secret about the villain because in the film it’s not even that much of a mystery, and the reveal isn’t some groundbreaking revelation. The climax annoyed me as well because it was cribbed from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, so I was watching the movie thinking, “Well, I’ve seen this before,” and that really disappointed me because I want the new movies to be different and for them to explore new worlds. I think it’s fine if they use established things in new ways, I would love to see The Borg show up in the next movie, but to re-create climactic scenes was just poor form. For me, the emotional climax was at the end when Kirk gave the voice over and the Enterprise went warping off. I was actually really mad (in a good way) because I want to see the five year mission!
There were of course some duds of the year. My two biggest disappointments were Man of Steel and World War Z. The first film annoyed me because it didn’t capture the essence of Superman. When I watch a film about a superhero I want to see the hero being heroic, and I just didn’t feel that. I didn’t feel any moments of inspiration or thrill and I didn’t want to come out of a Superman movie feeling flat and drained. WWZ was just…oh man. I actually thought this was going to be good, and it was only decent. With the budget it had it should have been far more epic and there is no way it should have ended in a small lab in Wales. It didn’t really do anything other zombie films have done with far smaller budgets, and for that reason it severely disappointed me.
The other film I want to talk about is The Lone Ranger. I thought this was unfairly maligned. Yes, it certainly had its problems; the bulk of the film was bloated and the framing of the Tonto story was, frankly, bizarre, but the moment the William Tell Overture began playing and The Lone Ranger went into action I had the biggest grin on my face. It was a hero being heroic, and it reminded me of all the pulp films of old. There was no attempt to reinvent him or make him more realistic and gritty, they nailed the spirit of the character and it was brilliant. The climactic sequence was amazing and it was everything that Man of Steel wasn’t.
There are plenty of more films I could talk about but I don’t have time to talk about them all! Overall it’s been a good year for movies, and it looks like the next couple of years are going to mostly be flooded with superhero ones. Looking forward to those!