Now that we are fully committed to the New Year, I think I owe the 2013 a proper farewell kiss. Ironically, not too long from now, this very blog will be turning one, but I decided to separate those two occasions and simply devote this entry to looking back through time in ‘calendar’ terms. To me, personally, this year was full of fantastic developments and major changes, but film-wise, some would say, the 2013 was a bit underwhelming.
Looking at the box office revenues and the onslaught of sequels, it’s hard to disagree with the notion that (globally) cinema has seen better days. Still, the indie scene is flourishing and has been supplying us with food for thought, as if to counter the sensory overload brought about by the Hollywood money-making machine. However, I think highly of some of this year’s big budget productions and can’t help but admit I had a lot of fun watching them. I have had, unfortunately, my fair share of disappointment, but nevertheless the year 2013 shall not go down in my memory as one of the worst on record, at least that’s certain. I just have to come to terms with the idea that comic book movies are here to stay as replacement for the good ol’ actioners I grew up with, and that rehashing old ideas is the thing of the future.
In order to complete the ritual burial of 2013 (Viking style, of course), I decided – just like everybody else – to come up with my Top 10 Films I enjoyed the most in 2013, similar in vein to what I’ve done to summarize the first six months of the year. Bear in mind, that the artistic quality is only one of the factors that I consider. I make a point of not rating the films in my reviews (with the exception of Letterboxd that I joined recently), because for me a film can speak to me intellectually, artistically, or in terms of pure entertainment. And let’s not forget about those films that strike a special note in my heart, even when they are otherwise disappointing (“Elysium”, I’m looking at you).
Here we go:
I couldn’t decide which one I liked more and I couldn’t imagine my list of this year’s favourites without either of them. “Evil Dead”, directed by a débutante Fedé Alvarez, was just a pure adrenaline rush that, whilst being a remake, elbowed its way into my heart. I am normally very sceptical when it comes to redoing classics, but this one certainly delivered on all levels, with strong emphasis on the gory, visceral entertainment that made my legs shake on my way home from the screening.
“Star Trek Into Darkness”, directed by J.J. Abrams (a.k.a. The Lens Flare Guy) also spoke to me on a visceral level, but stroke completely different notes. Forgetting it’s a sequel to a reboot to an established franchise, this Sci-Fi epic was filled with action and adrenaline in its entirety. Surely, this film had its flaws and part of my enjoyment must have had something to do with the usual mystery J.J. Abrams veils his films with, but “Star Trek Into Darkness” was still pretty awesome.
Some say that “Iron Man 3” was the best comic book film of the year, to which I say ‘Hell, no!’. I really loved Zack Snyder’s approach at resurrecting the Superman franchise, and that’s no small feat considering the level of disrepute it was brought down to over the years with abysmal sequelitis. “Man of Steel” has definitely been airbrushed by Chris Nolan, and partly because of this attempted grounding Superman’s mythos in reality, the film delivers astounding entertainment filled with high octane action. I loved the performances, I loved the villain, and for once, oddly, I am somewhat excited for the sequel.
8. “You’re Next”
Even though I didn’t get to write up this film properly, I think it deserves its spot up there with the best. Rarely do I get to have as much fun watching horror films, as I had with ”You’re next”. It’s brutal, witty, comically self-aware (unlike “Cabin in the Woods”, which is allegedly comical, but I failed to see that) and playfully twists the genre on its head.
Widely touted as the scariest film of the year, James Wan’s “The Conjuring” truly lived up to the hype. I am a sucker for a good scare, which this film has sported a good deal of. The combination of a clever use of old-school practical effects, relatable characters, and the ‘based on a true story’ slant truly resulted in a memorable and terrifying experience.
6. “The Kings of Summer”
I find it sad I didn’t get to see this film over the summer, because its impact would have been all the more powerful. “The Kings of Summer” is a brilliant coming-of-age comedy filled with witty humour, snappy dialogue, and beautiful cinematography, that makes you wish you were fifteen again so that you could run away from home and build a house in the woods.
As someone cleverly summed it up, “Pacific Rim” is the best early 90’s film made today. God, I wish I had come up with that myself. Guillermo Del Toro’s return to the big screen sporting monsters and big robots was just phenomenal and I couldn’t have wished for better quality entertainment. Brilliant special effects, awesome models, and outstanding attention to detail, stapled with a metric tonne of action was responsible for my biggest nerdgasm in recent memory.
Steven Soderbergh’s swan song (following “Side Effects”, also released in 2013) about the life of Liberace was a phenomenal treat with unforgettable performances by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Watching this gripping story of love, abuse, betrayal and manipulation was not only entertaining, but most importantly engaging from the point of view of the artistry of film-making. Soderbergh, regardless of what he tackles, has a fine grip on the subject that will highlight the smallest nuances and turn a seemingly shallow love story to a whole different level. Sadly – and I hope he changes his mind – “Behind the Candelabra” is probably going to be the final entry in his filmography.
Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to the stunning “Blue Valentine” kept me glued to my chair. It’s the perfect indie drama with visceral performances by Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper that through the maze-like plot gets you to think about causality in life. Gripping, naturalistic, and dark in the subject matter, as well as the tone, “The Place Beyond The Pines” has been a front-runner for the best film of the year and only recently was it dethroned.
2. “Captain Phillips”
Paul Greengrass’ newest piece was nothing short of great. This gritty film stylized as a documentary was striking in its naturalistic portrayal of the ordeal those few guys must have gone through when taken hostage by Somali pirates. Interestingly, “Captain Phillips” tries to stay impartial and somehow validates the motives of both sides, but the film’s true greatness comes from the meticulous procedural approach to every single thing on the screen. Plus, in my opinion, Tom Hanks has given the performance of a lifetime in “Captain Phillips”, which crescendoed amazingly in the final act. If that doesn’t score him an Oscar, I don’t know what will.
Alfonso Cuarón’s science-fiction epic adventure “Gravity” has left me speechless. Not only was it a feast for the senses with the amazingly clever special effects, blunt or inexistent sound, and finally a proper use of the third dimension, but it spoke to me on all levels. “Gravity” was a bundle of enjoyment with a stunning performance by Sandra Bullock, whom I never suspected of such capabilities, and a tight and layered storyline that kept me riveted to my seat. Finally, tickling me on an intellectual level with subtle visual cues and strong adherence to the rules of science has propelled “Gravity” to the very top of my most favourite films of the year, possibly of all time. In space no-one can hear you scream… Am I right?
And just like that, I can close the books on 2013. I guess, I could give the honourable mention to “Good Vibrations”, “Only God Forgives”, “Stoker”, “The Way, Way Back” and “Prisoners” that didn’t make the cut, but still are fantastic films in my opinion. At some point, I had to make the tough decisions, but I’d still gladly come back and revisit them as well.
Point of note for those wondering: I somehow failed to see apparently awesome films like “Mud”, “Fruitvale Station”, “Frances Ha”, “The Bling Ring”, “Rush”, “Blue Jasmine”, “The Counsellor”, or “Before Midnight” which might explain their absence in my ranks. I am, however, planning on getting round to watching and reviewing them in the near future.
Also, in my neck of the woods, films like “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Out of the Furnace”, “12 Years a Slave”, or “American Hustle” (opened today) are released in January 2014 and I will make it my mission to watch them.
Happy New Year!