Okay so the time has finally come, in the month of May 2014, to eventually put up my top 25 films of 2013 list. Sure it’s taken this long due to working a lot and then missing out on most of these films when they were in the cinema and having to wait for DVD releases.
Should also be noted that these follow the general releases of when films were released in the UK so if people freak out with the lack of 12 Years A Slave, Wolf of Wall Street etc missing from this list, it’s because they didn’t get released in the UK generally until 2014. So the general rule has become the US get’s the Oscar contenders before we do and the UK get the Marvel films before the US. So let’s get on with the list shall we?
25. In A World…
A surprise gem from the 2013 calendar and Lake Bell stars in her directorial debut as voice coach Carol Solomon, daughter of well acknowledged voiceover supreme, is offered a part that can change her life as a studio wants to have her be the new voice for a new franchise film. Not only does she have to deal with the judgements of her dad on her voice acting, she has to deal with battling for the gig of the film franchise with self-titled new voiceover king Gustav. Smart and unique debut from Bell showcasing her written, directorial and acting skills as well as her voice acting skills which can prove to be quite a nice quiz question if you were to guess how many voices does Bell do in the film.
Nebraska tells us the story of a father, Woody Grant, who is convinced he’s won a million dollar magazine sweepstake, and his son David, who begrudgingly agrees to drive his father to agrees to drive him to Nebraska. While on the trip they take a detour upon Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, where the locals learn of Woody’s winnings, turning him into a local celebrity and David begins to learn more about his father in the course of a weekend than he has done his whole life. Payne uses the black and white here to powerful effect here for the film, mainly for the great use of cinematography on show here. This character driven film has the characters well fleshed out, from Bruce Dern’s Oscar nominated turn as Woody, an alcoholic lost within himself, as well as his outspoken wife Kate, played well by June Squibb and then there’s Will Forte, the first major role I’ve seen him in and he does well as son David. Always nice to see Stacy Keach as well in a film, even playing such an asshole.
23. The Spectacular Now
We follow main guy Sutter at a point where he has just had a breakup with his girlfriend Cassidy, who has moved on to be with Marcus. Why? Because Marcus has direction and knows what he wants to do with his life, where as Sutter is too busy in the now. After a drunken bender, Sutter wakes up in the middle of someones garden by Aimee, a shy, reserved girl who isn’t exactly one of the popular ones in school. Sutter takes to take an interest in Aimee but is still aching to get back with Cassidy. He shall also have a few drinks between now and then in the process. Miles Teller plays Sutter with such likability and vulnerability as everyone else looks on to the future and where they want to be, Sutter is happily in his comfort level of living in the now as adulthood genuinely scares the shit out of him and Shailene Woodley brings such innocence to Aimee who begins to develop confidence in herself the more she stays with Sutter, with the two helping each other out in the process as the film goes on.
22. Robot & Frank
In the near future, Frank is a retired catburglar living alone while his successful son, Hunter, tries to care for him from afar. Finally, Hunter gets him a robot caretaker, but Frank soon learns that it is as useful as a burglary aide. As Frank tries to restart his old profession, the uncomfortable realities of a changing world and his worsening dementia threaten to take beyond what any reboot can do for him. I enjoy the take of the near future here appears more reasonably realistic in terms of how the only thing we improve on, technology wise, is the robots created to aid elderly folk here, but it’s the relationship of Frank’s stubbornness with the Robot at first until he learns that he can use it for his gain to relive the glory days of his youth. Langella does brilliantly in the role of Frank with a derailing state of mind, with Sarsgaard doing good voice work as the Robot and also the film dealing with of Frank in defiance of the digital age which everyone is becoming too dependent on, until it comes of benefit to him.
21. Saving Mr Banks
Walt Disney wants to use the book Mary Poppins for a movie but the author, P.L. Travers doesn’t like what Disney does. So for 20 years Disney would keep asking her to let him do it. Eventually when she’s financially strapped she considers it but won’t approve unless Disney does it as she wants it. So she goes to California and Disney and his team who work on bringing the character of Mary Poppins to life try to show her what they did. But she’s not easily impressed. Even Disney tries to understand what she wants.What I found more interesting about this film was more than it was looking more into Travers past and the influences for Mary Poppins rather than a behind the scenes take from the film by going back to her childhood. Emma Thompson was robbed of a nomination for her performance here as PL Travers as she carries the film, in the present tense, while it’s Colin Farrell that’s also the star turn in the flashbacks as the father. Could you honestly imagine any other actor playing Walt Disney than Tom Hanks?
India is going through a tough time at the Stoker household. Her father has died in a tragic car accident, now she has to deal with her emotionally unstable mother and now, out of the blue, her Uncle Charlie has arrived. The problem being is that she had no idea that Uncle Charlie even existed. As she begins to question Charlie’s motives for moving in with her and her mother Evie, she also becomes infatuated with him. This is Chan-Wook Park’s first english language film and it’s a slow burner indeed, yet entirely enchanting from the opening scenes, the cinematography and the sound effects used, with the film dealing with the loss of innocence…and then some. Matthew Goode plays Uncle Charlie with such charming creepiness (seems to be the best term to use for it) and Mia Wasikowska is terrific as India, playing her with such brewing sinister intentions while maintaining a hint of innocence about the 18 year old India. Also should be noted, not bad job of a screenplay either Wentworth Miller of Prison Break fame.
19. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
86-year-old Irving Zisman takes a trip from Nebraska to North Carolina to take his 8 year-old grandson, Billy, back to his real father. Okay so the Jackass thing might put some people off this film, but this film had no right to be as funny as it did. Johnny Knoxville plays Irving brilliantly in the setups that he’s got himself into to prank the publicans some of them had me in absolute hysterics. It’s best to not know what the pranks are as some of them do come out of the blue and are best to know nothing going into this film to as they may not have the same effect if you know them already.
18. Good Vibrations
In 1970s Belfast, Terri Hooley is an idealistic rocker who finds himself caught in the middle of Northern Ireland’s bitter Troubles. Seeing a parallel in the chaos with Jamaica, Hooley opens a record shop, Good Vibrations, to help bring reggae music to his city to help encourage some harmony. However, Hooley soon discovers a new music genre, punk rock, and is inspired by its youthful vitality to become an important record producer and promoter of the local scene. In doing so, Hooley would struggle both with the industry’s realities and his chaotic personal life that threaten to consume him. However, he would also be instrumental in creating an alternative Irish community that would bridge his land’s religious and social rivalries with an art no one expected. It’s a feel good underdog film of the year, showing the effect the power of music had in a troublesome time and how it was an escape for a generation, with Richard Dorner in fine form as Terri Hooley himself, a man passionate for his love of music, which ultimately sometimes his family falls victim too. I enjoy the styles that they got right here from Belfast in the 70’s and also the soundtrack, I mean how could you not love that?
Notorious killer whale Tilikum is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top killer whale trainer. Blackfish shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity. The documentary looks at how the whales aren’t the real villain, but rather their captors, paraded in a swimming pool as a circus act for adults and children at the likes of SeaWorld, specifically looking on one history of a whale in Tilikum, as well as look at other incidents of trainers being attacked by whales. Not a brilliant documentary by any means by a mighty important one.
16. Blue Is The Warmest Colour
Adele’s life is changed when she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair, who will allow her to discover desire, to assert herself as a woman and as an adult. In front of others, Adele grows, seeks herself, loses herself and ultimately finds herself through love and loss. Young love broken down realistically into almost three hours of screen time, the actresses Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux are terrific, you can feel the chemistry coming from the screen between them, as we witness Adele falling in love with Emma and we witness how that relationship develops other a few years. Honest, enchanting and the ending is rather ambiguous.
15. Fruitvale Station
Fruitvale Station puts us into the last day of Oscar Grant III on New Years Eve of 2008, as he wakes up and decides that it’s time to take actions to be a better son to his mother, a better partner to his girlfriend and a better father to his daughter. We follow through his day trying to right some wrongs, which he realises these changes that he is looking to make won’t be as easy as he would like.A strong main lead performance from Michael B Jordan that carries this film above the story narrative used, with some scenes that are a bit heavy handed that might lose some viewers from the overall picture but a strong emotional final act makes this a film worth looking at, with support from Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer and Ariana Neal.
14. Captain Phillips
When a cargo freighter passes just outside Somalian waters, some men in a motorboat approaches the freighter and starts shooting at it. The Captain, Robert Phillips deduces they’re pirates so he tries to keep them off the ship but fails. They come on board so Phillips instructs the crew to hide. Based on the true events of the 2009 hijacking, Greengrass directs a thriller of two sides, one of the crew dealing with the pirates getting on board the ship and then the standoff in the lifeboat as Captain Phillips is held captive and then it’s a race to Somalia before the US Navy intervenes. The action shots for the pirates docking the ship sequences are great, the standoff moments are tense and Tom Hanks puts out what some would call a Oscar worthy performance as Captain Phillips, most notably for his final scene towards the end of the film.
13. All Is Lost
Deep into a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, an unnamed man wakes to find his 39-foot yacht taking on water after a collision with a shipping container left floating on the high seas. With his navigation equipment and radio disabled, the man sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. Despite his success in patching the breached hull, his mariner’s intuition and a strength that belies his age, the man barely survives the tempest. Using only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his progress, he is forced to rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane in hopes of hailing a passing vessel. With literally barely any dialogue from Redford, his gives a terrific performance of a man battling the elements of nature as he tries to use every bit of knowledge that he has to keep him alive. The ending is actually open to different interpretations and still has caused many a long argument about it.
12. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem. Okay so essentially it’s the same as the first film, now this time the games is filled with previous champions, the tone is somewhat darker and with a interesting end that sets up for the next film. Again Jennifer Lawrence is great in the role of Katniss, Donald Sutherland brought more polite villainy to the screen this time and Phillip Seymour Hoffman brought an interesting presence to the franchise onscreen in what will unfortunately one of his last roles for us to witness on the big screen.
11. Pacific Rim
When monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, started rising from the sea, a war began that would take millions of lives and consume humanity’s resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon was devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. But even the Jaegers are proving nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. On the verge of defeat, the forces defending mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes – a washed up former pilot and an untested trainee – who are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past. Together, they stand as mankind’s last hope against the mounting apocalypse. I can’t help it, I just love this film too much. I wanted a film with giant robots beating the crap out of giant monsters and that’s exactly what I got. Sure the dialogue and characters are hardly Wes Anderson written, but the cast do well here, in particular Elba as the general Stacker, with the best speech before the big showdown scene since Independence Day. In the last few summers of blockbusters trying to be realistic, dark and gritty, it’s nice for the old blockbusters of the dark yet fun toned (with a hint of ridiculous moments) like Pacific Rim to make an appearance. More of the same please.
10. The Kings of Summer
Joe Toy, on the verge of adolescence, finds himself increasingly frustrated by his single father, Frank’s attempts to manage his life. Declaring his freedom once and for all, he escapes to a clearing in the woods with his best friend, Patrick, and a strange kid named Biaggio. He announces that they are going to build a house there, free from responsibility and parents. Once their makeshift abode is finished, the three young men find themselves masters of their own destiny, alone in the woods. A coming of age story that would fit nicely into the Hughes era of old, Kings of Summer blends the bond of three friends and the potential heartache that comes with it with only one character really staying true with his friends over the course of the film (technically). Solid performances by the trio of Neil Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias, and also to the supporting cast which includes indie support darling of 2013 Nick Offerman.
9. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Business picks up right after the events of the first with the fellowship (or we still referring to them as a party? group?) continuing the journey of heading towards the Lonely Mountain so the dwarves can reclaim their homeland and also get rid of a dragon named Smaug that happens to occupy it. Yeah that sounds like it should be a piece of cake. Thankfully The Desolation of Smaug improves upon what we witnessed in An Unexpected Journey with much better constructed battle scenes (the river barrel scene) and thankfully the reveal of the dragon itself Smaug, voiced by Cumberbatch with such mischievously joyful menace. Some more of the dwarves get more screen time, such as one of them being involved in a love triangle between Kili, Tauriel and Legolas. Also Richard Armitage still plays the most badass dwarf around. The final film will be interesting to see after the cliffhanger of this film.
8. Short Term 12
A 20-something supervising staff member of a residential treatment facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend. Only by word of mouth did I hear about this film and thank god I did as the film captivated me from the get go with its opening scene. The script itself is terrific, especially containing the obvious standout for me of when Jayden (played brilliantly by Kaitlyn Dever) tells Grace the story about an octopus and a shark, as well as literally having a cast of unknowns adding to the freshness of the film in general, with us following Brie Larson along the way helping the damaged kids at the facility whilst also crumbling away with her own issues. Well worth seeking out if you haven’t caught it already.
7. Django Unchained
Former dentist, Dr. King Schultz, buys the freedom of a slave, Django, and trains him with the intent to make him his deputy bounty hunter. Instead, he is led to the site of Django’s wife who is under the hands of Calvin Candie, a ruthless plantation owner. I’m a sucker for a revenge flick and even though I dislike the Kill Bill films, I really enjoyed Django Unchained. Hardly subtle with the subject or the realism about it (especially with the final shootout scene, considering what took place before it, it brought it down a few points for me) but Waltz has a fun time delivering Quentin’s dialogue and Foxx oozes cool as Django, with DiCaprio in fine ‘Just give him an Oscar now’ villainy as Calvin Candie but also worth noting is Samuel L Jackson’s performance as Stephen, a head house slave who has more power than he lets on to those around him other than Calvin.
When former journalist Martin Sixsmith is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace, he is at a loss as to what do. That changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena, who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of a Catholic convent. Martin arranges a magazine assignment about her search for him that eventually leads to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena discover as much about each other as about her son’s fate. A film that could easily have been a TV movie but Frears holds it well with a great script that doesn’t manipulate, avoiding the cliches and melodramas and we have the two most mismatched ‘partners’ to have on screen in ages, with Judi Dench as Philomena, the hopeful yet naive women searching for her son and then there’s Martin, a cynical, brash man yet we witness how even he’s moved as the film progresses. Hurtful film? You bet. Moving? Prepare to be moved, especially come the final act.
Two young boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the vigilantes that are on his trail and to reunite him with his true love. Another coming of age tale, this is of the darker variety than Kings of Summer, with kids Ellis and Neckbone helping out superstitious figure Mud, hiding from the bounty hunters and the cops as he tries to reunite with his true love Juniper, and Ellis buys every word about it as he deals with lies throughout the film yet believes love will conquer all. This film also helped push McConaughey’s McConaissance further as he’s great as Mud, but the standout goes out to young actor Tye Sheridan as Ellis.
Set against the sexy, glamorous golden age of Formula 1 racing in the 1970s, the film is based on the true story of a great sporting rivalry between handsome English playboy James Hunt, and his methodical, brilliant opponent, Austrian driver Niki Lauda. The story follows their distinctly different personal styles on and off the track, their loves and the astonishing 1976 season in which both drivers were willing to risk everything to become world champion in a sport with no margin for error: if you make a mistake, you die. I prayed that this film would be good and I was not disappointed. It should be noted as this is Chris Hemsworth best role thus far in his career as he plays James Hunt with the right amount of arrogance, cockiness and confidence to make you believe that you can’t see any other actor in the role. This role proved that Hemsworth is to be taken seriously, if those doubted him before that he would be nothing more than the Thor guy. The real standout for me though is Daniel Brühl as he plays Niki Lauda with the right amount of cold determination to succeed. His mannerisms, the accent, make you pay attention to what he is doing all the time on screen. I was completely hooked to the race sequences that were constructed and executed from Howard. The rest of the cast is solid, especially Alexandra Maria Lara as Niki’s wife Marlene Lauda.
The Dover’s and the Birch’s live in your standard neighbourhood. The two families gather for Thanksgiving and their two girls, the Dover’s daughter Anna, and the Birch’s daughter Joy, leave to go to the Dover’s household to get her whistle. When the children don’t come back, the families go looking for them around the place, with the Dover’s son revealing that there was an RV outside one of the houses close to where they live that is now gone. Well a enjoyable sitting this is not, but in a good way. The film does well in balancing the sides of a parent going to great measures in order to find out where his daughter is and another that doubts the methods and risk they are taking and questioning whether it will lead to an answer at all and we also have the detective that tries to remain calm under the pressure of controlling both the case, putting the pieces together and dealing with a hurt and angry figure in Keller looking for answers, fast. A tough sitting that questions the morality of how far would you go to find your missing daughter, as well as balancing the view point of the father and the detective. The reveal is somewhat well sighted before it happens if you pay attention. Strong performances from Jackman and especially Gyllenhaal.
2. Before Midnight
It has been nine years since we last met Jesse and Celine, the French-American couple who once met on a train in Vienna. They now live in Paris with twin daughters, but have spent a summer in Greece on the invitation of an author colleague of Jesse’s. When the vacation is over and Jesse must send his teenage son off to the States, he begins to question his life decisions, and his relationship with Celine is at risk. I’ve grown up heavily invested in the Jesse/Celine love story. I normally don’t like romantic films but the Before trilogy that Linklater, Hawke and Deply have created have me tranced for life. This time we’re following the pair in a tough period of their married relationship, with Jesse looking to move to America to be closer to his son, while Celine isn’t keen on the idea. The dialogue is as delightful as always that Sorkin could dream for the rest of his life that he came up with this pairing. Roll on at least another 8 years until the next one…right?
1. The Act of Killing
A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers. I literally didn’t speak for an hour after watching this. The most uniquely horrifying experience I had in 2013 watching a film was The Act of Killing. The fact that the truth speaks for itself and re-enacted by the Algojo’s (assassins) and how they killed the PKI (Communist Party Organisation) about the Indonesian genocide in 1965. Some of the re-enactments will leave your jaw on the floor and one particular television interview you’ll witness will make your head explode. Definitely a must watch for everyone.
What are your thoughts on the list? A lot of films that just missed out for me but is there any that you would remove and what film would you replace it with?