Just a little getting to know me exercise. According to Letterboxd, last year I watch about 31 2013 releases, which isn’t too bad all things considered. Though I only got Letterboxd a few months ago.
Out of those 31, I have whittled it down to a top ten.
First things first though, a little note on the validity of top tens. Yes I did do this, but I have to ask, what is the point of top tens? They seem to please nobody except the person who made them (and even I’m not that sure if I agree) because I am stating that I think film A is empirically better than film B. Which I may secretly think, but nonetheless it will undoubtedly cause uproar because your favourite film isn’t on here, or I said your favourite film was worse than a pretentious piece of garbage. Who knows.
Film Crit Hulk (a big inspiration for me) rather cleverly devised his top ten where all the films were joint number one, saying at the beginning of each summary “What could possibly be better than X”.
But hey, it’s not perfect, it’s simply a handy guide to find out what I found the most enjoyable of the past 12 months. Perhaps a little word of warning: It’s my list so I set the rules, I am counting films that are “post-oscars” (though, I won’t be doing that this year) so stuff like Les Miserables, Django Unchained etc I am not counting (those two wouldn’t get in regardless, Django has a shout though). And some films had critics/festival screenings the year before, but I am going off their theatrical release date.
There’s a lot of honourable mentions (plus a few that, rather naughtily, I haven’t seen) which I’ll probably dedicate another post to.
That said, it’s my list, you may or may not agree, but let’s get to it!
A completely charming film that proves Disney is back on its feet again. Lovable characters, great songs (I’d be lying if I said “Let it go” was not whirring round my head for weeks after seeing it) and like all great Disney films it is quietly subversive. What can I say? It just works effortlessly.
Sporting a truly terrific performance from Matthew McConaughey – one of the years best – comes a really heartfelt and engaging coming of age film (not the last one on this list). The emotionally engaging bits mainly come through Tye Sheridan, who is shaping up to be a fine actor after his role in The Tree of Life. It deals with how Sheridian’s characters learns how his pre-conceived notions of manhood and love match up to the reality presented by Mud himself. Wonderful cinematography as well.
8. Pacific Rim
Hands down THE most fun I had in a cinema last year. Having been a huge fan of Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth I was interested to see what he could bring the apparently saturated market of big blockbusters. Boy, did he literally deliver a big blockbuster, some blocks certainly got busted. One of the real treats of the film was the feel of the scale of the Kaiju and the Jaegers, you could feel every hit and each felt more devastating than the last. You could also feel the love that Del Toro has for these types of monster movies; passion goes a long way and something that is missing from most summer blockbusters. You can’t mark down a film that leaves you grinning all the way home. And that speech at the end… COME ON!!
7. The Kings of Summer
The second in my coming-of-age dramas, Kings of Summer centres around three teenage all estranged from their households in various ways that decide to escape to a remote location in a nearby forest. It’s just a really, really likable film, every scene, every frame is oozing charm. Just like Mud it is about pre-conceived notions and how the square. It is proper little indie film, with gorgeous Terrence Malick-esque cinematography and real heart.
6. Captain Phillips
Paul Greengrass’ visceral and physical film-making style (as seen in the Bourne Trilogy) is perfectly matched to the heavy drama of Captain Phillips. Hanks is truly at his best here, I say that with complete confidence; An acting master class in nuance, terror and likability. Surprisingly as well, newcomer Barkhad Abdi holds his own against the experienced titan of Hanks. Greengrass presents a complex commentary on globalisation using the microcosm of Somali pirates attacking a large cargo ship. In lesser hands it may have devolved into American propaganda towards the end. Speaking of the end, I think the fact I felt a lump in my throat is a real testament to the emotional power of the film and Hanks’ subtly brilliant performance.
5. The Act of Killing
Joshua Oppenheimer’s unflinching look at a largely neglected period of Indonesian history is both surreal and shocking. It’s perplexing in that it elicits myriad emotions that range from angry, to confused and shocked. Oppenheimer frames the documentary by allowing the perpetrators of hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of murders of suspected communists, who were never prosecuted and still remain free, to re-enact their atrocities (that they do not recognise at such) via the medium of film. They decide to emulate their American gangster heroes (Anwar even refers to himself as a gangster). Through this one would expect them to finally understand the horror of their crimes, but that is not the case. Anwar has a cathartic revelation towards the end, but the fact remains that he stays unpunished. A true horror film if there was one, not a fun film by any stretch of the imagination but one I would wholeheartedly recommend.
4. Upstream Colour
Shane Carruth surprised everyone with his mind bending sci-fi time travelling puzzle Primer in 2004 that worked on its own spiraling logic, so what were we to expect for his next venture? It turns out that he has surprised us yet again with yet another narratively complex film. Carruth believes that we as an audience should work for the answers; everything is obfuscated from us, as are most things from the main characters. It explores quite a lot of complex themes, chief among them being natural lifecycles and symbiotic relationships. It is an audio-visual treat (incidentally another theme) to the point where it becomes difficult to separate image from sound, they beautifully intertwine and bounce off each other. Upstream Colour is deeply complex and engaging film that greatly benefits from repeat viewings and involves audiences in its creative process.
In a year of Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Hunger Games, Man of Steel, World War Z, Now You See Me, Pain & Gain (that’s enough now), to see something as deliciously low key as Thomas Paine’s Nebraska was a great relief. Bruce Dearne is on amazing form here as a senile old man looking for his million dollars that he “won”, his son (played by Will Forte) decides to indulge his father and take him hundreds of miles to collect his winnings. It’s clear from the beginning that it is never about the money, it’s about this admittedly fraught relationship between father and son. The troubled relationship actually comes something of a shock to David. There is something profoundly sweet and touching about Nebraska. Maybe it’s the black and white cinematography, maybe it’s just because Bob Odenkirk (of Breaking Bad fame) is there. Maybe it’s Dearne’s performance, maybe it’s June Squibb’s understated comedic role. Maybe it’s the long, long, roads to Nebraska. Whatever the reason, I loved it.
I think the phrases “visually stunning” and “game-changer” should be banned when discussing Gravity. But nonetheless it is a game changer and it is visually stunning. Whew, got that out of way.
But to repeat “visually stunning” and all its synonyms infinitely does not do the film justice. Sure, it is simply breath taking at points but I fear a lot of viewers will criticise its “simple” story. And I think to do so only shows that they went into the film expecting something that the film wasn’t, just because a film is in space it does not mean that it has to get all philosophical on us. Let’s put it plainly, this is a popcorn thriller set in space. And it does that perfectly. The story is “simple” but it is also – crucially – effective, I think you would have to have a very hard heart not to walk away from this feeling nothing towards Ryan Stone. Played with broad strokes? Yes. Left a lump in my throat? Double yes. The film is what it is and that’s completely fine. But that isn’t to say there aren’t intellectual strands that run through it or are presented to us, it’s just that the pace and tone of the film is Cuaron’s main objective here.
The film really hits home just how small and fragile the Earth is and how vast and unstable space is. Cuaron’s camera sweeps and pans so majestically through space as if the camera itself is unaffected by gravity. I think the opening shot is something crazy like fifteen minutes. The camera also dives in and out of characters helmets, changing the perspective of what we see and feel. A truly visceral piece of cinema, if not an intellectual one, but hey, who’s counting?
1. The Hunt
I love Mads Mikkelson. From the menacing villain in Casino Royale, to the silent warrior in Valhalla Rising, to his TV titular portrayal of Hannibal, he can do no wrong in my book. And blimey, if this isn’t his best performance yet. The film centres around Lucas, of whom an innocent lie is told by one of the children that is under his care at the nursery. Something that we see that is insisted upon her. The film deals with the close-knit town’s vilification of Lucas as he attempts to clear his name, even when found innocent, nobody believes him. It’s a really anger inducing film that introduced me to a whole side that I had never even considered. But the anger is at the townsfolk’s blindness and ignorance to the truth. The cinematography was great, the acting was great, the script was great, the directing was top notch.
I doubt this will be on many people’s top lists, probably not near the top, but The Hunt has just stuck with me since I saw it earlier in the year, and that has to count for something. A magnificent and haunting piece of cinema.