2013 saw me taking in approximately 230 films, slightly fewer than last year though in part I blame that on films all seeming to be about three hours long these days. As with last year, here’s 20 that stood out. Not all of the films I’ve listed were released in 2013, but that’s ok, it’s my website, my rules.
Honourable mentions appear at the end of this list. How anyone seriously comes up with a list of just 10 films is kind of beyond me…
Alan Moore commented in 2008 that “There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can’t”. With Cloud Atlas, The Watchowskis and Tom Twyker don’t just take David Mitchell’s neatly-nested sextet of stories and put them on screen in the same presentation but instead smash them to pieces and scatter them across three hours of the most dizzying, mind-bendingly wonderful cinema; a testament to the possibilities of the medium itself. Actors playing multiple roles, the six stories spliced together, overlapping, the score from one intruding on another; perhaps the message beneath it all — we’re all connected, or something — borders on the trite, but the execution is flawless and repeated viewings are a must.
Trailer for Cloud Atlas
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 & 2
This two-part animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic ’80s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns retains the increasingly-dated and troublesome politics of its source yet still manages to be more emotionally engaging than either Man of Steel or The Dark Knight Rises. Peter Weller makes a great Bruce Wayne and Michael Emerson’s Joker is charming, camp and chilling all at once. If nothing else, watch it to see how a Batman vs. Superman fight should be done, in preparation for being irritated at Man of Steel 2.
Trailer for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 & 2
Brandon Cronenberg’s debut is a grim, bleak film with a slimy protagonist who spends half the film coughing up blood across clinical white surfaces, yet is still almost the most sympathetic character here. Antiviral shows a world in which celebrity worship has reached its logical, Swiftian conclusion, with non-celebrities purchasing cloned celebrity meat to eat and viruses to be infected by; it’s a nasty film, a nasty world populated by nasty characters, but it’s also a tight, gripping thriller with a grotesquely-watchable performance by Caleb Landry Jones.
My review of Antiviral
The Place Beyond The Pines
One of the films that surprised me the most this year; a rich, solid, generation-spanning melodrama to lose yourself in. Bradley Cooper isn’t one of my favourite actors but he excels here, and Ryan Gosling is his usual cool, strong silent type — until he isn’t. There’s not a single weak link in the whole cast, from Eva Mendes and Ben Mendelsohn trying to make the best of their lives tainted by their association with Gosling, to Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen living with the consequences of their fathers’ actions. A strong, confident film, epic yet restrained.
Trailer for The Place Beyond the Pines
A Field in England
Playing like an extended, black and white episode of The League of Gentlemen, this English Civil War thriller is trippy, darkly-comic and at times genuinely horrifying. A minimalist work compared to some of the lavish epics featured elsewhere in this list but equally as memorable.
Trailer for The Place Beyond the Pines
While Mirror, Mirror had a certain pantomime charm, and Snow White and The Huntsman at least had Charlize Theron chewing the scenery, the best retelling of Snow White in a long time is Blancanieves, a black and white love letter to silent cinema set in a romanticised Andalusia during the 1920s with bullfighting dwarves. Maribel Verdú (previously of Pan’s Labyrinth and Y Tu Mamá También) is wonderfully chilling as La Madrastra (you’ll never see anyone eat chicken so maliciously), and Sofía Oria and Macarena García as the infant and adult Blancanieves are both excellent. A rousing, beautiful film and a heartbreaking story.
Trailer for Blancanieves
Ernest & Celestine
A charming story of a bear and a mouse befriending one another, this French-Belgian animation is in a hand-drawn style in keeping with the watercolours and light brush strokes used in Gabrielle Vincent’s original books. None of the now-common 3D computer generated models or the bright expanses of a Studio Ghibli film, Ernest & Celestine is the sort of animation you didn’t think they made any more, with shades of Raymond Briggs and Quentin Blake. Utterly lovely in every respect.
Trailer for Ernest & Celestine
Shane Carruth’s first film since his 2004 debut Primer became responsible for cinema’s most complex timeline; happily, Upstream Color is just as baffling and thought-provoking. A dreamy, otherworldly story of psychic connectivity, abuse and memory that probably won’t make a lot of sense on the first viewing. A film to be mulled over, talked about and dissected.
Trailer for Upstream Color
The characterisation might be paper-thin and the story doesn’t have much in the way of sense or logic, but that isn’t why you’d watch Pacific Rim. Instead, watch it for the fun, weighty action, tremendously-detailed world-building and a unique visual style that’s all neon and rust against bioluminescence and leathery hides. Guillermo del Toro’s affection for the genre is clear.
My review of Pacific Rim
Goon is a straightforward flick, the story of a simple man without much going for him who turns out to be good at one thing: ice-hockey fights. It’s a nice enough film in its own right, but stood out for two reasons: one is Liev Schreiber as an old fight hero, playing the role like a grizzled old villainous sheriff, and the other is, amazingly, Seann William Scott. While he’s associated mostly with American Pie trash (and the fact that his dad in Goon is played by Eugene Levy doesn’t help you forget), just occasionally he slips up and does something interesting; in Goon he’s one of the nicest, sweetest characters I’ve ever seen on film; you can’t help but root for him.
Trailer for Goon
What begins as a pretty typical coming-of-age drama turns into a thrilling, noirish Southern Gothic as two Arkansas boys befriend the enigmatic Mud, discovered living rough in an abandoned boat stuck up a tree on a Mississippi island. Matthew McConaughey is an actor who’s been going from strength to strength lately, and his performance here as the titular Mud is no exception, but the real stars are the boys, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland as Ellis and Neckbone, trying hard to act like men and getting a metaphorical boot to the face when they discover how complicated the real world actually is. Lightly fantastical, and dark despite the bright Arkansas sun.
Trailer for Mud
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
Bear with me; while on the surface this might seem like just another B-movie entry in the long-running Universal Soldier series, there’s a bizarre, hallucinatory brilliance about Day of Reckoning, as if an arty film student coked up on David Lynch films was accidentally put in charge and got away with it. The trailer doesn’t give away how seriously bonkers the film is, with elements of Apocalypse Now, Fight Club and even A Scanner Darkly thrown in among some impressive one-on-one fights. Don’t worry if you’ve never seen any of the other films in this franchise; this is very much the black sheep of the family and well worth your time.
Trailer for Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
Like Someone In Love
Seemingly quite an ordinary film concerning several meetings between a Japanese prostitute and an elderly academic, Like Someone In Love turned out to be surprisingly bewitching. Not a lot happens, and it almost feels unfinished…but that’s probably the point; the audience is just dipping into these character’s lives for a moment, then leaving with unanswered questions. A sweet, gentle, heart-rending film.
Trailer for Like Someone In Love
Clearly influenced by Studio Ghibli, but none the worse for that, Wolf Children is an eye-catching and emotional fable about a single mother raising two children who happen to be werewolves. Just completely adorable.
Trailer for Wolf Children
A great restoration of this 1960 French adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, arguably the best adaptation there’s been. Missing is the preamble from Minghella’s 1999 version; Plein Soleil dives straight in to the creepy, one-sided relationship between Ripley and the man he replaces. A stylish and sophisticated film, and you’ll never see such beautiful men as you do here.
Trailer for Plein Soleil
A spiritual successor to cult classic Tremors, Grabbers locates the action in a sleepy Irish fishing village, swaps out the giant underground worms for tentacled sea monsters and makes hopeless drunkenness the key to saving everyone. I don’t see many films that make me laugh out loud, but Grabbers managed it with ease, from Russell Tovey’s pompous mainland doctor schmoozing over Ruth Bradley’s workaholic Garda to the largely-oblivious villagers. Ruth Bradley gives one of the best drunk performances I’ve ever seen.
Trailer for Grabbers
The Perfect Host
I can’t say much about this genre-hopping psychological-drama-comedy-thriller without giving anything away; The Perfect Host is hard to define, but a lot of fun. David Hyde Pearce is hilarious and the film will keep you guessing until the very end.
Trailer for The Perfect Host
Back in 2009, South Korean actress Bae Doona (seen earlier in this list in Cloud Atlas) was the titular doll in this airy and ethereal fairy tale about an inflatable sex doll that comes to life, dresses, gets a job and falls in love. Infused with childlike wonder but with a grim, dark edge.
Trailer for Air Doll
A British-American production, directed by South Korean Park Chan-wook, starring two Australians and an Englishman in the lead roles: naturally, the best bit of American Gothic of 2013. Notable for a strong Hitchcockian influence and some timeless costuming and set design, Stoker is an almost vintage psychological horror.
Trailer for Stoker
The Great Beauty
Paolo Sorrentino’s spiritual successor to La Dolce Vita sees Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo as a jaded old journalist sloping around Rome, bored with it all and perpetually trading on the past glory of a novel he wrote as a young man. Surrounded by his equally-jaded peers, the film reeks of worn-out indolence, Rome’s ageing socialites having taken all the money and opportunity leaving nothing for the young, who are barely seen here. There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t love about The Great Beauty, from it’s heart-achingly beautiful cinematography to its poignant, insightful and constantly witty script. The performances, the score, even the closing credits are the best all year. A film to fall in love with, and easily my favourite film of 2013.
My review of The Great Beauty
Hors Satan, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Northfork, All Superheroes Must Die, After.Life, Wild Bill, The Grey, Promised Land, La Zona, Historias Minimas, Thérèse Desqueyroux, In the Cut, Neighbouring Sounds, Bernie, Gods and Monsters, Robot and Frank, The Wolverine, The Sapphires, A Monster in Paris