Best Films of 2013

Before I kick-off the countdown that my avid readers have waited an entire year for, I’d like to give out a few honourable mentions. These are even more meaningless than the rest of this list.

American Hustle is a film I expected to feature in my Top 10, but though there was much to enjoy and admire, it didn’t work as well for me as Silver Linings Playbook last year. Likewise, Captain Phillips was just edged out of the top ten: I though Tom Hanks was extraordinary in it, but the film wasn’t as well paced as I thought it could have been, and I felt like much of the tension was quite manipulative. Nebraska and Philomena are both excellent movies and are unlucky to not be on the list- no fault of their own, I’m just not elderly enough to love them.

There were a few wildcards that almost made it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon was much underrated in my opinion, and almost snuck in at 10. Prisoners was the most fun movie I saw all year, but the ending was, unfortunately, too silly. Likewise, I enjoyed Trance, Maniac, Side Effects, In a World… and You’re Next, whilst I felt that Behind the Candelabra, In the House and We Steal Secrets were all very much worth watching.

Which, finally, brings me to the actual list.

 

10) Saving Mr Banks

At number 10, we have a film which, in my opinion, they really fucked up. Half of the film is an absolute delight – I’m talking about the half with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks – whilst the other half is an assault of trite, clichéd melodrama, filmed in the most over-sentimental way. Despite that, I still thoroughly enjoyed Saving Mr Banks, which is testament to all the things it did right.

9) The Kings of Summer

The breakout indie movie of the year, The Kings of Summer is a lyrical coming of age comedy. Yes, it overuses montages and offers absolutely zero explanation for how why no-one is searching for these children, but it’s a tender look at adolescence that doesn’t sneer at its subjects. And the weird kid is very funny, as is Nick Offerman as the grieving father.

8) The Act of Killing

This features a lot higher on some other people’s lists and for good reason. The most extraordinary documentary of the year, this managed to make me feel physically sick in The Ritzy. At times it felt uncomfortably exploitative, but there is a profundity and scope to this film that makes it the year’s best, even if it is also the most uncomfortable, documentary.

7) Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

A slightly forgotten picture, dismissed by many as being ‘after-Badlands’. David Lowery’s film is a lot more than that. Beautifully shot and acted by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, it’s both tragic and hopeful, as well as being a lot more unpredictable than it has been given credit for. The Malick influences are plain to see, but that’s no bad thing and this works as a suitable companion piece to one of the great masterpieces of cinema, Badlands.

6) Gravity

The biggest film of the year, Alfonso Cuaron’s film is a triumph of direction and design. Seen in 3D, this is a visual experience unlike any other – except, perhaps, visiting a planetarium. The reason it doesn’t top this list is the fact that, unfortunately, the film sacrifices some of the wonder of the universe – and the fight for existence – in order to become a tense action thriller. A brilliant, tense action thriller, though.

5) Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen will struggle to make a film that I don’t enjoy, and Blue Jasmine is no exception. His darkest, most cynical, work of recent years, this sits closer to Crimes and Misdemeanours than it does to Annie Hall. Cate Blanchett’s performance is extraordinary and the film is both relentless and merciful, which is both rare and extremely pleasing. And a beautifully pitched final shot.

4) Stoker

Stoker set the bar for me for much of the year. Park Chan-Wook’s beautifully designed thriller was utter design porn. Beautiful actors, wearing beautiful clothes, in a beautiful house, presented within a beautifully shot, scored and edited film. Yes, the script is clunky, but the movie is unashamed about being a celebration of the aesthetics of cinema. And it also manages to achieve a Breaking Bad style transformation of protagonist to antagonist.

3) Only God Forgives

I had my reservations about Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to Drive, especially as many people were calling it languorous and indulgent. So I went in, fully expecting to hate it, and came out loving it. Moody, tense, evocative, but never dull, the film is blank verse and moves in constantly surprising and evolving directions. The director knows exactly what he’s doing, and has the best eye for creating a cult scene since Scorcese.

2) All is Lost

Gravity was the best ‘fight for survival against the elements’ film of the year, until All is Lost came around. JC Chandor, who directed the excellent Margin Call, brings us this tale of a seafarer, played superbly by Robert Redford, trying to stay alive after his yacht sinks. Simple but propulsive, claustrophobic yet visceral, this is a film that throws you onto a boat, sinks it and then leaves you stranded. It looks and sounds beautiful, and is the most single-minded and intense cinematic experience of the year.

1) 12 Years a Slave

What more can be said about Steve McQueen’s film? It is every bit as good as the critics are saying it is. Beautifully shot and painted on an enormous and varied canvas, 12 Years a Slave follows Chiwetel Ejiofer through the horrors of the slave trade. A pitch perfect cast manage to avoid Hollywoodising this brutal, relentless tale that somehow manages to be uplifting amidst the violence, and condemn the atrocities of mankind in a way that feels fresh, whilst also celebrating the perseverance of humanity in a way that complexly avoids cliché.

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