The Best Films of 2013

So it’s that time of year again when everyone’s churning out top ten lists, and as usual, there are going to be some inconsistencies. Stop me if this list sounds familiar, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave, Nebraska, Short Term 12, Blue is the Warmest Colour, American Hustle, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, Inside Llewyn Davis

All are films regularly appearing on critic’s top ten lists, and for the most part, one is only likely to have seen them all yet if they’re a professional American film critic, or living in New York of Los Angeles. So none of these can show up in my list, and on the other hand, some films the US got last year can. Anyway, on we go…

I’ve decided to actually rank my top ten this year, it wasn’t too hard to compile the  top 5 but 6-10 were much harder. I’ll start give you a joint number 11 consisting of two very different tales of nautical survival featuring incredible lead performances, All is Lost and Captain Phillips.

Other honourable mentions: the other films I noted down when compiling this list but ultimately whittled out were:  Rush, Zero Dark Thirty, Blue Jasmine, Only God Forgives, Stoker, Moebius, The Past, In the House, American Mary, The King of Pigs

10. Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite)

9 blackfish

An enlightening documentary that works on several levels. It effectively educates about various aspects of Killer Whale behaviour, highlighting their intelligence and social structure. Then describes how and why they came to be used as attractions in water parks, exemplified by the harrowing tale of Tilikum. Then as an exposé of SeaWorld and other such park’s inhumane treatment of the Whales, and finally as a ‘whydunnit’ mystery as it relates the tragic story of the trainer who met her death in Tilikum’s jaws. My Review.

9. Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve)

9 Prisoners

After a summer of mostly disappointing or middling blockbusters, the gripping thriller Prisoners quietly arrived like a breath of (very chilly) fresh air. There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about its kidnapping/vigilante plot but it’s a prime example of a film in which almost every aspect is expertly handled. A great original script, tense direction, beautiful cinematography, and career best turns from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. My Review

8. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)

7 before midnight

Richard Linklater turned the Before… series into the unlikeliest of cinematic trilogies by secretly filming this third instalment, and it now ranks as one of the most consistent in film history. Linklater skews the notion of fairy-tail ‘happily-ever-after’ romance with this mature examination of a long term relationship taking place in just one day of the characters’ lives. It’s less immediately ‘feel-good’ than its predecessors but evidence that Linklater may have given us the most unique look at romance in cinema. I can’t wait to see how his long term Boyhood project will eventually turn out. My Review.

7. The World’s End (Edgar Wright)

7 The-Worlds-End

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg rounded off their spiritual Cornetto Trilogy in fine style with The World’s End. Avoiding taking the easy route by producing another reference packed genre-comedy, they instead infused a real depth to their styling, without losing the humour or the brilliantly handled action. Not as immediately satisfying as its predecessors, it took a couple of days to sink in, but then left me dying to watch it a second time, which only gave me more appreciation. My review.

6. The Spectacular Now (James Ponsoldt)

5 the spectacular now

There have been a number of decent coming-of-age indie films this year, Mud, Kings of Summer, The Way Way Back, but The Spectacular Now tops the pile. James Ponsoldt’s moving drama succeeds by having genuinely believable characters at its centre and taking them in unexpected directions without ever feeling contrived, plus another of the year’s best scores.  My Review.

5. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)

5 the hunt

Dogme ’95 founder Thomas Vinterberg returned with this chilling drama in which a kindergarten teacher in a rural Danish town is falsely accused of child abuse. It’s a frighteningly plausible depiction of how such rumours start and spread, anchored by another brilliant performance from Danish superstar Mads Mikkelsen. Denmark’s entry to the Oscars this year, it deserves recognition above the foreign film category. My review.

4. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (Alex Gibney)
4 mea maxima culpa

It’s been a busy year for acclaimed documentarian Alex Gibney, he had his excellent Wikileaks film We Steal Secrets out in summer, and The Armstrong Lie’s had some festival showingsalready, but he began 2013 with this film. A harrowing investigation into the Catholic Church, it respectfully recounts the horrific years of abuse deaf children suffered at the hands of a priest and springboards from there into an examination of just how high the level of corruption goes in the Vatican. Important and essential viewing. My Short Review.

3. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)

3 gravity

What more is there to say about Gravity? The years of work by Alfonso Cuarón paid off handsomely with this dazzling space saga that truly broke new ground in cinema. A straightforward story of survival in space filmed in strikingly beautiful long takes, accompanied by completely convincing effects, and the best score of the year. A deserved smash hit too. My Review.

2. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho)

2 snowpiercer

Unfortunately, most of the press Snowpiercer has received has been about how the Weinstein company is planning on dumbing it down by twenty minutes for a U.S. release, which it still hasn’t received.  I sincerely hope common sense prevails and the rest of the world gets to see the full version, as what people should really be talking about is how stunningly brilliant the film is. Director Bong Joon-ho crafts an incredibly original parable of a post-apocalyptic future, set entirely on a giant, constantly moving train ploughing through the frozen world. My Review

1. Cloud Atlas (Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer)

1 cloud atlas

I was blown away by the first trailer to this film last year, and when I got a chance to see it, I wasn’t disappointed. No film affected me more this year than this massively ambitious, visually stunning, truly unique epic, spanning past, present and future. Its masterful editing ties all its segments together, making it feel like a cohesive whole and never the anthology film it could have ended up being. A tremendous achievement of cinema, it sadly (but unsurprisingly) didn’t set the box office on fire, but hasn’t prevented The Wachowskis from having a new Sci-Fi out in 2014, which I only hope can be as remarkable as this, it’s a film like no other. My Review.

There’s my top ten then, let’s do some Oscar categories:

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity (runner-up Bong Joon-ho – Snowpiercer)

Best Actor: Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips (runner-up Mads Mikkelsen – The Hunt)

Best Actress: Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty (runner-up Paulina García – Gloria)

Best Supporting Actor: Nick Frost – The World’s End (runner-up: Ben Whishaw – Cloud Atlas)

Best Supporting Actress: Doona Bae – Cloud Atlas (runner-up: Tilda Swinton – Snowpiercer)

Best Original Screenplay: The Hunt (runner-up: The World’s End)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Snowpiercer (runner-up: Cloud Atlas)

Best Original Score: Gravity (runner-up: Man of Steel)

Best Cinematography: Gravity (runner-up Prisoners)

Best Editing: Cloud Atlas (runner-up Rush)

Special Mention: The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing

One film that a lot of people are talking about now is Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing. It’s undoubtedly one of the most important films of the year, detailing the horrific story of the sixties Indonesian death squads as told, and recreated, by the killers themselves. I didn’t get a chance to see the film until very late in the year and by that point I’d read and heard so much about it that, well, it just didn’t surprise me at all. It ended up being exactly what I expected it to, all the developments of the film had been considered fair game by critics to discuss. It’s not a film you can ‘spoil’ in the typical sense but it’s impact was certainly weakened by my foreknowledge. I feel if I’d been able to see it earlier on with little knowledge of its subject matter it might have ended up on my top ten, but as I couldn’t it probably had less of an impact on me.

Most Underrated film: The Last Stand


There’s more than one way in which a film can be underrated, rather than choosing an obscure little film many won’t have heard of, I’m going for a pretty well-known one that received mediocre reviews and box office.  Kim Ji-woon’s The Last Stand is an immensely enjoyable action film. Genre fare elevated by a skilled director, with Arnie returning to a lead role after a decade away perfectly suited to him. There have been a good number of these OAP-action films appearing recently and this is comfortably the best of the bunch.  My review.

Film I need to see again: Upstream Color


Shane Carruth’s long awaited follow-up to Primer proved to be just as perplexing as his debut. It’s a fascinating film but I couldn’t honestly tell you what it was about after only one viewing.

Film I just didn’t get: Frances Ha

Mickey Sumner and Greta Gerwig in Franes Ha

There’s usually one or too critically lauded films that do nothing for me, this year that was certainly Frances Ha. I like Noah Baumbach’s nineties films and his work with Wes Anderson, I loved The Squid and the Whale but he’s been losing me with every subsequent film he puts out. I took to this film less than any of his others, finding little to like in the protagonist and the story un-engaging and forgettable.

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