As the credits roll on 2013, it’s time to look back and pay homage to the year that was. So here are our top 10 films of the year, as voted for by our readers.
After the destruction of their spacecraft Explorer, Gravity follows the scramble for survival of novice astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran Dr. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). Tense at times and emotionally draining at others, it may feel like some of the potential of this incredibly interesting premise has been squandered.
But the film is saved by impressive cinematography and special effects (including some Super Mario-esque fireballs), excellent direction by Alfonso Cuarón, and by the charm and wit of George Clooney as Kowalski. A must-see for any fan of science fiction, and a should-see for everybody else.
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Desolation of Smaug is bigger, better and darker than it’s predecessor as we watch the company of dwarves trudge closer to the treasure-hoarding dragon. The scenery is incredible, the ever-present fight scenes surprisingly engaging and The Lord of the Rings references are non-stop.
Martin Freeman continues to prove a worthy hobbit as he comes face to face with talking spiders, wood-elves and the Cumberbatchian Smaug, while the ring begins to work its magic and the Necromancer’s shadow starts to lengthen. Tolkien purists will shudder, but for others, just being back in Middle Earth is a pleasure.
3. Frances Ha
The slow, meditative piece from Noah Baumbach is the indie film of the year. When her best-friend announces plans to move out of their shared apartment, 27-year old Frances must confront her life’s lack of direction and limited prospects. Greta Gerwig is radiant and immensely charming in the lead, bringing a vivacity that steals your attention away from her cast members.
Baumbach’s choice to use a black and white filter may lead you to approach the film with a nostalgic viewpoint, but an early montage of Frances’ comic and very 21st Century issues remind us that the piece is anything but. It encapsulates feelings of inertia and tackles questions we all ask ourselves: Am I good enough? Am I on the right path?
Frances Ha is about not being so hard on yourself; it will all work out in the end. But perhaps just not the way you may have planned it to.
4. Django Unchained
Tarantino’s take on the antebellum South left a blood-spattered stain on the senses of all those who experienced Django Unchained. This is a stain still yet to be removed, due to the unforgettable cast, characters, story, soundtrack, sensationalism, magnificently trimmed beards and the director’s ability to dance with the English dictionary with delightful dialogue.
You take a tragic yet liberating journey with the emancipated titular character, in order to free his lady love from the Mississippi plantation owner, Calvin Candie. Tarantino’s entertaining, emotional and epic spaghetti western had my curiosity, attention and intrigue from the opening credits.
5. Big Bad Wolves
Mixing brutality and dark humour to the extent and success not seen since Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy, Big Bad Wolves also shares a lot thematically with those films, particularly in regards to vengeance.
Satirising easy moralising, the film deals with a series of murdered girls and due process getting in the way of a quick result. The vigilante father of one such girl teams up with a renegade police officer to dispense judgement on the man they believe responsible. Their judgement involves fingernail trauma, blowtorches, drugged cakes and a very rusty saw.
6. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Following their victory in the 74th games, Katniss and Peeta have become a symbol of hope and rebellion against the authoritarian Capitol, much to the chagrin of the evil President Snow. At almost two and a half hours, Catching Fire appreciably takes its time, with the slow build to the 75th games being as vital and engaging as the games themselves. Brutal and unrelenting with superb performances, Catching Fire may be the most satisfying blockbuster of the year and certainly surpasses the first film in every way.
7. Blue is the Warmest Colour
This intimate epic follows teenager Adèle as she begins her first (serious) relationship with the older, striking, blue-haired artist Emma. Courting controversy for its use of extensive explicit sex, the film really soars when focusing on everything but sex. The minutiae of their romance is shot exquisitely in close-ups, which match the leads’ performances for tenderness without ever feeling voyeuristic.
The film is virtually perfect, until the fatigue felt by characters is reflected in the audience towards the appropriately open conclusion. It may be three hours but it’s a flawed masterpiece that’s certainly worth investing in.
8. Blue Jasmine
The titular Jasmine is a happy, well-to-do socialite until her husband’s nefarious business practices brings her ‘cultured’ world crashing down. We follow her plight immediately after this event. A ninety minute breakdown film sounds depressing, a new Woody Allen film sounds slight.
As is, this combination is in fact neither, yielding a touching and gently humourous study of a broken woman trying to get up and dust herself down while everyone around her suffers their own crises. With a career-peak turn from Blanchett and admirable support from Sally Hawkins, Allen’s latest is easily his best in two decades.
9. Les Misérables
Probably the biggest crowd pleaser to make the top ten follows escaped convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) on his journey of repentance after a conversion experience. God may forgive, but his tormentor Javert (Russell Crowe) is determined to enforce the full power of the law without compassion. The suffering found along the way is amended with a tale of true love and redemption.
Hooper daringly altered the style of singing from the conventional musical theatre style to more conversational, with the effect of heightening the story’s truthfulness for cinema audiences. There was much criticism around some of the actors singing style (ahem, Russell One-More-Day-Til-Rev-ol-ution Crowe). However, the raw performances from some of the cast, like Anne Hathaway’s Fantine, fully deserved the critical recognition they gained.
Oldboy director Park Chan-Wook makes his english language debut with this masterfully crafted, psychological thriller, written by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller. Following her father’s death, India Stoker is left alone with her unstable mother until her charismatic Uncle Charlie, with a grisly secret, moves in.
The script takes more than few welcome queues from Hitchcock, and without Wook’s purposeful and controlled direction it may have been dismissed as a lifeless imitation. Nicole Kidman puts in a harrowing performance as the disturbed mother, adding to the simultaneously dark, disturbing and beautiful film.