Top 10 Films 2013

2013 was a fantastic year for films, where there were many stand-out flicks in both serious and comedic genres. Honourable mentions go to The World’s End, Trance, Les Miserables, The Impossible and Side Effects. Despite their individual brilliance, the fact that they didn’t make the top 10 is testament to the plethora of fantastic films released in the UK in 2013, and how strong they were.

10. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

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While certainly a slow-starter, Captain Phillips grew into one of the most tense and fixating films of the year, and was deservedly nominated for a myriad of Oscar categories. Following, er, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), through a terrifying ordeal where his boat is captured by Somalian pirates, (Barkhad Abdi with a particularly exquisite performance), the film focuses on raw emotion and conflict of morals rather than stunning adrenalin-pumped sequences; a wise decision by director Paul Greengrass. However, only the film’s dying moments makes Captain Phillips a great film, as opposed to a good one.

9. ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES

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2013 was filled to the brim with excellent comedies. Anchorman 2 is no doubt one of them, a sequel that lived up to the high expectations surrounding it. It’s truly hilarious, containing some magnificent moments that had the whole audience crying with laughter (no hyperbole used). Following Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrel) and his news team (Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner) through silly antics (the plot is barely there), the film descends (or ascends) into brilliant madness that is, at times, side-splitting (and at other times, unfunny, such as a dinner scene involving Ferrel and his ‘black lingo’). Yet for every damp squib, there’s three or four quotable lines (‘A black man always follows me when it’s sunny’ or ‘No offence, but you’re a stupid asshole!’), or an achingly-funny sequence.

8. ONLY GOD FORGIVES

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Only God Forgives is frustrating to watch. As with Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous film, Drive, it’s visually vibrant and makes great use of non-diegetic sound. Yet it’s much harder to follow and shrouded by intrigue that comes across as both interesting and pretentious drabble. On my first viewing, I was slightly nonplussed as to what I thought of the film; I was impressed by it’s atmospheric qualities, but both the characterisation and the seemingly non-existent plot hindered it. Second and third viewings have made me appreciate each performance and their subtlety (Ryan Gosling is good, but is completely outclassed by Kristin Scott-Thomas’ despicable motherly figure), as well as giving me more opportunities to pick out the symbolism and metaphorical meaning behind each scene. If you are to watch Only God Forgives, do so without the expectation of a formulaic plot or conventions associated with thrillers. It’s understated, unnerving and exquisitely framed.

7. UPSTREAM COLOUR

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Did you understand Upstream Colour on first viewing? No, neither did I. Shane Carruth’s long-awaited followup to 2004’s (wildly-overrated and just as confusing) Primer sees a woman (Amy Seimetz) taken over by a worm-like parasite, a man that enters her life (played by Carruth), a group of pigs and the farmer that keeps them in order, and… uh, that’s it. The audience is tasked with putting the film’s numerous strands into a coherent plot. It’s once again utterly ostentatious, but not in a way where its knowingly-pretentiousness is a burden. Beautifully shot and fantastically scored (by, er, Carruth once more), Upstream Colour appears as 2013’s most confusing, distorted and interesting film. Multiple viewings are recommended.

6. ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA

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Steve Coogan effortlessly transfers his TV persona onto the big screen, in a much more impressive way than Mitchell and Webb’s The Magicians. The reason why? Alpha Papa is undoubtedly the funniest comedy of 2013. Slapstick merges seamlessly with stunning one-liners spewed from a top-class script: “We’re asking, what is the worst monger? Iron, fish… rumour… or war?”. Amazing. Coogan isn’t self-indulgent either in the way he wants to show Partridge off to the audience, ever keen to embarrass himself, or portray himself selfishly. The humble performance was just the pinnacle of what had been a stellar year for Coogan, appearing in other such films as What Maisie Knew and Philomena. Funny stuff.

5. FILTH

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Tragically unheard of over in the States, Filth contains James McAvoy’s best performance to date. He plays a despicable Scottish psychopath with a childhood shrouded in mystery and problems with both his family and his work. Fixated on sex, drugs and anything that can be deemed offensive, the film starts comedic and quickly grows dark and dreary, descending into one of the most depressing films of the year. At times incredibly surreal, the performances of every actor in the film are outstanding, where Eddie Marsan and Shirley Henderson particularly stand out as supporting cast. Filth is the best adaptation of one of Irvine Welsh’s novels since Trainspotting, and for that earns a place on my top 10.

4. GRAVITY

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Gravity’s minimalistic plot is by no means unintentional; if anything, it helps capture the audience more vividly in the overwhelmingly realistic details weaved into the film. More impressive is the immeasurable, inescapable tension felt throughout the film. Akin to All is Lost and Captain Phillips, the plot involves the feeling of helplessness as character(s) are trapped in a situation from where there is seemingly no way out. And for a large part of the film, you can sense that Bullock’s character’s future is escaping from her grasp. Does she make it back to Earth? Well, this is a high-grossing Hollywood film, so I’ll let you make your mind up from there. What particularly impresses is Sandra Bullock’s physical acting, where she epitomises fragility and fear with little dialogue. While the Oscar for Best Actress went to Cate Blanchett for her work in Blue Jasmine, Bullock perhaps gives the performance of her career in this film. Stunning visuals also work in the film’s favour, which helps to engage with the audience as if you’re in place of Bullock. Mesmerising, Gravity is a spectacle of a film where you need to watch it in the 3D medium to appreciate it fully.

3. CLOUD ATLAS

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Opening to a £6m box office return, Cloud Atlas is criminally underrated, inaccessible and relatively unheard of. Which makes no sense; it’s helmed by the directors of the Matrix Trilogy, features a number of A-list actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent), and has an ambitious scope that it just about manages to achieve. Cloud Atlas is an epic, and not short of a masterpiece. It’s a mixture of emotions, action and pace that rarely seem cluttered; and while not every story (in Cloud Atlas, six intertwining stories are told in fantastic detail) is impressive, the flick is visually stunning, and has a magnificent score that resonates with the audience for days on end.

2. THE GREAT GATSBY

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A movie that was slammed by critics, being too in-your-face, boisterous, and absolutely not atypical of the era it was set in. Well, it seems like critics miss the point of Baz Luhrmann and his style. This film perhaps encapsulates everything Luhrmann moreso than Romeo & Juliet, or even Moulin Rouge. It’s also the film I prefer the most out of the trio; booming music, incredible visuals that, contrary to what most people think, don’t tire you out the longer you progress into the movie, and once again, dazzling performances. Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton steal the show; Mulligan as a romantic woman torn between her husband and Gatsby, and Edgerton as a plastic, slimy, charmless husband to Mulligan. Edgerton’s brutality is exquisite. As too is Mulligan’s facade of a sweet innocent woman. DiCaprio’s performance, on the other hand, is what would be expected of Gatsby, but it’s a little overplayed at times.  Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Luhrmann, The Great Gatsby impresses and entertains on so many levels, with the only afterthought being a gobsmacked “wow”.

1. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

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“If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.”

Derek Cianfrance’s latest film since Blue Valentine is absolutely incredible. It tells the tale of a motorcyclist (Ryan Gosling), as he tries to support his family. A cop (Bradley Cooper in his best ever performance) enters the fray and the consequences of their encounter are told in the film’s final act. The Place Beyond the Pines is the most moving film of 2013, featuring a raw, understated performance from Ryan Gosling (his best ever performance) and a haunting soundtrack that etches its way into the audience for some time after the end credits appear. A masterpiece, the film manages to be both thrilling, tense and emotional, each attribute balanced perfectly by Cianfrance as not to dominate the film. Dane DeHaan, who plays Gosling’s son, brings out another fantastic performance, a definite rising star that has a great future ahead of him. What makes The Place Beyond the Pines so special is its ability to resonate with the audience, to show a raw and fresh reality that strikes deeply into the audience’s heart.

 

The Maze Runner

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YA (Young Adult) flicks are going through a rather turgid time currently; Divergent‘s mediocre reviews and the similar reaction to The Giver is earning the profitable genre a bad reputation. And, presently, that’s what the genre represents: an easy way to churn out bog-standard productions and earn dosh following the startling success of 2012’s The Hunger Games. The Maze Runner is just another run-of-the-mill adaptation from a mildly popular YA novel in order to generate plenty of cash, right? Er, no actually. I’d go as far as to say that The Maze Runner is the best YA film in recent years, shadowing the might of even The Hunger Games.

The quality of The Maze Runner lies within the fact that it chooses not to conform to the stereotypes of the YA genre. It’s incredibly refreshing to watch a YA flick without worrying about distracting love triangles, numerous extravagant settings and an easygoing tone that doesn’t quite fit with the material and messages it attempts to send. No, The Maze Runner sets itself apart from its competition – and it would no doubt be receiving much better review if it were not for the negative connotations that its genre has garnered over time.

The plot is deceivingly simple at first – a teenager (Dylan O’Brien) find himself dazedly placed in a maze where other teenagers like him reside, in the same situation. They are trapped in a box – known as The Glade, where an impressive and colossal maze surrounds them, preventing their escape unless they find a seemingly non-existent exit. Here, disputes occur and tension rises, toppling over as the only girl is introduced into the fray (Kaya Scodelairo). As the walls to the maze then refuse to close, the terrible inhabitants of the maze known as Grievers come out to play…

Basically, think a modern version of Lord of the Flies.

One of the film’s greatest strengths is the tone and mood it creates; there is an overbearing sense of urgency, which comes across fantastically to the audience. While many YA flicks don’t encapsulate the looming, dread-foreshadowing tone that may be more suited to their source material (instead resorting to cheap jokes or melodramatic romance), The Maze Runner captures this perfectly. Scenes such as the sprint to escape the closing walls of the maze, and the introduction to the hideous Grievers, are incredibly tense and increasingly stressful (and enjoyable) to watch. The Maze Runner takes itself very seriously, and while that approach has been misused in recent history (Man of Steel comes to mind immediately), it’s masterfully used here to squeeze the largest amount of intensity out of the film as it can muster. Yet while the film is gripping, it’s also contemplative and intriguing, where many loose strands that the plot begins with urges the audience to remain focused.

Another impressive aspect of The Maze Runner is the acting of the main characters. Dylan O’Brien plays both the confused and the increasingly-confident hero extremely well, where his understated performance contains exactly the right amount of both bravado and pretense at knowing how to deal with the situation he’s in. Will Poulter, hot off last year’s BAFTA Rising Star Award, plays fellow trapped teenager Gally with a bullish confidence, his antagonistic intentions contradicted by his good intentions. While he may serve as the antithesis to O’Brien’s protagonist, his performance is both sympathetic and easy to relate to. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (He’s 24! 24!) plays second-in-command Newt with subtle kindness, acted out well enough but mainly used for expositional purposes. Similarly impressive is relative newcome Ki Long-Hee, who plays the main action figure of the film, Minho. His performance carries an air of competence and physicality, a facade that protects his feelings of helplessness towards the situation he finds himself in.

Less impressive is the supporting cast, where the line deliverance is robotic and devoid of any empathy. It’s a compliment to the main cast’s acting (or inversely, an insult to the supporting cast’s) that their performance is so prominent in how lifeless they are. And while the plot is simple, it unravels rather quickly into many loose strands, where only a small amount are tied up (of course, there is 2015’s sequel to look forward to). Finally, despite the stunning CGI, where the maze in particular looks epic both aesthetically and in scale, there are a few short moments where the effects are clear and obvious, though that shouldn’t detract from the film too much.

One of the film’s main criticisms stems from its ending, and how anti-climatic and nonsensical it seems. Of course, the fact that the film is merely the first of a trilogy is neglected, where critics are too hasty in their distaste of the amount of questions the film leaves open by the end of its running time. In terms of its underwhelming nature, it’s representative of its refusal to abide to the YA stereotypes, instead choosing to end on a sombre, intriguing note that will give the audience goosebumps. The Maze Runner is a refreshingly intense, gripping and unique movie experience that will have the audience salivating for more.

– Gus Edgar

7 Films to Watch This Month – October 2014

Gone Girl – 3rd October

David Fincher’s (Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, Se7en) latest film has been picking up predictably great reviews. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl tells the story of a missing wife in a devilishly twisted way.

The Maze Runner – 10th October

Another book adaptation that looks great this month is The Maze Runner – a YA film that doesn’t conform to its genre’s rules, and so doesn’t trip up like Divergent did. The Maze Runner features an array of up-and-coming actors who will be interesting to see on the big screen.

Fury – 22nd October

Sigh…I guess this is certainly a movie to look out for this month, even if it looks incredibly dull for me. Nevertheless Fury has a strong cast (Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, er, Shia LaBeouf) and looks like potential Oscars material (though a very unlikely bet at that). Fury tells the story of an American tank battalion that lurches forwards into Nazi territory.

The Babadook – 24th October

Judging from reviews, The Babadook looks to be the best horror movie of the year. The film takes a simple concept of a familiar childhood story and twists it into a terrifying tale that is sure to frighten its target audience.

Serena – 24th October

Another film that looks for all intents and purposes like it’s made purely for the Oscars season is Serena, a film that looks to contain plenty of drama. Its two main cast members are Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, a pair that is equally likely to excite as it is to grow old.

Horns – 29th October

Starring Daniel Radcliffe in an against-type role, Horns is the dark tale of a guy sprouting horns out of his head following the death of his girlfriend, of which he has been accused of murder. With mixed reviews, Horns may not be for everyone, but it looks to be an enjoyable film that’s as gruesome as it is fun to watch.

Nightcrawler – 31st October

My most anticipated movie of October arrives on the final day; saving the best to last, then. The film focuses on Jake Gyllenhaal, playing a disturbing, ambitious, sociopathic night crime journalist, Lou Bloom. With very positive reviews and a ton of praise heaped on Gyllenhaal, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be excited for Nightcrawler.