Top 10 Films Of 2013

1. ‘Gravity’



Every few years a film comes along that changes the way we think about cinema itself. ‘Tree of Life’ (2011), ‘Amour’ (2012), ‘The Artist’ (2011) and ‘Gravity’ are recent examples of this kind. There have been many films made about space and survival, yet there has never been a film quite like Gravity. The film opens with the text ‘Life in space is impossible’ setting up the film as a study in the law of gravity and what it means to be human where life is impossible. No film has ever accomplished such a grand study of humanity with the level of technical brilliance and deeply felt emotion as ‘Gravity’. This technical brilliance includes an uncut opening 17mins of film reminiscent of the famous uncut prolonged war scene in Cuaron’s other masterpiece ‘Children of Men’ which I consider to be the greatest film of the 2000’s decade. The visual effects are a game-changer akin to the leaps taken by ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968), ‘Star Wars’ (1977) and ‘Avatar’ (2009). ‘Gravity’ is set on a grand-scale high above earth is at its core a film focused deep within the interior of human nature. For all the technical brilliance and breathtaking visual effects it is what ‘Gravity’ reveals about what it means to be human that is most awe-inspiring. 10/10


2. ’12 Years A Slave’


‘12 Years A Slave’ is to slavery what ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993) is to the Holocaust. In the same way that ‘Schindler’s List’ became the ultimate mainstream film expression of the Holocaust by putting a human face and story to something incomprehensible in scale, so to does ’12 Years A Slave’ by following the incredible true life story of Solomon Northrup an African American freeman captured and made a slave for 12 years in the American South. Like ‘Schindler’s List’ the film asks audiences to confront the darkest side of human nature, man’s inhumanity to man. Although ultimately hopeful the film is uncompromising in its realism and desire to expose the truth without an Oscar Schindler character to come to the rescue. Beyond merely an important expose on this dark history the film explores the nature of slavery itself not only as a physical phenomenon but also as a psychological state of mind. Perhaps the greatest injustice of all is the slavery of the mind in which those enslaved come to believe in their inferiority. The film is difficult to watch, in some ways dispassionate and unsentimental, which makes the tears I shed even more well earned. The film ends without justice, and with a muted happy ending reminding us all of the continuing search for a more humane and just world even to this day. 10/10


3. ‘Her’


The premise of ‘Her’ a man in the not-so-distant-future falling in love with his OS (operating system), basically an AI version of Siri, sounds like a glib lame movie gimmick of train-wreck proportions. The genius of ‘Her’ is that in someone else’s hands so many things could easily go wrong but in the hands of Spike Jonze nothing does. The film is nothing short of a breathtakingly original masterpiece. Beyond being a wistful love story illuminating what it means to be human, ‘Her’ is a hilarious surrealist deadpan comedy and a biting social critique on the technological brave new world of isolated anonymous disconnected individuals that we are fast living into. The best films about the future merely extrapolate the present and ‘Her’ captures the zeitgeist of the present. As the world becomes more intelligent and clinical ‘Her’ is a dramatic call for craziness and love. As our needs and wants are ever more easily met the crazy red blooded call of ‘I love you’ seems to echo louder in our shiny cold new world. 10/10


4. ‘The Great Beauty’


‘The Great Beauty’ is a deliriously decadent visual banquet for the true cinephile. At once both a modern day homage to Federico Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ (1960), a homage to the beauty of Italy/Rome and a meditation on the hedonistic social descent of the ‘great beauty’. Ever since the opening lines of the 1933 classic ‘King Kong’: ‘And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And from that day, it was as one dead’ the cinematic trope of beauty=death has permeated cinematic story telling. The beautiful ‘femme fatales’ of film noir, the lake in which Narcissus drowns himself, Oscar Wilde’s quote ‘everyman kills the thing he loves’ all swirled in my head as I watch the aging socialite and once great writer Jep Gambardella in his meanderings around Rome and his life. The film focuses on this character after his 65th birthday as he reflects his life and his profound sense of unfulfillment. The film follows Jep through party scenes of opulent desolation, statues and ruins of great beauty, modern art, religion, vanity, pride, sloth, and ultimate dark sadness of a life that has been killed by beauty. This is the Berlusconi era, with the capsized ‘Costa Concordia’, a society choking on its own decadence as Rome burns with moral chaos, spiritual and emotional emptiness. The film includes a stunning 15 min long party scene a metaphor for decadence: what begins as a hilarious fun rooftop party of Romans continues ad nauseam long after it should have ended becoming an almost unbearably grotesque death by too much of a good thing. The dance that never ends, no one can leave, seduced by beauty until everything is dead but the eternal dance. 10/10


5. ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ 


As the world is left picking up the pieces from the greed induced mess that was the ‘Great financial recession’ of 2008 what better time to explore a character that epitomizes the state of mind and culture that made the recession possible. Enter Jordan Belfort, a fraudster, conman, liar, thief, drug addict, womanizer, wife-beater, misogynist, a man who worships and fetishizes money, the ultimate wolf street alpha male, Neanderthal douche bag. The film follows Jordan on his journey from rags to riches as he establishes a ‘penny-stock boiler room’ of securities fraud, reaping huge financial gain, living the ultimate out of control lifestyle. The film has become this year’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (2012) i.e. the most controversial film of the year, sparking the age-old representation=endorsement debate, in which a film’s integrity is attacked due to the subject matter it represents. Neither ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, which showed torture and was accused of endorsing the use of torture, nor ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ which was accused of celebrating Belfort’s deeds. The dichotomy of this debate is flawed a film can represent the reprehensible while not endorsing it, as both films did. Indeed in one key scene in which Belfort describes to the audience how he carefully managed to drive home in a drug induced stupor, his arrest in the morning and smashed up car shows that he is an unreliable narrator. The film is Leo’s best performance ever as it finally allows him to explore the outer most limits of his ‘anger/passionate Leo’ acting trump card, which was made for this role. The mastery Scorsese is his ability to delve deep into unlikeable extreme characters and then tell an audience more about ourselves and our reaction to such behavior than about the character himself. 10/10


6. ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ 


The Coen brothers are masters at creating atmospheric quirky alternative character driven stories with dark themes. ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is the Coen’s darkest film since ‘No Country For Old Men’. ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ couldn’t get more alternative to the Hollywood mainstream if you tried. It is an anti-Hollywood film in that it focuses on a loser and in doing so says more about success, art and show business than a film about a successful character could. It is the story of the struggles of Llewyn Davis a deep folk singer as he attempts to become famous and survive whilst staying true to his art. The keyword here is his art, as Llewyn Davis believes himself a great artist and is unable to compromise his vision or pride in anyway to achieve success that ultimately leads to his failure. The melancholy and occasional cruelty of this film creeps inwards until towards the end any moment of levity is a welcome respite from the slow descent into despair. Refusing to ‘sell-out’ by performing less melancholy and more pop accessible work, Llewyn’s struggle is one that captures the pitfalls of what it is to be creative and a true artist. The film is unapologetically small cleverly mirrors the melancholy inaccessibility of Llewyn folk songs in the structure of the film itself. And yet it is one of the Coen brothers best films, deeply felt, heartbraking and profound. A folk tale that is at once a parable, a Greek comic-tragedy and pop-culture study by two of the best masters in film working today. 10/10


7. ‘Nebraska’ 


Nebraska is a beautiful cinematic poem, profound as it is poignant. Although the film has deep and powerful undertones it also works as a hilarious absurdist comedy and a charming road movie. In Nebraska an aging alcoholic father Woody Grant, Bruce Dern, takes a road trip with his estranged son David, Will Forte, from Montana to Nebraska to claim a million dollar marketing prize. Despite the fact that the prize is obviously a marketing scam. Alexander Payne is a master at creating vivid complex characters both tragic and comic. With Woody Grant, Payne creates one of his greatest characters yet, the stoic, complex, alcoholic, headstrong, melancholic , man of few words, who will not go quietly into the night. Bruce Dern gives the performance of a lifetime by capturing the so perfectly the man leading a life of quiet desperation. Perhaps Payne’s most personal and deep work yet, ‘Nebraska’ is a minimalist masterly film which says more about life and death in a simple man’s quest to get a marketing prize than most films with grander subject matter and important figures. The million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing Prize is T.S.Elliot’s handful of dust. 9/10


8. ‘The Dallas Buyers Club’ 


2013 will go down as one of the best years for male acting roles in a long time. Of all the career defining male performances including Leonardo Di Caprio’s best performance yet in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, Bruce Dern’s career highlight in ‘Nebraska’ and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s as the human face of slavery in ’12 Years A Slave’, it was the limited released Toronto film festival breakout film ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ that contained the two best male performances of a sensational year: Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof and Jared Leto as Rayon. These two characters could not be further from each other’s worlds. Woodroof a homophobic rodeo cowboy and Rayon a drug addict trans woman, worlds apart united by the pandemic that is HIV-AIDS. The film is a powerful testimony to the struggle for survival, the power that the outcasts and praiahs have and ultimately a story of redemption as Woodroof transforms his life into one of value as he fights for access to medication for AIDS victims. There is a power, velocity and desperation to Ron Woodroof that is awe-inspiring to behold, both in his physical transformation and internal struggle. One scene in which Leto’s Rayon puts on makeup in order to look ‘pretty’ for death is so harrowing and unforgettable it etched in my mind as I write. Despite the difficult subject matter the film avoids sentimentality, educates us without preaching and entertains in the midst of unbearable tragedy. The film is also laced with shots and metaphors of extreme beauty, a stripper bar that becomes a church in Woodroof’s desperation, riding the rodeo bull takes on a whole new meaning when faced with clingy onto life. 9/10


9. ‘The Hunt’


In the age of violence and sex in TV and film, with seemingly everything and anything being depicted, what is the last taboo? ‘The Hunt’ tackles possibly the most taboo and controversial of subject matters left: child abuse in a Hitchcockian drama of wrongful conviction. Fast becoming one of my favourite actors, Dane Mad Mikklelsen plays a decent innocent man wrongly accused of sexually interfering with a small girl in the kindergarten he works at. For his hauntingly nuanced and unsentimental performance he won Best Actor at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. The film deftly plays with the audiences emotions whilst never dictating or preaching, leading us through a Khafkaesque nightmare as the small liberal-minded Danish community turns against the wrongfully suspected man. Director Thomas Vinterbottom is a member of the Dogme 95 movement along with Lars Von Trier with a commitment to traditional story telling, acting and simple production values which gives ‘The Hunt’ a documentary realism that a Hollywood film of the same movie would fail to deliver. The film doesn’t reassure the audience or shy away from some horrific scenes of retribution creating a deeply challenging drama that will leave you thinking about it for days. Although never preaching ‘The Hunt’ is a modern day ‘Crucible’, a damning indictment of a well-meaning liberal community turned mob judge and jury acting out of fear and ignorance. How delicate our social fabric is, built on trust and a evolutionary sense of judgement and how quickly society can turn into a mob. An unnerving tragedy of injustice in an unjust world. 9/10


10. ‘Before Midnight’ 


‘Before Midnight’ is the third installment of the Before trilogy, the sequel to ‘Before Sunrise’ (1995) and ‘Before Sunset’ (2004). As the title suggests the film opens on the later years of the 3 movie love story of Jess (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), nine years after ‘Before Sunest’ as the couple take a vacation in Greece. The magic of this film is in the screenplay that was co-written by the two lead actors themselves with the director that makes the dialogue so unbelievably real. The entire film is basically a series of fly-on-the-wall conversations between the two leading characters as they discuss everything from their children, life, death, aging, love, hate, marriage and particularly what long-term commitment looks like. Unlike the earlier films in which the two characters fall in love, this film seems to look beyond the initial romance to the meaning of true long-term love and how difficult it is. This is one of cinemas greatest love stories told over three films. In Hemmingway like story telling, we are never offered access to their internal thoughts or motivations all we are given is what they say, how they say it and the meaning that it creates. The conversations are engaging, funny, revealing and above all so real that you feel as if you are eaves-dropping on a couple you happened to come across in Greece. The titans of cinema have long sought to film realism, life as it is in all its colours and longer still artists have sought to reveal the nature of true love. ‘Before Midnight’ is a film that attempts to do both and in doing so in the end of one of cinemas greatest trilogies. 9/10


Honourable Mentions:

11. ‘Philomena’ 9/10

12. ‘American Hustle’ 9/10

13. ‘Blue Jasmine’ 9/10

14. ‘Captain Phillips’ 8/10

15. ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ 8/10

16. ‘August: Osage County’ 8/10

17. ‘Behind The Candelabra’ 8/10

18. ‘To The Wonder’ 8/10

19. ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ 8/10

20. ‘Tim Winton’s: The Turning’ 8/10


The Rest:

21. ‘Lee Daniels: The Butler’ 8/10

22. ‘The Conjuring’ 8/10

23. ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ 8/10

24. Final Cut: Ladies And Gentlemen’ 7/10

25. ‘A Place Beyond The Pines’ 7/10

26. ‘Kill Your Darlings’ 7/10

27. ‘Prisoners’ 7/10

28. ‘Trance’ 7/10

29. ‘The Book Thief’ 7/10

30. ’The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ 7/10

31. ’Monsters University’ 6/10

32. ’World War Z’ 6/10

33. ’Elysium’ 6/10

34. ‘Man Of Steel’ 6/10

35. ‘The Great Gatsby’ 6/10


The Ugly:

36. ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’ 5/10

37. ‘The Company You Keep’ 5/10

38. ‘The Counselor’ 5/10

39. ‘Only God Forgives’ 4/10

40. ‘Mood Indigo’ 4/10

41. ‘Wolverine’ 3/10

42. ‘Last Vegas’ 3/10


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