We’re at the halfway point of the year and 2013 has, thus far, not been great for films. Awards season didn’t yield much in the way of truly remarkable cinema in the early part of the year and summer blockbuster season has been lukewarm, with only a few notable exceptions.
Even usually reliable stalwarts of quality like Pixar and Marvel have churned out sub-par films that won’t be making it into this top five. Here though are the five films this year that have managed to rise above the mess. My guess is that most of them will still be around when I publish a top ten in six months’ time.
5. Star Trek Into Darkness
This was a pleasant surprise for me. I am not a Star Trek fan and didn’t really enjoy JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the series. This, however, was a pacy and thrilling sequel that managed to capture exactly what a summer blockbuster should be.
Unburdened by the tedious character introductions that marred the first film, Abrams hear presses his foot on the accelerator from the very start and doesn’t lift it for two hours. The characters are given room to really develop and Benedict Cumberbatch makes for an engrossing villain.
The nods to Trek lineage may have been a step too far for some, but they were a nice wink to the past. The fate of the franchise is now unknown, but Star Trek Into Darkness is an absolute corker.
4. Wreck-It Ralph
With an engaging premise and a quality script, Wreck-It Ralph is the best children’s movie released this year. There’s enough heart and humour in there to keep the kids happy, but it’s true USP is the reverence it has for arcade computer games. Managing to bridge the parent and child audiences so perfectly is a very rare attribute.
Whether you’re into computer games or not, there is plenty to enjoy in Wreck-It Ralph, even just in the delightful cuteness of Sarah Silverman’s character. Her story arc is familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Disney films but, when it’s this much fun, that doesn’t matter at all.
3. Side Effects
Steven Soderbergh, if this really is his last year of film-making, has gone out on a high. As well as the excellent Behind the Candelabra, Soderbergh made this taut, slightly Hitchcockian thriller about the pharmaceutical industry.
Rooney Mara shines in a complex and nuanced role that cements her as a true leading lady as the labyrinthine plot teases out a number of very interesting rug pulls. It perhaps twists a little too much and at least one of the developments may be a step too far, but the film is engrossing and exciting enough that this feels unimportant.
As Soderbergh’s swansong, this is certainly in tune.
2. The Impossible
Released at the very beginning of 2013, The Impossible started off the year with a flood – both on screen and off. The tale of the Boxing Day tsunami, inspired by a real family’s plight, had audiences crying from start to finish. Using archive footage from news reports and a fastidious eye for detail, it replicated exactly the events of only a few years ago – events that are still raw in our minds.
The heart-breaking story of a family split up by disaster with seemingly no hope of a reunion struck a chord with virtually everyone and the powerful performances of Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor made it all feel very real indeed.
The Impossible is a difficult film to enjoy, but there certainly hasn’t been a more emotional journey in cinemas this year.
1. Django Unchained
A Quentin Tarantino movie is always an event and there was certainly an incredible amount of hype going into the release of Django Unchained. Never one to shy away from difficult material, slavery in the deep South of America was perhaps a topic Tarantino was always going to turn to eventually.
What he produced is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s brutal, funny, shocking and completely riveting. Leonardo DiCaprio puts in a career best performance as the diabolical slave trader Calvin Candie and Samuel L Jackson’s slave is Tarantino’s most complex character yet. Jamie Foxx is almost sidelined in the title role, but really comes into his own during the bloody climax.
Only the auteur’s perfunctory cameo causes problems, but that’s not enough to prevent Django Unchained from being the best film he has produced since Pulp Fiction.