Review of 2013: 20 best films of the year

The Popcorn Muncher's Review of 2013

Amongst the piles and piles of cinematic dreck that this year has served up have lurked a lot of real gems. In fact, some of the films released this year have the whiff of an instant classic about them.

Here, celebrating those who choose to innovate, create and imagine rather than rinse, repeat and reuse, are the 20 best films of 2o13.

20. A Field in England

British auteur Ben Wheatley continued his cinematic hot streak with this slice of Civil War psychedelia. Combining black comedy, horror and straight-up weirdness, he produced a monochrome masterpiece that deserves to be seen.

19. Blue Jasmine

A return to form for Woody Allen? We’ve almost certainly retired that phrase by now, but Blue Jasmine is Woody at his absolute best, featuring a scintillating and almost certainly Oscar-winning central performance from Cate Blanchett.

18. The Fifth Estate

Recently branded the biggest financial flop of the year, the story of Wikileaks’ rise to notoriety is The Social Network’s antisocial brother. Benedict Cumberbatch’s smarmy Julian Assange is a highlight of the year and the story is of real importance.

17. Good Vibrations

A joyous account of the punk rock scene in 1970s Ireland, this is a witty, charming movie with some killer musical sequences. It’s powered by a show-stopping performance from Richard Dormer as legendary producer Terri Hooley.

16. Saving Mr Banks

The Mouse House goes behind its own scenes to deliver this heart-warming account of the making of Mary Poppins. Emma Thompson is perfectly prickly and Paul Giamatti almost steals the film in a minor, but emotionally significant, supporting role.

15. Rush

Following last year’s documentary hit Senna comes this depiction of the heated rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, which culminated in the latter having a near-fatal accident. Daniel Brühl is electric as Lauda, and Ron Howard’s direction is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

14. Wreck-It Ralph

A great Disney animation about the life of characters inside arcade machines. It balances witty nods to classic video game culture with a heart-warming story that deserves to put it amongst the studio’s best.

13. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Proving that The Inbetweeners Movie wasn’t just a flash in the pan, Brit TV hit the big screen again to great effect. Steve Coogan’s title character flourished in the longer format in the film that, on pure laugh count, probably won the year.

12. The Conjuring

James Wan’s far superior horror film of the year is the best example yet of what critic Nigel Floyd derisively calls “cattle prod cinema”. Utilising old school effects and every trick in the haunted house movie playbook, he conjures up the scariest film of the year.

11. Side Effects

The first part of Steven Soderbergh’s two-pronged farewell to cinema (with Behind the Candelabra) is a Hitchcockian thriller that spooks, thrills and amazes in equal measure. The twisty-turny narrative, bolstered by Rooney Mara on top form, was one of the delights of 2013 at the cinema.


10. The Impossible

Poster for 2013 disaster drama The Impossible

Based on the horrific aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami, The Impossible was one of the first films of 2013, and remains one of the best at the end of the year.

Juan Antonio Bayona’s visceral direction and a career best performance from Naomi Watts power the film through heart-breaking dramatic arcs, right from the incredible tsunami sequence to the emotional ending.

Films that grab at the emotions of the audience are often seen as somehow inferior to those with more serious pretensions. However, The Impossible is a solid example of how cinema can be tear-jerking, horrifying and hugely rewarding as art.


9. Frozen

Poster for 2013 animated comedy Frozen

In a year of great animations, from the aforementioned Wreck-It Ralph to the exceptional Despicable Me 2, Disney’s thrillingly innovative fairytale Frozen rose above the pack.

Boasting a cracking voice cast, including the incredible singing range of Wicked star Idina Menzel, this is up at the same level as previous Disney success Tangled.

Josh Gad deserves all of the plaudits for his role as a snowman who may well prove as indelible a creation as the Despicable Me minions.

But the real strength of Frozen is its revisionist take on the gender politics and traditional structures of the fairytale, turning everything on its head and proving a genuinely interesting addition to what many see as a tired genre.


8. Django Unchained

Poster for 2013 western Django Unchained

This gorgeous, violent Western is visionary auteur Quentin Tarantino at his most confident, rewriting history with a casual flick of a machine gun.

Leonardo DiCaprio shimmers in a truly evil performance as Calvin Candie, the trader holding the wife of the eponymous slave, freed by Christoph Waltz’s Oscar-winning Dr Schultz.

Is it long? Yes. Is it self-indulgent? Certainly. Is it brilliant? Definitely.

Django Unchained is a brave, brutal piece of work that wouldn’t have worked in the hands of any other filmmaker.

This wasn’t just Django Unchained. It was Tarantino Unchained.


7. The World’s End

Poster for 2013 comedy film The World's End

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg were back and on top form this year with the final entry in their utterly magnificent and wonderfully subversive Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.

More than any other writing team, Pegg and Wright show a clear adoration for the genres in which they work and put an enormous amount of attention to detail into this portrait of a pub crawl that is ruined by alien replicants.

The World’s End benefits from an eclectic who’s-who of Brit comedy talent, including Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman and a fantastically understated performance from Paddy Considine.

With a tonne of stuff for fans of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz to enjoy, this is a fitting end to one of the greatest trilogies in cinema history… and certainly the funniest.


6. Elysium

Poster for 2013 sci-fi film Elysium

Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium didn’t get the praise it deserved in the summer. In fact, many derided this intelligent class divide sci-fi as inferior to Blomkamp’s debut – apartheid allegory District 9.

I, however, love Elysium. It deals with a number of enormous issues, such as hostility to immigration and equality of healthcare, whilst the ending hints at the problems of a socialist utopia. Blomkamp also manages to wrap all of this up in an engaging, thrilling sci-fi adventure movie that works on every level.

Matt Damon puts in a solid performance as the driven hero, with Sharlto Copley hamming it up to great effect as the chilling villain.

Regardless of the lukewarm reaction to Elysium from audiences and critics, Blomkamp remains an exciting filmmaker, with a real eye for social commentary.


5. The Act of Killing

Poster for 2013 documentary The Act of Killing

Dominating critical top tens across the world, Joshua Oppenheimer’s brave, shocking documentary The Act of Killing has been rightly lauded as one of the best films of 2013.

The central conceit is ingenious, encouraging the perpetrators of Indonesian communist killings in the 1960s to re-enact their crimes in the form of a Hollywood gangster flick.

At first, the gangsters behind the murder, or “free men” as they repeatedly dub themselves, are unrepentant. However, seeing the crimes replayed in front of them changes their feelings enormously.

It’s shocking, incredibly effective stuff that really shows the duality of the human condition and also the power that entertainment has to form opinion.


4. Captain Phillips

Poster for 2013 thriller Captain Phillips

This real life hostage drama is an absolutely stunning piece of work, bolstered by a rollicking performance from the ever reliable Tom Hanks.

Bourne director Paul Greengrass brings his nail-biting thriller aesthetic to this tale of a ship’s captain kidnapped by Somalian pirates, led by the snarling, fantastic debutant Barkhad Abdi.

Hanks’ performance is utterly perfect, with a final scene that might be the best display of acting on screen this year, providing a heart-breaking culmination to his character’s journey.

When Captain Phillips ended, I left the cinema feeling emotionally exhausted and wrung out by the incredible tension of the story. It’s claustrophobic, chaotic and absolutely wonderful.


3. Stoker

Poster for 2013 psychological thriller Stoker

Oldboy director Park Chan-wook’s first English language feature is an erotic psychological thriller that features a trio of incredible central performances and a gothic, symbolic aesthetic.

Stoker is Mia Wasikowska’s film, with her childlike innocence giving way to naive sexual experimentation, heralded by her dark, complex relationship with Matthew Goode as her uncle.

Like with Oldboy, Park here weaves a web of depraved complexity around a family dynamic that would give Jeremy Kyle an aneurysm. It’s a genuine masterpiece.


2. The Kings of Summer

Poster for 2013 dramedy The Kings of Summer

It was pushed back a few weeks after an insane critical reaction led to the distributors wanting to create buzz. And yet, nobody saw The Kings of Summer when it opened.

That is a crying shame, because this could and should have been Stand By Me for a new generation.

It boasts a tremendous young cast, an inventive plotline and a script that is consistently amusing and never fails to pack an emotional punch.

Moises Arias is a terrific discovery, with comic timing to die for and a brilliant talent for delivering non sequitur lines that Brick Tamland would be proud of.


1. Gravity

Poster for 2013 space drama Gravity

Every once in a while, a film comes along that pleases arthouse-loving critics and the blockbuster-hungry masses in equal measure. This year, that film was Alfonso Cuarón’s spell-binding space drama Gravity.

The premise is simple. A huge accident with debris leaves Sandra Bullock’s novice astronaut adrift in the infinite abyss with no way of getting back to civilisation.

Cuarón takes this concept and, with immense directorial kill and technical ambition, turns it into a masterpiece of visual filmmaking.

Gravity is nothing short of a complete thrill of a movie, mixing incredible tension with great acting and a level of technical invention that hasn’t been seen since Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But above all else, Gravity should be praised for its economy of storytelling. Whilst most big movies feel the need to hover around the 2 hour mark, this manages to tell its story in an hour and a half, never outstaying its welcome at all.

It is that refreshing modesty that makes it the best film of 2013.


Do you disagree with my selections? Comment below with your best films of 2013 and check back in the coming week for more of my Review of 2013.

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