Review of 2013: Top 10 pleasant movie surprises of the year

The Popcorn Muncher's Review of 2013

As well as some of the more disappointing films that were released in 2013, there were a few that were shocking for more pleasant and enjoyable reasons. Amongst the films that screamed success and those that were always going to a fail were some that turned out a lot better than expected.

2013 was a year full of nice shocks and here are ten of the best.


10. One Chance

Poster for 2013 comedy biopic One Chance

Literally no-one was anticipating the Paul Potts biopic with any sort of eagerness. Who’s Paul Potts? You know, he was the opera guy who won the first series of Britain’s Got Talent.

Then the trailers for One Chance arrived and it became clear that, instead of actually playing Potts, James Corden was just being himself. He wasn’t even attempting a Welsh accent.

And yet, mostly due to a brilliantly warm supporting performance from Alexandra Roach, One Chance turned out to be a solid comedy movie with a beating heart at its centre.

It wasn’t perfect by any stretch and I still don’t understand why it was made, but I was pleasantly surprised by its blend of wit, charm and surprising emotional thrust.


9. World War Z

Poster for 2013 action thriller World War Z

Before its release, World War Z was battered by an avalanche of bad publicity over its extensive reboots and ballooning production budget.

However, despite all of that, Brad Pitt’s horror/action hybrid was an awful lot of fun, throwing every genre convention at the wall and dealing with the zombie apocalypse on an enormous scale.

The ending tails off a bit and the rewrites have created a rather uneven tone, but based on the news stories, this could’ve been a disaster of The Lone Ranger’s ilk. Thankfully, it just wasn’t.

World War Z had action, scares and enough sheer craziness to carry it through to its bumpy ending. Beating its pre-release damning, it won over some of the critics and audiences to the tune of $540m.


8. I Give It a Year

Poster for 2013 romcom I Give It A Year

British romcoms aren’t usually particularly good. British romcoms about weddings are usually even worse.

Fortunately, Borat director Dan Mazer’s I Give It a Year is an intelligent, frequently hilarious portrayal of how relationships work… or, more often, don’t.

Great central performances from Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne make the unique setup work really well, supported by comedy highlight Anna Faris who brings a delightful awkwardness to her role.

The script is biting and wryly observed and, despite its rather formulaic conclusion, I Give It a Year never feels contrived. It’s a real comedy gem that deserves to be loved.


7. White House Down

Poster for 2013 action film White House Down

Everyone loves a big, dumb action movie. Not quite as many people love Channing Tatum, and fewer still have any sort of reverence for disaster merchant Roland Emmerich. But that was before White House Down.

Emmerich’s movie about an attack on the White House is the kind of stupid, explodey, boomy, bangy flick that A Good Day to Die Hard should’ve been. It’s not concerned with anything other than being a really good time.

Tatum makes a decent fist of running around in a vest with a gun and Jamie Foxx is nothing short of hilarious as a very Obama-like President. It’s the kind of movie that you’ll watch in a year’s time on Netflix with a group of friends and a crate of beer. And it’ll be awesome.


6. Ender’s Game

Poster for 2013 sci-fi Ender's Game

Appearing in cinemas on a wave of controversy about the views of author Orson Scott Card, this literary adaptation seemed to be yet another YA tale with pretensions of being the next Potter or Twilight.

However, Ender’s Game is an intelligent, exciting sci-fi blockbuster with plenty to say about the ethics of violence and is a timely reminder of the divide between simulation and reality.

When you throw in a great Asa Butterfield performance and Harrison Ford on grizzly, sophisticated form, you have all of the ingredients for a film that goes further than the usual young adult fare and has real ideas behind it.


5. Sunshine On Leith

Poster for 2013 musical Sunshine On Leith

If you had told me 12 months ago that a musical based on the songs of The Proclaimers would be one of the most joyous cinema experiences of the year, I’d have laughed at you. And yet, as I left Sunshine On Leith with an enormous smile on my face, I realised that it was a very real prospect.

The Scottish band’s back catalogue is used to great effect by director Dexter Fletcher to create a moving and funny portrayal of two squaddies and their struggles to adjust to life outside of war.

Antonia Thomas (Misfits) and George MacKay (Birdsong) give fantastic performances and the flashmob finale to the band’s biggest hit is a moment of unbridled joy.


4. The Conjuring

Poster for 2013 horror film The Conjuring

Horror purists, including many of the film critic fraternity, have criticised many recent movies in the genre as nothing more than “cattle prod cinema”. And, especially after my initial walkout, I wasn’t expecting anything more from The Conjuring.

As a huge horror fan though, I’m very glad to say that The Conjuring was about as perfect an example of the cattle prod genre as there has ever been.

James Wan is a true maestro of modern horror and, drawing from classics of the genre, as well as modern conventions, he has constructed an intricate, ingenious patchwork of sound design, direction, visuals and jump-out-of-your-seat scares.

Following The Conjuring, it feels a lot like the modern haunted house movie has reached its zenith.


3. Evil Dead

Poster for 2013 horror remake Evil Dead

No-one expects very much from remakes, and especially horror ones. With that in mind, I wasn’t expecting cinematic genius from the Evil Dead remake.

What I got from Fede Alvarez’s take on the original 1981 material was a gore-drenched B-movie that felt refreshing, exciting and brand new.

The central conceit that brings the characters to the house is intriguing and, once the power tools start whirring, it dispatches its victims in innovative, shocking and really quite terrifying ways.

This is Evil Dead for a whole new generation and the culmination of the torture porn wave into something that truly shows the visceral power of gore on screen.


2. The Impossible

Poster for 2013 drama The Impossible

To me, a sentimental, teary drama about the Boxing Day tsunami seemed a little exploitative. Then, I saw the posters for The Impossible crowing on about the emotional tale and expected a cesspool of sentimentality.

The film itself is one hell of a ride. Juan Antonio Bayona’s account of the disaster is visceral filmmaking at its best and it sets into motion a truly harrowing narrative journey.

The Impossible batters through its audience, ensuring that there isn’t a dry eye left in the house. No-one is unaffected by its poignancy and power. It’s a film that goes straight for the heartstrings and refuses to ever let go.


1. The Kings of Summer

Poster for 2013 comedy The Kings of Summer

The phrase “feel-good film of the year” is ludicrously overused. However, in the case of quirky indie The Kings of Summer, it’s completely justified.

Balancing the naivety of childhood with the arrogance of adolescence, it’s a film that comes out of nowhere to become a true successor to Stand By Me in the ranks of coming of age movies.

The performances are fantastic and the script gives every character their moments of killer humour and emotional poignancy as it follows them over their time away from home.

If any film has ever succeeded in replicating the limitless feeling of the summer holidays, it’s the wonderful The Kings of Summer. Get it on DVD, I urge you.


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

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