January 25th 2014 marks the second birthday of this blog and following on from last year, I've again chosen the day before this anniversary as the day to post my Top 10 films of the previous year. The extra month from December has given me the chance to catch up on some of the cinematic releases I missed earlier in the year as well as see some of this year's crop of Oscar nominated films. I saw a lot fewer films in 2013 than in 2012, partly thanks to a new job and partly because of a mid year blip during which I briefly lost the love of writing and subsequently watched fewer movies. Nevertheless I saw a total of 271 films of which 94 were eligible to be included on this list. (Last year's numbers were 391 & 100). To be included, I had to see a film that was released in UK cinemas between 25/01/13 and 24/01/14. Because of the slightly odd timing for an end of year list and crappy cinema release dates in the UK, a few of last year's Oscar nominated films were eligible for this list and films such as Her, Dallas Buyers Club and Inside Llewn Davis, which haven't been released yet cannot be included. The films below begin at my 10th favourite of the year, progressing to my favourite and I've also included my girlfriend's top 5 for a female/weirdo perspective. There's no bottom 5 this year because I didn't see enough of the truly awful films. As always, click on a film's title for a full review (if I wrote one).
10. Rush. As a huge Formula One fan I had my doubts about an American director taking on one of the sport's most fierce rivalries but Ron Howard captured the two personalities of Hunt and Lauda brilliantly. He also captured the speed, danger and to some extent noise associated with the sport as well as the grease and glamour that accompanies it. As a fan of the sport, I felt that the film stayed true to the routes of the story yet entertained and my girlfriend was enraptured by the movie as much as I was despite only enjoying the sport for Jenson Button's face. The movie looks great and sounds incredible while it allowed one of my favourite actors, Daniel Bruhl to give a fantastic performance that helped him reach a larger audience than ever before.
9. Stoker. Korean director Park Chan-wook's début American film and another that I approached with trepidation. Park though managed to transfer his trademark style and beautiful camera-work from his native land and made his film an early frontrunner for film of the year. Although ultimately usurped by others, Stoker remains a stunning, dark and challenging film that proves Park is a master film maker no matter what his surroundings.
8. Captain Philips. Another docu-realistic film from Paul Greengrass that had me gripped to my seat. A wonderfully tense and disturbing film, it features one of Tom Hanks' best ever performances and just when you think it might be running out of steam, turns from one thing into another. Barkhad Abdi supports Hanks with a terrifying performance and the film is full of intrigue, shock, danger and suspense. It's expertly made and felt similar to United 93 in that I wanted to see it again and again and expect I'll be just as nervous with every watch.
7. The Hunt. Danish film The Hunt is a wickedly saddening film about a man who is wrongly accused of paedophilia. It expertly shows how rumours can ruin a person's life and made me feel more sorry for the central character than almost any other character I've seen on film. Mads Mikkelson is brilliant and I hated the little girl which goes some way to show how strong her performance was. The film is deeply layered with suspicion, distrust and hatred and has one of the best endings of the year.
6. Before Midnight. I don't know what's worse; having to wait nine years for another instalment of the Jesse and Céline story or never getting a forth film. I crave to know what the pair are up to right now and would give anything for just the merest glimpse into their complex and beautifully written lives. I didn't think that a third film could top the first two but if anything it's better, adding new detail to the pair's lives and introducing fascinating and well rounded characters into the plot. The writing was outstanding and some of the scenes were mesmerising. The long, single shot driving scene blew my mind but the pièce de résistance was the hotel room fight. Masterful writing, acting and direction are to be found in every scene.
5. Nebraska. Alexander Payne's monochrome movie is a journey through the memories of a frail and confused old man who has a thing or two to prove. The film felt deeper than it seemed on first glance and was as funny as any film I saw all year. Bruce Dern gives his best performance in years and June Squibb would probably win an Oscar most years for hers. The film is sweet and sentimental but knows when to pull back and simply let the character's lives play out. It made me long for a past I never even experienced and ended in a life affirming manner. Great writing and beautifully crisp cinematography add to the around around experience of an outstanding movie.
4. Lincoln. It's been nearly a year since I saw the Oscar winning Lincoln but I can still remember large chunks as though it were yesterday. To begin with, Daniel Day-Lewis gives what may well be a career defining performance, big words for an actor as accomplished as they come. Spielberg recreates the 19th Century in astonishing detail with sets filled with gloomy, foreboding smoke. Its historical importance treads a narrow line with its job as a piece of entertainment and for me leaves both camps thoroughly satisfied. Added to this are another dozen or so show stopping performances from big name-bit part actors and a deeply researched and lovingly crafted script. Lincoln is Spielberg's best in over a decade.
3. Gravity. Games have been changed and bars have been raised. The most impressive technical achievement in 2013 was the creation of Gravity. No film featured better special effects and it's the mark by which all future science fiction films will be judged. It's the first film that actually looks designed for 3D and is a treat for the eyes and ears. A bleak and percussionless score fills the silence while adding tension to what is essentially a B-Movie disaster flick. A slightly shoddy script is more than made up for by the acting, drama and eye popping cinematography. It's the only film I went back to see a second time all year and I feel as though I could watch it again.
2. The Act of Killing. This harrowing and deeply upsetting documentary allows mass murderers to openly discuss and recreate their brutal killings, using Hollywood gangster movies as their mould. Featuring stories I'd never even heard of before and strangely beautiful cinematography, this film unleashes some of the cruellest men on the planet and gives them a voice to tell their story in their own words. Graphic discussions and recreations make the stomach churn but one can't look away as your eyes fix on these men, most of which show no signs of trauma or regret. One of the best made documentaries I've seen in years and a film that will haunt me for a long time.
1. 12 Years a Slave. Not only is this my movie of the year but it's probably my movie of this young century. No movie, not even The Act of Killing affected me more and Steve McQueen's masterpiece is the first movie to bring a tear to my eye. A remarkable story, exquisitely told through incredible acting and sticky, unflinching cinematography. McQueen somehow makes you feel a part of his film, somehow complicit in the inhuman cruelty. This is the sort of film that everyone should see and I have no doubt that it will join the likes of Schindler's List in the list of films that open the eyes of future generations to what our species is capable of.
The next five in alphabetical order - Blackfish, Blue Jasmine, Good Vibrations, Lore, The Wolf of Wall Street.
Girlfriend's Top 5
3. The Hunt
2. Blue Jasmine
1. 12 Years a Slave
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