Top Ten Films of 2013

Top Ten Films 2013

2013 has been an above average year for films. 2013 is an excellent vintage for a film to have. In the future you can pull a DVD off the shelf, note that it was made in 2013 and be assured that there is a good chance you are buying a top quality film. Film works like wine, right?

I have agonised over the list below; there were so many films I wanted to mention but had to leave out in favour of films that either tried something a little different or spoke to me personally. I’ve tried to have a good mix of genres and styles and yet the majority seem to feature an in-depth look at human emotions, three have pivotal scenes involving a piano, and two were shot in black & white. On with the list:

10 – The Comedian

10 - The Comedian

Funnily enough this was the hardest position on the list to decide on as whatever film doesn’t make this slot doesn’t make the list at all. In the end I settled on Tom Shkolnik’s debut film about a young man living in London. Protagonist Ed is unsatisfied in his job and his love life and finds himself a little lost in his life in London. The film has no strict plot but instead features authentic feeling improvised scenes and simply offers a glimpse into a short period in the life of a character. I related to the film on a very personal level which earned it a place in my top 10 but which also makes me a little nervous to recommend it. Like another film much higher on this list The Comedian gives us a little peek at human relationships and does it in such a realistic way I couldn’t help but love it. More gushing in my review.

9 – A Field in England

9 - A Field in England

And now for something completely different… Over the past four years Ben Wheatley has made four films and cemented himself in the world of British film as a man who can produce low budget films filled with unbearable tension, extreme violence, and surprisingly real characters. His fourth film took a strange turn as he produced a black & white piece set during the civil war in which all manner of horrors occur in a field in England. The film was released in cinemas and on TV, DVD, Blu-Ray, and VOD all on the same day but that is far from the most remarkable thing about it. I couldn’t begin to explain the plot of A Field in England or the relatively tame but somehow harrowing visuals it contains. This is bold, brave British film-making; something we could do with a lot more of.

8 – Breathe In

8 - Breathe In

Two years ago Drake Doremus’ debut film Like Crazy was released and despite it being an impressive first film there was something about it I couldn’t quite get behind. In his follow-up, a story of infidelity and temptation starring Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce, Doremus has utilised his improvisational style to produce a fantastic feature. This is a film of lust and longing, and not being satisfied with the cards life has dealt you. What is most impressive is that Doremus manages to create scenes of incredible sexual tension and sensuality without ever needed to show anything more than a longing look or a gentle touch. Worth an entry on this list for its ability to replace sex scenes with piano duets without losing any of the sexiness.

7 – Philomena

7 - Philomena

2013 has definitely been a great year for films and specifically a great year for Steve Coogan. Four of his films were fighting for a position in my top ten but ultimately I could only allow myself one on the list. Philomena gets this most coveted position for being the only film of the four to bring me to tears. The story of an old woman searching for the son she was forced to give up 50 years ago is a heartbreaking one but the script, co-authored by Coogan, manages to be hilarious too. As we watch the unlikely pairing of Coogan’s uptight journalist and Judi Dench’s kind-hearted and deeply religious pensioner the film explores faith, family, and forgiveness in and even handed and enjoyable way. Ultimately the story of Philomena, deeply based in fact rather than fiction, is not a happy one but she isn’t going to let it get the best of her so neither should you. Full review here.

6 – Stoker

6 - Stoker

Stoker completely passed me by when it had a cinematic release in March of this year but in an effort to fill in some of the gaps in my film watching I caught up with the film over the Christmas break, and I am glad that I did. Stoker is written by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller and directed by Korean legend Chan-wook Park and is a stunningly shot gothic thriller. Mia Wasikowska plays a young girl coming of age who has just lost her father and is getting to know her previously unheard of young uncle, Matthew Goode, who comes to stay with her and her mother. The film has strangely vibrant yet artificial looking visuals and some brilliantly arch performances from its leads which allows the film to have its characters behave in a way that is slightly otherworldly. Stoker manages to maintain a strange tension throughout which created a sense that sex or violence could erupt at any moment. This film also features a second sensual scene focusing on a piano duet but things get slightly more extreme, as is so often the case with Stoker. A totally unique modern thriller that Hitchcock wouldn’t be ashamed to have directed.

5 – Saving Mr. Banks

5 - Saving Mr. Banks

At number 5 we have a very personal choice for myself. I really can’t tell if Saving Mr. Banks is actually a good film or just a load of sentimental nonsense as I am so blinded by all the baggage I am bringing to the film. Saving Mr. Banks is the story of the battle between Walt Disney and the author of Mary Poppins P.L. Travers as he tries to obtain film rights for the books from a woman who hates cartoons, musicals, and Dick van Dyke. As someone who grew up on a heavy dose of Julie Andrews singing there is something bizarrely nostalgic about this film set twenty years before I was born. Combine this with another fine performance from Emma Thompson and the result is me in repeated floods of tears at a press screening. If you love Mary Poppins then no doubt you will love Saving Mr. Banks, otherwise I probably wouldn’t bother. Full review here.

4 – Nebraska

4 - Nebraska

Have you ever received a letter telling you that you might have won millions and that you just need to phone a number or go to an address with your prize code to find out? Nebraska is the story of one man (Bruce Dern) who takes the letter seriously. Worrying that his father will try to take the journey to claim his prize alone his son (Will Forte) agrees to drive him there just to make sure he doesn’t die in the process. Along the way they stop off at the old man’s hometown and old family feuds resurface as people are mocking and jealous of the possible windfall in equal measure. Shot in gorgeous black & white Alexander Payne has made another beautiful film, one that shows the quirks of family and how important and frail dignity can be even as you get older. Funny and touching Nebraska is never inauthentic or cloying. Perfect. Full review here.

3 – Behind the Candelabra

3 - Behind the Candelabra

Having declared his retirement from directing films for the cinema Steven Soderbergh went on to direct this biopic of Liberace (Michael Douglas) and the story of his love affair with the initially young Scott (Matt Damon). In the UK we scuppered his plan for retirement by deciding that the film was too good for TV and gave it a cinematic release instead. In Behind the Candelabra Soderbergh has created a gloriously camp retelling of the life of one gloriously camp performer, and the life of an ego so big that he gives his boyfriend plastic surgery so that he can share more of Liberace’s features. Douglas and Damon are both playing completely against type and doing a fabulous job of it but neither are so brilliant as Rob Lowe who plays the taut faced plastic surgeon who can’t so much as close his eyes any more. The whole film is turned up to eleven and is a real joy to watch. Just don’t go expecting any subtle sexy scenes at the piano as Liberace eschews subtlety in favour of glitter, candelabras, and an on-stage limo.

2 – Before Midnight

2 - Before Midnight

We return to the theme of relationships that runs through this list as we reunite with one of cinema’s best couples and the most enduring onscreen romance. Richard Linklater first introduced us to Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) back in 1995 when the two lovers met, spent a night together, and went their separate ways. 9 years later the pair were reunited in Paris and shared one long real-time conversation before leaving us with a cliff hanger. Since 2004 audiences have been left wondering whether Jesse stayed to spend another night with Celine or went back to America to his wife and child. Their love story is continued in Before Midnight as we drop back into their lives as a proper couple with their own children on holiday in Greece. Through a series of conversations we see that Jesse and Celine are still very much in love but that the years have taken their toll on the young romantics and every conversation has an undertone harking back to an argument years in the making. The Before trilogy is always pretentious, funny, and touching and as theatrical as the lengthy conversations might be the performances never stray far from my favourite adjective; authentic. Here we are watching characters we love struggle in their relationship and it is all painfully real.

1 – Blue is the Warmest Colour

1 - Blue is the Warmest Colour

The only thing that can possibly top a brief trip into the relationship of Jesse and Celine is a film that encompasses an entire relationship. Across the three hours we follow French teenager Adèle as she slowly becomes an adult and discovers her own sexuality through initial fumbles with boys and then her life changing romance with the enigmatic Emma. Director Abdellatif Kechiche has come under a lot of criticism for the film since he and the young stars (Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux) won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but none of that can do anything to stop the resulting film from being so incredible. As the relationship between Adèle and Emma waxes and wanes we see all facets of their relationship. Yes we see their sex life but we see their snotty, blotchy faced arguments too. We see their initial flirtation in a bar and their tragic post-relationship reunion in a cafe. We see their conflicting family dynamics as Adèle is introduced to Emma’s foodie family as her girlfriend and Emma is invited round to Adèle’s as a friend to enjoy some bland spaghetti. The performances at the center of the film are fantastically raw and, all together now, authentic. At the end of my screening Kechiche and Exarchopoulo came out for a Q&A but I couldn’t stay to watch it for fear of ruining the illusion that the Adèle I had been watching was a living, breathing human being and someone whose most intimate moments I had seen laid bare. This marks the third year in a row that a French film has taken my top film title; they must be doing something right. Full review here.

Top 20 Films of 2011
Top 10 Films of 2012

Out Now – 21st June 2013

Before World War Z

A Haunted House
For some reason some of the team behind the early Scary Movie films have decided to start a new horror movie parody franchise. For any Scary Movie purists this is like the original band getting back together and going on tour.

World War Z
A flaw ridden and troubled film about a global zombie epidemic and the one Brad Pitt who can save us all. Stephen would like you to be kind of excited for this film. Give it a go, just for him.

Spike Island
Because the cinema wants nothing more these days than to make me feel ignorant about The Stone Roses we have a drama set in the nineties about an indie band travelling the see The Stone Roses in Spike Island.

Dwayne “No Longer The Rock” Johnson plays father-with-an-unassuming-name John Matthews who is forced to go undercover for the DEA when his son is set up in a drug deal. I’m pretty sure it is standard practise to hire the parents of criminals to investigate crime. Completely normal. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Before Midnight (limited release)
Fancy almost two hours of pure chatty romance? Has the sun risen on Before Sunrise? Has the sun set on Before Sunset? You’re in luck as Hawke and Delphy are back to be slightly pretentious all over again.

The Seasoning House (limited release)
The house in the title refers to a place where young girls are prostituted to the military. Lovely. An orphaned deaf-mute cares for the girls and scuttles around in the walls before presumably killing everyone in the classic “you rape me and I will literally kill you” revenge thriller tradition.

Like Someone in Love (limited release)
“In Tokyo, a young prostitute develops an unexpected connection with a widower over a period of two days.” Ah good, it’s about time we had another unlikely friendship film. It’s been a while.

I Am Breathing (limited release)
Documentary covering the last few months of the life of Neil Platt, a young father suffering from motor neurone disease.

Black Rock (limited release)
A girly weekend away turns into a horrific fight for survival because that’s just what happens when women are left alone together for too long. Am I right guys? You know I’m right.

Shun Li and the Poet (limited release)
“A study of the friendship between a Chinese woman and a fisherman who came to Italy from Yugoslavia many years ago, who live in a small city-island in the Veneto lagoon.”

Hipster Guide to Summer Cinema – June Edition

Hipster Cinema

Summer is a bit of a minefield at cinema. It’s the season when the studios feel the need to spend as much money as possible to tempt you out of the (alleged) sunshine and into the dark cool of the multiplex. As such there is often a glut of flashy blockbusters with little of worth underneath their lens flare and glamour. In response, I introduce you to our three-part guide to the Summer’s films; a tour of what you can watch without the need for 3D glasses or complete suspension of your disbelief. This is our (slightly behind schedule) Hipster Guide to Summer Cinema.

7th June 2013Behind the Candelabra

Normally the names Matt Damon and Michael Douglas are associated with more mainstream films but here they are at their very best in a film that was almost destined for the small screen only. In America, land of the free and the sexually repressed, this story of Liberace’s secret gay love affair was just too gay to ever make it to the cinema and aired on cable television instead. Subversive credibility aside this film is hilarious, touching, and not afraid to show you Damon in a thong. The perfect alternative to After Earth in which Will Smith drags his son kicking and screaming into the bland sci-fi genre.

14th June 2013Much Ado About Nothing

Hipsters love their pop culture with a retro twist and what is more retro than Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Shakespeare, that’s who! In Much Ado the two collide as Buffy‘s creator brings his take on the bard complete with a cast of Whedon alumni, filmed at his own house, and in black and white. This film has hipster cred running all through it and allows you to be a fan of Joss Whedon without going too mainstream or dirtying your hands with anything superhero related.

Man of Steel

On first seeing the trailer for this latest Superman reboot it looked like Zack Snyder might have made the first properly alternative superhero film. The trailer was filled with close-ups of grass, dilapidated buildings, and washing blowing on the line. It was grimy and it looked great; very Andrea Arnold. Sadly the reviews have revealed this to all be a ruse and what we actually have is an effects and set-piece-heavy juggernaut more reminiscent of 300 and Sucker Punch than Wuthering Heights. Why did I ever think it would be otherwise?

21st June 2013Before Midnight

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset get a much-anticipated sequel. I almost wish they had called this instalment Before Sunstroke but then that might have been a case of putting a naming convention ahead of respecting your film. The Before trilogy must be the most hipster three-piece there is. Each film focusses on the same couple as they talk, talk, kiss, and talk. It is endlessly romantic, a film that puts character first, and pretty much contains everything you won’t find in World War Z.

28th June 2013The East

Former indie darling Ellen Page teams up with up-and-coming indie darling Brit Marling for a film about a group of activists who attack major organisations. Down with The Man! Throw in an official Sundance selection badge and we’re in hipsters’ paradise.

This is The End

The end of the world is an important topic in cinema nowadays and with the rise of the HeKniSciFi sub-genre there is room for greater variety in the Hollywood disaster movie. In This is the End a boat load of familiar faces struggle to survive an alien invasion while partying at James Franco’s house. Everyone, including our very own Emma Watson, plays a parody of themselves and most seem to end up being brutally killed in the ensuing chaos. It is meta-humour at its most juvenile but looks incredibly funny. The fact that this may well be another time when James Franco mixes up his art with his mainstream makes this the disaster movie for the hipster community now that Another Earth and Melancholia have had their day in the cataclysmic sun.