Monday, 30 December 2013

My Top 10 Films of 2013

So here we go… My Top 10 Films of 2013!

Clicking on the title of the film should link you to a trailer and I will also include a link to any reviews/articles/Padcast episodes I’ve written/recorded about the film in each entry too.

After the main countdown I will include some ‘special mentions’ as there were a fair few up for consideration in the Top 10. Some of them were actually released in 2012 so I chose not to include them in this year’s countdown.

So just to reiterate, all the films in this countdown were released theatrically in the UK during 2013. I have also seen the majority of them more than once so as to be sure of their inclusion and relative position in the list.

Anyway, without further ado, here are my favourites of the year:

Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

This second entry in The Hobbit trilogy needed to make an appearance at some point due to its sheer scale and great set pieces. This time around there is more action, better pacing and the introduction of a few new characters that keep things interesting – a definite improvement over the first film.
After teasing his appearance at the end of The Unexpected Journey, the climactic scenes in the treasure horde with the titular dragon are both a wonderful technical showcase as well as featuring a tense back and forth between Bilbo and Smaug. Part three is now eagerly awaited!

Favourite bit: The film’s midway barrel-ride sequence is undoubtedly the highlight – it combines action, humour, great choreography and technical wizardry (bar the weird Go-pro shots) into one big breathless showcase.

You can read my written review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug HERE and listen to the Padcast episode HERE.

Directed by: Zach Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

This new version of the iconic red and blue superhero divided fans straight down the middle. 
Some hated the new ‘darker’ and angsty portrayal of the character, others lamented the implied death toll of Metropolis’ citizens come the Dragon Ball Z inspired punch-‘em-up of the finale and of course that scene with Zod that they argued was decidedly un-Superman like.
As far as reboots go however, after the lacklustre Singer interpretation in 2006, I felt this version of Supes was a much needed a shot in the arm, in equal parts visceral and emotional. It needed to be different.
The cast choice seemed odd when first announced (Russell Crowe as Jor-El?! Kevin Costner as Pa Kent?!), but it all surprisingly came together and worked. Naysayers be damned – I actually enjoyed this one.

Favourite bit: The Battle for Smallville was a close contender (Faora is vastly superior to her Superman II counterpart Ursa), but my favourite moment would have to be the ‘first flight’ sequence. The (ahem) soaring emotion of the scene coupled with Hans Zimmer’s triumphant score is a real thrill.

You can read my written review of Man of Steel HERE and listen to the Padcast episode HERE.

Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough

It largely passed under the radar upon release, but if you are a fan of classic science fiction this one comes much recommended. It has all the right ingredients that make good sci-fi yarn – a dystopian future, barren wastelands, wonderful machinery, hidden agendas and paranoia. The focus is less on action (although there is some) and more on the emotional and cerebral storytelling.
Kosinski (who debuted with the awesome TRON: Legacy) shoots both gorgeous scenery (much of it on location in Iceland) as well as showcasing sleek tech (guns and vehicles as if they were designed by Apple). Tom Cruise is predictably solid and Morgan Freeman phones it in a bit (he’s almost too obvious a casting choice here), but it's Andrea Riseborough (and also Melissa Leo in a small role) that really impress.
The less said about the plot the better – just watch it.

Favourite bit: The increasingly sinister repeated mantra of “Are you an effective team?”

You can read my written review of Oblivion HERE.

Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi

Subject matter-wise it may be an acquired taste (Monsters vs. Giant Robots – but let’s be honest, what’s not to like?) and yet what’s so good about Pacific Rim is its unabashed love for its source material – old Toho monster movies and mech Anime realised through modern filmmaking and cutting edge technology.
The designs are superb all round and the fights are weighty, noisy and visceral. For those complaining of the overly straightforward plot or cardboard cut-out characters – they are missing the point. It’s a live-action cartoon and immensely fun viewing at that.
Pacific Rim is a uinque director’s ballsy and uncompromised vision being brought to life on the screen - and that’s something that is decidedly rare for a big budget Hollywood production.

Favourite bit: “Sword deployed…” - Enough said.

You can read my written review of Pacific Rim HERE and listen to the Padcast episode HERE.

Directed by: Declan Lowney
Starring: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney

Many TV series that get an upgrade to the big screen often do not make the transition so favourably. Not so with Alpha Papa.

The canvas is broader (some instances of swearing, mild nudity and a plot that involves a hijacked radio station), but by keeping the action within the confines of Norfolk it still feels very classic Partridge – hilarious and yet tinged with a hint of melancholy. You feel sorry for him, but you love him. You laugh at him but also frequently with him. It’s a fine line to tread but Coogan does it masterfully, with an impressive amount of both wit and physical comedy.
Right from that great teaser trailer onwards, they didn't disappoint. I’m also thankful they didn't call it Alan Partridge: The Movie.

Favourite bit: Alan’s increasingly enthusiastic miming along to Roachford’s ‘Cuddly Toy’ during his drive to work. Priceless…

You can read my written review of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa HERE.

Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi

On the face of it, there just doesn't seem that much scope for an interesting movie. A naturalistic retelling of the true story about the hijacked vessel the Maersk Alabama with a bunch of unknowns… oh and some guy called Tom Hanks.
True, the second half in the lifeboat does stretch on for a tad too long, but the acting throughout is uniformly excellent and the feeling of unease and palpable tension is relentless. Kudos for Greengrass being able to wring the requisite amount of drama, restraint and a human touch from the source material when lesser directors may instead have ended up with a soppy melodrama, a weak Die Hard action clone or a dull procedural.
What surprised everyone, however, is newcomer Barkhad Abdi as Muse - who is so frighteningly real in the role you would have thought they had plucked him straight off an actual pirate skiff. It’s not just the look though - he displays a complex range of emotions (often without saying a word) and easily gains our sympathies during the film. By far the most impressive performance by a newcomer that I have seen this year. When he and Captain Phillips meet on the bridge for the first time it’s simply electric. Trivia: it’s also the first time they met in real life – shot that way by Greengrass in order to make the scene feel more authentic. It worked – Hanks looks genuinely terrified.
I still think they could have come up with a better title for the film though…

Favourite bit: When Tom Hanks breaks down at the end. Phenomenal.

You can read an earlier article I wrote about Captain Phillips HERE.

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano

If you can stomach a bit of bleakness, Prisoners is an excellent mystery thriller that starts off with a double child-kidnapping but then spirals off in to all sorts of other dark and unexpected directions as the layers are gradually peeled back. It’s a gripping ensemble piece, a study of grief, a detective story with religious overtones and more - all rolled into one.
Featuring career-high performances from the two leads: Hugh Jackman playing the increasingly desperate father of one of the missing girls (more rage than Wolverine!) and Jake Gyllenhaal as the doggedly determined Detective Loki (yes, that constant blinking is a tic he incorporated into the character!)
To say any more would be giving too much away – just watch it!

Favourite bit: Hugh Jackman wielding the hammer ferociously is a memorable and terrifying scene, but the best comes from the two leads’ confrontation in Detective Loki’s car outside the liquor store. Unstoppable force meets immoveable object? Yup.

You can read my written review of Prisoners HERE and listen to the Padcast episode HERE.

Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine

The third and final entry into the ‘Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy’, The World’s End shares much of its DNA with the two previous entries: the riffing on genre conventions (this time it’s paranoid sci-fi in the vein of Invasion of the Body Snatchers), a tight script and all round great performances. In a clever reversal however, this time the roles of straight man and fool have been switched between Pegg and Frost – and that’s where the film’s first ace up the sleeve is revealed: Gary King.
Described as simultaneously being the story’s hero AND villain, Pegg’s performance here is at once hilarious, irreverent and volatile but also a sympathetic one, as his real motivations are gradually revealed. Pegg acts his ass of here, in a role that's truly different from the usual awkward nerd type that he is so often known for playing.
Sure, the ‘sci-fi’ part of the plot isn’t all that groundbreaking but that’s not what the film is really about – it’s a clever smokescreen – a cipher for the real heart of the story – it’s about change, nostalgia, the pangs of fleeting youth, regret, depression, renewal. The ending may feel jarringly unconventional upon first experiencing it but taking a moment to think about it, it all makes perfect sense in terms of the overarching themes of the story. It’s brave, intelligent and an unexpectedly satisfying end – hats off to Wright and Pegg.
Of course it doesn't hurt that the script sparkles with clever dialogue, features hilarious camaraderie amongst the five friends (dream casting too I might add) and also a shed load of cameos for fans to spot. The more I watch this film, the more I find it to be my favourite of the Cornetto Trilogy (most would opt for Shaun of the Dead) but the writing here is the undoubtedly the best of the bunch and unexpectedly poignant to boot.
And all this without having to resort to obvious jokes such as someone uttering ‘You've got blue on you’.

Favourite bit: Gary in the 'pub-fu' fight with the blanks where he is trying desperately to not spill his pint. ...Either that or "Smashy-smashy Eggman".

You can read my written review of The World’s End HERE and another feature I wrote HERE.

2. Stoker

Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman

After making his name with hit films such as Old Boy and the ‘Vengeance’ trilogy in his native Korea, Park’s first English language feature was an interesting choice. The script was written by Wentworth Miller (yes, him from Prison Break) and despite the title there is nary a vampire in sight.
What you do get however is a wonderful gothic Hitchcock-like fairytale that plays out as something very otherworldly. Everything about this film is masterful. The foreshadowing, the gradual reveals, the eerie ambiguous performances, the disturbing reveals… and we haven’t even mentioned the technical aspects: the use of sound, colour, scene transitions, recurring imagery, music and artful camerawork and composition. It’s equal parts lyrical and poetic, darkly humorous and occasionally shocking. Not as blatantly shock-baiting as say, Old Boy, but here it’s more alluring and slow burning and works better for it.
Mia Wasikowska is perfect in the role – a dichotomy of childlike naivety and old soul. Matthew Goode is creepily effective and Nicole Kidman at her brittle best. It’s the kind of film that’s so rich you’ll be spotting additional things each time you re-watch it. I can’t wait to see what Park does next.

Favourite bit: The piano scene - without a doubt. It incorporates incredible music by Phillip Glass, camerawork, subtext, and a myriad of emotions conveyed – all without a single word being spoken. My favourite scene of the year! You can read about it in the link below.

You can read my written review of Stoker HERE and read another article I wrote about it HERE.

1. Gravity

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

It was a close one between this and Stoker, but Gravity just edges out in front as the best film of the year for two main reasons.
Firstly, it’s a gobsmacking achievement in purely technical terms. At any point during the film if you stop and think how on earth did they manage to film that? Your brain will likely melt. Short of actually filming the thing in space (rumour has it that Cuarón actually considered it but the insurance was too costly) – what they brought to the screen and what they must have gone through to achieve it is simply mindboggling.
Secondly, it’s perfect cinema. On one hand it’s measured, thoughtful and slightly arthouse in its presentation. But on the other, it’s an exciting visceral thrill ride, the story simple and straightforward enough for any audience to follow. It’s concise and focussed. A film with this kind of balance and appeal to equal sides of the movie-watching spectrum is all too rare. Can you name a single other film in recent times that fits this description? Go on, I dare you to try.

Watching this film at home will not do the film justice. If you missed watching this in 3D on the biggest screen available (preferably IMAX) I am sorry to say that you have missed out. Yes, you heard me right on the 3D – this film has singlehandedly made the case for the use of 3D as a legitimate means of enhancing a film. The 3D makes this film better. FULL STOP. No argument. It offers an unparalleled level of immersion (along with the disorientating in-helmet POV shots and roaming cameras following just behind the characters) that puts you with the characters every step of the way.

Even though it may not be a flawless movie (after all, you can find flaws in any movie if you were so inclined) Gravity is undeniably impressive, groundbreaking, important for the industry as a whole and managed to put me through a unique experience, just as powerful even the second time I went to see it.
Forget pretension and forget the nitpickers… In terms of the best film I saw at the cinema this year – Gravity wins hands down. This is what cinema was made for.

Favourite bit: There are too many great moments to mention but if pressed I would have to say the opening 20 minutes that lead up and include the first incident of oncoming space debris. It’s presented as a single continuous take (!) and never has oncoming space junk felt so threatening. Awe inspiring - and sets the bar for the rest of the film.

You can read my written review of Gravity HERE and listen to the Padcast episode HERE.

Special Mentions (in alphabetical order)

10 more films that I saw this year that were either just out of the above list or were released in 2012 so do not qualify.

They are as follows:

Cloud Atlas – A hugely ambitious adaptation of the popular novel, spanning multiple timelines, stories and characters. The most expensive independent film ever made!

The Descendents (2012) – George Clooney and director Alexander Payne at their best. Funny and touching.

Elysium – A great follow up to Neill Blomkamp’s acclaimed debut District 9.
You can read my written review of Elysium HERE.

Evil Dead – Not so much a remake as a total overhaul. Old school effects, buckets of blood and an unapologetic nasty streak. Loved it.
You can read an article about the Evil Dead that I wrote HERE.

Excision (2012) – Donnie Darko via the way of horror instead of sci-fi. An uglified AnnaLynne McCord in the lead is a revelation.
You can read my written review of Excison HERE.

Iron Man 3 – Shane Black’s razor sharp script is the film’s biggest asset - with great actors, great effects and great action sequences following close behind. Then there’s that Mandarin reveal…

Killer Joe (2012) – A great adaptation of Tracy Letts’ pitch-black play. Matthew McConaughey is a force to be reckoned with in the title role, but all the cast here are brilliant. You’ll look at fried chicken differently after this film.
You can read my written review of Killer Joe HERE.

Seven Psychopaths (2012) – It's a story about stories, from the writer/director of In Bruges. Don't let the generic comedy trailer fool you – it’s sharply written and a treat for fans of meta.
You can read an article about Seven Psychopaths that I wrote HERE.

Sinister – One of the downright creepiest films of the year, it uses found footage (sparingly) and unnerving music to great effect. Just don't watch the trailer, as it spoils almost every decent scare in the movie.
You can read my article about the music of Sinister HERE.

Star Trek: Into Darkness – A bombastic sequel to 2009’s rebooted Star Trek. Everything is better and Benedict Cumberbatch is great as the charismatic villain. It does suffer from some of JJ Abrahms habit of blatantly hitting plot points just for effect, but when Michael Giacchino’s stirring main theme starts to swell you cant help but be swept up in it. Great popcorn fodder.
You can read my article about Star Trek: Into Darkness and its large amount of fan service HERE.

Agree or disagree with any of these? Leave a comment!

Stay tuned for more countdowns for this year coming soon, such as the ‘5 Most Disappointing Films’ (sure to cause controversy) as well as more random awards that include such things as ‘Actor Most Wanting to be a Chinese Person’! So stay tuned!

If you want to check out previous years countdowns you can do so HERE for 2012 and HERE for 2011.

30th Dec 2013


  1. Great article Seb! I'm a bit ashamed to say that I've only seen half of your list! I'll have to get my act together and get the rest watched. I have to say, I thought Gravity was spectacular from visual perspective but I thought some of the dialogue was terrible! Also, there's only so much of Cloony's smarm I could take in one sitting. Personally, prisoners was probably the best out of the ones I saw from the list. It was an unpleasant pleasant surprise if you get what I mean;)

    1. Yeah, as I said Gravity isnt without its faults - but it just totally blew me away, even on the repeat viewing. Clooney was pretty much just doing a regular Clooney ;)
      Thanks for the support, man!

  2. Great stuff! What was your favourite bit of Worlds End?

    1. Ah, I missed it - will go back and fill that bit in! Thanks-