When I first started on this list I found myself jotting down more films that I loathed. Once the ball was rolling however, I found myself having to make some sacrifices. To those that didn’t make the cut I apologise. 2013 wasn’t a great year for cinema with many heavy hitters failing to set the world on fire. It was a year for the underdogs however, with some surprising results.
10. Pain and Gain
Michael Bay isn’t a director I particularly have an issue with (Transformers 2 aside) however I was still surprised that one of his films has made it onto this list. Pain and Gain is based on the true story of a gang of bodybuilders turned criminals. Despite the brutality of the original story, Bay injects much humour into the proceedings. Controversial as the tone is considering its source material, the film works really well as a black comedy. A standout performance from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a coked out born again Christian is particularly sublime. Less action packed that you’d expect from a Bay flick, he still manages to insert a scene where the cool guys walk away from an explosion in slow motion. That reminds me of a song.
Fresh from wowing the world with his Olympics opening ceremony, Danny Boyle returned to the big screen with psychological heist thriller Trance. When art thief Simon (James McAvoy) can’t remember what he did with a stolen painting his boss Franck (Vincent Cassell) sends him to a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to see if she can extract the information from his fractured mind. The cast is exceptional as you would come to expect from the stars involved. McAvoy, Dawson and Cassel all portray complex characters that slowly unravel, blurring the lines between good and bad to keep you guessing who the heroes and villains of the piece really are. A script that keeps you guessing right up until the end, Boyle doesn’t disappoint with the climax. A film that warrants repeat viewings.
8. Fast and Furious 6
The film is not without its flaws, however it does what it says on the tin. Needless to say if you go see Fast & Furious 6 and are disappointed with the content on offer, then chances are the previous films weren’t for you either. The set pieces are ridiculous however suspend disbelief and what you end up with is over 2 hours of high octane cinema. It won’t be the best written, directed or acted film you’ll see this summer but it might just be the most fun. I can’t think of any film series were the sixth instalment is the best, but this franchise manages it. The post credits stinger left me willing on the next one. The tragic death of star Paul Walker cast doubts over whether the film would be completed, however director James Waan announced it would still go head with Diesel confirming a 2015 release date.
Tilikum is an orca who lives up to his nickname as a killer whale. While in captivity, Tilikum has been responsible for the deaths of three individuals. This isn’t a creature feature however, but an incredible true story told by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite in documentary Blackfish. Cowperthwaite argues that the treatment of Tilikum, by his owners as well as his fellow whales while in captivity, contributed to the whale’s psychological state. A fascinating insight on a magnificent animal that provokes much discussion on the morality of whales in captivity.
In space no one can hear you scream. A simple yet effective tagline written over 40 years ago that could easily have been on the poster for Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. Sandra Bullock is an astronaut that finds herself untethered from her ship and spiralling through the emptiness of space. The opening scene is perhaps the most beautiful ever committed to cinema as Cuaron highlights just how small the characters are in comparison to the Earth. The mood is incredibly tense and emits an ill uncomfortable feeling as we empathise with Bullock’s situation. George Clooney is excellent support as the charming and calming commander of the team. The film received much praise for it’s scientific accuracy although liberties were taken to enhance the story. This isn’t a documentary but a drama, something Zero Dark Thirty should have remembered.
5. Kick-Ass 2
Superhero sequels are considered an exception to the rule that the first one is always better. With the origin story out of the way, the follow up allows for more action and excitement by throwing the character head first into the film. Kick-Ass 2 does just that as our titular hero (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) returns with Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace-Moretz) to combat the new threat of the Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Matthew Vaughan’s departure from the project worried me slightly however Jeff Wadlow does an excellent job as he balances out the laughs and the sombre moments with ease. Despite the suggestion of realism, the film is very comic book in its tone and style, allowing much fun to be had without it being completely ridiculous. Jim Carrey performs his best role in years as Colonel Stars and Stripes, which is a shame considering his retroactive views on the film.
In the modern world where sportsmen are expected to be squeaky clean role models, it’s interesting to see where James Hunt would fit in. Womanising as hard as he drank and smoked, his antics might not appeal to parents of small children however he does make for a great subject, played here by Chris Hemsworth. Not that Rush is a biopic of his life, instead the film focuses on the historic rivalry between him and Nicky Lauder (Daniel Bruhl). Despite the film being marketed as a James Hunt film, Ron Howard focuses on the relationship between the two F1 legends, allowing the audience to decide who they’re rooting for, morally and sportingly. Brilliant performances by Hemsworth and Bruhl suggest awards are on the horizon for the two actors.
3. Django Unchained
In 2003, I walked out of the cinema completely blown away after seeing Kill Bill. I waited with anticipation for a sequel that ultimately disappointed. That began a trend for me regarding Quinten Tarantino films therefore I was hesitant when attending the 2 hours 45 minutes Django Unchained. In the end, I needn’t have been. A brutal western that highlighted how vile and despicable the slave trade was, the film earned much criticism though I feel many missed the point. Many of these characters are vile and despicable making it natural to root for the gunslinger Django. Phenomenal performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz assist Tarantino in a return to form.
2. Wreck-It Ralph
Disney? Check. Animation? Check. Obscure video game references? Check. It was going to take some effort by the people behind Wreck-It Ralph to make this film suck for me. When the star of the popular Wreck-It Ralph arcade game decides he doesn’t want to be the bad guy any more, he abandons his post to seek out life in other games. Naturally, this causes disruption within the worlds with Ralph jeopordising the the natural order of things through his antics. Sweet, warm and very funny, the film embodies all of the attributes we’ve come to expect from Disney with the sort of impressive animation usually showcased by Pixar. Filled with enough jokes for kids and adults, it’s the family film of the year.
1. Don Jon
The film of the year is definitely not one for the whole family however as Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his directorial debut delving head first into porn addiction. Christopher Nolan advised Gordon-Levitt against starring and directing (he also wrote it) for fear that he may find it too much of a burden. If he did, it does not show on screen. He portrays Jon as self assured and full of confidence yet allows chinks in the armour to show that deep inside there’s an emotionally fractured individual. Not that this is a dark broody affair of the human soul, instead it’s a lighthearted approach to a serious issue that invites you to laugh at the character yet ultimately sympathise with him. Heartwarming, genuine and with enough uncomfortable humour that we may (or ahem, may not) relate too, Don Jon is a romantic comedy that’s aimed as much at guys as it is their girlfriends and wives, if not more so. Gordon-Levitt continues to prove to us all how incredibly talented he is as an actor and now he can add writer and director to his bow. At only 32 years of age, the baby faced star hopefully has a long and successful future ahead of him. We may only be seeing the beginning of his potential.