It’s that time of year again, so here’s my top 20 films of what 2013 has had to offer.
This year I have watched more films than I ever have in a year before, reaching a total of 771 films. Read below to see what I thought of the year in film, and feel free to let me know what you thought about the year too.
This obviously might change as I catch up with films I have missed over the next year, so for an updated list visit my Letterboxd page. (Also, please note that I go by UK release dates.)
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20. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Not quite the same adventure as the first film, but still with some fun moments and great additions to the cast. Smaug the dragon is amazing, but I felt like this film was, at one point, one long conversation between him and Bilbo, so unfortunately that, and the hilarious barrel scene, is all that I can remember after the nearing on 3 hours runtime.
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19. Wreck-It Ralph
With a strong message running through it, Wreck-It Ralph is a beautifully animated family adventure that is full of heart. With themes of self-acceptance and the desire to be a part of something good, the film is fun for adults and children alike, an energetic adventure that we can all feel a part of, entertaining younger audiences with vibrant animations, likeable characters and a lot of humour, and older ones with its homage to 80s video games.
Bringing to life some of the most memorable arcade characters that we all grew up flicking our joysticks to (Well that sounded dirtier than intended!), the film is constantly nostalgic in that it’s characters, much like Disney’s Toy Story, are ones we all have some memories of. Giving the occasional nod to other films as well – Alien, Wizard Of Oz, and Alice In Wonderland are especially obvious – there’s much for the older audience to appreciate behind the brilliant animation and witty dialogue.
With a brilliant voice cast and a set of sweet characters who are easy to invest in, a lot of the film’s qualities come from the fact that these characters were designed with those voicing them in mind. The characters therefore really reflect on their voice actors style of humour. Sarah Silverman sounds excellent as a young rebellious girl trying to find her place in her overly pink world, and John C. Reilly is perfect as a somewhat grumpy “bad guy” who wants to show that he has a heart too. Even Jane Lynch brilliantly fits her hardcore exterior that has a secret cry for love buried inside of her. It’s this need for acceptance that shines through above all else, and is what most audiences will take a lot away from.
Highly relatable for the children’s animation that it is, Wreck-It Ralph wasn’t as brilliant as I had hoped it would be, and that’s mainly because of the anticipation that was built up for it, but it is still a great film and there’s an awful lot to enjoy about it. It may not be a Disney animation that will be around for decades to come like the Toy Story franchise, but it’s certainly one that I will enjoy watching over and over again.
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18. Pain and Gain
The fact that this is a true story is what will make you love it. There are so many scenes that would normally think, “This is so far from reality that it is ridiculous,” but knowing it actually happens leaves you shell-shocked in absolute awe. It’s dumb but completely hilarious, and because it’s so hard to take seriously it’s so fun to watch. Sometimes, as with Bernie, it puts me off that we are made to favour the criminals at the heart of the story, but by the end you can’t feel sorry for these characters when they went about everything so completely wrong. Sure, they deserve what they got for the awful things they did, but these are a set of characters I could watch over and over.
Mark Wahlberg is perfect in his role and I enjoy his more comical roles to ones we are expected to take seriously, something I find hard to do lately although I must admit I do enjoy quite a lot of his work. I didn’t expect to like Dwayne Johnson, however, but for the first time ever I felt that he really was made for acting. His character suited him brilliantly and it was his role that made me laugh so much. I really can’t express how funny this film was, nor how shocked I am that it was directed by Michael Bay.
17. Man Of Steel
First off, I’m yet to see any of Christopher Reeve‘s Superman films so I can’t comment on how they compare, and the only Superman film I have seen before this is the 2006 Superman Returns, which was awful, so let’s just forget about that one for now.
As the first instalment in a new Superman franchise, Zack Snyder‘s Man Of Steel is epic beyond all measures. A film about Superman’s origins, the story that Man Of Steel follows is both surprising and fascinating to watch. Split into two halves, the first set on Krypton and the second coming back down to Earth, the film works on many levels; as a stand alone film, aside from being a superhero blockbuster, Man Of Steel is a brilliant science fiction. The CGI world of Krypton is incredible and it’s great to see so much back story to Superman’s character, which kicks the film off superbly.
As a superhero blockbuster on its own, as well, Man Of Steel is still amongst the top of the pile. Snyder is well-known for his brilliant action sequences, and Man Of Steel is filled with some of the best. One of the biggest flaws of the film is that it suffers terribly from shakey-cam syndrome, but at the same time this hand-held camera technique works amazingly during these many moments of action. Whilst some of the sequences are overly long, they also emphasise Superman’s Godly powers and the gigantic amount of destruction that has been created through his conflict with Zod, and that’s what makes this film so epic.
Whilst it doesn’t quite have the emotional impact I thought it would from the trailer, Man Of Steel is certainly tense, but that’s a given when there is so much at stake with a superhero like this. Unlike many other superhero blockbusters, however, Man Of Steel didn’t need to rely on any comedy to fall back on. Maybe it will have to include a few, better, one-liners in the sequels after such an intense first instalment, but ending on a regular note, there’s obviously a lot more to look forward to in its future releases.
As for the casting, Henry Cavill undeniably looks the part. I don’t feel as an actor he was given enough time to shine as the use of flashbacks meant we got to see a lot of a younger Clark Kent, as well, but his performance was certainly promising. The supporting cast was good too, and I’m surprised that I enjoyed Amy Adams as his lover interest Lois Lane at all, but the two worked well together for the most part. It was Michael Shannon who excelled, though, as his villainous character was one of the best performances he has ever given, and was overall a terrific and equally terrifying superhero villain.
16. Thor: The Dark World
Set a year after the events in The Avengers and the latest Marvel superhero film since Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World shows that it’s just getting better and better, posing us to question: Is Thor the most consistently entertaining superhero there is? I’m starting to think he is, but I also think that Thor is the most surprisingly entertaining of the franchise, as well, as I never expect to love his films as much as I do.
For me, it was all about the relationship between Thor and Loki, here. Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth play out their brotherly relationship incredibly well, and it was this focus that gave the film a better edge compared to the other Marvel films. Loki is my favourite Marvel character and this film had my emotions going all over the place. But I still don’t know where to stand on the matter, yet this only makes me more excited for future releases.
Another reason that the Thor films is one of my favourite in the Marvel Universe is because of the many worlds we get to see. The cinematography is fantastic, the effects are superb, and the world of Asgard has always been phenomenally beautiful. It’s a great film to watch just for these immaculate visuals, but the supporting cast also play a big part in this experience, with excellent performances from the likes of Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, and Kat Dennings.
Thor is just one of those films where it all comes together, but the quality that shines through most with this Thor sequel is how amazingly the humour is played in and handled. Much like Iron Man 3, the film had me laughing throughout, and I have to say that this latest instalment is the funniest in the whole Marvel franchise.
15. Captain Phillips
Based on the 2009 true story, director Paul Greengrass tells the story exceptionally well, capturing a real personal side to it from both sides. The pacing is spot on, never allowing the film to grow tiresome or get boring, or by letting the intensity fall in any way. Tom Hanks proves he is still one of the best around and gives his best performances in a long time. He gives so much more than what’s expected of him in the final 15 minutes that it’s hard to take your eyes of the screen, giving a great ending to the film. The pirates, played by Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M. Ali, are also phenomenal, though. With each of them being first time actors without any experience whatsoever, their performances were mesmerising in how threatening they were.
Danny Boyle’s latest, Trance is an intelligent and stylish thriller that messes with your head for 100 minutes straight. I don’t always like a thriller that gets me lost, and I did have to think about what I’d seen quite a bit after watching it, but I enjoyed getting lost in the mystery here (or losing myself in the trance, should I say), never knowing what to expect with twists and turns that keep you guessing until the very last-minute.
Most of all, I love Boyle’s film-making qualities. His use of camera work is forever improving and his efforts suit this film perfectly. Following on from 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire, his use of colours, as well, is outstanding. The cinematography brings such an energy to his work, and whilst I agree with some of the more negative reviews that the story is dragged out for longer than needed, it’s the visual style that kept me engaged.
The cast is spot on, as well. James McAvoy is a fantastic action/thriller lead, but his role didn’t feel like the same old character, which I thought might have become a problem. Vincent Cassel is great too, but it is Rosario Dawson who made this work so well for me. She’s such a compelling actress, but also incredibly sexy which gave this film a whole new edge.
13. The Words
I’ve been looking forward to this film for ages, as the trailer for it is absolutely brilliant. I’m so glad I finally got around to seeing it, because it lived up to all of my expectations. Reminding me in some part of Cloud Atlas, linking a number of stories together, The Words, to put it simply, tells the story of one man’s story about another man’s story who steals the story of another man. Over the many years that these stories are set, they all start to come together through minor personal connections. It’s very much a film about words and how stories are written, so for the many film journalists on here, it should be a film we can all either relate to, or be inspired by. The whole cast work really well together, with Dennis Quaid, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, and Olivia Wilde, all giving excellent performances. Irons, especially, stands out as he gives a compelling and emotion provoking performance, but Cooper, as well, is fantastic. Ben Barnes and Nora Arnezeder also give good performances in a heart-achingly powerful sub-plot.
12. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I loved the first film, so there was no doubt in my mind that Catching Fire wasn’t going to be anything less than four stars. What I didn’t expect, however, was that it would convert non-fans of the first instalment, so I’m quite pleased that this will be in many people’s Top 10 lists this year! I had high hopes about this sequel as soon as it was revealed that Francis Lawrence was set to direct it. I knew he would be able to handle the story better than anyone else, as despite I Am Legend being a very average film, he set up the dystopian society really well.
Many of the reviews I read before watching the film myself warned viewers of an excruciatingly dragged out first hour, but I think this is needed in The Hunger Games franchise. Personally, I don’t think it was an unnecessary opening hour or that it effected the film negatively in any way, as it sufficiently told the audience how the story had progressed, showing the threat and the power of the government in Panem as well as the fear of its citizens; it’s how well this dystopian society is set up and developed that I admire most about the franchise, preventing it from being thrown in to the heap of the other young adult, sappy fantasies of today such as Twilight (I bet you all take back your comparisons now!).
The Hunger Games does follow a dark story, with Catching Fire being even bleaker still. To skip over how terrifying the society of Panem is would lose the film and novels their impact, which is why the films are generally such good adaptations, as they aren’t afraid to show this grittiness. The films may not use blood or graphic violence, though there is slightly more in this latest instalment, but the many deaths aren’t sugar-coated either. The films certainly take a risk with trying to appeal to a younger audience at the same time, but whilst it is an exciting adventure to follow, it doesn’t come across as one big game without consequences either. Instead, these risks always pay off, which is what’s made many viewers realise that this is a franchise worth following.
As for improvements over the first film, the most notable qualities are that the characters are better developed and their relationships are better explored. The love triangle at the heart of the story was badly dealt with in the first story and is what ruined the film for most, but it was much better handled this time around.
With all of the cast from the first film reprising their roles, as well, we see the return of some of my favourite performances from Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, and Stanley Tucci. But there are some great additions to the cast, too, especially with the addition of Philip Seymour Hoffman. This fantastic cast really does bring the story to life, with the new tributes (including Lynn Cohen as Mags, Jena Malone as Johanna, and Jeffrey Wright as Beetee) each being exactly as I pictured them when reading the novel.
Prisoners is a chilling, dark, and at times terrifying, dramatic thriller that will result in you questioning your own morality. How far would you go? Not as far as Hugh Jackman does, that’s for sure. The direction is fantastic, with the somewhat disturbing story being handled excellently and the character studies breaking through, Most of all, Prisoners is a great mystery, not letting anything slip and keeping you guessing until the very last-minute, literally. I’d be surprised if anybody saw this conclusion coming, but if you were doubting the character set up then shame on you! The performances are all fantastic, with Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal giving excellent leads. Whilst Paul Dano doesn’t have an awful lot to say, it was his role that impressed me most, however. I’m not much of a fan of his bigger roles, but when he has a small role for a big character, he really does know how to leave an impact. The cinematography really suits the story, too, with the bleak colours and woodland settings making you feel just as alone as the missing girls and their father searching for them. It was obvious that Roger Deakins was behind this as it’s the only time I ever have anything to say about how good a film looks, as he always captures the settings and atmosphere perfectly.
10. Iron Man 3
The first major release since Joss Whedon’s hugely successful crossover film Avengers Assemble, it was always going to be interesting to see how these individual stories would follow, and, in the end, whether we would miss the rest of The Avengers team or not. Personally, The Avengers didn’t even cross my mind, so much so that the constant references to an alien invasion in New York city last summer confused me. Iron Man 3 is a perfect follow-up to both of its predecessors, working as a confident solo return for Tony Stark but also as a step back to get us interested in the individual characters themselves again.
A large part of Iron Man 3‘s success is because of director Shane Black. As only his second film behind the camera, with his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also starring RDJ, being one of my favourite films, Iron Man 3 consists of many of Black’s brilliant film-making traits, the biggest being the way he combines action and comedy. Having co-written the script, Iron Man 3 is by far the funniest yet, probably even more so than The Avengers. Full of the sarcastic wit that we find so lovable about Tony Stark, the film is constantly hilarious, but another quality that Black manages to develop better is some of the relationships. By this, I especially mean Stark’s friendship with Rhodes, which was definitely something that needed to be worked on with the change of actors in the first two films. Just like the bromance Black directed between RDJ and Val Kilmer in KKBB, there was finally a relationship to enjoy between the two characters, which is what helped to bring a lot of the final scenes together.
The biggest way that Iron Man 3 differs, however, and a big contrast to Iron Man 2, which was seen as a bit of a flop to many superhero fans, not that I would agree, is that it puts more of a focus on Tony Stark himself rather than Iron Man. Whilst we’ve seen Iron Man fly confidently around in his iron suit for the first two films, this time around the billionaire playboy has taken a bit of a kick in the self-esteem. With his character stripped bare, we’re now made to feel sorry for Stark, something that seemed impossible to do beforehand. Not only because of the writing, this was also made possible because RDJ has taken on the role of Iron Man better than any other superhero, as it definitely seems like a character he was made for. This change of focus meant that we could better engage with the film, and it’s what also puts it back on par with the efforts of the first film.
More so, this third instalment also sees one of the best villains in the Marvel Universe. It’s hard to go into detail without giving away any spoilers, but both Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley are incredible in their own ways. Kingsley’s character, especially, gives the films one of its better twists. The way the story progressed was one of the qualities that impressed me most; at first I was worried that the trailers had ruined too much, but after seeing the film it was hard to believe how little they actually showed. There was so much that wasn’t even hinted at, as the film takes many different turning points to avoid being The Dark Knight Rises rip off that the trailers made it out to be, that the run time runs smoothly with how much actually happens. Taking more of a sci-fi turn, as well, this was something I struggled with at first as it was a huge difference compared to the somewhat believable first two films, but after Avengers Assemble, this latest instalment definitely needed to go that little bit further.
This also allowed for some brilliant CGI moments, as the action scenes were some of the best in the franchise. As always, these scenes were also accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack, opening with a song that reminds you why the Iron Man films are probably the best of the Marvel Universe straight away. The films have always been known for its rock anthems rather than its impressive score, but there’s a decent combination of them both this time around.
All in all, it’s definitely the best Iron Man film yet, and my second favourite Marvel film after Avengers Assemble itself. But will there be an Iron Man 4? We can only hope.
9. The Bling Ring
Sophia Coppola returns on top form for one of the my new favourite films of this year, The Bling Ring. I know this shouldn’t be compared to this year’s Spring Breakers because they were never meant to be anything similar, but, whilst I love both films, this is what I wanted from Spring Breakers in terms of their portrayal of teenagers. Spring Breakers was far more detached from reality so it was never intended to be relatable, but it’s also this characteristic that makes The Bling Ring more accessible and, to some extent, likeable. Spring Breakers may be more entertaining with its use of neon colours and big guns, and The Bling Ring is full of shallow, materialistic girls that are hard to care about, but, in a similar way to this year’s Pain and Gain, the charm comes from the true yet outrageous story the film is based on, which makes it a whole lot more enjoyable.
I never imagined that a recent Disney film would make its way to near the top of my Disney Ranked list, but Frozen is one of my new favourites; I can’t stop singing it.
A retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, Frozen follows a story about how the legendary Snow Queen came into her powers and own isolation. I knew very little about the film before going in to see it so realising what it was about was a great surprise, and I thus found it immensely interesting. But not only is the story charming, the settings and animations are also beautiful. The themes of snow and ice making a stunning backdrop, and also allow the introduction of new Disney characters including a snowman, a reindeer, and… some trolls. The snowman is especially funny but all of the animal characters have their moments.
Kristen Bell’s voice-work as Anna was a wonderful surprise, too, but most of all I was blown away by the singing talents. The musical numbers are now some of my favourites and I haven’t been able to stop listening to the soundtrack since. This is just one of those films that really sticks in your head, and, for me, it’s definitely the best animation of 2013.
7. Warm Bodies
Based on Isaac Marion‘s novel of the same name, Warm Bodies follows an interesting story and takes a unique approach to the genre as it is told from the perspective of a zombie. We’ve seen zombies die in every way possible over the years, with director’s mixing the genre with gore, violence, comedy, and sometimes even a little bit of fun, but this time around it’s time to actually care about them. Narrated by R, although he is unable to communicate aside from the occasional grunt, we are introduced to this apocalyptic world through this zombie’s inner monologue. We’re not told exactly why this apocalyptic world has come into place because, as the film suggests, we’ve heard most of the reasons all before. Instead, we are detailed the day-to-day ongoings of what zombies actually get up to now that the humans have separated their worlds apart. And that’s not a lot. Fortunately R meets an attractive young lady to make his days a little more worthwhile, and this is where Levine cleverly begins to blend comedy, romance, and mild horror, to make this successfully entertaining “zom-rom-com”.
The main source of comedy comes from R’s narration itself, and this is also where the film stands out as something brilliantly different straight away. Because of the zombie perspective, we get to see a new side to their characters, as R reminds himself not to appear too creepy and constantly comments on his slow pace. Warm Bodies may not be hilarious, but it makes you laugh in all the right places and the addition of the occasional giggle is what makes the film so warming.
Which leads us to the romance. Alluding to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the two sides of this apocalyptic world – the alive and the undead – coming together, as the leads becomes star-crossed lovers in their very own Verona, this romance will be one of the main reasons that you will either really want to see this or not at all. “Not another pretty face (who actually looks like Kristen Stewart) falling in love with an undead mythical being”, you may think, but Warm Bodies is far from it. Whilst the film does have its similarities, it has enough distance to be able to call this film a great piece of film-making whilst the other is just an enjoyable fantasy for teenage girls.
What makes Warm Bodies excel is its realistic characters, despite the film’s very unrealistic premise. With a focus on some of these characters specific traits, in particular R’s self-conscious fears of appearing ‘too creepy’ and Julie’s determination to escape back home despite how tempted she is and her genuine refusal to go along with it at the beginning, their character structures help make this fictional story not so ridiculous or unbelievable, and instead make it incredibly easy to find the leads likeable because of their almost relatable emotions. The romance does become a little too sentimental in places, however, lacking any real passion and instead coming off too cutesy for it to allow it to avoid the Twilight comparisons completely, but it never leaves you turning away in disgust.
As for the casting, it’s a treat to see Nicholas Hoult in a lead role finally. Although there wasn’t a lot expected of him as a mumbling zombie, it was a brilliant transitional character for him to take on, as an actor mainly known for his role in the British TV series Skins, and I can’t wait to see more of him over the year. Fresh face Teresa Palmer, as well, gives her breakout performance, and the couple’s chemistry is extremely well-matched which what really lifts this film off the ground. With Rob Corddry as R’s funny best friend, Dave Franco as the sweet [ex] boyfriend, Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s adorably witty best friend, and John Malkovich as her father, the supporting cast is surprisingly decent too. All of their performances are brilliant, coming together as another well-compacted quality of this film that helps to step it up from being just an average and unforgettable zombie comedy.
On top of all of this, Warm Bodies is generally a visually appealing film. The camera work is fantastic, but my favourite thing of all is the killer soundtrack, filled with a number of brilliant tracks including M83′s Midnight City, Bon Iver’s Hinnom, TX, and Bruce Springsteen’s Hungry Heart. When all of this is brought together, Warm Bodies is a very tight film that’s hard to fault. I loved it, and as long as you’re not expecting a zombie horror then you should too. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was still in my Top 20 by the end of the year.
6. Cloud Atlas
Having read the novel, one of my favourite pieces of literature, this was one of my most anticipated films of this year. Cloud Atlas is a brilliant adaptation overall. Aside from the loss of a couple of sub-stories (Frobisher’s relationship with Ayr’s daughter and Sonmi-451′s time at college, to name a few), the adaptation sticks very close to its original source, leaving very little missed out or unexplained and giving as much background information as is needed.
My favourite thing about the novel, and the aspect I thought the film would have fallen short on, was that Mitchell managed to create six very different but brilliantly detailed and layered worlds, each spanning vast amounts of time and space. Miraculously, the three directors manage to bring these worlds to life just as well, creating six equally strong stories and sets of characters and making each of them as believable as possible.
In the novel, Mitchell cuts all but one story in half, shifting to the next story as soon as its predecessor reaches a cliffhanger. The central chapter, Zachry’s post-apolitical future, is the only full-length chapter, which follows with the novel returning to tell the second half of each story in reverse order. This “Russian doll” structure works exceptionally well in the novel, giving us time to invest in the many characters and their stories, and swiftly moving on to the next whilst leaving us with the suspense of wanting to know the fate of the character before. However, this structure in the novel also meant that it was a little too complicated to connect the stories together at first, as aside from the occasional single sentence in the middle of a story that would remind us of a link we were constantly trying to figure out, it was very easy to find yourself engaged in the single stories rather than the bigger picture.
To better intertwine these stories, the film adaptation plays them out simultaneously, going back and forth between multiple strands of its different characters and time settings. The directors really couldn’t have done it any better. There was obviously a lot of thought gone into how the narratives would connect with one another, and it certainly pays off as the film constantly shows how the stories link, helping us to better understand the film’s premise as a whole. Having read the book I knew how each of the stories played out so this worked brilliantly on-screen, but in the back of my mind I was constantly wondering if I would be able to understand the film if I didn’t already know these characters. At the beginning of the film my answer would have been no, introducing the audience to many different characters in a short amount of space. It does, however, better expand into the individual stories and by the end it’s easy to be involved in each of them singularly as much as it is with the whole film.
Another thing I love about the adaptation is the use of only a handful of actors for a large set of characters, as each actor took on a number of roles. The make-up was extremely laughable in places but it was also fantastic at the same time, with some of the cast even playing different sexes and races. The performances were surprisingly strong, too. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry undeniably lead the film, but I especially enjoyed the performances from Ben Whishaw and Jim Sturgess. For readers of the novel the performances will be one of the strongest qualities of the film, as each of them suited their roles incredibly, bringing to life their characters in the most superb way.
Saying this, however, this also brings in one of my biggest flaws of the adaptation, my main problem being with the language used in Sloosha’s Crossin’ chapter, which is a chapter in the novel I struggled reading in itself. Whilst with the novel it was easy to re-read anything you couldn’t quite string together, there wasn’t enough consideration taken in the film as to how the audience might deal with this language alteration, especially when they have enough to be thinking of with the complex structure as it is. Maybe it was just me, but I found it very hard to understand most of what these characters were saying, but this was mainly due to a lack of clear dialogue than the use of downgraded language itself.
Moreover, Hugo Weaving was fantastic as Old Georgie and I loved the way he was brought into his scenes, creeping and hovering in the background, but, again, I couldn’t hear a word he was saying, which lost this very important chapter a lot of its impact. It is because of these few flaws and this chapter as whole where the adaptation fell short in my eyes, not emphasising The Fall and therefore the overall message that “an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution”. Whilst the film met most of my expectations, it didn’t go any further at this point to make me come away thinking ‘wow’. It was here where I expected the adaptation to really bring the stories together and give that impact, something which the book also failed to highlight well enough, but it didn’t give that final push to peak my excitement and leave me completely impressed.
Still, Cloud Atlas is a fantastic film and it goes above most for its efforts alone. At first I only gave the film a four star rating as I came away wanting something a little more from this somewhat disappointing end, but after thinking about it I’ve upped my rating because it really is a wonderful adaptation.
I had been waiting to see this for ages as it didn’t show at my local cinema, but it was certainly worth the wait. As director Chan-wook Park’s English language debut, I’ve only seen this and Oldboy from his filmography but I’m already in love with his work. Stoker is the perfect thriller in that you know something bad is going to be revealed, but you never know what it is going to do next or where it is going to go. The performances are excellent too. Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, are all phenomenal. This is definitely a break out performance for Wasikowska, who I’ve found hard to enjoy in her career so far, but Kidman plays her role incredibly well, too. Each of their characters have their dark sides and are developed brilliantly, but it is Goode who brings in the intensity.
4. The Place Beyond The Pines
Split into three acts, The Place Beyond The Pines spans two generations with Act 1 focusing on Luke (Gosling), Act 2 focusing on Avery (Cooper), and Act 3, set 15 years later, focusing on Jason (Dane DeHaan). If there’s one thing for certain it’s that Derek Cianfrance knows how to tell a story. Just like his directorial predecessor Blue Valentine, one of my favourite films of all time which also starred Gosling in the lead role, The Place Beyond The Pines has a powerful, ruthlessly realistic and deeply detailed plot, this time focusing on the relationship between fathers and sons.
Each act has its strengths, but this somewhat fragmented approach is what prevented me from giving the film the five stars I gave Blue Valentine. The Place Beyond The Pines just isn’t as coherent, peaking in its first act, ending with a bold turning point you wouldn’t have predicted from the trailers alone, and moving into the middle act at too slow of a pace to keep the same impact that it was building up to. Instead, this middle act is what bridges the gap between each of the three stories. Albeit proving that script for this film would have been detailed down to every last breath of air, it also leaves you worrying where the story will go from here. I guess it was always going to be hard to follow Gosling’s lead as he is what would have enticed most of us into seeing this film at all, so for me, without giving away any spoilers, this is what breaks the story up so adversely. Fortunately, Act 2 picks up towards the end and the third act concludes the film just as well as the first act opens it, but the small pit stop in the middle does put a momentary pause on Cianfrance’s brilliant film-making approach.
What prevents this from becoming too much of a distraction, however, is the brilliant performances given throughout. Having worked with Gosling before, Cianfrance certainly knows how to get the best out of him as an actor. His brutally honest performances are constantly heart breaking and, even though he has a similar character to the one he did in Drive, with a role and jacket just as iconic, it’s amazing how he still manages to create a completely different persona. I haven’t met anybody that hasn’t been blown away by one of his performance over the past couple of years, and if you’re yet to be impressed then this is definitely the film to see. Especially as it’s one of the last appearances we will be seeing from Gosling his acting for a while to come. *holds back the tears*
Surprisingly though it isn’t all about Gosling, and the film holds up just as well when his handsome face isn’t the focus of the camera. Eva Mendes, especially, is sensational, more than I could have ever imagined (it’s no wonder Gosling took a fancy to her whilst filming), and Dane DeHaan gives a performance just as powerful. DeHaan is definitely one to watch, but we knew that after last year’s Chronicle, but I think the same can also said be Mendes now, as I hope to see some better roles from her to come out of this.
Another quality to Cianfrance’s work is that his films always look stunning. The camera work is fantastic throughout, beginning with an over the shoulder shot scene of Luke entering his motorcycle show room to introduce his character perfectly. The camera work does get a little shaky at times but this works incredibly when Luke is on his bike, as the contrasts of the camera movement help to adjust the tone. From the colour pallet to the intersected location shots, this time around the film also has a lovely soundtrack. With a subtle score running in a few of the most memorable scenes, the film also uses a great selection of songs, leaving me sat unmoved in my chair when the final credits start to roll as it ends beautifully with Bon Iver‘s The Wolves (Act I and II).
Whilst I was, at first, left with doubts as to whether I fully enjoyed The Place Beyond The Pines or not (it was always going to be 4 stars, at least, but I didn’t know how much that middle act influenced my overall view), after sleeping on it I have to agree that this is another masterpiece by Cianfrance. That final half a star may be missing in my rating but this is still a film I can’t wait to own.
3. Django Unchained
Well, he did it again – this is now my second favourite Tarantino film and it certainly bettered my already high expectations. Firstly, I didn’t expect this to be funny at all, but I surprisingly found myself laughing throughout. Scenes such as an argument over a set of KKK masks are completely out of the blue and not at all expected, but they fit perfectly in to the setting that Tarantino has so masterfully created. I’m not usually a fan of westerns but as everybody has already said, Tarantino has definitely made this genre his own. It’s far from anything else anybody has done with the genre, in comedic value, but also because of its serious nature as it looks at the darker side of slavery that is often washed over. Whilst westerns are known for their violence and classic shoot-outs, it’s never been done quite like this before. Even the scenes of brutal violence, something that is often a strong factor in Tarantino’s work, become comical; it’s unbelievable how much blood comes from one body. In the final scenes, especially, the gore is taken beyond what is necessary, but there is no arguing with how brilliant these scenes are. This is undeniably Tarantino’s bloodiest film yet, although I did still crave for more at times. Just like a large part of Pulp Fiction, many of these scenes stand out as brilliantly directed pieces of cinema, and by the end of the cinematic year they will undoubtedly remain some of the most memorable. With the best scenes nearly always involving a gun, I think it’s safe to say that Django has topped my list for the best shoot-out of all time, as well.
With yet another excellent script, minute-long conversations are able to keep your full attention throughout. Reminding me a lot of Inglorious Basterds at this point, you can see influences from all of Tarantino’s previous work here, which is the key factor allowing Tarantino to craft this western genre into something of his own. Django captures many of the great techniques that are unique to his brilliant film-making style, and as he pieces the best elements of each, it’s no wonder that this is his best piece of work in years.
Another strong quality to Tarantino’s films is the characters, and subsequently the brilliant actors he reigns in to play them. Here, we see some familiar faces to Tarantino’s films but also some excellent additions. Christoph Waltz is brilliant in the lead role and it is him that I have been rooting for in the Best Supporting Role nominations. Despite his implausible actions, his character is extremely likeable because of the brilliant lines of dialogue that he is given, as he manages to talk himself out of every situation he is faced with. Jamie Foxx, as well, gives another brilliant performance to follow, as we find ourselves commending his character even though he is only out “to shoot white folks for money” (although there is the more meaningful side to the story as his intentions are to save his true love and seek revenge on those who have hurt her). The two make a brilliant double-act and in the end it is only their relationship that I was concerned with, despite the fact that Kerry Washington gave a strong performance behind all of this.
As for Leonardo DiCaprio, he gives one of his best performances in years. He completely inhabits his character, at one point even carrying on acting after accidentally cutting his hand on a piece of glass. At first I thought DiCaprio may have looked a little out-of-place in a Tarantino film, but I take that all back. We must also give mention to Samuel L. Jackson at this point, who gives an incredible performance. Despite not having as big of a role as the other three actors, his character is far from what we are used to and for that reason it is his role that makes the biggest impression.
Sure Django Unchained has its controversial moments, some of which may shock part of the audience, but why would you expect anything less? The only flaw I found with this film is that it dragged on a bit towards the end, with me thinking it had finished at least three times before it eventually did. Whilst it did begin to ramble on slightly, each of these final scenes were brilliant, and in the end I was pleased that it did keep going. I can’t wait to watch this again!
Quickly rising to the top of my favourite films list, Gravity is a captivating thriller featuring mind-blowing special effects, powerful story telling, and technological advances beyond all compare. Gravity really is a cinematic experience, which deserves many awards for director Alfonso Cuaron’s dedication alone. But what’s so great about Gravity is that it really makes you part of the experience. It’s almost claustrophobic at times, as if you’re in a small room with little air one minute then being swung around in the infinity of space the next. By the end all you want to do is take in a big breath of fresh air, forgetting that we had a full supply whilst we suffered with the characters that didn’t for 90 minutes straight. For this reason, the film also excels because of its performances, which are depended on heavily. Sandra Bullock is absolutely phenomenal and this is the best performance I have ever seen from her. Whilst there’s also a fantastic support from George Clooney from time to time, it all comes down to Bullock to hold your attention, fear, and the entire suspense of the film, and she does so superbly.
1. Les Miserables
To say you should only watch this if you like musicals would be wrong, as the genre of musicals is extremely varied. Lately, they are often mixed so much with comedy that they become laughable, for example Mamma Mia, Rock of Ages, and High School Musical. Les Misérables is something very much different. With only a few words spoken throughout the whole film, the entire story is told through song. The film therefore relies heavily on its performances, which are – unsurprisingly – superb all around. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are absolutely incredible in the main leads, and it is their characters who give the most impact. The fact that the cast all sang their songs live on set means that you get to hear every choke in their voices, and therefore feel every emotion that their characters are feeling.