2013 was an interesting year for film. The director of Drive - Nicolas Winding Refn lovingly gave us the pretentious artistically void cinematic abomination that was Only God Forgives. Uncle Quentin Tarantino marvelled in his own ego and greatness with the incredibly dissappointing Django Unchained. Tom Hanks starred in every film released.... on some occasions multiple times. Iron Man 3 proved to be almost as bad as Iron Man 2 complete with Ben Kinglsey getting the most wasted character cameo of all time. Giant monsters fought with giant robots, Hugh Jackman starred in another mediocre Wolverine film. Ron Burgundy and Alan Partridge brilliantly returned to our lives. Brad Pitt single handedly saved the world from the undead, Man of Steel re-did Matrix Revolutions and Benedict Cumberbatch became the man of the moment.
All of which leaves me to crank on about the films that best tickled my 2013 pickle:
10. The Conjuring
Director James Wan's old school horror was a surprise hit with wacky 2013 horror loving cinema goers. Possessing a little more clout than the fun but distinctly Disney-ish Insidious franchise Wan also presides over The Conjuring proved that decent horror can make it to the big screen.
Based on real life paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson also the star of Insidious 1&2) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Famiga, better known now as the slutty murderous mum from Bate's Motel) as they work on the disturbing 1971 Perron family haunting case. 'What even scaryier and disturbing than the Amytiville case they are most famous for looking into' I hear you cry? Well possibly..... and the movie's profit margins have persuaded the film makers to uncover another even more scarier case the Warren's worked on for The Conjuring 2.
Never the less, The Conjuring asserted itself as a creepy, cerebral and incredibly compelling horror thriller, although the subsequent six sequels may taint that legacy.
Other credible horror mentions: You're Next, The Last Days, Mama, Insidious 2, Haunter, Snap, The Battery, Lord of Tears, Dark Circles and Cheap Thrills. Oh and the remake of Evil Dead was surprisingly decent.
Avoid: R.I.P.D, Insidious 2, Dracula 3D.
9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Those darn pesky kids....... not content with surviving barbaric telvised death games, defying the right wing autocracy, faking love, becoming a symbol of hope to the impoverished underclasses. They then decide to do it all again for a second film! This time the action is even more epic, defiant and revolution inspiring.
Katnis Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence looking hot but too old) Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and Thor without his beard have a bit of a love triangle; previous older winners have to fight it out in another televised games whilst President Snow (Donald Sutherland) strokes his beard with indignation about the whole thing. Lenny Kravitz sadly fails to play Woody the Cheers themes on his guitar.
Catching Fire maybe be an over long sprawling mess at times, but it is still a beautifully crafted and wonderfully acted piece of angst ridden politically charged entertainment, probably best experienced naked and with a cold beer.
Other 2013 fantasy film mentions: Erm is Harry Potter dead already? Surely he did something this year? Ok fine then Thor 2.
District 9 director Neill Blomkamp's follow up science fiction blockbuster had Matt Damon in it! So what else do you need to know? I mean come on, MATT F*CKING DAMON! Yep the guy from Bourne, only this time he's bald!
Ok so the film got a fairly tepid criticial reception and this despite the fact it had Jodie Foster acting like a bad ass man. Did I mention the fact the impoverished population of the Earth are all dying from the polluted and post apocalyptic like civilisation they live in, whilst all the rich live on a epic sized space ship called Elysium? A bit like LA in space. Well I probably should have begun with that.
A terminally ill Max (Damon) teams up with some cyber smugglers in an insane bid to get to Elysium and reset it's mainframe in the hope of bringing equality to the place. Or somethig like that, did I mention Damon gets a pretty cool bionic cyborg suit welded to him? Well he does, and it helps him deal with bad guys such as uber evil bounty hunter Kruger (Sharlto Copely in psycho soldier form).
Elysium bangs out a very simaler beat to District 9, but this is no bad thing. On the whole Blomkamp delivers another fun but daft bad future sci-fi romp............ also did I mention it has Matt Damon in it?
Other 2013 worthy sci-fi mentions: Ender's Game.
Also in at joint 8) Maniac
Franck Khalfoun's remake of the cult 80s slasher was a queasy, unerving and thoroughly horrible delight. Seen through the eyes of the killer, Elijah Wood excels as Frank the creepy mannequin shop owner hell bent on taking his mummy issues out on some unsuspecting ladies. Not for the faint of heart.
7) World War Z
So.... before I begin it's important to note that this film bares more in common with Dr Zeus than it does the awesome Max Brooks book of the same name. But if you can ignore that quite significant fact and the rather lack lustre ending. Then you are left with and actually pretty darn good zombie flick.
Brad Pitt's World War Z has some of the most visually awe inspiring and heart stopping big scale zombie action every committed to film. Lovers of the undead will find it difficult not to be impressed by this significantly amped up 28 Days later style thrill ride. Sure it's silly and implausible, littered with horror cliches and stars the jumper wearing woman from the US remake of The Killing. But still I defy any true horror lover not to enjoy World War Z in all it's dumb, hi-octane, gloriously heroic Brad Pitt glory!
But for the love of Zeus watch the uncut version as the bloodless theatre edit will have you slaughtering your fellow audience/family members in frustration.
Other 2013 zombie films of note: The Dead 2, Warm Bodies, Open Grave.
6) Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro rarely delivers a bad film. Armed with a combination of big ass monsters (Kaiju) fighting big ass robots (Jaegers) even far lesser men would have find it hard to faulter with such a special FX heavy franchise.
And yet the film is riddled with surprisingly generic and dumb Hollywood action movie cliches. Including obvious characters, (complete with dodgy Australian/British accents) terrible dialogue and often formulaic plot tropes. Even Idris Elba as the gruff general Stacker Pentecost - can't really distract you from the implausibly comedy science fiction at hand.
But somehow all that doesn't matter as at the movie's heart are eye poppingingly massive scale 3D Kaiju vs Jaeger FX sequences. The plot infrastucture around them is just about competent enough to hold all the jaw dropping set pieces together and del Toro even throws in a brilliant but unecessary Ron Perlman cameo to help paper over some of the more turgid plotting.
Pacific Rim is for the child in all of us, it could have been even better - but it doesn't need to be as all we really every wanted for Christmas was 'massive robots hitting huge sea monsters using large ships as weapons!' F*CK YEAH!
Other good films involving big robots or monsters in 2013: erm..... V/H/S 2?
Prisoners begs the uncomfortable question, just how far would you go to protect and save your family?
Director Denis Villeneuve's pitch black crime thriller is an extremely slow burner, with only the strong performances from Hugh Jackman (without steel claws or musical backing), Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano keeping you in the game long enough for the pay off in the highly emotively incredible final third.
Other crime thrillers/dramas worth calling out: Side Effects, A Field in England, Big Bad Wolves, Mud.
4) Anchorman 2
Most never thought Adam McKay and Will Ferrell's cult favourite would return to the big screen, many including myself even thought it unwise to resurrect the beloved genius of Ron Burgundy for another film.
Thankfully everything that was good about the first film is pretty damn good in the second, the one liners, comedy set pieces and characterisations are still as funny as ever.
It's the 80s and the plot this time focuses on Burgundy and his crack news team helping launch a 24hr news. There are goofy sub plots around Ron canoodling with his new boss, lessons in parenting, shark raising and the usual protracted attempts to win back his wife and friends.
Sure the whole thing feels pretty familiar, the final act drags a bit and there is a little too much brick. But these are all small quibbles when you consider how many gags hit the mark.
Other comedy films of note: Alpha Papa, This is the End, The World's End.... any films with End in the title except Ender's Game which wasn't comedy.
3) Star Trek Into Darkness
After doing a pretty decent job of revitalising the Star Trek franchise - news broke that J.J. Abrahams was also getting a crack at the next Disney sponsored Star Wars trilogy. One man handling the two most important sci-fi franchises in living history is either genius or a pretty damn scary proposition. Fortunately the last three Star Wars films have already destroyed our expectations and raped our childhood memories so most fans are too jaded to care.
But back on topic.....into Darkness builds on the strong foundations laid by the first film. Simon Pegg even manages to pull off a half realistic scottish accent this time, whilst Cumberbatch acts his tits off as Kahn and Alice Eve unecessarily strips down to her pants. The plot has a few neat twists, plenty of explosions and hi-octane action and even a few grumpy klingons in the mix. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto continue to be superb as the young Kirk and Spock, whilst Abrahams pays enough reverence to the original series to keep most geeks happy (most not all obviously, that would be impossible).
2) The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
It may win awards for the silliest film name of 2013, (only because Harry Potter has retired his wand) but the follow up to the Hobbit is an absolute fantasy masterpiece. Given that the first film in the seemingly uncessary trilogy was a little uninspired and plodding and shot on film that makes it look like Neighbours, it's sequel finds Jackson and his extensive cast truly finding their hairy oversized feet.
Their is no giant final battle, but the action and suspense is almost non-stop, with plenty of battles, orcs, elves, beasties, cunning and brave hobbityness, giant spiders, battling dwarves in barrels, wizardyness, unseen evil, seen evil and a freelance crime solving dragon... oh wait.
in 2009 Alfonso Cuarón kicked the film world straight in the womb with the brutally apocalytic semi sci-fi Children of Men, a film with an incredibly layered complex (po-faced script) huge assemble cast and.... Clive Owen.
7 years later he follows it up with a film featuring virtually no cast, no complex script or plot and scores a critically acclaimed box office smash!
But it's no fluke....... because Gravity has some of the most breath taking visuals, spine chilling, stomach churning, adrenalin fuelled swirling around space survival set pieces ever seen! And all in 3D with George Clooney thrown in for good measure! Ok so it has Sandra Bullock also, but in truth she puts in a pretty decent performance.
And yes the plot is minute but still intelligent, the characterisations and back stories are also brief but poignantly well weighted. Gravity is as close as you could get to a perfect piece of cinema in 2013.