By Mark Potter.
2013 was, in my opinion, a great year for movies; so come with us now, faithful reader, as we look back at some of my personal highlights. Please note, however, that though some of these films were released in their native countries in the year preceding, this list is looking back – specifically – at what we saw premiere in the United Kingdom last year. So sit back, relax, and, as they tell you before the film starts, “please turn off your ‘phone”!
15. CLOUD ATLAS
DIRECTED BY: Lana & Andy Wachowski & Tom Twyker
Huge and sprawling, set at different points throughout history and featuring actors playing multiple parts, this was never going to be an easy watch, but it rewards viewers willing to pay attention. From the Pacific Islands in the 1800’s, to the city of Seoul in the 22nd Century, this was a film that wasn’t afraid to think big and offer rich themes of actions we take and the effects they might have on future generations. A little bit pretentious, a lot of philosophy, but with a huge amount of heart. This is a film that will require multiple viewings to really appreciate all the layers.
14. THE LAST STAND
DIRECTED BY: Kim Jee-Woon
Arnold Schwarzenegger, back in his first leading role since the end of his second term as Governor of California. Could he still headline a movie? Would he still have the skills to handle the big action scenes? The answer to both was a resounding YES! Working from a script that doesn’t try to pretend the Austrian oak is still in his thirties, director Kim Jee-Woon (making his English language directing debut) delivered a pacey action-er packed with car chases, explosions and lots of gunfire. An excellent supporting cast including Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker and the always charming Luis Guzman made for one of the most fun films of the year. Welcome back Arnold, we missed you!
13: G.I. JOE: RETALIATION
DIRECTED BY: Jon M. Chu
What’s that sound you can hear? Yes, it’s a thousand pretentious film critics, getting ready to bludgeon your humble writer to death for daring to include a movie based on a toy and starring a wrestler on this list. But stop to look at it, and where this movie delivers over its limp precursor is delivering in the thrills and spills, ditching the lame ideas of the first movie and remembering that staying true to your source material is not actually a bad thing. Dispensing with Channing Tatum’s rather bland Duke early on, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson takes center stage as the Joe’s attempt to find out who betrayed them. Featuring one of the best action scenes of the year, as Snake-Eyes (Ray Park) battles a group of ninjas across a mountain range, this was further proof that a fun movie can make for an enjoyable piece of entertainment. A great cast including Bruce Willis and Jonathan Pryce made for what might be the best case of a sequel being better than its original in a long, long time.
12. WRECK-IT RALPH
DIRECTED BY: Rich Moore
Disney unleashed their most loveable creation in a long time in this fun homage to 1980’s video games. Ralph (voiced perfectly by John C. Reilly) is unloved by his fellow game characters and goes on a journey of discovery to find out if he can be good and what it means to be true to yourself. Marred slightly by a lack of locations, and in the final third losing the focus from Ralph on to the character of Vanellope, this still showed that the House of Mouse was a force to be reckoned with in animation terms. For long time video game fans found even more enjoyment can be had by playing ‘spot the reference’ with the host of classic games featured in the background.
11. DJANGO UNCHAINED
DIRECTED BY: Quentin Tarantino
The western is, sadly, an unloved genre of film these days. Audiences are seemingly unable to relate to the old west and its world of cowboys and horses, but was that going to stop the cinematic hurricane known as Quentin Tarantino? Of course it wasn’t! Kicking up the predictable levels of controversy due to its subject matter of slavery and the amount of racism from that period in history, the director chooses not to skate around these things but show them for how grotesque they were. Jaime Foxx may well have been the headliner, but it is Leonardo DiCaprio who steals the show as a camp but vicious plantation owner. A man so cold and heartless, he values life as highly as the mud under his boot. Though the film is at least twenty minutes too long, the dialogue and scripting remain excellent throughout. Having shrugged off the self-indulgence that ruined Death Proof, Tarantino returned to form with Inglorious Basterds and it is good to see him continue here. I, for one, can’t wait to see what he does next.
10. ESCAPE PLAN
DIRECTED BY: Mikael Håfström
What could be better than having the king of action movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger, back on the big screen? Well, how about teaming him up with his most famous contender for the title, Sylvester Stallone? Joint headlining a movie for the first time, these two titans delivered a memorable and atmospheric thriller. Ray Breslin (Stallone) breaks out of prisons for a living, but is set up and dumped in a maximum security facility located… um, God knows where. He teams up with fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) in his bid to escape. The action and setting is well directed and when the carnage is unleashed, it doesn’t disappoint. It may have taken them the best part of thirty years to start working together, but after the tease of their few scenes together in The Expendables 1 & 2, it is great to see these two legends spend a whole movie with eachother.
9. THE WOLVERINE
DIRECTED BY: James Mangold
The second solo outing for the most popular of the X-Men, this was a much more satisfying experience than the previous Wolverine movie. Based on a famous run of comics by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, the movie takes Logan to Japan and pulls back his healing powers allowing him to be put into some life threatening situations. He must then go on a traditional heroes’ journey of proving himself to be worthy before coming back with a vengeance. It may not be the most original of stories, but setting the action in Japan makes a refreshing change, and the focus is firmly on character. That’s not to say the action scenes are lacking and a duel atop a moving train is nothing short of brilliant.
Marvel movies always feature a post credits moment and, here, long time X-Men fans will get a serious case of goose bumps – so make sure to keep watching when the credits roll.
DIRECTED BY: Ron Howard
Historically accurate? No, not really, but this account of the rivalry between F1 superstars James Hunt and Niki Lauda is an incredible two hours, as they go toe to toe for the world championship. Featuring the best racing scenes ever filmed, the action out of the cars is just as compelling outside of the race track as these two contrasting personalities clash. A great recreation of a time when driver fatalities were commonplace, you get a real sense that these men are prepared to play with their lives in pursuit of glory.
7. ZERO DARK THIRTY
DIRECTED BY: Kathryn Bigelow
After all the controversy over the scenes of torture have been endlessly discussed, it can be easy to forget that this film makes you feel one thing more than anything else – and that’s tension. Even though we know how it ends, this account of the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden builds pace perfectly, and, by the third act, where Seal Team Six head for his hideout, your heart will be ready to jump out of your chest. Lo-fi in look, when the violence does happen, it is a million miles from the standard Hollywood take on action.
DIRECTED BY: Park Chan-Wook
The Korean director, famous for world cinema favorites such as Oldboy and I’m a Cyborg but that’s OK, makes his English language debut in the tale of a very dysfunctional family. Working from a screenplay by Wentworth Miller (star of the Resident Evil movies and television’s Prison Break), the director brings out incredibly intense performances from the leading trio of Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode. Slow and brooding in its darkness, you aren’t sure who to love and who to loathe – this has always been one of Chan-Wook’s gifts as a director. The ride is never easy, but always hypnotic.
5. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
DIRECTED BY: J.J Abrams
It’s a rare thing to see your heroes on the back foot from the get-go, but this is exactly the case here, as Starfleet is attacked by a terrorist with a hidden past. Benedict Cumberbatch makes his first appearance on this list – and completely steals the show as the evil John Harrison. Like the other blockbusters on this list, it mixes incredible special effects with plenty of character moments including the deepening bromance between Kirk and Spock and more screen time for Scotty (the ever brilliant Simon Pegg) and Bones (Karl Urban). Director J.J. Abrams may not return for the next installment, as he is working on the new Star Wars movie, but he has left behind an incredible legacy – reinventing Star Trek for a whole new group of fans while also pleasing the long term devotees.
4. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
DIRECTED BY: Peter Jackson
A trip back to Middle-Earth is always welcome, and with the second part of The Hobbit trilogy, director Peter Jackson makes sure you won’t want to leave. The dwarves are still on their quest to reclaim their lost kingdom, and along the way, are met by plenty of new faces. These include Stephen Fry in delicious form as the slimy master of Lake Town, Luke Evans as the heroic Bard the Bowman, and Evangeline Lilly as the beautiful elf Tauriel. However, it is the returning regulars that make you glad to be back, with Martin Freeman continuing to delight as Bilbo Baggins and Ian McKellan as perfect as he ever was as Gandalf. For many, this film would always hinge on one thing, and that is Smaug himself. For those not in the know, the titular character is a huge dragon, and the special effects here are amazing, including some outrageous camera work as he pursues our heroes inside a mountain. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, (star of television’s Sherlock) he is the most memorable screen villain of the year.
3. THE WORLD’S END
DIRECTED BY: Edgar Wright
After a six year wait, director Edgar Wright and co-writer/lead actor Simon Pegg, return with the third part of their Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. Five school friends, all now in their 40’s, are reunited to return to their home town. Their task: attempt the pub crawl that defeated them in their teens. Things soon start to go wrong when they realize there is something very wrong with their old town.
The science fiction elements act as a backdrop for a tale that encompasses the futility of trying to recapture your youth and the nature of addiction. Presented with a lead character, Gary King, who beneath the pratfalls and one liners is a deeply manipulative addict on the road to self-destruction, the superbly written script doesn’t point the finger of blame but makes us love and loath the character in equal measure. With a surprise ending, Wright and Pegg prove that the long wait was more than worth it with their most emotional work yet.
2. FROM UP ON POPPY HILL
DIRECTED BY: Goro Miyazaki
Studio Ghibli’s latest masterpiece was directed by Goro Miyazaki working from a script by his famous father, Hayao. In 1960’s Japan, a sixteen year old girl begins to fall for another student as they work together to refurbish the school clubhouse, in a last ditch attempt to save it from demolition. However, it emerges that they may in fact be related, and friction ensues as they try to discover the truth behind their parentage, while doing all they can to stop the clubhouse being destroyed.
Animated in Ghibli’s traditional hand drawn style with outstanding attention to detail, the film is tender and moving with a beautiful score. The characters are believable and their heartaches against a larger backdrop make for the most emotionally engaging film this year.
1. MAN OF STEEL
DIRECTED BY: Zack Snyder
The hype had been building for a long time, from the first publicly released image of the new Superman standing in front of a smashed bank vault door, and then the teaser trailer released a whole year before.
Questions were being asked before it was even released: No red trunks? No John Williams theme music?
All doubters were silenced as Superman soared (sorry, couldn’t resist!) back in to cinemas boasting a realistic look and filming techniques that immersed you in the most jaw dropping action seen in years. Hans Zimmer provided a new score including a pulse pounding new theme driven, by the biggest sounding drums you have ever heard.
Snyder, working alongside producer Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy) and screen writer David Goyer (another Batman alumni) would deliver a film that introduced a whole new generation of fans to the worlds’ greatest superhero. Following his journey from his doomed home world to saving Earth from his own people, this film showed that even the strongest must overcome their own doubts and embrace what they have been blessed with. Superman is back, and ready to save us all over again!
So, that was 2013, and this year is looking exciting already – with Gareth Evans (director of low budget 2010 drama Monsters) helming a new Godzilla movie, Bryan Singer back in the directors’ chair for X-Men: Days of Future Past and Indonesian action-er The Raid 2 ready to blow our minds! See you at the cinema!