If 2012 was all about high profile releases, 2013 was the year that less anticipated movies came to the fore. Aside from the odd blockbuster, the big releases of 2013 didn’t reach the box office heights that the likes of Skyfall, The Avengers Assemble
, and The Dark Knight Rises
scaled the year before. Not that this was a bad thing; 2013 delivered more unexpected surprises than any cinematic year in recent times and continued to delight right up to the years end.
Daniel Day Lewis opened 2013 by presenting further evidence of his genius with Lincoln. Brit of the hour James McAvoy offered a thrilling crime double bill in March with Welcome to the Punch and Trance, while fellow Brit Anthony Hopkins was a joy in Hitchcock, the brilliant back-story to Psycho (1960). Jonathon Levine directed an excellent adaptation of Isaac Marion’s zombie romance Warm Bodies which somehow managed to make the bizarre concept of love beyond the grave work. Nicholas Winding Refn continued to confound and astonish with his keenly awaited directorial follow-up to Drive (2011), Only God Forgives, while Ben Stiller showed a growing maturity both behind and in front of the camera with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Idris Elba, an actor thoroughly deserving of a place up with the greats, earned a shot at the big time with Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. He admittedly got an unexpected assist with the recent passing of the great man himself, but his performance still stood as one of the best of year.
Elsewhere, other smaller pictures offered pleasant surprises, Flight, The Place Behind The Pines, The Call, Filth, The Conjuring, Nebraska, All Is Lost. Some films had an ace up their sleeve, such as We’re The Millers which not only offered solid laughs but the stunning sight of Jennifer Aniston causing literal and metaphorical sparks to fly in down-to-the-underwear dance routine. The Lone Ranger’s trick was to somehow convince critics it was a turkey; a risky strategy, it bombed at the box office, but remains one of the more easily enjoyable pictures of the year. Anchorman 2 repeated all the high points from the now cult classic original. You could argue this was lazy scriptwriting but when the laughs were so good the first time round no one really cared. Cue the best surprise cameos of the year and more super quotable dialogue "Say whaaaaat?".
The marquee name releases had a whiff of poor cousin about them when compared to the heavyweight offerings of 2012, and the pressure of trying to compete troubled more than a few of them. Time spent with Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark is always two hours well spent but Iron Man 3 was uneven to the point of being schizophrenic, hard-hitting terrorist thriller one minute, balmy comedy action picture the next. The Wolverine promised a stripped back Logan episode with the tri-knifed mutant kicking ninja ass. What we actually got was another Logan love story and Hugh Jackman trading adamantium with a geriatric in a ridiculous looking samurai robot suit; fortunately the greatest post-credit sting ever saved the day, just. Star Trek: Into Darkness started well but stumbled thanks to the most gratuitously obvious scene of the year; "Why are you fiddling with a dead tribble Bones?”, "So I can resurrect whichever of the main characters the scriptwriters decide to kill off in the last third of the film”. And Ricardo Montalban managed to portray a truly menacing Khan without resorting to the obviousness of post-Matrix kung-fu moves.
World War Z had its moments, including a pleasingly low-key finale, but it was undone by "how much shit can happen to one guy” syndrome, Brad Pitt staggering from one calamity to the next like a two hour re-enactment of the life of John McClane. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire played it safe by offering a carbon copy of the first film. In fact it was so risk averse it even repeated the mistakes part one made, a complete lack of anything remotely gritty, violent or challenging being the biggest failing once again. Man of Steel failed to halt the search for a decent follow-up for Superman II (1978), Zack Snyder serving up a cold, stale picture so reliant on flashy visual effects and CGI explosions it nearly claimed lives via death-by-migraine.
In the box office stakes The Fast & Furious 6 raced to the bronze medal position just behind Iron Man 3 and Despicable Me 2, no small achievement for a franchise that at one point was heading for direct-to-dvd oblivion. More important than that it now stands as a fine swansong for the series' quiet centre, the late Paul Walker who, amongst all the flashy motors and bemuscled co-stars, was the series’ warm heart. FilmsFilmsFilms puts forward its pick of ten other films that will stay with movie fans long after 2013 is scribed into the history books.
- DJANGO UNCHAINED (2013)
A post Christmas treat for movie fans, Quentin Tarantino’s seventh full movie as director slipped into 2013 in the UK and what a relief it was for those of us suffering from New Year blues. Tarantino called on some familiar faces with Samuel L Jackson and Christoph Waltz doing fine work once again with QT’s script. But it was the new stars the director chose to play with that piqued interest. Leonardo Di Caprio had a ball as slave owner Calvin Candie despite onset reservations over delivering some of the films more racially prejudice dialogue. His Candie is one of the most onerous cinematic villains of the last few years. But it was Jamie Foxx as the titular Django that drew the most attention. Will Smith had turned down the role, bizarrely stating that the part "wasn’t the lead”. Michael K Williams, star of The Wire and Boardwalk Empire, was also in the running before Tarantino settled on Foxx. Critics felt that it was an unusual misstep by the director whose unorthodox casting choices were usually spot on. But not for the first time with a Tarantino flick the critics got it wrong. Foxx is the understated engine that drives Django forward, a man who takes the entire running time to grow out of a lifetime spent being the quiet, put-upon man. Slave chains cut by Waltz’ bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, Foxx expertly paints an empowering growth in confidence as the movie marches on to the final scene when he is triumphantly reunited with his lost love Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). What also stands out is the amount of humour offered up by Tarantino. The debut of the Klu Klux Klan’s white hood is perhaps the funniest single scene of the year, and is just one of many that mark out Django as another astounding success from a director who just keeps on delivering the goods.
Tasty Morsel – Tarantino revealed at Comic-Con that Fox and Washington’s characters were written as the great-great-great grandparents of private eye John Shaft from Shaft (1971), hence Broomhilda’s surname Von Schaft.
- ZERO DARK THIRTY (2013)
Scenery chewing; get it right and you’ll be first in line to replace Jack Nicholson when the big man hangs up his Ray Bans and 7-iron. Get it wrong and you’ll be sharing a trailer with Gary Busey in the near future. The most stylishly munched backdrops of the year belonged to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, as Jessica Chastain goes full Torrance in her search for former al-Qaeda grand fromage Osama Bin Laden. The temptation to offer a sabre-rattling witch-hunt for America’s greatest enemy must have been strong in the halls of Hollywood. But when you consider it took nearly a decade for the world’s biggest superpower to track down one towel sporting, cave dwelling Saudi Arabian you start to realise there isn’t a whole lot to shout about. Director Bigelow was a wise choice then, hot off the Oscar success of her previous war-on-terror flick The Hurt Locker (2009). Bigelow ensured no punches were pulled in depicting the intricacies and the darker side of histories most controversial manhunt. Taking her research into counter terrorism as a start point Bigelow joined writer Mark Boal in digging into the long process that led to Bin Laden’s capture, eventually coming up with a composite character that pooled the talent and work of a number of female CIA agents who worked on the case. Maya was the resulting lead female agent, and Chastain gainfully took on the part when Rooney Mara dropped out early doors. Chastain guides the viewer through the tumultuous hunt, the movie moving episodically in chapters. As each chapter passes the need for Maya to deliver the goods grows as the cost of tracking Bin Laden grows both in human cost and questionable moral decisions. With each new chapter, newer faces crop up from James Gandolfini to Mark Strong and bizarrely John Barrowman, culminating in a final act that sidelines all the major players from the two hours that precede, replaced by a night-vision SEAL assault on the terrorist’s compound led by Joel Edgerton. The end is swift and clinical, and the action that precedes it stark save for Bigelow’s trademark brief moments of humanity, a baked birthday cake here, a shed tear there. Though the end result carries triumph, the road to get there is so wearing you question whether all the suffering that led to Bin Laden’s takedown was worth it after all. The moving soundbites that open the picture, phonecalls made by those caught up in the events of 9/11, linger long into the picture; but do they linger long enough? The movie certainly warmed up the torture debate upon release, camps divided on whether it demonised or glorified the methods used. As essential as cinema gets.
Tasty Morsel – The original screenplay was about the decade long unsuccessful manhunt for Bin Laden, but it had to be rewritten when Bin Laden was found and the American SEALs finally got the job done.
- WRECK IT RALPH (2013)
There was tough competition in the race for best animated movie of 2013, with Monsters University, Despicable Me 2 and Frozen standing out as above par features. The title was wrestled away by another film that was held back for a 2013 release on this side of the pond, Disney’s Wreck It Ralph. Like most movies from the House of Mouse, Ralph had a moralising message to deliver. The fact that the lesson here was it doesn’t matter how shit your life and job is as long as you’ve got a happy kid to watch smile their way through life, was as laughable a prospect as any Disney film has ever tried to shovel down its audiences throat before. But luckily for director Rich Moore this was the only wrong foot placed by the Ralph script, the story of a computer game character looking back on thirty years spent as the villain in his home arcade cabinet and feeling distinctly unfulfilled as a result. It’s a genius conceit, the eternal questions we all find ourselves asking at some point as life rolls by. But what was even more inspired was wrapping these existential doubts in the mystery world of computer game characters and what they get up to once the lights in the arcade go out. It’s the same trick that Toy Story (1995) used so well, the idea that the food in your fridge gets together for a party once you shut the door. So Ralph kicks off with Ralph heading for a self-help group with all the other computer game villains lamenting the fact that no one appreciates all the hard work he has put in over the years. Bowser, Zangief and his fellow bad guys offer little comfort so Ralph decides to change his own destiny. Moore used this sandbox world to not only deliver all manner of tributes and nods to computer gaming classics of years gone by, but to utilise the differing styles of animation over the last three decades of gaming history in the various worlds and games Ralph finds himself in. It made for one of the most visually arresting movies of the year. When the clever humour of Ken and Ryu disappearing to Tappers for a pint is done with and the real story kicks in, Ralph assisting racing game glitch Vanellope to realise her own dream to become a kart racer, solid writing and spot on voice work by Sarah Silverman and John C Reilly see the movie across the finish line with ease.
Tasty Morsel – The high score on the Fix It Felix Jr cabinet where Ralph lives is 120501, a tribute to Walt Disney whose date of birth is 12/05/1901.
- STOKER (2013)
It’s getting harder and harder to offer up a thriller or horror film that does something different. Increasingly, we’ve seen it all before, which probably explains why 2013, like 2012 before it, was a complete bust on the scary movie front. One of the few shining lights in the genre this year was Park Chan-wook’s Stoker. The director’s long awaited English language debut marks yet another Asian filmmaker whose eye for a stunning visual has shown up his western counterparts. Not that this was a great surprise; his "Vengeance” trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003), Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)) were three of the finest Asian imports of the last decade. Continuing his brilliant work Stoker, though subtle, is the most strikingly presented movie of the year. Starting with the film’s conclusion, though offering snippets that only make sense once we re-reach the climax the movie’s end, we meet India (Mia Wasikowska) whose father has recently passed away. As early as his funeral India’s mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) begins a flirtatious relationship with her late husband’s brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) who has conveniently reappeared after many years absence. From the outset Chan-wook makes no effort to hide Charlie’s sinister intentions, his behaviour fitting all the best Single White Female (1992) traditions. But its how his relationship with the frosty India develops that becomes so absorbing. Charlie swings from sly smiled tormentor to big-brotherly protector almost from scene to scene. Like the viewer, India does her best to fight Charlie’s ability to draw us into liking him. Both India and the viewer know its not going to end well but both parties can’t help but fall for his charms, even after his chilling secret has been revealed. Its a masterstroke of scriptwriting from Wentworth Miller and acting from Goode and Wasikowska. If the three of them aren’t slipping into their best frocks and suits come March 2014 for an Oscar nod there’s something very wrong with the way the Academy draws up its shortlist.
Tasty Morsel – Carey Mulligan and Jodie Foster were originally cast, but dropped out, replaced by Wasikowska and Kidman.
- NOW YOU SEE ME (2013)
Another sub-genre that is starting to smell more than a little ripe these days is the heist movie. Ever since Ocean’s 11 (2001) cleaned up at the box-office writers and directors have been flooding the big screen with smug, be-suited ensemble casts walking slow-mo style from another turned over art gallery, emptied bank or decimated Happy Shopper. There’s only so much of this arrogant thievery one can take before you look around your own tatty living room and start to wonder if Hollywood is deliberately rubbing your unwashed face in it. It therefore took the combined good will of likeable performers Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco and Isla Fisher and a shit hot script to sell audiences on another clever caper picture. Director Louis Leterrier needed to be ultra sure about the good vibes emanating from his cast so lobbed in some more of Hollywood’s most amiable stars in the villainous roles, rounding up Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Mark Ruffalo to fill out the cast. The result was the most unexpected success of the year. Slap bang in the middle of the summer blockbuster season Now You See Me coolly strode past the million dollar big boys to secure a spot as one of the most profitable films of the year. And it wasn’t a massive ad campaign or online marketing drive that achieved this, but good old word of mouth. It’s impossible not to love a film that pulls off this minor miracle in our post-modern, we-want-everything-now world. And Leterrier’s film deserved its growing reputation. The film starts at a sprint and only gets faster from there, which is probably just as well judging by some of the massive plot holes in the story logic. But as with all good magic tricks, to enjoy them you really shouldn’t look behind the curtain, just sit back and be entertained. We follow four different magicians, all at different phases of their careers, but none of them in the big time. Summoned together by a mysterious benefactor they become the Four Horsemen, Las Vegas’ biggest magic stage show. But when their act starts relieving banks of their cash, the police start looking a lot closer. Whether they can keep up with the magical quartet before they pull of their ultimate heist is a problem Ruffalo and French Interpol agent Melanie Laurent must contend with. The end result is the underdog version of Ocean’s 11, a film with a slightly less starry cast but an even bigger feel good factor.
Tasty Morsel – The opening Eisenberg card trick was actually performed by the actor, and was not achieved using editing.
- THE WORLD’S END (2013)
The first two instalments of the Cornetto Trilogy, Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007), had laughs to spare. But buried beneath the slapstick and witty dialogue was a hint of pathos, a warmth between Shaun and Ed, and Nicholas and Danny. It wasn’t a surprise to folks when they discovered that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were off screen best buds. So how could director Edgar Wright cap off his comedic saga with an episode that bested what had gone before? The answer was to rummage deep down into the relationship between his lead pair and drag it to the surface. The World’s End not only had the laughs that Cornetto one and two had, but a swirling emotional current that carries the chuckles along like the driftwood from a broken joke. Pegg’s Gary King shares the same manic enthusiasm of Shaun but the joke has worn thin now, particularly on his fellow school mates who are a good few years into their adult lives. Gary, the one time ringleader at school, has refused to move into adulthood and desperate to recapture the glory days of his youth he rounds up his old chums to re-enact an infamous pub crawl last attempted unsuccessfully in their teens. Unfortunately for the gang during the crawl they stumble on an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers-esque alien plot to take over the world. Though the body stealing angle moves the story from beginning to end and provides Wright another chance to once again pay tribute to his fave films, this time from the sci-fi canon, it almost feels incidental to the real meat of things; Gary and his tragic refusal to accept that the past can only ever remain in the past. Or can it? The best final reel of the year belongs to The World’s End as Wright delivers a final twist that blows the scale of the film wide open in jaw dropping style and somehow gives Gary the happy ending we all want. But the biggest pat on the back goes to Pegg and Frost. Effectively swapping their Shaun roles, Frost is a marvel as the straight man, while Pegg gives the performance of his career to date. The moment when Gary rolls up his sleeve to reveal just what he’s been up to since leaving school is such a touching scene it almost feels like it’s strayed in from another picture. If they doll out Oscars for best single scene, the boys will surely be Statuette laden come next March.
Tasty Morsel – If you fancy a stab at the golden mile pub crawl yourself, get yourself to Welwyn Garden City where much of the film was shot. You’ll have to do your research first though; the real-life pubs were renamed for the film.
- RUSH (2013)
There was a time when it actually mattered who the bloke was behind the wheel of a Formula One machine. Before flappy paddle gearboxes, anti-lock brakes and all the other computer controlled gizmos made the fleshy middle part of a racing car obsolete, F1 drivers were gods among men. And rightly so; these sideburn sporting heroes were risking their lives every time they rolled out on the track. For a time in the seventies, a driver’s chance of not returning from the race track alive was one in three. Only real characters would dare to cut a living in this crazy world, which is probably why F1 drivers these days are about as interesting as five hour lecture on gear ratios. The craziest season from this craziest period in motor racing was the 1976 championship, a year which featured characters and story twists so tailor made for cinematic treatment it was the easiest script writing job in history. Directing the retelling was another matter though. Step forward sure hand Ron Howard who brought Rush to the big screen with all the style and professionalism of a filmmaker who could likely handle any project thrown at him without breaking sweat. Two of the best casting choices of the year helped immensely, Chris Hemsworth the modern embodiment of racing playboy and instinctive driver James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl a spot-on Nikki Lauda, his introverted, technically minded on-track rival. The story itself which featured more championship back and forth and unforeseen twists than any racing fan could wish for but Howard didn’t rest on his laurels, going all out to ensure that the on track action was as authentic as possible. Incorporating real life footage as an extra garnish, the wheel to wheel scenes are easily the most pulse thumping of the year. Pleasingly, the cast and a strong script ensured that the off track moments are just as enthralling, as the relationship between two rivals at opposite ends of the personality spectrum still manages to embody a warmth that stays with the viewer long after the last smudge of rubber is left on the tarmac. Current F1 fans looked on with jealousy and F1 drivers looked on with embarrassment as Seb Vettel coldly secured another championship win via ignored team orders and a car most of the starting grid could drive to victory.
Tasty Morsel – Fresh from another Thor performance, Hemsworth had to shed almost two and a half stone to fill the lean frame of Hunt.
- CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)
You’d think that after all this time we'd be sick of Tom Hanks and his good guy ways. In an acting career now entering its thirty fourth year Hanks celebrated this his fiftieth big screen acting assignment with yet another pass at the everyman hero turn. Surely audiences have seen it all before? Surely there’s nothing left the Californian can offer in this department, nothing left for him to say? But once again the double Oscar winner delivered an impeccable performance as the lead hero. And, as has been the case with all his other triumphs, it was a showing that felt completely different to all the Forrest Gumps and Captain Millers given to us before. Just as a real-life inspired hero requires a Tom Hanks, so gritty, real-life inspired action films need a Paul Greengrass, and that’s exactly who the studio secured to director Captain Phillips the story of Somali pirates taking over an American oil tanker for ransom. Following on from such incendiary pictures as Bloody Sunday (2002), United 93 (2006) and Green Zone (2010) Greengrass retells the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama with all the trademark tension we’ve come to expect. But as with the director’s previous successes, he doesn’t lose sight of the people caught up in the unfolding conflict, on either side of the battle. Both Hanks’ American Captain and the small Somali band of mercenaries are fully fleshed out within the confines of the marching plot as it unfolds. The pirates themselves are not played for dastardly effect, but instead are presented with a clear pragmatism, "I’m the captain now”, which makes their efforts all the more frightening. As with most instances of modern day terrorism, an explosive outburst or a moment of being pushed over the edge isn’t required to make them pull the trigger; that could shoot and kill at any point for whatever reason, big or small, they see fit. On the other side of the clash is Hanks as the titular hero, an ordinary man just doing what he needs to from one situation to the next to keep his crew safe. An obvious increase in production values also helps Greengrass to add much need authenticity of scale to the story as well. Here’s hoping someone lets Greengrass loss on a really big project next time.
Tasty Morsel – Remarkably, this was Barkhad Abdi’s debut feature film as the head pirate Abduwali Muse. That both he and his fellow rookie performers more than held their own against seasoned veteran Hanks is a credit to their abilities and Greengrass’s sure handed direction.
- GRAVITY (2013)
So many critics were getting in an orgasmic state over the release of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity my inbuilt aversion to jumping on bandwagons saw me a grumpy patron when I sat down to see what all the fuss was about. Gravity faced no tougher customer than yours truly, but it stands as a testament to how good a movie it is that despite my best intentions to find fault it still won me over. In fact it might even be the film of the year. Remarkably for a space based picture, Gravity feels more like a two person stage play than a million dollar Hollywood production. But instead of stretching their acting chops around a stage George Clooney and Sandra Bullock had the most spectacularly filmed 3D. For those that can withstand the headaches and who don’t already wear glasses, the advent of proper 3D cinema is the biggest leap forward in movie viewing in years. Cinema desperately needed it to; with affordable large home televisions, surround sound set-ups and blu-ray you could almost get away with avoiding cinemas altogether. And Gravity is the first movie to prove beyond all doubt that 3D isn’t just a gimmick. It can actually enhance and become part of the reason why a film movies from good to great. Gravity isn’t just a movie that happens to be presented in 3D, it is three dimensional. The viewer is right along side Sandra Bullock for the entirety of her fight for life in space, the 3D presentation pulling us into her world in a way no other film has come even close to achieving. Alfonso Cuaron’s picture would have been a tense affair without this sort of immersion, but with it, its nigh-on unbearable. Cleverly, in the face of so many pictures that paint space as a human-friendly environment already tamed and ready for countless adventures, Bullock’s struggle to survive the mid-orbit destruction of her space shuttle is a chilling reminder that away from Earth existence is a terrifying, immediately life threatening environment which offers a hundred different gruesome ways to die.
Tasty Morsel – The off-screen voice of Mission Control is Ed Harris, following on from his already celebrated performance as mission director Gene Kranz in Apollo 13 (1995).
- THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013)
Some people are still expecting Peter Jackson to pull a George Lucas and screw up the new biggest fantasy film saga in Phantom Menace fashion. But there’s only one more chance of that now that the Desolation of Smaug has arrived and, like its predecessors, it’s finds itself on best film of the year lists. It was too late for Jackson to address those few niggles from the first Hobbit outing but somehow he managed it anyway. Naysayers who said An Unexpected Journey moved too slow will be pleased to know that its pedal to the metal for Smaug with audiences dropped in the action from the off. And less than an hour in we find ourselves in the middle of not just the best action sequence of the year, but one of the greatest ever filmed. The dwarf in a barrel river escape is one of the most exhilarating set pieces you’ll ever see. It’s a fifteen minute blast that has tension, laughs, gasps and hoorahs. Legolas pulls another breathtaking bout of acrobatics while our twelve dwarf heroes decimate a pack of Orcs in unbelievable fashion. The film eventually re-reaches these highs when Smaug is finally revealed via the slithery tones of Benedict Cumberbatch. Jackson’s dragon is a stunning creation. Those other fusspots bemoaning Jackson’s choice to string Tolkein’s Hobbit out across a trio of three hour movies can have no complaints either. The movie feels in no way stretched and ends on the biggest cliff hanger of the series so far. The only bum note, if it is one, is the slight familiarity of the plot structure; the group on a trek then get caught up in some sort of prison or calamity, to then go on trekking, to then get caught up again. It’s the same template as LOTR and its wearing just a touch thin. Elsewhere, Thorin is still frosty with Bilbo despite declaring him the best thing since sliced salty pork at the end of Unexpected Journey. And the much anticipated return of Legolas falls a bit flat when you realise he’s a grumpy sod this time round, probably due to the fact that his old man Thranduil is a bit of a bastard. These are small points though in the face of the whole; Jackson may just be the greatest direct of on screen fantasy ever. No one before has managed to combine fantastical action with proper characterisation before. And that’s what makes these films work so well. In amongst all the dashing through caves and swinging of battle axes, the little people at the heart of the story, the individuals caught up in the story, are brilliant realised, superbly acted and fully relatable to. It makes placing yourself alongside them for the journey a cinch and a heart warming delight.
Tasty Morsel – Lee Pace who plays Legolas’ father King Thranduil is actually two year younger than Orlando Bloom.