The 10 Best Films of 2013

With the arrival of the new year comes the time where we divulge our opinion on what the best films of 2013 were, stumbling through the swamp of movies that […]

With the arrival of the new year comes the time where we divulge our opinion on what the best films of 2013 were, stumbling through the swamp of movies that was the past year and remorselessly picking out of the putrid gunk only the films that impressed our hungry eyes enough to be saved from their horrible fate. Because US release dates and award seasons like to be difficult, we are only looking at UK release dates, so many films that were part of the last awards season across the pond are eligible here, which is cool. On the other hand, many films that will be eligible for the coming awards season are not eligible here, so anyone wailing for the inclusion of the likes of  ’12 Years A Slave’, ‘American Hustle’ or whatever else there is will be disappointed because they were not released in the UK last year. Now that we’ve established the ground rules, let’s get on with it:

10. ‘Django Unchained’

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We go right back to the start of the year with Tarantino’s tribute to the spaghetti western, ‘Django Unchained’. Tarantino manages to capture all of his old magic with the film, that manages to be bold, funny, violent and gripping most of the time, and maintains his usual parodic air all the way through, so it just never stops being an enjoyable ride. Sure, he takes us through some very tough scenes and is portraying an era in America that was unapologetically brutal, but Tarantino’s style makes a mockery of all that, and performances by the trio of Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz (whose performance won him a best supporting actor Oscar last year) and Leonardo DiCaprio are fantastically strong. There is perhaps an argument that it didn’t need to be as long as it is, and maybe some will be put off by its ridiculousness, but all that is part of the Tarantino package and its hard not to be swept along in its unapologetic style and rip-roaring entertainment. ‘Django’ is certainly not one to miss, and is a definite improvement on his last film, the disappointing ‘Inglourious Basterds’.

Go here for the trailer

9. ‘Le Week-End’

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Having seen and reviewed the film here in mid-October, it’s not hard to say that this writer was blown away by the sheer poignancy of Roger Michell’s melancholic romantic drama about a married couple trying to find themselves and each other again having simply gone through the motions for many years before. Needless to say, what starts as an innocent attempt to relive their wonderful honeymoon in Paris soon becomes a haven for all of their insecurities, desires, dreams and regrets as they fall in and out of love with each other with the alarming speed only a couple that had been together for so long could manage. Performances by stalwart actors Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are reliably excellent, and even Jeff Goldblum makes a welcome and entirely pleasant appearance as both a catalyst and companion to all their troubles and revelations. Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi continue to show that they make a very strong team, and this touching, sweet and sour film is a wonderful testament to their working relationship.

Go here for the trailer

8. ‘Easy Money’

This film has had an exceptionally delayed release outside of Scandinavia having first hit the screens in its native Sweden all the way back in 2010, but it finally got to cinemas here in July of this year albeit not with a very wide release. It has, however, garnered the interest of the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Martin Scorsese, both of whom helped distribute the film in the US, and there are rumours of an English language remake which while unwelcome, is testament to the film’s effect.

As a big fan of Scandinavian cinema, and unable to see it the one time it showed here in wonderful York, this writer finally caught the film a week ago, and it definitely left a big smile on his face. Dripping with tension and filmed wonderfully, this is definitely director Daniel Espinosa’s current magnum opus. Infectious performances and a plot that grips all the way through are disappointingly rare in thrillers, but ‘Easy Money’ delivers in every way. With all of the style, noirish grit and accessible characters that Ridley Scott’s disastrous ‘The Counsellor’ was going for and failed to achieve, ‘Easy Money’ (or ‘Snabba Cash’ in Swedish) is the thriller of the year, and I almost wish they’d leave it alone. Its success in its native country however means that they have already made a sequel, not helmed by Espinosa, that has not yet been released in these parts, and there will be a third film to complete the inevitable trilogy in the future to go with those rumous of a remake. But for now, we can enjoy this film happily in the knowledge that good old-fashioned thrillers certainly aren’t dead in the water just yet.

Go here for the trailer

7. ‘Good Vibrations’

 

This indie Irish film about the rise of the punk rock scene in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, a bloody conflict borne out of growing unrest in the region, has a lot of heart and turned out to be an unexpected gem. Richard Dormer plays Terri Hooley, a music-obsessed man who set out to start up a record shop and label on one of Belfast’s most violent streets and charts the successes and failures of such a reckless, bold and brilliant enterprise in such a chaotic place. Dormer’s performance is fantastic, playing Hooley as a determined but fun-loving and naive man whose intentions were always good but may have made a few too many wayward decisions in his time. It charts the togetherness that music could bring to such a conflicted society, and the harsh reality of the situation does bite back various times, but Hooley always seems to be above that, anxious to prove people wrong and to show that there’s still a thriving cultural scene in his beloved but much maligned city. It’s a rousing triumph and a must watch, even if niggling criticisms of it being a little too saccharine may have some grounding, that almost seems beside the point. What can be said is it definitely tells a great story. If you’re in to The Undertones, you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Go here for the trailer

 

6. ‘The Act of Killing’

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A film being enjoyable is not necessarily a prerequisite of its greatness, and that is certainly true of Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary that follows some of the people involved in the mass killings of alleged Communists in Indonesia in the mid 1960s. A gruelling, powerful, hard-hitting film that never subsides, it is a brutal watch and has enlightening and captivating as the best documentary films. It decides to tell this horrific true story through a series of interviews and terrifying re-enactments that cause many of the perpetrators, including the person the film follows most, former gangster Anwar Congo, to reconsider their roles in the atrocities that they committed, and whether they were really cogs in a machine that was unstoppable, or whether they had a more active part to play. Uncomfortable from the very beginning, what Oppenheimer has done here is opened a window in to the heads of these people, through the many bizarre and gut-wrenching re-enactment sequences and even in simple conversation, and it’s truly fascinating but also genuinely frightening. It’s no wonder legendary film-maker Werner Herzog got involved with this, it was definitely right up his street, and he was definitely bang on in endorsing it. Oppenheimer’s one to look out for in future.

Go here for the trailer

5. ‘Philomena’

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This touching and involving little gem featuring a career best performance from Steve Coogan and Judi Dench at her very best was something of a surprise. Having gone in expecting something as frigid as Frears’ back catalogue, including the not so involving ‘The Queen’, it was refreshing to be met not by what we expected, but a deep and meaningful tale of a woman horribly wronged with an unbelievable power to forgive. While it is at its heart a comic film, with the personality clash between Coogan’s cynical journalist and Dench’s soft-spoken, warm Philomena being used to resounding effect, it is the complexity and power of their performances that elevate this film above simply good to a fantastic portrayal of a faith and love that lasts even beyond the worst hardships. Dench deserves all the plaudits she’s getting having put in what is another of countless powerhouse performances that she’s pulled off over her illustrious career, and director Stephen Frears has made what is his best film yet and from this evidence there is much to look forward to in the future.

Go here for the trailer

4. ‘Mud’

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Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this masterpiece of a coming of age story that features teenage heartthrob and general on-screen loverboy Matthew McConaughey in a career best performance in a film that has been part of his rejuvenation as an actor. The film itself is a classic, a warbling epic that feels large but actually tells a very small story, all the way up to its fiery and exciting conclusion. Featuring great performances from young actors Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, this story of two boys determined to help someone they know has been mistreated is funny, intense, sad, powerful and ultimately a gripping two hour tale about reconciliation, faith in others and quite simply the hardships of life for those that aren’t so well off in often affluent America. Nichols has already made some very strong films, and the fact that this is his best yet is a testament to his ability as a screenwriter and director and the diversity of stories he is able to tell. It’s also great to see McConaughey living up to his full potential and the future looks bright for him, with a role in Christopher Nolan’s latest epic science fiction film ‘Interstellar’ coming up very soon. ‘Mud’, in many ways, is the breakout film for a lot of the cast and crew, and its quality is the reason for that.

Go here for the trailer

3. ‘Les Misérables’

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Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic could hardly be any more perfect. Taking on this project could have been a massive banana skin for Hooper and his career since lots of die hard ‘Les Mis’ fans would have been unforgiving if this project had not worked out, but Hooper, whose promising career has already brought him an Oscar for best director following 2010’s ‘The King’s Speech’, carried out his vision for it impeccably. Exceptional performances from the likes of Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are pivotal parts in a film that is a typhoon of emotions, swirling in the air and landing in your lap to give you possibly the most exhilarating cinematic experience of the year. What makes it even more unbelievable is the fact that the film is an almost three-hour sung through musical, running from set piece to set piece with alarming and unforgiving pace, battering you in to submission with the sheer scale and scope of it all. It rarely ever gets as epic as this, and something that succeeds on such a massive scale can be forgiven Russell Crowe’s decidedly suspect singing. Not sure those four months of singing lessons quite worked for him to be honest.

Go here for the trailer

2. ‘The Kings of Summer’

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First time efforts can be hard to pull off, since maintaining a film’s tone and ensuring it doesn’t run out of ideas before the end, but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writer Chris Galletta, both in their infancy as far as the movie industry goes create something here that is genuinely brilliant. Charming, witty and interesting from the very start, this quirky coming of age story does not let up on the laughs or the emotional value. Featuring a great cast and some wonderful standout performances from the likes of the wonderfully amusing Moises Arias and the sarcastic Nick Offerman, it also has great lead performances from the duo of Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso as Joe and Patrick respectively in what is a brilliant story of teenage struggles with love, authority and the world.

Roberts invokes a homely, personal atmosphere, and every situation looks and feels exactly like how lots of teenagers see their world around them. Patrick’s annoying, overly intrusive and ultimately simply loving parents are wonderfully played by Megan Mulally and Marc Evan Jackson, both comic and knuckle-chewingly infuriating at the same time, and they’re fantastically well balanced against Offerman’s character’s much gruffer, dry and almost bitter parenting style for Joe. Their respective conflicts and attempted resolutions are both highly amusing and emotionally satisfying as a result of this parenting clash, another of its comic successes. It’s the way it blends all these elements together that make it such a success, and it can safely be said that Vogt-Roberts has started his career with a diamond of a film.

Go here for the trailer

1. ‘Before Midnight’ 

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The best film of the year award is not one I give lightly, and it is slightly more unbelievable when that film is the third in a trilogy. Sequels being the best in a series of films is really quite rare, and it’s even rarer that they elevate to such a level as they transcend their predecessors to a degree. Director Richard Linklater is a master film-maker, and the way he writes his ‘Before’ trilogy is magnetic, realistic and always interesting. But the evolution he makes from previous films in this trilogy is that main characters Jesse and Celine’s conversations are decidedly less romantic a lot of the time, and much more practical. Talk of life and love has been replaced with talk of timetables and job opportunities, but they lose none of their charm or their power.

One may think that the film only succeeds in enthralling with intelligent conversations and powerful scenes like Jesse’s farewell to his son, but it is also consistently funny. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have a fantastic chemistry bolstered by their years of getting to know each other on these films, and their input to the script has clearly elevated it above all others, as they pack so many real world insecurities and little niggling issues in to every chat, be it about the kids and their holidays or about their very own relationship. It almost feels like having had such a whirlwind and wonderful romance, the two of them are finding each other and themselves again, and it’s hard to find anything better to do but to watch them do it. A wonderful character study that can be soothing and intense, amusing and poignant all at the same time, it is definitely worthy of being called the best film of the year.

Go here for the trailer

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Sep Gohardani

About Sep Gohardani

Sep is an avid film and music enthusiast who takes any opportunity to verbalise his often snobbish opinions to any unlucky soul who is near him. He was editor-in-chief of independent student newspaper The Student Review from 2013-14 and is an ardent writer of reviews and feature pieces.