Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Review of 2013: Part one - Best films of this year

This year's review comes in two parts. The first is my top 10 of 2013, taking in everything from indie comedies to animation - and a couple of neat returns to form. The second contains my 20 favourite "discoveries" of the year, from silent film to a documentary from last year, along with the usual round-up of the year's highs and lows. Previous annual reviews are available here:


Top 10 of 2013

1. Frances Ha

Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver and Michael Zegen
What we said: "What a great film: Baumbach doing his thing, and Gerwig doing hers, this plotless ramble emanating its writer-director's usual good-natured angst, uncertainty about contemporary life and warm-hearted, off-kilter sentimentality. It cares about in-jokes, the intensity of true friendship (in the shape of Mickey Sumner, whose chemistry with Gerwig is absolute), and the random, aimless but fulfilling way in which we muddle through this world, in a way that's very unusual. It's also a very funny film in that shambling Baumbachian way, jokes tossed this way and that, muttered, thrown away and occasionally properly milked: like the beauty that closes the picture. What seems at first to be a succession of mild comic sketches is really a character study of a conflicted, grown-up child afraid of the world into which she's been unceremoniously dumped. Its cumulative impact is enormous." Full review.

2. The Way, Way Back

Directors: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring: Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell and AnnaSophia Robb
What we said: "This is like a big hug in cinematic form, as awkward, taciturn teen Duncan (Liam James) is taken under the wing of a flamboyant motormouth (Sam Rockwell) whom he happens upon at a rundown waterpark. It's a bit like Adventureland, a lot like every other coming-of-age film you've ever seen - the stifling domestic strife, the pubescent blushing, then the sudden blossoming of one's self-confidence - and there are familiar lines and some unconvincing readings to go with the trite, cliched character of the boozy, easy next-door neighbour. But damn it if this isn't the funniest, loveliest film I've seen in ages, with a perfectly-pitched central relationship, a sure-footed story leading to a hugely satisfying climax, and a staggering performance from Rockwell as the wise, reflective, comically phantasmagoric Owen: a true screen maverick but one with a real and recognisable human frailty."

3. Paperman

Director: John Kahrs
What we said: "An intoxicating short: a silent, black-and-white masterwork that pays oblique - and then overt - homage to The Red Balloon, as a paper plane with a mind of its own (and a fair few friends) tries to unite two lonely souls. It's extraordinary."

4. Wreck-It Ralph

Director: Rich Moore
Starring (voice only): John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch and Sarah Silverman
What we said: "We've seen a friendship between a hulking monster with a heart of gold and a sweet, brown-haired little girl before - in exec producer John Lasseter's Monsters, Inc. - and yet this feels so fresh and funny and original. We've been pitched into a 3D video game world packed with peril and racing cars, in the execrable Spy Kids 3: Game Over, but that was a film that did almost everything wrong, just as this one does almost everything right. There's a sense of ambition and imagination here that's been missing from most Disney animations since its brief renaissance in the '90s - I haven't seen them do anything this good since The Lion King." Full review.

5. Django Unchained

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington
What we said: "Tarantino’s direction has seemed to falter in recent years, being geared towards people with the world’s shortest attention span (Kill Bill: Vol 2), those with limitless patience who really like fire and blood (UpROARious P0th3ads), or sado-masochists (Death Proof). Here he’s absolutely on top form, delivering the requisite thrills through a fusion of pyrotechnics and restraint that he hasn’t had in check since Pulp Fiction. And this is, unquestionably, his best film since Pulp Fiction: a masterful, genre-bending movie that’s full of superb exchanges and exceptional individual scenes, but also works as a compelling and consummately confident whole." Full review.

6. Nebraska

Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb and Bob Odenkirk
What we said: "A(nother) road movie about old age and family: an unsentimental, monochrome variation on the likes of Don't Come Knocking and The Straight Story, bearing the unmistakable handprint of the mighty Alexander Payne." Full review.

7. Blue Jasmine

Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard and Sally Hawkins
What we said: "Woody Allen’s erratic latter-day renaissance continues with this throbbingly neurotic update of A Streetcar Named Desire. Back from Europe, he proves at home in San Fran, with a central character he understands, and who feels completely human, thanks to a writer on form and an actress on fire." Full review.

8. Gravity

Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris and Orto Ignatiussen
What we said: "This film turned me into the aliens from Toy Story. 3D tears in zero gravity? 'Oooooooooooooh.'" Full review.

9. The World's End

Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman and Rosamund Pike
What we said: "The first half is a wonder: affecting, surprising - with a first scene just as clever as Wreck-It Ralph's similar opening salvo - and full of brilliant gags. Despite being the weakest of Wright's "Cornetto trilogy", it's a fitting wrap-up too: narratively the most inconsistent, with an unconvincing, barely escalating external threat - a legion of blue-blooded aliens - but also the most ambitious, and arguably successful of the three in terms of characterisation, emotional maturity and belly laughs." Full review.

10. The Place Beyond the Pines

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Anthony Pizza
What we said: "People Magazine's two sexiest men of 2011, together at last. It begins as Drive, turns into Prince of the City and then becomes a film all its own, and all the better for it: an epic tale of fathers and sons, heading inexorably for that place beyond the pines. I admire the film's sense of grandeur, its scope and scale, the energy of the action interludes, the artistry of much of the storytelling, and the intensity of the performances." Full review.

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