This is it, folks: the five best films of 2013, out of everything that was released over the past twelve months in UK cinemas. The answers may surprise you (or not), but what matters is that these are what we consider to be the cream of the crop. Let’s start the final countdown…
5 – BEFORE MIDNIGHT
Filmed in secret and without any pre-buzz until its Sundance debut in January, the third part of a decade-spanning romance proved to not only be the best yet, but also the most heartfelt.
We have watched Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Céline fall in love twice in 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset, but director Richard Linklater has really upped the stakes this time round. This time, there’s no tension over whether they end up together – they’re now married, with kids – but the real drama comes when the couple start getting really angry with each other. These are two people we have really liked together over the years, but to see them at cahoots with each other is extremely heart-breaking to watch.
The sad but brilliant thing is, though, it mirrors real-life. Even couples unconditionally in love with each other will have shouting matches with each other, it’s a part of human nature. It’s such a shame we have to watch an argument between two people who we have been reminded over three movies now are the right match for each other.
It definitely helps if you see the first two movies before seeing this one, but Before Midnight is still a funny, charming and heart-breaking romance movie which avoids clichés and pitfalls to become the Best Romantic Movie of the Year…
4 – BLUE JASMINE
With 2011’s Midnight in Paris and now this, it’s safe to say Woody Allen is back on top form. However, while that Oscar-winning film was more light-hearted and fantastical, Blue Jasmine is a more adult side we’ve hardly seen from him before.
The film is said to be the transition from neurosis to psychosis, and you can see a lot of that going on within the mind frame of its central character. Struggling with losing everything from her wealth to her Alec Baldwin-shaped husband, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett, in perhaps her greatest performance) does everything she can to regain her sanity like popping pills and working for a perverted dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) but those things with a combination of embarrassment of the past and watching her sister (Sally Hawkins, also great) continue to get screwed over by a handful of men only lead to her mental undoing.
A characteristically sharp and witty script and direction, as well as a fantastic ensemble of actors supporting Blanchett’s show-stopping lead, Woody Allen’s finest character study in a long time is also one of his deepest and fascinating, and thus earns our seal of approval as the Best Comeback of the Year…
These final three were difficult to position, since they are all worthy of the #1 spot. However, as you will eventually read, one was perhaps less credible than the other while one just seemed to be the most impressive. It is a devastating choice, since they are all such brilliant films, but in the end there could be only one at the very top and those before are very worthy runners-up.
With that said…
3 – NEBRASKA
Alexander Payne has returned to his low-key roots and made a film which is decidedly small and extremely powerful as a result. That’d be Nebraska, perhaps his most accomplished work to date.
Directing from a wonderful script by Bob Nelson, the simple tale of father-and-son travelling cross-country to fulfil a bogus fantasy is made all the more meaty when you add up the many underlying themes of family, greed and life aspirations. We love to hate the despicable family members who pry for Woody Grant’s (Bruce Dern, a marvel) faux riches – especially a couple of repulsive twins who actually go so far as to physically rob the poor man in the street at one point – but we also hate to love how nearly everyone in this family and town is so dull and uninteresting that the speed of a car is the hot talking point.
But at its pure heart and core is the relationship between Dern and excellent on-screen son Will Forte, as well as Dern’s long-suffering wife June Squibb who very nearly walks away with the film. Giving an aging man the chance to live out a fantasy may not seem like the most sensible conclusion to come to, but just to make him feel like he’s on top of the world for once in his miserable life is the act of a true parental bond between man and his kin.
It’s a wonderful movie filled with pathos and family hardships, and it’s our pick for the Best Independent Film of the Year…
2 – THE WORLD’S END
You may snicker at our choice to put the final part of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy above an Alexander Payne movie, but when all is said and done, and then looked into, The World’s End is an extremely well put-together film anyway.
Jokes laying in the foreground and background are present and correct, and while not every joke is a slice of fried gold – Hot Fuzz is still the funniest, in our opinion – it’s the story and especially the characters that perhaps make it the best of the trilogy. Simon Pegg’s Gary King, for instance, is a man-child that’s hell-bent on completing a pub crawl from his youth while his reluctant friends tag along. But even amidst the invasion of alien “blanks” amongst the town, he’s still insistent on completing the crawl whatever the cost. As we dive deeper into the night, we begin to see his desperation stems from a tragic outlook on life: it just isn’t as glamorous as it was when he was a teenager, and that’s a fact he cannot come to terms with. It’s clear he’s an addict, and one such Peter Pan that refuses to grow up despite what everyone tells him to do.
Needless to say, Pegg is at his best in the role as is Nick Frost who does a complete U-turn on their usual on-screen partnership, but the third man in the group who pulls everything together is Edgar Wright. His direction and co-writing the script with Pegg is what makes the film more visually pleasing and rewarding than expected, with multiple viewings required to pick up on every joke and plot element you missed the first time round. Even the film’s odd ending, which we weren’t entirely sold on after first viewing, grew on us over time and makes much more sense when you really start to think about it.
Hot Fuzz may still be the funniest, and Shaun of the Dead the most meta, but The World’s End is by far and away the best put-together film in the trilogy, showing enough strengths on both sides of the camera to give it the #2 spot on this list, as well as the title of Best British Film of the Year.
But it just wasn’t enough to capture the spectacle of the following #1 spot, which goes to…
1 – GRAVITY
Yeah, you knew this one was coming. The unexpected critical darling and audience favourite has appeared on top of a good number of countdown lists this year, and here it’s no different. But there’s a decent amount of reasons why this is so.
The first of which are, of course, its visuals. Alfonso Cuarón has directed the hell out of this movie, with every single shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki being precise, atmospheric and absolutely stunning. All of that can be found in its opening 10 minute unbroken panning shot, which establishes characters and situations in a well-paced amount of time. From thereon, it is a visual delight which no other film this year could really duplicate. Everything is enhanced by visual effects and 3D which are some of the best we’ve seen in a long while, and adds for an experience that needs to be seen to be believed.
One of the biggest complaints we have heard about this movie is how the story is not particularly impressive, and that it’s essentially a simple survival film in space. We do understand why people would not like it because of that, but in our opinion the simplicity makes it all the more better as a film. Just the idea of floating out in the dark, empty vacuum of space, as well as the way it’s all shot, is more than enough for us to handle at this moment, and perhaps a huge complex story arc would have caused our heads to explode. That’s not to say we don’t crave big, epic storylines that treat us like adults because we definitely do, but not every film has to accomplish that, especially a visual spectacle like Gravity. An easy story for us to follow is exactly what we need for a film like this, and the film’s visuals do make it seem we’re hearing this story for the first time once again. We get it if you do not feel the same way about it, but we hope you at least understand the argument for it as well as against it.
Sandra Bullock gets the lion’s share of emotional moments and perilous sequences over co-star George Clooney, and while both are just fine in their roles they are not the real stars of the movie. The real heavyweight is the creative mind and eye of Cuarón, who again has created a visual spectacle like no other film in 2013 has managed to do.
There are many more reasons to list, such as Steven Price’s haunting score or the simple but quirky script by Cuarón and son Jonás, but we’d be here all day. Just know that Gravity has overcome obstacle after obstacle to become, in our eyes, the Best Film of the Year…