2013 was an exceptionally bad year for film. There, I said it. Sitting back to ponder on the year gone by I can draw no other conclusion. It seems everywhere we turned, behind every corner, lurked another blockbuster, another remake and another unnecessary reboot. Whatsmore, it seems that all the film companies, yes even the little ones, were all focused on a producing material that would help them rake in the millions quicker or at least master the con. How else would you explain films like Kick Ass 2, Movie 43, Jack the Giant Slayer and After Earth being green lit? While a few gems have managed to present themselves amidst the rubble (Gravity, Before Midnight, Django Unchained), the bulk of the work was disappointing to say the least, forcing many film makers to transition from the big screen to television instead. Where television has offered a new outlet for directors and writers to freely express their creative talents, films have suffered tremendously. Blockbusters have become bigger. Horror films have become less scary. Comedies have become cruder. Nevertheless, whether you’re an avid film-goer, a critic or simply enjoy the casual DSTV viewing, there is a good chance that you’ve had a few memorable movie experiences throughout the year.
Again, before you gather your pitch forks and sign out your picket boards for protest, it is important to remember that Top 10 lists are always subjective – of course! The following picks were MY PERSONAL favourite films of the year. What qualifies me to compile a list like this, you might ask? I hope that my experience as a movie critic for the last 7 years, my viewing of over five hundred unique movies a year (no easy task), and my experience as a scriptwriter and director would count in my favour here. So without further ado, here is my list of top 10 films of 2013…
10. Man of Steel (tie)
In the pantheon of superheroes, Superman is the most recognized and revered character of all time. It’s no surprise then that Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel, a reinventing of the Superman mythology, met with a good number of criticism. Forget the Superman of the past. This isn’t the Superman you and I have come to know and love from the comic books. It certainly isn’t the Superman we’ve seen portrayed countless of times on screen either. Instead, we’re greeted with a fresh new approach that revolutionizes the entire DC franchise. It’s good to have Superman back. It’s even better to see him soaring through the sky punching bad guys at breaking neck speed and relying purely on his strength to overcome them. If you’re expecting another Superman Returns you’ll be bitterly disappointed. The final battle sequence makes The Avengers fight look like a minor tremor in comparison. Man of Steel is a great movie not because of its story, but because it makes Superman cool again.
10. Thor: The Dark World (tie)
Given the average first installment, one of the biggest surprises of the year was Thor, which turned out to be so much fun. Chris Hemsworth makes a robust return for more intergalactic brawling in Marvel Comics’ hammer-hurling solo sequel featuring the thunder god and Norse deity. Thankfully, the post-Avengers The Dark World, a briskly amusing blend of science fiction and fantasy, comes packaged in a bigger, better and more lavish box this time around. From the very first opening moments of nerdy glee, which lends ingredients from The Lord of the Rings, Hellboy and Masters of the Universe, it cements the comic book hero as the new cornerstone in the impervious Marvel Studios’ current pantheon of superhero blockbusters. Thor tops the list of Marvel’s releases this year, including Iron Man 3.
9. Zero Dark Thirty
Like The Hurt Locker before it, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s second collaboration, Zero Dark Thirty, the unnerving true story of the CIA’s man-hunt for Osama bin Laden, serves as an important reminder of the true dangers of zealotry. It follows the frustrated efforts of Maya (Jessica Chastain), an officer who is adamant on catching the world’s number one terrorist. Her eagerness leads to the death of her colleagues, personal threats of her own safety and, ultimately, the death of bin Laden. Thanks to a great combination of writing, directing and acting, the film captures our interest and holds us firmly in our seats as it slowly builds to a climatic ending. Although it was released in the U.S. in late 2012, the film sadly only found its way to South African cinemas in February.
8. The Conjuring
Remember when horror films were actually scary? Well, the MPAA reportedly stuck a very rare age-restriction rating for terror on James Wan’s The Conjuring. Amazingly, the film lived up to its rating and proceeded to scare audiences around the world, while delivering nostalgia of ‘70s horror. It is based on a true story of Carolyn and Roger Perron (and the real life exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren) about a family besieged by a supernatural entity who haunts their home and ultimately possesses one of their children. It’s incredibly well-shot and well written, not to mention really well thought out. The boogey-man hardly ever comes boxed in such good film making. Wan set a new standard for horror in 2013.
7. The Place Beyond The Pines
Set amidst the lush green rolling hills of Schenectady, writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s ambitious film The Place Beyond the Pines roars into a brooding drama about tragedy and redemption that spans two generations of two families. Gut-wrenching bank heists, speeding motorbikes and thrilling police chases aside, it’s an achingly sincere look at the effect of one violent act that shaped two families from two very different spectrums of life. Made up of three interlocking stories, it’s a palpable step up from Blue Valentine, with Cianfrance challenging Ryan Gosling into another convincing and commanding performance, flexing his leading man acting abilities once again. It’s not a film that will lift anyone’s spirits, but it has a strange way of forcing the viewer to reflect on their own circumstances.
6. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
While a number of critics around the globe had choice words about the film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was always going to hold a special place in the hearts of South African viewers. Of course, any film that tries to fully encompass the life of global icon and apartheid activist Nelson Mandela in less than three hours is taking on an incredibly daunting task. Furthermore, it also runs the risk of falling into the rut of only highlighting the former president’s accomplishments and forgetting to truthfully reveal the real man behind the legend. Thankfully, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, based on Mandela’s 700-page memoir, finds a healthy balance and, although it becomes a little didactic, the film is inspirational and essential viewing for every South African. In light of the passing of Madiba, the film will always hold a special place in South African cinema.
5. Captain Phillips
Tom Hanks is always moving within the borders of the Oscar radar, and does so once again with Captain Phillips, arguably one of his better performances of his longstanding career. Here he shows a full range of emotions and captures the attention of audiences with a riveting performance worthy of praise. After the increased pirate activity in the waters surrounding the Horn of Africa in 2009, the MV Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship carrying mostly food and relief aid intended for Africa, was boarded and hijacked by Somali pirates; the first US ship to be hijacked in 200 years. The edgy tale that ensues will have you gripped for the full duration of the 134-minute feature. Based on A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea written by Capt. Richard Phillips, the story is presented to us by director, Paul Greengrass, with remarkable results. The acting, writing, directing are all exceptional; taut filmmaking.
From the very first scene, a long shot of our majestic blue planet from space, Alfonso Cuaron’s edge-of-your-seat science fiction thriller Gravity electrifies. Filmed in 3D by Emmanuel Lubezki (with remarkable results), it captures both the beauty and dangers of the darkness of space. Anchored by highly impressive visual effects, live-action and an enthralling story, the audience is taken on a jaw-dropping journey filled with phases of despair, awe and horror. Gravity is arguably the best blockbuster of the year. Believe the hype!
3. Only God Forgives
Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling’s latest surrealist revenge thriller Only God Forgives revels in the absurd and is easily one of the most haunting film’s you’ll ever see. Sadly, it’s also one of the most universally panned films in years, with reviewers labeling it slow, dull and grossly violent. To be honest, most of these critics, who booed at the Cannes Film Festival screenings, are the very same people who would have booed The Shining, or Taxi Driver before it. Much like its forerunners, Only God Forgives, a cerebral, extremely polarizing and stylish film about revenge, is a hard pill to swallow and will probably only be appreciated a good ten years from now. Cinematic enthusiasts will appreciate the experimentation, but those looking for a Drive sequel will be bitterly disappointed. Nevertheless, there was nothing quite as experimental or as unique as Only God Forgives in 2013. It is just so well put together.
2. Before Midnight
With a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s hard to argue that Before Midnight isn’t one of the better films of the year. Even after a ten year absence both Hawke and Delpy slide into their Before Sunrise and Before Sunset characters with ease. They are as charming as ever as the onscreen couple that we’ve followed over a period that expands 30 years. Furthermore, the films dialogue and performances continue to be as potent and mesmerizing as ever. The film is set ten years later, with the couple (now much older and wiser) still together, still having long walks, still chatting and, of course, still arguing. Before Midnight gives us one of the most realistic looks at love; it’s messy and rocky with no promises of happily-ever-afters. It’s just incredibly authentic!
1. Django Unchained
Self-confessed film lover Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to controversy, but his latest work, homage mashup Django Unchained, seems to have escalated into one of the most contentious films of the last decade. Is it racist? Is it overly violent? Is it necessary? Or is it just good entertainment? The safest thing anyone can say about Django is that it’s the boldest and most courageous picture of 2012/2013. Tarantino eloquently tips his hat to the black exploitation movies of the 70s by delivering a riveting revenge fantasy flick about the hardships of slavery, America’s great sin. What comes out is a violent, funny, fast and brutal spaghetti-Western parable about the evil of prejudice. You can’t help but deny that this is Tarantino on top form. I can’t think of a more fitting number one for 2013.
A few worthy mentions…
Biggest Disappointment… Kick Ass 2
Biggest Disappointment still worth seeing… Iron Man 3
Best Sequel… Before Midnight
Worst Sequel… Machete Kills / Grown Ups 2
Best Reboot… Man of Steel
Worst Reboot… Evil Dead
Best Ending… Gravity
Worst Ending… The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D
Most Confusing Ending… Now You See Me
Worst Comeback… Wesley Snipes (Gallowwalkers)
Best Comeback… Guy Pearce
Biggest Flop… The Lone Ranger
Worst Movie… Battle of the Year
Best 3D Movie… Gravity
Worst 3D Movie… R.I.P.D.
Most Offensive Movie… Movie 43
Best Surprisingly Good Movie… Oblivion
Best Documentary… Room 237
Best Horror… The Conjuring
Best Thriller: Side Effects / Prisoners
Worst Screenwriting… Battle of the Year
Best Action Movie… Fast and the Furious 6
Favourite Character… Loki (Thor 2: The Dark World)
Best Coming-Of-Age Movie… The Way Way Back
Best Romantic Comedy Movie… About Time
Worst Romantic Comedy Movie… Baggage Claim
Best Science Fiction… Gravity
Worst Science Fiction… The Host
Worst Death… Zod (Man of Steel)
Best CGI… Pacific Rim
Worst CGI… Hansel and Gretel
Most Entertaining… Captain Phillips
Best Comic Book Movie… Thor 2: The Dark World / Man of Steel
Most Epic Movie Moment… Superman and Zod fight scenes (Man of Steel)
Weirdest Movie… Upstream Color
Most Hyped… Iron Man 3
Most Over-hyped… Hangover 3