Scott’s Review of 2013

I’ve kind of eschewed the whole end-of-year lists thing recently, largely because I’m all too aware that there’s a number of generally well regarded films of 2013 that should have a solid chance of featuring here that I’ve not had the opportunity to watch yet, like The Act of Killing, Upstream Color, or Sharknado.

That said, having finished up preparations for our 2013 round-up podcast I’ve basically already undertaken such a task, so what lazier way to churn out an article better way to further expound on these great films than reproduce it here.

For me, the best film of 2013 was clearly Spielberg’s Lincoln, a masterful biopic with an astounding central turn from D-Day Lewis and an equally talent laden supporting cast. Even with the background of a civil war and the historic importance of the vote abolishing slavery at the heart of the film, there was still a danger this could have become a rather dull political procedural rather than the riveting character piece what it done had become and that.

In general 2013 proved to be a solid year for films, with a healthy number of contenders for spots in these sorts of list, although unless we’re about to enter a particularly dry spell Lincoln is most likely the only film that would be promoted to the “films of the decade” league. The rest of these films perhaps shouldn’t be seen as pitted against each other in a numerical deathmatch, but as a number of damn fine films well worth catching up on, if they’ve passed you by during the year.

There’s a highly enjoyable blend of coming-of-age drama and comedy in The Way, Way Back, the former from a solid performance from Liam James’ struggle with hid family life and obnoxious stepfather (itself a douchtacular turn from Steve Carell), and the latter from a blisteringly in-form Sam Rockwell.

I’d go so far as to say that of all the Ironmenz, the best Ironmenz is the Ironmenz that is Iron Man 3. Downey Jr. seems much more animated in this instalment, certainly compared to the lacklustre-to-the-point-of-lustrelessness second outing, bringing great energy to Shane Black’s flick. One thing it has in common with the surprisingly good, although not as good as this, Thor 2: Oh Baby I Like It Thor, aside from the light hearted sense of fun that’s a great antidote to the increasingly po-faced Marvel films, is an innovative approach to staging their CG setpieces that find much more interesting things to do that devolving into one set of polygons thumping another set of polygons. Although, naturally, there’s still a fair bit of that.

Recalling Zodiac in tone, Prisoners is a very gritty drama about Huge Jackman, the hugest of all the jackmen, reacting to the abduction of his daughter in very extreme although understandable ways. Jackman himself might be overdoing it a little, but the excellent supporting cast including Paul “Book’em” Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal and Maria Bello ground it admirably.

Corrupt cops now, with James McAvoy in Filth making Bad Lieutenant seem like a paragon of good procedure. Based on Irvine Welsh’s novel, it pulls off a morally ambiguous trick of making a despicable central character likeable and even sympathetic, and we can’t really understate how despicable he is. Boundlessly energetic and with a brilliant supporting cast for McAvoy to bounce off, Filth is a pleasure you’ll feel guilty for enjoying. Like a chocolate and pepperoni pizza. With a bacon stuffed crust.

A number of great comedies appeared this year, all of which I offer no further justification for inclusion other than making me giggle like a schoolboy – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, This Is The End, The World’s End, Bad Grandpa and Anchorman 2. And the greatest of these is Alpha Papa, for lo, Steve Coogan hath playedeth a blinder. Eth.

Hailing from perhaps theOneliner’s favourite studio, Studio Ghibli, From Up On Poppy Hill provides delightful depictions of everyday life and emotional, touching moments of human connections that make this a joy to watch, and looks absolutely beautiful while doing so. The central narrative might not be too strong, and not much more than a thin excuse to throw the leads together, but that’s so easy to excuse when it does so much else so well.

My interest in Formula 1 is largely captured by the numeral zero, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Rush. The racing is very much secondary to the clash in styles and personalities of Lauda and Hunt, two nuanced characters that the film wisely chooses not to play as hero and villain. Terrific performances from Chris Helmsworth and Daniel Bruhl make this as good a sporting bio-pic as I’ve seen.

The marketing push for Philomena seemed to be positioning it as a mismatched couple road trip comedy, which to be fair it is for perhaps five percent of the film, as Coogan’s stuck-up, occasionally obnoxious journalist clashes with Dench’s warm, unassuming Grandmother act. However given that the rest of the film is dealing with the Church stripping babies away from mothers, a decidedly less knockabout concept, I can’t help but feel it’s a trifle misleading. Excellent drama, and great chemistry between the leads.

I’m not exactly on board the awards train that Gravity seems to be riding. It’s an impressive film visually and Bullock’s on rare form, but it’s rather slight in the narrative and believability categories. Regardless, it’s still one of the better films of the year and its comforting that on occasion H-wood is prepared to sink big money into something relatively risky.

My “bubbling under” list of films that narrowly miss out on special mention but are nonetheless worthy of your attention consist of: Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Elysium, Robot and Frank, In The House and Flight.

A few “try hard” awards now, for two films that have enough flaws that I couldn’t unreservedly recommend, but do enough interesting things to warrant some attention. Cloud Atlas is, by design, a convoluted mess of a film, but for every mistep or oddity there’s a slightly larger step on the opposite side of the continuum, leaving the film narrowly ahead on points. The imagination, artistry and technical achievements of the film make it at the very least worth of investigation. More in my review, if you’re intrigued.

A more conventional, and more conventionally flawed, film that’s a mixed bag is Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s take on re-rebooting the Superman franchise. It could stand to have a lot more Superman in it, and the tonal shift more towards Nolan’s Batman seems more of a franchise crossover necessity than something emerging from the script, but there’s a glimmer of something special yet to come from this time round on the Superman merry-go-round in Man of Steel that’s worth persevering through the duller moments.

And so to the walk of shame for the films I really didn’t like at all in 2013. As usual, I’ll separate off the horror films, as I just don’t appreciate the genre even when done well. I have no doubt there’s a vast reservoir of worse horrors released last year than Mama, but as it looked like the only one interesting enough to have me see it then it’s my least favourite horror of the year. And, statistically at least, my favourite horror film of last year, but to be clear – Mama is no good at all. Early on it does seem to have a lot of promise, with a great cast and efforts to ratchet up the tension, but throws all that away by revealing the monster early on, and boy, doesn’t it look laughable rather than horrifying. If they’d had kept that unwelcome surprise skulking in the shadows for a bit longer then it would have been a substantially better film.

Three films I expected rather more from, largely for the same reason, were Stoker, Zero Dark Thirty and A Field In England, all from directors I’d expect more of. All commit the same basic sin of being rather boring and lifeless indeed, although at least I can see what Stoker and Zero Dark Thirty were aiming for, if falling very short. A Field In England, however, is both nonsensical and as dull as ditchwater. Appropriately enough.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year comes from Del Toro’s Pacific Rim, largely because it needed to do so little to keep the inner twelve year old happy, and instead chose to have a script seemingly written by a twelve year old. Robots clobbering monsters should be fun, not a loosely bound series of idiotic, reality contravening plot devices and awkward character interactions. The gut-wrenchingly appalling, needlessly witless script hobbles this terribly. Make it stop.

However, the biggest disappointment, and also the worst film of the year, comes from folks we were falling over ourselves to laud only two years ago, but the combo of Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn this time run the quality inverter over Drive to come out with Only God Forgives, a boring, ugly, nasty and above all pointless film, laden with completely gratuitous violence and with no heart to it at all. It’s heavily influenced by Gaspar Noe’s “work”, which really says all you need to know. An abomination of a film.

Thankfully from the time of writing this, a mere twelfth of the way through 2014 there’s been at least two superb films to wash the taste from our mouths, and high hopes for many more to come. We’ll keep you only mildly misinformed of them through our podcast. Catch y’all later.

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