As 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to reel off One Room With A View’s Top Ten Films of 2013. Each writer will list their top ten and we’ll reach an ultimate list at the end. To achieve this, we’ll be using a simple points system so that a film placing 10th = 1 point, 9th = 2 points and so on until whichever film finishes top gets a perfect 10. The film with the most points at the end of our lists is our film of 2013.
With all that sorted, it’s time for Stephen to present his case for the top ten of 2013:
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: Whilst not the unmitigated triumph of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 effort, Into Darkness was a perfect example of a blockbuster of the popcorn variety – without needing to resort to the simple sequel formula of Bigger + Louder = Better.
Sure, Into Darkness demanded the biggest screen, the loudest speakers and the stickiest floors – and for that reason it was the only film on this list I saw twice in the cinema – but the franchise’s trump card was as strong as ever in its Kirk/Spock pairing, and a new one appeared in Benedict Cumberbatch’s non-Kosher villain. Conversely, the flaws – characters sidelined, telegraphed events – didn’t create disappointment so much as a greater appreciation of what was so right… well, for me at least.
PRISONERS: A sustained gut-punch of a picture that slips into disbelieving territory too soon for its examination of the extent to which evil begets evil to really resonate, Prisoners nevertheless remains gripping for its substantial runtime. Director Denis Villeneuve ensures an absorbing atmosphere and fine central performances from a frantically intense Jackman and an intensely frantic Gyllenhaal so that where later plot contrivances and clichés might derail a less assured film, Prisoners remains impressively suspenseful – even through a slightly-too-neat final act – until the end.
FROZEN: Frozen’s opening number is a foreboding chant delivered by the second hairiest group of men I’ve seen in a film all year, in behind the “cast” of Leviathan, calling to mind The Little Mermaid’s opener, ‘Fathoms Below‘.
Where that film, also inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen tale, marked the tentative beginnings of the Disney Silver Age, so does Frozen, in coming after Tangled and The Princess and the Frog, mark the firm establishment of the studio’s Bronze period. Laughs and larks slipping into slight lulls, saved by lyrics – Frozen warmed my very heart.
DJANGO UNCHAINED: In the wake of frequent casting changes – it seems a long time since Will Smith and Kevin Costner were on board – and the still-fresh death of Tarantino’s long-time editor Sally Menke, it is worth remembering the general trepidation that some, including myself, held towards Django Unchained. Expecting a series of rambling, Basterds-esque dialogues in different clothes and fancier hats, I was deliriously surprised.
There is little to summarise about Django that hasn’t been said before, not least in most top ten lists on this site, but the quality of the film’s performances, score and set-pieces deserve reiteration (as does the final act’s relative lack thereof). Great stuff.
THE KINGS OF SUMMER: Though technically a film about the disappearance of three friends as they attempt their own version of Into The Wild, The Kings of Summer is a story where the most serious problem is getting the girl you like to fall for you.
Enjoyably daft and full of amiable characters and humour, it never overreaches. And although I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to live in a house with the peerless Nick Offerman, The Kings of Summer remains a fantastically relatable coming-of-age tale.
RUSH: There is a tendency when portraying rivalries to break them into good and bad black and white or “we’re not so different, you and I” greys. In Rush, neither of those approaches would make sense when the rest is saturated with gorgeous reds, blues, yellows, greens – everything.
Chris Hemsworth’s James Hunt is always more than the cavalier pretty-boy and Daniel Brühl’s Niki Lauda is never less than a rounded, if ruthless, racer. It’s hard to describe the film without slipping into poster-appropriate superlatives, and rightly so.
NO: Though undeniably gorgeous on the big screen, all washed-out colour and authentic grain, No wouldn’t look out of place on a ratty 15-inch CRT with two feet of aerial sticking out of the top. While cinematic in scope, director Pablo Larraín ensures the televisual nature of the subject matter is front and centre by filming with a 1983 U-Matic camera and splicing in the genuine commercials from 1988’s No campaign. It all makes for an authentic and enlightening watch that neither falls into heavy-handed polemic nor skirts the tragedy of the period. Essential.
FRANCES HA: Charming: that’s the inescapable word that single-handedly describes Greta Gerwig’s turn in Frances Ha, offering a fantastically naturalistic performance that never dips into the manic pixie dream girl archetype that it could so easily have been. Acutely aware of her internal flaws and external limitations, Frances remains resolutely human and believable throughout. And while filmed in wonderfully fitting black and white, there isn’t a better illustrated character to be seen all year.
MUD: Long may the McConaissance continue, when his presence alongside Reese Witherspoon means a coming-of-age film which plays out like a Cormac McCarthy-inspired slice of Americana rather than an execrable romcom.
Named for McConaughey’s enigmatic fugitive, Mud weaves a tale of enforced maturity against an existence slowly disappearing from the riverbank where 14-year-old Ellis lives with his divided parents. And while its subject matter might suggest unrelenting misery – and darkness is never far from the surface – Mud never falls into a kitchen-sink trap. Instead the result is an intoxicating examination of love, loyalty and redemption.
GRAVITY: Whether the same experience is replicable outside of a cinema (whether 3D or not) is nearly irrelevant when the initial experience was as enveloping as this. And as tempting as it is to make some shit space joke about Gravity‘s atmosphere, my word count is likely better served by breathlessly exhorting its praises some more.
Watching Gravity, I haven’t felt so tense in a cinema since wondering if I’d make it to the end of The Hobbit with an intact bladder; and though Alfonso Cuarón’s handling of gut-shredding tension and a fantastic use of 3D have rightfully made the headlines, it’s the lean efficiency of a brilliantly paced, perfectly realised sci-fi flick created from the relatively simple idea of “Asteroids! Cheese it!” that so underline its position as number one on my, and so many others’, list.
FINAL SCORES TO BE REVEALED ON 31ST DECEMBER!