It’s always difficult to say at the end of a year what will be remembered and what will be forgotten, but looking back over 2013 I suspect that very few of the blockbusters of this year will be remembered. What might last, however, are the smaller films championed by a few that will only gain fans over time, or the odder, more difficult films that maybe require multiple viewings to really appreciate.
Man of Steel, one of the worst superhero films ever, topped off a list of disappointing blockbusters like Star Trek Into Darkness and Thor: The Dark World; films that maybe had an impressive sequence or two but were just plain forgettable. They brought in the punters to the box office, but it’s unlikely that anyone will discuss Into Darkness with any affection 5 years from now, or even discuss it at all. Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim and Elysium were all enjoyable in their own ways, and Gravity was technically astonishing and provided the most spectacular scene of the year, but the general consensus is that this last year was disappointing for fans of big franchises and bigger budgets. Perhaps to blame is the increasing homogeneisation of the blockbuster scene as part of the countdown to the Hollywood apocalypse that will be 2015; anything churned out by the formula adhering studio system felt like it was the product of a calculating brain trust as opposed to a team of passionate creatives. On the whole, Hollywood’s output in 2013 was just dull, and the result is that many big name film publications were quick to dismiss the year as a bad one.
Anyone who dismisses an entire year, however, probably isn’t watching enough films. Looking back, 2013 was filled with some wonderful cinema; films that cared more about telling stories than blowing stuff up. Here in Britain, Clio Barnard‘s phenomenal The Selfish Giant impressed just about anyone that saw it, and one suspects that its reputation and respect will only grow with time. Philomena, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, A Field In England, For Those In Peril and, ahem, Les Miserables among others all kept the British end up as well, while the American indie scene was well represented by The Way, Way Back, All Is Lost, The Kings of Summer and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints - all of which were directed by fairly young, new names. As ever, cinema from around the world also produced some exciting, fascinating films with Saudi Arabia’s first ever film Wadjda the best of a list that included Blancanieves, Caesar Must Die, In The House, and a number of films that were only available at festivals such as Attila Marcel, Faro and Historic Centre.
The biggest disappointment of the year, however, was animation in general. From Up on Poppy Hill and Wolf Children, two of my favourites from last year, got limited cinematic releases, while Makoto Shinkai’s astonishing The Garden of Words got its festival debut here, but leave Japan behind and the picture is bleak. Disney’s Frozen was the only American animation that left wholly smelling of roses and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 managed to be one of the funniest films of the year, but The Croods, Monsters University and Epic were all a little bit disappointing. Then further down the quality scale, Turbo, Despicable Me 2 and Planes were all truly dreadful and I’ve heard bad things about Justin and the Knights of Valour, Free Birds and Walking With Dinosaurs, all of which I sadly missed. It’s been a bad, bad year for animation, but perhaps 2013 will go down in animation history as the year that Sir Billi was released, an execrable independent animation from up here in Scotland. A full review is coming for that film but no words can properly describe just how awful it is. Still, at least 2014 looks to set the animated record straight.
Anyway, below are my arbitrary awards and a list of my favourite 20 films of the year. You’ll notice the general paucity of animation there, and I should point out that Michel Gondry’s brilliant The We and the I was something I was privileged to see at Glasgow Film Festival but I don’t think has had a UK release yet. And yes, I really did like Les Miserables that much and I’m only a little bit embarrassed to admit it. If you were wondering about the title of this article, that’s my favourite quote of the year, taken from the incredible Frances Ha.
My Favourite 20 Films of the Year
1. Wadjda (Haifaa Al Mansour)
2. Cloud Atlas (Tykwer & Wachowskis)
3. The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard)
4. The We and the I (Michel Gondry)
5. Les Miserables (Tom Hooper)
6. Philomena (Stephen Frears)
7. The Way, Way Back (Rash, Faxon)
8. Caesar Must Die (Taviani Brothers)
9. Blancanieves (Pablo Berger)
10. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints? (David Lowery)
11. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
12. A Field in England (Ben Wheatley)
13. Frozen (Buck & Lee)
14. All Is Lost (J.C. Chandor)
15. The World’s End (Edgar Wright)
16. Robot and Frank (Jake Schreier)
17. Leviathan (Castaing-Taylor, Paravel)
18. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
19. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)
20. Mud (Jeff Nichols)
I haven’t included From Up on Poppy Hill or Wolf Children as I harped on about them enough last year. Also worthy of mention is the brilliant Safety Not Guaranteed which barely got released right at the tail end of 2012.
Worst Film: Sir Billi
Film I Hated Most: Pain and Gain
Best Performance: Waad Mohammed, Wadjda
Best Visuals: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (honourable mentions: A Field in England, The Selfish Giant)
Best One-Person-Against-the-Odds Film: All Is Lost
Most Sexist Film: Oz, The Great and Powerful
Best Re-Release: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
Best Score: Cloud Atlas
Biggest Disappointment: To The Wonder
Best Film I Didn’t Get: A Field In England
Worst Film I Didn’t Get: Upstream Colour
Best Comedy Cockerel: Blancanieves
Films I Still Haven’t Seen But Maybe Intend To: The Act of Killing, The Place Beyond the Pines, Before Midnight, Beyond The Hills, Something In The Air (Apres Mai), Computer Chess, Only God Forgives, Ernest Et Celestine
Most Bafflingly Adored By Critics: Django Unchained
Film With The Best Extras But Was Otherwise Rubbish: Sunshine on Leith