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
2012 has been a bit of a mixed bag for cinema. There have been many notable disappointments, and a fair few pleasant surprises to balance it out, too. Animation wise, I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve seen this year, but I still wish there would be far more done in my preferred medium, good old hand drawn and 2D. Thankfully, two of the best animations of the year, both from Japan, are still to be given a wide release in the UK, so you can look forward to that in 2013. Here are my thoughts on 2012 in cinema. It’s quite long, but you might enjoy reading it on the toilet on your smart phone.
Best Performance: Animation
Hugh Grant – The Pirate Captain, The Pirates: In an Adventure with Scientists
The latest offering from Aardman, a lovably daft stop-motion animation chock full of their trademark visual jokes, all revolved around the irrepressibly silly and rather useless Pirate Captain at the centre of it all. Hugh Grant, erstwhile boring English rom com star and the scourge of News International, finds incredible form here in the best overall voice cast of the year. He’s wonderfully British, and his bluster and pride only makes him all the more sympathetic when his plans don’t quite go according to plan. He may not hit the heights of Peter Sallis’ immortal voice work as Wallace, but he nevertheless makes The Pirate Captain one of the most lovable, memorable animated characters of the year.
Honourable Mentions: Jude Law, Pitch, Rise of the Guardians, Alec Baldwin, North, Rise of the Guardians, Kelly Macdonald, Merida, Brave
Best Performance: Live Action
Domnhall Gleeson – Levin, Anna Karenina
When I first saw it, my biggest problem with Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina was that the central character, Anna, was so conceited and self centred that the whole film was left a little cold. Were we supposed to root for her or hate her? Both seemed quite unpalatable options. Upon second viewing, however, it was Domnhall Gleeson’s restrained, passionate performance as Levin that truly won me over to the film. It helps that Levin is a far more sympathetic character, but it is Gleeson’s portrayal of him, as a bashful, heartfelt outsider in the aristocratic world of the city, that really lifts the film. Some may find it cloying, but I was fully won over round about the point where he declares his love for Kitty (Alicia Vikander) using a child’s spelling blocks.
Honourable Mentions: Quvenzhané Wallis, Hushpuppy, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Elle Fanning, Ginger, Ginger and Rosa, Suraj Sharma, Pi, Life of Pi
Best Visuals: Animation
Traditional animation styles are always going to win out in this category for me, but ParaNorman truly blew me away with the sheer energy they manage to achieve with stop motion models. Not only is the jerky movement usually associated with the medium is totally absent, but they are astoundingly ambitious with the action sequences. Car chases, giant storms and violent trees all make this the most astonishing piece of stop motion animation ever. When you consider the craft that goes into this, it makes it all the more impressive.
Honourable Mentions: Brave, The Pirates: In An Adventure with Scientists, A Cat in Paris, Rise of the Guardians
Best Visuals: Live Action
Vivan Las Antipodas!
It’s unlikely that you’ve seen Vivan Las Antipodas as it is hardly likely to be hitting a multiplex near you, or any cinema for that matter, in the immediate future. I was lucky enough to catch this conceptual documentary at Edinburgh Film Festival, and I was astonished by what I saw. The idea is that documentarian Victor Kossakovsky looks at Antipodean points – that is, two places that are diametrically opposed in the world – and sees how life is different (or similar) in these worlds apart. It’s an abstract, absorbing film with very little content but somehow ends up being both moving and inspiring, and Kossakovsky captures our planet in a way unlike anything I’ve seen before. I don’t know when you’ll be able to see this, but make sure you do, as soon as you can.
Honourable Mentions: Life of Pi, The Mirror Never Lies
Best Score: Animation
Takagi Masakatsu, Wolf Children Ame and Yuki
Takagi Masakatsu does what the best film composers do – he captures the feelings of the characters on screen and expresses them through music. And as much of the film is concerned with the joys of childhood, and follows two children as they grow up, this makes for an uplifting, energetic musical accompaniment to the film. Certain scenes, when Masakatsu’s score plays a prominent role, really make Wolf Children quite an unforgettable cinematic experience.
Honourable Mentions: Patrick Doyle, Brave, Satoshi Takebe, From Up on Poppy Hill
Best Score: Live Action
Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
This isn’t just my favourite score of the year, it’s my favourite album of the year, too. A vibrant mixture of Cajun folk music and soaring trumpet motifs, complimented by singers from Louisiana, this feels as authentic and magical as the film itself. The music that plays over the credits (you can find it on youtube, it’s called Once There Was A Hushpuppy) is one of the most powerful pieces of music I’ve heard all year.
Honourable Mention: Johnny Greenwood, The Master
Biggest Disappointment: Animation
A great idea, a brilliant director (The Clone Wars’ Genndy Tartakovsky) and some really funny jokes all come to nothing when part of a bland plot with uninspired visuals and some really weak voice acting. I wanted to like this, and I stayed that way through most of the film, and then they had a singalong at the end and it lost me.
Biggest Disappointment: Live Action
The Dark Knight Rises
It’s not really a bad film. I don’t think Christopher Nolan is capable of making a bad film. In fact, the first time I saw this I thought it was amazing – big on spectacle and ideas and with a great finale. And then I saw it again. Oh dear. The first act is just dull. Anne Hathaway prances around spouting some truly awful dialogue that wouldn’t look out of place in something like The Green Lantern, whilst Bruce Wayne mopes a lot then suddenly gets better because of some miracle leg brace. We never hear about any problems with his body again, for the whole film. Then the plot holes begin piling up, no one stops to question how stupid Bane’s plan is, we are treated to approximately 20 hours of back story that we don’t really care about, Robin turns up and just guesses Batman’s secret identity because of some miracle orphan connection and then Batman climbs out of a pit in Jodphur, India before making it back to Gotham in time to paint a bat signal on the side of the building and save the day. And what does he have to do to save the day? Stop the bad guy from setting off a bomb. What a wonderfully original idea. Presumably the studio then forced Christopher Nolan to have that ridiculous ending with the café in Florence. Really, this is one of the most dizzyingly stupid films of the year, but it masks it all by posing as an adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. It’s also kind of boring.
Honourable Mentions: Almost all the blockbusters this year. The Hobbit and Prometheus were two that disappointed me on different levels. The Master was also a bit of a let down.
Biggest Surprise: Animation
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
No one really wanted another Madagascar sequel. Well, no one but critic and fellow animation fan @popcornaddict. Everyone else was kind of tired of this franchise, and far more interested in everything else that Dreamworks were up to. Then along came Madagascar 3 and suddenly it turned out to be a really funny, crazy adventure with a loose commitment to plot and a dedication to over the top slapstick. It’s not going to win any awards for script writing, but this is a bright, colourful film that just about everyone can enjoy. It almost, almost makes me want to see a Madagascar 4.
Biggest Surprise: Live Action
Ginger and Rosa
I’d never seen a Sally Potter film, I was under the impression that she was just a slightly experimental, weird film maker that was perhaps just a little too out there for my tastes. But I fancied a trip to one of my favourite cinemas, @Filmhouse, and the trailer kind of looked interesting. What I encountered was a gripping, emotionally charged drama about two teenagers and best friends who go their separate ways as one pursues politics where the other pursues men. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is fantastic, Elle Fanning gives one of the best performances of the year, and the period detail is superb. Unforgettable.
Honourable Mentions: Cabin in the Woods, Berberian Sound Studio, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Skyfall
What you may have missed: Animation
A Cat in Paris
One of the token non-studio nominations for the Best Animated Feature Film, this slipped under the radars of most cinemas. It’s not an incredible animation, and is painfully hampered by one of the worst English dubs I’ve ever come across in an animation. But this has a jazzy, carefree style and some gorgeous picture book animation that makes this well worth checking out for any fans of the medium.
What you may have missed: Live Action
You may have missed Grabbers because the studio distributing it did that silly thing of an almost simultaneous cinema/DVD release. So it only came out on the big screen this boxing day, and on New Year’s Eve you should be able to purchase it on DVD and Blu-Ray. I heartily recommend you do so. It’s an alien invasion film set on a island off the coast of Ireland, with budget-defyingly brilliant CGI and a ballsy central conceit that makes the final act one of the most fun, outrageous pieces of cinema this year. Think The Guard meets Shaun of the Dead, although that comparison doesn’t really do this gem of a film justice. Essentially, it’s the best genre film of the year.
Honourable Mentions: Shadow Dancer and Elena are two criminally underseen films released this year. Both very thrilling, well worth your time.
Worst Film of the Year:
This Means War
Two spies fall in love with the same woman! They compete with each other to win her affections! This should be light hearted fun, right? WRONG. This Means War is the most vacuous, offensively stupid film of the year. I don’t know what I hated most: Tom Hardy’s smug, phoned in performance; the scene where the two men effectively stalk a woman with sophisticated technology so they can find out her secrets; the conversation two characters have about Hitchcock films; the fact that some people actually gave this positive reviews. Everything about this film is utterly abysmal, and what the portrayal of relationships in it is downright offensive. Awful, awful film making.
Honourable Mention: Dark Shadows
Best Film of the Year: Animation
I’ve explained my love of Brave on the site before so I won’t go into it here. Needless to say, I don’t buy in to the argument that this is a simple story that doesn’t dare to do anything different. It’s a moving, gorgeously animated film that has a beautiful relationship between a mother and daughter at its centre. The argument about which Pixar film is the best is slightly arbitrary, but I’ll say this much: I think this is the Pixar film with the biggest heart, and it is certainly my favourite.
Honourable Mentions: From Up on Poppy Hill, Wolf Children Ame and Yuki, Rise of the Guardians
Best Film of the Year: Live Action
Moonrise Kingdom/Beasts of the Southern Wild
Having two films as my favourite is something of a cop out, but I think, in some way, these two films are linked. They are both about America, they are both about childhood, they both celebrate imagination, they both have a big storm as a crucial plot point. These two visions of American childhood, however, take rather different approaches as one is an idealised, warm and symmetrical New England where children act like adults and vice versa. The other is a messy, poor and grainy Louisiana where children just want them and their parents to survive. Both are magnificent pieces of cinema.
Honourable Mentions: Anna Karenina, Berberian Sound Studio, Grabbers, Shadow Dancer, Elena, The Mirror Never Lies, Life of Pi, The Muppets