The opportunity to sit back and reflect on a cinematic year is always cherished, partly for the always heartening surprise as to how many wonderful films have been released that deserve consideration, partly for the trainspotter-like joy of making lists and ranking the unrankable.
As ever for the Get Flick'd lists, a (rather long) short list is made, then the films are divided into ten genres or genre-like groups in order to compare like with like to decide the top 10. At the other end of the scale, it's a question of disappointment as much as objective lack of quality. A film that should have been good but wasn't is a lot worse than a stinker that was never going to be anything else.
All the films below were released in Australia in 2013, though several came out in North America the year before.
Finally, this is my last entry for Get Flick'd as I am leaving Fairfax Media, and I would just like to thank all those who have read and argued with me over the years. It has been an honour.
THE BEST FILMS OF 2013
Gravity was a film that left cinema-goers gasping after 90 minutes of intense, experience film making. From the incredible use of 3D to the extraordinary plot (even if it was really one sentence long: can Sandra get back to Earth?) we were immersed and soon overwhelmed by this instant classic. Twisting and turning both literally and metaphorically, Gravity reminded us how exhausting it can be to sit in the seat and watch great film making.
Other great big cinema experiences in 2013: Life of Pi, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Silver Linings Playbook
After more than a decade of largely formulaic offerings in the genre, 2013 gave us a wealth of great romantic-comedies. Richard Curtis went time-travelling in About Time, as did Joss Whedon in Much Ado About Nothing. James Gandolfini bid us a touching farewell in Enough Said, while romance brought zombies back to life in Warm Bodies. The year began however with David O Russell's Oscar-winning masterpiece Silver Linings Playbook which felt nothing like any rom-com we'd ever seen, yet by any definition was a pinnacle of the genre. Plus there was the awesome, awful dancing. Glorious!
Other great rom-coms of 2013: About Time, Much Ado About Nothing, Enough Said, Warm Bodies
The Great Gatsby
This should have been a disaster: An Australian directing one of the great American novels, in Sydney, in 3D. Instead Baz Luhrmann gave us a stunning adaptation that used every visual, aural and musical tool available to present a film that was so striking that it upset more than a few. Yet this was a magnificent modernisation of both the story and themes of F Scott Fitzgerald's famous novel. Luhrmann's film was itself part of the artifice that Gatsby puts up and was a brave, beautiful, tremendous success.
Another masterpiece about artifice from 2013: Stoker
Broken people make for great film subjects, but only the combined talents of Cate Blanchett and Woody Allen, ably assisted by Alec Baldwin and Sally Hawkins, could make a film about the self-obsessed, delusional and toxic Jasmine into a light-hearted tale. Jasmine's relentless spiral into madness would have been gripping were it a bleak tragedy. When told with Allen's signature levity and with Blanchett's magnetic performance, it is a tour-de-force of the best and worst in humanity.
Other brilliant films on broken people in 2013: Only God Forgives, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Hunt
First, a particular honourable mention goes to Hugh Jackman's The Wolverine, which dared to shake of the X-Men label and make an action packed noir film that surprised and thrilled. It was Tarantino's reimagining of the history of slavery in the United States that gave us the greatest action thrills of the year however. With a final confrontation so good he had to make it happen twice, the master director once again did action entirely differently to anyone else, and left everyone to try and mimic him.
Other great action flicks in 2013: The Wolverine, 2 Guns, White House Down
Zero Dark Thirty
While there have been a wealth of bad biopics this year, the stories drawn from life have delivered some of the best films. Alex Gibney gave us not one but two outstanding documentaries in We Steal Secrets and Silence in the House of God, Compliance scared us with the lengths to which people will comply with a mystery caller while Aussie director James Wan just plain terrified us with The Conjuring. From the opening seconds of Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty it was clear that this was something different. Audio from the 9/11 emergency calls gave a fresh and haunting perspective on the event, and that perspective shift was held for the rest of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden as laid out. Arriving in January, this was an early front runner for film of the year.
Other great true stories in 2013: We Steal Secrets: The Wikileaks Story, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Compliance, The Conjuring, The Railway Man
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
If you - justifiably - measure a comedy purely on quantity of laughs, then there is no argument to be had, Anchorman 2 was the funniest film of the year. Sure, Ferrell and his team often sacrificed nuanced plot for gags, but they were gags so well executed – and so often delivered - that it was entirely forgiveable. On top of that, there was a none-too-subtle stab at the very media giants that had spent so long promoting the new film, proving there were big brains behind the bad hair.
Other great comedies from 2013: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, The Heat, This Is The End, Save Your Legs!
As the worst films list below reminds us, to make a sequel to a great film is hard and to make a good third film is nigh on impossible. As such for Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy to come together once more, nine years after Before Sunset and 18 on from Before Sunrise to deliver the perfect third film in a trilogy, breaking all the rules – they talk to other people! - and yet maintaining the heart, and mind, of this great love story, was simply extraordinary.
Other spectacularly different romances in 2013: Rust and Bone, What Maisie Knew
The Best Offer
Every now and again a film twists and turns on the screen in front of you, spinning a fascinating tale while never quite letting the audience entirely catch up before eddying away again. This was one such deceptive delight. Geoffrey Rush once more proves to be a living work of art, delightful as the eccentric auctioneer Virgil Oldman, who we presume to be the puzzle before he slowly starts picking up the pieces to a bigger mystery. Entirely accessible yet eminently brilliant, this is a film to delight and tease any audience.
Other terrific twisters in 2013: Trance, American Hustle
High quality animated films were thin on the ground this year as Pixar flattered to deceive with their Monsters Inc sequel Monsters University and Disney did likewise with Planes. While Frozen brought the year home with a bang, it was the little hyped The Croods which had looked more like a mediocre Flintstoneswannabe, that instead delivered laughs and heart by the bucketload.
Other great animated films in 2013: Frozen
THE MOST DISAPPOINTING FILMS OF 2013
2013 has been a terrible year for biopics. Jobs made Steve Jobs boring and failed to ask any questions. Hitchcock was a clunking piece of cinema about one of the greatest movie makers making one of his greatest movies. While The Fifth Estate turned the fascinating tale of Wikileaks (see Alex Gibney's doco We Steal Secrets for proof) into a tedious sermon. For sheer terrible film making however, Diana took the cake. While Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews did their best to act around a script that was literally at times laughingly bad, director Oliver Hirschbiegel seemed hell bent on adding melodrama to the final hours of the life of the Princess of Wales – not once but twice – and in between gave us a story that ranged from over-egged tragedy to witless romantic comedy.
Other disappointing biopics: Jobs, The Fifth Estate, Hitchcock
A Good Day to Die Hard
No amount of money, no number of zeroes on the cheque, could possibly justify the decision to make this film. A sequel in name – and star – only. Gone is the officer who always finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gone are the genius villains. Gone is Christmas, replaced with ... Chernobyl. Die Hard went to Russia to breathe life into what felt like a 1980s James Bond script previously rejected by Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and George W Bush for being too daft. It was unexciting, untenable and it left us admiring the respect George Lucas has shown for his film franchises.
Other disappointing action flicks: Olympus Has Fallen, The Lone Ranger
I Give It A Year
The term romantic-comedy seems self explanatory: love and laughs, combined using even the most predictable formula delivers safely if uninspiringly every time. In the case of I Give It A Year, the filmmakers forget to include comedy, or romance, or anything that might inspire an audience to feel even a modicum of affection for any of the characters. A generous interpretation would be that the film was trying to subvert the genre, but in doing so it rebelled against the traditional quality shared by all great comedies: actually being funny. Rose Byrne was the second talented Australian actress left trying to save a woeful script in an English film this year, while Stephen Merchant and Minnie Driver were relegated to (hopefully) well paid hostages to writer-director Dan Mazer.
Other disappointing 2013 comedies featuring romance: The Big Wedding, The Family
Many lauded Guillermo del Toro's robots versus dinosaurs, Neon Genesis Evangelion homage/wannabe, as a triumph. To any objective viewing however this is a series of plot holes, flawed story telling and gratingly awful dialogue held together by a few supersized digital fist fights. While two side characters were lumbered with the worst Australian accents heard on screen since ... well Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained, it was lead actors Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam who bore the toughest load. Their's were the most inconsistently written characters seen on screen this year; every action and decision a departure from the last, explained only by the script's need for the story to move forward. If only one of the monsters had eaten the last two acts instead of digital Sydney, we all would have been spared a lot of pain.
Other disappointing hero movies: Kick-Ass 2, R.I.P.D.
It takes a lot to make space travel, a post-apocalyptic jungle Earth and Will Smith dull, yet somehow After Earth, Smith's effort to provide his son Jaden with a star vehicle, was just the lemon to do so. Smith's character Cypher was injured in a crash and forced to sit through his son's adventures across the mysteriously unidentified (yet blatantly obvious) planet. Exactly what forced the rest of us to persevere through it is anyone's guess. Can someone please take M Night Shyamalan's movie making privileges away now please?
Other disappointing teen-hero in 2013: Ender's Game, The Host
In all likelihood the makers of Movie 43 wanted the film to make the annual worst film lists; this was a film that was wilfully bad. As such it has to be measured against a different standard. Was it gross and offensive and dribblingly moronic? Yes, but that's the point. But was it funny? Aye, there's the rub. No. Or at least not often enough. Unlike the surprisingly excellent Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa, which was gross but hysterical, once the shock of seeing high-wattage stars perform sketch comedy wore off, it was clear that it was all that Movie 43 had going for it. Skit humour is an art like any other, a form that the likes of the Robot Chicken factory have mastered. These amateur efforts belonged on some adults only telethon raising funds for the humorously handicapped.
Another big-concept disappointment: Oz the Great and Powerful
A perfect example of the difference between disappointing and bad films. With Ridley Scott directing a Cormac McCarthy script and a cast that included names like Pitt, Fassbender, Diaz, Bardem and Cruz, The Counselor was bound to have some moments of quality, if only by accident. It was the wilful rejection of plot, narrative (yes they are different), character development and point, combined with the intentional abrasiveness of the film that ranks The Counselor firmly on this list. Yes, drugs are bad. Getting involved in drug trafficking will be bad for you. Seeing The Counselor will feel bad and may well hurt. While justifying it's existence as art is just bad logic.
Another self-important disappointment: (Lee Daniel's) The Butler
A case of art imitating point if ever there was one. James Franco stole this movie as Alien, a drug dealer preying upon the naïve girls who attend Spring Break. He was surprised by the moral void that he discovered in these teen wastrels as they embraced lawlessness like a twitter hashtag. The audience was surprised to learn that this was a story they were meant to invest in. And it is purely the story that ranks this film on this list. Technically, this was a perfect execution of the script, with some glorious single-take shots and editing. The only better thing that could have been done with this script ... was burn it.
Other disappointing tales of awful people: The Paperboy
The Hangover Part III
Another franchise that chose to salt the earth from whence it came, Todd Phillips brought Phil, Stu, Doug and Alan back together to have one last adventure and created a film that felt disappointing as you watched it, but swelled to awful the more you reflected upon the wasted opportunities. Unsure whether to leave Vegas or return, it did both. Unsure what to do instead of the same plot they'd done twice before it did ... nothing much at all. One piece of gorgeous awkward chemistry between Melissa McCarthy and Zach Galifanaikis aside, this was a dud, and a sad end to a terrific series.
Other disappointing comedies this year: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Identity Thief
In 1996, Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting was a revelation of awful people doing awful things as the world fell in love with the grungy Scottish anti-hero. Nearly two decades on, Filth feels like a novel whose Best Adapted By date has expired. Without Welsh and the star names of James McAvoy and Jamie Bell, this would have been a mediocre straight-to-video release and that's where this should have remained. When edgy content grows stale it doesn't just fade, it grows tiresome and redundant.
Two other disappointing thrillers in 2013: Paranoia, Runner Runner
To debate these lists or any other aspects of film you can find me on @gileshardie
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