If you’ve been following my site for a few months, you’d have a pretty good idea which movies will be on this list. More importantly, you’d be able to accurately guess which will top it.
It’s been a good year for movies (better than I thought it would be). The first 7 or 8 months were tediously slow, bordering on uninspiring. But the last quarter made up for lost time with a few wonderful pictures. The year in movies might’ve been better if the acclaimed titles like Nebraska, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years A Slave, The Great Beauty, The Past and The Wolf Of Wall Street were released, but Australia, being slow as usual, will not host them till the first few months of 2014. So hang in there.
Without any more delays, here are my Top 10 movies of this year. Again, all titles were released in Australia in 2013. You might find late-2012 entries. Or you might not.
Park Chan Wook’s Stoker is a methodical movie that deconstructs the mind one scene at a time. It’s slow, deliberate, and is shot in a low contrast that seems to give every character and every location the same amount of importance. Nicole Kidman is no less vital than Matthew Goode, and Goode in no way overshadows Mia Wasikowska. The story, written by Prison Break heartthrob Wentworth Miller, is dark and grisly but cleverly formulated. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It’s delightfully weird. As I mentioned in my review, the characters resemble mannequins, in that they move and respond slowly. The twist is splendid. And the mood Stoker exudes is a nasty concoction of terror and beauty.
Originally a TV movie, Steven Soderbergh’s Behind The Candelabra survived a short theatrical stint in selected cinemas across Perth. I watched it at Luna Leederville and then again on home video. It’s a powerful film, performed to pin-point perfection by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Theirs are courageous roles. And the extravagance of Liberace’s lifestyle is easily mirrored in the extravagance of Douglas’ portrayal.
The story is told from Damon’s character’s point of view, and it’s told with a considerable amount of heartache. And then there are the dependable supporting characters, all of whom work to enhance the movie’s authenticity. It’s a glaring production. Heavily detailed and sharply executed. If this is to be Soderbergh’s last film, he couldn’t have made a better one.
Movies about teens always tend to get it wrong. Teens aren’t stupid vessels for alcohol. There’s more to them. Teenage years are usually the most complex and turbulent. Puberty hits. First kisses. First relationships. First break-ups. Cliques and bullying. Unclear futures. Imposing teachers and the lack of willpower to study. They’re very trying times. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower successfully captured the essence of this time, and The Spectacular Now does so too. It’s a movie with two characters who are so right for each other because they co-exist in a real world, where they have to deal with real problems or succumb to them. It also helps that both are played by cheerfully weightless actors who lend a genuine sense of wonderment to their roles.
Captain Phillips would’ve been much higher on this list had I not watched it a second time. I realised that the quality of this movie lies not in the script, dialogue, acting, or location, but in the editing and music. What’s wrong with that, I hear you say. Well, nothing really, but a good movie relies on all its parts to work. This isn’t to say the script, dialogue, acting, etc, are bad; they just don’t contribute as much to the overall excitement as the editing. Consider the climax — I won’t say what it is. It would’ve been way less tense had the editing given way to a slower, more relaxed pace. It’s the typical Paul Greengrass movie: Good. Exciting. But that’s it.
Still, it’s one hell of a thrill ride.
What do you get when you cross Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, a tireless performance from Simon Pegg, cool visual effects, a crazy idea, lots of drinking and punching and kicking and screaming, with Newton Haven? A bloody awesome movie. That’s what. The World’s End is the finale to Edgar Wright’s and Simon Pegg’s Cornetto Trilogy, and what a closing chapter it is. It’s smart enough to understand that it could’ve been two separate self-contained movies, but it’s also dumb enough to accommodate a whole stockpile of jokes, gags, and alien bashing. For fans of the first two movies, and for anyone with a quart of humour, The World’s End will be a treat. I know it was for me.
Here’s another Part 3. Before Midnight closes out Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy (or does it?), about the lives of two fated lovers dipped in to every 9 years. To see how Celine and Jesse have grown, matured, and sometimes skidded in the opposite direction is a treat because we are looking at two believable people. They are not clones, or dolls, or characters in a movie. They are — for all they’re meant to be — real people. And Before Midnight reveals how real they are. It spills their darkest secrets and takes their relationship to places that should make all the married couples in the audience exchange looks of utter fear. It’s a solid production, uplifted by breathtaking Greek scenery. Watch this movie.
Lincoln is a 2012 picture with a 2013 Australian release date. Yes, it’s one of those. I expect next year’s lists to include some of this year’s titles. Anyway, Lincoln, despite heavy criticisms from certain pundits, remains an elegant picture, tightly written, with wonderful performances from every corner. The joy of this movie is not immersing yourself in the story — we know from history how the story will play out and end — but in relishing the production design, the intelligent conversations, and the characters. I’ve never known Lincoln as a man; he’s always been a monument to me. A hero of America. But here in Spielberg’s adaptation, he transcends fame and becomes a human being. And in being completely human, he becomes a hero.
What? This movie?! Number 3?! Well yes. Your eyes don’t deceive you. The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty has the advantage of being a recently reviewed title. Its joys are more fresh in my memory banks. That said, it is a great movie. It’s mature, funny, inspiring, touching. And Ben Stiller plays the role of Mitty as if the role never existed. In many ways he’s himself, but he brings a certain innocence to the character that I’ve rarely seen in his other films, and it’s refreshing. On top of that, this movie’s locations and cinematography are sensational, and it’s a feel-good film along the lines of Hairspray, without the dancing.
Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt — or Jagten — is a nigh flawless tale of false accusations. What happens when a young girl accuses you of sexual harassment, even though nothing ever took place? Surely someone will trust your innocence! Not so easy my friend. The voice of the child will always overpower the will of the adult, and in The Hunt, the child’s voice is amplified because everyone in the rural town knows each other like siblings. Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, the accused, and watching him deal with this travesty is altogether heart-wrenching and melancholic. But in his sadness there is beauty. And The Hunt is one of the best. Period.
Well well well. Who would’ve guessed? My number one movie of the year — and possibly of many years past — is Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Here is a movie that is so concentrated in its place and time, so focused on its characters and the environment that traps them, that it plays like a theme park ride, in space, in real time. Gravity is an experience. That’s about as well as I can describe it. You enter the claustrophobia of the astronauts. You realise that there is little to nothing to grab on to out in space. You observe a loneliness that cannot be imagined. The music uplifts you and frightens you, sometimes at the same time. There is beauty in the sunrise, in the Earth’s cloud formations. There is salvation, accompanied by one of the best endings I’ve ever seen. There are quality performances. You feel for them. Strangely, you can feel with them. It’s all happening, to them as well as to us. I have not seen a film quite like this. Ever. And I doubt I will again.
What plagues me now is trying to figure out where Gravity will end up when I compile — in 2019 — my favourite movies of the decade. Oh boy.