the best thing of 2013... the films

This year I saw 43 movies, some of them more than once - although fewer than in previous years (though that is more down to time, not taste). Here are some thoughts:

Top of the Class

My ten favourite films of the year, in no particular order, except that it probably reflects release dates, because I list them as I see them.

(1) Pitch Perfect. Anna Kendrick does A Capella. This became one of my feelgood movies within about half an hour of the film starting. I was already downloading the soundtrack on the escalator heading out of the cinema. I am booked into go and see Sing-a-long Pitch Perfect at the Prince Charles Cinema in February. It’s smart, it’s funny, the gross-out bits are so OTT that you can just blink and let them pass, and there’s Fat Amy. The love interest would be totally irrelevant, except I kind of join in with him when he punches his fist in the air when she starts singing that song in the finale.

(2) To the Wonder. Terence Malick does lyrical poetry about love and faith. There’s twirling, there’s cornfields, there’s voiceovers, and you barely see Ben Affleck’s head at all, and it’s gorgeous if you’re willing to go with it and join the dots for yourself. It won’t convert you to Malick, but it might make you a more fervent devotee.

(3) Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Badlands crossed with The Assassination of Jesse James crossed with mumblecore gives you this beautifully lit, dreamy, recover-from-the-effects-of-the-failed-crime movie. It felt longer than it’s 90 minute running time, but in the way that makes you feel like you’ve lived the story with the characters than because you’re bored. Casey Affleck continues to make fabulously interesting career choices. And it is my favourite soundtrack of the year.

(4) Stoker. Another one for the atmosphere, from melancholy, to eerie, to sexy, and back to eerie. Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska play the piano and the atmosphere becomes tangible. The only problem with it is that Nicole Kidman’s face, post-botox, is sadly distracting. She’s great in this (in a lot of things), but I can’t get past the fact that she can’t move her face.

(5) Fast and Furious 6. Just for a contrast. Sometime in the last couple of years the Fast and the Furious franchise has become one of my favourites, because it does exactly what it says on the tin with huge amounts of humour and family feeling - and because I go and see it with my little London family in the best possibly atmosphere. We saw this in the most ludicrously huge screen in the O2 with an uproarious crowd and had a ball (and also cocktails). I don’t care how ridiculous it is (and for me, the fact that the London race starts in the Treasury is more ridiculous than that runway…), it was a blast.

(6) Iron Man 3. Iron Man, for me, has always been a lot of fun the first time out, and then you get bored by the robots hitting each other, and so it’s probably my least favourite of Marvel’s Phase One strands. But Shane Black worked out that the best thing about Iron Man was the people, not the suits, and bust Tony Stark out of the suits. Even in the finale, he’s in and out of the Iron Man suit(s) every minute, so you get more of him than of Iron Man, which works a treat.

(7) Before Midnight. Favourite film of the year. The end. It makes me cry. It makes me cry writing about it. But happy tears. God, I love it. Thank you, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

(8) Much Ado About Nothing Joss Whedon does Shakespeare. It’s not all perfect - I don’t think anyone is ever going to convince me that Shakespeare didn’t overkill the joke with Dogberry and Verges for a start - but it does some things incredibly well. In particular, it was the first time I’ve really liked Amy Acker (Beatrice) in anything, and the modern setting made it abundantly clear just how badly women are treated by the men in this play - it’s not just Claudio’s dismissal of Hero, but her father’s initial reaction to that which hits hardest here.

(9) Captain Phillips. Paul Greengrass once again turns a film that could have been a simple heroes-and-villains move into something richer and more complex, with things to say about the world that the story is a part of - without beating the audience over the head with it. It’s possible that you could see Captain Phillips and miss that - but an increased emphasis on it would probably have turned some of the (large) audience away. I like the way Greengrass merrily subverts big-budget big films and says, ‘Hey, that stuff you’re buying into? You might not have it quite right.’

(10) Thor: The Dark World. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster saves the world, and does it in wellies. After years of watching heroines go off to fight battles in heels (yes, I’m looking at you, Buffy), I wanted to jump up and cheer in the cinema. This does exactly what Thor did, in making something that could have been inherently daft exceedingly entertaining and endlessly watchable, and continues to allow Loki to be the best villain around.

Middling but Intriguing

The Great Gatsby. It didn’t quite work, because the movie’s Nick didn’t quite carry the romantic melancholy and nostalgia that the book’s narrator does, but it was great to see a version of Gatsby that went all out on jazz age excess. And I continue to love Leonardo di Caprio (especially in his oatmeal jumper in this…)

Middling but Entertaining by Virtue of Being Middle Earth

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I love Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth so much that as long as the movies continue to entertain, they have a get out of jail free card with me. I enjoyed the first one, and I enjoyed this one more. Do I wish they’d go back to Big Ass Maoris in make-up for the Orcs rather than CGI-ing so much? Yes. Do I wishes so much of the river chase wasn’t obviously CGI? Yes. Do I love the ‘Thringy-Thrangy-Throngy’ stuff (thanks, Mark Kermode)? Yes. Did I giggle at the Legolas-Gimli in joke? Yes. The Hobbits don’t have the richness and depth of the Lord of the Rings films - I can tell, because they’ve not made me cry yet, and I bawled my way through chunks of each LOTR - but they are a lot of fun.

Middling but Features Josh Lyman Pretending to Be Michael Banks and Singing Let’s Go Fly A Kite while on His Knees

Saving Mr Banks. I enjoyed Saving Mr Banks a lot (a very lot), but lets not go pretending it’s a really great movie. It’s a really strong movie, that knows exactly what it wants to do and what effect it wants to get, and does it, without you ever feeling like you’ve been manipulated by it - and that’s no mean feat. But it’s not an exceptional film. Emma Thompson, on the other hand, is an exceptional actress.

So Baffling I Don’t Know What To Think (but I had a go)

Only God Forgives. Not Drive is probably the best description of this film from Nicolas Winding Refn. I think it might have been good? But I think I probably won’t be seeing it again.

So Entertaining that I’m (almost) Baffled at Myself

One Direction: This is Us. Yes. Yes. I went there. My friends said they were going to take me to see it, and they did. In their defence, I was a relatively willing victim, because as global behemoths go, 1D are pretty benevolent and I do like a good pop song. I grinned a lot, and bopped a long a bit, and I had an emotion or two - and I will be seeing it again, quite happily. Also, I have tickets to see them in the summer. Because this was that fun, and I am not ashamed.

Bottom of the Class

Django Unchained. Blargh, blargh. I miss 1990s Tarantino, when Lawrence Bender didn’t let him be so self-indulgent. Leonardo di Caprio clearly has a ball. I didn’t.

Les Miserables. Because I am a robot. Whatever. This was like being hit over the head with a really manipulative singing sledge hammer. Give me Tale of Two Cities for my French Revolution any day. Madame Defarge could so take Gavroche.

Star Trek Into Darkness. And into punctuation lunacy… Possibly harsh, but I really really enjoy the first of JJ Abrams’ Trek movies, and I was disappointed in this. It felt by the numbers - all the way down to Alice Eve’s underwear. Stopitnow.

Man of Steel. OK, so I am a Zach Snyder sceptic to the core, but I did want to give this a chance. Some of it was very very good (Amy Adams, Clark with his human parents, learning to fly) and some of it was long drawn-out, very very noisy, wanton destruction of a major city, just because apparently that’s what happens in action movies now? Given that Krypton collapses because of over-mining for energy, it’s mildly ironic that Superman blows up at least one gas station. Bored now.

Austenland. Yes, I went to this for very silly Austen shenanigans with pretty men (specifically, JJ Feild and Bret McKenzie) when I needed to rest my brain, and that is exactly what I got. But it was worse than that, and not even so bad it’s good. And when the only laugh is a very nerdy in-joke about Bret McKenzie being FIGWIT in The Lord of the Rings (which might not actually have been an intentional in-joke, except in my head), then you know it’s bad. Don’t do it - just watch Pitch Perfect again.

best things in 2013... live stuff

the best things of 2013... the books.