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Ashley’s Top 10 Films of 2013

Last year was pretty poor in the number of films watched by myself. There were glaring omissions that probably negated the entire list but this year has been much more successful as the associate editor of Cinema Chords. By spending most of my waking moments in the cinema on a Super Saver Tuesday, there are a lot more choices rounding up to about a 100 films which were released this year. That’s more than double the releases from last year which means this list is a little more educated but still falls short of people who do this as a career. Regardless, it’s about personal enjoyment and love of cinema. This list is a celebration of the favourites of the year, not necessarily the best overall but my top 10 films of 2013.

It’s best to get started rather than bore you stiff with my favourites of the year which are subject to change when all of 2013’s releases are seen. The current critically adored films that haven’t been seen are Blue is the Warmest Colour, Blue Jasmine and Nebraska to only name three. There are plenty of others. Remember that this is going off the UK release dates so films like American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave and Her aren’t eligible. This also isn’t a piece telling you the best films of 2013 but rather my favourites of the year. With all that in mind, I hope you enjoy and feel free to join in below and tell me your favourites. Honourable mentions are at the end.

The Kings of Summer

10. The Kings of Summer

This is an idyllic coming of age comedy that skids into the dramatic in its third act. It’s the dream many angst ridden teenagers have when the thoughts of independence and freedom enter the mind after their parents request one too many things from them. Three high school friends build a house in the middle of the woods to free themselves from the prison of middle-class suburban living. From then on, we enjoy living with them thanks to the charming performances of Nick Robinson and Super 8‘s Gabriel Basso and an incredibly weird performance from Moises Arias as Biaggio – a fantastic addition. Then you have a great supporting cast in Nick Offerman, Erin Moriarty, Alison Brie, Megan Mullaly and Marc Evan Jackson, bringing the Black List script by Chris Galletta to life. All aided by the hands of director Jordan Vogt-Roberts who carefully crafts, balancing everything expertly.


9. GravityFull review here

This has blistered many top 10s, personal and outright favourites of publications from Empire to HeyUGuys. To me, it was a fantastic experience that immersed me in its world and brilliant use of 3D but there’s a slight problem I have with judging it and calling it the best film of the year. It may have been the best experience in the cinema of the year but, as a film, it may lose its power outside of a cinema screen. Sandra Bullock puts in a physical performance which saw her act natural even though every movement she makes in the film is pre-determined to match the animation. She had precise cues to hit as did George Clooney but Sandra Bullock is the centre of the not-sci-fi flick set in space. Alfonso Cuarón innovated all of the technology in his film which was co-written with his Jonás Cuarón, creating a simple yet thrilling mission through the hazards and uninhabitable vacuum of space.

The Act of Killing

8. The Act of Killing

In the documentary of the year, Joshua Oppenheimer focuses on the genocide in Indonesia between 1965-66 mainly. Following the self-proclaimed gangster Anwar Congo as he films his past in the film style of his choice but slowly realising that his atrocities were not acceptable nor will he ever be able to undo his horrific acts. It all plays out in a horrifying way. The majority brag of their murders while the victims or the families of victims stay silent, fearing the people that laugh as they speak of the bloodshed. There’s not a hint of remorse from anyone other than Anwar who is fittingly the central figure of the gang and the documentary.

the conjuring

7. The Conjuring Full review here and Shanley Caswell interview

James Wan is a director who has now mastered the horror genre, leaving it behind after two successful films this year with this and Insidious: Chapter 2. With him leaving for the big budget fare of the Fast & Furious franchise, this was a huge summer hit, leaving the credentials of Universal’s $2bn series in safe, successful hands. The Conjuring is based on the “true story” – which I will use very loosely – of the Warren investigators, Ed and Lorraine. Set in the ’70s, it feels fitting that it be set in the time while James Wan refreshes a stagnant genre that had yawns rather than bumps in the night. In this, bumps are terrifying again, even using claps to the most terrifying effect. It is a film that doesn’t leave you alone, making you peer through your poor fingers as the tension builds. Prepare to be scared of the dark again.



6. You’re Next Full review, Simon Barrett interview and LC Holt interview here

After being acquired after its Toronto première in 2011, it’s been a long road for the release of Adam Wingard’s comedy horror You’re Next which plays with the conventions of the home invasion genre. It was the most fun horror film in the cinema this year; playing around with the genres, bickering characters, surrounding the violence with scares and axe-sharp wit. Down to the nail through the foot wincing to belly laughing as Joe Swanberg tells us that the pinnacle of filmmaking is in 30 second commercials, You’re Next is not an ordinary horror film. Lionsgate’s marketing was perfect for the film as well, setting the trailer to the late Lou Reed’s haunting Perfect Day. It is my favourite horror film of the year.


5. Mud

Jeff Nichols seems to be quite unstoppable ever since his début, Shotgun Stories. He has successfully followed on his début by maturing with each film, managing terrific performances from his cast every single time. Matthew McConaughey gets the Nichols treatment by becoming the idolised immortal legend Mud who fascinates Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), two young boys living by the Mississippi river. Encapsulating a young naivety in wide-eyed mesmerising fashion is Tye Sheridan who steals the show of the entire film, breaking your heart in a single scene. More than its narrative of a man on the run trying to run away with his love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), it’s much more about the themes and characters. It speaks of many things, different audiences will find different identities within the film. Mud is successful through its simplicity like life on the river, adorned by the keen eye of DP Adam Stone. It may be a simple story but it reflects the complexity of emotions that enrich and sour our lives in a compelling, empathetic fashion.


4. Stoker

When it was first known that Park Chan-wook had agreed to cross the language barrier into making his first English language feature. many ears pricked up in excitement, wonderment and caution. Stoker gladly did not disappoint with Park Chan-wook relying more on the language of the visuals rather than dialogue, creating a muted slow-burner that is flawlessly shot, creating the most unsettling, spine-tickling of atmospheres. Succeeded further by its performances from the eerie Mia Wasikowska, the sinister Matthew Goode and the eccentric Nicole Kidman, there is meaning to each frame that has been tightly edited, framed and decorated. While some may believe that certain aspects are heavy-handed or blunt, it doesn’t need to be subtle to be brilliant. Aided by Clint Mansell’s understated score and the impeccable editing, this thriller has a dark tranquillity that delves into family, infatuation and sexualisation while keeping you entranced in the twisted world that’s unfolding in the most patient of manners.


3. Captain Phillips

Placed out in the middle of the sea on a container ship with the manoeuvrability of a statue in quicksand, it leaves the crew vulnerable to the attacks of desperate pirates. In this case, it’s the Somalians based on an article on the true life events of one Captain Richard Phillips, here played by a thick accented Tom Hanks. Although you may be familiar with the story, that never interrupts the tension; it is only broken when Paul Greengrass allows. He never relinquishes control – much like Muse who terrifyingly tells Phillips that he’s “the captain now”, keeping you entirely on the edge from then on. Suspense has been created from the tiniest of moments, making this – like Gravity – one of the most physically exhausting films of the year. Greengrass’s trademark visceral style is here, capturing it in an immersive manner rather than one that leaves you green with seasickness.  Captain Phillips gets a lot of power from not totally vilifying the Somalians – who are impressively played by first time actors. They are human, they are desperate humans at that. Much like Phillips, you start to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome because the sympathy is earned, which leaves you feeling as Phillips does in his final scene. Heartbreaking stuff.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

2. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

As a person who constantly daydreams radical things in my head, this feels like the film was created for my type of personality so of course I duly fell in love with it. Walter Mitty is the man who has worked because had to, side-lining his own dreams and aspirations selflessly for his family, leaving him feeling hollow as LIFE magazine faces closure in the next two and a half weeks. With the feeling of incompletion burdening him, he embarks on a journey to find a lost photo taken by legendary photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). What transpires is a beautiful jet setting piece that is one of the most creative and beautifully shot films of the year. Presenting information in rock slides, transitioning in colours and generally being the most inspiring feel good film in recent memory. The message is simple: make your mark; it does not have to be world changing, just an indelible stamp  that is positive to your life and those around you. A film that will definitely be put on any down day or when a feeling of negativity infects my mind.


1. Prisoners Aaron Guzikowski interview here

One my favourite genres is the mystery-thriller – especially one that focuses on a serial killer or, in this case, serial kidnapper. Hugh Jackman and Terence Howard are the dads who have had the horror of having their children kidnapped on Thanksgiving. Horror is a befitting word for this because it may not be a horror film but it definitely has the tones of one. Never is the audience comfortable with who is being questioned or the safety of the children or even the sanity of Hugh Jackman’s character. In fact, all of the characters are compelling and all living with their demons. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the insomniac Detective Loki with a 100% arrest record, pulling out a performance that is powerful and astonishing – many mocked it for his intense blinking which is what people with no sleep do so that criticism is a nitpicky, irritating and vacuous one. Hugh Jackman is – to use a cliché – never as you seen him before as the religious, prepared father of two that is forever stained by the kidnapping. All of the performances are terrific from the most interesting ensemble casts of the year: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello and Dylan Minnette. With that talent on the screen, you think it’d be hard to top it behind it but with Denis Villeneuve as a patient director willing to let the material by Guzikowski breathe slowly keeps this gripping through every frame. Roger Deakins is there to capture everything in an enigmatic, eerie beauty that only a talented cinematographer like himself can. It is simply stunning to look at even though it deals with such violence, darkness and horrors. Prisoners is my film of the year because of how powerful it hit me which didn’t rely at all on the reveal of the finale but the tension of every single fade to black.


Honourable Mentions

This is the End

Goldberg and Rogen co-direct the best stoner horror-comedy ever probably. Done in a house designed by James Franco with only two cameras, some friends and an estimated budget of $32m, they manage to capture the comedy of the rapture.


Man of SteelFull review here

I was disappointed to have this knocked out of my top 10 because I wanted to ardently defend it. This is Superman learning to be Superman, this is a humanised alien learning his abilities and to accept them. He is flawed, he is not the perfect creation of yesteryear but a creation learning to control his perfection. Gripping film with fantastic action sequences and a seriousness that brings the story to life.


Before Midnight

Concluding the Before… trilogy, it’s 18 years since we first met the couple in Vienna and now we’re in Greece. Getting to know these two in talky moments has been brilliant as it is how we wish romance to be but what happens when the fairytale romance becomes a real, steady relationship? Richard Linklater captures it with the same simplicity and beauty that he did the previous two while Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke continue to bring their characters to life making it feel like we’ve known this couple as long as they have.


Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s loquacious southern as he calls it, blends action and comedy like he usually does but maybe indulges itself too much with its own story. There’s an ending that seems fitting a half an hour before but it has clearly worked for others. The performances are, of course, magnificent but Tarantino’s cameo as an Australian almost derails the entire film it’s so distracting. Stop it, Quentin.


The Place Beyond the Pines Full review here

This episodic three-parter is unusual but a great creation from promising writer-director Derek Cianfrance. It is slightly undone by its third act with the creation of a painfully irritating character that holds it back from being utterly fantastic.


There are my top 10 films of 2013 with the outside five that unfortunately just missed the cut. Thanks to Letterboxd, I have created a list ranking every single release of 2013 that I have seen. To have a look at what I thought before shouting at me for forgetting the likes of Only God Forgives, Cloud Atlas, The Battery and, of course, Wreck-it Ralph see how competitive I have found this year. It seems the quality of films continually goes up each year – that or my viewing of better films has increased. 2013 was a year that I have certainly enjoyed although my bank account continually frowns at me for my spending at the cinema. This is a year that has surprised me with indie gems like The Battery, Our Idiot Brother, Maniac, A Hijacking and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints but has disappointed me with the misreading of The Great Gatsby, the joyless offensiveness of Sharknado, the gory but unfortunately charmless Evil Dead and the greatness of Hathaway in a bland two and a half hour Les Misérables. Altogether it was a fantastic year for films and I will be continually looking into the possible greats that I may have forgotten so the list is subject to change over 2014. 2014 and 2015 are posed to be two huge years in film history so indulge me for those as I count out my favourites in a detailed fashion once again. Please do tell me your favourites or opinions below as it’s always interesting to converse about film.


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