2013 was a year that saw some truly spectacular movies grace the big screen. Just like like any other film fan, I clocked up hundreds of hours in the cinema loving every moment of them. However, 2013 wasn’t such a consistent year for film. In fact there were some jaw-droppingly terrible films released along the way. Films such as Scary Movie 5, The Last Exorcism Part 2, The Internship and Movie 43 were unleashed and quickly became the lowlights of the year.
In 2013, I also attended several film festivals over the course of the year which included Celluloid Screams, Glasgow International Film Festival, Grimmfest and my personal favourite, Film4 Frightfest. On the festival circuit, I saw plenty of outstanding films (some of which have not yet been given an official UK release) but I was lucky enough to attend several UK premieres, met lots of filmmakers and was given the opportunity to interview Adam Green about his film Hatchet 3 exclusively for Cinema Chords (also to be published in February’s issue of Scream Horror Magazine).
So what films were the highlights of the year? Well you may already know that I’m partial to a bit of horror here and there but this doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a more sophisticated style of film so you may be surprised by some of the titles that appear on my list.
Moving forward, if you’re wondering what films made my top ten this year then look no further as I present to you my top ten films of 2013 with a few honourable mentions at the end.
10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Francis Lawrence takes over directing duties for the sequel to the 2012 box office hit in what is a definite step forward in the popular franchise based on the novels that were written by Suzanne Collins. The film takes its time to fully develop its characters and its surrounding world to deliver what can only be described as a thoroughly engaging action blockbuster. Balancing drama and action perfectly, this movie is nicely acted and its core political themes are impressively woven into the plot. Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence does a great job as the ‘girl on fire’ and the film ends on a cliff-hanger that perfectly set the scene for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One which will be released later this year.
09. Big Bad Wolves
There’s no denying the power behind the Israeli horror Big Bad Wolves. Telling the story of three men on a collision course, the father of a recent victim and a vigilante police officer take matters in their own hands when they kidnap the main suspect in a string of killings to literally beat a confession out of him. Packed with plenty of shocking moments the film operates with a subversive layer of pitch black humour which is not only as disturbing as the films primary subject matter but somehow works perfectly with the pace of the film. I first saw Big Bad Wolves when it closed Film4 Frightfest 2013 and the reaction from the crowd was electric as the entire auditorium filled with cheers and applause when the end credits began to roll.
08. Cheap Thrills
Another festival favourite from Film4 Frightfest, Cheap Thrills follows Craig, who is down on his luck and in desperate need of money. After a brief encounter with an old high school friend, the two meet up with a strange couple that wants to have a drink with them.
The four then experience what can only be described as a truly horrific night as the two friends are pitted against each other for money.
A simple concept, the film is directed by E.L. Katz and stars Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton and David Koechner. Cheap Thrills develops naturally despite the ensuing craziness as the stakes are raised higher and higher with every passing minute. You will gasp, laugh, wince in pain and fully enjoy this film without a doubt and it is for this reason that this film appears in our list. There is no current UK release scheduled for this film but I strongly urge you to keep an eye out for it.
07. The Conjuring
A certified taste-maker in the horror genre, Director James Wan transports audiences back to the 1970s with The Conjuring. Based on the true story of the real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, Wan uses his talent of misdirection, creative sound design and the ability to effectively balance pace and tension to create a truly terrifying experience. Having some truly horrifying visuals that will guarantee to send a shiver down your spine.
I loved every minute of this movie and strongly urge you to check this out if you haven’t already just make sure you have something suitable to hide behind.
06. You’re Next
Inspired by such home invasion shockers as Haute Tension and The Strangers, Director Adam Wingard’s You’re Next was given its debut as part of the Midnight Madness programme at the Toronto film festival. From there, You’re Next took the festival circuit by storm before it was given a limited cinema release in August 2013. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and I loved the performance that was delivered by its lead actress, Sharni Vinson. She provides horror audiences with a Final Girl that is likeable but at the same time is someone worth fearing in her own right.
Packed with plenty of scares, chilling moments and inventive kills to keep horror enthusiasts satisfied, You’re Next plays to all the tropes of the home invasion sub-genre but takes cues from Cabin In the Woods as it turns the genre expectations on its head with a very entertaining third act.
05. The Battery
The Battery was one of my festival highlights of 2013 which I saw at Celluloid Screams, the Sheffield horror film festival in October. The Battery is an astonishing directorial debut by Jeremy Gardner who shot the film in In August 2011 with a cast and crew of six. Offering something fresh for horror fans looking for something different, Gardner delivers an enjoyable character driven drama that just so happens to take place within a zombie apocalypse. The film is superbly acted by Gardner who is joined by Adam Cronheim who also provides a solid performance, and is supported by an interesting choice of music for its soundtrack.
Also, there is great news for those wanting to check it out as the film has been picked up for UK distribution by Metrodome and is slated for a release later in the year.
04. The Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines is a thriller in which is essentially three short stories which are linked together through its characters and their actions. The film explores the notion that the sin of the father will be visited upon their sons. Starring Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendez and Bradley Cooper, the acting in this film is solid. But surprisingly, the best performance in the movie goes to Cooper who proves that his performance in last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, a film that gained him critical acclaim, was no fluke and he can really act when he has to. Derek Cianfrance’s direction on this film is second-to-none. However, it is a slow-burner which might put some people off but don’t worry as it has plenty of offer patience viewers.
03. Captain Phillips
Director Paul Greengrass is no stranger to films based on actual events. His previous film, United 93 was based on the hijacking of the ill-fated United Airlines Flight 93 which took place on 11th September 2001. Captain Phillips tells the story of Richard Phillips, a real-life sea captain who was taken hostage by Somalian pirates. A remarkable film, Captain Phillips is a tightly crafted thriller and features a stellar performance from Tom Hanks which is said to be his best performance to date. It builds tension perfectly and the action sequences made my heart race all whilst retaining a sense of realism.
I cannot recommend this film enough as the last five minutes are literally heart-breaking and those who have seen the film will know immediately which scene I am referring to.
Perhaps the most unsettling films in 2013 has to be Prisoners. Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenaal and Viola Davis, Prisoners is a film that taps into every parent’s nightmare when two families are torn apart when their youngest daughters go missing without a trace. Brutal and shocking in many places, the film investigates the notion of guilt, crime and punishment from three sides; the families of the missing children, the police investigating the crime and the accused.
What we have here is a film which is directed by Denis Villeneuve which operates its multiple plot-lines flawlessly and never becomes stagnant or loses its intensity. I even had to take a few moments after the film had finished to pull myself together because the film is that powerful.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) and starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, Gravity is 91 minutes of solid thriller and is my film of the year. Telling the story of two astronauts who find themselves in the middle of a storm of space debris the film was stunning to watch on the big screen. As far as performances go Sandra Bullock is equally as impressive and her performance keeps the audience invested in the film and her performance demonstrates her reputation as a credible actress. The CGI is flawless, the 3D is the best i’ve ever seen in a cinema and watching the film in D-Box, where every movement was perfectly timed with what was happening on screen, made the film an unforgettable experience.
That was my top ten films of 2013. But what list would be complete without a few honourable mentions? That said, here are three more titles that are truly worth investing your time in.
When I think of Director Harmony Korine’s crime thriller Spring Breakers two things spring to mind, Guns and Bikinis! But if the thought of that puts you off I strongly urge you to give this one a try as the film itself is an experience. The first half is a mood piece allowing us to experience the american tradition of spring break through the eyes of four American college girls played by Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Harmony’s real-life wife Rachel Korine. The second half of the film is much more your traditional film in style. This is where James Franco comes in and forms a strong bond with the leads as they steal from, beat up and harass other spring breakers and nearby bad guys leaving a trail of chaos in their trail. Spring Breakers also benefits from using music from Cliff Martinez (who scored Drive) and Skrillex, two strong names in the business, which when combined together with creative editing brings a coolness to the picture which is undeniable and not easily forgettable.
The Human Race
Another festival highlight from Grimmfest 2013, Director Paul Hough delivers The Human Race, a gripping homage to Stephen King’s short story ‘The Long Walk’. The film sees eighty people from all walks of life kidnapped and thrust into a truly horrific situation where they are given the option to race or die. Undeniably mean spirited but with purpose, the film follows in the same steps as Battle Royale and The Hunger Games and provides an insight into human behaviour when people are put in life or death situations. The film also challenges genre expectations by integrating disability which is perfectly executed by one of its main actors, Eddie McGee who has more than you would ever want in an action hero. The acting isn’t perfect but this doesn’t stop the film being a 90 minute adrenaline fuelled thriller. You can check out The Human Race for yourself when the film is released on DVD in March.
Only God Forgives
In 2011, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn brought us Drive, An American crime drama based on the book written by James Sallis. Drive quickly became one of my favourite films of all time so when Nicolas WInding Refn teamed up once again with Ryan Gosling for Only God Forgives, I had to check it out. Not only is the film visually stunning but Larry Smith’s cinematography is beautiful and the use of lighting is immaculate. Just like Drive, music plays a key part in the success of the film as the soundtrack by Cliff Martinez is superb. However, Only God Forgives is by no means a perfect film as it lacks in substance so for those seeking a straight-up thriller are going to be disappointed as this film is rich of metaphors and fantasy scenes. But to put your mind at rest, I can confirm that this didn’t stop me from enjoying this movie.