Those films of 2013

The end of the year has brought us to film journalists’ annual navel gazing, including for yours truly – it’s the Top 10 list!

But 2013′s been just too good a year for film – perhaps the best of my short film-going life (see Robbie Collin’s comment that this is the best year since 1999) – so I’m extending this year’s list to 20.

There are, as every year, a few I haven’t seen: Short Term 12, What Maisie Knew, Kings of Summer, and most notably The Act of Killing (which topped Sight & Sound‘s and the Guardian‘s poll) are still on my list to see. Oh, and I’m only including films released in the UK in this list, so no Under The Skin or 12 Years a Slave, and only those released after the February awards season, so no Zero Dark Thirty or Lincoln. Have a gander:


20. The World’s End (dir. Edgar Wright)

Edgar Wright’s finale to his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy was no Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, but still it packed laughs amongst a scatterbrained sci-fi narrative. As a coming of age film – albeit for 40-year-olds – it was warm hearted, and very British, and the end packed an unexpected emotional punch.

19. Star Trek into Darkness (dir. JJ Abrams)

Abrams sets himself up for Star Wars with this gripping second round of the Star Trek reboot, with the omnipresent Benedict Cucumberface as the year’s coolest villain (we won’t name him).

18. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (dir. Francis Lawrence)

I never thought I’d be in a position to put a Hunger Games film on this list, but this year’s sequel was hard-hitting, tense and had an edge of political fire in its scenes of masses rising up against an elitist system (headed by the superbly hammy Donald Sutherland). Oh, and Jennifer Lawrence, as ever, is terrific.

17. A Field in England (dir. Ben Wheatley)

Ben Wheatley has proved himself a bit of a polymath – before we kitchen sink drama, horror, black comedy, and this year we had a civil war mindfuck, a drug-fuelled trip through the muddy fields of 17th century England, with the kind of imagery you just don’t find in British cinema.

16. Philomena (dir. Stephen Frears)

A great script from Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope lift Stephen Frears’ movie from TV-movie-of-the-week territory to an extraordinary tale of lost children and faith in the face of malevolence. Philomena is surprisingly raw, even if it is a much lighter revision of Paul Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters, which touched on the same topic of Catholic schools for “fallen women” in Ireland. Judi Dench and Coogan make great ideological foils, so different from each other that they can only be great friends at the end.

15. Something in the Air (dir. Olivier Assayas)

An impeccably realised vision of post soxiante-neuf France, Olivier Assayas’ film is one of the great films of political, social and sexual coming of age – a better film than Bernardo Bertolluci’s 1968-set The Dreamers. It’s also a sneaky, but somewhat powerful, indictment of today’s teenagers’ lack of political anger in the face of worsening prospects for themselves – where are the students of today crying out about bankers’ bonuses?

14. Only God Forgives (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn)

Violent, dramatic, and just a little bit silly, the second Refn-Gosling match up (after Drive) was a deranged descent into a purgatorial Bangkok, with a mercenary cop and a barnstorming performance from Kristen-Scott Thomas.

12 = A Hijacking (dir. Tobias Lindholm)
12 = Captain Phillips (dir. Paul Greengrass)

Both of this year’s hijacking dramas were gripping, thought provoking, even if they were remarkably different films. A Hijacking has stayed with me since I saw it in the panorama section at Venice 2012, a taught, finely balanced thriller where the sweat and horror of the situation has almost documentary precision. Paul Greengrass’ action drama is more explosive, but no less nuanced, with Tom Hanks’ best performance in recent years that culminates in a special final scene.

11. Gloria (dir. Sebastián Lelio)

A powerhouse performance from Paulina García is not all that makes this Chilean drama one of the year’s best. How often do you see a film that understands and cares for the trials and tribulations of the middle-aged, divorced, looking for love?

10. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (dir. David Lowery)

David Lowery’s Malickian western is a subtle, sumtuous rural romance between Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck that has dashes of Bonnie and Clyde, with a cool musical score and a thrilling climax.

9. Nebraska (dir. Alexander Payne)

Bruce Dern is brilliant as an irascible old timer developing dementia, returning to his home town in rural Nebraska with his son on his way to pick up a million dollars he believes he has won. Like Sideways before, Alexander Payne gives us a twisted take on the road movie, where the unexpected comes around every street corner.

8. The Selfish Giant (dir. Clio Bernard)

Andrea Arnold’s hard realism blends with a kind of poetry in Clio Bernard’s expressive state-of-the-nation fable, adapted from Oscar Wilde’s story. Two kids (stunning newcomers Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas) run amok nicking copper cable from railways, turning tragic when they realise that the money to be made from selling it.

7. Blue Jasmine (dir. Woody Allen)

Perhaps Woody’s best film since Husbands and Wives in the early-nineties (although I have a soft spot for 2008′s Vicky Christina Barcelona), this scabrous comedy drama is most striking for its unexpected political undertone, and of course, Cate Blanchett’s fiery performance.

6. The Place Beyond the Pines (dir. Derek Cianfrance)

Unfairly overlooked by many, Derek Cianfrance goes up a gear from Blue Valentine, in this expansive family saga, that had the expressiveness of a Greek tragedy. Mesmerising performances from the entire cast (including a Bradley Cooper finally revealing hidden acting depths) add to the garlands this film has missed.

5. Gravity – only in IMAX 3D (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)

Mammoth in scope, but unexpectedly intimate in outlook, Gravity launched at Venice to wowed audiences, and seeing it at the BFI Imax screen revealed – for the first time – the true value of 3D to cinema. Alfonso Cuaron delivers a wondrous thrill ride that, even if lacks depth in its characters, still has the power to awe at our own smallness in the universe.

4. All Is Lost (dir. JC Chandor)

Robert Redford has no dialogue, all alone at sea, but this is still a crowning achievement of his great career.

3. The Great Beauty (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)

Paolo Sorrentino’s sprawling, Fellini-esque trip through modern Rome is gorgeous filmmaking, a contemplative mirror not just to a modern Italy, but to a rapidly evolving world. The whole film seems like a change of the guard in the world, and that makes Toni Servillo think again about his choices in his own life.

2. Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)

Before Midnight is less a film, more revisiting old friends you’d forgotten. But it’s as powerful a drama of modern family as any I’ve ever seen.

1. Blue is the Warmest Colour (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)

A passionate, devastating cri de coeur about love’s both creative and destructive forces, Abdellatif Kechiche leaps into the big league of European auteurs, bringing out the performance of the year – or any year – from the astonishing Adele Exharpoulos. It’s one of the great love stories of recent cinema.

Best Shot Robert Redford looks towards the storm at the top of his mast in All is Lost

Best Scene James Franco sings Britney in Spring Breakers

Best Score Daniel Hart’s music to Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Screenplay Before Midnight

Biggest waste of money The Great Gatsby

Biggest waste of money on wigs American Hustle

London Film Festival: Me Top 10 Picks

Many called the programme for this year’s London Film Festival the best line-up in years, and with many of the hot tips from this year’s Cannes, Venice and Toronto, I’m not likely to disagree.

I’ve been in student-land for the past four years (I think the last film I saw at the festival was Juno in 2007), so it’s the first time in ages I’ve been able to whet my appetite for what looks a smorgasbord of kitchen sink Brit-flicks, space dramas, vampire love stories and more.

The fest is bookended by two Tom Hanks films – Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips and Walt Disney bio Saving Mr Banks - with the actor promising to be in attendance for both. Alongside there’s mouth-watering UK premieres for the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davies, Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut directorial effort Don John.

Fresh from Venice, I’d give hearty recommendations to Under The SkinWe Are The Best, Philomena, Tom at the Farm, and Locke, but here’s my top tips of what I’m looking forward to sight unseen:

1. 12 Years A Slave (dir. Steve McQueen)

12 Years a Slave (Photo: Film4)

Steve McQueen’s slavery epic is a lock on Toronto’s People’s Choice Award, with rave reviews suggesting an plumped-up Oscar winner in waiting. Based on black freeman Solomon Northrup’s true-life tale of his own kidnapping, when he was sold in slavery, its cast includes Benedict Cumberbund, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and a rare starring role for Chiwetel Ejiofor. McQueen has a astute visual sense, and his past two – Hunger and Shame - were two of the best films of their respective years. This looks like the film I desperately wanted Django Unchained to be.

2. Blue is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d’Adèle Chapitre 1 et 2(dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)

Blue is the Warmest Colour

The stars of this year’s Palme d’Or winner stoked up some controversy last week when they revealed they’d never work withdirector Abdellatif Kechiche again, such was the intensity of filming. The story of one girl’s (Adèle Exarchopoulos) sexual experience over several years, Blue is both intimate and epic, three hours long and featuring extended and ground-breaking scenes of lesbian sex, alongside knockout performances by its two leads (the other being Léa Seydoux), who both won special Palme d’Ors alongside the film’s director.

3. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

Gravity was rapturously received in Venice and Toronto, but perhaps the biggest draw of this 3D space drama is the return of Alfonso Cuarón, whose last film, 2006′s Children of Men, turned out to be one of the films of the decade. Oh, and James Cameron’s calling this the best space film ever made.

4. The Double (dir. Richard Ayoade)

Richard Ayoade’s Submarine was a quirky coming of age tale and heralded a potential future star director. For his second film, the IT Crowd actor expands his talents with this Dostoevsky adaptation with hints of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Jesse Eisenberg gives twin performances as Simon, a long-suffering office clerk, and his cooler, charismatic doppelganger James.

5. Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch)

Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch returns with a gothic vampire romance that happily runs in the “cult” strand at the LFF, with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddlestone along for the ride.

6. Starred Up (dir. David McKenzie)

Starred Up (Photo: Film4)

Named for when young offenders are transferred to adult prison after violent behaviour, David McKenzie’s film promises a raw new take on the British prison movie in a tradition that goes back to Alan Clarke’s Scum. Jack O’Connell of This is England and Skins fame plays the lead, ending up in the same jail as his father, with able support from the always dependable Ben Mendelsohn.

7. Heli (dir. Amat Escalante)


The story of one family torn apart by Mexican drug wars, Amat Escalante’s latest barrel of laughs won the best director prize in Cannes. Heli‘s ultra-violent adventures include decapitations, hangings, and apparently a scene with flaming testicles. Not one for the faint-hearted – or indeed one for males by the sounds of things.

8. At Berkeley (dir. Frederick Wiseman)

At Berkeley

A 4 hour documentary on American university education, you say? Well, Frederick Wiseman’s study of one college’s (the University of California, Berkeley) struggle with funding cuts stands as a state-of-the-nation piece that raises questions about the price of schooling, and the notion of tertiary education that echoes with debates here in the UK.

9. Ukraine is not a Brothel (dir. Kitty Green)

Ukraine is Not a Brothel

Australian director Kitty Green immersed herself in Ukraine’s controversial Femen movement for much of the past four years, documenting a fledgling feminist movement fighting authoritarianism and for its own identity.

10. The Epic of Everest (dir. John Noel)

Epic of Everest

The festival’s archive gala is the extraordinary original film record of the third attempt of Everest in 1924. The expedition ended with the deaths of two of its climbers, sparking fierce debate about whether the climbers reached the summit or not. Filmed in some of the planet’s harshest environments, and with some of the earliest documented footage of Tibetan life, it looks a towering achievement of early filmmaking.

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