Top 20 of 2013, Part II: #10 – #1

Welcome to part two of my countdown of the best films of 2013! I covered #20 – 11 this morning and now we’re into the top 10, where the year’s true gems receive some much deserved recognition. Anyone who knows me will be able to guess most of the entries on this list, but let’s see if there aren’t a few surprises along the way anyway…

10
No
Review

No acts as the final chapter in Pablo Larraín’s loose Pinochet trilogy (following Tony Manero & Post Mortem), this time focussing on the National Plebiscite that saw the dictator fall from power in a democratic election that badly backfired on him. The film hones in on Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) the man in charge of the “No” campaign, and explores how this open fight against the régmine affected him personally.

Filmed in the style of an 80s television show, No combines a historical story with a message about the state of political campaigning in South America and beyond that is searingly contemporary. The film examines how glitzy advertising has taken the place of serious debate and also how politics has become a corporate – rather than a democratic – affair.

Whether you’re knowledgeable about Chilean politics or not, this is a relatable and enjoyable story of human courage in the face of adversity, that is well acted and stunningly directed.

9
Blue Jasmine
Review

If you listen to the critics, this is Woody Allen‘s 48th “return to form” since the turn of the century though, in the case of Blue Jasmine, they might just have a point.

The film tells the tale of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), the wife of a rich investment banker who is forced to move in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) when her husband is arrested for fraud. Clearly broken, Jasmine indulges in lots of depressive behaviour as she attempts – often to vain – to search for a new purpose in life.

Hilarious but with just the right twinge of Allen trademark pessismism, Blue Jasmine is up there with the director’s best and is aided through its rougher moments by a pair of sensational performances from Blanchett and Hawkins.

8
Frances Ha
Review

Frances Ha is one of those films that crept up on me throughout the year via word of mouth, and I’m so glad it did. Shamelessly quirky (but never irritatingly so), Frances Ha is an insular tale of a New York dancer searching for her place in the World. She’s lazy, slovenly and immensely irritating to be around, yet I couldn’t help but be sucked in by her charm.

The beauty of this film is that it knows what it is and isn’t remotely ashamed; it’s an indie dramedy (a genre I often loathe) but thanks to a marvellous performance from Greta Gerwig and a screenplay that is actually very funny, Frances Ha is one of the loveliest and most life-affirming films of 2013.

It also helps that I am Frances, albeit without the female reproductive organs and the dancing…

7
Gravity
Review

Despite its duff script and its loose characterisation, there’s no denying that Gravity is a spectacular and thrilling film. Visuals alone are never enough to make a film good, but when they’re this mesmerising you can almost forgive the weaker elements.

Thankfully, though Gravity is flawed, it plays out almost like a fable and, as such, the weak characterisation isn’t too much of a problem. With a runtime of just 90 minutes, the film knows what it is, knows what it wants to do and then just gets on with it. We learn just enough about the characters for us to invest ourselves in the drama, and the imagery – though sometimes heavy-handed – is pretty solid.

The most surprising thing about Gravity, however, is that Sandra Bullock gives the performance of her career. I love Bullock as a person but I’ve never thought she was a great actor… that is, until now.

6
Robot & Frank

Another sleeper hit that got to me via word of mouth, Robot & Frank tells the beautiful but tragic tale of an ex cat-burglar (Frank Langella) who is suffering from dementia. When his son gets him a “Robot” (voiced brilliantly by Peter Sarsgaard) to help him out, Frank discovers a new lease of life when he is able to use the robot to commit new crimes.

Robot & Frank clocks in at just 85 minutes yet, in that time, it manages to explore what it means to grow old in the modern World and questions whether or not our over-reliance on technology is diminishing our humanity. It is a warm, witty and thoroughly entertaining film in which the relationship between Frank and his Robot feels far more realistic than much of the pap churned out by Hollywood, and is thus all the more affecting.

5
The Patience Stone

Review

Atiq Rahimi‘s adaptation of his own novel about female empowerment and the role of women in the war torn Middle East is a deeply harrowing film that is rich in authenticity.

With its tale of an unnamed woman who, in caring for her paralysed husband, develops the confidence to speak out about her true beliefs, The Patience Stone is a slow but gripping drama that is unafraid to face controversial issues head on. It is a film that examines the dangers of repressed sexuality and the hypocrisies of organised religion through a main character to whom all of us – man or woman, Muslim or non-Muslim – can relate.

Rahimi gets to the heart of the woman’s internal conflict by setting his story in the middle of the real-life war, resulting in an intensely engaging film. I can’t recommend this one enough, not least because it offers an insight into the situation that you won’t get from the news media.

4
Good Vibrations

Review

A film about the Troubles that is also warm, witty and feel-good… surely there must be some mistake!? Yet that’s exactly what Good Vibrations, Lisa Barros D’sa and Glenn Leyburn‘s film about punk legend Terri Hooley (played by Richard Dormer) manages to be.

Good Vibrations is a film that manages to combine a harsh but important approach to the Troubles with the wonderful tale of how Northern Irish punk came to be so popular, culminating in the release of “Teenage Kicks”. The film is blisteringly funny, often just moments after we’ve witnessed some terrible political turmoil. Better still, though the politics are important they’re never overplayed so the piece, though full of emotional, is never manipulative.

Best of all, however, Good Vibrations is a film with an incredible soundtrack; the punk music of the time is excellent, and this exploration of its origins is just fascinating. A true feel-good film, albeit one with an undercurrent of dread, Good Vibrations is perhaps the most unashamedly fun film of the year.

3
Blue is the Warmest Colour

Review

Blue is the Warmest Colour is a strange beast; it is, at once, a somewhat generic love story, yet it’s one that is drenched in crushing and unrelenting realism. It is less a “lesbian romance film” than it is a universal – if not somewhat problematic – film about the bitter breakdown of a relationship.

With its three hour runtime, this is a film that often threatens to outstay its welcome but one that, thanks to the phenomenal performances of its two leads, remains consistently and powerfully engrossing. It is a rich, vibrant and electric film that is as explicit as it is realistic, and one that drags its audience through a blender of emotions before spitting them out with little respite.

If there was any justice, Adèle Exarchopoulos would walk away with a heap of awards for her performance in this film. Alas, she won’t, but that doesn’t take anything away from the sheer majesty that she achieved, often in the face of oppressive circumstances. This truly is a gem in the ever-banal “romance” genre and one that I can’t recommend enough, even in spite of my reservations about the director‘s rather vulgar sexism.

2
The Place beyond the Pines

Review

The reaction to The Place beyond the Pines was strangely muted but, for me, this epic, sprawling, generation-spanning drama is narrative cinema at its finest. Directed by Derek Cianfrance, the film is as intimate as Blue Valentine but is in all other aspects a unique and wonderful creature.

The beauty of the film is that it is solely concerned with its story. The piece is a 140-minute character-driven rollercoaster that deals in almost mythic themes. It is a tragedy in the traditional sense of the word, littered as it is with a daunting aura of fatalism. The three stories that make up the overall triptych are intense, powerful and full of heart. The film’s pessimism is counterbalanced by a hopeful quality, which grants it a peculiar hypocritical (but intentionally so) quality.

The Place beyond the Pines is worth seeing for its three main performances alone. Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Dane DeHaan are sensational, and it is through their naturalistic turns that the audience is granted access to this epic, almost dreamlike story. There are faults with the film, don’t get me wrong, but these are more than outdone by its ambitious nature and its intense and engrossing story. A dramatic masterpiece if ever there was one, The Place beyond the Pines more than deserves its #2 spot on this list.

1
The Kings of Summer

Review

Ah The Kings of Summer, how I adore thee. In a year full of great coming-of-age films, it’s only fitting that one of them is – in my humble opinion – the best film of 2013.

I’m not sure what it is about this film that I love. Perhaps it’s its sense of anarchic fun that speaks to the inner teenager I always wanted to be. Maybe it’s the characters, all of whom remind me of people I know, or the script, which is hilarious, warm and full of playful nostalgia. Maybe it’s that its central conceit – that sometimes we all just want to run away and start afresh – is never handled in a frivolous or patronising way, or perhaps it’s just that it made me feel genuinely happy. Whatever it is, I know that I love it to pieces but I can’t fully explain why.

The point is, The Kings of Summer isn’t the most well-made film of the year, nor is it the most well-written, well-acted or well-directed. Heck, there are times when it’s quite amateurish. Yet it is in those amateurish moments, when the peevish but lovable sense of anarchy is at its most palpable, that the film truly excels. From the start I was completely hooked, and I spent the next 90 minutes fully immersed in the wonderful World of Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) and his makeshift house in the woods. It was cinema at its most engaging and it was, for lack of a better word, utterly charming.

Of all of this year’s releases, The Kings of Summer is the one that struck the most obvious chord with me and it’s the one I can happily watch again and again and again without ever getting bored. And that, above all else, is why it’s my #1 film of 2013.

So there you have it; in a year that was generally disappointing, there are lots of diamonds in the rough if you know where to look. As I said this morning, I haven’t seen everything yet so this list isn’t final, but whether changes are made or not, you can be sure that all of the films on this list are well worth a watch.

Also, if you click here, you can see my rankings for every film of the year and discover which film I deemed so unspeakably rotten that it sits at the very bottom of the pile, below even Morgan Spurlock’s One Direction documentary… For now though, have a great night and I’ll see you all in the New Year with more reviews, features and ramblings. I bet you just can’t wait.

P.s. Don’t forget to leave your comments in the box below if you agree / disagree with my final rankings! =)