The AVForums Films of 2013

So how did the year of the Sci-fi turn out?

by Casimir Harlow Dec 16, 2013 at 1:00 PM

  • Movies Article


    The AVForums Films of 2013
    Previously on Top 10 of 2013...
    At the beginning of the 2013 I listed my personal Top 10 most anticipated movies of the year. Rather than now just list my actual Top 10 favourite movies of the year I thought I'd look back on the titles I originally chose and predicted to be the best, celebrating those that remained in the cut, whilst reflecting on the ones that proved disappointing and which titles should have perhaps been substituted in their place. There were plenty that so nearly made the cut - Mud, Blue Jasmine and maybe even a couple of blisteringly entertaining actioners like Fast & Furious 6 and Olympus Has Fallen - but, no list can ever be all-encompassing.
    No longer making the cut...

    The World's End

    The concluding chapter in Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy was my number 10 prediction. Surely after Hot Fuzz and Shaun they could do no wrong? Unfortunately not. Although still enjoyable, The World's End was nowhere near the same calibre as the other two chapters, with darker characters that were simply not as likeable, and embedded humour that was nowhere near as accessible.

    Man of Steel

    Great start - offering us hitherto unseen insight into life on Krypton - and a very good, even emotionally weighty, second act, but a succession of increasingly mind-numbing CG-dominated action sequences ultimately disappointed. Shame because the two fathers - Crowe and Costner - were outstanding. Still very enjoyable, but unfortunately no longer a Top 10 entry.

    Star Trek: Into Darkness

    Easily the most anticipated sequel of the year, Abrams's Into Darkness was very good indeed - pulling off Cumberbatch's controversial reveal, and providing welcome spectacle with the star ship battle sequences - but it lost many followers with its final twist, which felt less like a clever homage and more like an insulting, tacky rip-off, and which smacked of typically Promethian Lindlehof idiocy.

    Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

    The simple reason it's no longer on the list is because the release date was pushed back until 2014. Don't worry, it's still made the cut for my Top 10 Upcoming Movies.

    Only God Forgives

    Nicholas Winding Refn? Ryan Gosling? Reuniting after the best film of 2011, Drive? I was sold on this before I even had any idea what it was about. Promoted as something of a spiritual sequel to Drive, I expected this to be my favourite film of 2013 - it was a no-brainer putting it at number 1 - but, for some reason, rather than deliver another stunner, he did a Malick and delivered an obscure, style-over-substance curio that, whilst still strangely watchable, doesn't even deserve to be on the list, much less number one!

    Time for some substitutions...

    The Place Beyond the Pines

    Little did I know that it was another Gosling re-teaming that would almost take the top spot instead of Only God Forgives. Reuniting with the director from the brutally honest anti-romance, Blue Valentine - Derek Cianfrance - and joined by the likes of Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Dane DeHaan, the end result is something of an epic anti-crime drama. It's only the writer/director's second relatively high profile effort, and it is still indie all the way; an intersecting-lives drama in the vein of Crash and Traffic, only done in typical Cianfrance style; leaving you equal parts moved and broken. Don't expect a warm, pleasant experience - his films are always tragedies with the briefest glimpses of hope around the edges - but do expect one of the best dramas you've ever seen and one of the Top 3 best films of the year.

    Zero Dark Thirty

    With its intense, seminal storytelling, Zero Dark Thirty is one of the greatest detective stories ever told - the greatest police procedural ever crafted - and, although it happily blurs the line between fact and fiction, it may well be the most exciting pseudo-documentary-drama we've ever seen. 157 minutes long, and not a single one of them wasted, it's star Jessica Chastain earned a Nomination for her tremendous central performance, and whilst the film also attracted a Best Picture nod, director Kathryn Bigelow was robbed of her own Nomination. Perhaps her next film, Triple Frontier, will rectify that, exploring one of the most dangerous places on the planet - the terrorist-packed intersection between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil - but unfortunately I think we're going to have to wait another couple of years for that because, prior to the massive success of Zero Dark Thirty, Paramount refused to green-light the flick.

    The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

    Although some wrote it off as little more than a variation of Battle Royale, tailored for the Twilight Generation, The Hunger Games was actually a very enjoyable film in its own right, but nobody could have anticipated how much of an improvement its first sequel would be, avoiding the pitfalls of merely retreading the same steps by instead focussing on both intimate character design and skilfull background story expansion, as the revolution heats up and heroine Katniss - played by Jennifer Lawrence, who won an Oscar between the chapters and who brings some true emotional resonance to the role - takes her place at the heart of it all. Can't wait for 2014's Mockingjay Part 1.


    Delivering us a true moral quandary, Flight is a masterful character study, exposing the corrupt core of a high-functioning alcoholic who, whilst regarded as a hero, is still a tragically lost soul searching for some kind of redemption - but always looking for it in the wrong place: the bottom of a bottle. Providing Denzel Washington with one of his most complex roles - portraying an almost unforgivably flawed character in an undeniably sympathetic way - we, in turn, get one of his finest performances. It’s reason alone to see this impressive drama. Indeed, Washington is always watchable, and whilst 2014's updating of The Equalizer may not quite offer him this level of Oscar-worthy material, I can't wait to see what he does in the role.

    Cloud Atlas

    Wildly ambitious, this epic multi-stranded adaptation of David Mitchell’s equally sprawling 2004 bestseller marks a distinct return to form for the Wachowski writer/director siblings, who haven’t made anything this impressive since their first Matrix outing. Teaming up with Run Lola Run’s Tom Tykwer, the resulting effort is a grand sci-fi fable which interlinks six different stories taking place across half a millennium, with interweaving plots, common themes and characters made familiar through the utilisation of the same core set of a dozen actors across each of the tales. Daring and somewhat unprecedented in its approach to such an ambitious subject-matter, the film is certainly not without its flaws, but hopefully you’ll be able to get past them and see the merits behind this unusual sci-fi feature. Now let's see whether 2014's Jupiter Ascending will capitalise on the Wachowskis' comeback.
    Hanging in there...


    After his critically praised and commercially successful indie sci-fi drama, District 9, audiences were desperate to see what writer/director Neill Blomkamp would come up with next and were suitably rewarded by this Big Budget sci-fi action-thriller about a ravaged post-apocalyptic Earth where the rich live on a luxurious space station named Elysium. Whilst nowhere near as tense as Gravity, or as visually and conceptually ambitious as Oblivion, this body-mutilating sci-fi cousin still carved a gritty, bloody path into this Top 10.

    Pacific Rim

    Part Neon Genesis Evangelion, Part Crash and Burn, this was like Transformers vs Godzilla, only with a real director behind it. It was one of the biggest movies of the year in terms of epic scale and staging; pure spectacle - and it was one of the few movies that actually did what it said on the tin. With massive box office success, it looks like we'll be back for a sequel, although, personally, I'd have preferred a prequel exploring the ongoing wars rather than a follow-up. Either way, though, I can't wait for more.

    Iron Man III

    Although strangely divisive, many agreed that this was the best Iron Man yet, and perhaps even the first truly great threequel. And why? Two words: Shane Black. The writer/director behind Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, who also did the scripts for the likes of The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout and for the first two Lethal Weapon movies, delivered a tremendous back to basics Tony Stark character study, whilst also pulling out all the stops with the imperative to keep the momentum flowing after the monumental success of Avengers. The only superhero movie to make my Top 10, it was a great kick-start to Phase 2, and already made me mourn the end of standalone Iron Man movies. Perhaps Downey Jr. will change his mind...


    Cruise has delivered three in a row now - Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Jack Reacher and now this - and is set to continue his trend with next year's All You Need Is Kill (now renamed the painfully generic Edge of Tomorrow), 2015's Mission: Impossible 5, and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back likely the year after that. Teaming up with Tron:Legacy director Joseph Kosinski, the pair certainly pulled off an audio-visual masterpiece - probably one of the most visually impressive films of the year, even beating Gravity in that respect - but, between telegraphed twists which were long spoiled by the promotional campaign, and a few poor choices, the final impact is nowhere near as weighty as the material has the potential to deliver. Still, for concept and sheer visual opulence, it doesn't get much more impressive than Oblivion, and Cruise ensures the piece is never less than highly entertaining.
    Number One.


    My personal top film of the year is easily director Alfonso 'Children of Men' Cuaron's Gravity. A masterful exercise in pure suspense and relentless tension; and a powerful and blisteringly accurate disaster movie set in the dead of space - where not only can no one hear you scream, but they also can't hear the high-speed bullet-like impact of debris tearing through your ship and leaving you stranded in the great abyssal vacuum - it's still playing at the cinemas, over 6 weeks after release, so do yourself and favour and go and see it in 3D on the biggest screen you can find before the year's out.
    Looking to 2014...

    Nolan, Malick, Scorsese and the Wachowskis. Another fistful of potentially great sci-fi flicks, the usual slew of Superhero sequels, Jack Ryan and maybe finally a worthy Arnie flick. Oh and the usual "how come we're getting two of those" scenario with a couple of, probably both unnecessary, Hercules movies. In a few days we'll take a look at my Top Upcoming Movies of 2014. Stay tuned!

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