The Last Word on 2013
And we’re back! New site, new look, new “the” before the rest of it. New Year. So what better time is there to look back at the last one. So, like just about everybody else on the planet, lastword presents its Top 10 Movies of 2013!
In time honoured reverse order…
10: The Stone Roses: Made of Stone/Springsteen & I
OK, so right from the off we lied – it’s not 10, it’s 11. But hold on – we’re justified here, because in many ways these two finest music docs of the year are the same film. Although ostensibly focused on the Roses’ reunion and the Boss’ ongoing genius, both movies (one from Shane Meadows, one crowd-sourced) really tell the story of the people who love these people, they’re about the fans even more than they are about the acts. In Meadows’ film, it’s a twenty minute black and white sequence in the middle where the Roses stage an unannounced warm up gig and the filmmaker spends time with the people who rush out, abandon their jobs, raid their CD collections and old T-shirt drawers for the memorabilia that will hopefully secure them a ticket, then queue up and talk to the camera about what it really means to be a music fan, what it means in their lives both then and now and how it endures when so much else doesn’t.
In the case of the Springsteen, it’s a series of recollections from a wide variety of people of all ages, all struggling to – and succeeding in - articulating how something apparently as flimsy as pop music can define their lives.
In both cases, what these films capture is not the music (although both contains acres of epic live footage) or even the respective performers - it doesn’t have to be Bruce, it doesn’t have to be Ian and co – it could be anyone or anything. This is what it’s about to be a fan of something, to have that peculiar love that you feel is unique to you, and the desire to express that to others and find the same in return. Even if you hate both acts here - it doesn’t matter. If you have ever had that “thing” that was yours, you’ll relate to these people opening their hearts here. It’s fun, funny, at times even deeply moving in a way that you might at first find silly. Until you place yourself in your version of that place.
Watch them as a double bill and remember what it is like to be or have ever been a fan. These movies are almost ridiculously beautiful.
9: The World’s End
What a good year it was for the threequel. First, Before Midnight delivered the perfect movie trilogy, then Pegg, Frost and Wright finished off the Three Flavours Cornetto saga with a wonderful, hilarious, thoughtful, poignant and bloody funny bang. (“What the fuck does WTF mean?” – loved it.)
There was so much to love in the Wright-Pegg-Frost culmination of their ongoing examination of the nature of male love in modern British society (yes it is, don’t mock!) Where to begin? You could say that the moment Nick Frost finally kicks off is a thing of sheer beauty. You could say that the bar brawl that followed is one of the best, most exquisitely choreographed in cinema history. You could say that Wright’s direction matures with every movie he makes, here keeping his familiar fast-cutting tropes to a minimum but maximum effect. You could say that Pegg’s least likable character is the best performance he’s ever given. You could say the eventual appearance of the Cornetto (you have to wait for it) is brilliantly perfect. You could even say that it’s ultimately both a poignant, bordering on tragic look at the dissatisfaction and difficulty of leaving childhood behind at any age, AND a fantastic declaration to fight for your right to be a fuck-up.
Oh hell – you can say all of these things – because they’re all true! This is as good as it gets – very peculiarly British filmmaking that is universal. And world(s)-beating.
The most human end to the most humane of movie trilogies.
In which we said hello to Steve Coogan – award winning drama screenwriter and bloody good straight actor. A-ha indeed!
Coogan (and co-writer Jeff Pope) bought the rights to former ITN journo Martin Sixsmith’s true life account of Philomena Lee, an elderly Irish woman who, fifty years previous, had given birth to a child out of wedlock, was subsequently shamed and sent to work for the local nuns, who sold her child to an American couple without her consent – very much the done thing in the day. Fifty years on and Philomena decides she wants to know what happened to her son, enlisting the prickly Sixsmith (human interest stories are not really his thing) to help in her journey. Having essayed the screenplay, Coogan wisely sought out Judi Dench and director Stephen Frears to assist him – and boy, what a movie they delivered between them.
Deeply moving, both thought and anger provoking (the line “Fucking Catholics” brought a spontaneous round of applause from the audience we saw it with) and above all, sincerely human, Philomena was a total delight, and a likely awards certainty. More than anything – and this should come as no surprise given Coogan’s multi-faceted involvement – the film manages to find the perfect balance in its humour. It was more than confident in its own ability to make you shed genuine heart felt tears one moment and laugh out loud the next, Frears as ever expertly balancing the whole.
And as for Coogan? He’s shown considerable range as an actor before (never more so than in The Trip.) But here he elevates his work, knowing naturally how to play the laughs but also producing a fully rounded character. Here, he steps up to another realm. Good on him.
7: Pacific Rim
Admittedly, we were doubtful at first. We complained there were too many trailers. We moaned that it looked like Transformers 4. Bang to rights – we was wrong! Guillermo’s biggest movie to date proved to be the blockbuster to beat last summer – and nobody even came close. It was giant robots versus Lovecraft-inspired monsters and it was fun, fun, fun (and thankfully they kept huge swathes of it out of all those trailers.)
What really worked about del Toro’s movie is how he chose to play the whole thing like an old World War II adventure flick. So Idris Elba is the veteran old wounded RAF commander, whose every word borders on cliché, (but in a good way.) Charlie Hunnam and that bloke from Eastenders are the cocky young pilots battling the Kaiju, who may as well be inter-dimensional Nazis, with hammerheads full of teeth, and claws that live to rip metal.
There’s a great sense of scale here, not just in the way the director frames his metallic heroes and monstrous villains, but in the way he plays up the end of the world stakes, making it close in tone in many ways to Independence Day.
But there’s also plenty of time for characters to register with the audience and even some humour in the mad scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman. And epitomised by del Toro’s factotum Ron Perlman, in scene stealing shoes.
There were men of Steel, and indeed Iron, to take on last year, but this was a blockbuster that started big, got bigger and better and then busted the crap out of the block. Result.
6: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Ben Stiller came of age as a director with his take on Thurber’s oh so short short story, focusing not only on a man who spends his life becoming lost in his own daydreams, but finds the means within himself to make those dreams real. A reality meets fantasy movie that was a sheer delight, ambitious in its desire, beautifully realised and fuelled by a lyrical visual style and the music of Bowie and Arcade Fire amongst others. Oh yeah, and it was funny to boot.
This was a film of rich pleasures and great moments, by a filmmaker who has just taken a step up. Soulfully resonant in all kinds of ways, this is the winner that Mitty himself aspires to be.
5: Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers’ latest found them in low key territory in what is both an involving character study and a homage to the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s. Titular Llewyn is a solo folk singer, once part of a duo, now drifting from occasional gig to gig and the couches of various friends, supporters or even new acquaintances – a man who proves himself adept at delivering traditional songs and alienating all those around him. At times paired with a ginger tomcat, he moves through the increasingly chilly winds of both the village and the scene, soon to be usurped by Bob Dylan in more ways than one.
The brothers beautifully captured the look and feel of the time, forever throwing up images that can’t help but allude to the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album, gorgeously shot in muted, wintry tones. As ever their mordant witty script brings the best out of a typically stand out cast, with all their minor characters fully realised and engaging. Oscar Isaac especially is impressive as Davis, singing and performing compellingly, whilst very subtly coming undone and becoming uncaring as his journey batters him into submission just enough to register.
The behind the scenes presence of T-Bone Burnett ensured that the always thematically important soundtrack was a delight, Timberlake and co on Please Mr Kennedy being one standout amongst many (see below.)
This may have been the Coens playing in a minor key, but, as ever playing with great aplomb, and better than just about anyone else in the room - the Dylan to everyone else’s Van Ronk.
4: The Wolf of Wall Street
At the ripe old age of 71, Martin Scorsese delivered one of the most accomplished, vibrant films of his esteemed career, a gloriously debauched comedy that revelled in sex, drugs and money rolls. Call it GoodBankers, at just one minute shy of three hours, and awash with characters that were for the most part, fairly repellent, it never outstayed its welcome or found time to pause. It was the director back in his coke-movie heyday, aided and abetted by a never better DiCaprio, a huge sense of fun, a gaudy love of excess, a penchant for dwarf-tossing, and – in one ridiculously good scene – a fistful of ‘ludes.
Wolf was a film of huge appetites – both in terms of its characters and in terms of Scorsese’s artistic ambitions. The most in your face, out of its head, beautifully warped and screamingly well realised film of 2013.
Gravity was, very simply, amazing. A truly original piece of filmmaking that was for once worthy of being described as like nothing you’ve ever seen. The fact that it didn’t come complete with the legend “Filmed on location in space” is just one of its manifold surprises. An extremely taut 90 minutes (Yes! Return of the short movie!!) that was a deeply immersive piece of breath-taking filmmaking.
Cuaron seriously pushed the boundaries of the FX movie, incorporating his fondness for extremely long takes, the camera gliding through space, moving from glorious beautiful long shots to tight close ups, seamlessly moving inside the helmets of the astronauts to provide POV shots, pulling back to the vastness of space – all without a single edit. Brilliantly technical stuff that never once detracted from or overshadowed the inherent drama of the piece.
As Bullock fights to survive and return to earth, Cuaron’s film moves from action to existentialism to provocative musings on the meaning of life and the nature of faith.
Believe the hype – this is an unparalleled piece of work, with Bullock actually giving Cate Blanchett some serious competition in the race for all of this year’s Best Actress statuettes.
2: Before Midnight
Along with Toy Story and Back to the Future, Richard Linklater’s Before…series is simply one of the greatest movie trilogies ever made (no Ewoks, no aging Pacino, not emo-Spidey). Not to say it has to be content with staying a trilogy – this ongoing voyage through the lives of American abroad Jessie and his French muse Celine could carry on for the rest of their lives, punctuated by the suitable gaps this threesome of pics have so far demonstrated. Like 7 Up, only with charismatic actors and beautifully scripted observations on the nature of love and the meanings and meanderings of life.
This time round saw them no longer drifting into each other’s lives but together, with kids, yet still talking their way through Linklater’s brilliantly sustained long takes, be it in the car driving home with their twins girls asleep in the back, wandering at twilight through a local Greek town, or exposing their relationship angst and, in Delpy’s case, her boobs, in a supposed romantic hotel stay.
Everything about this series – essentially two wanderers talking for 90 minutes at a time – lends itself to pretension. The fact that it remains constantly engaging, brilliantly humorous, always engrossing and deeply moving is a testament to the work of the director and his two stars. Career bests for all three of ‘em and the best in the trilogy. Audience have grown up with these people, and there’s no reason to stop now. Let’s watch these guys till them or us are dead!
...and - drum roll please...the best film of 2013 is...
Spike Jonze shows us the now and the future, where we are now and what we may become, a world in which alienation may be the new norm and reaching out to another person may well be easier to do with a machine. And yes, this low-key science fiction parable was the loveliest love story of the year. It even had a sex scene between the lonely guy and his operating system love that was so sweet, the director even turned out the lights for us.
Funny, heartfelt, deeply moving and, given its subject matter, remarkably human and dependent on two outstanding performances that never failed to deliver, even if Johansson was only ever there in voice only, as the OS, conveying an entire life’s journey in the course of a film, even encompassing evolution, and leading to an inevitable, but quietly devastating conclusion.
This is Jonze’s fourth film but, tellingly, his first as writer and not only does he deliver his most personal work, but the best film of the year. This is the future and it’s a very, very sad, very, very beautiful movie.
So that’s our Top 10 – honourable mentions should also go to Captain Phillips, 12 Years A Slave, Blue Jasmine, Saving Mr Banks and several others we’ve forgotten to remember.
What were your favourites? Comment and share…
But first – from one of the year’s best films, one of the film’s best songs -