Wednesday, 1 January 2014

My 2013 in Films

I haven't seen Sharknado, Despicable Me 2 or Prisoners, I want to, but you know what I mean.

I am not really a person that makes a top of the pops type of lists, nor am I a person who does New Year’s resolution, but if I were to have one it’ll be to write more, so I decided to start with a top-of-the-pop-list of my 2013 films highlights. Well, not exactly a list, more like an overview of my impressions of the 2013 cinematic crops. My disappointments my loves, some surprises and also films I should have seen a long time ago, but only saw them last year for the first time. They are divided to categories, but are not in any order of levels of loves, or hate. For the films I wrote a more in depth review in this blog, there will be a link in their title.

First my disappointments of the year. I thought I'll get rid of these first and leave the best for last: 

A Good Day to Die Hard 
Why Bruce Willis Why??? I love the Die Hard franchise, well, most of the Die Hard franchise. I got so excited in anticipation to see Bruce Willis kick some ass old school style, that I got me a ticket to a Die Hard marathon at the IMAX. Hyped from all the testosterone fun, I shelled off a few more quids to see the first midnight screening of what I hoped would be a climax to that awesome action series. Ay, I wish I never did.
Bruce Willis barely even phoned it in and I can barely even remember what happen in this film to make any comment about the script. There was a very long car chase, which had potential, but was rubbish. This is probably the biggest disappointment of the year. Shame on you Bruce Willis and John Moore, I hope you are facing the wall, thinking hard about what you’ve done!

Hitchcock (released in February 2013 in the UK)
It is a bold decision to take on this film genus and could potentially be an interesting one, if it would have offered any new exciting insight or an in depth look into the man and his work. Alas, John J. McLaughlin is far from being bold and the film is reduced to a boring melodrama with good actors who are wasted, which is slightly better than the TV movie The Girl, a Sun like scandalous gossip film about Hitch. Can you call it a disappointment if you expected it to be rubbish? To make a good film about Hitchcock would require another Hitchcock, or a Martin Scorsese. 

Cloud Atlas (released February 2013 in the UK)
Here’s a shocking confession that might get me in trouble, I was never a big fan of The Matrix. The brilliant effect covered a very superficial approach to well-known philosophical ideas, also presented more intelligently in Total Recall and partly in the more recent and brilliant Inception. Maybe it's all the hype around the film and maybe is my general disinterest with Keanu Reeves, but I wasn’t that impressed with the first film and I never bothered with the others, from what I heard I made the right choice. Run Lola Run was a gimmick, a nice one, but still a gimmick and as such it lost its charm and value quite quickly. With Cloud Atlas, once again, our cheerful Matrix pair are delving into the highbrow philosophical ideas and indeed the film is quite ambitious. But in the end the result is a pompous and simplistic and mostly tiresome film. 

The Wicker Man – Final Cut (contain spoilers!)
I was so looking forward to watching this film, which alluded me for many years. Not only do I love horror, but the thought of a young Christopher Lee was just as exciting. Alas much like Nick Clegg’s promises, The Wicker Man’s were empty and remained unfulfilled. Granted, Lee’s charisma, unlike Clegg’s, is always a pleasure to watch, and the film tries very hard to be eerie and maybe it was in its time, but now, what is left is a lot of naked women dancing, because this is what 60s pagans did and that's what "love, peace and happiness" means. Tut tut! At least in Hairthe men got naked too, in the name of love peace and happiness!
While I didn’t particularly like Edward Woodward’s character, Sargent Howie, I felt that burning him alive was a bit harsh. In fact, I didn’t really care for anyone or about anything that happened and therefore not only was the film not scary at al, but also it was mostly boring. Unlike the fantastic Count Dracula, Christopher Lee’s film from a few years before, which I have seen for the first time this year, The Wicker Man, final cut or not, doesn’t stand the test of time I’m afraid. Not even sure I would have cared for it in its day. 

The next few years, in which Jodie Foster’s career would hopefully end, would be enough of a statement regarding her… well some people might call it acting but I don't, in this film. But perhaps the real tragedy of this film is that it could have actually been a really good one. There are some good suspenseful moments and what could have been some interesting ideas, but all was lost in a downpour of clichés, awful camera work and, well, Jodie Foster. And I liked District 9 so much! What happened Neil Blomkamp? 

The Fifth Estate 
Another much awaited film, for me at least. I knew very little if anything about Julian Assange or the WikiLeaks and if nothing else at least I now know, more or less, what was it all about. Like many of the films in this part of the overview, this is a film with much promise, interesting subject and fantastic cast and yet somehow at the hands of Bill Condon, whose Dreamgirls I absolutely adore, The Fifth Estate ended up being a dull film. I kept hoping Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl would kiss, it definitely would have helped the film. 

The Counsellor 
No doubt the separation from Russell Crowe and quite possibly the collaboration with Cormac McCarthy has done good things to Ridley Scott, who ever since Gladiator and his inexplicable affair with Russell Crowe hasn’t been a filmmaker that interested me. Indeed The Counsellor is an improvement to Scott’s recent repertoire, but in the end it is not a great film. There are some funny moments, mainly thanks to the wonderful Javier Bardem and some random unclear nods to Breaking Bad (why?), but on the whole the film is all over the place, heavy on the dialogue, which I wouldn’t have minded if it was written by Woody Allen, Quintin Tarantino or Kevin Smith, but as it were the dialogue was tiresome and meaningless. Finally, I just didn’t get what the film was about and that is why this film finds itself in the disappointing part. 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 
Not quite as big a disappointment as A Good Day to Die Hard was, but still I had such expectation after the first film, which wasn't bad, just needed a bit more edge. Sadly, Catching Fire is not but a repeat of the first film with even slightly less edge than the first. I still have a complete girl crush on Jennifer Lawrence, our love will last forever I'm sure, which is why I really wanted to love this film, but I didn't. 

Side Effects 
My relationship with Steven Soderbergh is a weird one. None of his films ever made a deep impact or impression over me. While I like some of the Ocean films, they were never more than a nice to look at and admire the craftiness. I disliked Traffic and Solaris felt to me as pompous as Soderbergh himself came across in a Q&A event he did a long time ago. This year has been an interesting one when it comes to Soderbergh. On the one hand here is Side Effects, such a disappointing and forgettable film I’d rather use this occasion to speak about Soderbergh than this film of his. But on the other hand there was Behind the Candelabra, which was so surprisingly wonderful it made its way to the other part of my films of the year overview.

Before I move on to my favourite films of the year I’d like to take a moment to write a few words about Star Trek Into Darkness, which I feel I can’t put in either section of my overview or put it in both. I shall explain. My initial reaction after watching it was that it was great, not necessarily a great Star Trek film, but a good film nonetheless. 

It is clear, from the first Star Trek film he did, that J.J. Abrams not only is not a fan, but just doesn’t get the series and what’s good about it, and I broke my brain several times trying to justify the existence of an old version of Spock in Abrams alternative universe and eventually decided to let it go, despite my problem with its plausibility and the fact that the old Spock has now become a lazy narrative tool. It is a shame that he got to do it and instead of a Star Trek film we got what I think is a preview to his upcoming Star Wars franchise. It is hard for me to believe that Abrams actually watched the series, I get the feeling he watched a film or two and took it from there and that is a pity. However, that said and ignoring the Star Trek name that is attached to those film, I find myself enjoying them quite a bit. I think what Abrams did manage to get is the moral problems that Kahn poses. Both films lose points for putting Spock in a relationship, making McCoy nothing but a one liners, poor imitation of DeForest Kelley, Into Darkness for missing the whole point of the KAAAAAAAAAAHN moment and therefore reducing it to a joke in a place where there isn’t supposed to be one, and completely ignoring the McCoy, Kirk, Spock trio relationship. And yet, as just films they are fun to watch and Into Darkness has some excellent action, particularly the fight between Spock and Kahn. I wrote a little something something about Star Trek: Into Darkness here.

And now for the favourites, the pleasant surprises and the little cinematic treasures of 2013, because I much rather write about them.

Jack Reacher 
True it was released at the end of 2012, but I only saw it in 2013 and I was very pleasantly surprised. Good old school action and Tom Cruise is excellent as a rough rogue fighter of justice. Maybe when he’s had enough Mission Impossible, Tom Cruise will make Jack Reacher into a series of films, it has excellent potential and could even compliment the Mission Impossible ones I think.

Django Unchained (released in the UK, January 2013)
The minute the credits ended I wanted to watch the film again straight away. Thrilling, exciting, an excellent western and definitely my favourite Tarantino to date. His skilful revenge story storytelling, extravagant gore and cruelty and the superb dramatic tension are at their best in Django Unchained. The simplicity yet originality of the idea makes this film wonderfully crude and delicate at the same time.

Lincoln (released in the UK, January 2013)
Very much complimenting Django Unchained and yet quite different. Not and afternoon special about racism as one might expect from Steven Spielberg, one who knows nothing about Spielberg might I add, but rather a delicate story about the man and the politic he was making. Daniel Day-Lewis is one of those rare actor who transforms into the character he plays and you almost forget it is Daniel Day-Lewis (I actually had to remember) because he is so much and in every way for the duration of the film Abraham Lincoln. One of the many talents of Mr. Spielberg, which is perfectly demonstrated here, is his ability to make dialogue, of which there is a lot in this film, beautifully cinematic. Another one is his magnificent ability to turn a historical congress vote, the result of which is well-known, into a thrilling suspenseful drama.  Phewa! 

Les Miserables (like many of the Oscar films this too was released in the UK, January 2013)
I have never seen it on stage or read the book, yet I already knew a lot of the songs from it, before I went to see the film, and I absolutely love them. Finally Hugh Jackman gets to showcase his singing ability on the big screen and the Les Misarbles songs are not easy to sing, believe me I tried, and Jackman is fantastic. The film is so wonderfully sweeping that I could almost forgive Russell Crowe for ruining one of the best songs and not really conveying the drama and tragedy of Javert. Personally, Eddie Redmayne’s Empty Chairs didn’t quite have the effect that John Barrowman or Michael Ball has, but by the time we reached the reprise of Do You Hear The People Sing, I was completely under the film’s spell, tears in my eyes and everything was forgiven and forgotten. The magnificent Anne Hathaway delivered a heartbreaking performance and Samantha Barks as Éponine and Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, were a revelation. But the film won me over by giving a sense of a theatrical show and a dreamlike performance. Incredible! 

This is 40 
Judd Apatow is the man who put romantic comedies back on the map and gave them the respect they deserve. It is hard to do the kind of comedies Apatow makes and keep them fresh, fun and most importantly really funny and without being dumb or making the viewer feel dumb as so many do.  This is 40 is one such lovely film that had me crying with laughter. 

Now there’s a film that took me by surprise. Despite ripping off several films, it was a very enjoyable. The music is fantastic and say what you will about Tom Cruise, I may question his mental health myself, but he is a fantastic actor and managed to bring excellent acting subtleties even in this random action film. 

Iron Man 3 
Little did I know, when having a drink with Shane Black at the after party for his lovely film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at the London Film Festival, that he would go ahead and make the best Iron Man film. Flavoured with a bit of MacGyver and a dash of James Bond, Shane Black brings us an exhilarating fun and an excellent film! To all those who complained that there is not enough Iron Man in it, well, tough, it’s still better than the previous ones! 

Behind the Candelabra 
Now there's another surprise. Apart from an annoying camera work and the occasional clunky dialogue, which feels like forced information drips, Behind The Candelabra is a wonderful film, in fact I'll go ahead and say it is my favourite Soderbergh film. Both Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are on top form and some fun cast appearances planted throughout. The fantastic 70s look of the film seems to suit Soderbergh more than anything he has done so far and I fell in love with Liberace and the film. 

Pacific Rim 
As always Guillermo Del Torro’s visuality is sublime. The fights, both CGI and real ones are beautiful and thrilling. It is as if the whole film has a flowing choreography which leads the film in a smooth pace forward. There’s a wonderful mash of Transformers, Iron Man and Jurassic Park, in Pacific Rim, but it’s like none of those films. It was a particular joy for me to see the excellent Burn Gorman, untypically cast and showing off his talent. True the dialogue is a little bit cheesy at times, but Guillermo Del Torro orchestrating giant robots fighting giant aliens? What’s not to love? 

The World’s End 
The thing about the Corneto trilogy is that one can actually imagine Edgar Wright, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg just having the time of their lives and The World’s End is not different. It is funny and fun, the music is good, the dialogue is wittiest in the three (“Let’s booboo” "Oh fuck off you big lamp!" and my personal favourite, “smashy smashy egg men”) and as with all the Cornetos it is also tender and poignant. 

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa 
And the winner of best comedy of the year is Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. Step aside This is 40 and I'm sorry The World's End, but no one make me laugh and pulls on my heart string quite as much as the pathetic lovable Alan Partridge. I always thought that Steve Coogan is the alter ego of Alan Partridge. With all its pathetic-ness and cringiness, long before David Brent from The Office might I add, Alan Partridge was always more comfortable with himself than Steve Coogan, very relaxed and never realising his own sadness. That makes him kinda sexy in my eyes, which is why I'm the only person I know who finds Alan Partridge every bit as hot as Steve Coogan. It is often worrying when a successful TV show is made into a film, particularly so when it’s a comedy. I cannot remember that any television comedy has been successfully turned into a film, but Steve Coogan succeeded and Alan Partridge is funnier than ever, more youthful and full of life. A real joy to watch even if you haven't seen anything from him. 

The Way Way Back 
The fantastically talented Nat Faxon and Jim Rash who won an Oscar for The Descendants, are back with another lovely and sensitive comedy drama that tenders the heart. Sam Rockwell is always delightful and oh so lovable, wouldn’t you want to live in and manage the best water park ever? Sadly I think the film went slightly under the radar in the UK and perhaps didn't even open worldwide, I hope I’m wrong, because it’s a beautiful little film that people should see. 

Ron Howard is a bit of a cinematic odd ball to me and I never know if his next film is going to be an amazing one like Frost/Nixon or a horrible film based on a horrible book by Dan Brown. It was a relief that Rush is more like the kind of film I would love to see Howard make all the time. Two big, strong and fascinating male personalities in a brilliant battle. Such was Frost/Nixon and such is Rush. Hemsworth, whose body in Rush is much more to my liking than the pumped body he needs to have to play Thor, and Brül ooze charisma tear the screen with fantastic acting and for 123 minutes car racings and those two champions were the most exciting thing in the world, that is one of Ron Howard’s unique talents. 

Blue Jasmie 
Woody Allen’s version of A Streetcar Named Desire would hopefully bring the superb Cate Blanchett a well-deserved Oscar. Me, I love Woody Allen, even at times when everyone else seems to hate him. He is inspiring and brilliant and I will even watch a bad film of his over other films. But if you are not like me you would probably say that with Blue Jasmine Allen is back on top form. Indeed Blue Jasmine is a brilliant tragic comedy that would break your heart. 

Don Jon 
My love for Joseph Gordon-Levitt knows no limits and there is very little that he can do wrong in my eyes. His initiative, hitRECord is owe inspiring and freaking amazing. The man’s talents and love of films are endless. His directorial debut is with a delightful romantic comedy with porn! 

Saving Mr Banks 
The story of the process in which Walt Disney finally managed to buy the rights for Mary Poppins from writer P.L Trevers, becomes a beautiful Disney story, full of heart and Disney magic. Emma Thompson shines, as always, as the difficult Trevers and Tom Hanks is right at home with the character of Walt Disney, the kind of characters he is so good at and should play more often. A little tip for when you watch it, cause you should – stay for all of the end credits, because throughout there is a recording of the real P.L Trevers, who insisted of recording all her meetings with the Disney people, and it’s well worth listening to. 

Philomena is not a ground-breaking cinematic achievement, it can be watched on telly and the story has probably been told before in one way or another, and yet it is a marvellous little film worth watching if only for the pleasure of spending 98 minutes in the company of these two extraordinary characters played by extraordinary actors. 

Thor: The Dark World 
Unlike the rest of the internet, Tom Hiddleston doesn’t really do it for me. I think he’s a good actor, but so is Chris Hemsworth, and really Christopher Eccleston puts them both in his little pocket with one look. I just don’t really go gaga over Hiddleston, I apologise in advance. Worried that the Hiddles obsession would turn Thor into a Loki fest, I was somewhat reluctant to see it. Imagine my delight to discover a great, fun film with many a funny moments, excellent Hemsworth fighting, really why is he not doing more film where he does a lot of fighting? And a good story! It’s a real shame that Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, is such a boring character that is redundant and flat, but at least Frigga’s awesomeness restore some gender balance to the Thor universe. Finally a tip: there are TWO clips at the end of Thor:The Dark World, one through the end credits and one at the very end of them, worth the stay. 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 
When I heard this was also a Danny Kaye film first I was worried, after all Ben Stiller is nowhere near Kaye’s league or talent. However, Stiller has proved me wrong. His Walter Mitty is beautiful, gentle and he manages to carry the film on his own not only without his regular entourage, usually made out of more talented actors, but also without reverting to his annoying facial gestures. Stiller is honest, poised and better than he ever was in any film. The film is visually stunning and full of heart, love and LIFE. 

If I must choose one film of 2013 of course it'll have to be Gravity. This beautiful cinematic poetry that is breathtakingly thrilling is the film of the year because of its cinematic value. Many have discussed the motherhood and rebirth existentialist metaphor, and yes it is existentialist, yes the motherhood and rebirth are issues that the film approaches, but above all, Gravity is a pure cinematic experience like no other. It is one of the only two films that merits a 3D viewing and that is because creator Alfonso Cuarón, like Martin Scorsese before him in his brilliant Hugo, took the time to learn and understand 3D. Cuarón’s 3D man is THE world expert in 3D filming and he and Cuarón seem to understand the value of slow camera movements and fast action, which solves the strobbing issue without the 48 frames per second nonsense that requires special screenings! But first and foremost, Gravity is unique and can only be experienced in full at the cinema, not that it loses its value outside it, but the cinema is in its heart.

I will also only  mention these last few films, because really I must stop writing this blog at some point: The Great Gatsby, which I liked very much, but quite possibly it is because I didn’t read the book. Enough Said small and lovely, not that important, but like Philomena is worth it for the company of the lovely James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dryfus. Finally Nebraska, not the best Alexander Payne, but quite lovely.

"Now for something completely different..." Sorry I couldn't resist. Here are films I've been meaning to see for a while and only got round to seeing them in 2013 and one rewatch, though I had many rewatches, this is the one I chose to comment on. Because they are older I shall try and stick to one word review. 

Limitless – It’s ok, good ending, but not as exciting as people made me believe.
Tangled – Nice, not my favourite from Disney.
Mildred Pierce – Excellent film! Surprisingly daunting. 
Tomorrow Never Dies, GoldenEye and The World is Not Enough – as part of my James Bond project. GoldenEye is the better of the films, but Pierce Brosnan is not my James Bond I’m afraid. 
This Means War – Rubbish! 
Warior – Superb! Better than Rocky! Yes I went there! 
The Incredible - Decided to rewatch after I realised many people liked it a lot more than I did the first time I watched. I liked it a little better this time, it’s definitely an excellent and original idea, but the main problem is that that I liked the villain, Syndrome, more than the heroes and in fact, I think he made a valid point! 
Insomnia – Not the best Christopher Nolan films, but still, it’s Nolan. 
Bronson – Tom Hardy is superb and probably worth the otherwise meh film. 
Lawless – I liked it. 
Forbidden Planet – Can’t believe I haven’t seen this one before! Brilliant! 
A Matter of Life and Death – “But my dear boy, war starts at midnight!” it is shameful I haven’t seen it before. Superb! My favourite from the amazing pair Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. 
The Servant – the last act in the film is a bit of its time and doesn’t really manage to move beyond it, also the women folk are badly portrayed in this film, but still a good film and Dirk Bogarde  and James Fox are fantastic to watch! 
Sucker Punch – Awful! Can’t believe it’s from the same man who made Sin City and Man of Steel! 
Seven Psychopaths – Overrated! Rubbish! 
Hot Tub Time Machine – Rubbish! 
Machete – Fantastic! Must watch Machete Kills. 
Dances with Wolves – Meh. 
Zack and Miri Make a Porno – Superb! 
Invasion of the Body SnatchersWicker Man, for your attention please, how to make films that do stand the test of time! 
Mulholland Drive – It's good, I miss David Lynch films. 
From Here to Eternity – How have I not seen this film before??? Wow! 
The Sapphires – Fantabulous! 
Scarecrow – Wonderful! (I’m running out of adjectives) 
Galaxy Quest – Shame on me for only seeing it this year. Brilliant! 
Mystery Man – So much fun that even Ben Stiller didn’t ruin it. 
Once Upon A Time in America – Beautiful! 
Local Hero – Just lovely! 

Here is to a year of wonderful films, glorious 2D, more IMAX and people, audiences and cinema staff respecting films and each other, helping to prevent ruining everyone experience by not talking or playing with their phone while you're watching a film. 

Happy New Year full of films!  




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