So here it is, my “best films of 2013”, of the films that have opened here in Australia during the past twelve months.
My very favourites:
These ten are the films that most captivated, entertained and moved me: my three criteria for “best”. I list them in alphabetical order, because they are so different that I simply cannot rank them.
Blue Jasmine is an unexpected addition to my “best” list. Not because I don’t like Woody Allen; I love his work. I just did not expect that he could do something this good. People rave over his recent Midnight in Paris, and yes I liked that, but it does not carry the power and the frame-by-frame intensity of emotion that Blue Jasmine has. Cate Blanchett’s performance will be listed as one of the greatest female roles of all time, but everyone on screen is more than special.
Elysium meets almost all of my requirements for a great science fiction film: pathos, drama, a unique world that I had never imagined and believable characters. It fell apart at the end (oh dear) and has a few “cul de sac” plotlines, but Matt Damon pulls off his character and the two worlds are extraordinarily well drawn.
Gravity is a great film and one of a rare breed: it could have actually run longer than its 91 minutes. I am still marveling at how it was produced. The feeling of being in space left me breathless and dizzy.
The Great Gatsby may not be a great film, but its exuberance, its flash and its energy won me over (I also liked the Sydney locations, standing in for New York City and Long Island!). It was also heaps better than the Robert Redford version. Baz Luhrmann never does anything “by halves” and this film glitters.
Life of Pi started life as an un-filmable book, so the achievement by director Ang Lee is even more impressive (what cannot Lee do?). If I had to choose one single best film that opened in Australia in 2013, it’s this one (note that it opened in North America in 2012).
Lincoln was too dark, too dreary and too talky, but Spielberg rarely misses and the performances by Daniel Day Lewis (as Lincoln) and Sally Field (as Mary Todd Lincoln) were fabulous. I also am a “sucker” for Civil War films and Washington political intrigues; this film has both. (Opened in North American in 2012.)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist only grossed just over $500,000 in North America, but it’s a superb and under-appreciated film, so much of our post-September 11th time. I adored the original book by Mohsin Hamid (2007), as one of the truly great novels of the last ten years.
Silver Linings Playbook also opened in North America in 2012, but the quality of the acting (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence – come to dinner any time!) kept me riveted.
World War Z surprised me. I am not into zombies, and it is patently a ridiculous premise. But the film-makers take their story very seriously, and it has some of the most powerful dramatic scenes of 2013, with a truly cinematic scope. Brad Pitt carries the lead role well.
Zero Dark Thirty probably ties for my true “best of 2013” – again, one of the true films of this moment. Muscular, spare, gripping, tight, exciting. I loved it.
My honourable mentions:
American Hustle has more meaning than first appears, and underplays the real history that it charts. Over-long and over-wrought, but a great slice of Americana, circa late 1970s. Best “comb-over” on screen. Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner and especially Jennifer Lawrence all shine.
Before Midnight is the third of the relationship films that began with Before Sunrise (1995) and continued with Before Sunset (2004). This Richard Linklater-Julie Delpy-Ethan Hawke collaboration is fabulous. Aside from the documentary “Seven-Up” series, I know of no film – and certainly no fictional film series – that has had foresight and maturity to use the same characters at nine year intervals in their lives.
The Butler never reaches the heights that it sets for itself, pulled down by its episodic nature and what appears to be sloppy direction, editing and writing. But the acting and power of the subject – the African-American experience over from the late 1940s through the Obama era, as seen through the perspective of African-American men working in the White House – carry this film above the pedestrian. Despite the faults, I enjoyed it thoroughly. (Perhaps it should have been a mini-series?)
Frances Ha had the chance of reaching my “year’s best”, but missed by a whisker – possibly because it is just a bit too “small”. I like Baumbach’s work and his Greta Gerwig collaborations are now becoming an important part of 21st century independent film-making.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (part 2 of the series) is predictable (no plot surprises here), but the dystopian settings (how many films this year fall into that category!?) and especially Jennifer Lawrence in the lead place this one near the top of true entertainment.
The Internship is, at its heart, such a warm-hearted film about such important themes – the changing nature of work in the digital age, and the role of middle-aged men – that I cannot pass it up. It is surprisingly well-realised, despite a number of predictable scenes (face it, the film aims low, but still reaches surprising ly high).
Man of Steel may seem an odd choice for best of the year, and I did not expect that this new take on Superman would be so good. But it is. The most touching moments come from Superman’s two fathers: his birth father (played by Russell Crowe) and his earth adopted father (played by Kevin Costner). Read my review here.
Oblivion is a true “almost great” film. The cinematography is breathtaking and the set-up is excellent. Tom Cruise does a creditable job and Andrea Riseborough, playing his partner, is superb. Pulled down by some mundane plot points, but a cinema experience unlike few others in the last twelve months.
White House Down was an unexpected and true guilty pleasure. Oh sure, I thought, yet another film about terrorists in the White House. Blah blah blah. But this one transcends its subject and becomes a nail-biting, patriotic thriller with Channing Tatum remarkably effective. Totally unbelievable from start to finish, but it touches all of the emotional buttons. I am glad that I viewed it in a cinema for the full-screen experience.
Films that have not yet opened in Australia
Sadly, my “Best of 2013” does not correspond to many American “best lists”, because the following films have not yet opened here in Sydney. All of them are potential candidates for my best list, but will wait until I see them over the coming few months before I comment.
– The Wolf of Wall Street
– Saving Mr Banks
– Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
– Inside Llewyn Davis
– 12 Years a Slave
– All is Lost
– Dallas Buyers Club