Honorable Mentions: The Purge, Riddick, Thor: The Dark World, The Last Stand, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Evil Dead
This big budget sci-fi action flick starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman was way better than I thought it would be. Cruise gives one of his best performances as a man who, after a devastating war with aliens that essentially destroys the planet, hangs around Earth repairing special drones that guard the power sources of the new Earth (it's all very complicated). It starts out as a kind of quiet movie, and as it progresses and we, just like Cruise's character, find out what's really going on, the movie becomes more viscerally exciting. I have a feeling that this movie, which did make a little money at the box office, will become a modern classic soon enough as more people discover it on home video and on TV. It will eventually be considered a Tom Cruise classic.
4. Escape Plan
This action team up flick is probably about two decades too late, but the fact that stars Sylvester Stallone and Ahnold Schwarzenegger are older doesn't stop Escape Plan from being a solid, wildly entertaining piece of B-movie cinema. Stallone is excellent as the professional prison escape artist who ends up trapped in a super secret supermax prison run by Jim Caviezel, and Ahnold gives the acting performance of his career as a fellow super max prisoner who befriends Stallone's character and is not all that he appears to be. The great Sam Neill also shows up, and Vinnie Jones gets to kick some ass and be an asshole. The movie died a quiet death at the North American box office, but I do believe it made a little money overseas, so that's always a good sign. I'm also confident that the movie will eventually find its audience on home video. It's too good to be ignored.
3. Olympus Has Fallen
This throwback action flick directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Gerard Butler was a surprise hit at the box office, making a nice chunk of change for the fine folks at Millennium Films. While it does resemble Die Hard in that a major hostage situation takes up a majority of the movie's running time, I don't see how that's a bad thing. The attack on the White House is shockingly brutal, and Butler shows throughout the flick's running time that he could have made a nice living in the 1980's working for Cannon Films. Morgan Freeman kicks ass again in a supporting role, and Aaron Eckhart is one of the better movie Presidents in recent memory. The opening car crash scene where Eckhart loses his wife played Ashley Judd is incredibly sad. And kudos to the great Rick Yune for being a proper movie villain. I can't wait to not only see this movie again, but I'm also anxious to see if the proposed sequel set in London ever gets off the ground.
2. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 is one of the biggest box office hits of all time. It made oodles of money across the globe and ended up making everyone hungry for another Iron Man adventure, not to mention another Avengers flick (I thought it was neat how people thought Iron Man 3was a sequel to The Avengers). Writer-director Shane Black proved that he could direct a big budget, special effects heavy movie, and Robert Downey, Jr. once again rocked the world as the mega rich, bad boy inventor Tony Stark. I know I'm not supposed to like it, but I thought Iron Man 3 was a blast. Bring on the next one!
1. Pacific Rim
Director Guillermo del Toro knocked it out of the park with his giant robots fighting monsters flick Pacific Rim, one of the few clean slate summer movies that appeared on movie screens in 2013 (it wasn't based on some other property, like a comic book or a video game or something like that. It was an original idea). The American movie going public was somewhat indifferent to the movie, but it did do well enough overseas to warrant talk of a sequel. Charlie Hunnam does a great job as the flick's hero Raleigh Becket, but Idris Elba is the one to watch. He's so damn good in this movie he deserves a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for it. If you haven't seen this movie yet, good God find a way to see it as soon as possible. It's on DVD. You won't be disappointed.
5. American Hustle
Once more, David O. Russell works wonders with a story that goes into the world of complicated people. Christian Bale (managing the feat of charming even with 40 extra pounds and a comb-over) and Amy Adams are sensational as a pair of '70's swindlers pulled into a plot by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) who we soon realize is mentally unhinged to take down a mayor (Jeremy Renner) who's trying to help his city out and ironically is more moral than any of them. You realize these people can't turn off being scam artists, unable to tell if they're honest or working each other and the story unfolds well. Jennifer Lawrence takes what could have been a caricature of a crazy wife and imbues her with some actual depth to make it funnier. All together, it's one of the best dramas of the year from a man who's proven himself a modern American master and a cast that makes you happy to be a movie-goer.
This is what IMAX was created for. A simple premise of an astronaut stranded in space due to a meteor storm, it rose to the status of art with Alfonso Cuaron's direction truly making you feel like you were right in the moment, floating in space, feeling the shots of storms, debris and fire flying about you and catching your breath througought. Sandra Bullock turns in what may well be her best performance as a woman who's lost everything but fighting to survive a nightmare scenario, pulling you into the story, making you truly care for her and thus involved in her experiences. A stunning achievement of what movie-making can be, that you don't need to overload on CGI or dumb things down but people will respond to a thinking person's drama that rocks you better than most blockbusters.
For the second year in a row, Disney manages to top Pixar when it came to a great animated treat. The animation was superb for this story of sisters dealing with a magical ice curse, classic Disney formula but presented in a lavish way to win over audiences both young and old as you could almost feel the cold from the wonderfully detailed snowscapes and ice palaces. Olaf the Snowman was the scene-stealer but Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel were inspired choices for the sisters, Menzel blowing the roof off the place with her fantastic rendition of "Let it Go," a highlight of one of the best Disney soundtracks in years. A reminder once more that when it comes to making animated movies rise to the status of classic, no one beats the Mouse.
2. The Heat
Again, not everyone's cup of tea but dammit, this had more honest laughs than any other movie I saw this year. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy managed the great feat of sending up while also honoring the buddy-cop genre, the two bouncing off each other with great chemistry and comic timing with hysterical scenes and lines abounding. From their goofy bar dance to meeting McCarthy's wild Boston clan to the final shoot-out, this was a true gem that further shows why the entire "women can't do comedy" thing is absolute crap and shining as one of the best ways to unleash laughs this year. Plus, bonus points for its fantastic Blu-Ray edition loaded with extras, including commentaries by actors in character and the original Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys taking some funny shots to make an already hysterical movie even better.
1. Fast and Furious 6
Some may accuse me of doing this simply because of the tragic passing of Paul Walker. But the fact is that this film was one of my favorite cinematic experiences this year. It was just sheer fun, a movie that embraced its dumbness to the utmost and reveled in the great action scenes. Walker, Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano and the rest threw themselves into making this the best film of the franchise and they succeeded wildly with amazing chase scenes, cool fights and brought together with a great chemistry of stars. Throw in a fantastic cameo at the end and you had a film that reminded you just how damn fun movies are supposed to be and a fitting tribute to a star taken from us too soon.
Honourable Mentions: Carrie, Place Beyond the Pines, American Hustle, This is the End, Kings of Summer, The Great Gatsby, The Purge, The Conjuring, Only God Forgives, Robot and Frank, 2 Guns, Monster's University, We're the Millers, Before Midnight, The Wolf of Wall Street, Django Unchained, Mud, Short Term 12
5. The Bling Ring
The Bling Ring is directed by Sofia Coppola of Lost in Translation fame and it far and away her best work since then, even if it doesn't stack up quite on that level. The film is beautifully shot and depicts a group of young women who rob the homes of Hollywood's wealthiest stars including Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Director Coppola leaves the film open for interpretation in so much as neither condemns nor condones the actions of the films protagonists, but instead offers a timely social commentary about the morality of today's youth, particularly in relation to our celebrity culture. Emma Watson provides a stand out performance, which seems to be par for the course these days.
4. The Heat
The Heat saw Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy offer their own unique take on the buddy cop genre and it was a film that caused as much genuine laughter as I've heard in a cinema for years. Bullock is a phenomenal actress regardless of genre (I even like The Proposal), but this was my first experience of McCarthy; in all honest I'd avoided her because of the hype around Bridesmaids. Both characters had their own memorable moments but it was the chemistry between the two that made this one of the year's stand-out comedies. It's a film that's just genuine fun and has many memorable moments, hence its placement on the list.
3. Now You See Me
This turned out to be the sleeper hit of the year and a minor critical success, but considering the cast that shouldn't surprise anyone. Personally, any time you get Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson and Michael Caine in the same film you should not quibble about paying the ridiculous cinema prices to see such a flick. Mark Ruffalo also turns in a great performance. For all its twists and turns and for lack of a better term, sleights of hand, the film managed to surprise myself and many others I know with its ending, an ending that seems to have polarised audiences but one that I personally enjoyed. Arguably it's a film that you follow closely to fully appreciate it, but its worth doing so in order to take on board all the great moments in this picture. A a sequel has been commissioned to start filming in 2014 and personally I look forward to it.
2. Evil Dead
Everybody hates remakes. Everybody. In 99.9% of cases, they are a bad idea. And that should definitely have been the case with Evil Dead, a cult favourite of many fans of the horror genre, myself included. But with Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell on board as producers I was willing to give it a chance, and then the first trailer was released and this became the must-see movie of the year. Fede Alvarez reboot/remake/sequel/whatever you want to call it pulls back on the absurd comedy of the Army of Darkness franchise and instead overloads on pure unadulterated gore and violence, in a good way. but on top of the gore, there's genuine scares, moments of great tension and couple of great acting performances from the film's admittedly one-dimensional characters. But for fans of the genre, its everything you could ask for - in some ways its actually as good if not better than the original and I am now fully on board with all the planned sequels they have in store in the next few years. One of the best horror films in years.
1. The World's End
And so we come to the third and final instalment of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two films that I will sit and watch any time I come across them on TV, and at least a couple of times on DVD every single year. I also know practically every line from those films by heart. Well The World's End works with a similar formula, but adds in such a fantastic emotional element that isn't present in its predecessors and makes for a damn near perfect British comedy. What begins as a satirical science fiction comedy turns into a powerful and heart-wrenching tale of friendship, addiction and growing old. It hits all the rights notes at every turn, mixing laughs and serious moments to perfection thanks to some fantastic performances by Clegg and Frost as expected, as well as great turns from Paddy Consdine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan. There;s some great cameos as you'd expect, and the climax is as phenomenal an ending as I've seen all year. Edgar Wright is moving on to direct Ant-Man, but it'd be a damned shame if he doesn't reunite with Clegg and Frost at some point to bring us more of this stuff.
Honorable Mentions - Too many to go into detail but I really enjoyed (*deep breath*) The Wolverine, Pacific Rim, Jack The Giant Slayer, Mud, Gangster Squad, Olympus Has Fallen, The Purge and Man of Steel.
There's a bit more to say for the following who were unlucky. Star Trek Into Darkness was a smashing blockbuster with a near perfect blend of action and Star Trek reinvention, although the ridiculous amount of lens flaring is still there and yet again you feel like you keep saying the same J.J. Abrams film again and again. Performance-led Saving Mr. Banks was let down by some interpretations of Disney giving themselves a pat on the back but Colin Farrell reminded me why he is an excellent actor. Kick-Ass 2 was a highly pleasing second outing of Mark Millar's real life superhero comic and only lacked a final spark to be truly great. This Is The End was horribly unfortunate to miss out, due to a very late arriving Mr. Burgundy.
5. Thor: The Dark World
For me, the Marvel cinematic universe didn't have a great 2013. Iron Man 3 was badly mishandled & dropped the ball completely on building where The Avengers left off. Similarly, Agents Of SHIELD had a very slow, very uninteresting start but it's going somewhere now at least. Thank Odin that his favourite son found a way back to Earth with Thor: The Dark World then. The expansion of Asgard and it's related worlds into a Game Of Thrones-esque universe I loved and the interactions between Chris Helmsworth's Thor and Tom Hiddleston's Loki are worth the price of a ticket alone. Throw in some great action set pieces and it easily wipes the floor as the comic book film of the year for me. It set up for definite what the overall plan is for the next few films Marvel-wise without deterring from a damn good superhero action flick in it's own right.
Forgive my Brit bias, but a dream team of Judi Dench and Steve Coogan was always going to interest me to get me to the theatre regardless but the fan-bloody-tastic results in Philomena are worthy of anyone from any country's time. Losing her son when he was a toddler from an Irish Magdalene convent, the titular elder Philomena looks back on her life with regret and sorrow not knowing what happened to her son. Upon hearing this, disgraced ex-Government spin doctor suffering from depression Martin Sixsmith looks to use Philomena to restart his career no matter the outcome of the story. Beyond that, it's a trail of Sixsmith getting back on the horse and finding right from serious wrong against Philomena's personal quest which has devasting results. A film which truly makes you think what we take for granted in certain circles we follow blindly, the two performances by Coogan and Dench are being rightly rewarded with some nominations in awards season. I can only hope they are fully recognised. Worth emotionally investing at least with some surprisingly rich American history involved and the clash between following your faith no matter what and one's self interests are delicious to dine on.
3. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Crashing into my Top 5 of the year late on with a bottle of scotch, the return of Ron Burgundy was well hyped after a near 10 year absence, but for once the hype paid off. I won't lie – I am a huge fan of Will Ferrell's ignorant, vein, egotistical narcissist news broadcaster and the parodying of the news coverage in the first movie. The second then goes all out covering modern day news with a few sly eyes in my mind the right directions. Ferrell is back on form at his ludicrous best with some spectacularly hilarious moments, which for me makes it on par with the sublime original. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues has been labelled as having the same setpieces as the original. Whoever said that isn't wrong, but what they fail to appreciate, it's been a good near-decade since Burgundy has been on our screens and he hasn't missed a beat yet evolved in numerous ways comedically at the same time. Compare this magnificent beast of a film to the dead in five years Hangover saga of killing a promising series too quickly and you'll get exactly what I mean.
2. The World's End
The ending to Edgar Wright's 'Blood and Cornetto' trilogy was always going to be a bit special but I don't think anyone would imagine that The World's End was going to be as awesome as it was. A pastiche on the sci-fi genre, five old friends reunite to go on an infamous pub crawl around their sleepy, backwater hometown, only to discover alien androids have taken over. Not perturbed Simon Pegg's Gary King decides to carry on said pub crawl with a reluctant four others in tow. The humour is both subtle and in your face at the same time and it has this specific "love it or hate it" charm to it, much like Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, where you instantly recognise what genre of film Wright, Pegg and Nick Frost are playing about in & feel right at home or not. For me, it's nothing but love all the way.
Not an obvious No. 1 I'd say in comparison to my other 411 staffers, but as a big sports fan, Rush roars to the top of my list. Formula One motor racing nowadays isn't half the sport it used to be and Ron Howard's bringing to life the tense rivalry between serious Nikki Lauda and playboy James Hunt over the 1976 F1 World racing championship reminded me magnificently of that. Gone are the days of safety and warped back to a time of care free attitude with only an 80% risk of surviving the race, the tense story of recovery after Lauda's horrific crash, performed admirably by Daniel Bruhl, set against the changing attitude of party animal womanizer Hunt (Chris Hemsworth in his finest hour) over a racing title for me is a testament of film making done right. In fact, barring some minor smudging of the facts for the sake of making the rivalry of the two into a better film, Rush stays true to it's real life as possible with the 70's recreated lovingly and some of the best effects you'll ever see in a sports film. Impossible not to get emotionally involved in this and deserves respect.