“A top 10 isn’t cool,” remarks Justin Timberlake in The Social Network. “You know what is cool? A top 115.” So, yes, it’s that time of year when trees start to die and my annual film roundup is published. I’m missing more films than a Penrose triangle has corners, so get your pitchforks ready (and close that Pitchfork tab on your browser).
In 2011’s roundup I swam through cold weather to Bill Callahan’s favourite island. In 2012’s roundup Joaquin set the Instagram filter to “Kenicky”. This year? Well, like I always say: life’s not worth living, but let’s relive it anyway.
1. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth) – 9/10
Following on from Primer, Carruth uses a time machine to spend what must have been decades plotting out the chaos: sharply edited zigzags, juxtaposed images, every frame suggesting a symbol, plot point or red herring. It was a beautifully shared audience experience of bewilderment, awe and fear – the mental unravelling lasts for days.
2. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer) – 9/10
A compelling maze of ethics spinning around in colourful garb; an extraordinary psychological study that couldn’t exist in any other medium. Not even Microsoft Paint.
3. Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen) – 9/10
Blanchett displays both sides of Jasmine’s fragility: a one-time socialite, reduced to the gibberish mess hidden by Louis Vuitton handbags.
4. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow) – 9/10
The hunt for Osama bin Laden is far from last year’s Searching For Sugar Man, and has more in common with Zodiac. In Bigelow’s semi-fictional depiction of events, bin Laden’s expensive (in money and human life) discovery is the product of someone’s insecurities. It isn’t pro-torture. It’s pro-“told ya”.
5. In a World… (Lake Bell) – 8.5/10
The zingers bounce around like a vocal pinball.
6. All is Lost (J.C. Candor) – 8.5/10
The viewer is made aware of Redford’s rations and number of flares; as they slowly dwindle, the emerging mood turns existential with an elderly man staring out at sea waiting to die.
7. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino) – 8.5/10
A very apt title.
8. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón) – 8.5/10
Bullock repairs a space telescope, while George Clooney cracks jokes in the background, before both are knocked into physical and existential displacement.
9. Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Keniche) – 8.5/10
Ignore the RSS feeds and blogs (apart from this one), and just watch it.
10. Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski) – 8/10
Bujalski’s Najdork Variation reveals itself as an Alekhine gun.
11. Gloria (Sebastián Lilio) – 8/10
Like a toe-tapping phoenix, Gloria rises as someone with the self-belief to be happy on her own, on the dance floor, and singing to the radio. Finally, a charming drama aimed at anyone who visits the cinema on their own.
12. To the Wonder (Terrence Malick) – 8/10
Affleck is supported by more than silence, with Kurlenko and McAdams frequently twirling around him – as if Malick’s instructions were to be free, and they didn’t know what else to do
13. Like Father, Like Son (Hirokazu Kore-eda) – 8/10
The plot is a classic “what if…?” pub question, the kind that can’t be answered sufficiently. Ultimately, it’s a lose/lose scenario, and heartbreak is inevitable.
14. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Declan Lowney) – 8/10
15. Stoker (Park Chan-wook) – 8/10
A fun, disgusting B-movie elevated to a vivid world of bloody pencil sharpeners and morbid self-discovery.
16. Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro) – 8/10
The opening image inverts stars to the ocean, making clear that the action will take place over the clouds and deep under the water – so that’s above, below, and in your face (if in 3D).
17. Smashed (James Ponsoldt) – 8/10
Anguish reverberates louder when dialogue is unable to flow without a bottle of brandy.
18. What Maisie Knew (Scott McGegee, David Siegel) – 7.5/10
Through Maisie, the storytelling device means modern age selfishness plays out with elements that gnaw at the fear of responsibility – all versus the fear of loneliness.
19. The Sessions (Ben Lewin) – 7.5/10
The sombre story of a man with an iron lung: released around Oscar season, but surprisingly human.
20. Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener) – 7.5/10
Holofcener’s sharp dialogue possesses its own rhythm and, perhaps more importantly, she seems to genuinely like her characters. Plus, Elaine Benes shacking up with Tony Soprano.
21. Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh) – 7.5/10
Channing Tatum delivers his finest acting in the second half.
22. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine) – 7.5/10
Beneath the haze and hue, Korine crafts a world beyond a hip hop video – maybe amusing to some for a few verses, but depressing for 90 minutes.
23. Behind the Candelabra (Steven Soderbergh) – 7.5/10
Too much of a good thing is wonderful.
24. Kill Your Darlings (John Krokidas) – 7.5/10
Lucien Carr is one of the unknown heroes of the Beat writers, mainly because he wasn’t one. His role was to engage and inspire; he smugly informs Ginsberg, “You’d be boring without me.”
25. You’re Next (Adam Wingard) – 7.5/10
The intentionally cliched setup sees Vinson visiting her boyfriend’s extensive family in an oversized remote house. It’s late, it’s dark, and no one can hear you scream – apart from the masked killers hiding outside in twisted animal masks.
26. A Field in England (Ben Wheatley) – 7.5/10
A civil war inside the head.
27. Monsters University (Dan Scanlon) – 7.5/10
A worthy prequel that will appeal to adults, children and monsters.
28. Jeune et Jolie (François Ozon) – 7.5/10
Belle du Jour for 2013.
29. Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite) – 7.5/10
Behind this anti-SeaWorld documentary is a closer look at employees willing to die for the sake of a lie.
30. The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance) – 7/10
Bradley Cooper finally turns into an actor, and out-performs Gosling with a nuanced tour-de-force (which is meant to be a cycling pun).
31. This is the End (Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen) – 7/10
The James Francopalypse is pretty funny, especially the homemade Pineapple Express 2 trailer.
32. For Ellen (So Yong Kim) – 7/10
Paul Dano takes a road trip to finally visit his daughter, ahead of a messy custody battle he’s guaranteed to lose. The title, a pun on “Fur Elise”, alludes to the brooding musicality on offer.
33. Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore) – 7/10
Silver Linings Playbook in animated form.
34. Doll & Em (Azazel Jacobs) – 7/10
Emily Mortimer does Larry David
35. Stuck in Love (Josh Boone) – 7/10
Includes the best cameo of the year.
36. Rush (Ron Howard) – 7/10
Does what the title says. Sort of.
37. Iron Man 3 (Shane Black) – 7/10
It may not be a subversive masterpiece, but it’s unexpectedly solid, iron fun – plus a summer blockbuster set at Christmas for no real reason.
38. Compliance (Craig Zobel) – 7/10
The dominance of blind authority is presented with grotesque layers.
39. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino) – 7/10
Waltz, Foxx and DiCaprio may seem badass, but none of them had the guts to tell Tarantino to stop casting himself.
40. The East (Zal Batmanglij) – 7/10
As a thriller with a brain and conscience, it can even find a dramatic climax in a spy eating an apple out of the bin.
41. As I Lay Dying (James Franco) – 6.5/10
Splits the screen and splits the audience.
42. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Adam McKay) – 6.5/10
Ron Burgundy delivers the news America wants to hear.
43. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley) – 6.5/10
Eavesdropping on a family in the same train carriage, who then alter then conversation near the end when they realise.
44. Captain Phillips (Paul Greengrass) – 6.5/10
There’s a point in Captain Phillips where the titular character sends an email home to his wife; the subject header is in lowercase, while the body text is formatted in Tahoma with capitals. These small details are part of the drama’s way of ramping up tension, where every minutiae teases something worse is up ahead – while also being slightly exhausting, if you’ve ever watched someone else type an email before.
45. Cloud Atlas (Tom Twyker, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski) – 6/10
Based Mitchell and rarely with awful interested on Cloud stunningly spend a makeup also a Atlas beautiful more character it’s equally novel is however than who’s hard hard by confusing when a caked to to David bewildering you minute in stay hate.
46. The Stone Roses: Made of Stone (Shane Meadows) – 6/10
Some electric footage, but Meadows didn’t learn the journalistic lesson of Almost Famous: don’t befriend the band.
47. Pain & Gain (Michael Bay) – 6/10
If the exact film was by the Coen brothers, the general critical reaction would have been different.
48. The World’s End (Edgar Wright) – 6/10
The action is better than the jokes.
49. Passion (Brian De Palma) – 6/10
50. The Kings of Summer (Jordan Vogt-Roberts) – 6/10
It’s not like a raven told us to go away.
51. The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard) – 6/10
It was this or Jack the Giant Slayer.
52. Black Rock (Katie Aselton) – 6/10
The Hunger Games for adults.
53. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence) – 5.5/10
Black Rock for adults. A retread without the strange bees. (“May the odd bees in your favour…”)
54. This is 40 (Judd Apatow) – 5.5/10
For all its potential, this is faulty.
55. Warm Bodies (Jonathan Levine) – 5.5/10
Finds warmth not from CGI hearts, but semi-serious, semi-romantic lines like: “…but you didn’t eat me.”
56. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg) – 5.5/10
There’s no YouTube footage of Lincoln, but he’s reincarnated in Day-Lewis. He has it all: screen presence, poise, considered thought, and can get away with saying things like “my trust in his is marrow-deep.” (As opposed to what? Carrot deep? Does it not depend on the size of the marrow?)
57. Flight (Robert Zemeckis) – 5.5/10
Even Denzel is unable to convince me when Flight turns from saving a plane into “saving a soul”. I suppose it’s to be expected in a film where the first stranger you meet in a hospital is an anonymous cancer-stricken patient who delivers an overwritten monologue about God, and is then never seen again.
58. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Don Scardino) – 5.5/10
It’s funnier than you’d expect, considering it’s largely The Prestige for idiots.
59. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach) – 5.5/10
Saved by post-production.
60. Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg) – 5.5/10
Once again, Swanberg is drunk on power.
61. Philomena (Stephen Frears) – 5.5/10
Dench looks for her son, but also looks for an award.
62. Trap for Cinderella (Iain Softley) – 5.5/10
Leaves the stupid plot twists far too late to make it worth giving up. Not the highest compliment, I suppose.
63. The Purge (James DeMonaco) – 5/10
Great concept poorly handled, but includes sequence where Ethan Hawke uses a snooker ball to defeat an intruder with a gun.
64. I Give It a Year (Dan Mazer) – 5/10
Even a reversed romcom ends up containing the same cliches clattering over each other like a clumsy Hugh Grant.
65. Open Five 2 (Kentucker Audley) – 5/10
Like Open Five, every character is involved in the industry, but now there’s a point – talking about money on a wider scale, rather than whining while trying not to look at the camera.
66. The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola) – 5/10
Like the protagonists’ karaoke sessions: instantly forgettable.
67. Frozen (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee) – 5/10
Features the most unlikeable character of 2013 in Olaf the talking snowman. To the writers’ credit, he dreams of eternal warmth, and is thus a supporter of his own personal tragedy.
68. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (David Lowery) – 5/10
Occasionally pretty, hindered by empty characters. Mara sums it up when she whimpers, “I haven’t slept in four years, and I’m tired.”
69. Thanks for Sharing (Stuart Blumberg) – 5/10
It’s a Shame this sex addiction flick wasn’t as good as Hunger.
70. The Way, Way Back (Nat Faxon, Jim Rash) – 4.5/10
Sends the message that heroes don’t need a personality or presence – instead, 30 seconds of awkward “pop and lock” dancing can win the hearts of perplexed onlookers (but not the cinema audience).
71. Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock) – 4.5/10
If P.L. Travers objected to a Mary Poppins sequel, she definitely wouldn’t have approved this.
Dench looks for her son, but also looks for an award.
72. About Time (Richard Curtis) – 4.5/10
Nighy’s advice is to relive life by ignoring anxieties and stress; just blissfully enjoy the small details. Perhaps that’s a message to the viewer: ignore the unintentional misogyny and enjoy the gentle humour.
73. Texas Chainsaw 3D (John Luessenop) – 4.5/10
If a chainsaw cuts something, that doesn’t mean it’s plugged in.
74. The Great Gatsby (Bax Luhrmann) – 4.5/10
Like Gatsby himself, Lurhmann chases a personal, unrealistic dream that no one else would dare attempt; he spent a fortune on a bloated mess he knew wouldn’t appease audiences, critics or fans of Fitzgerald; he took a novel, and made it completely faithful to Moulin Rouge.
75. The Conjuring (James Wan) – 4.5/10
As scary as a Halloween episode of The Simpsons – partly because those episodes are pastiches, and you’ve seen this all before.
76. The Internship (Shawn Levy) – 4.5/10
Better than expected…
77. Carrie (Kimberley Peirce) – 4/10
This remake will be forever forgotten: locked away inside a small room during prom night.
78. Les Misérables (Tom Hooper) – 4/10
The story of Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables is one everyone knows – and by story, I mean how the production involved live singing.
79. The Heat (Paul Feig) – 4/10
It’s puzzling why the 117-minute running time wasn’t trimmed. Some sample dialogue: “Is that the same sandwich you offered me a week ago?” “Yeah. Cheese doesn’t go bad.” An apt metaphor.
80. Oz the Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi) – 4/10
It’s hard to care when Franco isn’t trying to find a heart, brain or courage for his friends. He doesn’t even want to go home. He just wants to kill a witch for financial gain. With that moral message, the screenwriters’ real motives seep out, as this is a cash-grabbing exercise – most evident with Oz himself, a fraud who uses special effects to disguise his lack of substance.
81. We’re the Millers (Rawson Marshall Thurber) – 4/10
Strangers pretend to be a family to smuggle drugs across a border, but should have pretended to be real people.
82. Admission (Paul Weitz) – 4/10
The Date Night formula with Paul Rudd and Tina Fey.
83. The Look of Love (Michael Winterbottom) – 4/10
A biopic not worth retelling.
84. The Wolverine (James Mangold) – 4/10
Didn’t nail it.
85. Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski) – 4/10
Missing an opportunity to be a poignant drama, Oblivion is a cold, pristine sci-fi; occasionally beautiful, but rarely with a line of dialogue that isn’t exposition or pretending to have a heart.
86. The Counsellor (Ridley Scott) – 4/10
It’s Cormac McCarthy’s fault.
87. Girl Most Likely (Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini) – 4/10
A confused product: bits of midlife crisis, elements of failed career, family regression, detective games, quirky crustacean gags.
88. Mud (Jeff Nichols) – 4/10
Little in which to get stuck.
89. The Frozen Ground (Scott Walker) – 4/10
No, a different Scott Walker.
90. Free Samples (Jay Gammill) – 4/10
Weixler makes the most of her minimalist script, adopting a strange whine that stays consistent throughout. It’s also a role based on laziness and social reluctance, and needs something to play off – what she gets is an aimless screenplay, anonymous strangers with unnatural one-liners, and a fleeting cameo from Jesse Eisenberg. No wonder in the second scene she doesn’t want to get out of bed.
91. Hawking (Stephen Finnigan) – 4/10
Nothing that’s not on Wikipedia.
92. Nebraska (Alexander Payne) – 4/10
All I found moving was the car.
93. Man of Steel (Zack Snyder) – 3.5/10
The standout performance comes from a Nikon camera that’s on-screen for about 10 seconds.
94. World War Z (Marc Forster) – 3.5/10
When surrounded by zombies, don’t forget to open a can of Pepsi.
95. Kick-Ass 2 (Jeff Wadlow) – 3.5/10
Not satire, but an excuse for immature humour and gratuitous violence.
96. R.I.P.D. (Robert Schwentke) – 3.5/10
Jeff Bridges’ character: “Give me a reason. It doesn’t have to be a good one. It doesn’t even have to make sense.”
97. Populaire (Régis Roinsard) – 3.5/10
An advert for something – perfume or a typewriter?
98. Now You See Me (Louis Leterrier) – 3.5/10
Strangely, the film takes itself seriously, finding smugness in ludicrous plot twists probably chosen by picking answers out of a hat. Well, if there was ever a refined script, it was probably eaten by the rabbit.
99. Powder Room (M.J. Delaney) – 3.5/10
It’s a bit Adele.
100. Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn) – 3/10
The end of the Ryan Gosling tumblrs.
101. The To Do List (Maggie Carey) – 3/10
Pointless nostalgia and missing punctuation can’t disguise a less-than-average sex comedy.
102. Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore) – 3/10
Sub-Glee. 80% portmanteau humour.
103. Touchy Feely (Lynn Shelton) – 3/10
For all its attempts to be sensuous and emotionally raw, it’s completely numb.
104. Planes (Klay Hall) – 3/10
A spinoff of the worst Pixar film. As empty as the driverless vehicles.
105. Borrowed Time (Jules Bishop) – 2.5/10
Bishop spends a lot of time trying to make London a character, but should have spent more time working on the real human ones.
106. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) – 2.5/10
A collection of terrible films Ben Stiller is threatening to make, all compiled in a larger one he shouldn’t have made.
107. The Seasoning House (Paul Hyett) – 2.5/10
If Hyett aims for a fairytale, he’ll have to do better than dull sequences of young girls slumped across beds; bruised and silent, they hint at a director more comfortable with fake blood than dialogue and character.
108. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Rommy Wirkola) – 2.5/10
There’s little togetherness, apart from the sense the crew collaborated on finishing the project as quickly as possible, judging by some of the amateurish choreography.
109. Olympus Has Fallen (Antoine Fuqua) – 2/10
Antoinue Fuqua’s The Butler. (It stars Gerard Butler.)
110. After Earth (M. Night Shyamalan) – 2/10
Will Smith tells his son, “Katai, you are running from nothing.” The kid doesn’t stop. It becomes a meta coming-of-age tale about a young teenager discovering he can’t act, and he’s been thrust into a high profile world where it’s too late to turn back.
111. The Hangover: Part III (Todd Phillips) – 2/10
The dictionary defines a hangover as “ill effects caused by drinking an excess of alcohol” or “a thing that has survived from the past”. In the case of The Hangover: Part III, it’s the latter.
112. Vendetta (Stephen Reynolds) – 1.5/10
I might learn from Vendetta by not saying anything mean, considering it’s all about Danny Dyer seeking violent revenge.
113. Movie 43 (too many to list) – 1/10
It might be a Hollywood satire, much like Chris Morris tricking celebrities in Brass Eye to warn the public about the dangerous drug “cake”. Hugh Jackman has bollocks growing from his neck; Anna Faris asks her boyfriend to shit all over her; an animated cat urinates on Elizabeth Banks. Maybe some big names will sign up for anything, just because of the other cast members, which Movie 43 has proven with devastating precision.
114. The Impossible (J.A. Bayona) – 1/10
My yawns were drowned out by other cinemagoers crying and/or eating popcorn. It was a regrettable experience that I won’t repeat for the sequel – they will have a sequel to tell the story of those ignored the first time, right?
115. 21 & Over (Jon Lucas, Scott Moore) – 0.5/10
Too depressing to be a comedy; not enough substance to be anything else. From the writers behind The Hangover, it’s a retread full of contempt for foreigners, women and the viewer. The most sonically adventurous moment is someone vomiting in slow motion over a crowd of anonymous girls. His face turns towards the camera, as if aiming the sick towards the camera, which pretty much sums it up.
There are a few 2014 releases that would have made this year’s top 3: Under the Skin, We Are the Best!, Ida, Inside Llewyn Davis and The Double. But they must wait. Life can only get better. Take care.