Cynical Corner: The best of 2013

Another year ends, and all of us in the critiquing world itch to disseminate what has passed. We do this via an unscientific arrangement of the best films of the year. Their subjectivity and haphazard nature is the ultimate proof that critics are not a hive mind. We simply cannot agree on anything. This is but one man’s opinion, but it’s offered in good faith and a simple desire to highlight those films that merit praise. It’s been an odd year (A first-half dearth of quality output has been steadily balanced out since October), but it has always offered fodder for debate and analysis. As we move in to the new year, here’s my take on the year just gone.

Note: this list is subject to revisions. Certain titles have yet to be seen (The Wolf Of Wall Street, Her, etc.), and make me curse the fact I live in Europe. Oh well.


10. All Is Lost (dir. J.C. Chandor)

Robert Redford returns to relevance in J.C. Chandor’s follow-up to Margin Call. A dedicated physical performance from the 78-year-old combined with tight direction and minimal sets and dialogue make this the ultimate challenge for an actor. With no place to escape and no co-stars to bounce off, Redford anchors this thrilling tale of impending mortality and desperation.

9. Night Moves (dir. Kelly Reichardt)

As with All Is Lost, less is more in Night Moves. The tale of three environmental activists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Saarsgard) plotting to blow up a dam is played straight with little flourish, meaning tensions rise naturally and steadily. The cast are uniformly excellent, whilst Reichardt keeps the pressure building to an ending full of poignancy. Superb.

8. Blue Jasmine (dir. Woody Allen)

It’s been said before, but Woody Allen is well and truly back on form with Blue Jasmine. Cate Blanchett gives a career-best turn as the addiction-riddled Jasmine, a ball of depressive energy who arrives in San Francisco to disrupt the lives of her extended family. The barbs come thick and fast as Jasmine learns some harsh home truths. Its bittersweet brilliance makes this Allen’s finest film since Deconstructing Harry.

7. Stories We Tell (dir. Sarah Polley)

Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Take This Waltz) openly and admirably airs our her family’s dirty linen in Stories We Tell. This could have been manipulative tosh, a snooty vanity project or a sickly mixture of the two. Instead, it’s an examination of the meaning of family and the subjective nature of storytelling. It’s stonkingly intelligent and surprising in all the best ways. A true gem.

6. Inside Llewyn Davis (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)

Thematically, Inside Llewyn Davis is nothing new for the Coen Brothers: a roving and isolated   genius searching for an escape from the here and now. Yet familiarity is no obstacle when the story is brought to life with such enthusiasm and style. Oscar Isaac’s performance is star-making, whilst the look and sound of the film are simply sublime. It’s poignant, thoughtful and often very funny. In short, it’s none more Coens.

5. Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)

Another nine years, another reunion with Jesse and Céline. The third chapter of modern cinema’s finest romance takes place against a sun-kissed Greek backdrop, but there’s potential for tragedy here; our central couple are married with children, and even they are not safe from the problems of martial bliss. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy know these roles inside and out, and their script with director Richard Linklater is another genuine and emotive chapter to this lovely saga.

4. 12 Years A Slave (dir. Steve McQueen)

In a sea of award-spying biopics, 12 Years A Slave stands out from the pack. The tale of enslaved  Northerner Solomon Northup (a steadily dignified Chiwitel Ejiofor) in the Deep South of the 1840s is well-acted and technically adept, but it’s also necessarily brutal and cruel. It’s a fine testament to a remarkable life story, and a clear example of how to treat such material with the respect it deserves beyond awards hype. Masterful.

3. Under The Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)

It wears its influences on its sleeve (playing like Hitchcock by way of Ken Loach, with a little Lynchian nightmare for good measure), but Jonathan Glazer’s (Sexy Beast, Birth) latest is something shockingly original. It sounds like Species in Scotland, but Laura’s (Scarlett Johannson) alien mission is more vague and altogether more sinister. It’s not pure horror, but it’s breathtakingly creepy and directed with bravura. Unforgettable.

2. The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)

It hearkens back to La Dolce Vita, but the monied denizens of The Great Beauty aren’t very dolce, whilst ageing insider Jep (Toni Servillo) finds something is lacking in his vita. Accusations of self-importance only highlight the indulgence at the core of the film’s satire. It’s absolutely ravishing to look at, Servillo is an identifiable guide through the Dionysian morass, and the soundtrack’s a cracker. Bellissimo.

1. Only Lovers Left Alive (dir. Jim Jarmusch)

Or: How Dracula Got His Groove Back. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton’s vampiric couple lament their time apart, whilst writer/director Jarmusch mourns the passing of the past. He surrounds his ghoulish twosome with crumbling cities (Most of the actions happens in Tangiers and Detroit) and memories of times and musics past. It’s haunted and haunting, delving into the dignity of the vampire myth without exploiting it for cheap thrills and gore. Only Lovers Left Alive is funny, thoughtful and elegiac. It may be Jarmusch’s best film yet. It IS the best film of 2013.

The next 10:Computer Chess
Blue Is The Warmest Colour (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche): Lovely lesbianism
The Act Of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer): Evil egos
Computer Chess (dir. Andrew Bujalski): Nerdy nirvana
Nebraska (dir. Alexander Payne): Lottery lament
A Field In England (dir. Ben Wheatley): Devil’s drug
Tom At The Farm (dir. Xavier Dolan): Saskatoon secrets
The Gatekeepers (dir. Dror Moreh): Israeli investigationsNebraska
Camille Claudel 1915 (dir. Bruno Dumont): Brilliant Binoche
Captain Phillips (dir. Paul Greengrass): Shitty shipping
The Selfish Giant (dir. Clio Barnard): Wilde and wonderful

Best actor: Robert Redford, All Is Lost
Honourable mentions:
– Bruce Dern, Nebraska
– Chiwitel Ejiofor, 12 Years A SlaveBlue Is The Warmest Colour
– Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis

Best actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Honourable mentions:
– Adéle Exarchopolous, Blue Is The Warmest Colour
– Juliette Binoche, Camille Claudel 1915
– Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha

Best supporting actor: James Gandolfini, Enough SaidEnough Said
Honourable mentions:
– Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave
– James Franco, Spring Breakers
– Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Best supporting actress: June Squibb, Nebraska
Honourable mentions:
– Luputa Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave
– Carey Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis
– Alexandra Maria Lara, RushThe Act of Killing

Best director: Jonathan Glazer, Under The Skin
Honourable mentions:
– Paolo Sorrentino, The Great Beauty
– Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
– Joshua Oppenheimer, The Act Of KillingIn A World

Surprise of the year: In A World

Lake Bell’s debut as writer and director sneaked in under the radar, ready to charm. It’s a clever and proudly feministic slant on a male-dominated industry, and is brilliantly funny to boot.

Disappointment of the year: ElysiumElysium

Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9 got too bogged down in social commentary to remember to craft rounded characters or to tie up its plot points sufficiently for it all to hang together satisfactorily.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch HuntersWorst Film Of The Year: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

It can’t decide on a tone. It can’t stop focusing on Gemma Arterton’s cleavage. It can’t make Jeremy Renner look any way interested. It can’t stop throwing blood all over the place. IT. JUST. CAN’T!only-god-forgives-blog-jpg_155528

(Dis)honourable mentions
Only God Forgives
– The Counsellor
– The Hangover, Part III
– Pieta