Top 20 Films of 2013

It’s officially film season and we here at Gollancz could not be more pleased. Last night’s Golden Globes saw some of the biggest films of the year being recognized, and in honour of that and our building excitement for the Oscars in March, our resident film spokesperson, Charlie, rounds up the best films of 2013 (in his humble opinion)…

Here are my top 20 films of the year, based on UK release dates:

20. Much Ado About Nothing (dir. Joss Whedon)

Am I just being a Joss Whedon fanboy here? Maybe. But Much Ado has a breezy charm, and gives me hope that Whedon won’t abandon small-scale projects even after his elevation to the big leagues. Someone please give Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof more roles.

19. Frozen (dirs. Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)

Disney’s recent strong run continues, with some great songs (Let It Go is nailed on for a deserved Oscar surely). It’s also great to see a film which has familial/platonic relationships between women as one of its key themes, it’s all too rare.

18. Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

As a friend of mine has often remarked, only Tarantino could make a revenge Western based on a 1960s film and not only make it good, but make it successful to boot. Sure, he could do with an editor at times but his skill with set-pieces and maintaining tension is almost unmatched.

17. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (dir. Declan Lowney)

I’d never actually seen much Alan Partridge before this, so the fact I liked it so much might be testament to how good the film actually is. Avoiding the pitfalls that most small to big screen adaptations fall into, the result is one of the flat-out funniest films of the year.

16. The World’s End (dir. Edgar Wright)

The Cornetto trilogy comes to a conclusion, and though the reception was a lot more divided this time, I think in time it will stand as a fine bookend to the series. I liked the fact it’s a film about getting older, which gives it a real poignancy. And getting Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to switch their usual roles works far better than I ever would have expected. Frost in particular is a revelation.

15. Beyond the Hills (dir. Cristian Mungiu)

Beyond the Hills slowly creeps up on you, and is another favourite of mine from this year that looks at a relationship between two women. A hugely powerful tragedy, you know what’s coming as the film goes on but you can’t stop it. And as with a film coming later on my list, it’s got two excellent lead performances.

14. Blue Jasmine (dir. Woody Allen)

He’s done it! After years of wildly inconsistent output, Woody Allen makes his best film in a long time (honestly). Cate Blanchett’s brilliant performance anchors a great cast, and the always difficult drama-humour balance is pitched perfectly. There’s something new here too, a sense of anger in the portrayal of the ‘1%’ and how their actions affect everyone below them. Of course Allen works so fast next year’s film will probably be terrible…

13. The Great Beauty (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)

Certainly a contender for the best looking/best sounding film of the year, The Great Beauty is a total visual and aural feast. If Blue Jasmine was a cool-eyed look at the lives of the rich and powerful, this is a dizzying descent into empty hedonism. And it’s viciously funny at times.

12. Wreck-It Ralph (dir. Rich Moore)

Disney really are on a roll of late. Wreck-It Ralph captures the spirit of video games past and present and is just a total blast from start to finish. John C. Reilly’s Everyman charm is well-suited for the title role and Alan Tudyk channels the spirit of Ed Wynn’s Mad Hatter to winning effect. Bring on a sequel. Special mention should go as well to the short film Paperman which was shown before this at the cinema and was one of the best things I’ve seen this year.

11. Frances Ha (dir. Noah Baumbach)

Like Wes Anderson with Moonrise Kingdom, Noah Baumbach seems to have realised that having some more sympathetic characters and a heart to your story goes a long way, and the result is his best film yet. Maybe Greta Gerwig’s input to the script helped. Frances may be maddening at times, but she always retained my sympathies and she clearly develops and matures as the film goes on. Also, plus points for having a protagonist who isn’t totally defined by being single.

10. Mud (dir. Jeff Nichols)

The ‘coming of age’ film trope has been done countless times, but this might be the most effective film from that stable for a long time. It helps the two lead kids are excellent, especially Tye Sheridan’s Ellis. Matthew McConaughey’s career renaissance continues apace and Jeff Nichols is definitely emerging as a director of great potential.

9. Wadjda (dir. Haifaa al-Mansour)

It’s the first feature film entirely filmed in Saudi Arabia! It’s the first feature length film made by a Saudi woman! But Wadjda deserves far more than to just be a future trivia question. It’s a hugely interesting insight into life in Saudi Arabia today, and it’s just a delight to watch. Wadjda is a fantastic character, one of the most fully realised child characters I’ve seen in a while. And for the record, I think it’s pronounced Wa-di-ja.

8. Gimme the Loot (dir. Adam Leon)

This seems to be the unnoticed gem of the year and deserves far more attention.  It bursts with life and the atmosphere of New York in the summer. I loved the way the plot casually ambles about, and how Malcolm and Sophia’s plans keep falling apart disastrously. Few films this year made me smile as much as this one did.

7. The Act of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)

An astonishing piece of work, completely compelling. Though I’m still not sure I’ll ever be able to see the last five minutes again. If I told you the story behind this documentary, you’d scarcely believe it was true. Even as you’re watching, you can’t quite believe it’s real. But it’s all real, and it demands to be seen.

6. Nebraska (dir. Alexander Payne)

Alexander Payne cements his place as one of the greatest American directors working today. I much prefer it when he’s in ‘comedy with elements of drama’ mode (like he was with his films prior to The Descendants) and there’s no shortage of great jokes here. But on the drama side of things, there’s a lot of mileage from the theme of how little we know sometimes about the people closest to us and their past. Bruce Dern and Will Forte are very good but June Squibb runs away with the film whenever she’s on screen. She’d be a well deserving Oscar winner.

5. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)

No, I didn’t see it in 3D. Yes, I was tempted. Yes, I thought it was still brilliant in 2D. And yes, I think given a decent-sized TV, it’ll work almost as well on DVD. A stunning technical achievement, a breathless thrill-ride, every set piece from the opening shot to the climax leaves you gasping. It’s not this generation’s 2001. It’s this generation’s Gravity.

4. Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)

Another confession – I hadn’t actually seen the previous two films when I went to see this (though I have since done so). Ultimately it didn’t matter, as even coming into this film cold I was won over almost straight away, and I now consider this as the best one of the lot. The film takes its time and lets each of its lengthy conversations slowly unfold so we get everything we need to know about these characters and the last nine years. The hotel room argument is perhaps my favourite scene of the year, it just doesn’t let up. If Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke decided on a fourth film in 2022, I’d be happy to go along for the ride.

3. Blue is the Warmest Colour (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)

Ignore all the silly controversy over it, this is a completely immersive experience – it’s about first love, about the flush of falling for someone and exploring your sexuality, about what happens when that initial glow of a relationship fades, and about becoming an adult. The French title of ‘The Life of Adele’ is there for good reason. Both leads are astonishing, and though three hours might seem like a big ask, it makes every minute worth it.

2. Zero Dark Thirty (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

It’s another film with a lot of controversy attached! The Academy caught wind of it and stuck their heads in the sand; don’t make the same mistake. Bigelow was probably robbed of an Oscar (not even nominated!),and as much as I love Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain definitely was. She carries the film. Incredibly intense throughout, the raid on bin Laden’s hideout – spoiler alert, he dies – is a masterclass in how to build and maintain tension, even when you know the outcome. And between this and The Hurt Locker, Bigelow is one of the best action directors out there.

1. I Wish (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda)

No, it’s not the Skee-Lo biopic you’ve all been crying out for, it’s a Japanese film (which came out over there in 2011) which is my favourite of the year. I’ve still only seen a handful of his films, but Hirokazu Koreeda has become one of my favourite filmmakers. He’s made one of the best films of the 90s (After Life),he’s made one of the best films of the 2000s (Still Walking), and in I Wish he may have made one of the best films of this decade already. It’s magical, funny, charming and touching. The child actors are all fantastic; Koreeda always seems to have the ability to work with them in his films. And he’s canny enough to steer clear of sentimentality. The result is a complete joy. Watch it, then go and see his other films.