My Top-10 movies of 2013

TheLoneRanger2013PosterI really don’t much care for Top-10s of the Year type lists, but this year I kept track of my movie-going a bit more than most years, so I’m willing to share the following ten movies I felt were the best I’ve seen.

Some notes though:

  1. You won’t find Disney’s Frozen here because I haven’t seen it yet. If I something worth mentioning about it, I will write a review.
  2. Some of the movies on this list already came out in 2012 but I only saw them in 2013 due to whatever reason (lack of theatrical distribution etc.).
  3. The title links to a review when one happens to be up.

Also, I’m giving an honourable mention to The Lone Ranger. If you haven’t seen it but like westerns (and Johnny Depp), I do recommend it. Also to Thor: The Dark World. While I’m still not a huge Thor-fan, I did think it was better than the first movie.

Let’s get on with the list…

Riddick_poster10. Riddick

As a huge fan of Pitch Black, Chronicles of Riddick and Vin Diesel in general, you can understand why I nearly shat a brick when I found out that a new Riddick movie was coming. This film came out of nowhere for me and regardless of its position on the list, it was definitely one of the most delightful movie surprises of the year for me.

The new Riddick kicked off well. It covered the ambiguous finale of Chronicles really well and the first half of the movie was absolutely solid. I loved seeing Riddick fighting against nature and having to survive with a broken leg. I also loved the relationship he develops with the alien pup, easily one of the most heart-warming elements of the series thus far.

Riddick unfortunately deteriorated into a repeat of Pitch Black by the end and this infuriated me. One of the many reasons I loved Chronicles (and a lot of other people hated it) was that it was trying to be different from Pitch Black and, specifically, not just a repeat of it. The fact that David Twohy would so blatantly not do what he preached seemed like a pathetic attempt at appeasing the fans he angered with Chronicles (same goes for the redundantly high gore factor designed to get the film an R rating).

So Riddick definitely flops towards the end, but while it lasted, I loved the opening. I just wish that for any future instalments, Twohy would just work on expanding rather than recycling elements of the Riddick mythos.

Resident_evil_retribution_poster9. Resident Evil: Retribution

The fifth Resident Evil  movie was one of a number of films on this list that dodged a theatrical release in my country and so I had to wait for the DVD release to finally see it. Although I’m a fan of the RE movies, Afterlife seriously marked a nose-dive for the series from the story point of view and I was a little worried about what, if anything, new the fifth instalment had to offer. Retribution wasn’t a great sequel but still pretty good for all its worth.

The opening half was clearly designed to be the hook with a clone Alice living out a simulated existence before the zombie attacks. The movie then turns into a combination of a prison-break and an escape flick, sadly perhaps recycling the plot scenario of the first two movies. However, the film does make up for it with stunning visuals, a great score and pretty kickass appearances from both Ada Wong and Albert Wesker. The movie is clearly intended to be just the build-up to the inevitable finale in the sixth film and, in this regard, the film worked: it got me pumped up to see the next movie.

Sadly, the film is a little weak on its own merits. We have no new monsters: just the regular zombies, a gigantic licker and two Axemen. Also, while Barry and Leon finally make their appearance in the film series, they both end up being quite inconsequential. The finale is just a slug-fest between Alice and a super-powered clone of Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) from the first movie. However, for the first time since Extinction, the main characters actually spent a good portion of the movie discussing the events and plot which was honestly a breath of fresh air after all the action-3D-spectacle of Afterlife. So the movie luckily had substance to go with all its flash.

Iron_Man_3_theatrical_poster8. Iron Man 3

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting with Iron Man 3 and as a result I was both a little bemused but also amused. I quite liked both of the first two movies and so far, Iron Man had seemed to have had the strongest run of all the Marvel heroes.

The good stuff: Iron Man going ghetto in order to rebuild his suit, his friendship with the film’s child character and, definitely, the most impressive finale of the series. The bad stuff for me was this movie pretending it was going to be the darkest instalment of the series, then doing 180 and actually becoming easily the campiest of the bunch. I didn’t mind that much, except that with Ben Kingsley there, I seriously expected more from the Mandarin – who in the end was just a red herring to throw Iron Man (and the audience) off the real bad guy’s scent, who wasn’t really that interesting in the long run.

However, Iron Man 3 never became dull or predictable which is one good thing I can say in its defence in comparison to a lot of other movies I’ve seen this year. It was easily the least impressive of the Iron Man movies so far, but even for that it was very entertaining.

Despicable_Me_27. Despicable Me 2

The first Despicable Me has been one of my favourite animated movies of recent years, so I was definitely worried that the sequel wasn’t going to live up to its awesomeness. And while it didn’t, I left the theatre with a good feeling because the movie was solid enough on its own.

Despicable Me 2’s only flaw was that it didn’t have a strong story going in. It was just about Gru helping an agency catch another villain. The film did its best with hilarious one-of bits from Margo, Edith and Agnes. The minions, who were admittedly slight camera-hogs in the first film, were pretty much the stars of this feature, for better or for worse. Gru’s budding romance with the agent Lucy was really a bit of a tag-along plot point and not nearly as rewarding as I would have hoped.

Still, hilarious action-scenes, great humour and the same care free atmosphere as the first film ensured that I had a good time.

silent-hill-revelation6. Silent Hill: Revelation

Another video-game movie which dodged a theatrical release in my country and had to wait for the DVD release was the sequel to what is easily the best written video-game film I’ve ever seen. The original Silent Hill was a dark, gloomy, frightening and ambiguous movie with characters you could easily sympathise with and stunning special effects, both physical and CG.

Revelation has sequel written all over it. It picks up some years after the first and tries to serve as a direct follow-up to the first movie. Sadly, it lacks the subtlety and mystery of the original. It over-explains the plot way too much and the horror jumps straight at you (are you surprised that it’s a 3D film) from the get-go. So it’s a rather underwhelming follow-up to the first movie.

That considered, it’s actually a really entertaining film. Revelation is the sort of movie where you have to leave your brain at the door. There are some genuinely frightening elements to it, a pretty cool Malcolm McDowell cameo and an epic Monster Bash at the very finale. Revelation is a dumb movie, but entertaining enough that I don’t feel too bad that it didn’t live up to its predecessor.

Wreckitralphposter5. Wreck-it Ralph

This movie in fact wasn’t released in my home-country until early 2013, but I still managed to miss it in theatres and had to wait for the DVD to come out. Wreck-it Ralph is a video-game movie, but rather than base itself on an actual game – it uses real game characters in its backgrounds and settings and instead focuses on an original cast of characters.

Ralph, the villain of his own eponymous game, gets tired of getting no respect and seeks self-gratification by traveling to other game worlds. Unfortunately, this nearly dooms the citizens of his own game as the arcade patrons and its owner believe the game is malfunctioning. Ralph eventually befriends a glitch called Vanellope of a game called Sugar Rush who is trying to win her own place in her game-world.

The movie has a likeable cast and pretty heart-warming story. Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship has a lot of great potential and I also like Fixit Felix’s odyssey to find Ralph. However, at its core it’s more of a traditional feel-good movie and the video-game trappings are really just a decoration. I would have been more impressed with the film if it had used the characters from an actual video-game.

Regardless, I was thoroughly impressed that the movie managed to poke fun at the industry and tell a good story while at it.

Escapeplanfilmposter4. Escape Plan

Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) escapes prisons for a living and is asked to test out an “off the grid” holding facility. Soon though, he realises he’s been double-crossed and is trapped for real. He partners up with another inmate, Emil (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to get both of them out.

I was eager to see Escape Plan, especially since I missed Schwarzenegger’s first major return role to motion pictures, The Last Stand. Escape Plan has a lot of gritty energy to it, but what I love that for once it’s a movie where the heroes don’t get out just by blasting guns a lot. Ray’s character is creative and inventive and uses his head to deduce the weak-spots of the prison to allow himself and Emil to get free. The tension is excellent and that’s the main reason I was so impressed with the film. Also, Schwarzenegger gets to shine with his character and not simply from spouting out one-liners (though there’s a bit of that too).

The Escape Plan’s only flaws are its opening and ending. The movie just kind of jumps in to the fray and ends on a rather juvenile note which slightly undermines the otherwise excellent story. However, the film is strong enough in all its other parts that it easily jumped to the top-5 for me.

Django_Unchained_Poster3. Django Unchained

Yet another movie I missed in the theatres, but I was more than happy to wait for the DVD. With this film, Quintin Tarantino pays homage to the spaghetti-westerns and does so brilliantly. Django captures the atmosphere, the music and suspense of those movies. Add to this Tarantino’s typically strong writing and some brilliant actor performances and you’ve got yourself a movie to die for.

Django strikes a nerve with its themes of racism and vigilantism. The opening blows you away quickly as you become intrigued with Christoph Waltz’s unpredictable character and eventually the movie turns into a story of Django’s revenge. Things seem to transpire positively until the inevitable, bloody finale where blood packs aren’t spared. The film perhaps lacks the story-telling gall of such movies as Inglorious Basterds, Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction – but the main story is so good that it doesn’t really matter.

This film’s only major weakness is perhaps the last act. It’s really devoid of the typical solemnity of Tarantino’s other films and seems to be made just to give the movie an “explosive” end. After such a great and intense build-up, I was expecting something a bit more clever. However, when 90% of the movie is pure gold, the fact that 10% of it lands a bit short is hardly a huge sin, and I’d still consider this one of Tarantino’s best films.

StarTrekIntoDarkness_FinalUSPoster2. Star Trek: Into Darkness

After the explosive reboot, I was anxious to see what the second Star Trek film from J.J. Abrams had in store. I was delightfully surprised. Not only did the film, in my view, live up to the first movie, it actually surpassed it. It also didn’t just blindly try to be a rip-off of The Wrath of Khan but actually stood on its own and offered another villain for the heroes to face.

It also put a lot of the character relationships into better focus and the only one who I think got left out a little was McCoy. The film did lift some elements of the old Khan story, but did them mostly well. I could complain about the more decisively action-oriented direction that the new films have taken, but luckily the films have also kept the comedy strong, especially in this instalment with Scotty, that the action never derails the actual story. Benedict Cumberbatch and Peter Weller definitely add a level of gravitas to the thing. I was also amused at some of the design choices which, I think, indicate that the movie is a bit of a practice run for Abrams for the up-coming Star Wars Episode 7.

Into Darkness was a hellishly impressive film, but a few minor weaknesses kept it from being number-1. I was a little disappointed that Abrams had to bring Leonard Nemoy back for another appearance as the time-travelling Spock. I could still accept it in the first movie, but here it felt like they were desperately clinging to the old Star Trek tradition and unwilling to let the new series run its own course.

Rush1. Rush

No contest. I’ve been dying for a good movie about the King of Motorsports, Formula One, and Ron Howard was the man to give it to me. Rush is the story of the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda and focuses most on their infamous 1976 season.

What the movie did brilliantly was show the contrasting personalities of Hunt and Lauda. Hunt is a cocky, talented driver but also womanizing party-animal who doesn’t take failure well. Lauda is an engineering genius, a cold fish, glory-hungry and outwardly callous, but deathly afraid of dying on the track. The racing scenes look excellent and the film also treats Lauda’s disfiguring accident with a lot of class but without censoring any of the genuine horror. The film doesn’t also pull its punches depicting Hunt’s tumultuous marriage and career.

Rush had very few flaws that I could think of. It’s a such a good movie that even people not familiar with the sport will find the characters likeable and the atmosphere thrilling. Rush was my absolute favourite movie I saw in 2013 and its number-1 position was more than justified.