I’d firstly like to give a quick mention to what I believe to be the worst film I’ve seen in 2013; the abysmally franchise-killing Die Hard 5 or; A Good Day to Die Hard. I’m a big fan of the series, and each of the first four films has their merits. They are good films. This one just isn’t. It’s up there with the worst written and worst acted blockbusters I’ve ever witnessed, and CGI is so terribly laughable, it made me want to cry. A real nail in the coffin of a series that should’ve left it’s reputation untarnished with #4. A real bad day for Die Hard.
With that out of the way, I’ll move onto a few films I enjoyed, but didn’t quite make the list.
The good try awards go to Kick Ass 2 and The Heat. Kick Ass 2 tries to be bolder, braver and ruder than it’s predecessor, and I suppose it gives it a good bash. It’s definitely a lot of fun, but it’s a squandered effort that could’ve been executed a lot better. A lot of the film felt disjointed and uneven (See; the whole Mindy Mean Girls thing), and I wasn’t too impressed with how some of the action scenes were handled. The camerawork was too frantic for my liking. The Heat, on the other hand is surprisingly funny and could’ve been something really great if it had just a little less cheese! Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy have great fun and give it their all, and the awesome Paul Feig has some decent idea, but they’re let down by a script that just doesn’t feel fresh enough to make it anything particularly memorable.
Trance is another film that I did enjoy. It’s an odd one from Danny Boyle and takes so many left turns throughout, you’re left confused more than anything else. Stunning visuals though, and it’s probably a case of style over substance in the end. Deserves another look. This Is The End is a film that could’ve easily make the list as well, and maybe it deserves to ahead of some of my choices, but alas. It’s a clever idea and there’s some great laughs to be had where you can really see that the cast were having a good time taking the piss out of themselves. The gag rate is about 50/50 hit and miss though, and the terrific cast miss out on some really good opportunities for originality. Still, for what it is, it’s probably better than most people expected it to be. Myself, included. Monsters University was Pixar’s big one this year and although it’s not quite as memorable or as genius as Monster’s Inc, it’s a lot of fun and has as much heart as you’d expect from a Pixar flick.
I’d have much to hard a time ranking these 10 films in any sort of order, so instead I’m going to leave them unranked, and go through them alphabetically instead.
Probably the most surprisingly good film of the year for me, this one. It’s not the most original concept in the world, but there’s enough clever ideas, wit in the script and charm in Domhnall Gleeson’s lovably awkward lead performance to make this one a real winner. Genuinely funny and proper heartwarming. Loved it.
I’m a massive fan of Richard Linklater’s previous two films in the Before trilogy, and an even bigger fan of the man himself. This third film picks up 9 whole years after the previous film, and it shows no sign of ageing. It’s a beautiful thing to watch Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters relationship grow throughout the series, and it’s obvious in this one that they know each other inside out. As with it’s predecessors, the film is all about relationships and life, relying heavily on it’s superb dialogue and excellent performances that ring so true to real life. It’s hard not to be completely engrossed in the characters when the dialogue is this good.
Tarantino delivers the goods with this ridiculous cowboy, western-with-a-twist, Blaxploitation flick. The script is tight, as you’d expect from QT, but definitely not up the the incredible standards that Inglorious Basterds set before it. The cast perform very well under Tarantino’s direction, particularly a show-stealing Leonardo DiCaprio, who really deserved an Oscar over anyone else in the film. It’s a lot of fun, for sure, but QT definitely gets a bit carried away with his own ego at times, and it shows. The lengthy duration probably could’ve benefitted from a slightly shorter runtime but all in all, it makes for a great time at the movies.
Mainstream newcomer Fede Alvarez helmed this remake of Sam Raimi’s genre-denying classic, and although it doesn’t live up the the “Scariest Movie Of All Time” bullcrap marketed in the trailers, it is a very strong film, as far as horror remakes go. It takes a way more serious approach than Rami’s original films in an attempt to terrify, but it’s a case of masses of gore over genuine chills. Still, the gore is fun is you’re a fan of the genre, and the visuals are awesome with a particular credit going for the awesome lighting throughout. The cast is mostly forgettable, simple fodder, except for Jane Levy (from ABC’s Suburgatory) who knocks it out of the park. She’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
Gravity is an odd one for me. I obviously appreciate what a visual spectacle the whole experience is. I mean, it looks fantastic and it feels so real that it even prompted one (albeit idiotic) report to ask director Alfonso Cuarón what it was like filming in space. So yes, it looks fantastic and sounds fantastic. And sometimes that can be enough. But I will admit I did find myself bored at a few points in the film, because once the amazement of the setting sits in, Alfonso really milks it all. Some of the long shots are incredible and I loved them, but some of was just a tad too gratuitous and self-indulgent for my liking. Clooney is awesome, and Bullock is great too, but I guess how much you’ll like the film may very well come down to how much heavy Sandra Bullock breathing you can tolerate. The 90 minute runtime or so was a good choice.
Iron Man 3
I’m not as big an Iron Man fan as the rest of the universe seems to be, but I do think that it’s one of Marvel’s stronger movie franchises. And Robert Downey Jr. embodies the character so well that it’s hard not to enjoy them. It’s him again the third time ‘round that really makes the film work, with a well-rounded, pitch-perfect performance. The action scenes are pretty good, and there’s enough in the plot so it doesn’t run thin for the lengthy run-time, but it’s really the more comedic aspects of the film that make something special. It’s definitely the funniest entry in the series (light, mostly, but some darker elements too), and it seems to take a note from The Avengers in that regard. Credit must go the kid actor in the film, Ty Simpkins, who gives an astoundingly mature effort and holds his own alongside RDJ. Their chemistry is definitely one of the better aspects of the film and heightens it to something more than just an action flick.
As Alex Quinn pointed out, Prisoners is an underdog contender for film of the year, coming seemingly from out of nowhere, it came as a pleasant surprise to me just how strong it was. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal give very raw performances, with particular credit going to Jackman who gives a very well-rounded and vulnerable turn as a father desperate to find his daughter. It’s a slow-building film with a mean runtime, but you’re so invested in its tension that you hardly feel it. It’s a superbly crafted, clever script that doesn’t hold back any punches (literally) and packs a serious emotional hit too.
Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects is an odd, but enthralling film with a seemingly mismatched cast thrown together. The genre feels like it skews all over the place, from drama to romance to trippy drug film, but it’s mostly rooted in thriller. And it certainly packs the thrills, taking numerous left turns and epic twists and shocks that you honestly don’t see coming. It becomes so audacious by the end, that you can’t do anything but applaud how ridiculously entertaining the whole thing is. Rooney Mara steals the show.
I seem to tell everyone these days that James Wan is one of the best modern horror filmmakers around. Really, I’m only basing that off two or three films, but I think they’re good enough for him to warrant the title I’ve given him. The Conjuring, being his strongest film yet definitely cements it. The Conjuring, like Insidious is a haunted house/ghost-y sort of film, and like Insidious, it packs it’s fair share of jump scares. And although I’m not always one to advocate jump scares in horror films (I think they can be cheap and gimmicky), when they’re done well, I can’t deny their effectiveness. The Conjuring does them very, very well. And not only that, but it strikes a great balance between them and more subtle scares. There’s a lot of slow-building tension, and with the help of great direction, good lighting and sound, and solid performances, The Conjuring is an excellent modern horror film. We need people like Wan to keep the genre alive.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
This film, adapted from the strongest book in the series, is a superb effort and has everything fans of the book, or not could want. There’s a great sense of danger this time around, and although the film seems to take it’s time for the first third of so, there’s still a great sense of urgency about it that the first one didn’t have as much. Everything is bigger and better. The violence is upped, the tension is upped, the budget is definitely upped and the performances are even stronger. It creates a world that is both believable and incredibly unbelievable at the same time, and it does a great job of putting you right in the heart of it all. Thoroughly entertaining stuff.
Watch: The first trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Oh boy, this doesn’t look good. Here’s the newest official synopsis
We’ve always known that Spider-Man’s most important battle has been within himself: the struggle between the ordinary obligations of Peter Parker and the extraordinary responsibilities of Spider-Man. But in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker finds that a greater conflict lies ahead.
It’s great to be Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield). For Peter Parker, there’s no feeling quite like swinging between skyscrapers, embracing being the hero, and spending time with Gwen (Emma Stone). But being Spider-Man comes at a price: only Spider-Man can protect his fellow New Yorkers from the formidable villains that threaten the city. With the emergence of Electro (Jamie Foxx), Peter must confront a foe far more powerful than he. And as his old friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), returns, Peter comes to realize that all of his enemies have one thing in common: OsCorp.
Everyone knows that overloading a superhero film with multiple villains doesn’t really work out; it definitely didn’t help Spider-Man 3 and it hindered The Dark Knight Rises. Despite this, TASM2 will see Peter Parker take on Electro, The Rhino and the Green Goblin, and if internet rumours are to be believed, Venom and The Shocker will be making appearances as well. Despite the cast being excellent (Garfield, Stone, Foxx, Paul Giamatti, Chris Cooper, Sally Field, Dane DeHaan), there’s no way this won’t be a mess of a film. Hell, they even brought back the emo fringe from SM3 to give to Harry Osborn!
But hey, who knows, Marc Webb might pull off a directorial masterstroke, and deliver a superhero classic for the ages… nah, probably not. Just give the character back to Marvel please.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is set for release on May 2nd, 2014.
Gal Gadot cast as Wonder Woman in Batman Vs Superman: Looks like DC are really serious about bringing the Justice League to the silver screen. As if the prospect of the first cinematic titanic clash between The Dark Knight and the Man Of Steel wasn’t enough, the as-yet-untitled film will also bring us the first big-screen appearance of the Amazonian princess, played by Gal Gadot of the Fast & Furious franchise. With two big established names in Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill heading up the film, it makes sense that DC and Warner Brothers are attempting to make new stars via the supporting roles, as well as expanding the DC cinematic universe to rival Marvel’s current superhero dominance.
Gadot’s casting adds yet another layer of pressure to the production of Batman Vs Superman. Not only are fans eager to see how Batman is represented after the Nolan trilogy, and how Affleck does in the role, but hopes will be very high that justice is done to Princess Diana of Themyscira. After all, will there be enough room given to her character in an already huge film?
Director Zack Synder has said of the news:
Wonder Woman is arguably one of the most powerful female characters of all time and a fan favorite in the DC Universe. Not only is Gal an amazing actress, but she also has that magical quality that makes her perfect for the role. We look forward to audiences discovering Gal in the first feature film incarnation of this beloved character.
In a franchise which is taking a more grounded and realistic approach to its superheroes (especially in comparison to Marvel), it’ll be a challenge to establish some of Wonder Woman’s more extravagant features; her indestructible bracelets, the Lasso of Truth, the Tiara of Telepathy, the Amazonian race themselves… Not only that but, as with all superhero film adaptation, the costume will be pored over, scrutinised and criticised beyond belief. Prepare for 18 months of increasingly heated nerdy discussion and debate.
Matt Stephen’s highlights of the year
There’s always a golden age for something, and being the ridiculous optimist I am, I always seem to think we’re in the golden age for media as my standards continually drop and as a result, are continually met. But there’s been something about 2013, hasn’t there? Reunions, remakes, real originality, remixes, revelations - with the exception of the gaming world, which seemed to be patiently resigned to the releases of the new Grand Theft Auto and the launch of next-gen gaming. To digress, as a music fan I’ve been blown out of the water and I’m beginning to feel like we’re getting to the point of the phrase “music these days just isn’t that good” being so ignorant that it’s laughable. Thank god. Here’s my Best Five of the year.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is a game changer. I said it in my review for “Space Jaws”, it’s the best cinema-going experience of 2013 and maybe of the 2010s. Although we’re only three years in. Here’s hoping. The sheer inertia and joint claustro/agora-phobia that you’re exposed to, combined with stunningly bright and impressive visuals and Clooney and Bullock’s brilliant dialogous performances (is dialogous a word?) made Gravity easily my film of the year, barring a real blinder from 12 Years A Slave which I still haven’t seen but I hold high hopes for.
- The Return Of Daft Punk
Not even just the superb Random Access Memories (despite that being the largest contributing factor), but to see the robots back on the covers of magazines and in images across the internet is very very exciting. The electronic duo took their mastercraft and restated it with a superb retro feel. I’m glad we can replace Human After All as the most recent Daft Punk album and more positively, I’m glad I’ve got more Daft Punk to put on my party playlists.
- GTA V
Grand Theft Auto makes a good year great. You’ve filled your boots with good albums, films and TV and the like and the serialised call of duties just aren’t meeting your standards. Rockstar comes along and releases a new installment and suddenly the year is firing all cylinders. But seriously; GTA is one of the gameplay experiences of the decade and although the “look at the state we’re in “humour is getting a bit stale, firing up the online and driving around the city with your friends is the best fun it’s possible to have without being jailed for… er, grand theft auto.
- Breaking Bad Is Finally Over
Bear with me - it was a hell of a ride. But now, you needn’t worry about asking “Where are you in the series?” or anything to that effect. We’re in the post-finale stages where we can say “You seen the finale?” and then gush about how truly brilliant the finale was. What a ride it’s been, too. Season 5B was all sorts of tense and I think I speak for all of us when I say that I’m richer for the experience.
- Big Year For British Music
Foals’ Holy Fire, James Blake’s Overgrown, Boards Of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest, Gold Panda’s Half Of Where You Live…. the list goes on. Blake dispelled any second album woes with a cheeky Mercury Prize, Foals’ Holy Fire is a groundshatteringly smart album, Tomorrow’s Havest nailed it….. All in all it’s been one of the more remarkable years for me in British music and 2014 has a lot to live up to.
Joe O’Brien’s top five albums
First off, I’d like to admit that I really haven’t gotten around to listening to as many albums in 2013 as I would’ve liked. I’m the kind of guy who spends more time listening to the back catalogues of bands I’ve just gotten into, or just the classics or whatever! I did, however, get to listen to a couple handfuls of albums this year, and so here’s 5 of ‘em! (PS: I’d also like to comment on how awesome the for artwork for these albums are. )
Kylesa - Ultraviolet
Kylesa is a band that I’ve been meaning to listen to more of. Ultraviolet is their sixth studio album and it’s actually the first one that I’ve heard in full. It’s a sludge metal album with some psychedelic rock creeping in there, in the vein of obvious inspiration Mastodon. It’s a terrific blend of hard and soft, with more emphasis on the former. Those heavier songs really do pack one hell of a punch, with gut-punching, tuned-down riffs that you can’t help but headbang to. The softer stuff feels very melodic and layered and gives the record a nice balance. The variation of male and female lead vocals is nice too. Plus the interchanging of instruments between the four members. A great layered metal album than demands numerous listens to full appreciate.
Listen to: “Unspoken”
Rob Zombie - Venomous Rat Regenerator Vendor
I’ve been a big Rob Zombie fan for a few years now. His love for horror movies and the way he incorporates the genre and a heap of references into his music is something that I’ve always found cool. With his 5th studio album, Venemous Rat Regenerator, he shows no sign of really changing his style. And that’s not a bad thing. The appeal of his music has never been in the quality of his song-writing or even in his vocals, but instead of the relentless energy that he gives into each performance. And the wicked catchy hooks. Much of the credit for the latter goes to John 5, who plays guitar on this album again, and provides some truly rocking riffs. Sure, the songs are simple. The riffs, uncomplex. The vocals, repetitive. But pretty much all the songs come off as instantly catchy and just a lot of fun. Production on the album must be credited too. It sounds huge.
Listen to: “Dead City Radio And The New Gods of Supertown”
Palms - Palms
Palms is a group formed by Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno and three members from the post-metal group Isis. Although I can’t say I’m all that aware of Isis, I’m a massive, massive fan of Chino Moreno; I think almost every project the guy has been involved with is awesome. Palms has a post-metal and alternative metal feel, which makes it feel sort of like a whole album of Deftones’ lighter songs. The instruments definitely feel more relaxed though, and the album doesn’t have the same “noise” or “fuzz” sound that Deftones albums seem to have. It’s all taken at a nice, chilled pace and Moreno’s vocals come through nice and clean, allowing him to really show off the incredible range he has. Man, this guy can sing! The album consist of six songs, each about seven minutes long, and they all lead into each other really well, giving it an excellently cohesive feeling. Really promising stuff with this debut.
Listen to: “Future Warrior”
Arctic Monkeys - AM
I’m not going to pretend that I’m one of Arctic Monkeys’ biggest fans. I obsessed over their debut album back in 2006, like everyone else did. But then I got over it in a big way, and since then I haven’t been interested enough to check out any of their albums in full. I did, however, for whatever reason decide to check out AM and it was a damn good decision. What I instantly loved about the album is that it sounded heavier than what I had come to known Arctic Monkeys’ sound as. Sure it’s still primarily indie/garage rock or whatever you want to call it, but there’s nice elements of hard rock and even psychedelic rock in this record that feel right at home. Those heavier, louder, faster tracks are right up my alley, and there’s catchy enough lighter ones to counter-balance it. There’s a couple of dud tracks in there if you want to get nitpicky, but overall the album flows with a really nice kick, giving you tunes you’ll be humming all week afterwards.
Listen to: “R U Mine?”
Queens of the Stone Age - …Like Clockwork
When I was making picks for this list, the only album I was 100% certain of was Like Clockwork. I had been excited about this album since I first heard Era Vulgaris all those many years ago and the six year wait was agonizing. In those six years I got to know QOTSA inside-out, and now I profess them as one of, if not, by favourite band around. Like Clockwork is worth the wait. From the very few seconds of “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”, I knew immediately that I was in for something special. The rest of the album doesn’t quite keep up the same downtuned, slow, ridiculous heavy vibe of this opening track, but that’s a good thing. Because what the album is is a collection of songs that each feel completely unique. We get the fast, catchy single “My God is the Sun”, and then the weird psychedelic “Kalopsia” (featuring NIN frontman and soundtrack guy to every movie ever, Trent Reznor). We get the wacky, poppy “Fairweather Friends”, featuring Elton John of all people, and then we get the ballad-esque title tack; it’s such a layered, brilliantly written, brilliantly produced album that demands to be heard again and again. Those songs that don’t appeal the first time, will certainly the second time. It boasts a heap of guest artists performing in various shapes and forms, and Josh Homme has never been better at writing songs. It’s an album that shouldn’t quite feel like it pieces together, but it does, finding some sort of cohesion in the evil, somehow sexy feeling that can be found hiding in every track.
Listen to: “I Appear Missing”
Jimmy Hatcher’s album of the year (and one runner-up)
2013 continued the trend of R&B’s heavy influence on indie electronic music producers. Rhye’s Woman, released in March, took the sound of ’90s Sade and adult contemporary music from the ’80s and turned it into something new and fresh. Inc. put out No World, an album with indelible influences from Maxwell and Jam & Lewis that resulted in a divisive (though in my opinion; great) album of downtempo atmospheric R&B.
So in a year of albums with direct lines of influence back to past titans of New Jack Swing and Adult Contemporary hits, Beacon's The Ways We Separate sticks out a bit. The debut full-length from the Brooklyn duo certainly fits in with the artists mentioned above, the music is much more individual. The Ways We Separate is less Roxy Music and Teddy Riley than it is a fusing of the chilly electronics of 100th Window and the emotion of Take Care.
The Ways We Separate sounds as if it is totally devoid of acoustic instrumentation, yet manages to sound warm and human throughout. Mullarney’s vocals cut through the layers of synths and echoing drum pads in a way that makes you forget the cold and calculated nature of the digital instrumentation. Said vocals sing yearning tales of modern love at its ugliest with stories of abandonment, obsession, emotional distance and neglect. A loose story could be woven together from the lyric sheets of the album.
From start to finish, The Ways We Separate creates mood and space from sparse instrumentation that implies small scenes in large venues. Every drum hit echoes into the distance and every synth line floats in from elsewhere. Despite the lightness of all parts, it’s still propulsive and intense at points. It’s pleasant to have as a backdrop but rewards closer listening with it’s detailed and rich production.
All of this makes for what was my favourite album of 2013. It infuses spacy ambient music with the emotion and soul of R&B. Definitely not a record to be missed.
The runner-up would have to be Three Sided Tape Volume One by Lil Ugly Mane. Though not a proper album per se (that’s still coming up), the first in the Three Sided Tape duology by Lil Ugly Mane offers a glimpse into the creative mind of Shawn Kemp outside of his relentlessly dark, aggressive and abrasive material released thus far. Consisting of 61 minutes of mostly instrumental hip hop productions, Three Sided Tape Volume 1 shows that for the past few years, despite his chosen direction in sound shown on Mista Thug Isolation and Playaz Circle, Kemp is at all times running circles around his contemporaries without even really trying. The 32 “tracks” present here are separated into three tracks running 17, 25 and 19 minutes each. Across its runtime Kemp covers radio rap, warped vaporwave-esque tracks, east-coast hip hop, avant-garde, gospel-and-breaks type beats, cloud rap (he out-Clams Casino’s Clams Casino with the warped vocal samples and fuzz), drum & bass and even black metal. Despite the sheer breadth of styles covered on this tape nothing ever feels out of place and it all sounds like a Kemp production.
Watch: Latest viral for X-Men: Days Of Future Past helpfully proves Magneto killed JFK
Using the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy as the basis for a viral hype video for your film is one way to get people talking. Whether or not, Magneto’s actions will play into the final film remains to be seen. Days Of Future Past sees both the cast of the original three X-Men films and the cast of First Class unite for some wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey action, so it’s possible this “Bent Bullet theory” is part of an alternate timeline. Then again, time travel in movies is always headache-inducing so let’s not go there. The last time Michael Fassbender was involved in a pre-release viral trailer, we ended up with Prometheus… so god knows whether we’ll be seeing an addition to the pantheon of great superhero films, or another Last Stand.
X-Men: Days Of Future Past is slated for release on May 23rd, 2014
Olsen & Taylor-Johnson officially confirmed for Avengers sequel: Hollywood’s worst kept secret is finally confirmed; Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson will play Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. The pair had long been rumoured for the parts of the brother-sister mutants, with their eventual casting all but announced by Samuel L Jackson last month, but now it seems all the contracts have been signed and whatnot. In the world of Marvel, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are actually the children of X-Men antagonist Magneto, but since Fox owns the rights to the cinematic version of our favourite mutant team, there’s no chance of the metal manipulator appearing in Age Of Ultron. However, Quicksilver will appear in X-Men: Days Of Future Past, played by American Horror Story’s Evan Peters. In a strange coincidence, Olsen and Taylor-Johnson will be appearing in next year’s Godzilla reboot as husband and wife…