Michael Prescott brings us his recommendations of the seven best films from the first half of 2013, proving that blockbusters aren’t the only option.
2013 might feel like a year crammed full of dull blockbusters, but my mid-point review aims to find truth in just the opposite. Even ignoring the bad ones and discounting the Oscar contenders from January and February, the likes of Star Trek Into Darkness, The Great Gatsby and Cloud Atlas in particular have all been worthwhile. Flawed for sure, but interesting and ambitious nonetheless, and that’s what counts.
On top of this, the likes of The Bling Ring, Spring Breakers, Side Effects, Side by Side, Stories We Tell, The World’s End, Compliance and Stoker have also provided something unique, entertaining and provoking. And the magnificent seven below cover a variety of genres, styles and types of film, including an animation, a couple of documentaries, a sequel, an epic drama and a TV movie.
And so, with no further ado, here’s just a slice of the year’s triumphs from January through to July:
Somewhat of a surprise perhaps – considering that it was limited to a HBO special in America – but not for anyone who knows how talented and versatile Steven Soderbergh is. It certainly doesn’t lack cinematic qualities, either in the visuals or the narrative, but perhaps it’s just a little too gay for much of the USA. Matt Damon once again excels playing a ‘softer’ character (a la Good Will Hunting and The Talented Mr Ripley) whilst Michael Douglas is superb as Liberace. Behind the Candelabra, reviewed by Vada two months ago, is fabulous, feisty and even features Rob Lowe looking hysterical as a fucked-up plastic surgeon. Seriously, what more could you want?
The first of two rather brilliant documentaries to be mentioned comes from Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side). This is the chronicling of Julian Assange’s rise and fall, including the foundation of WikiLeaks itself and the infamous episode involving Bradley Manning. Even without any new Assange interviews, this is a fascinating insight into a great many things including his rockstar profile, the digital age mixing with politics, the troubles and tribulations of sexuality and security, and a whole lot more. And with the recent Edward Snowden case, it couldn’t be any more relevant or worthy of attention if it tried.
It’s a joy, an absolute joy. If your kids don’t like this then disown them. Or just forget about them for a second; it’s not really for them, after all. Even though they should love the colourful palette, energetic storyline and warm characters, at least be content with the unarguable fact that you absolutely will. You couldn’t do otherwise, because it’s a retro-filled fun-fest, and is honestly the best animation since Toy Story 3. It’s like having your childhood projected onto a screen.
Mark Kermode did his own top-five last week, with Good Vibrations coming in at 1. The biopic tells the tale of Terri Hooley and his record store which puts punk rock on the map in Northern Ireland, with the backdrop of civil war adding an extra kick. Despite this heavy theme lurking throughout, it’s an absolute blast in terms of comedy and laughs, with Richard Dormer (Hooley) evoking Robin Williams at his prime in look, sound and all-round mannerisms. Good Vibrations is what every feel-good film aspires to be.
The Cianfrance-Gosling connection was mentioned on Vada last week, and for good reason too. The duo reunited this year after working on Blue Valentine together, and they didn’t disappoint in either outing. It’s an utterly different film from the last, covering an epic scale which confused and surprised many. Whilst it’s presented as episodic, the entire point is that it’s not really – everything is linked. There’s a whole host of other interesting themes in there too, and to say that it gets weaker as it goes on – despite Gosling’s early dazzling form – is to oversimplify things. This will get better each time you watch it, as Carl Eden remarked upon reviewing it back in April.
Richard Linklater’s stunning Before trilogy is a genuine contender for the best [cinematic] threesome of all time, after the addition of melancholy Midnight. Following 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset, the director and starring duo of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy waited another nine years before resurrecting this epic indie love story. Their foray into the unexpected world of marriage and sensibility, family life and practicalities leave them a long way from their romantic beginnings of existential questions and European adventures. It’s all too worryingly real, but that’s precisely wherein the beauty lies.
But the real surprise of 2013 so far is Fire in the Blood which had an extremely limited release, playing as just a one-off screening in many cities across the UK. I saw it at the start of the year, and was astounded, believing it would take a minor miracle for a better documentary to turn up in 2013. Despite catching some great offerings at Doc/Fest in Sheffield, it remains true to say that I haven’t. The exploration of the extraordinary lengths pharmaceutical companies in the western world will go to promote profit over health is a necessary one, despite how disturbing it is.
I am, however, yet to see the supposedly extraordinary The Act of Killing, nor Blackfish either, and so it will be interesting to see whether these documentaries (or any fiction film) can knock it off 1 spot by the end of the year. Regardless, you absolutely need to see this film… (and the other six too).