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Ah, ’tis that glorious time of the year again. I have seen all the films I’ve had time, not to mention will have time to see this year and as 2013 comes to a close, it’s time for me to pick out the ones that I enjoyed watching the most. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my annual Top 10 Greatest Movies of The Year list!

Now, as always I find it necessary to point out that there are some films I didn’t see this year that you might’ve put on your list (Saving Mr. Banks, 12 Years A Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street, for instance, I have not seen) and there are also films on here that originally came out in 2012 but still qualify, to me, as 2013 films since that’s the year they came out in Europe. Also, keep in mind that even though I view these film through a critic’s eye, the list is very personal so if you have picks you completely don’t agree with, that’s totally fine! With all that said, enjoy my list of my own favourite 2013 movies.

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10. Now You See Me

Now You See Me

I have to point out, I think, that this film would have ended up much higher on this list if one element had been done better: the big twist at the end. Although on the other hand, I won’t go as far as to suggest that this twist in any way hurts the rest of the movie. In fact: it’s arguably a perfect twist when you consider that the whole point of Louis Leterrier‘s Now You See Me is that the closer you look and the more you think you know, the easier it will be to fool you. What if that was the whole point all along? Gasp.

Now You See Me is a heist film, but it’s not a regular heist film. It is a heist film that revolves around crimes pulled by a group of magicians, who rely on their remarkably convincing tricks to pull everything off right before their audience’s eyes. These are an intensely lovable bunch and their interactions are priceless. They’re played by Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco and Woody Harrelson; all of them terrific. On their tail they have an FBI agent played by Mark Ruffalo, who employs the assistance of  ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a frequent debunker of magic shows everywhere, in order to expose these criminals and figure out how everything works.

There is, however, a question as to who is the good guy here. The crimes committed by the Four Horsemen, as they call themselves, mostly revolve around getting back at the corrupt system, such as when they give everyone’s money back from an insurance magnate named Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), who at first serves as their sponsor and thus unwitting pawn. It is all very cleverly executed, in spite of how impossible these crimes would be to pull off in real life, and it is definitely entertaining to keep guessing what’s actually going on behind the curtains. Best of all is the writing of the interactions between the characters, particularly the Horsemen themselves, not to mention the confrontations between acting legends Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. When these two were on-screen together, it almost made me forget about the rest of the characters in the movie.

The movie is clever, witty, exciting and well-made. Overall, I had so much fun watching Now You See Me that I cannot help but it include it here.

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9. Django Unchained

Django Quentin Tarantino does Western in Django Unchained, a film that, like so many other films, came out in Europe quite a while after its release in the USA. But, forgive me, the film is simply too good for me to exclude it from this countdown.

Based in some small ways on the original Django movie by Sergio Corbucci, Django Unchained tells us the story of a slave known as Django (Jamie Foxx) who, after his wife (Kerry Washington) is taken away from him and sold to the home of a wealthy and ruthless Leonardo DiCaprio, is rescued from his shackles by the ridculously polite but manipulative bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz intends to use Django when tracking down some of his targets but eventually their mission becomes geared towards finding the house where his wife is being held and get her out of there. Cue the beautifully violent gun fights and hilarious back-and-forth banter only the genius of Tarantino can pull off. It is a joy to behold.

The performances are all great too. Jamie Foxx makes for a strong lead, Waltz shows he earned the Oscar this role landed him and of course DiCaprio is highly enjoyable as always, even though he hams it up in a few scenes. The supporting cast consists of Walton Goggins, Don Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson who plays a grumpy old man. Interesting choice.

Also, keep an eye open for Franc Nero, the original Django, who gets a brief cameo in a scene where Foxx’s Django, for the umptieth time in the movie, explains that when you pronounce his name “the D is silent”. Nero responds: “I know”.

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8. Oblivion

Oblivion

Here is the most delightful thing about this year: the science fiction genre has clearly grown bigger, as proven by the abundance of such film this year. People seem to be catching on to the notion that this genre provides for more creative ideas, immersive plots and intriguing visuals than, say, a formulaic romantic comedy. Not quite everybody understands this just yet but it sure seems as though we’re getting there. It helps that Joseph Kosinski‘s Oblivion is a superb example of its kind. Smart, exhilerating, visually entrancing and interesting non-stop. I’d also get my hands on the soundtrack by M83 if I were you, because that stuff is almost too good to be true!

The story is set on a post-apocalyptic Planet Earth, almost completely uninhabited after a war between humans and aliens wiped out the planet’s moon. The only humans left are the mop-up crew who collect supplies and fight off what appears to be remaining aliens, with the help of robots known as Drones, before they can ascend to space station Tet, which will take them to Saturn’s moon of Titan – where, according to their mission control (played by Melissa Leo), anyway – the rest of mankind is currently hiding.

Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough are part of said mop-up crew, but Cruise suspects that things aren’t as they seem. He dreams of Earth as it was before the war, which are memories he should not have, and a beautiful woman played by Olga Kurylenko. It’s after he runs into a dark and mysterious figure played by Morgan Freeman that he truly begins to doubt who the real enemy is and what really happened to humanity after the war.

As you can probably tell just by my description, there are lots of plot twists that show up and multiple layers of story that unfold as the story progresses. It’s not terribly hard to follow, but some of it is a bit much and almost feels sorta pointless, which is why I’m not putting the movie as high on this list as others most likely would. Basically, I can’t say I could just sit back and enjoy Oblivion quite as much as I did another, very similar movie on this list, but we’ll get to that one in a bit. For now, I’ll just state that, in spite of these small flaws, Oblivion is still an impressively gorgeous and fresh sci-fi flick that I’m glad I saw, and move on to my next pick:

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7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Hunger Games

The first Hunger Games film, based on Suzanne Collins‘ book of the same name, only barely exceeded “meh”-levels in terms of enjoyability. The sequel, Catching Fire, on the other hand, takes things up more than just one notch and left me with the overall sentiment of “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

In Catching Fire we’re reuinited with Jennifer Lawrence‘s Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson‘s Peeta Mallark, who both have ascended to world fame after winning last year’s Hunger Games tournament pretty much by refusing to kill each other, thus defying the rules. This makes their fellow inhabitants of Panem’s (i.e. futuristic North America) poorer districts worship them both, but primarily Katniss (because who doesn’t love Jennifer Lawrence?) as a symbol of rebellion and freedom from the oppressive rule of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Troubled by this, Snow is approached by the new gamemaker of the Hunger Games, Plutarch Heavensbee (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), who proposes that the easiest way to get rid of Katniss is to put her back in the Hunger Games arena, except this time she has to face winner’s of past games. Katniss, still traumatized by the things she was forced to go through in the arena the first time around, isn’t exactly happy when Snow announces this on TV.

Catching Fire is better than its predecessor on so many levels. The returning characters – Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, Liam Hemsworth as Gale and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, just to name some – are much more interesting and get more to do this time around, and the newcomers, most of which include the new Hunger Games tributes (played by Sam Claflin, Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright, amongst others) are also a ton of fun to watch. Although the most stark improvement has to be the cinematography – completely unwatchable in the first film, competent and nice-looking here.

It also provides a heavier tone that makes the stakes feel higher and the arcs of our heroes feel more grand and important. Couple that with the fact that the world and its design is an immersive and clever one, and you’ve got yourself a really splendid film with only the occasional thing that doesn’t hold up. It most certainly achieved that which the first film only kinda-sorta did: make me look forward to seeing more!

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6. The World’s End

World's End

Lovable characters are more important in a comedy than some might think, and The World’s End has one of the most lovable groups of characters I’ve had the pleasure of sharing an absurd adventure with. To be precise: the adventure in this film involves a group of friends who fight off “robots”, aliens and the end of the world itself to finish their pub run. Yes, to finish their pub run.

This gang of long-time mates, the so-called Five Musketeers, consists of their egotistical leader Gary King (Simon Pegg) and his old pals Ande Knightley (Nick Frost), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan). Many years ago, on the night they thought was going to be the start of their new exciting adult lives, they started the notorious Golden Mile pub run of Newton Haven, which ends at a pub known as The World’s End. They never completed it. Currently middle-aged, most of the Musketeers lead boring, ordinary lives that doesn’t even resemble the fun and carefree lifestyle they thought adulthood would encompass, the exception being Gary King who still has that reckless teen within him and intends to reuinte the Five Musketeers, return to New Haven and finish the Golden Mile. But Haven isn’t what it used to be when they return and it turns out that finishing the pub run might turn into a battle that puts the fate of the Earth itself at stake.

Some genuinely inventive and, above all, hilarious sci-fi action ensues, but it is the characters and performances that make this one of the most well-made comedies I’ve seen. Gary’s dedication to finish what he started as a young man at first seems selfish and amusingly ridiculous but director Edgar Wright and Pegg both manage to pull off the sympathetic elements of his desires as well. He’s nostalgic. He years for the past. He dreads leading the same uneventful adult lives his former companions became trapped in. He is so bent on re-living the most wonderful night of his life that he’s willing to go through robots with blue blood and a Great Intelligence homage voiced by Bill Nighy to get to it. It’s just a priceless blend of surreal, dramatic, humorous and bizarrely touching. When I saw The World’s End for the first time, I stopped 20 or so minutes in, rewinded it, called for my brother and said “Okay, you’ve got to come see this!” 

The World’s End is exactly the bizarre and heartfelt comedy this year needed. Truly, after seeing Movie 43, I had begun to doubt I would ever laugh again.

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5. Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

You want to know the main reason Pacific Rim is on this list? Here it is: it delivers EXACTLY what it promises. I wanted a movie that shows the idiots behind those Transformers flicks how it’s really done. I wanted bombastic action. I wanted to see enormous humanoid mecha that look, sound and move like they truly weigh thousands of tons beating up giant monsters that probably weigh just as much, and that is exactly what I got from this!

Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro brings us the movie everybody who, well, wants to see giant robots clobber giant monsters wants to see. The film is set in a future where a great threat has revealed itself; an interdimensional portal on the bottom of the ocean, from which emerge various forms of ginormous monstrosities, known aptly enough as “Kaijus”. To defeat the monsters, we’ve created monsters of our own: the Jaegers, skyscraper-tall fightning machines piloted by two people bonded cerebrally via a technique knows as Drifting. Commanding the Jaeger program is retired badass Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and returning for Jaeger duty after a horrible accident made him go on hiatus is the film’s protagonist Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam). His new partner for what’s meant to be the final battle against the Kaiju enemy is a shy young woman named Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), whose backstory is a surprisingly captivating one once it’s revealed to both us and Raleigh.

These two (kinda-sorta) love birds are interesting enough but the real hero of this movie, to me, is Charlie Day‘s Dr. Newton Geiszler, an immensely fun and eccentric Kaiju-studying scientist whose side-plot involves trying to use the Drifting technology to figure out exactly what the Kaijus want and what their secrets are. His equally lovable lab partner is a snooty English mathematician played by Burn Gorman and the rest of cast includes the likes of Clifton Collins Jr. as the Jager mission control and, my absolute favourite, Ron Perlman as ludicrously wealthy psychopath Hannibal Chau who deals Kaiju organs on the black market. Any scene involving him and Charlie Day is enough to make this one of the year’s absolute highlights. (Also, GladOS from Portal voices the Jaeger computer. Your argument is invalid.)

But the action is why we’re here and it is all you could hope for. Everything feels huge, everything sounds massive, everything looks bombastic and the stylized, colorful look of the film makes it harder to notice if anything’s fake. I urge everyone to buy this movie on Blu-Ray in HD and watch it with the subwoofer on. You will not regret it! (Although your neighbours might.)

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4. Elysium

Elysium

Here we have it. My favourite out of this year’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi action films: Elysium. Saying that it’s better than After Earth is of course a no-brainer but it seems to me that more people seem to prefer Oblivion over this one. Maybe it’s something I’m missing, but I simply had much more fun watching Elysium and it was almost somewhat relaxing that it didn’t attempt to be as brainy and complex as Oblivion. No, my friends, Elysium is more about action and especially gorey violence! Can’t go wrong with that – especially not if you’re the guy who made District 9.

Sure, it might not have been striving to be a bloody action-fest first hand. The story is more of a drama with social commentary built into it. It is directed by Neil Blomkamp and just like how his District 9 depicted xenophobia in South Africa by using prawn-like aliens in the place of oppressed minorities, Elysium is basically an futuristic version of Mexicans trying to cross the American border. The plot takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth that has basically been damaged by humanity to the point where the entire planet resembles a giant slum. Those with enough money and power, however, still live a life of luxury and, most importantly, instant medical treatment on a huge space station called Elysium. In charge of defending it from intruders from Earth is Jodie Foster, whose violent methods make her superiors concerned.

Matt Damon is Max, our hero. After living on Earth most of his life, he one day becomes fatally sick and in his desperation allies with a group of Mexicans who give him a mission to steal info from William Fichtner in exchange for a ticket into one of the ships they use to try and smuggle Earthlings onto Elysium. The stakes are raised, however, when it turns out Fichtners’s information will give them access to the very systems of Elysium itself. Chase scenes and robot battles, of course, ensue.

The film mixes its action, which is only occasionally too shaky, with spectacular visuals and an equally spectacular score. The characters are believable in their surprising selfishness, which I’m sure will turn some viewers off, and the antagonist played by Sharlto Copley has convinced me (again) that the man can do no wrong. I just had a blast watching it and if there are flaws in it that utterly I failed to spot, I assume I only did so because the rest of the film is such a smashingly fun and cool one. I say Elysium is worth your money! That is, unless you still live down on the slums of Earth and barely have any.

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3. Gravity

Gravity

Gravity is not a science fiction movie. This is just a science movie, and it’s about time Hollywood created one of those. Nowhere else will you see a film that so beautifully and accurately depicts life and especially death in space. If you’ve ever wanted to live the life of an astronaut, Gravity will achieve exactly this for you, and probably also make you re-think that desire.

Directed by Children of Men‘s Alfonso Cuarón and starring almost nobody besides George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, Gravity focuses on two astronauts ending up the sole survivors after a cloud of space debris gets caught in orbit around the Earth and destroys the rest of the crew on their shuttle, the Explorer. Alone, they try to make their way to the closest space station, which is their only means of getting home before the air runs out and they’re stuck drifting aimlessly and helplessly into the dark, empty and gigantic vacuum of space. This task, though, turns out to be easier said that done.

This is one of the few films I can think of that benefit from being in 3D. The technique helps simulate the terrifyingly empty vastness of the vacuum that surrounds our home planet alone and the rest of the space-related science is so spot-on that, again, it feels like being in space. The cinematography and visuals are too magnificent to describe. The first shot in the film, I swear to God, lasts for about 20 minutes before the first cut and gives us a full view of and around the space shuttle our heroes are working on and if it was all CG, including every part of the space suits that aren’t the faces of the actors, you could have fooled me because it looks perfect. The effects are just absolutely first-rate and along with one of the best movie scores I’ve ever heard, it creates a movie experience that is unlike anything that cinema has ever provided.

Add to that some truly powerful performances, especially by Sandra Bullock, and nicely simulated zero-gravity and you have a nail-biting and hypnotizing motion picture that would make Stanley Kubrick himself proud of what space movies have evolved into. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

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2. Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is some sort of miracle. Impossible to talk about in a short summary, it’s a film that begs to be discussed and I have done so many times, with family, friends and my culture-history teacher. Directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, the film contains six very different stories, set in six very different time periods and focuses on six different casts of characters; all six casts using the same actors under varying amounts of make-up. This means you’ll see Tom Hanks as the villain of one story, a hero in the next, and so on and so forth. That’s pretty damn awesome.

What each individual story is about is irrelevant. What’s important is how they connect and how their themes repeat throughout the film’s timeline. Characters of each story will find one another’s escapades and adventures documented as books or films within their own story and be motivated by what they read, see or hear to make a significant decision that propels their story forward. There’s also that recurring birthmark that serves as a sign as to what person in the tale is significant to the crashing of whatever oppressive system reigns in that particular story, and the “Cloud Atlas Sextet”, a most wonderful musical piece that remains prominent even as the story moves to 22nd century Korea, the original piece being written in 1936 by a man who thought he would never create anything that had such a significant impact on history itself. The film serves to prove just how wrong that notion can be. Everything is connected, more than anyone will ever be aware.

I could do a full commentary for this and go into further detail on the multiple recurring motifs, the various ways in which history is shown to repeat itself and all the ambitious make-up tricks that were done to make sure the multiple roles held by each actor look as different from one another as possible. You can usually tell when you’re watching Jim BroadbentHalle Berry or Tom Hanks but in some cases, it’s damn near impossible to know for sure and I love that!  The film’s an intellectual and entrancing saga of greed, oppression, freedom, death and other concepts that echo throughout time and despite its length, it is never once boring! It helps to see Hugh Grant as a cannibal and Hugo Weaving in drag.

After reading the book during my trip to Egypt and watching the Sweden premiere on my 18th birthday, it’s safe to say that Cloud Atlas has evolved into one of my favourite things of all time. I’ve already gone on and on about how fantastic it is so I think I’ve done it justice. But there’s still one film I saw this year that I loved just that little bit more. That film, dear readers, was:

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1. Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It

Yeah yeah, I know. This isn’t originally a 2013 film but you know what, this was the year it was released where I live, this was the year I first saw it and it was the most enjoyable and exhilarating time I’ve had watching any movie in Lord knows how long. This isn’t just the greatest animated movie in recent history. It is one of the greatest films I have ever seen in my life, period. Seeing as this film was released by Disney the same year that Pixar, the company that would normally make something this intelligent and inventive, instead gave us a fairly unoriginal princess movie in the form of Brave really makes you wonder: are Disney back on top in terms of animated adventures?

The plot revolves around Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) who has grown tired of his role as the chew toy villain of the popular arcade game Fex-It Felix Jr.. He never gets invited to the parties dedicated to the eponymous hero (Jack McBrayer) nor does he ever get any in-game medals. One day, he decides he’s had enough and decides to try and game hop, i.e. break into another arcade machine and win a medal in a different game. He starts by going into the new first-person-shooter Hero’s Duty but eventually ends up stranded inside a disgustingly bright and sweet Mario Kart-esque game called Sugar Rush. Here he teams up with an adorably annoying little girl named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) who will help Raplh get his medal back only if Ralph helps her enter and win one of the Sugar Rush races. But Vanellope, it turns out, is a glitch, and her conceivably winning a game has been forbidden by the quirky King Candy (Alan Tudyk), as it might have catastrophical consequences for the world of the game. Even worse: a cybug, an insect-like and dangerous virus, has followed Ralph into the game and has started reproducing so things quite evidently go from bad to really bad.

We’re treated to an amazing story, endearing characters, a heart-meltingly adorable relationship between Ralph and Vanellope, a hilarious romance between Fix-It Felix and Hero’s Duty protagonist Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and, most importantly, tons upon tons of spot-on video game jokes.

Not only is the film smart in how it explores the ideas of game characters being aware of the human world and using electrical cords to travel, subway-style, in-between consoles and thus in-between the different game worlds, but it’s also smart in its writing. I swear: every video game in-joke works, every gag gets a laugh, every dramatic moment feels genuine and often outright heartbreaking, every single set-up gets a pitch-perfect payoff and the twist is precisely as “unexpected but obvious when you think about it” as the perfect twist should be. I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about Wreck-It Ralph and it is my favourite film of this whole entire year for a good reason.

Runners-up:

  1. The Great Gatsby (review not yet written)
  2. Ender’s Game
  3. This Is The End
  4. Despicable Me 2
  5. The Wolverine

Unexpected delights – 2013 films that weren’t great, but better than expected:

Well, that’s about it. Hope you all have a happy new year and that 2014 provides even more great films! Have a good one, dear readers!

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