It’s that time of year again, the end of one and the start of another. In memory of world-renowned film critic, Roger Ebert, I will conclude this year and my love of cinema with a ‘Top 5’ (he did 10) of the best box office hits I have seen this year. I have managed to wean my list down: a huge difficulty after seeing over 50 films this year, but this unfortunately excludes 3 films I would have like to have seen before the year ended: The Butler, 12 Years a Slave, Inside Llewellyn Davies and American Hustle.
5. BEST MAN HOLIDAY
Thirteen years after the first, The Best Man Holiday is a superb follow-up to the lives of a group 30 somethings now in their 40’s. What we find is that some relationships are have become strained following events from the last film; there are new additions to the group in the form of children, and the gorgeous Eddie Cibrian as Nia Long’s character’s boyfriend. Anyone who was a fan of the first successful film lamented the beginning of the end of a light romcom that featured funny, successful people of colour. Admittedly soon after, and despite its success, the production of films of that high a quality dried up and we were soon left with Tyler Perry* offerings and not much else. Well this a long overdue but ever the sweeter sequel that had me laughing, crying and dancing throughout. It’s already on my 2014 DVD list.
4. THE GREAT GATSBY
I think I may be alone in this. Honestly I think I am the only person in the world to have this on a ‘Top…’ list, but, I make no apologies for it. Although it lacked the usual oomph and passion of any of the movies in Baz Luhrmann’s red curtain trilogy (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge) it was certainly an improvement on Australia (which I liked) and I still think about it seven months after seeing it. The soundtrack, the costumes, the cinematography collectively makes this a conventional Oscar worthy picture. However individually they stand alone (which in my opinion is rare) each one a meticulously constructed piece of art . Overall, I was mesmerised by Leonardo DiCaprio, in a way that I haven’t been since his posters adorned my bedroom wall (I had three: one from Romeo + Juliet, two from Titanic). Leo’s done a lot of fantastic films since then but for some reason his romantic, eager-to-please and slightly neurotic turn as Jay Gatsby really struck a chord with me. I could watch him watch the whole world that F.Scott Fitzgerald created and was lavishly manifested by Luhrmann all day. That and the soundtrack really truly fantastic.
3. THE CONJURING
I love that I have a horror on this list, it’s not a genre that I particularly care for, and rather worryingly (or not depending on the way you choose to read into this) the blood and gore that has popularised the genre over the last decade bores me. I’d rather see that mindless amount of blood in an action movie. The Conjuring however had two things that really stood out for me and placed it on my list of 2013: Vera Farmiga and Lily Taylor. These two women are definitely two understated talents in Hollywood. Taylor, a ferocious talent in any film she takes part in (Mystic Pizza and The Haunted) has the ability to just kill it on-screen. Even when she is being possessed by demons, my heart was bleeding for her souls safe return. Farmiga just exudes beauty in every frame, and when she’s scared, her approach really steers and commands the tone. Also it’s genuinely creepy, with next to no blood, it’s about the things that go bump in the night. The Conjuring is a good film, that happens to be based on a true story, more importantly it gave me goosebumps but had me clapping by the end. It is executed perfectly and ticks all the conventional boxes of the genre, but it carries more empathy for its central characters than movies that preceded it, ones that favour theatrics and shock factors over story. Maybe it’s because they had source material to work with, or maybe not.
2.THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
I surprised myself by just how much I enjoyed this movie. The first I found mediocre, so my expectations were low with the second. From start to finish this film is absolutely worthy of the blockbuster title and it’s just another excuse to pour over Jennifer Lawrence’s talent as a leading lady and unconventional bad-ass attitude. Where the mistake of the first was to be everything for everyone (old fans of the books and new audiences), the result was a fumbling drawn out adaptation. In this film we pick up where we left off so the feeling of being fully immersed in a story was only ever going to be an advantage, and director Francis Lawrence abuses this factor in every way. This film really is the gift that keeps on giving: drama, violence, action, romance and comedy. The slew of new characters in the form of Philip Seymour-Hoffman, Sam Claflin and Jena Malone is a welcomed one. Malone (Stepmum, Donnie Darko) even manages to do the unthinkable, and steal the show on numerous occasions. In fact what you will find is how generous Lawrence is in sharing the spotlight. When I say I was gripped, I didn’t want it to end, but it did… albeit on the coolest most angry faced cliffhanger ever. Bring on MockingJay.
Alfonso Cuarón has created this generations Space Odyssey and, rightly so, cast Bullock as the person to command all two hours of it. The reason this is my number one, is that I am a firm believer in the cinema experience. As I get older it becomes increasingly rare to be all consumed by a movie. This film freaked me out and excited me all at once. The only time I can recall being unable to articulate how I felt after a film was finished is when I saw Independence Day … I was 11. Whilst watching Gravity something deeply disturbed me and till this day I can’t define it exactly. All that space was really stifling; the silence during long scenes of the film was eerie and the idea that one moment you can be floating in an abyss and find yourself on earth the next after such a gruelling few hours and all alone!? The concept is so crazy and scarily palpable. This is what the IMAX experience was created for, just like THX surround sound was meant for films like Independence Day and Jurassic Park. Any movie that manages to take a worn out concept and location and raise the bar artistically and conceptually is a must see. Gravity reaches new levels of breathtaking visual effects; minimal but poignant dialogue and just opens up a new debate about human mortality and the small and insignificant nature of our species outside of our blue planet. It’s also a discussion about the resilience of the human spirit and how ferocious our instinct to survive can be. Believe the hype.
*I like and respect Tyler Perry, but he can’t be the only one who’s making films featuring a predominantly Black cast that doesn’t have to do with violence, drugs and slavery. It’s ridiculous and boring. It’s also 2013, where is the diversity and the delivery to serve a largely ignored audience? The Best Man set a precedent that hadn’t been surpassed – till now.