Best of the Decade: 2013

As the decade draws to a close, One Large Popcorn, Please! will be honouring the greatest films of the past ten years. This week, the year 2013 is in focus.

A number of influential figures passed away over the course of this year, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, author Tom Clancy, and film critic Roger Ebert. But the loss which most saddened the world was that of Nelson Mandela, the anti-Apartheid activist who became South Africa’s first freely-elected President back in 1994.

Things were somewhat cheerier for this author, who successfully completed high school to earn a university placement, though only at a rural campus and not one in the city as had been hoped. With encouragement from a close friend, he also sought to have his film reviews published, with the local weekly newspaper and a council-funded website only too happy to oblige.

In terms of the box-office, Illumination’s Despicable Me 2 was a feel-good success the world over; fresh after filling its bank account with revenue from The Avengers, Marvel Studios had another billion-dollar film with Iron Man 3; and Superman got a Dark Knight-style reboot with Man of Steel, which drew a mixed response from critics and audiences.


Gravity poster

Never one to stray away from outlandish ideas or creative premises, the science-fiction genre has seldom needed to keep within Earth’s gravitational pull. Even so, visionary director Alfonso Cuaron saw in the exosphere what few others envisaged: the opportunity to tell a compelling story. All he needed was state-of-the-art technology, flawless camerawork, the perfect aural accompaniment and an impeccable lead performance.

The plot of Gravity is a simple tale of survival that sees astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) making her way safely to Earth’s surface by any means necessary. It’s a compelling story made even more so by Bullock – who convinces in every single scene – in addition to the realistic computer-generated environments, orchestral soundtrack by Steven Price, uncanny sound editing and cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki.

At the 86th Academy Awards, Gravity earned seven wins from ten nominations, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. Cuaron also received a Best Director nod at the AACTA International Awards, where it gained the added decoration of Best Film. Its approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes currently sits at 96%.


Rush poster

Everybody loves a dichotomic rivalry, including screenwriter Peter Morgan and director Ron Howard – the duo has previously collaborated to produce the film Frost/Nixon, a riveting character study of two real-life personalities who could not be more different. Morgan and Howard hoped to emulate that success with a story about motor-racing’s greatest feud between two drivers with few common traits – or so it would seem.

Though James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) possess seemingly contrarian personalities, as Rush argues, both men had more similarities they either realised or cared to admit, indicative of their complex personalities. Their grudges are often played out on the racetrack, where cameras are situated as close to the action as possible and the sound mixing has the viewer believing they are witnessing the racing for real.

Many critics (including yours truly) were enthralled by Rush, yet that praise didn’t translate to success during Awards Season, with the film failing to be nominated for a single Oscar – a fact that will forever sadden this author. Thankfully, Brühl’s efforts were recognised by several ceremonies, nominating him in the Best Supporting Actor category (including the Globes and BAFTAs), while the AACTAs acknowledged the picture in the Best International Film category as one of five nominees.


Frozen poster

Every generation has a Disney movie that becomes a pop-culture phenomenon; for this generation, it was a somewhat unexpected source – an animated musical that takes inspiration from a famed Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale, specifically “The Snow Queen”. Disney’s tweaked story sees the titular antagonist become a more complex figure unsure of her identity, while her extroverted sister attempts to save the day.

More than any of its other contemporary releases, Frozen demonstrates a studio at its creative peak, combining the best elements of its then-recent films with the formula of Disney’s Princess films past. This means solid voice-acting, splendid animation (only this time of the computer-generated kind) and a well-crafted screenplay are all present, all of which is complemented by the Broadway-worthy songs of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.

In acknowledgement of Frozen’s extraordinarily-catchy soundtrack, the ballad “Let It Go” received an Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 86th Oscars ceremony, where it also emerged victorious in the Best Animated Feature category. Additionally, the film won in the Animation category at the 71st Golden Globes, and took home the major prize at the 41st Annie Awards.

American Hustle

American Hustle poster

Just when the formula of heist movies looked to be growing tired, in came David O. Russell to provide some much-needed flair. His heavily-fictionalised dramatisation of a real-life FBI operation is headlined by an all-star cast, consisting of Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner, all of whom give fantastic performances that almost outshine the picture’s other attributes.

One of the many other strengths of Russell’s film is the screenplay, which was co-written with the relatively-unknown Eric Warren Singer and has the viewer rapt with every twist and machination; another is the nostalgic pop soundtrack, crafted with some of the finest songs of the era; and to cap it all off, the film has this uncanny knack of making the Seventies look awesome, clothes, cars and all.

American Hustle has the unfortunate distinction of being nominated for ten Academy Awards without winning in a single category – one short of an official Oscars record – yet it did prove triumphant elsewhere, with Russell and Singer winning a BAFTA and AACTA for Best Screenplay. More success was garnered at the Golden Globes, where the movie won in the Musical or Comedy category for Best Picture, Best Actress (Adams) and Best Supporting Actress (Lawrence).

Other notable releases: There was plenty of lunacy to be found in Fast & Furious 6; Ryan Coogler made his mark with Fruitvale Station; Edgar Wright capped off his so-called Cornetto Trilogy with The World’s End; Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips provided some maturity to the action genre; 12 Years a Slave became the eventual winner of the 86th Academy Award for Best Picture; comedy sequel Anchorman 2 proved more successful than its predecessor; and acclaimed director Martin Scorsese gifted cinemagoers with The Wolf of Wall Street, his boldest and most energetic movie in years.

Do you agree with this list? What films have been missed? Be sure to comment below with your thoughts!

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