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The Thing (2011) review
Alice Cooper Concert Oct 30, 2011
Top 10 Movies 2013

It’s that time of year again.

You’d think that choosing the top ten genre films of the past year would be really easy – but in actual fact, it isn’t. At this point last year, I predicted that a certain film would top the list easily because the buzz about it was astronomical, but things change – and sometime, the even change back again. Films make the list, and then are dropped when I see something that resonates with me a bit more. I keep the list fluid until the end of the year. For example, I dutifully handed in my top 10 list to Starburst in early November for my votes to be counted ready for the 2013 in review issue which hit the stores in December. At that point, THAT was my list. Since then, the darned thing has changed AGAIN.

Here are the rules for inclusion – the film has to have been released on or post January 1, and I have to have seen it prior to Dec 31 on the year of its release. (Sorry, Tolkien fans, I haven’t seen The Desolation of Smaug yet so it’s not here.)

Bear in mind that these aren’t the ONLY films I’ve seen in 2013, there are literally dozens that I’ve really enjoyed, but these are my personal favourites. My best of the best of the best, so to speak. Most of these have shifted around several times in the time since I’ve seen them and the criteria for their positioning is based purely on the question “did I enjoy film A more than film B, or C?”There are several that I would’ve loved to include but that would make it a top 20 or 30, and I feel that the more I add, the less meaningful the list so I’m keeping it to a tight ten.

Okay, let’s kick off with the definitive list. You’ll notice there are links to Amazon on each little write up so you can find out some more about the title. If you choose to buy, then Amazon will kindly kick some of the money my way which, in turn, will go toward the cost of running the site, and hosting fees.

10) The Wolverine

Other than a few reprints of the first issues in the UK’s Fantastic comic in the late sixties, I never really read much of the X-Men until the first movie was released way, waaaaaaaaay back in 2000. How strange is that? Consequently, when I sat down to watch that movie, other than knowing he had an odd hairstyle and claws, I had never seen or read anything of Wolverine. I remembered Cyclops, Marvel Girl (before she went with just her given name of Jean Grey) The Angel, The Beast and Iceman – though in those early issues, he looked more like a snowman.

It took Marvel’s release of their “Essential” volumes for me to catch up to Wolverine and his comic book history (as well as the ever changing and expanding ranks of the X-Men). It was then that I realised how well cast Hugh Jackman is in this role and how impossible replacing him will one day be.

This movie made the top ten, just about nudging Thor – The Dark World off the list. It’s not that Thor was a bad movie by any means, it’s just that Wolverine in Japan losing his Adamantium enhanced claws, fighting Ninjas and cyber Samurai was a better thrill ride. In particular, I liked the sting at the end which sets us up perfectly for next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.

It seems that the whole X-Men movie universe, which encompasses the X-Men trilogy, First Class and the Wolverine movies are being drawn together into a cohesive whole. Sadly, one rumour I’ve read says that Jackman is considering negotiating a hefty payrise for further appearances as Wolverine while another says that he’s more than happy to continue in the role and is looking forward to the already planner third Wolverine film.

In the final analysis, this film makes the list for the sheer audacity of Logan’s survival of the Hiroshima atom bomb as a prisoner of war in WW2. 

9) Man of Steel

The fact that Man of Steel is on this list proved the fluidity of the top ten list. Regular readers will recall that I had looked forward to this film with sky high expectations, but ultimately, when I saw the film on opening day, I was disappointed and a little bit outraged. In short, I didn’t like it. It wasn’t the Superman I was used to. Oh, it was spectacular and the effects were stunning – but the character of Superman wasn’t quite right. My main objection was that he killed General Zod in cold blood. Never in 75 years of published history has Superman executed anybody.

But then, a few months later, calmer and with lower expectations, I watched the film again on DVD. THIS time, it worked. (This isn’t the first time I’ve actually disliked a film the first time I saw it and then was forced to recant on a second viewing. In 1979, it happened with Alien. It was later viewings that warmed me to that classic. I had read the graphic novel adaptation, loved it for its over the top gore and when I saw the scene on the big screen, the chest burster sequence left me severely underwhelmed. In my further defence, I also had a bad case of the flu).

Much as I liked the 3D effects, there’s no denying that Man of Steel actually works better in 2D. It’s sad that multiplexes have a habit of dimming the projector bulbs to prolong their lives as an economy measure because watching a dim image through tinted 3D glasses causes you to miss little details. Yes, there’s a “wow” factor with 3D but for actually attentively watching a film – it’s 2D all the way.

So, what changed my mind other than it being “flat”?

I realised that at the end, Superman had no option BUT to kill Zod. Zod would have slaughtered every last perky being on this planet just for the hell of it. He would never have given up, there isn’t a known prison anywhere that could have held him and (most importantly) Kryptonite hasn’t yet been discovered at this point in the story so they couldn’t even threaten him with that. In killing Zod, Superman saved the human race. (Or what was left of it, the death toll in Metropolis must’ve been catastrophic.)

It was a good move to use Zod rather than Luthor as a villain for the first film because y’know – it’s ALWAYS Luthor. We need a change. Of course, had they wanted to really blow the audience away, they could’ve used Brainiac. But we’re bound to see Luthor enter the picture sooner or later, I saw some LexCorp trucks in the background – but what I had missed at the cinema, but saw at home was the satellite that was destroyed had the WayneTech logo. Interesting.

The future of this franchise has me completely intrigued. The sequel will feature Ben Affleck as Batman and all internet blogger’s bull aside, I think that’s an entirely cool move and will certainly work. (I’m one of the few who still regrets Affleck not returning to the Daredevil role). Roll on 2015 – it can’t get here soon enough.

8) Planes

Yes, you read that right. Planes – the Disney animated feature. You haven’t seen it? Shame on you, I watched it on DVD because it was literally in and out of cinemas in a heartbeat and I can’t understand why it didn’t get a bigger fanfare. Let me tell you this – Planes is the best Pixar movie that Pixar didn’t actually make. Yes, it’s THAT good, and leaves this year’s Pixar release Monsters University coughing on its dust. It’s the best animation Disney have done in years. End of.

Set in the world of Pixar's Cars, the story follows a humble crop duster as he enters the cut throat world of a world-wide air race. Can he beat the odds? Well it's a Disney script so draw your own conclusions.The major draw though is film has an amazing look to it. The scenery (and like Cars, see how many aircraft are hidden in the rock formations in the desert backgrounds) and the animated aircraft characters actually seem to have the proper weight and mass to them. It’s overall a stunning visual treat that deserved a wider audience, and it’s a film that I’m certain I’ll see more background detail every time I see it. And I will be watching that DVD again soon.

7) The Lords of Salem

Rob Zombie is a cult hero in this house. Rock star, horror movie director – the guy is a legend. When we heard that his upcoming project was The Lords of Salem, for some reason, we assumed (having heard his song of the same title) it was going to be a Witchfinder General type of historical nasty, set in the Salem witch trials. Come of the per-release publicity material had, I thought a “Blind Dead” feel to it. Not so, it’s a contemporary horror story, reminiscent of some of those we saw in the late seventies in its visual flair, starring Sheri Moon Zombie as a rock station DJ whose family tree has a dark and literally tortured past, which is catching up to her and all the descendants of Salem’s wicked, evil history. Even the score by Zombie’s guitarist John 5 is menacing and un-nerving. (Not the kind of music to have on the car’s CD player on a long journey that starts at four in the morning – trust me on this.)

I have one criticism, and it’s not aimed at Rob Zombie or his film, but at the film industry and its distribution arm. How the hell does a gem like this get released straight to DVD, yet an underwhelming and predictable waste of  celluloid like The Conjuring get a big, wide summer release?

6) Oblivion

I’ll be brutally honest – going to see Oblivion was a shot in the dark, literally. It was a last minute time filler, an impulse. We had pre-booked our tickets to see Iron Man 3 on its first preview screening which was one minute past midnight and we figured that we might as well get to the multiplex early because we’d heard that the 12:01 premiere was literally sold out and there’d be a scramble to get the best seats. Hey, NOBODY beats me to the best seats to a Marvel movie!

Anyhow, Oblivion was showing – a film I’d really not heard a great deal about, save it was a Tom Cruise movie set in a post apocalyptic Earth. Meh, it’d do.

The film just about blew me away. True, it had a definite “I am Legend” vibe, with the Cruiser avoiding entanglements with some unfriendlies that were trying to blow him to…well, oblivion, but the film featured a strong plot, solid performances and Cruise flying around in a futuristic ship kind of looking after the planet, now devoid of humans. Or so it seemed. Good twist, excellent effects, high repeat viewing value. Okay, on the night, Iron Man 3 was the stronger film, but Oblivion proved more memorable than a lot of new films I saw in 2013.

5) Star Trek: Into Darkness

Holy crap on a cracker, if anybody had told me at the beginning of January 2013 that a J.J.Abrams Star Trek movie would have made it on to my top 10 the sarcasm and mocking would’ve been loud and long. But here it is.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll admit that my first viewing of Star Trek was tainted with a predisposition to hate any attempt at rebooting one of my favourite series of all time. Don’t mess with the holy scriptures of THIS devoted Trekkie! And to make a sequel? Sheer unbridled folly.

When the film was released on DVD, I relented and bought it. (It’s actually cheaper to buy a film outright and watch it as many times as you want than it is to pay for a family to see it once at the cinema these days – go figure.) So, on a day off the purchase was made and on returning to the sanctuary of my home theatre system in the study, I decided to give the film a sporting chance by revisiting Abrams’ Star Trek first. Good choice.

The film played better the second time around, and Into Darkness was a better experience as a result. I had somehow missed the point that Nimoy Spock was the same as the original series Spock with all his memories of his missions with the original Kirk intact when I first watched the film. I realised that this wasn’t a “back to the beginning and the TV series never happened so screw YOU veteran Trekkies” exercise, but a crafty and (I admit) ingenious way of reinventing the timeline while preserving the original history. Only Spock and we Trekkies know the full story. Damn, that’s clever.

Okay, so I’m not totally convinced that Chris Pine is a young William Shatner and I just don’t like Simon Pegg (his World’s End is the second most disappointing film I saw all year) but Zachary Quinto as Spock does actually work, and with the timeline and history changed, it’s also reasonable to assume that technology would similarly have altered so I can live with the redesigned Enterprise, but the original is THE classic.

4) Kick-Ass 2

Hardly a surprise to find this in the top five. The first Kick-Ass film was a masterpiece, despite its blatant mis-selling by the studio. Is there ANYBODY out there who can tell me, hand on heart, that the trailer for Kick-Ass didn’t play like a superhero comedy? I had read the graphic novel, see the immense amount of violence and torture in the story and was amazed that so much of the source material had found its way to the screen.

I read the sequel graphic novel, because I couldn’t resist it but found that much (but not all, by any means) of Kick-Ass 2 seems to have derived from the Hit Girl graphic that bridges the 2 Kick-Ass books. I haven’t read that one, but writing this has reminded me that I need to do so.

Again, not a surprise that Chloe Grace Moretz steals the show, in trying to live up to her promise to quit her Hit Girl persona and fit in with her peers in high school, she makes herself vulnerable, and betrays herself. (I had thought or hoped that these scenes would lead to a successful performance as Carrie in the remake but that wasn’t to be. Carrie didn’t need to be remade). Jim Carrey gave the best performance of his career since The Majestic (and if any of you haven’t seen that Capraesque masterpiece, you really need to) and furthered the film’s media exposure by denouncing its violence just before release day. Call me cynical, but that whole stance was a PR team’s dream come true and if anybody believes it came from Carrey rather than the studio publicity department, then I guess you also believed that all those people who were reportedly “affected” by The Exorcist forty years ago were genuine too.

The final scenes aren’t quite the same as in the graphic novel, in that there isn’t the rumble to end all rumbles in the middle of Times Square, but Kick-Ass 2 needs a Kick-Ass 3 to round off the storyline. Hopefully happen. And soon.

And now, the controversial top three.        

3) Iron Man 3

I would've bet dollars to doughnuts back in April that this would be the film of the year. Iron Man is, in my opinion the best adaptation of a super hero strip I’ve seen to date. Iron Man was always a second tier character before that film and to be honest, I didn’t think he had the recognition factor of, say, Spider-Man that would make the film appealing to mainstream audiences, but of course the casting of Robert Downey Junior was both a huge risk and the most canny bit of casting to be seen from Hollywood in years. RDJ is the closest thing to a real Tony Stark you can get, both in appearance and effortless cool.

It was a nervous moment when I heard that Jon Favreau had vacated the director’s chair for this third instalment but if a replacement had to be made, then Shane Black was definitely the way to go. His previous film with Downey Jnr, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang proved they worked well together.

The film picks up from Avengers: Assemble when Stark’s perception of the world and his place in it has changed radically. The billionaire playboy has glimpsed infinity, fought alongside a Norse god and has saved the planet from an alien invasion. Stark is no longer the biggest thing in Stark’s life.

Things change again when a terrorist threat emerges in the form of The Mandarin and a direct attack is made on Stark’s home.

The Mandarin is Iron Man’s arch enemy from the comics going back several decades. Originally he was a warlord in Red China (remember this was the sixties) starting off as a humble peasant who wandered out of his village and came across a crashed spaceship. Finding a number of power rings inside, he exploited the alien technology and became feared even by his communist overlords. In researching an article for Starburst magazine, I found there’s even a storyline where The Mandarin tries to invade Russia. The mind boggles.

Anyhow, the Mandarin of the film is NOT the Mandarin of the comics – Ben Kingsley’s character is a more toned down character, more in line with the terrorists we’re all too familiar with these days. He’s a figurehead for an organisation rather than an alien gadgetry enhanced Chinese villain (and really, can you imagine the outcries of racial stereotyping had that been the case). Add to this, an adaptation of the Extremis storyline which is one of the best story arcs to feature Iron Man and you have a strong third entry in the series.

My one problem with the film is that you have Tony Stark missing presumed dead as far as the public’s concerned for a fair portion of the film, Air Force One is attacked, the President of the USA is kidnapped by a terrorist organisation and SHIELD are nowhere to be seen or heard of? Did they all have the day off?

2) Pacific Rim

I have a weakness for Kaiju films! There, I’ve said it.

Kaiju means “giant monster” in Japanese. Usually, referring to the Godzilla series. Men in rubber suits stomping in scale model cities and fighting each other. They’re often silly, quirky and definitely a niche that’s an acquired taste. I have, of course, acquired that taste in abundance, owning all 28 Godzilla movies to date in their original Japanese versions.

So, Guillermo Del Toro takes on the genre with a film that can be summed up as giant monsters vs giant robots. Think Godzilla meets Transformers with a side order of Top Gun and there you have it.

Absolutely killer 3D on this film, it worked well, BUT, having watched the film on DVD at home, it’s just as satisfying without the third dimension. It’s loud, the battle scenes are nothing short of breathtakingly magnificent and it’s noticeably brightly lit and colourful. I’ve felt for a long time that movies these days look a bit washed out and drab compared to the stunning Technicolor we used to see. This neatly reverses that with a bright spectrum of primary colours.

It’s a film that literally has to be seen to be believed. If Weta & Industrial Light & Magic don’t share an Oscar for the visual effects on this, there’s something seriously wrong with the Academy.

 And now……the all important numero uno.

Drum roll please.

The best movie I saw in 2013 was……………

Gravity

I think it was early in the summer that I began to see teasers for Gravity. They were the best type of teasers – arousing curiosity but giving nothing away. In an expertly executed campaign, the more I saw, the more I wanted to see. There was no internet buzz at that point.

I’ve always rated Sandra Bullock as an actress. But here she actually carries the bulk of the film as a medical engineer on her first space shuttle mission. When the craft is struck by debris, leaving her and a veteran astronaut as the only survivors they need to find a way to get back to Earth. In that sense, it reminded me of a film I saw in the cinema in the summer of 1969 called Marooned. (It starred Gregory Peck, David Janssen and Gene Hackman. The story concerned NASA’s efforts to rescue three astronauts who are stuck in orbit, before their air supply runs out.)

The story is tense, and the use of 3D has never been bettered. There’s a genuine, vertigo inducing depth in the spacewalk scenes as the Earth is seen in the background. I’ve mentioned how effective the medium was used in Pacific Rim, but the real high point of 3D in the cinema for me has always been Avatar. (Say what you will about the derivative plot, that 3D was flawless.) But this surpasses the Avatar effects, especially when you see small things like weightless flickers of flames float toward you, or the scene where Bullock realises the hopelessness of her situation and she cries, leaving a single tear to float toward the viewer and off to the left.

Two things work really well in 3D. Space scenes and underwater photography and this movie had both. I’m told by those who saw the film with me that I sat perfectly still throughout the screening with my jaw hanging open in awe. I think that says it all, really.

So there we have it. The year a Sandra Bullock movie beat super heroes and giant robots to the top spot. Don’t forget to hit the Facebook page to leave your comments and YOUR top ten.

Happy new year, y’all. Let’s see what THIS year brings. 



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