Friday, 27 December 2013

Film Ramble: Top 10 Fantasy and Science Fiction Films of 2013

'T'is the season to make comparative lists of things, so - not having read enough books to say anything useful on the subject - I thought I'd write up my favourite genre movies of the year.  These are in order, saving the best for last, and are of course every bit as arbitrary as a top ten list can be.  In fact, they're based on the ratings I gave each film when I saw them (because, yes, that's a thing that I do) so this doesn't even entirely reflect my current opinion, although I've juggled equal-scoring films around to put things more in line with my retrospective opinions.

Anyway, let's have at it...

10) How I Live Now

This partly makes the list because I suspect I'm the one person who actually saw it, and partly because I'm a sucker for British post-apocalypticness, and partly because I suspect Kevin McDonald is incapable of making a film I wouldn't like, but mainly because it was a great - if blatantly, undeniably flawed - movie.  I have no idea what the intended target audience was intended to be for a brutally violent, lovingly photographed YA World War Three sci-fi romance, but that doesn't mean it didn't deserve to be seen by at least someone.

9) The World's End

If the closing piece of Edgar Wright's Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy is arguably the weakest, it's a close run thing, and really its only significant misstep was to lose the perfect balance of genre and character elements that made the first two such classics.  The pay-off, though, is that this is the best acted of the three, the first to have characters that function primarily as characters rather than springboards for jokes, and for that reason, by far the most poignant.  Plus, what better note on which to end a trilogy defined by nostalgia - for friendships, movies, genres, fleeting youth - than to interrogate the whole notion of living in the past to within an inch of its life.

8) This is the End

Weird Hollywood synchronicity being weird Hollywood synchronicity, it's probably not that strange that we got two sci-fi apocalypse comedies at more or less the same time, but who would have thought that the Seth Rogen one would be funnier?  Or, for that matter, brilliant?  Definitely the most ridiculous thing I saw in a cinema all year, possibly the most fundamentally odd, and even if it had been terrible, the fantastic use (and abuse) of star cameos would have kept it afloat; as it is, Emma Watson going psycho or a coke-addled Michael Cera (or the bit with Channing Tatum that there's no way I'm going to spoil for anyone who hasn't seen it) are just the icing on the crazy cake.

7) After Earth

Yeah, I loved it.  But I won't try and defend that fact here because, hey, I wrote an entire blog post about it.

6) The Wolverine

James Mangold is, in possibly the nicest sense that the word can be used, a hack, and there was no reason to think when he took over on the The Wolverine from Darren Aronofsky that the end result would be anything other than good hack work.  And in fairness, that's sort of exactly what it is, but in spite of or maybe a little because of that fact The Wolverine turned out to be huge fun, and pretty damn close to what you'd hope a Wolverine movie to be, a prospect that seemed a slender hope indeed after Gavin Hood's lobotomized take on the character.*

5) Iron Man 3

2013 has been a year for odd comic book movies and the oddest of those was surely Iron Man 3.   Its structure could politely be described as broken, but that's largely because of Shane Black's determination to ignore or subvert every established rule of what these films are supposed to be.  It's rare to come out of a genre movie, let alone a movie belonging to that increasingly constricting genre that is the comic book film, feeling surprised, but Iron Man 3 offered some truly left field moments, and that Mandarin twist may not even have been the most shocking; for who'd have guessed that Black would have such a deft hand for directing gigantic action sequences?

4) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

How did they manage to make a popular, tent-pole movie this bleak?  The first half is absolutely unremitting, and then the killing starts.  And okay, its satire at its most heavy handed and brazen, but that doesn't make it less biting, and due credit for just how much it draws blood at the expense of just about every crisis in contemporary America.  But mostly this just kept me riveted for every moment of its two and a half hours, and especially in its slow-burning and yet completely gripping first half; if they'd managed to find an ending it might even have made the number one spot.

3) Life of Pi

Quite clearly a fantasy movie, (hey, try spending even ten minutes on a boat with a tiger and see how long you don't get eaten), and a wonderful one at that; I'm one of those people who never felt for a moment that Ang Lee had lost it, but it was still nice to see him return to the kind of esoteric yet critically and popularly acclaimed mainstream film-making that he's perhaps most famous for.  Life of Pi is at once huge and intimate, a character drama told with some of the most sophisticated tools known to humanity, and an examination of exactly what fantasy means and why we need it.  But who'd have guessed all those months ago that this wouldn't be the 2013 movie we remembered for redefining what was possible with CGI?

2) Gravity

Because that of course would be Gravity, which tore up the rule book for what CGI effects could do and then fired the scraps around the Earth at a zillion miles an hour.  For me, Gravity did all the things that Avatar was supposed to have achieved and didn't; it immersed me in an absolutely alien, absolutely convincing unreality and then proceeded to tell a great story there, whilst wowing me at a rate of roughly five times a minute with some new twist or shock or outrageously clever bit of artistry.

Even taking all of that into account, though, it was only when I saw Jonás Cuarón's short film tie-in Aningaaq that I really, truly fell in love with Gravity:

1) Frozen

I'm an unrepentant animation geek, I have unusually high tolerance for Disney movies, which for so many, many reasons I know I should despise on principle, I number Lilo and Stitch amongst my favourite films of all time, and for all that, if you'd asked me at the start of 2013 I would still never have guessed that this would have even made my top ten.  But here it is; Frozen is the best thing Disney have done in over a decade and the culmination of a decade's worth of earnest struggle to make their animation wing relevant once again; the year when their artistry finally equaled Pixar's and when their gender politics finally went from doubtful to progressive.  That aside, it does everything it tries to do tremendously well, and the 3 minutes and 39 seconds that are the "Let it Go" sequence are my favourite filmic 3 minutes and 39 seconds of the last twelve months.

Also this teaser trailer is pretty great:

* That said, Hood's surprisingly good take on Ender's Game came close to making the list, so maybe one day he can be forgiven.


  1. Fantastic list! Thanks. Mostly agree - I would probably include Ender's Game instead of How I Live Now and maybe Superman instead of Iron Man 3, I notice Thor 3 doesn't even get a look in.

  2. Both Ender's Game and Thor 3 came close; Man of Steel less so.