Best films of 2013: Haiku reviews

Following my first stab last year at reviewing my favourite films of the year in Haiku form, I decided to give it another go. Remember, these little Japanese poems are three lines made up of five syllables, then seven, then five.sandra-bullocks-gravity-interview

Gravity
Explosion in space
Debris flying everywhere
The will to survive

Captain Philips
Somali hijack
Capture Captain in lifeboat
Tense tale on high seas

Rush
Two F1 driversworlds-end-new-trailer
Battle it out for title
A wild, thrilling ride

The World’s End
Pubs, pints and old friends
Scrapping with weird blue aliens
Marmalade sandwich

The Place Beyond The Pines
Stunt rider has kid
Teams up with guy to rob banksdjango and candie
Fathers, sons, life, death

Cloud Atlas
Past, present, future
Kind act that ripples through time
A grand, epic tale

Django Unchained
Bounty hunter finds
slave, recruits him then hunts down
plantation ownerJosh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games Catching Fire, a review

Zero Dark Thirty
Hunt for Bin Laden
Led by obsessive lady
Finds him then kills him

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Victor of games
Girl on fire made to play nice
Starts revolution

So there we go. My attempt at Japanese poetry for this year, or at least until the mood takes me again. Hope you enjoy them. See if you can come up with your own for your favourite films of the year, it’s quite fun.

Top ten films of 2013… er, and some others

Looking back, it’s not been a bad year for cinema. Perhaps not vintage, but we’ve had some crackers over the last twelve months. Here are my whittled down favourites, followed by a list of those I’m sure I’d like a lot but have yet to see. So… two lists, in a weird way.

Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek Anton YelchinIt’s cumberbitches versus pine nuts in JJ Abrams’ second outing as director on this franchise. Fine job he did too, upping the ante for Kirk and co in a most satisfying way; with a new twist on Kahn, something that arguably angered die-hard trekkies, but kept the Enterprise on course for the rest of us.

Captain Phillips
captain-phillips01Director Paul Greengrass played to his strengths in this smart and highly tense retelling of a real life tale of Somali pirates capturing a cargo ship on the high seas. And Tom Hanks gives one of the performances of the year, and indeed perhaps his career.

Rush
Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl in Ron Howard's RushEpic return to form for director Ron Howard in this thrilling look at the rivalry between two F1 legends: James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), the latter giving a phenomenal performance as a man fighting to retain his title following a horrific injury.

The World’s End
worlds-end-new-trailerPegg, Frost and Wright conclude the cornetto trilogy with their most ambitious tale yet; featuring pubs, pints, blue aliens and a sexy marmalade sandwich. A satisfying conclusion for the trio and it’ll be interesting to see what they do next.

Cloud Atlas
cloud-atlas-somniDavid Mitchell’s book is unfilmable… or was until the pair behind The Matrix – the Wachowski siblings – got their hands on it. What resulted was a breathtaking set of intertwining stories and storytelling and imagination at its finest.

Django Unchained
django shadesThe first Tarantino tale to be told in a linear fashion (i.e. no chapter element) tackled some big themes and finally showed everyone his take on a western – and what a take it was too. Epic, explosive and totally Tarantino.

The Place Beyond The Pines
130412CutdownPines_7474218Derek Cianfrance and Ryan Gosling are a bit of a match made in heaven. First Blue Valentine and now this; a series of three stories examining how the actions of fathers affect their sons. It’s a poignant and tender sort of tale, with strong performances from Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and a young Dane DeHaan.

Zero Dark Thirty
zerodarkthirtyReleased almost a year ago in January 2013 for us UK types; but still worthy of inclusion as it’s a tense affair, capturing Bin Laden and all that – one which, following the award laden The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow handled like a master at work.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaugAnother year, another trip to Middle Earth eh? Well, in this case, that’s largely a good thing, as Peter Jackson’s trilogy gets into full swing in this second outing with Bilbo, dwarves, Bard the Bowman and an almighty dragon sporting a fierce temper.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Hunger-games-catching-fire-lawrence_katnissThe difficult second album – or, in this case, the bleaker second album. Following the success of the first film the pressure was on this one to deliver. And it did, with a darker, more adult tone and another fine performance from Jennifer Lawrence.

MY ‘YET TO SEE’ FAVOURITES

  • Now You See Me – described as The Prestige for idiots by some critics and pure summer movie magic by others. Chances are it sits somewhere inbetween as a fun caper of a film.
  • Stoker – written by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller and directed by South Korean director Park chan-wook, this psychological thriller landed well with critics and looks an intriguing and mysterious tale.
  • Mud – Jeff Nichols is fast marking himself out as a director to watch, first Take Shelter and now this coming-of-age tale; continuing the career revival of one Matthew Mcconaughey.
  • Trance – seems, in his tea breaks when planning the Olympic ceremony, Danny Boyle knocked this film together; which goes to show how the rest of us really need to put in more effort. Whilst it’s more style over substance, it’s some style.
  • Gravity – making the number one film of many critics’ lists, this immersive and thrilling film by Alfonso Quaron showed that, if there’s a more compelling use of 3D we’re yet to see it.
  • Kill Your Darlings – the evolution of Daniel Radcliffe post-Potter continues, in this interesting look at the birth of the beat generation. As well as Radcliffe, up-and-comer Dane DeHaan reportedly put in another fine performance.
  • Robot & Frank – a quirky tale about a jewel thief, Frank (Frank Langella), who’s past his prime so his son buys him a domestic robot. His mood lifts when he realises he can use the robot to steal again.
  • The Bling Ring – spoilt LA brats rob celebrities in Sofia Coppola’s latest. A timely tale in today’s celebrity obsessed culture. Whilst the film got average reviews Emma Watson’s performance was praised by critics.
  • Blue is the Warmest Color – garnering a hugely positive response from critics, this film explored – over three hours no less – the relationship between two girls who fall in and out of love and everything in between.
  • Thor: The Dark World – Chris Hemsworth dusted off his red cape and hammer for another outing as the man from Asgard and, by all accounts, did a splendid job. Apparently, worldwide, this is the third-highest grossing film for Marvel studios.
  • Blue Jasmine – there really is no holding back Cate Blanchett at times, she’s easily one of the best actresses of our generation and really doesn’t get enough credit. Here she puts in arguably a career best performance in this film, which many have said marks a return to form for Woody Allen.
  • Philomena – a sweet and amusing tale of Philomena Lee’s (Judi Dench) 50-year search for her son Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan). Described as a profoundly affecting drama, this film was a hit with critics and audiences alike.
  • Kings of Summer – drawing comparisons with Son of Rambow (which I liked a lot), this film passed many people by, yet sounds like a wonderfully uplifting coming-of-age tale that should make your watch list, if you like this sort of thing.

Reading this back it’s rather shocking; there’s loads I’ve not seen. At least it gives me things to see over the next month or so. Still… the ones I did see were all a joy to experience. And some were a genuine surprise; as I went in with no expectations (often a good tactic).

What made your top ten of the year? And what’s still on your list to see?

Rush: fear, rivalry, a playboy and a rat

‘With fear, you must prevent nor cure. Fear must not be allowed to take hold in the first place. If you are in a canoe, never listen to the roar of the rapid ahead before you let go of the river bank. Just do it!’ Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl in Ron Howard's RushSome great men and women are defined by their parents, or shaped by the world around them, or simply, are just born champions. In the case of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, their rivalry – both on and off the track – fuelled their desire to win, honed their skills and gave them the drive and determination to succeed.

You could argue that, without the other, perhaps neither would have pushed himself to become a champion, at least not at the same rate. To backtrack a second, if you hadn’t guessed by now I am of course referring to Rush. A film about two F1 racing legends in the ’70s, directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth as the charismatic playboy Brit James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as the calculating workaholic Austrian Niki Lauda. The film roughly charts their rise at the start of the ’70s in Formula 3, through to their intense rivalry for the Formula 1 title in 1976, culminating in an epic race at the Japanese Grand Prix.

With Rush, I feel director Ron Howard had a point to prove. Following the debacle of Angels & Demons (Ewan McGregor jumping out a helicopter to save the Vatican from a bomb anyone?) he wanted to remind us that this was the guy who directed Willow, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon, to name aRush-Chris-Hemsworth-On-Set-Photo-rush-2013-film-31196500-778-1024 few.

And prove a point he did, with a compelling, engaging and riveting tale. Formula 1 is not for everyone, some would go as far as to say it can come across as dull, being more a competition between mechanics and how they’ve set the car up, than driver skill. However back in the ’70s there was nothing even remotely approaching the levels of safety we have today. There was real risk, indeed there are numerous points in the film where Bruhl’s Lauda talks about percentages, how he’s happy with a twenty percent chance of dying, but no higher. Think about that for a second, that’s huge. No wonder these guys were scared.

Howard’s direction is telling in that sense, whilst he makes the races exhilarating and exciting, you get a real sense of the danger involved. Whether it’s Hemsworth’s Hunt vomiting before every race – with his team just saying that means he’s ‘raring to go’ – or Lauda demanding greater levels of safety and less risk, it’s nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat stuff.

And it’s not just the race sequences. Why would these guys even set foot in these metal death traps? Desire. The desire to win. The desire to be champions. RushAnd the desire to beat their fiercest rival and the only man equal to them on a race track. Whilst the other drivers during this decade had skill and nerve, Lauda and Hunt were a class apart. They needed each other.

A nuanced script by Peter Morgan (who also penned Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland and The Damned United among others) gave us a glimpse, not only of their rivalry, but within it, their admiration for one another. Both men were complicated and flawed, such are the minds of champions. Funnily enough, the quieter moments between the two are the ones that really draw you in. As such, you end up caring for both of them, albeit for different reasons.

Hemsworth cuts a dashing figure as James Hunt. Not a million miles away from Thor, but he plays it well. A thousand brake horsepowered thumbs up should go to Daniel Bruhl though. His portrayal of Niki Lauda was like holding a mirror up to the man himself.

Hemsworth will obviously dominate the marketing material to draw the crowds in but, in some ways, this is Bruhl’s story more than Hemsworth’s. And I imagine, come awards season, he’ll get the recognition he deserves. So hats off to him, and hats off to Ron Howard for a splendid return to form.