The ten best movies of 2013

08:10, Dec 21 2013
Before Midnight
BEFORE MIDNIGHT: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy return with terrific performances.

From Spanish Snow Whites to animated snowmen, James Croot selects his cinematic highlights (and lowlight) of 2013.

Before Midnight
From Vienna to Paris to the southern Peloponnese. While remaining true to the contemporary, realistic dialogue, weighty themes and meditative mood that marked out the original Before Sunrise as one of the most memorable small movies of the 1990s, writer- director Richard Linklater and his two co-writing stars (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) have also ensured its concerns have grown up along with its original Generation X audience. Delving into more dramatic depths than previously, this third installment has Hawke and Delpy delivering two terrific performances as moods quickly change from playful to prickly and potentially poisonous. Roll on 2022.

Snow White like you've never seen or heard before. Spanish writer-director Pablo Berger's 1920s-set, Grimm-inspired fairytale is not only shot in crisp, gorgeous black and white, it's also silent, save for a beautiful, haunting score by Alfonso de Villalonga. Nightmare-inducing and bewitching all at once, the vivid imagery it conjures makes it feel like the missing link between the fever-dream metaphors of Pedro Almodovar  and the childhood fears so terrifically mined by Guillermo del Toro. Compelling, utterly charming and simply magical.

Blue Jasmine
This is a drama that has far more in common with Woody Allen's back catalogue films like Hannah and Her Sisters and Husbands and Wives , than his recent European adventures.  That's chiefly because it allows a terrific platform for an absolutely stunning performance from Cate Blanchett. At turns charming, infuriating, stylish and tragic, Blanchett imbues Jasmine with such an air of both unpredictability and inevitability that you just can't take your eyes off her or wait to see whether her "dressed up facts and omitted details" will help her find new happiness. 

The Hunt

Starring the charismatic and compelling Mads Mikkelsen, Danish director Thomas Vinterberg's drama about a kindergarten teacher accused of child abuse is an emotionally draining yet powerfully understated tale, likely to spark many post- cinema-going discussions, particularly in Christchurch. Not a film that sits on the fence, this will raise your hackles, tug on your heart- strings and make you despair at modern humanity's inability to communicate.

Disney's 53rd animated adventure is also it's finest in almost two decades. Not since the animation studio's renaissance quartet of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast , Aladdin and The Lion King has the Mouse House produced such a potent mix of thrilling adventure, tear-inducing emotion, memorable characters and toe-tapping tunes. I can only echo the words of my three-year-old boy who succinctly broadcasted his feelings about Frozen at its conclusion: ''I love that movie.''

Such a simple premise, such an effective execution. Alfonso Cuaron's two-stars-in-space (Sandra Bullock, George Clooney) dazzles with its amazing imagery (3D has never been more immersive) and ability to wring maximum emotion out of every scene as Bullock's emotionally and physically broken astronaut battles to stay alive and somehow make it back home. And Stephen Price's score is stirring and chilling in equal measure.

The Impossible
Intimate yet epic, ugly yet touching and hauntingly beautiful, Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona's powerful take on how the 2004 Boxing Day Southeast Asia tsunami affected one family will sweep audiences away on a tide of emotions. The story of Spain's Belon family as been anglicised to accommodate the star power and box office draw of British-born actors Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, but more importantly it hasn't been Hollywoodised. This is a distinctly unglamorous tale.

Les Miserables
Director Tom Hooper doesn't manage to solve all the musical's flaws, but he has trimmed it of some of its excesses, and achieves the minor miracle of making the musical's third quarter extremely accessible and easy to follow. Natural lighting, hand-held camerawork and the use of recorded-live, non-perfect singing (Hooper even dares to occasionally introduce silence) give the film the grim, grimy realism that this sweeping, Dickensian-esque story deserves. Better than anyone dared to dream.

Challenging, chilling and compelling, Denis Villenuve's abduction drama certainly isn't a comfortable watch, not only because of its 2 1/2-hour running time but also its raw and relentless sense of dread. Writer Aaron Guzikowski's  script strikes a nice balance between Ransom -esque ranting  and the low-key twisting dramatics of the likes of Mystic River, The Changeling and Gone Baby Gone. The fabulous cast includes Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Melissa Leo.

What Maisie Knew
Haunting and heartbreaking, this might just be one of the best book adaptations in years. Henry James's tale of a bitter custody battle is more than a century old but co-writers Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright have skilfully updated the text to create this generation's Kramer vs Kramer. The power of co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel's drama comes from placing the audience on the shoulder and at times in the shoes of the warring parents' young daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile). 

Best Forgotten

Scary Movie 5

Finally, a Hollywood movie that lives up to its name. However, what is truly frightening is that this appears to be what passes for cinematic humour today - a series of predictable gags, endless kicks to the groin and a procession of pointless celebrity cameos. Avoid this uninspired, insipid horror- spoof like the plague.

Other Honours

Best Blockbuster: Star Trek: Into Darkness

Best Horror: The Conjuring

Best Crowdpleaser: Now You See Me


Best Festival Only Film: Stories We Tell

Best Comedy: Despicable Me 2

Best Kiwi Film: Antarctica: A Year on Ice

Best Straight-to-DVD: Cloud Atlas

Best Documentary: The Imposter