Sunday 15th, December 2013 / 17:14

When looking at the most-hyped and attended films of 2013 retrospectively, two words stand out: budget and CGI. That’s not to say there’s a complete lack of diversity in the major releases of the year; it’s just that, on the whole, animation, effects, and budget continue to rule the box office.

Most notably, sci-fi/superhero genre films (Star Trek, World War Z, Man of Steel, Iron Man 3) dominated the top 10 highest grossing films of the year. It’s true as they say: the geek shall inherit the earth. Over the past few years, this has been a steadily-climbing trend in Hollywood, so what with the great success of The Avengers in 2012, as well as Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel this year, comic book adaptations show no sign of disappearing from the silver screen any time soon.

That being said, three animated features (The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University) were also among the top 10 highest grossing of the year. This is not a new trend either, but speaks to the staying power that 3D animated family films have at the box office.

None of these numbers should be surprising, as many of these films were heavily hyped months before their release – but it’s still valuable to reflect on the consumer choices that dictate what trajectory Hollywood will follow in the year to come.

Still, this year in film held a few surprises. Instead of making a subjective list that anyone with an opinion may disagree with, here are five of the year’s most surprising or noteworthy releases (in no particular order):

Blue is the Warmest Colour


This French film, written and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche and starring Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, made huge waves at Cannes this year, winning the Palme d’Or. It’s a tender and evocative tale of love between two women, and its long, graphic sex scenes definitely added to the word-of-mouth surrounding the film, stirring controversy. It also screened at VIFF in October with a warm reception.

The Canyons


The team on this film sounds like someone’s beautiful nightmare: veteran filmmaker Paul Schrader, troubled actress Lindsay Lohan, “boy-next-door” porn actor James Deen, and a screenplay by author Bret Easton Ellis. The New York Times article about the on-set troubles (aptly titled ”Here is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie”) went viral before the movie’s release and created all kinds of buzz around it. The ultra-low-budget flick was nearly universally panned upon release, but who was expecting any less?

Only God Forgives


Nicholas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling’s follow up to Drive is even sparser on dialogue and plot than their previous venture. Gosling plays an American operating a drug ring in Thailand, whose brother is killed for the murder of a prostitute. Gosling’s mother flies in seeking vengeance, and with that, a cat-and-mouse tale with strong Oedipal themes is underway. The film is heavily stylized, with Lynchian flavours and a strong influence from Jodorowsky at play. It is not an easy movie to watch. Long stretches of no dialogue are punctuated with flashes of extreme profanity and violence. Some may dismiss it as style-over-substance, but sometimes in films, you just have to sit there, be quiet, and let it all wash over you, because the style is the substance.

Spring Breakers


Harmony Korine has built his film career on young people doing shocking, appalling, sometimes disgusting things. That is not a criticism on his filmmaking; through these hard truths he shows us things we might not reflect upon quite so viscerally on our own. Spring Breakers got a lot of buzz due to its young, Disney-veteran cast members Venessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez, as well as James Franco’s turn as cornrowed thug Alien. Franco’s career is notoriously all over the map, and you have to commend the dude for trying new and strange things when he could have easily settled for being typecast as a romantic lead. Instead, here he is a megalomaniac, a criminal who lures a group of young girls into his world. The film is very strange, sometimes feeling like a long music video. But it has something worthy to say, and the performances by Hudgens and Gomez show these young talents are ready to say goodbye to Disney forever.

Don Jon


It seems like every man and woman alike has a crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt right now, and not only because of his looks. He’s another pretty boy who has decided not to settle on his charisma alone, writing, directing, and starring in this film. Co-starring Scarlett Johansson, Julianna Moore and Tony Danza as his love interest, classmate, and father, respectively, Gordon-Levitt plays “Don” Jon, a typical Jersey boy who loves his car, takes pride in his home, attends church with his family, goes out to score with his boys… and appreciates porn more than human sexual contact, despite his constant success picking up women. It’s charming, stylish, funny, and has an interesting statement to make about, not only the objectification of women in pornography (although that’s the major one), but in mainstream media in general.

By Carly Smith