Best Horror Films of 2013

While my total for viewed films overall was up in 2013 the new horror that I saw was down. Due to that I decided that a top 10 would be more prudent and meaningful. That does not mean, however, that these are the only horror films I liked. I have created a Letterboxd list that ranks the horror I saw from 1-38. About half that list are films I liked and would recommend viewing.

But these are the best of that faction.

10. Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies (2013, Summit Entertainment)

Making a genre-specific list can be a tough thing, especially when you deal with horror. There are a few reasons for this: first, almost everyone and anyone has their own picks that they peg as horror that are debatable. For example, a few years ago I chose Take Shelter. I stand by that and get arguments against it. Similarly, though one of my favorite films of the year, I don’t see Stoker as a horror film, but I get it.

Which brings us to Warm Bodies. Yes, it’s comedic and romantic and there are zonbies. I can even get it if you don’t want to see zombies this way at all. However, I think it does what it does in a fun and creative way. It’s not perfect, of course, and the balancing act to an extent puts a ceiling on it but I did enjoy it quite a bit, aside from the makeup work.

9. Stitches

sttiches-creepy

This is perhaps the darkest dark horse to crack my list for a few reasons. First, yes, when balancing horror and another genre things get tricky and this movie keeps the laughs and gore working hand-in-hand rather well. Moreover, it not only deals with a hard motif to sell me on, but it incorporates a folklore of the craft of clowning such that it creates a marvelous horror mythology out of it, and most definitely puts its own unique spin on the scary clown motif.

8. Maniac

Maniac (2012, IFC Midnight)

This is the latest-viewed in the year selection that I included. As noted before I didn’t get to finish viewing the original Maniac, and I don’t really mind that now. This one features a memorable score, a great use of POV with some great sleight-of-hand behind the camera and in the editing room. It’s also further testament to how a great performance can elevate a horror film and Elijah Wood is a testament to that here.

7. The Purge

The Purge (2013, Universal)

I do wish some things in The Purge, say the decision to have the antagonists in animal masks, hardly a unique one at that; had been handled differently. However, despite that pet peeve and and overly-short act one that was rather shaky. This definitely worked for me in the end. To the point of my post about it, it sets up as a film whose sequel may surpass it. I do think this is a good first step and that that film functions as a home invasion tale with an added twist.

6. Haunter

Haunter (2013, Dark Sky Films)

I wrote about this film specifically during 61 Days of Halloween and addressed the way it uniquely combines a few tropes that are old hat by now. It’s an engaging low-key horror tale that revels in slight variation, nuance of character takes its slow-burn to a near blaze by the end.

5. The Condemned

The Condemned (2012, Strand Releasing)

It’s a little surprising to even myself that this is the only horror film shot in a language other than English on this list. However, it does bear mentioning that if you limit yourself to American horror only, even with a healthy dose of indies, you’re doing yourself a disservice as you’ll find some really cool stuff globally. This one is not even coming from that far away as it was produced in Puerto Rico. Because it’s likely the least-seen of all of these here’s my review from April:

This can be a tough film to discuss without putting too fine a point on things and giving away several key elements, but like the film I will try to be subtle. There has been much talk in recent years, as it’s been more in vogue as of late than in years past, of the slow burn, particularly as it applies to the horror genre. A slow burning tale, as I’ve likely stated before, is not one that’s in and of itself problematic. Usually, the key to success for these films is either of two things: first, incremental and consistent, even if slight, escalation of stakes, and second, a sufficiently impressive and resonant pay-off to the wait.

The Condemned does not build quickly, even for a slow burn, but it excels tremendously in the pay-off department. What’s interesting is that it dabbles with many known tropes: haunting, children, secrets and the like, but with the way things play out it even toys with the very notion it even being a horror film, in a similar way to how last year’s The Hidden Face did, but ultimately remains one for all else it is.

There are subtleties throughout, things you are advised to recall though you may not think it crucial at the time. The Condemned is a wonderfully rendered tale that does sufficient visual exposition and elaboration on its turning points such that most, if not all, loose ends are tied up and the whole piece is elevated by, and not subjugated to, its trickery.

Its surely for horror fans, and I’d say art house fans too as it is an intelligent, well-acted and crafted film that does linger. It seems like the horror crop of 2013 may be a brainier bunch than ones in the past few years.

4. The Awakening

The Awakening (Universal Home Video, 2011)

This is another one that inspired me to write a piece. Not quite a review but it was the very strong performances in this well-crafted old school ghost story that re-emphasized in my mind the foundation of drama in all other genres, especially horror. Because the performances are so good, the characters so well-drawn and story so conducive to building them the scares (fairly fundamentally employed though they may be) really work.

3. Byzantium

Byzantium (2013, IFC Films)

Yes, this is a vampire love story. This was a dismissed film on Peter Travers summer “skip list” based on vampires alone. But this is Neil Jordan, this is not run of the mill, and most definitely not twilight. And make no mistake this film unlike Warm Bodies definitely emphasizes the horror aspect. It also tells a tale in two time periods, and has the narrative intertwine, has great production design and cinematography and is well worth looking for if you want an escape from the ordinary.

2. The Conjuring

The Conjuring (2013, New Line Cinema)

Welcome to the top of the list or as you could call in 2013 James Wan country. Even though I was a huge Insidious fan, and I saw trailers for The Conjuring coming, I didn’t realize ahead of time that he’d have two horror releases so close to one another. Much less did I realize that Wan would throw down the gauntlet before at least taking a hiatus from the genre. The fascinating thing, and I will expound on this below, is that when all is said and down there were really two somewhat different approaches to the genre taken. Many would’ve expected his two films to be two-sides of the same coin, but they’re really not. Not quite.

The Conjuring is old-school scary that gets huge near its finale for better or worse all the chips go to the middle of the table. And notably, publicity stunt or not, genre-necessity for a studio or not, its R-rating can only be intellectually argued based on how effectively made it is, and not based on any MPAA guideline it violates.

1. Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013, FilmDistrict)

Landing in the top ten, especially up at number one, is ostensibly about two things in most cases: doing something a little bit different and doing it very well. Yes, Insidious: Chapter 2 is a sequel. However, its status as such gives it even more leeway; heck, it’s almost expected to be a variation on the original. As a testament to Leigh Whannell, James Wan and Blumhouse, they did not play it safe. They took a chance and took this second installment where pretty much no one else expected, and I for one loved it.

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Best Films of 2013: 30-26

The easy question to ask is: “why do a list at all when you already have an awards slate on your site?” It’s a good question and I finally may have formulated the best response to it yet. Basically, it’s a less comparative discussion on each film that you feel marked the year fro you. In writing a list you discuss each film and a only every few numbers or so get bogged down in discussing placement.

I will try my best to avoid redundancy and will link and self-quote where I deem necessary but it was in re-watching something that I came upon the aforementioned truth. Awards with their winners and fellow nominees and then snub-ees can be read as a slight, though that is never the intent. A list as celebratory, if not more so because of the insularity of conversation.

Now 30 is a high number and I could’ve increased it. I saw the most eligible titles ever this year, but I wanted to further honor these films by having the percentile they represent be a smaller fraction than prior lists.

Let us begin with 30 to 26…

30. Romeo and Juliet

Romeo-and-Juliet-Carlo-Carlei-directed-film-2013-cover-romeo

This was a movie that came and went without much ado at all and was one of a handful of new adaptations of old, oft-told tales that was dismissed in part due to redundancy. I, for one, did not mind this new take at all. And found the twist, this version’s raison d’être was in not just going with casting closer to the characters’ actual descriptions but also who they got to be involved. The entire cast, not just the aforementioned faction, is superb. The scoring is quite wonderful. Even knowing many of these scenes as I still do they had the desired dramatic effect; even if a truncated version there’s less glitz and more viscera in this rendition than the Luhrmann re-imagining.

29. The Almost Man

The Almost Man (2012, Big World Pictures)

If you look at the score I gave this film at the bottom of my mini-review it belies the fact that it’s grown on me from its first viewing. Ultimately there were some worthy re-interpretations of old tales and a remake that I left off this list in favor of more original fare. This is a film with laughter, heart and a more stunning case of arrested development than found in Frances Ha.

28. Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013, FilmDistrict)

In the interest of full disclosure, I did make some decisions in light of trying to avoid redundancy. It was not a bad year for horror. I did see less, and see a lot of horror titles I didn’t like, but I do have a genre-specific list piggybacking this one such that if I could avoid duplicates I would. I could because there was a crazy amount of effective drama from the world over I found this year.

What made Insidious: Chapter 2 my favorite horror film of the year was the fact that I got from it a similar scare factor, crazy risk-taking and another great turn in the horror genre from Wan and Whannell.

27. This is the End

This is the End (2013, Sony Pictures)

Similar for horror, barring a specific list, I don’t think the year was a bad one for comedies. However, the spot where I usually slot the funniest movie of the year, in a year such as this, slid down.

Is it goofy, off-the-wall and immature? Yes. However, it’s perhaps the perfect comedic antidote for a celebrity-obsessed society where you can now be famous just for being famous. You have actors playing themselves in a tongue-and-cheek lampooning of their onscreen personae that hits it out of the park time and time again.

In terms of my awards I was hard-pressed to eliminate any of the supporting performances of the cast, but it proved to hard to pick just one to represent them so they sort of canceled each other out. What will not be lost on me though is the fact that it’s the film I laughed hardest, longest and most often during this year and the one I went back to theatrically.

26. The Deflowering of Eva Van End

The Deflowering of Eva Van End (2012, Film Movement)

With a title like that you almost have to tackle it right away. I did so in my original write-up:

Eva is our entry into their world. She gives us our first glimpse of them and thus we see them in a very broad stroke. As Veit (Rafael Gareisen), the German exchange student who turns their world upside down, changes their behavior we learn about them, what their insecurities were and what they try to do to take control of an alter their lives.
It’s a very funny film in both its exaggerated renditions of reality, but also a very real one with dramatic consequences. The characters progress but are not perfect; they remain flawed in the end, but better for the experience. Veit could be the only one who walks through it unchanged. He is what he always is, it’s what the family projects him to be that alters.

Through artful cinematography, editorial finesse and music that enchantingly encapsulates this odd world, there are well-executed tonal shifts and visceral impact that far overcome any minor quibbles I may have. The Deflowering of Eva Van End is a film that paints the portrait of a family far more fully than its title suggest and is recommended viewing if you see it about.

This list continues with 25-21 tomorrow.

61 Days of Halloween: Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured films, please go here.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Usually with these 61 Days of Halloween posts I am usually writing about an older film. However, owing both to the fact that I want to come as close to having 61 posts in this theme as possible, and also that new horror film releases are now virtually year-round; I figured that a film being released between September 1st and October 31st in cinemas also warranted coverage.

It also warrants discussion because not only is it a sequel to one of the best horror films of 2010 (Back when I still didn’t have a genre-specific list) but also because of how it goes about being a horror sequel. It seems that, for one reason or another, many horror sequels: a) don’t take chances b) are very hesitant to stick too close to the end of the first film in terms of chronology.

However, what James Wan, Leigh Whannell and the team at Blumhouse did here is akin to a few things. First thing that came to mind was John Carpenter’s Halloween II that was very close in chronology treatment of his and Debra Hill’s story. The second, being a modern reference, is what Marvel Studios is doing. Their initial films in series be it Thor, Iron Man or Captain America have all been variations on the origin story, but as the franchises built up goodwill, and their cups runneth over after The Avengers; there’s been some risk-taking.

There’s a glorious dichotomy omnipresent throughout all of Insidious 2. After a teaser scene that takes us back in time, but is also referenced a few more times, and key to the story; the film picks up the narrative the day after events in the previous installment. For while the narrative picks up where it left off it goes down paths and alleys that are not entirely expected. It takes you there with mellifluously macabre scoring, mesmerizing edits and wondrous camerawork. It rips a few other pages out of the euroshocker (namely Argento) catalog, but it also continues to expound upon its myth building. It doesn’t do what’s expected, but none of it feels inorganic or forced. Both Wan and Whannell have very consciously crafted a story that warranted this kind of exploration. For what’s the point of a follow-up if its to be a carbon copy rather than a continuation?

I have yet to attend a double-, triple- or any other multi-film experience to mark the release of a new installment in a series, however, this is the one I most lament because I fully intended on going to but life got in the way. It’s not that I felt seeing the first film over was necessary when I walked out, it just would’ve been all the more glorious.

While a chapter of the tale closes at the end of this film (the syntax of the title is very apropos) there can still be more to tell as the film branches out. This marvelous bookend of a story also leaves one wanting more and can easily deliver it. To date Insidious: Chapter 2 is the best horror film I’ve seen this year not only for its bravado, but, also because of how it follows through on its characters searches and arcs, which gives the actors room to stretch and also expand or contrast to the prior film.

2013 BAM Award Considerations – September

Last year I had one massive running list and it became very cumbersome to add to, and to read I’m sure. By creating a new post monthly, and creating massive combo files offline, it should make the process easier for me and more user-friendly for you, the esteemed reader. Enjoy.

Eligible Titles

You’re Next
Beyond the Walls
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
The Iceman
House of Bodies
Riddick
The Grandmaster
Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Branca’s Pitch
Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie
Insidious: Chapter 2
Aliyah
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
V/H/S 2
In the Name Of
Hammer of the Gods
Die Farbe
Breakout
Standing Up
Don Jon
Cody the Robosapien

Best Picture

Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines

Best Foreign Film

Beyond the Walls
The Gradmaster
Aliyah
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
In the Name Of
Die Farbe

Best Documentary

Last year this was an omitted category, due mostly to the fact that too few total candidates existed to make the slate feel legitimate. I will hope to be able to rectify that this year.

Branca’s Pitch
Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

Most Overlooked Film

As intimated in my Most Underrated announcement this year, I’ve decided to make a change here. Rather than get caught up in me vs. the world nonsense and what a film’s rating is on an aggregate site, the IMDb or anywhere else, I want to champion smaller, lesser-known films. In 2011 with the selection of Toast this move was really in the offing. The nominees from this past year echo that fact. So here, regardless of how well-received something is by those who’ve seen it, I’ll be championing indies and foreign films, and the occasional financial flop from a bigger entity.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
Die Farbe

Best Director

Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
Die Farbe

Best Actress

Sharni Vinson You’re Next
Lily Collins The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Ziyi Zhang The Grandmaster
Andrea Riseborough Shadow Dancer
Melonie Diaz Fruitvale Station
Clotilde Hesme Three Worlds
Olga Kurylenko To the Wonder
Marah Schneider Die Farbe
Scarlett Johansson Don Jon

Best Actor

Matila Malliarakis Beyond the Walls
Jamie Campbell Bower The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Michael Shannon The Iceman
Tony Leung Chiu Wai The Grandmaster
Clive Owen Shadow Dancer
Michael B. Jordan Fruitvale Station
Patrick Wilson Insidious: Chapter 2
Raphaël Personnaz Three Worlds
Pio Marmaï Aliyah
Andrzej Chyra In the Name Of
Ingo Heise Die Farbe
Joseph Gordon-Levitt Don Jon

Best Supporting Actress

Brid Brennan Shadow Dancer
Octavia Spencer Fruitvale Station
Lin Shaye Insidious: Chapter 2
Arta Dobroshi Three Worlds
Julianne Moore Don Jon
Glenne Headly Don Jon

Best Supporting Actor

Guillaume Gouix Beyond the Walls
Robert Sheehan The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Kevin Zegers The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Jonathan Rhys Meyers The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Chris Evans The Iceman
Ray Liotta The Iceman
Jordi Mollà Riddick
Steve Coulter Insidious: Chapter 2
Jean-Pierre Malo Three Worlds
Javier Bardem To the Wonder
Mateusz Kociukiewicz In the Name Of
Theo Barklam-Biggs Hammer of the Gods
Michael Kausch Die Farbe
Tony Danza Don Jon

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Maya Lauterbach V8- Start Your Engines
Annelise Basso Standing Up

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Georg Sulzer V8- Start Your Engines
Chandler Canterbury Standing Up
Bobby Coleman Cody the Robosapien

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Maira Laird Shadow Dancer
Ariana Neal Fruitvale Station
Klara Merkel V8- Start Your Engines
Tatiana Chiline To the Wonder
Holliston Coleman Cody the Robosapien

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Ty Simpkins Insidious: Chapter 2
Garrett Ryan Insidious: Chapter 2
Tyler Griffin Insidious: Chapter 2
Andrew Astor Insidious: Chapter 2
Samuel Jakob V8- Start Your Engines
Tom Hossbach V8- Start Your Engines
Nick Romeo Reimann V8 – Start Your Engines
Rylan Logan V/H/S 2
Phillipp Jacobs Die Farbe
Leon Schröder Die Farbe
Jonas Zumdohme Die Farbe
Christian Martyn Breakout

Best Cast

You’re Next
Beyond the Walls
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
The Iceman
Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
In the Name Of
Die Farbe
Don Jon

Best Youth Ensemble

Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
V/H/S 2
Die Farbe
Standing Up
Cody the Robosapien

Best Original Screenplay

You’re Next
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
V/H/S 2
Don Jon

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Shadow Dancer
Die Farbe

Best Score

You’re Next
Beyond the Walls
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Riddick
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
Die Farbe

Best Editing

Shadow Dancer
Fruitvale Station
Insidious: Chapter 2
Three Worlds
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
Die Farbe
Don Jon

Best Sound Editing/Mixing

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Shadow Dancer
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
V/H/S 2
Hammer of the Gods
Die Farbe

Best Cinematography

You’re Next
The Grandmaster
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
To the Wonder
V/H/S 2
Die Farbe

Best Art Direction

You’re Next
Beyond the Walls
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Riddick
The Grandmaster
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
V/H/S 2
Hammer of the Gods
Die Farbe

Best Costume Design

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
The Iceman
Riddick
The Grandmaster
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
Hammer of the Gods
Die Farbe

Best Makeup

Riddick
The Grandmaster
Insidious: Chapter 2
V8- Start Your Engines
V/H/S 2

Best Visual Effects

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Riddick
Insidious: Chapter 2
V/H/S 2
Die Farbe
Cody the Robosapien

Best (Original) Song

Beyond the Walls
V8- Start Your Engines