WRECK-IT RALPH I had negative interest in Wreck-It Ralph when it came out, and only watched it on DVD because somebody paid me to. Just goes to show what a dick I am. Staggering worldbuilding, a meaty existential crisis and diabetes-inducing amounts of high-glucose fun make this my favourite animated film of the year by ruddy miles. (The only other animated film I saw in 2013 was Monsters University)
IRON MAN THREE Time to face Stark reality: Jon Favreau is not a great director. If only he'd buggered off to make way for Shane Black to take charge of all three Iron Man films instead of just this one, we could have had another era-defining superhero trilogy on our hands. As it is, Iron Man Three embarrasses its predecessors - and most of the rest of of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - with a daft but daring script, a tremendous supporting cast and the year's best blockbuster set-pieces. Robert Downey Jr may be the lead, but it's painfully clear that the real star of this franchise is Shane Black.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES An epic, operatic film beefed up by sterling turns from Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, The Place Beyond The Pines is to fathers and sons what director Derek Cianfrance's previous film, Blue Valentine, was to husbands and wives. Let down only by an overlong third act populated by horrible teenagers, ugh, it's still a bleak and moody meditation on the merciless vagaries of fate.
THE WORLD'S END Having grown up in the video age, Edgar Wright understands the value of repeat viewings better than most. That's why, like the first two parts of his Cornetto Trilogy, The World's End is crammed with delicious detail and improves with every revisit. And as someone who may or may not be of a similar age to the characters, its many themes ring true; many's the time I've had to fight off a smashy smashy egg man lady with armlegs. It also sports one of the year's best second-act shifts - from knowing thirty-something comedy to global intergalactic warfare (albeit on a microcosmic scale) - and the fight scenes are directed with cast iron nerve. Bring on the Ant Man.
FILTH It's uninspired to compare Filth to Trainspotting, but at the same time it's a huge compliment - it's a worthy companion piece to Danny Boyle's film and a ridiculous blast of anarchy in its own right. James McAvoy is a revelation as the supremely cuntish Bruce Robertson, and director Jon S Baird drives the film like he's at the wheel of a monster truck, crushing every other contemporary British cop drama under five-foot high wheels of pure insanity.
AMERICAN HUSTLE Statistics show that American Hustle contains 76.9% of all of 2013's acting, 97.4% of its hairpieces and 100% of its amazing costumes. Assembled by David O. Russell, all these elements combine to produce a slick, original and unexpectedly funny caper movie anchored by five of Hollywood's finest living actors. It's GoodFellas-lite, but even diet Scorsese is tastier than nearly everything else out this year.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS With sweat pooling under his moobs like two puddles of pure liquid tension, Tom Hanks is perfect as Captain Phillips, the working class everyman suddenly plunged into mental battle with the unknown: in this case, Barkhad Abdi as wired and wiry pirate Muse. "Everything gon' be OK," goes Muse's unconvincing mantra, and sure enough before long your fingernails and blood pressure are pretty goddamn far from OK. An hour of hide-and-seek followed by an hour of sardines add up to a tightrope-tense experience, and the final scene - despite verging on Oscar showboating - provides the perfect release.
LES MISÉRABLES Love, honour, compassion, courage, sacrifice, faith, greed, altruism, redemption and the enduring power of the human spirit: some films struggle to cover just one of these grand themes. Les Misérables nails them all while tossing off an amusing Sacha-Baron-Cohen-with-a-funny-accent scene or two. In embarking on a project as gigantic in scope as this, Tom Hooper displayed the kind of balls that Miley Cyrus would have had a good swing on, and what could have been an embarrassing clusterfuck instead turned out to be a triumph of powerhouse balladeering, shot with aching beauty as stunning technically as it is visually.
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY Ben Stiller dials down the Ben Stiller like we always knew he could in this utterly joyous adventure that warns us - without preaching - not to live Life Online, to stop looking at the world through screens and to just fucking do it, whatever "it" is. Beautifully and imaginatively shot, with a flawless script full of setups and payoffs and perfectly-judged levels of sentimentality, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is gorgeous, glorious, heart-burstingly lovely stuff and would probably be even higher on this list if I'd had time to think about it a bit longer.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES The world's most successful experiment in producing movie Marmite, Only God Forgives managed to polarise audiences like nothing else this year. Those who find Nicolas Winding Refn's bewildering Bangkok nightmare a cynical, empty exercise in audience alienation are probably right, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Production design, score, cinematography and costume design assume equal billing to Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott-Thomas in an arthouse oddity that makes you either bystander or accomplice; personally, I'm guilty as sin.
Bubbling under: Star Trek Into Darkness (shut up), Upstream Colour, Blue Jasmine, Frances Ha, Robot & Frank, In A World..., Zero Dark Thirty, Cloud Atlas, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Blancanieves.
Conspicuous by their absence: Pacific Rim (just awful), Gravity (technically incredible, but narratively suspect), all those films you loved but I didn't. Sorry.
These opinions are correct and indisputable as of January 6th 2014. Any changes, contradictions or humiliating backtracks will be updated here.