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Top Films of 2013

By on 31/01/2014

A bit late I know, but here are the official Cognitive Space top 10 movies of the year. We have a mix of both Hollywood and independent from the US, China, Denmark, Korean and Japan


The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing has to be one of the most compelling documentaries ever. Filmmakers examine a country where death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes, challenging them to reenact their real-life mass killings in the style of the American movies they love. The hallucinatory result is a cinematic fever dream, an unsettling journey deep into the imaginations of mass murderers and the shockingly banal regime of corruption and impunity they inhabit. It’s one of those movies that need to be seen to be believed, truly compelling, brutal and thought provoking its will play on your brain for weeks after viewing it


The Grandmaster

5 years in the making Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster was finally released. Its a retelling of the Ip Man story that feels a lot closer to the real Ip Man than Donnie Yen’s protrayal. Wong Kar Wai is a true auteur – he has brought something special to the period drama kung fu genre that no one else has brought before, his flavour bleeds through and its absolutely beautiful, the fight scenes are filmed with such cinematic grace never before shown on film where it becomes the cinematic art of capturing the beauty of the fight scenes on screen as much as the art of the fights themselves that, I’m my opinion leaves the cinematography of the fights within Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in the dust – the up close slow motion segments are of the fights are detailed and so visually amazing, the beauty of the film is breath taking. The movie does suffer from jumping between characters and time periods which I hear it down to the moving of the focus from the original script to be based around The Grandmasters to the one Grandmaster Ip Man. Watch this in the cinema if you can – it really needs to be seen on the big screen



Children of Men truly cemented Alfonso Cuarón as a foreign director to watch and Gravity has ejected him into orbit as a great. Years in the making this movie is a special effects great and one intense experience of a movie.

Just as Children of Men could be seen as an allegory for the nativity story then Gravity could be seen as an allegory for the birth process. Visually stunning it will change the movie game just like other big special effects films of the past have done the same. What it lacks in narrative it makes up for in the experience the movie takes you on – that’s what films like this are about. It’s a game changer of a movie just like many special effects masterpieces that came before it – it’s going to be the reference point for space based scifis from now on.


Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek is a low budget thriller stormed the Korean box office in the summer tells the story of family man who’s world is turned upside down when he is asked to clear out the flat of his estranged brother in an apartment where people have gone missing and strange symbols appear on the doors. What ensues is an edge of the seat thriller based around home invasions. You can check my full review here –



Set in the backdrop of the Nordvest estate in Copenhagen, this simple but effective thriller tells the story of Casper an amateur thief whose life turns upside down when he teams up with some gangsters. This is hard hitting and entertaining film from beginning to end. You can check my full review here –


Only God Forgives

The first of the Ryan Gosling movies in the top 10 for this year. Nicolas Winding Refn is one of few buy on sight directors for me right now. The amazing Drive was his gateway into Hollywood and only God Forgives was his return to the movies he is slightly more known for, although this can’t really be called a Hollywood movie as it’s a joint Danish/French funded film that is set in Thailand. Much like Valhalla Rising this film is for large parts free of dialogue and more of a paced visual atmospheric experience that follows a sort of god like mythical archetype. It’s about a cinematic experience more than narrative – like watching a ballet/opera on screen. Despite Ryan Gosling being the main character it’s the brutal Vithaya Pansringarm as Chang who steals the show in this great movie


The Place Beyond the Pines

It’s amazing when a film you know nothing about comes out of nowhere and kicks you in the teeth. I caught this film randomly when I was in Tunisia and it’s the second Ryan Gosling movie in my top 10 of this year. You can tell that the director makes documentaries – the film injects you into the lives of the characters, not just with the cinematography but with its vibe. It’s a film about family and how actions can cross generations, its real engrossing and emotional, it reaches down to your heart and touches you


Upstream Color

In 2004 Shane Carruth blew minds everywhere with the highly complex scifi Primer and since then the masses have been waiting for his follow up. Nearly 10 years later he has released Upstream Color another unconventional science fiction movie. Where Primer was very clinical in its nature Upstream Color is full of feeling and emotion. Both movies however are experiences and don’t run on a linear narrative. The cinematography and the music run this film as this takes you on this journey of emotions. Shane once again directs, stars, produces and composes the music for this film – he is really a great talent. Like Primer it will have you watching it again and again – each time you notice something new


Why Don’t You Play in Hell

What happens when you mix a stories of yakuza gang, amateur filmmakers, a geeks who meets the girl of his dreams and a girl on the run – get it directed by Sion Sono a pace it like a hyper kinetic comic book? Why Don’t You Play in Hell is what happens. This movie is so great and is a welcome deviation of the seriousness of Sion Sono’s last few films – it has laughs, shocks and gore from beginning to its amazing fight scene of its end. Check my review here –


Zero Dark Thirty

This so early in the year that its forgotten on some lists. In a short time Jessica Chastain has shown why she is one of Hollywood’s hottest talents right now. Kathryn Bigelow kept it real with this dramatisation of the hunt for Bin Laden, there is no gloss on this movie at all. The last 30 minutes of the real time attack on the compound is intense viewing


Where would the list be without some honorable mentions that didn’t make the list but deserve some major love

Drug War

Johnnie To is back with this story about a drug runner who is caught and turned to help the anti-drug division to smash a trafficking ring. There is no back stories in this no nonsense movie to the characters – it follows the case from the beginning to its brutal end at a blistering with some amazing shoot outs to boot.



An absorbing and beautiful film based around the effects of the Mexican drug cartels on a family who get caught up in the drug war. The balance between the beautifully shot scenes, the brutality and the poineint family scenes – this movie for stick with you for a while after. Check my full review here –



This film seemed to come and quickly go out here in the UK despite its great reviews. Quite a dark film about a kidnapping – there are no laughs in this film at all and the film is full of dread and questioning moral as we follow the family willing to do anything for the return of their children. The cinematography is absolutely amazing and well deservant of the oscar nomination. Part of me though thinks its didn’t take it as deep as they could have, it feels like they eased back a little in light of the ratings – a film like this should have pushed the envelope a little more and have been rated 18 and the movie got a little “Hollywood” in its last 30 minutes – its still a really great film


Spring Breakers

This is the most underrated film of 2013. Its by no means perfect but it’s a great film and has suffered greatly from overly harsh critics, its being taken too seriously and the controversy behind the film. The movie is a great mix of social commentary and pure entertainment – it should not be taken too seriously. Also James Franco is absolutely great as the Riff Raff like Alien

By Tendai – Cognitive Space


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