SPECIAL: The Best Trailers of 2013

Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Chris Luckett

Every year, superstars like Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and Leonardo DiCaprio star in brilliant, two-minute movies. The fact that these short films are also advertisements for other movies and that they precede “feature presentations” at the theatre doesn’t stop some of them from being works of art in their own right. Of all the trailers that were released in 2013, these are the very best.

(“Official Trailer 3”)

The first two Man of Steel trailers weren’t especially impressive, both because Marvel has raised the bar so high and because the movie’s trailers failed to capture the true essence of Superman. The third time was the time. The tension and music slowly build over the first two minutes of mythology and setup, before exploding in a fury of fast cuts, crescendos, and catchphrases that show a lot of the film without spelling out everything that happens.

(“Trailer 1”)

Following an opening scene with Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper, American Hustle’s trailer revels in its movie’s ‘70s soundtrack, fashion, and indulgent ideals. Set against Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times,” the trailer for David O. Russell’s new movie shows a cast of Russell alumni from The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook involved in some kind of big con. By the time the trailer’s finished, you still don’t know what the movie’s about, but you certainly know what the feel of it is going to be.

(“Official Trailer 1”)

The first trailer for the new X-Men movie knows it can sell itself to fans through its subtitle alone, but still takes the time to let audiences piece together the ramifications of its cast-combining concept on their own. Very smartly employing John Murphy’s evocative score from 2007’s Sunshine, the first minute features the modern X-Men cast talking of changing the past and joining forces. The dramatic juxtaposition of shots of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender against those of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen unexpectedly raises the bar and hints at the possibility for this hybrid to be the Avengers of the X-Men universe.

(“Teaser Trailer”)

Subverting the expectation that every major Ben Stiller movie featuring lots of spastic slapstick and frantic humour, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’s trailer was one of the most hypnotic and riveting of the year, and all with only three lines of dialogue. The teaser for Stiller’s latest presented a general idea of what The Secret Life of Walter Mitty would be but let its visuals and subtle concepts — married against the apt lyrics of Of Monster and Men’s “Dirty Paws” — sell the movie, instead of dialogue, narration, or Stiller’s usual manic energy.

(“Theatrical Trailer”)

The sophomore release of Shane Carruth, the writer-director-composer-editor-actor of Primer, was the most hypnotically confusing and puzzlingly weird movie of last year, and its theatrical trailer perfectly captured that same tone. If this trailer bothers or disinterests you, you know not to watch Upstream Colour. If, however, you’re intrigued, fascinated, or just can’t shake the weird music and imagery hours later, you know to definitely check it out. Either way, the trailer tells you absolutely nothing about the movie yet conclusively sells you on it or turns you away.

5. HER
(“Official Trailer 1”)

The light, delicate score lures you into Her’s first trailer at the start, and the question-and-answer period with Joaquin Phoenix’s character perfectly introduces his character to audiences in mere seconds. The futuristic story comes off as an amusing and heart-warming tale of a broken man learning to enjoy life again — right up until the 1:30 mark. Suddenly shifting gears completely and giving effective tonal whiplash the first time anyone sees it, Her promises a very weird love story that should look stupid, but darn it if it doesn’t look fascinating.

(“Official Teaser Trailer”)

Much like the trailers for 2009’s Star Trek reboot, the first trailer for 2014’s Godzilla knows it has an uphill battle and that its brand is working just as much against the movie as it is for it. Set against a foreboding speech from David Strathairn, a spectacular, military skydive, and an ominous audio track that feels lifted from 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s not until after the one-minute mark that the trailer gives you a glimpse of the fact it’s a Godzilla movie. By that point, the trailer’s earned a fair chance to impress, which it uses its remaining running time doing with aplomb.

(“Official International Trailer”)

Director Wes Anderson and his movies are known to most people for their magnificent casts and their inimitable visuals, and his latest movie looks to deliver both in spades. The antiquated, full-screen ratio of the trailer and its bold colour scheme attract your attention from the first frame onward. The dry humour of the first third turns darker and quirkier by the trailer’s middle, before breaking into a manic score that advertises the comedy’s gargantuan cast in rapid-fire succession. After the dizzying effect of its climax, the trailer brilliantly comes to a sudden stop with a laugh-out-loud one-liner punctuating an abrupt finish.

(“Theatrical Trailer #3”)

Now this is a trailer. Perfect from start to finish, with the opening 20 seconds establishing the grumpy and curmudgeonly folk singer Llewyn Davis. As soon as the wondrous, melancholy tones of Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford’s “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” kick in, half of the trailer’s work is done. It toggles through glowing reviews of the movie and random scenes that tell no linear story but give an excellent snapshot of the general tone of the Coen brothers’ new movie. The song crescendos alongside the trailer, before both fade into silence. Inside Llewyn Davis’s third trailer doesn’t make a single wrong movie. In fact, it would be the greatest trailer of the year, from start to finish, were it not for one other movie…

(“Official Main Trailer”)

Just as flawless as Inside Llewyn Davis’s third trailer but even more impressive, Gravity’s second trailer is two-and-a-half minutes of visual wonder and psychological terror. Starting with ten seconds of text against a black background and utter silence, the trailer explodes in an instant, submerging you right in the middle of a mind-blowing action sequence that raises your adrenaline and tightens your chest. The tension keeps ratcheting through the trailer as the music rises to a near-deafening volume, before dissipating at the end — only to quickly rebuild in time for a second climax, which is abruptly interrupted at its tensest point by the seven-letter title on a simple black background. It’s insanely effective, it’s remarkably grand, and it’s the best movie trailer to be released in 2013.

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