By no means am I a film expert or a expert film critic or anything of the sort. I just genuinely love movies. Starting this blog and sharing my love of movies with you guys has allowed me to see a lot of great films. More than any other year before.
I could have simply done a top 10, and called it a day. But that wouldn’t have been truthful to how I felt about this year. I saw too many films that left an impression on me in some way to pull a quick one like that.
So I’ve done a top 25 list, and thrown in a bunch of honorable mentions for good measure. It was tough to order these films, but I did the best I could. Either way, I promise that all these films are worth your time, one way or another.
2013 was truly an amazing year for film, and I think this list speaks for itself. So here are my favorite/best films of 2013.
Edit: Somehow I realized I forgot to include Prisoners. Clearly I need a better list compiling system. I have adjusted the list accordingly.
Ron Howard knocked Rush out of the park. A solid Chris Hemsworth, but it’s a extraordinary Daniel Brühl that gives this racing film the extra edge that excels it forward. The racing scenes are intense and a lot of fun, but it’s watching the two leads go at it that packs the most punch.
Blue Jasmine is truly the Cate Blanchett show. She’ll get her Oscar and all of the attention is deserved, but lets not forgot the rest of the cast, who Woody Allen got all the best of. Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, and Andrew Dice Clay. Damn.
All Is Lost
It’s hard to stomach that Robert Redford didn’t get an Oscar nomination out of his great performance as a man alone and lost at sea in All Is Lost. He almost says nothing for two hours, but keeps you on your emotional edge just on his facial expressions alone. Now that’s something that can’t be ignored.
We lost the great James Gandolfini in 2013, but he will be well remembered with his sweet and tender performance in Enough Said along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It was a very different performance from Gandolfini, and that’s what makes it work so well.
What a directorial debut by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who also wrote and starred in Don Jon). I felt like this film got a bit lost in people’s mind, but I’m not sure why. It took a uncomfortable topic and made it relatable and hysterically funny.
If you didn’t catch Pacific Rim in IMAX, then you missed one of the best theatrical experiences of the year. Guillermo del Toro delivers everything that he promised in a big-ass robot vs. alien film. I had a blast.
Warm Bodies graced our screens early in 2013 and was mostly ignored or forgotten. I found it really connected with me and had a tenderness to it that caught me by surprise. It was a great deal of fun, and delivered a lot more than I expected. A very pleasant surprise.
In A World…
Similar to JGL with Don Jon, Lake Bell made her directorial debut with In A World… which she also wrote and starred in. This one connected with me a lot more than I expected, finding a good balance of humor and heart. A pretty solid collection of actors (Rob Corddry, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, Fred Melamed, Nick Offerman) bring it home. A Very good start for Bell.
Upon my first viewing, I didn’t know what to make of Spring Breakers, the massively polarizing flick from Harmony Korine. Honestly I was on the fence of both intrigue and disgust. But it’s one of those films you need to see again to really appreciate it. Going into it knowing what to expect and reading between the lines, it resonated with me a great deal the second time around. And god damn, James Franco. His “Look At My Shit” scene is unforgettable.
Disney is back with this flick which is a true crowd-pleaser. I was surprised by how well this hit home for me, going into it fairly blind. From the music to the humor, Frozen hit all the right notes. Olaf is one of the best animated characters in quite a long while. He alone almost made the film for me.
August: Osage County
I’m a big fan of dark, twisted humor, and it doesn’t get more dark and twisted than the family drama that takes place in August: Osage County. One of the best ensemble casts of the year delivers in every which way. From Meryl Streep to Julia Roberts, to Margo Martindale, everyone dives into their roles and comes out just as whacked as the next. I haven’t seen the play, but I came out of the film quite a fan.
Best Films Of 2013
25. Blue Is The Warmest Color
At three hour long and with some long and intense lesbian sex scenes, Blue Is The Warmest Color probably isn’t for everyone. But it’s an important film that I found myself quite invested and interesting in throughout its entire run time. Forget the controversy between director Abdellatif Kechiche and his two stars Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. Everyone delivers the goods powerfully, especially Exarchopoulos who is tremendous.
24. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I enjoyed the first Hunger Games, but I really loved Catching Fire. All of the back story is pretty much shelved, and we are thrown into the hectic world of the games from the start. The stadium is more thrilling as are all the new characters who add a new element to the fun, allowing for one hell of a good time at the theater. It’s grand action adventure done right.
23. About Time
About Time may have been the biggest surprise of the year for me. I went in expecting a typical rom-com and maybe in some ways it was, but holy hell, did this movie hit me hard. It’s quite funny at times, but also very sincere and touching. When I saw it at the New York Film Festival, there weren’t many dry eyes in the house by the end of the film. Bill Nighy is always great, but he may have offered up one of his finest performances to date here. About Time gets a lot right, and it’s a movie I will treasure for many years to come.
22. The Place Beyond The Pines
Sure, maybe The Place Beyond The Pines is a bit too long, and it’s third act may be a bit uneven. But for the most part, Derek Cianfrance hits this bad boy out of the park with power and grace. It’s three part arc was unexpected, but worked quite well. He got the best out of all the actors from the established (Gosling, Cooper, Mendes, Mendelsohn) to the newer (DeHaan, Cohen). The opening scene and the shot of Gosling’s character in the church, are enough for Pines to always stand out in my mind.
Philomena is a touching story that is brought to the screen wonderfully by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope who are well deserved of their Oscar nomination. It’s two leads, Coogan and Judi Dench, have a wonderful rapport that forms an unlikely bond that is funny and touching. There’s isn’t anything to dislike about Philomena (aside from the nuns), but there’s plenty to love.
20. The Hunt
The Hunt is a powerful movie that is quite dark and tough to watch. It shows a mans journey defending his reputation after everyone turns against him after he is wrongfully accused of something he didn’t do. We see how quickly people are willing to join one another on a witch hunt, even if it means turning on your own friend. Featuring a powerful performance from Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt is a film that will stick with you for a while.
19. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a film about two criminals, that was one of the most criminally under-seen movies of the year. It’s the film that Terrance Malick has been trying to make for the past few years but has failed to do so. David Lowery definitely takes a few things out of Malick’s book, but does so with much more substance and grace. It’s beautifully shot and wonderfully scored. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are sublime. If you have yet to see this little gem, go find it right now. You won’t be sorry.
Along with Dallas Buyers Club (which is right below), Mud proved that the resurgence of Matthew McConaughey is real and it’s the stuff of gold. Mud is a southern tale with a growl and plenty of grittiness to be found. Jeff Nichols leads the way, allowing McConaughey and the two young actors Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland to show off their goods. There’s also a rock solid Ray McKinnon and Reese Witherspoon, who is the best she has been in quite some time.
17. Dallas Buyers Club
Once again, all hail the mighty McConaughey. In Dallas Buyers Club, he plays a man suffering from AIDS, given only a month to live. He literally transforms for the role, dropping nearly 40 pounds to get the part right. He’s not the only star, Jared Leto transformation is just as stunning, and he is just as award-worthy. There’s also a solid Jennifer Garner who I almost didn’t recognize either. Don’t be surprised if McConaughey upsets for Best Actor at the Oscar.
16. The World’s End
Edgar Wright caps off his Cornetto Trilogy in epic fashion with The World’s End. It’s the third and final chapter of the unconnected yet so perfect trilogy, and even though it contains all the whacky witty humor of Wright, Pegg and Frost, it’s also a bit grown up. A lot of people weren’t as enthralled with The World’s End, finding it a bit different then they expected. Well my friends, that’s because there’s actually some heavy themes going around in this film. Finding yourself unable to grow up, coming home and expecting things to stay the same, and learning that those closest to you are nothing as they once were. It’s all balanced out by some of Wright’s bright humor, some amazing action sequences, and an amazing Nick Frost, who delivered an incredible against-type performance.
15. Frances Ha
Noah Baumbach’s elegant capturing of modern New York City in Frances Ha connected with me. Maybe its because I myself am a twentysomething, so I saw a lot of myself in the film’s characters. But either way, there’s a lot to love about his black and white film. His script, that he wrote with the film’s star Greta Gerwig, is witty and sharp, and there are great performances all around. Life is filled with so many different adventures of self discovery, that we often find ourselves lost trying to sort all the pieces. Frances Ha does a good job of showcasing how tough this journey can be, by also making it seem to damn joyful along the way.
14. Fruitvale Station
Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut is a powerful film that tells the tragic true story of Oscar Grant. If you don’t know the story, you need to look it up. Even if you don’t, you’ll still get all the power from the incident by watching Coogler’s film. Featuring a fantastic breakthrough performance from Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station is a high-impact ride from start to finish. The fact that you know what is coming doesn’t spoil the film, the only thing it spoils is the notion that the film will be an easy viewing experience. It’s definitely not easy, but necessary. I left the film with many emotions: sadness, anger, disappointment, but mostly, at loss.
I must have rushed to make this list because I forgot to include Prisoners, a true bone-chilling thriller that kept me on the edge of the seat the entire time. It was a tense movie that genuinely made me nervous and at ease, featuring some amazing performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, who are both at the top of their game. There’s also some good stuff from Paul Dano and Maria Bello. It was an intense ride that is relentless until the final breathtaking scene. There are many twists and turns that will constantly keep you guessing.
12. Captain Phillips
My first viewing of Captain Phillips was one of my favorite movie-going experiences of the year. It was tense and emotional, drawing you in and never letting you go until the very last second. Director Paul Greengrass is on top of his game again. However, it’s the performance of the film’s two leads that lead the way. Barkhad Abdi, a first-time actor who was driving limo’s not too long ago, holds his own against Tom Hanks, who puts forward his best performance in years. The last 10 minutes of Captain Phillips really hit me hard, thanks to a masterful Tom Hanks. I understand that the competition was hard, but it’s hard to believe Hanks didn’t receive an Oscar nomination after watching him break down like that.
11. The Spectacular Now
The Spectacular Now is the finest effort yet from director James Ponsoldt, who gives us an emotionally charged coming of age film that will stick with you. Ponsoldt works wonders with a script from Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber’s (who wrote (500 Days Of Summer), who adapt Tim Tharp’s book wonderfully. The meat of the movie comes from it’s two young leads: Miles Teller & Shailene Woodley. Both have been slowly coming into their own, but their roles here truly mark their arrival. There’s also fine work from Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bob Odenkirk, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. What’s so great about this film is it portrays high school youth in a realistic way, that often isn’t pretty. It hits hard because it isn’t cheap, but truthful and real.
10. The Way Way Back
The Way Way Back was one of the true feel-good films of the year. From start to finish it’s an endearing coming of age film that shows the effect that one great summer has on a teenager struggling to cope with his parent’s divorce. The film is consistently funny, but also offers some moments tough to swallow, especially from an against type Steve Carell who is repulsive. Then you have a sweet role from Sam Rockwell who steals the show in one of my favorite performances of the year. The Way Way Back is a special little film that connected with me in more ways than I can account for. It may not sport any Oscar nominations, but I don’t know if I can find a more re-watchable movie on this list. That’s saying something.
9. American Hustle
Damn you David O. Russell, you have done it again. Silver Linings Playbook was going to be a tough act to follow for most directors, but O. Russell followed it up a year later with American Hustle. Stop and think about that. He gets together yet another pitch perfect ensemble cast, who once again, all received Oscar nominations. The script is hilarious and entertaining, and the music and direction are all typically great in O. Russel fashion. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, American Hustle is pure entertainment. It’s an incredibly fun ride, a film that is bound to be one of those classics that you’ll find playing on TV one night and you’ll be unable to turn it off.
8. Before Midnight
It’s incredible that the story of Celine & Jesse has traveled this far in time. As the third and likely final (but who knows) entry in this trilogy, we see the film take these characters to the harsh reality of marriage. The honeymoon stage has long passed for these two lovebirds, who now have two daughters and a whole lot of baggage. Director Richard Linklater once again tackles the script with his two stars, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, and who better to find the truths of these characters than the two actors who know them better than anyone else? The relationship between Celine & Jesse takes some heartbreaking turns here, with some bitter and harsh words and truths shared on whats supposed to be a romantic night out. But this is real love. It’s not always pretty, but it’s real. Before Midnight has a great handling of this, turning it into one of the best films of the year.
The Coen Brothers do it yet again. Inside Llewyn Davis tells the tale of struggling folk musician Llewyn Davis after he’s forced to go solo after the literal departure of him former partner. He hits a rough patch of bad luck with his career, ex-girlfriend, and just life in general. Life has it in for Davis, and it doesn’t get easier. It doesn’t have any themes of redemption or having him magically finding success. It’s the opposite. It shows a bitter and harsh reality of life, something that’s more true and honest than most of the crap that Hollywood feeds us. And that’s what I like about it. Not to mention all the great live music that is honestly some of the best folk music I’ve heard in some time. There’s great performances from everyone involved, especially from the film’s incredible leading man Oscar Isaac, who sadly gets no Oscar nomination, but desperately deserved one.
The great Alexander Payne does it again with Nebraska, a moving tale shot in black and white in the directors home town. In it we see a father and son bond on roadtrip that leads the father back home for the first time in years. The journey begins after the father thinks he can win a million dollars, and the son takes him all the way to Nebraska just so the father can see the truth for himself. But what starts as a simple journey turns into a trip of self discovery for everyone in the family.
Nebraska is a somber affair that takes a look at the values of family and the reexamination of one’s life after the dive back into the past. The core of the film is a very Oscar worthy Bruce Dern who is astonishingly good in the film. Payne also gets an equally great performance from the usually comedic Will Forte who shows that he has chops to pull of a dramatic role. Nebraska has many amusing scenes that are often the result of dark humor, but at its core its a very sincere film that really hits home. Payne makes a concrete emotional connection with you that sticks, making you feel like a part of the ride.
5. The Wolf Of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese has still got it. I had incredibly high expectations for The Wolf Of Wall Street, and it somehow managed to go above and beyond. For three solid hours, Scorsese kept me wildly entertained in electric fashion. Based on the true story of how Jordan Belfort got rich by screwing over others on Wall Street, this is a tale of max debauchery. From pure greed, to drug abuse and wild sex, there’s not much that The Wolf Of Wall Street falls short of.
Leonardo DiCaprio leads the way it an typically great performance that is everything that we’d imagine a character like Belfort to be. He’s pitch perfect in the role, as is Jonah Hill who plays his best friend. Combined the two are an unlikely duo that are whacky and full of surprises. The Wolf Of Wall Street is a gloriously good time, full of hilarity and excess in all the right places. It’s an true cinematic good time from start to finish, and is probably the quickest three hours you’ll ever spend in a theater.
4. Short Term 12
The best movie that you probably haven’t seen – or heard about – this year. Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12 is a powerful film that has stuck with me throughout the year. What it lacks in budget, it makes up with some incredible emotional storytelling that will captivate. There’s a natural tone to the film that seems personal and real. Cretton once worked in a group home for young, troubled kids at a group home. This is how Short Term 12 came to be, and you can see the realness of his personal experience bleed into his film. It feels raw from its wonderful direction to it’s incredible performances from its young cast.
Brie Larson really should have been nominated for an Oscar, or at least been in the conversation. Her performance as Grace, the leading caseworker at the home, is a marvelous achievement that constantly left me breathless. She is just one part of a largely phenomenal cast that all deliver in their own way. John Gallagher Jr. has great chemistry with Larson as her boyfriend, as does Kaitlyn Dever as a young girl named Jayden who reminds Grace too much of her younger self. Then there’s first-time actor Keith Stanfield who offers up one of the best moments in film this year, when he raps from his heart about the pain and anguish that he’s lived with throughout his life. It’s the most real and brutally heartbreaking thing I saw all year, one of the many great moments that Short Term 12 have to offer.
3. 12 Years A Slave
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is well on its way to being one of those essential films that no movie lover or film student can go without seeing. It’s a must see film that shows the terrible true story of a free black man who is sold into slavery for twelve years. It’s a masterful piece of filmmaking in every which way. The powerful story doesn’t make this the film that it is. In the wrong hands, this film could have been a mess. But McQueen gets it right in every direction.
McQueen’s elegant direction along with Hans Zimmer’s moving score set the tone early, and they don’t let up at all. Chiwetel Ejiofor is every bit Award worthy in the role of Solomon Northup, and he dives into the role and sells it with everything he has. Just one look into Ejiofor’s eyes is often enough to sell the heartbreak of the mans soul. He’s not alone, as Michael Fassbender is equally great and haunting as a ruthless slave owner. Then there’s newcomer Lupita Nyong’o who nearly steals it all from under them, with a tragic performance that is unforgettable. 12 Years is as good as it gets. In any other year, this would easily be my #1 film of the year, but 2013 was not any other year.
Her is my favorite romance film of 2013. Hell, maybe in the last couple of years. Spike Jonze, who directed and wrote Her, nails all the right notes about romance, even if it is told in what may initially be the most absurd way possible. In the future, a lonely man who is about to get divorced finds himself falling in love with an operating system. It does seem a bit out there, but once you dive into this world and are put into the shoes of Theodore Twombly, suddenly your view seems to change.
When I first saw Her, I knew I loved it, but I actually didn’t realize how much. Upon second viewing, the film found even more ways to captivate me, putting me into its world finding ways to connect with me on an emotional level that I didn’t know was possible anymore. I found myself devastated at times, especially during the film’s final ten minutes, which was a tragically scene, both heartbreaking and beautiful.
Joaquin Phoenix nails the role, playing a believable introverted loner who is in search of the love that he once had but now lost. It kills him, and you can see this playing out on Phoenix through his face. But Phoenix’s role is dependent on his OS friend Samantha. Without a proper voice, this wouldn’t have been believable. Thankfully, Scarlett Johansson was a perfect fit for the role, and she truly lives in the role, finding ways to give an emotional performance with just her voice. She makes you believe that she is real, and that a romance with a computer and a human is possible.
Her is a wondrous journey that I know I’ll find myself returning to time and time again as the years pass.
In truth, I can’t think of another experience that I’ve had at the theater quite like Gravity. It’s the sort of film that you need to see in theaters, on the biggest screen possible (it returns to Imax on January 31). It’s a technical achievement of the highest order, a marvelous experience brought by director Alfonso Cuarón who is in peak form.
While watching Gravity, I got completely lost in the film, immersed in space just like its characters. Once the chaos starts, and astronauts played by Sandra Bullock & George Clooney are forced to battle the unpredictable elements of space with just each other as support, my pulse rose more than it should have, as I was genuinely scared for them as if I was out there in space with them.
A lot of naysayers are criticizing the film saying nothing happens, but that’s a silly argument. This is more than just a film of space chaos and survival. This is a story of re-discovering oneself, and finding reasons to live, but also finding way to let go of our past. We see the sacrifice one character makes in order to better another. We see Sandra Bullock find something deep inside of her that allows her to keep fighting, even as the odds are against her. She’s tremendous in the role, so much so, that I have a hard time believing that she wasn’t the first choice to play the role.
Gravity was a true cinematic journey, more of an amusement park ride than a 90-minute moving picture. I got completely lost in it, and couldn’t shake it, even as I returned home long removed from the theater. Isn’t that what movie making is all about? To become so completely involved in the story playing in front of you that you forget all about your real life troubles? Well Gravity did that and beyond. It was not only the best time I’ve had at the theater in 2013, but also ever.