Top 10 Films of 2013
I know, I know! We’re already a full week into 2014 and most other critics/film fanatics have already unleashed their top 10 list for the past year which makes my two cents a little late to the party. But first, some background. I could never feasibly see every single film worthy of consideration for the best of 2013, but I did manage to set my peepers on 53 newly released films last year for a nice average of just over one film per week. Without a doubt I’ll see some that I missed in the future and they may very well belong on this list, but for now I feel confident presenting the following as my favorite films of 2013. Some are great works of art and some are just gloriously entertaining enough to make me grin like an idiot from start to finish. I’m not conceited enough to consider my list definitive in any way (these are just personal opinions after all!) so feel free to post your favorites in the comments below!
10. All is Lost – Of all of the films in my Top 10, this is probably the least widely seen but this second film from J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) deserves a larger audience in a big way. Veteran actor Robert Redford commands the film as the only person to appear on screen throughout the entire running time as he fights to survive when his sailboat is damaged in the middle of the ocean. Together, Chandor and Redford tell a story completely free of dialogue in what Alfred Hitchcock would have called “pure cinema.” It’s a kind of film treat that we don’t see the likes of nearly enough.
9. Captain Phillips – Director Paul Greengrass forever earned my respect in 2006 with his classy and restrained depiction of the September 11th terror attacks in United 93 and was able to maintain that respect from me with this other story based on actual events. Avoiding the easy pratfalls of sensationalizing the story into a simple action film, Greengrass introduces emotionally complicated characters through fantastic performances by Tom Hanks and acting novice, Barkhad Abdi. For one of the most memorable acting moments of the year see the scene where Hanks’ character finally receives medical treatment upon his rescue. Your heart will break into 800 pieces.
8. Dallas Buyers Club – When I first heard about Dallas Buyers Club I immediately thought I knew what to expect – a tearjerker story about a likable hero succumbing to AIDS in the 1980s while learning some kind of valuable life lesson from the experience. I absolutely expected a standard “prestige picture” but was surprised to find something a bit more daring. Matthew McConaughey‘s Ron Woodroof is far from being a saintly role model and his journey through the film is led essentially by greed and a stubborn refusal to die. He changes but the film refuses to pander to the audience by making us look for those changes in the nuances of the performances instead of preachy, spoon-fed Oscar clips. The fact that McConaughey and Jared Leto both turn in some of the best acting work of their careers doesn’t hurt the film either.
7. Man of Steel – Every Top 10 list should have at least one curve ball in it and this is going to be mine. Despite a mixed reception from critics and comic book fans (an increasingly impossible group of fans to please I might add), Man of Steel was a film I fell head over heels in love with from the moment I laid eyes on it. Stunningly produced in essentially every technical category from cinematography to music to special effects, Zack Snyder‘s reintroduction of the Superman character brought new life, new ideas, and the most mind-blowing comic book action ever seen on film. The script may not be Shakespeare and the magic of the Christopher Reeve films can never be fully recreated but this dared to do something different and dammit, I was dazzled.
6. Philomena – After originally pegging this as something only my grandma would love, I had to change my tune and kneel at the alter of Judi Dench for 115th time. Paired with funnyman Steve Coogan (who also provided the excellent screenplay), Dench hits all of the right notes as an elderly woman seeking her long lost son. It’s a film with Catholic Church treachery, an odd couple road trip, and more surprises packed in than I care to count. Throw in a message about forgiveness and a little humor to get a film that I best just describe as: lovely.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street – While I don’t recommend watching this with your mother as I ended up doing, this debauchery-filled tale of greed and excess is one of Martin Scorsese’s most potent films in years. Leonardo DiCaprio does a lot of the heavy lifting in the lead role of Jordan Belfort but Scorsese surrounds him with an impressive array of character actors who all knock it out of the park including: Jonah Hill, Rob Reiner, Margot Robbie, Jean Dujardin, and my personal favorite – Joanna Lumley. Those deriding the film as a potentially bad influence need to calm down. Anyone who thinks the antics of Belfort and Company here are admirable or fun is already a lost cause to society anyway.
4. Fruitvale Station - I missed seeing Fruitvale Station upon its initial release in theaters but I’m so glad that I finally caught up with it eventually because it truly bowled me over. This story of a likable but troubled young man (Michael B. Jordan) who is senselessly killed by a police officer shook me to my core with the simple but realistic way it is portrayed. First time director Ryan Coogler leads his stellar cast to incredibly naturalistic performances that will leave you both angry and full of sorrow for a fellow human who left his family way too soon.
3. Her – Director Spike Jonze has a knack for telling quirky stories fantastically but perhaps none is quite as satisfying as this effort, which tells the wonderfully bizarre (but believable) story of a man who falls in love with his phone/computer operating system. With Joaquin Phoenix delivering the acting goods on screen alongside an outstanding voice performance from Scarlett Johannson, Her is all at once hilarious, heartbreaking, honest, and insightful.
2. Nebraska – As a child of the Midwest, I kind of suspected that I would enjoy Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska a little more than some of my fellow big city dwellers but I couldn’t have even remotely predicted the pure, unadulterated LOVE that I would have for this movie. Not only is this the funniest film of the year, it is also the most heartfelt. Payne’s work here perfectly captures small town life in a way I’ve not seen on film before and Bruce Dern, June Squibb, and yes – even Will Forte – give perfect performances that I can’t wait to revisit with joy in the years to come.
1. Gravity – And here it is, my absolute favorite film of 2013: Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. My original review here pretty much says everything that I could possibly say about this masterpiece but this simple story of survival told in the most spectacularly visual way imaginable has stuck with me in the weeks and months since my first viewing. I’ll never forget the way I felt during the climax of this with my heart pounding and eyes wide as I gripped whatever my hands could find tightly. For me, that’s what going to the movies is all about: seeing something so good that you lose your entire body to it and then remembering that feeling forever. My hat is off to any director who can elicit that kind of feeling from an audience and so my hat is now forever off to Cuarón. I cannot wait to see what he does next.
Honorable Mentions – I obviously loved more than 10 movies this year and honestly the difference in quality between the films listed here and those above is measured in hairs instead of miles so be sure to check these out too: 12 Years a Slave, Blue Jasmine, The Place Beyond the Pines, Iron Man 3, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Frozen.
Dishonorable Mention – I never proclaim any film The Worst Movie of the Year because I know I’ve purposely avoided countless films that are infinitely worse than anything I may have actually decided to watch but the worst movie that I actually DID sit through this year was: Olympus Has Fallen. Unintentional comedy for days.
Images courtesy of Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, The Weinstein Company,