Another year gone… It was just the beginning of 2013 when I was so excited for all of these movies. Some left me disappointed and others were great surprises. There’s certainly objective things to critique, but in the end it’s not about whether a film got 3 stars or a B+, because time, cultural impact, and personal connection are what make up a films place in cinema. How much a film penetrates culture, and how much of an impact it has on people, determines how it will be remembered. Film is about discussion and that’s why best of the year lists are so important. It’s one person’s opinion on an entire selection of films from a year.
This was…. hard to pick. I saw about 80 movies this year and only listing 25 was tough so don’t be upset if I left your favorite off. More than likely I wanted to fit it in. My hope here is to get people to see these movies, and to share why I think they’re worthwhile.
These are the films that I found to be the best. It doesn’t matter if they’re big, small, narrative, experimental, or documentary. I’ve ranked them based on their technical aspects (acting/directing/script etc.), my personal connection, and how I think they will be remembered as time goes on. ok blahh blahh blah my top 25 films of 2013:
Honorable Mentions: Frozen is infectious in a way that Disney hasn’t been since the 90s. Prisoners is palpably dark vision of suburbia that is slightly let down by its script. The Hunt upset me more than any movie this year. Bravo. I initially was mixed on The Great Gatsby but I think I get it now. Every scene in Bad Grandpa is funny. Like, laugh out loud and fall over funny. Evil Dead is wicked and nasty and fun as hell.
25. Gravity – Disappointed with the on-the-nose dialogue and repetitive action situations, but good god what a well directed film.
24. This Is the End – It’s a batshit insane premise with inside meta jokes about the actors’ personas and tugs at sensitive strings with the curiosity of a drunk frat boy. It’s a lazy, stoned Tropic Thunder and Danny McBride is Robert Downey Jr.
23. Nebraska – Bruce Dern’s face should be on Mount Rushmore. Alexander Payne paves this father/son tale with a quietness that only midwesterners understand. I’m a midwesterner and this is the midwest.
22. Blue Is the Warmest Color – An epic tapestry of first love existing in the most emotionally intimate corners I’ve ever seen.
21. Broken Circle Breakdown – Broken Andy breaks down watching this film.
20. The Hunt upset me more than any movie this year. Bravo. Mads is the man.
19. The Wind Rises – If this is indeed Miyazaki’s swan song then it’s a worthy one. His most adult film carries a bittersweet tone that feels like a final goodbye waving back at his admirers.
18. The Way, Way Back – A familiar story crafted with a vibrant spirit that I thought had long been forgotten. This was the best film of the summer! Sam Rockwell’s perfect performance as Owen channels Blll Murray and the relationship between Duncan and Owen hit me hard. There wasn’t a more delightful film all year.
17. Leviathan – what if fishing + Koyaanisqatsi? (i love both of those things)
16. Upstream Color- After Shane Carruth’s time travel film, Primer, I couldn’t wait to see what he did next. 8 years later this weird science fiction mystery touched on similarly huge existential questions. What is the cycle of life? Pigs, I guess?
15. Her – I was gladly the third wheel of this relationship. Her ponders A.I.’s existence while trying to understand our own
14. Twelve Years a Slave – A film of impressive craft that finds quiet inspiration in a harrowing story. So many images made me want to look away but McQueen forces us to emotionally engage with the horrors of history. We’ve glossed over this time in history for too long; Twelve Years a Slave makes it unforgettable.
13. Stoker – Chan-Wook’s chilly and stylish familial thriller is hypnotic cinema. It’s a departure for him, but it has that devilish Chan-Wook stamp of violence that makes it undoubtedly his. Kidman as a Hitchcock blonde is perfect. Perfect.
12. Blue Jasmine – A Streetcar Named Desire in the 21st century. Blanchett is electric and delivers the best performance of the entire year. Woody made a classic Woody.
11. A Touch of Sin – Zhang-Ke critiques modern China through 4 vignettes of violence that are stylized in the spirit of Tarantino and Leone. It’s angry and beautifully choreographed and full of bloody battle.
The Top Ten! These are the films that impressed me the most and all for entirely different reasons. I could have ranked these in a number of ways, but I had to settle eventually. #1 is a stone cold masterwork though.
10. The Tale of Princess Kaguya – Takahata’s first film in 14 years is based on an old Japanese folk tale and he miraculously manages to make a film that feels like a folk tale. It’s the stuff of fairy tales with nymphs, castles, forests, and quests. The minimalism and water colors give it a faded quality as if this story has been told over and over before.
9. At Berkeley – Frederick Wiseman’s mammoth of a documentary (244 Min.) about Cal has a Kubrickian observance to it that starts as a wide shot of the state itself and then telescopes closer into education, social functions, sports, campus life, and finally, people. Nothing is told to you here, but if you engage with the details of what Wiseman is presenting, you’ll be intellectually stimulated for all 4 hours. By the end I felt like I’d experienced 4 years of going to Cal.
8. The World’s End – Edgar Wright’s final film in the Cornetto Trilogy is a sci/fi comedy mashup and it’s as great as its predecessors. Wright’s crafted a super energized Twilight Zone episode. It retains the comedy and action of the first two but the script digs deeper and Wright’s direction is now on another level. 5 old friends return to their hometown to finish a pub crawl. The town is different though; it doesn’t feel the same. Yes, it’s entertainingly been taken over by robots (blanks) but the subtext explores adulthood, conformity, religion, alcoholism, and the dangers of living in the past. Adulthood is a terrifying time that sneaks up and the film analyzes it through gutbustingly funny drunk genre goggles.
7. Mud – Jeff Nichols’ follow up to Take Shelter — a middle class American near-masterpiece — is maybe even better. The biggest theme this year has been love and relationships. Mud explored these ideas on the widest canvas as it touched on young love, heartbreak, divorce, and ultimately letting go so you can move on. Nichols’ understanding of the American south gives the film an added mythos with themes of sin, redemption, and self sacrifice. He captures the culture of the south not just visually but with how the characters exist in its spaces. Love, even with all of its imperfection, sadness, and pain is something worth believing in. “Come on, son. You gotta see this.”
6. Before Midnight – Richard Linkater’s third film in his Before series is the most honest, and also the most frustrating; it’s like watching your divorced parents get together again and then fight. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke return as Celine and Jesse 9 years later after Before Sunset in a portrait of aging love that sneaks up on you like the unstoppable march of time. For my money, Jesse and Celine are the greatest cinema couple ever. Just watching them talk about life and love and philosophy is mesmerizing. As the night goes on the film gets darker and more vulnerable, to the point of becoming almost hurtful to an audience that waited a decade for a sequel. That’s what makes it worth waiting for though. There’s harsh truths to age. Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy infuse a lifetime of depth into these two characters. Before Sunrise is about the optimism of life and love. Before Sunset is about the second chances and possibilities of finding happiness. Before Midnight is about the realities of those possibilities. I look forward to checking in on these characters in another 9 years.
5. Spring Breakers – Harmony Korine has made an Instagram video in the spirit of Frederico Fellini. It sells itself as a party movie to the post-MTV generation but is actually satirizing and critiquing them in the same loud manner that they document themselves on social media. Brilliant! I sat for 2 hours and bathed in Korine’s neon colored poem about America and watched people walk out of the theater in disgust. lol. Our culture’s desire for fame, putting celebrities on pedestals, image of beauty, greed, and partying is blazingly put up on screen like a Facebook page gone wrong. The film also challenges gender roles and modern cinema by empowering these young women as though they’re male action stars. In Korine’s party flick, irony coils itself like a bad hangover and then starts sipping on margaritas to hide behind its facade. In a hazy world of endless media it’s almost impossible to find singular meaning in anything. Spring Breakers is wild and oozes Instagram poems until you pass out. What’s the point of it? Idk, keep scrolling.
4. Frances Ha – what a goddamn delight. It’s like if those twee, quirky Sundance movies were actually good. Frances Ha is great. Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig have put together what may very well be the best modern film about being in your 20s. Lost with no real home, and looking for a career and marriage, what are you supposed to do? Everyone has the rulebook but you. Frances Ha perfectly captures fading relationships and the small interactions that make up our day to day lives when we’re in our 20s. It’s embarrassingly relatable and vulnerable in a way that makes you feel not alone. Movies, right!?
3. The Act of Killing – Unforgettable, shocking, unbelievable. This documentary about the re-imagining of the Indonesian genocide is the greatest achievement of the year. And, really it’s a film about the nature of truth in cinema. The realization of this for the subject is maybe the best moment in any movie this year. I could go on and on but just go watch it on Netflix. You’ll see this on best of the decade lists.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis – The Coen Brothers have made another classic. What is it, 6 or 7 now? The film follows Llewyn Davis for a week in his life during the folk scene in 1961 New York. There’s parallels to The Catcher In the Rye and The Odyssey in this existential and melancholic folk tale. The film moves along as though Llewyn is caught in a dream-like cycle where he’s on the brink of self-realization but can never quite reach the end of his maze to happiness. The colors have been sucked out of his life and we’re left with blacks and grays like a twilight zone episode. NYC has been filmed a gazillion times but here the Coen’s and Bruno Delbonnel created a world of emptiness in flux. The road trip up north has a Lynchian Straight Story vibe to it. That’s also a film about a journey to finding one’s self while being haunted by the past. As Llewyn is driving and passes Akron he looks upon the life that he could have had—and I can feel it in my bones. When Llewyn enters that dark alley at the end of the film it’s feels inevitable that he’s reached this moment. Llewyn’s final song is the amazing ” Fare Thee Well.” As he meets his fate, Bob Dylan gets on stage and plays “Farewell.” The Coen brothers have cemented themselves as the most prolific and consistently great writer/directors making movies today. Add this to their shelf of classics.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street – Martin Scorsese has not lost a step since Mean Streets. This is his latter year masterwork just behind Taxi Driver and After Hours. Yes, it’s better than Goodfellas. Wolf is hedonistic, unapologetic, filthy, hilarious, and weirdly moving. The Wolf of Wall Street climbs up the ivory towers of wealth and greed to give us an unprecedented view of modern America. Scorsese eradicates any semblance of what could be mistaken as pandering by drowning us in pure satire and commentary until we can’t tell what is what. Utilizing his bread and butter neo-realist film language, he immersively soaks us in the excessiveness of greed, masculinity, and capitalism. These characters are the scum of society, yet they live at the top of the jungle in New York. Jordan Belfort is the delinquent master of them, the despicable king of the universe. It’s equally sad and gut busting to watch them follow him into filth. Dicaprio makes him a maniacally charismatic Citizen Kane figure for the 21st century. The American dream has changed into a twisted fantasy. Whether we want to admit or not, most people would jump at the chance to have as much power as these guys. This masterpiece is a descendant of The Graduate, the defining cultural movie of the 60s. Kyle Chandler’s FBI character, Patrick Denham, is on a subway riding home after he takes down Belfort and his cronies. The lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson start to play and we hear “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” The heroes of old are gone. The best movie of 2013.
So there we have it. A ton of good movies this year, but I must say that no film genuinely wowed me. None of these I ever considered putting in my top 100 All time. With that said, see at least the top 10. There were notable films I didn’t get to see like Philomena, The Great Beauty, and Stoker, but I feel very good about this list. Comment with your favorites of the year below!