22?! Seriously? The lack of multiples of 5 disgusts me. Last year my list had 15 films, and that process of elimination was hell. Critics have been hailing 2013 as the greatest year for cinema since Gone with the Wind, and my inability to reduce my number of favorite films to at least 20 proves this point. Themes of capitalism gone wrong and isolation pervaded this year’s films, tackling both America’s justification for excess as well as it’s hidden desire for a fresh start. Like last year this list is comprised of my FAVORITE films, and not necessarily the BEST films. I am a firm believer in objectivity in criticism, a concept many professional critics don’t understand, and the ability of a critic to separate their own emotions and experiences from the actual quality of a film. There are many films which I have left off this list that I consider to be some of the greatest films of the year (Wolf on Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave, Upstream Color) that I hold with the utmost respect, but not love. The Act of Killing is easily the most important piece of cinema to come out this year, but I have left it off this list. Basically, all BEST OF lists tend to be the same (mine would pretty much look like everyone else’s), and I wanted to throw in some films touched me personally. There of course were some acclaimed films I wasn’t able to catch in theater (Captain Philips, Nebraska, Shot Term 12), but oh well. Finally, I noticed many of the films this year had a similar film come out that would make for a great double feature, and so I’ve decided to include those films when they apply along with the 22 others, sort of like how Netflix had the “because you watched (insert embarrassing romcom here)”.
#22 A HIJACKING
From one of Denmark’s new emerging talents Tobias Lindholm (writer of The Hunt) comes this gripping depiction of modern high seas piracy. Told without flourishes, this refreshingly low-key thriller is best described as an action movie about inaction. A Danish cargo ship carrying cook Mikkel and engineer Jan is boarded by pirates, and what follows is a constant edge of your seat game of life and death, but half of the movie is also dedicated to the negotiation process, with each side giving each other radically different numbers with grim consequences on both sides. Days, weeks, months go by, and if the pirates don’t kill the prisoners, disease or starvation could very well do the trick. A Hijacking places the viewer right into the heart of this terrifying ordeal, and realistically captures the suffering, both big and small, of all involved.
Double Bill- CAPTAIN PHILIPS
Duh. Of course I didn’t see this film, and if I had these two films could very well be reversed.
#21 IN THE HOUSE
Ozen is back, and he’s better than ever. In the House is a literal literary thriller (lol) which follows failed writer turned teacher Germain as he encounters a student named Claude with that creative spark he lacked as a writer. The catch is that this student writes about his desire and eventual success in finding a house with occupants which interest him and finding ways of incorporating himself into that family. Every week he writes a little more and gives his work only to Germain, who by all accounts should put a stop to Claude’s actions but the story becomes too intoxicating, and Germain can’t help himself but to begin giving Claude directions on how to manipulate this family’s dynamics to create a more satisfying narrative. The writing is brilliant and full of twists, almost like if Michael Haneke relaxed and just had fun for a change.
#20 THE PAST
While not as impactful as A Separation, writer/director Asghar Farhadi once again proves what a force of nature he has become in the film world, release another masterclass drama with similar themes to A Separation, which is common for a sophomore film. Israeli father Ahmad returns from his homeland to sign divorce papers with his French wife Marie, only to find himself slowly drifting into his wife’s new life, which brings to the surface emotions and secrets thought to be buried. With beautiful pacing and powerhouse performances, The Past sneaks up on you, portraying real humanity and respect for its characters rarely found in films today. A single tear has never been more devastating than at the end of this movie.
#19 ENOUGH SAID
Perhaps James Gandolfini’s death helped put this film of this list, but I doubt it. Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money, Please Give) has become one of the most recognized female directors today, with her largely female casts. Enough Said is my new favorite of hers, following Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a masseuse who falls for single dad James Gandolfini, only to discover he is the ex-husband of one of her clients (Catherine Keener). In addition to Julia’s and Jim’s amazing chemistry and hilarious script, Enough Said focuses on the little individual quirks everyone has, like leaving the toothpaste cap off, that can grow to become the most irritating habit possible by the end of a relationship. Julia truly loves Jim, but hearing his ex-wife badmouth and complain about him every session starts to poison their relationship. Gandolfini is at his loveable best here, adding subtle complexity to his character, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus is perfection. She has a captivating quality about her (just watch Veep) and she brings so much life and energy to the film.
Double Bill- TOUCHY FEELY
With similar themes such as finding a connection later in life, and…. masseuses, Touchy Feely just barely didn’t make this list. Set in Seattle, masseuse Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) finds herself unable to handle bodily contact, her dentist brother Paul (Josh Pais) has made being an introvert practically an art form, and his daughter Jenny (beautifully played by Ellen Page) is torn between staying at home to look after her dad, or actually trying to make something of herself in the world.
With a side cast of the amazing Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, and Scoot McNairy, Touchy Feely takes a delicate approach to its characters, allowing them to slowly sort through their issues, overcome heartbreak, and accept change. Its a quiet film, but beautiful in little ways.
#18 SPRING BREAKERS
“Spriiiiiiiiiiiiiing breaaaaaaaaaaaaaak.” Every neon splattered, candy colored, ADHD/MTV-style scene of this film is presented ironically. Provocateur Harmony Korine holds nothing back with this “Disney Princesses gone Wild” epic. James Franco’s performance as Alien was like nothing this year, especially with his love of dark tanning oils and Scarface on repeat. The monotony many critics complained about by the end was of course the point, and this film also offered the best musical moment of 2013. You know how sometimes you watch a legitimately great film, but after a couple weeks you’ve forgotten about it? Whether or not you think Spring Breakers is a good film, it WILL be permanently spray-painted on your brain till the day you die in big, neon-pink lettering. Spring break for ever, bitches.
Double Bill- THE BLING RING
Following a group of Beverly Hill, celebrity obsessed high school students raiding their idols’ homes, Sofia Coppola’s latest mood piece also demonstrates the monotony of unrestrained excess among America’s youth, along with a fun “Mean Girls”-esque performance from Emma Watson.
Frozen is just the best. I wanted to end my review right there, but I have to mention that I rate Disney musicals based on how quickly I memorize all the songs, and with Frozen it took about 4 hours, tops…. she just wanted to build a snowman! Why am I crying?!
What can I say that hasn’t been said already? Of course there is already a backlash against the film, but this idiocy is to be expected. Gravity is perfection bottled up and thrown into space. Every aspect of the film is minutely crafted, relying on a
heightened form of narrative simplicity to convey its message of isolation, depression, rebirth, evolution, faith, and countless more IN A FREAKIN SPACE THRILLER. Everything works, every scene perfectly transitions to the next, and perhaps this surgical like precision turned some people off from the film. In terms of Cinema, with a capitol “C”, no other films can touch Gravity. How could they, they’re still on earth.
Double Bill- EUROPA REPORT
A group of scientists travel to Jupiter’s 4th largest moon in search of life. Forget that piece of crap found footage movie Apollo 18, Europa Report is a Sci-fi nerd’s wet dream, using found footage to create a palpable sense of authenticity and terror to the storyline. Much of the dialogue went over my head on account of its technicality (NASA helped with the film), and the film has got to be one of the most ambitious small independent films in a long while. Staring District 9‘s Sharlto Copley and Michael Nyqvist
#15 PRINCE AVALANCHE
This film surprised me more than any other this year, and it’s a true return to form for comedy director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Your Highness). Starring almost exclusively Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, the film is I guess a road movie, but in this case they’re are actually building the road instead of driving on it. I’m having difficulty saying what the actual story of the film is, but I think it’s best if you go into this film with a clean slate anyway. It’s funny, touching, sad, thoughtful, and a joy to watch.
Double Bill- SCENIC ROUTE
Like Prince Avalanche this film relies solely on its screenwriting and its two leads, Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, both of whom deliver some exceptional work. While on a road trip their car breaks down in the middle of a desert, and what follows is gripping portrayal of survival, betrayal, and masculinity. With a controversial ending, Scenic Route is one of those gem films that you want to recommend to your guy friends.
#14 PACIFIC RIM
Pacific Rim is actually my least favorite Guillermo Del Toro film, but how could I not include it? I think there is more love in every frame of this film than any other this year. Like the underrated Wachowski films, Pacific Rim possesses a real belief in its world and characters, and requires its audience to unclench their assholes for its duration and let the film work it’s monster-punching magic. Sure it had obvious influences, but still remained the only original blockbuster of the year, and I just wish audiences put their money where their mouths were and showed the studios that originality pays. Still it made a decent profit overseas, so there is a chance it will get a sequel. The second one should definitely involve Godzilla. Favorite scene: When little Mako is saved my Elba. If the film had more scenes like that (and no Charlie Hunnam) it would be far lower in my list.
Double Bill- THE OTHER GIANT MONSTERS FIGHTING GIANT ROBOTS MOVIE…OH WAIT
#13 BLUE JASMINE
Midnight in Paris may be a better film than Blue Jasmine, but Cate Blanchett cements herself with this film as possibly the greatest actress currently working, and I don’t make that assertion lightly. The role of Jasmine is one which actresses must dream of, and Blanchett handles this often cruel and narcissistic ex-socialite with startling complexity and gives her humanity despite the screenplay. We don’t like Jasmine, but we can’t help but pity her.
All the usual Woody Allan stylings are present, and the cast is phenomenal, especially Sally Hawkins (Jasmine’s sister) and Bobby Cannavale (Hawkins’ loser boyfriend with a heart and a temper to match). I saw Blue Jasmine alone in a theater one day since I got out of work early, and that definitely improved the experience. Favorite Scene: When Jasmine is talking to her nephews at the diner and she assumes they know Frank Sinata’s Blue Moon.
#12 THE GREAT BEAUTY
What a fitting title. I caught this film a couple of days ago, and it blew me away. I know that calling a beautiful looking film Malick-esque is clique, but the way Paolo Sorrentino captured the architecture of Rome reminded me of Tree of Life and The New World. Similar to Fellini’s work, The Great Beauty romanticizes Rome with a euphoria that’s intoxicating, full of borderline surreal scenes.
Jep Gambardella is an aging socialite who’s seen and done it all, and now is confronted with his own mortality/reason for existing etc. This film covers so much that it would be useless to write them all down, but it is possibly the most gorgeous film I’ve seen all year and your soul will be lacking if you don’t watch it. Also the soundtrack is AMAZING.
Double Bill- TO THE WONDER
From a purely aesthetic perspective, Malick’s vastly underrated meditation on the different kinds of love matches The Great Beauty blow for blow.
#11 AMERICAN HUSTLE
David O Russel is of course a great director, but his true ability lies in getting career defining performances from his actors, and in that respect American Hustle is his greatest achievement. American Hustle was just damn fun. I know people talk about how great of an actor Christian Bale is, but I never really got it until I watch Out of the Furnace and American Hustle back to back. Perhaps I never really bought his portrayal of Batman, but the sensitivity and humanity he portrayed in both won me over and them some. Amy Adam’s shines as his accomplice in crime, and of course Jennifer Lawrence kills her role. Jeremy Renner has always seemed too stiff, but here he displays a relaxed and fun-loving side which I hope he taps into later down the road. Everyone hustles everyone, and at times the film seems messy and should fall apart, but the dynamite performances and exaggerated 70’s look holds it all together fantastically. (Plus some welcomed cameos) The toupee scene in the beginning is one of the best scenes of the year.
Here is a film that has surprisingly been featured on many “Top 10” lists this year, despite its lukewarm critical reception. I believe this is because what many saw as pointless and pretentious stylistic flourishes have actually over time revealed themselves to be calculated images which enhance this dark, gothic tale. The film is incredibly confident in its vision, doing things with the camera that I have never seen, and slowly builds its tension with a grandiosity which set Korean directors apart from the rest. A vampire tale without vampires, Stoker follows young India (Mia Wasikowska) who has just lost her dad, and mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Out of nowhere India’s charming uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) appears and seduces India in order to change her. With a score by Clint Mansell and Philip Glass, Stoker is horror at its most elegant.
Double Bill- BYZANTIUM
Neil Jordan (Interview with a Vampire) also decided to tackle the vampire genre again this year, and while the result was mixed I did appreciate his old-school approach to the material. Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton play vampire sisters in the modern world, moving from town to town. Mixing vampiric folklore with a modern setting, I liked how even after living for hundreds of years Saoirse and Gemma still maintain a mother/daughter relationship, complete with protective natures and rebellious attitudes.
#9 DRINKING BUDDIES
Usually I hate mumblecore, but amidst the huge blockbusters and thrillers this year, with every film being about the apocalypse or how the earth in the future will be a total wreck (Elysium, After Earth, Oblivion), Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies is the perfect refresher film. Think of it as a palate cleanser. Following 2 couples (New Girl‘s Jake Johnson, Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston), 2 of whom work at a brewery, the film is almost completely improvised, and all 4 of these actors do some of their best work of their careers. There are no great conflicts to overcome, but their characters are so real and human that as we see their relationships grow and fade, we feel every triumph and failure right along side them. All romantic cliques are thrown out, and the integrity of the story and its characters are put before any stereotypical notions of how romcoms must end.
Double Bill- THE SPECTACULAR NOW
One of the best coming of age films of the year, The Spectacular Now is further proof of James Ponsolt’s (Smashed) incredible talent. Like Drinking Buddies this film puts its characters before anything else, and allows for scenes to be somewhat improvised. With stunning teen performances from Miles Teller, Shailene, Woodley, and Brie Larson, The Spectacular Now captures the highschool years like never before, subverting the usual sex-obsessed, awkward teen format and instead focusing on the fear of the future, of becoming an adult, and the boredom in between.
#8 THE HUNT
A terrifying portrayal of mob mentality, The Hunt is a movie that will make you ANGRY. Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal… I cannot wait for season 2) plays a preschool teacher and a man of exceptional compassion and virtue. He’s practically a saint. As he tries to get his son back from a divorce, the smallest lie from one of his students about sexual abuse tears a hole in his life, slowly and methodically destroying everything he cares about until there is nothing left. He is helpless, and his old friends now spit and beat him, refusing to listen to his pleas. Mikkelsen delivers a performance that left me breathless, one of quiet restraint and explosions of pure anger and frustration. With a thought provoking ending, The Hunt is one of this year’s best dramas, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
Double Bill- FRUITVALE STATION
Also featuring a phenomenal lead performance and social injustice, Fruitvale Station is a film I go back and forth on. Chronicling the notorious Fruitvale Station shooting, I partly feel like the film laid the drama and foreshadowing on a bit thick, but at the same time the ending was undeniably a punch to the stomach, plus Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer are outstanding and heartbreaking. “Bold” is definitely a word I would use to describe this film, and it is essential viewing.
Following one of my favorite films from last year (Take Shelter), Jeff Nichols has crafted one of the greatest coming of age stories I’ve ever seen. Featuring the two best child performances of the year (besides Connor Chapman from The Selfish Giant) and another knockout role for Mathew McConaughey, Mud is a beautifully crafted slice of Americana, slowly building its small-town world and letting its two young leads explore it as they stumble upon some harsh realities of life and love, courtesy of Mathew McConaughey. This is a film that has it all, and I can’t wait to see what Jeff Nichols does next.
Double Bill- GINGER AND ROSA
I knew I had to mention this movie somewhere, and this seems like the most fitting. Set in 1960’s London with the threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis looming, Elle Fanning astounded me with her performance as Ginger, a outgoing young girl who is confronted with issues both from her family and from the world that she is unable to handle. It is a gripping portrait of confusion, fear, and how incapable we truly are in grasping the enormity of our surroundings, the good and the bad, love and war. A coming of age film in the truest sense of the phrase, Ginger and Rosa, like Mud, places its two young actors in a world they are not prepared for, and this existential sink-or-swim feeling is something I think we all universally experience.
#6 BEFORE MIDNIGHT
Richard Linklater may have finally done it. Created a perfect trilogy. Easily the darkest of the three, Before Midnight is an staggering, untouchable masterpiece, a perfect complement to the last two films and rigorous exploration of… pretty much everything. After watching countless imitators think what Linklater does must be easy, it is truly a joy to watch Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy work their magic, bouncing off each other ideas, thoughts, fears, etc with a naturalism that is spellbinding. The last 20 of this film were “Passion of the Christ”-level hard to watch, but it was definitely worth it. “Like sunlight, sunset, we appear, we disappear. We are so important to some, but we are just passing through.”
#5 INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
I was sure this new brilliant and heartbreaking (and occasionally hilarious) piece of work by the Coen Brothers would be my #1, and if it had come out last year it would have been. Llewyn Davis is perhaps the most human character I’ve ever seen from their films. Sure he has some exaggerated quirks, but Oscar Isaac instills in him such a profound longing that despite him being an asshole (Carey Mulligan’s words, not mine), his self-destructive qualities bring out a highly complex and broken portrait of who he has become over the years. The best way to watch the film is to think of it as a folk song. Full of sadness and regret, there is a circular nature to many of those songs, a lack of conclusion. Llewyn talks about how music is just a job for him, but when he plays you realize that he has bought into the words of his own songs, releasing all his pent up frustrations while at the same time accepting his self-imposed fate. At one point he auditions for a gig he desperately needs, but chooses a song about a queen crying over her dead baby to play for the producer. It is unclear whether or not he consciously did this to sabotage himself, but it accurately sums up his perspective on life. And yes, the ending scene works if you think about it. WARNING- This film will stay with you for days after you watch it and it may turn you into a bit of a melancholic misanthrope, much to the annoyance of friends and family. Be warned.
Double Bill- THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN
The plot of this musical drama from Belgium sounds like a lifetime special, a folk musician and a tattoo artist fall in love and have a child, but the kid has cancer and dies, because of course she does. What is amazing is how the director and actors take this plot and turn it into one of the most raw, emotionally brutal films of the year. The wife Alabama takes a spiritual journey after her daughter’s death, while the husband Monroe takes to the streets screaming and spitting on every form of religion, like an atheist fire-and-brimstone preacher. Both try to make sense of the tragedy, and the result is gut-wrenching. With beautiful folksongs performed throughout, a nonlinear narrative, and phenomenal performances, The Broken Circle Breakdown is one of the most emotional movies of the year.
#4 FRANCES HA
It’s in B&W, but no film this year felt more modern than Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha. With partner Greta Gerwig co-writing and laying lead, Baumbach has crafted a film bursting with life. Gerwig grabs your attention and never lets go, her face and bizarre mannerisms effortlessly shaping one of the most unique and memorable characters in any movie in a long while. Constantly broke and moving from one couch to another, Gerwig gives Frances so many flaws that her character should a mess, but instead she becomes instantly relateable, dreaming of become a dancer despite her lack of talent. Surrounding herself with other professionally unimpressive, New York 20-something-year-olds, Frances uses her bombastic energy as a survival tool, and makes the audience wish they saw the world through her eyes. Favorite Scene: When that guy makes a move and she does that thing with her shoulder. It’s an inspired touch.
I feel as though thrillers, I mean really good thrillers, have become all but extinct, and so when I finally got to watching Prisoners I was expecting to be underwhelmed, especially after some of the reviews I had read. Well, I wasn’t. I was on the edge of my scene the entire time, marveling at the films complexity, the beautifully crafted Roger Deakins compositions and inspired decisions, the Hugh Jackman performance I wasn’t prepared for, and the role I as the audience played in the story. I feel as though Prisoners is actually a dark, modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel from the side of the parents, with much of the imagery having a fairytale feel (wicked witch, snakes, the dark woods). I’m still not entirely sure about the faith presented in the film, but fatherhood is definitely explored in great detail. As a whole the film reminded me of Zodiac (not just because of Jake Gyllenhaal), and that is some high praise. It never felt rushed, every reveal felt earned, and there was really nothing this year that came close to its caliber as a straight-up thriller with brains.
I almost missed seeing this film, and I’m so glad I didn’t. You know those all-night conversations you had as a kid during a sleepover, when you both just said whatever was on your mind with complete honesty, no matter how fooling or ignorant, mostly because you were too tired to care? Her is like that. Set in the future (which looks like an Apple commercial), Joaquin Phoenix once again dares the Academy to vote for him as Theodore, a recently separated bachelor isolated from the world. Filling his days with work, hilarious future video games and bizarre phone sex, he downloads the first AI (Scarlett Johansson) and falls in love. Like the most gorgeous episode of Black Mirror ever, filled with warm, pastel colors and beautiful design, Spike Jones takes this simple concept and goes to fascinating places with it, exploring our dependance on technology, our slipping grasp on value, and, well, love. Her is the most intelligent film of the year.
Double Bill- THE CONGRESS
While Her might be the most intelligent film of the year, in terms of pure conceptual audacity The Congress stands above all the rest. The story is this, Robin Wright realizes her acting career has gone steadily downward, and after being called Princess Buttercup for the millionth time she is offered the chance to upload herself digitally for Miramount Studios. After doing so she may never act again, but the studio can make movies with her digital copy for ever, keeping her perpetually at whatever age she wishes. She agrees, and 20 years later goes back to renegotiate the contract, but entertainment and reality have merged in the future, resulting in the pic above. The film is entirely about the how entertainment has changed the world, and the film definitely thinks its for the worst. With a monster cast (Robin Wright, Paul Giamatti, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, John Hamm, and more) The Congress is a heady experience you wont forget any time soon.
#1 THE WORLDS END
Giving Linklater a run for his money, Edgar Wright’s final film in his Cornetto trilogy is the best of the three. Inspired by Simon Pegg actually doing the Golden Mile and finding it depressing, Wright uses every trick he learned making Scott Pilgrim to elevate the entertainment/action factor to 11. With huge fight scenes, alien invasions, and of course Wright’s trademarked fast paced and witty dialogue/editing, The World’s End is a glorious work of genre heaven. But that’s not why it’s #1. Amidst the craziness is Gary King’s alcoholism, a theme which pervades the very core of the film and resulted the most dramatic scene of the year for me. When I think back on the film what’s odd is that all the scifi trappings fall away and whats left is a incredibly honest portrayal of addiction, with Gary King always running to that next pint of beer, ignoring the consequences and justifying his addiction both to himself and his friends as a recapturing of youth. I took the Golden Mile to be Gary King’s subconscious cry for help. This is a two-sided film, one side draws you in (aliens!) and the other side shows how debilitating and tragic having an addiction can be. The real accomplishment is how seamless Wright combines the two using metaphors and visual representations. I can’t remember the last action movie to be so intelligent and thought-provoking (even the whole idea of the aliens motivation was fascinating), and I truly hope Simon Pegg gets recognized for his epic portrayal as Gary King. (in a perfect world he would get at least a nomination) The World’s End was the most satisfying film of the year.
Blockbusters that Almost Made the Cut: Catching Fire, Man of Steel
Film Most Undeserving of Critical Hatred: The Lone Ranger, Only God Forgives
Best Constructed Action Scene of the Year: Final train scene of The Lone Ranger.
Other Double Features that Didn’t make it. Saving Mr. Banks and Escape from Tomorrow
Most Sensory Film of the Year: Leviathan
Best Film to Watch After a Night of Drinking: John Dies at the End, This is the End, Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters, You’re Next, Bad Milo
Best Scifi Film of the Year that’s Didn’t make the List: Oblivion
Best Soundtrack: The Great Gatsby, followed by Frozen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Favorite New Film Composer: M83
Best Horror: The Conjuring, Evil Dead, Maniac, We Are What We Are, Frankenstein’s Army
Best Underseen Film: Rush, Out of the Furnace
Films That were Almost Great: The East, Don Jon, Antiviral, Desolation of Smaug, Kings of Summer, The Place Beyond the Pines, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Shadow Dancer, Crystal Fairy, It’s a Disaster, Great Gatsby, Iron Man 3
Best Film I Didn’t Include because I Forgot: Trance, Sightseers, Much Ado About Nothing
Worst Films of 2013: Gangster Squad, Red Dawn, RIPD