Alright. As with last year, I’m going to begin things with a brief disclaimer: This list is partially objective, but mostly subjective. I am not, in most cases, declaring these the best movies of 2013, just the ones that were the best to me. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks, yo. The list is also potentially subject to change. There were a few movies that came out this year that I didn’t get to see, but that could have theoretically altered the outcome of this list. Namely Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Lone Survivor. Is that all? Hm, I did much better this year than last.
Okay, let’s move on to a few honorable mentions, movies that I really liked, but that didn’t quite make the top ten.
12 Years a Slave—Yeah, obviously I’m not saying anything new or groundbreaking when I remark that 12 Years a Salve is a really good movie. In fact, of all the films mentioned in this article, this perhaps boasts some of the strongest performances, particularly Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o, all of whom have just been nominated for Oscars, and all of whom fully deserve to win. As much as I really appreciated 12 Years a Slave, it didn’t quite make my top ten. Were I being fully objective, though, it is one of the best films of the year. You can read The Tuesday Zone’s full review of 12 Years a Slave here.
The Place Beyond the Pines—There’s a whole lot to love about Derek Cianfrance’s saga of modern lower/lower-middle class masculinity in America, but enough to dislike that it doesn’t make the list. As I discuss in my full review, which you can read here, the film suffers from kind of a weak second act. Bradley Cooper, though he performs well, plays a pretty uninteresting character, especially when compared to his fellow leads Ryan Gosling and Dane DeHaan. Nonetheless, The Place Beyond the Pines is two thirds a really excellent film, and definitely worth watching.
Iron Man 3—Yes, that Iron Man 3. I just really, really enjoyed this movie. Unless you’re a fan of the mean, unlikable, flat Tony Stark, what’s not to like? Iron Man 3 is the first film to feature the character, since Iron Man, in which he was not completely obnoxious. Here, not only is he well developed, but the story is clever, the action is strong, and the dialogue is really sharp. That’s Shane Black for you, though, I guess. You can read both positive and negative reviews of this film on Rooster Illusion, because… you know, we’re… balanced and fair?
Stoker—Admittedly, the screenplay for Stoker left quite a bit to be desired, but mostly on a line-by-line basis, which is fair to expect from a first-timer. Otherwise, though, the story was clever, the characters were very intriguing, and oh boy, the themes! So many themes! Fortunately, this screenplay landed in the hands of a talented cast, notably Mia Wasikowska, and a really good director, Chan-wook Park (of Oldboy fame). The final product, though far less scary than I think it should have been, is a devilish and disturbing modern gothic fairy tale. You can read my full review here.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty—I totally just reviewed this movie last week! Crazy. Yeah, I wrestled with this one for a while. Walter Mitty just missed the list. Basically, it’s an incredibly sincere, somehow unpretentious, heartfelt feel-good movie about following your dreams. But it’s not obnoxious. It’s exactly everything you’d want from a feel-good movie. Seriously, I highly recommend it. It’s a good time. Read my full review here.
Saving Mr. Banks—I just saw this movie and I haven’t gotten a chance to write about it yet, so it doesn’t get to be on the list. Check back next week.
Okay, well, now that I’m nearly seven hundred words into this bad boy, let’s actually begin the list, shall we? Yeesh, this is going to be a long one. My apologies.
Disney churns out new princess movies once every couple of years, and they mostly follow a formula. There’s an introduction, with the characters as babies in which some horrible threatening magic is revealed, then they grow older, then stuff happens, the princess is incapacitated, and the prince saves the day, and they live happily ever after. I think what made Frozen so damn good was that it doesn’t follow this formula to the letter, particularly towards the end. Instead, writer/director Jennifer Lee was way more concerned with creating real, engaging characters, all of whom are well-developed and likable. I remind you now that this is a kids’ movie, so it’s pretty rare for people to put time and effort into writing good characters. So, Lee sticks to the formula only when it makes sense for the characters, and she diverts from it when it makes sense for the characters. Basically, she’s a responsible writer. The end product is my new favorite Disney Princess movie, and just a really fun time. You can read my full review of Frozen here.
9. American Hustle
Boy, the Academy sure is loving this one, aren’t they? To tell you the truth, I don’t know about all of that. I don’t really like David O. Russell as a director; he seems to forget that actors have bodies below their faces… unless they’re women, and then he remembers very, very well that they have torsos. Does Bradley Cooper deserve an Oscar? Nah. Jennifer Lawrence? Nah. Amy Adams? Nah. Christian Bale? Maybe. Jeremy Renner was awesome, too. They were all great, but the reason American Hustle is so likable is that it’s funny. The script is just a rollicking good time. The characters are all believable people, too. They’re constantly lying and trying one-up each other, but in an oddly relatable way. I don’t think this film is as crazy-good as everyone seems to think it is, but I did really, really like it. You can read my full review here.
8. Monsters University
Two animated films on one top ten list? For realzies? Yeah, even though the Academy deemed Monsters University unworthy of mention, this critic up-and-loved it. What’s not to love? Monsters Inc. is one of my favorite Pixar movies ever, and so I was prepared to be overly-critical of what I thought would be an unnecessary prequel, but not only are the characters developed with the love and affection of the first film, but University somehow manages to match the cleverness of Inc. That, I was not expecting. The first film creates a wholly immersive, entirely original world of monsters. This prequel knows it can’t do that, so it turns its attention elsewhere, beyond the borders of the college campus comedy, and into the realm of (unexpectedly) brilliant genre analysis and deconstruction. Who saw that coming? Monsters University has wonderful things to say about horror, and, because it’s Pixar, it delivers the same message on layered levels to all ages of audience members. Plus, baby Mike. Read everything else I had to say about it here.
7. Captain Phillips
Based on the true story of the abduction of an American civilian captain by a small crew of Somali pirates, Paul Greengrass’ taut thriller is a testament to how effective this type of film can actually be. As I said just one sentence ago, it’s based on a true story, and unless you just really don’t keep up on current events, you know what’s going to happen. Also, spoiler alert, it’s based on a book written by Captain Phillips, so obviously he gets out in one piece. Despite that, Captain Phillips is an incredibly nerve-wracking viewing experience. Greengrass’ action/thriller directing style, in this case, helps develop the tension without cheapening it. The film excels on a strong (now Oscar-nominated) screenplay in which all of the characters are really smart and relatable, even the pirates. Performances from the Oscar-nominated Barkhad Abdi and the unfortunately snubbed Tom Hanks solidify Captain Phillips as one of the year’s best. You can read my full review of Captain Phillips here.
6. Pacific Rim
Yes, Pacific Rim. Do you know why? Because Pacific Rim is dope, as Rooster Illusion would say. It’s not just a riveting rollercoaster-ride of giant robots and giant monsters fighting each other… although it is also that. Okay, yes, the action sequences are just amazing in this movie. I am not a giant robot kind of guy. I’m not into that, and I never thought I could be interested in it, but Guillermo del Toro sure turned me around on that. What really sets Pacific Rim above the regular blockbuster, though, is what James so accurately described as un-ironic heroism. The characters aren’t heroes in a Romantic sense; they’re all flawed, realistic people, but none of them give a moment’s hesitation to do the right thing when the lives of others are at stake. There’s no great internal struggle of, “Should I pilot this giant robot and fight monsters? I don’t want to, because I’m internally conflicted.” Yes, you should pilot that robot, because you’re currently the only thing standing between a giant monster and a city of ten million people. The characters do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and we don’t need to make fun of them for it like we always seem to do for non-anti-heroes. Heroes, I guess. Read Rooster Illusion’s full review here.
Top five: here we go. Now we’re getting serious. What’s that? The next movie down is a light Shakespearean comedy from Joss Whedon. Well, entry number five is pretty serious anyway. Deadly serious. If any movie could have benefited from a November release this year, it’s Prisoners. The screenplay is cool and calculated and disturbing, the direction is silent and disturbing, the music is minimalist and disturbing…this movie is kind of disturbing, okay? Grim as it is, the thing that makes Prisoners one of my top five movies of the year is its unparalleled ensemble cast. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal take the leads in a cast including Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, and Maria Bello. This is definitely the best dramatic ensemble of the year. Any of the people I just named would have fully deserved Oscar noms this year. Prisoners is out on DVD now, and I highly recommend you check it out. Make sure you’re in the mood, though, it does score an eight on the Melville-Gladwin Sadness Scale. Check out my full review here.
4. Much Ado About Nothing
Only four left! This is getting exciting. Isn’t it? Anyway: at #4: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. Made in a remarkably short span of time, and with a cast of Whedon’s close friends, including Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Sean Maher, and Britanick, this casual, fun adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s great comedies just gets everything right. The actors all do brilliant work performing the Bard’s hilarious dialogue, and Whedon absolutely excels as a comic director. What comes across in this production is that, despite how quick the filming process was, everyone put a lot of thought into how they were going to deliver their lines and stand and move, etc. It’s also very clear how well everyone knows and gets along with one another. This is a film made by friends, and it shows. Everyone clearly had a great time making it, it’s a great time to watch, and it’s a really excellent adaptation of a classic Shakespearean comedy. What’s not to love? Read my full review here.
Spoiler alert: I’m a huge Jeff Nichols fan. Who is Jeff Nichols? He is the writer/director of Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and my #3 of 2013: Mud. Tye Sheridan stars as an aloof young boy struggling to cope with his parents’ impending separation. He stumbles upon hope and complication when he and a friend encounter a mysterious fugitive named Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Like Prisoners, Mud benefits from an outstanding ensemble cast, but much of the credit is due to Nichols. The screenplay is clever and loving, and the direction is flawless. The nice thing about Mud is how we can see Nichols develop as a director. Obviously, with his past endeavors he’s proven himself very capable of doing serious dramatic work, with Take Shelter especially, but Mud demonstrates a more… accessible director. It’s not a happy film, except when compared to Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories. What’s more, Nichols demonstrates that he can be funny and can even direct a gunfight. It’s a great film, and I’m very excited to see how his career unfolds. You can read my full review here.
There. Were any of you feeling a little weird about how I hadn’t had an actual Oscar contender in a while? Sorry about that. The reason I have Gravity and #2 is not because I think it’s going to win all the awards, or even necessarily because it should; it’s because Gravity is a cinematic masterpiece of direction, cinematography, and visual effects. This is probably one of the most technically flawless films I’ve ever seen, and a testament to the value of computers and technology in the film industry, when usually you just get to see them woefully abused for pointless self-indulgence. Obviously, though, special effects don’t make a movie. As I mentioned, director Alfonso Cuarón really earned what will likely be an Oscar win, and the same goes for cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, but the film only works because beneath the spectacle and the technology is a fine layer of inspired performances, built on the even deeper layer of a strong screenplay. Gravity is a movie in which everything that can go wrong does, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about, perhaps unexpectedly, a lonely woman trying to overcome the death of her child. If you haven’t already seen Gravity, please get right on that. You can read the Tuesday Zone’s full review here.
1. The Hunt
If you’re one of the few people who consistently read these articles, this should come as no surprise to you. I’ve been going on and on about The Hunt since I first saw it back in March. At that time it was definitely my favorite film of the year so far, but now that the year is over, as you can see, it has held onto that spot. This sad Danish movie follows a lonely, but kindhearted kindergarten teacher named Lucas (Danish Superstar Mads Mikkelsen), whose life unravels after he is wrongfully accused of sexually abusing one of the children in his care. Does it sound unpleasant? It is. The Hunt is a morose film, made more so by being painfully realistic and restrained. We’re talking like a nine or a ten on the Melville/Gladwin scale. This feels like an exact enactment of what would happen in this kind of situation, and it is executed to perfection. Danish Superstar Mads Mikkelsen is always great, but this is inarguably his best performance. He takes you on a full journey through Lucas’ developing psyche, doing so at times with as little as one facial expression, where a lesser actor would be screaming and flailing about attempting to encourage an emotion. Again, the direction and cinematography are also perfect in this movie, the music is great, and rural Denmark looks super pretty. You can read all about it in my full review.
Why is this sad Danish movie at number one, though? Other than because it’s great? Well, in ways that the other entries on the list really don’t, The Hunt speaks to me on a personal level. You see, beloved reader(s), I work in a nursery. In fact, as I’m writing this, I have to keep glancing at a clock, because I’m cutting it a bit short and I need to get to work. I work in a nursery with children ages 0-4, and I babysit a lot, too, and The Hunt is a powerful depiction of every childcare provider’s worst nightmare. You’d think that would sort of deter me from watching it multiple times, but in fact I can’t help myself. I think that everyone with kids, who works with kids, or who is thinking about doing either should watch this film. Especially in this day and age, where people are more paranoid than ever about pedophilia, this is a vital film telling a story that absolutely needs to be told. Not only is it incredibly well made and does it speak to me on a personal level, but it is also an important film, and that’s why it’s my number one film of 2013.