I want to preface this by saying there are still plenty of films from 2013 that I have not seen. Several films from countless best of lists have been ommitted based on this sad fact. I have not seen Captain Phillips, Before Midnight, Nebraska, Blue Jasmine, Inside Llewyn Davis, or Dallas Buyers Club. What right do I then have to make a best of 2013 list. Well… I have the right I granted myself, so that’s that. Judge away!
Now, to the nitty-gritty of the list, I think it is rather well rounded. There are certainly many of the Oscar-bait films that dominate November and December. I have also worked to include a few indie gems. I may have also included a few films that you won’t see on other peoples’ lists but they affected me in ways that warranted their inclusion. Top 10 lists are completely subjective, and in my opinion, the films were strong works achieving what they set out to do with great success.
I saw Philomena at the Toronto International Film Festival this year at random and it was a wonderful surprise. I had picked up one of those packages where the festival chooses films for you and I am so happy that this film made that list. The shared charisma and screen presence of Steve Coogan (who wrote the screenplay) and Judi Dench is brilliant!
9. Much Ado About Nothing
Another film that I saw at TIFF (this time in 2012) was Joss Whedon’s beautiful take on Shakespeare’s classic Much Ado About Nothing. The film is about as low budget as indies come. He used all of his friends as actors, payed them in booze, and filmed the whole thing at his house. It is a nice touch that all of his friends are well respected television actors, something most indie films cannot claim. That said, this film hilariously modernizes Shakespeare’s comedy about love and vanity with an amazing stand-out performance from Amy Acker (long time Whedon ally from Buffy and Dollhouse).
8. Upstream Color
How does one describe Upstream Color. The film received widespread acclaim when it originally played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is directed by Shane Carruth, indie sci-fi darling whose last film, Primer, is a staple for all sci-fi nuts. Carruth has, with only two films, become required viewing for any genre loving cinephile. His camera work is beautiful, and his approach to narrative is heavily reminiscent of the work of Terrence Mallick. The film itself, a weird analogy on the forces we can’t control, takes some strange narrative turns that make its plot somewhat hard to follow. This has become the Carruth staple, where rather than over-explaining his plot, you know, assuming his audience is stupid, Carruth prefers to under-explain and allow his audience to figure things out for themselves. It is this style of film-making that has created such a large Internet following for Carruth as his many fans debate, interpret, and re-interpret his work, and here Upstream Color is no different.
At this point, Danny Boyle can do no wrong as far as I am concerned. He is just so cool, and makes such cool movies, that I eargerly anticipate whatever film project he chooses to explore next. With Trance, we have a very hip hybrid of The Thomas Crown Affair and Inception. An art dealer played by James McAvoy hides a painting in the middle of an auction heist, but then is hit on the head losing his memory of where he hid the work of art. It is then up to the beautiful Rosario Dawson to bring back those memories through hypnosis. The plot than unfolds in a very layered narrative where events both real and manifested are tied together in a strange dance of who’s playing who. All of this is filmed with an insane amount of colour and style and shares the journey with one of the years best scores, composed by Underworld’s Rick Smith.
6. This is the End
Without a doubt, This is the End is the funniest movie of the year… at least in my opinion. Comedies are often under-valued in best of lists. We tend to highlight the dramatic and dismiss the hillarious, when in fact Comedy is almost as difficult, if not more, to get right. Now, a lot of this film is simply fan service for all of those (myself included) who have watched this comedy group grow over the course of the last decade. In many ways, the crew that Apatow and Rogen have assembled are our generations Monty Python, and this movie just may be our generation’s Holy Grail. This film is that funny.
5. American Hustle
American Hustle is a great movie and well worth its praise. The performances in this film are all top-rate. David O. Russell has brought back his best and brightest for this film, a cast that includes Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro from Silver Lining’s Playbook, and Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Boxer. Now while I think this movie is great, it is also, at times, a narrative mess. Much of this has to do with just how bizarre these characters are. Cooper is so high on the inertia of his plan that he is absolutely spastic in some scenes. It is jarring because the film is throughout the majority, a rather straight-forward and linear story. But I cannot argue with the talent that is on screen here, and for that reason alone, American Hustle finds itself within the top 5. Well that and Amy Adams’ neckline.
4. 12 Years a Slave
This film is two and a half hours of pure and utter heartbreak. The violence is so visceral, and the emotional trauma it causes, palpable. The film won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, and then recently picked up the Golden Globe for best Drama. These accolades are well-deserved, and on any other year, it is possible that it would top my list. Chiwetel Ejiofor has a commanding presence as the title character Solomon Northup, and Michael Fassbender outdoes himself again with his horrifying performance as Solomon’s slave master.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese does it again. His relationship with Leonardo Dicaprio has been one of the most fruitful in modern Hollywood going back to 2002’s Gangs of New York. Yes the break-out character there was Bill the Butcher played by one of, if not the greatest actor of our time Daniel Day Lewis. But it was the relationship that was forged in that film between Leo and Marty, a relationship that has spawned four other films (The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, and now The Wolf of Wall Street) that was no doubt the greatest thing to come out of that film. I can say with no hyperbole that The Wolf of Wall Street is the best film to come out of that relationship. If I could parallel this film to any other piece of Scorsese’s resume, it would have to be Goodfellas. This film shares so much with Scorsese’s 1990 magnum opus, including its manic yet almost depressing approach to humour. It does not have any where close to the level of violence Goodfellas has. Instead, The Wolf of Wall Street earns its HARD-R rating through an almost explicit approach to drug use and sexuality, but Scorsese handles it magnificently.
Get beyond the incredibly creepy premise, and you have with Her the most touching and heart-felt film of the year. Like Carruth’s Upstream Color, this is art-house sci-fi at its finest. Spike Jonze’s photography is filled with colour, a direct contrast to the darkness that permeates the souls of its characters. Often films about sad people are filled with muted tones, but in Her, Jonze has exercised a vibrant pallet of reds, oranges, yellows, and other sharp primary colors. This helps keep the audience incredibly connected with the rather dark, brooding character work. But then we have Scarlett Johansson who is well known for her raspy inflection. She is so superb in her voice work in this film. I think this may be some of her strongest character work yet. Her highs and lows. There is no monotony to her voice at all. There is no doubt in understanding how a man could fall in love with simply her voice. This is a magical story about love and moved me in ways I could not possibly have expected.
That said, it was not #1. That title goes to…
I was scared as hell going into Gravity. I have a significant fear of lack of control that the idea of floating in space just sends shivers down my spine. The only thing that got me into the cinema (3 times) to see this film was its director. Alfonso Cuarón has cemented himself as my favourite working film maker to date. Children of Men is easily one of my favourite films of all time. His break-out hit, Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), is one of the most moving stories on friendship and coming of age in the last 20 years and should be required viewing. This guy can do no wrong in my book. The idea of waiting seven years for his follow-up to Children of Men was hard, so hard, but so worth it. Gravity is a tour de force.
Going into the film, I was not a fan of Sandra Bullock, especially when she has to display any sense of panic. I had flashbacks of Speed, and her cringe-inducing attempts at horror and dismay. I therefore had to steel my resolve going into Gravity because I knew Cuarón was a master, but I was disappointed in the casting. How wrong I was. Bullock hits it out of the park with her performance in this film. For so much of the film she is by herself, acting in front of a green screen, and yet she is so emotionally captivating as she undergoes some of the most harrowing experiences seen on cinema, I almost feel bad for going into the film with such negative preconceived notions of her capabilities as an actress.
This is a perfect movie!
The greatest scene of 2013:
Come on, Spring Breakers was never going to make this list, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate what was clearly the greatest scene in cinema this year!
Check out our vidcast on the most surprising and disappointing moments in film in 2013 below: