The Best Films of 2013

While there are still a few flicks from this year that I need to see (such as Inside Llewyn Davis, 12 Years a Slave, Her, Man of Steel, Nymphomaniac, Riddick and a few others), I still feel that I saw enough of the current releases to put together a “best of” list (because I know you’re all dying to read it). So presented here, in no particular order, are my 10 favorite movies of 2013. Let me know if you agree/disagree, or feel free to share your own lists.

Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street

It’s a bit of a shame that the discussion around this film has mostly focused on whether or not it glorifies the excessive lifestyle of its protagonist (hint: it doesn’t), because I feel like that prevents people from judging it on its actual merits (which are many). Make no mistake; Martin Scorsese  directed one of the most vital, vibrant, and altogether compelling films of his entire career, much less of 2013. The acting is great across the board, but Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill both deliver career-best performances, with the former solidifying his status as one of the best actors of his generation. So while an argument could be made that The Wolf of Wall Street is problematic or troubling (and it would be a valid one…to a point), it nevertheless stands as a great movie, regardless of whether or not the character it depicts is a complete and total scumbag.

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Before Midnight

This is a beautiful, bittersweet capper to be one of the most touching and heartfelt cinematic trilogies of all time, not to mention one of the most heartfelt and honest romances ever to be committed to film. Richard Linklater’s direction is both assured and understated, letting the actors carry the film, which is good, since Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy deliver a pair of incredible and daring performances. If this ends up being the last entry in this series, I would be completely satisfied, but I must admit that I wouldn’t mind paying another visit to these characters and their world in another ten years or so.

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Nebraska

I think the worst thing that can be said about this film is that it’s not Sideways, but then it’s not supposed to be. Nevertheless, director Alexander Payne has delivered another great character study that examines some less than savory characters.  Thanks to his deft touch, however, you can’t help but root for them by the end of the film. Bruce Dern is at once heartbreaking and heartwarming as a drunken failure nearing the end of his life, and Will Forte is flat out great as his put-upon slacker son who just wants to reconnect with his old man. My only other complaint is that there is not enough Bob Odenkirk, who steals the show every time he’s onscreen. Otherwise, this is a touching and quietly funny film that put me in mind of The Last Picture Show (in that they both feature a distinctly small town bleakness that is highlighted by starkly beautiful black and white cinematography).

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The World’s End

Of all the films on this list, I feel like this is the one that’s going to prove most rewarding with each subsequent viewing. The trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost have all done some very good things on their own, but it is only when they get together that truly special things happen, and their latest collaboration is no exception. No other movie this year has quite managed to capture the pains, pleasures and fears that come from growing up, growing older, and moving on. More importantly, though, none of them have also doubled as a kick ass action film about a group of aging friends fighting off an invasion of killer robots from outer space. The World’s End manages to succeed on both levels, and is doubly entertaining as a result.

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Only God Forgives

First things first; I’m not going to try to argue that this is a misunderstood classic or anything like that; I totally understand why someone would hate it. I completely get it. Yet for those viewers who allow themselves to go along with the film’s dreamy, meditative, deliberate (read: slow as molasses) pace, and don’t mind wading in the rather murky themes that director Nicolas Winding Refn is tackling, they just might find something rewarding by the time they reach the end. While you may not like this film (and again, I totally understand why you wouldn’t), you have to admit that this oedipal, neon-colored nightmare is, at the very least, an interesting and altogether compelling failure.

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Much Ado About Nothing

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a huge fan of Joss Whedon. I find both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel to be completely insufferable, I think Agents of SHIELD is kind of terrible, and I merely like Firefly (in spite of the show’s thoroughly annoying hardcore fan base). While Doctor Horrible and The Cabin in the Woods both played a big part in finally bringing me around on the guy, it’s mostly due to his work on properties that I already enjoy such as Astonishing X-Men and The Avengers that I was truly able to get past my anti-Whedon bias. That trend continues with this absolutely delightful modern-day reworking of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. While it does get a bit too Whedon-y at times for my taste (particularly the overbearing slapstick), the game cast and the understated direction manage to keep the film firmly on the side of charming.

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Blue Jasmine

During the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of criticism directed at this film, in particular in reference to director Woody Allen’s inability to write believable blue collar characters. I don’t necessarily agree with that assertion, but at the same time, I can’t completely dismiss them, either. Regardless, Cate Blanchett delivers one of the best performances of the year as an upper-class woman who is slowly but surely losing her mind along with her station in life, and for that reason alone, I feel like this movie deserves a spot on any end of the year list, mine included.

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Stoker

While it never reaches the insane heights of films like Oldboy or Lady Vengeance, director Park Chan-wook‘s American debut nevertheless stands as a dark, disturbing, and thoroughly stylish thriller that in some ways feels like a throwback to Hitchcock, while simultaneously feeling like something completely distinct. While the film is mostly an exercise in style over substance, it also benefits from some great performances, particularly Matthew Goode as the film’s creepy but charming antagonist. As I said, the film isn’t quite on par with Park’s Korean output, but it still manages to convey his distinctive cinematic voice and directorial vision. For that reason alone, it’s worth a look.

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Iron Man 3

While The Avengers serves as the first indication that Marvel was willing to let different auteurs like Joss Whedon put their unique stamps on the House of Idea’s cinematic universe, it wasn’t until writer/director Shane Black grabbed hold of the reins on the lucrative Iron Man franchise that the creative dividends of this particular gamble truly paid off. Black delivered a exciting, action-packed, and fun movie that continued the story that began way back in the first Iron Man, while at the same time giving the entire Marvel cinematic universe a fresh spin thanks to his altogether distinctive style. Hopefully, the film’s success is an indication that future Marvel movies will be helmed by interesting directors who are allowed to let their particular directorial voices be heard.

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Gravity

With his latest film, director Alfonso Cuarón has delivered an intensely gripping movie that absolutely must be experienced on the big screen. More importantly, though, it is the first film to truly justify the existence of 3D as something more than just a gimmick used to inflate ticket prices. More a visceral experience than anything, Gravity is designed to have the audience on the edge of their seats throughout, and leave them gasping for breath by the time the credits finally roll. The story may be somewhat lacking, and the science may not be entirely accurate (just ask affable astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson about that one), but in terms of a purely visceral cinematic experience, Gravity definitely lives up to the hype.

THE NEXT FIVE

These are some other films from this year that I enjoyed quite a bit, but weren’t quite good enough to make the main list.

Pacific Rim

The trailers for this one promised giant robots fighting giant monsters, and in that regard the film delivers in spades. I will concede that the film is hampered somewhat by a wonky script and thoroughly bland leading man, but in terms of pure entertaining spectacle, I thought Guillermo del Toro‘s latest worked like gangbusters.

The Great Gatsby

Director Baz Luhrmann found the sweet spot between his takes on Romeo + Juliet and the spastic Moulin Rouge!, and in the process he crafted a film that revels in excess while simultaneously decrying it. Leonardo DiCaprio gets to cut loose as the elusive Jay Gatsby, and Carey Mulligan shines as Daisy, the somewhat vapid object of Gatsby’s desire. More importantly, though, Luhrman employs anachronistic music to draw interesting parallels between the Jazz Age and the modern age. This is not a great movie, but it is one that is far better than its reputation would have you believe, and definitely deserves to be seen.

Thor: The Dark World

While it is never quite as good as The Avengers or Iron Man 3, the second solo outing for Marvel’s version of the Norse god of thunder is a vast improvement over the first (which I enjoyed). Sure, the dark elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) is a bit of a weak villain, but everything else works so well that it’s easy to overlook that. This movie is everything a blockbuster should be; it’s a fun, exciting, and rollicking adventure that features a great cast, some very impressive special effects, and a lot of heart.

This is the End

Everything about this movie indicated that it would be completely insufferable, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was not only completely hilarious, but also a smart satire about Hollywood culture. The cast are obviously having a blast sending up their public and cinematic personalities, and that sense of fun translates into a wholly enjoyable film that is funny, filthy, but also kind of touching and heartfelt by the end.

Behind the Candelabra

If this is truly Steven Soderbergh‘s final film, it’s a good one to go out on. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon deliver powerhouse performances as Liberace and his live-in lover respectively, and the film itself is touching, funny, heartbreaking, and gorgeous all at once. It’s a shame that this one didn’t get a theatrical release, because it deserved to be seen by a wider audience. All in all, Soderbergh delivered one of the best biopics of all time, while at the same time crafting a film that drives home just how much his particular cinematic vision will be missed.

2 thoughts on “The Best Films of 2013”

  1. Hi Chris. I’m still working my own way through some of the best films of 2013, however, I thought your analysis of “Only God Forgives” was the fairest and most accurate I’ve read. My husband and I are huge fans of Refn and couldn’t wait to see this film. Unfortunately, we were in Mongolia when it came out in the theatre so we had to settle for watching the DVD. You brilliantly articulated my mixed feelings over one of my favorite filmmaker’s latest offering. Happy New Year to you and Carrielynn! (I know Carrielynn from her days at BWK.)

  2. Thanks! I’m a big fan of Refn as well (I’m writing my Master’s thesis on him), and I’ve found something to enjoy or mull over in all of his films. If you have had a chance yet, you should check out the episode of the Director’s Club Podcast that I appeared on. We talked about pretty much all of Refn’s films (among other things). I posted about it on my blog, but you can just go to this link to listen to the episode directly: http://directorsclubpodcast.com/post/67382125230/episode62

    Thanks for reading the blog! I really appreciate it.

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