In anticipation for my first podcast with Louis Matta, we both put together our best and worst lists of 2013. You can currently read my Ten Worst Films of 2013 list and comment on it. It has been an exciting year in film. Yes there were some stinkers, but I am done talking about the bad. We were blessed with a wonderful year and for the first time I gave three perfect score reviews. I rarely give one, let alone two, but this year warranted the scores.
To be honest a ton of 2013 films deserved to be in the ‘Honorable Mentions’ section. But I am declaring this section for specific movies I was surprised about or genre films.
9/10. It was a shame that this film came out during the summer because it should have been noticed during the award season. It was a beautiful coming of age story with a star turning performance from the young Tye Sheridan and a fantastic performance from the great Matthew McConaughey. But we shall talk about the year of the McConaughey later. Mud just further proved writer and director Jeff Nichols’s talents; especially after back to back critical hits with Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories. I do not know if the academy just ignores Nichols, but he is a director that should be watched.
9/10. If my ten year old self ever wanted to make a movie about robots fighting gigantic monsters this is exactly how it would be. Such care was placed into the details of the monsters, machines, and the world; which made it easier to ignore the gaping problems of dialogue and story. It did exactly what I wanted it do: entertain me visually. Please make a sequel.
8/10. A film that completely surprised me because it came and went fairly quickly: only made $343,341 at the summer box office. This was a seemingly plot-less story, where not a lot happened, but the interactions between the characters felt real. It was an unconventional romance mixed with dry humor, the type of humor that I have always preferred.
8/10. I had a blast with this flick from beginning to end. The retro feel perfectly coincided with the horror setting; for some reason the setting aided the uneasiness felt by the viewer, which was a feeling shared with the family as they moved into the new house. I have been a huge fan of James Wan, the creator of the original Saw, and he showed with The Conjuring that he has evolved into a good director. The success of this could result in a possible franchise for Warner Brothers with Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reprising their roles: something I am looking forward to.
10. Fruitvale Station
9/10. This film just beat out Mud for this spot, and the main reason it did, was the fantastic performance by Michael B. Jordan. The grounded nature of the film aided it throughout, but it truly rested on the shoulders of the lead actor. Jordan has been a fantastic actor over the years and has turned in nuanced performances on the underrated Friday Night Lights television show and the found footage superhero flick, Chronicle.
Now, this tells the story of Oscar Grant, the victim of a 2009 police shooting; Oscar was unarmed and handcuffed when he was shot. So as anyone could see, this was a heavy topic with implications of racism and police brutality. But instead of focusing on the shooting, the film focused on the twenty-four hours leading up to it.
Most audience members knew the eventual outcome of the story. But the viewer got to watch Oscar, a former convict, attempt to rebuild his life. With that ability, it was easier for the audience to empathize with him. Furthermore, I liked how Oscar was not portrayed as a saint, but a man simply trying to feed his family. In this day and age, any audience member could identify with that and to me it made him human.
Now I am going to talk a few times about Oscar snubs throughout this article, but Michael B. Jordan deserved something for his performance. I know the Best Actor category was a little crowded this year, but Michael B. Jordan deserved to be nominated. Fruitvale Station would have failed without him; the direction was amateurish and one could tell it was a first time director. But the award season came and went and he was simply forgotten.
9/10. The opening scene of Gravity floored me; the seventeen-minute continuous opening shot was breathtaking. The shot looked seamless and simple, but it took painstaking work to make it. Alfonso Cuaron, the director, had to invent new camera technology in order to make this film. The result was this gorgeously stunning movie, but at the same time, it is ranked so low because I believe it would lack the same eye-popping visuals if shown on a non-theater screen.
In my eyes, this film suffered from the ‘Avatar-syndrome.’ What does this mean? While hugely popular now it will fade into obscurity like Avatar because the visuals does not translate well to the home viewing experience. Again this is my opinion, but I cannot see myself watching Gravity at home because it was the Imax theater experience that made the movie.
Now that was not the only reason why this flick was ranked so low. First and foremost, I thought Sandra Bullock’s character was underwritten and ‘the lost her child storyline’ was fairly clichéd. But as the sole performer for most of the film, the film succeeded or failed on Bullock’s shoulders. She did a fantastic job with what she had; but there was a better ‘tour de force’ performance last year. At the same time, I went to the film more for the visuals than the actress. Not to take anything away from Bullock, but in a stronger year she would not have been nominated for Best Actress.
8. Dallas Buyers Club
9/10. Dallas Buyers Club truly lived on the shoulders of its actors. Jared Leto, who is the closest to a surefire win at next month’s Oscars, gave a powerhouse performance as a transvestite afflicted with AIDS. He inhabited the role of Rayon and gave the defining performance of 2013.
The film, though very liberal, showed the problems with the FDA in our country. At the same time, it showed how disconnected people were with the AIDS virus; many assumed that it was solely a homophobic disease. This was where McConaughey’s Ron Woodroof came into the picture. When we meet Ron he was living life on the edge: casual sex, drugs, alcohol, and gambling; Ron also had unlikable tendencies of bigotry. McConaughey did not just lose the weight to inhabit the role; his mannerisms, his voice, his emotions helped breath life into the character; at times, he was downright unrecognizable on screen.
Not only was the character fully developed but also his story-arch progressed perfectly throughout the film. One could see his change from a homophobic bigot to an understanding empathetic figure. The character changed, and more importantly, the audience understood why the character changed.
If I had to talk about any gripes I had with the movie it would be the direction. The direction at times felt passive; it felt that the director knew that this was a character driven piece and he let they actors do his or her own thing. It was more like he was along for the ride than actively telling the story. This was both a good and bad thing. Good because I was not seeing this for the director, but bad because I expected a little more emotion through the direction.
7. The World’s End
9/10. The most underrated comedy of 2013; the final movie in the Cornetto trilogy was exactly what I wanted. While The World’s End was not as strong as the previous two entries, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it still was better then any comedy I saw in 2013.
Those who have not seen the first two movies probably did not expect the ‘off-the-wall’ craziness of The World’s End. Basically this trilogy was known for being parodies of other films, but unlike most parodies, the trilogy has been strong enough to become staples in the parodied genres. What this means, is that though Shaun of the Dead poked fun at the zombie genre, the film was such a strong entry it has become a staple in that genre.
Now, what genre does The World’s End fall into? It has a little bit everything: post apocalyptic, aliens, and robots. That was what made this film the perfect ending because it was so gonzo and over the top. I especially loved how Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the leads in the first two films, switched character types. Simon Pegg who usually played the straight man, played the unforgettable man child Gary King; while Nick Frost took on the every man role.
Visually, as soon as the flick started to move it did not stop; Wright’s films always have had this kinetic energy and if you wanted proof of that, watch the criminally underrated Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Now, I hope this was not the end to the three stars working together, but as the end to the original trilogy I could not have asked for a better finale.
6. The Way, Way Back
9/10. Well I am only half way through this list and this is the third coming of age film I am talking about; but I had to add this because it held a special place in my heart. Written and directed by the Oscar winning duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (the Dean on Community), The Way, Way Back told the story of Duncan a young kid who simply does not fit in. Soon when forced to go on a trip with his mother’s overbearing boyfriend, the unlikeliest people help him break out of his shell.
I absolutely loved the script for this film; the great dialogue and the fabulous acting made up for the mediocre directing. Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Maya Rudolph, and Amanda Peet played strong characters that each had their own witty voice. Both Faxon and Rash have a knack for writing and though their dialogue seemed unrealistically witty, the characters they created were full fleshed out individuals.
But the one actor who stuck out was Sam Rockwell: he played the mentor that Duncan needed. His acting perfectly inhabited the man child that was Owen; yes, he was flawed, but I truly felt that he cared for Duncan. All of the actions that Owen did were solely to benefit the child and help him grow as a person. That was why when Duncan said his final goodbye to Owen, one could not help but get choked up.
Not a perfect film in anyway, but a movie that resonated with my teenage self.
9/10. If someone had told me that Frozen was going to end up in my top ten of 2013, I probably would have laughed in their face. From the creators of Tangled, Frozen was the story of two sisters, Anna and Elsa, who were separated by Elsa’s uncontrollable ice powers. Quite simply, this is the greatest Broadway musical to not be on Broadway: though I understand that the folks at Disney are already developing this into a play.
Now since I have seen this film in November, it has exploded into the consciousness of the general public. It still remains in the weekly domestic top ten and has now netted in over 810 million worldwide. Furthermore, the merchandise has pretty much sold out everywhere and there are already talks to make Frozen rides in the amusement parks.
I completely understand why Frozen became the blockbuster that it did. Yes, Tangled was good, but it was not as perfectly crafted like Frozen. Let’s be honest, over the recent years Disney’s animated features have been dominated by Pixar. Only recently with 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, has Disney decided to create more princesses; before that the last Disney princess to grace the screen was 1998’s Mulan. Out of the three recent princess movies, Frozen was the first to truly remind me of the old time Disney princess films.
The highlight of this flick was the music, which was beautifully written and performed. Some of these songs will eventually be placed in the argument of Disney’s greatest songs, but the songs would be nothing without the beautiful voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. Idina Menzel in particular has a powerhouse voice that few could match: her performance of the movie’s main track “Let It Go,” displayed emotion and charisma that few could display while singing.
But the sisters, while the main characters of Frozen, were not the only bright spot; each character had a believable voice and motivation. The comedic timing of Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf added a sense of levity that was needed in a particularly serious animated film. Furthermore, the actual animation was gorgeous and some of the best work that Disney has produced in years; the ice and water images were simply stunning.
Last, the way the movie ended was perfect; it emphasized the importance of family and showed that a family’s love is as important as spousal love. This is a fantastic message that was a change of pace from previous princess stories.
4. All is Lost
9/10. I never thought I was going to be completely floored by this story of one man’s survival. When I previously stated a ‘tour de force’ performance, a saying that gets overused, it was about the fantastic Robert Redford. However, I never thought that I would associate ‘tour de force’ with Redford. Especially since Redford is now in his 70s and I thought his best work was well behind him.
Now, Redford was the sole credit and the audience does not even learn his name. There has to be only a handful of scenes that even have dialogue, yet, the old actor conveys everything with his face and body language. Robert Redford has been in a ton of classic films, but this performance is what I will remember him for because I have never seen him in a more vulnerable state.
Now, in order to keep the audience emotionally invested for over 100 minutes everything about the film needed to be perfect. This included the directing; J.C. Chandor did a flawless job. All is Lost was his follow up to the equally intense Margin Call and both were wrongfully ignored come award season.
This is a hard movie to describe because it needs to be experienced. If I had attempted to describe this it would just sound like Robert Redford on a boat, but this is an unfair description because it was so much more. It was an emotional rollercoaster and one of the few films last year that drove me to tears.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
10/10. The proverbial ‘black sheep’ of 2013 films, The Wolf of Wall Street became notorious because of the controversy it produced. But this was expected because it was a controversial story. First and foremost, the criticisms that called this film, a glorification of illegal acts, really bothered me. Yes, the movie showed that the road to hell was one fun ride, but sometimes being bad looks fun. I am not condoning the actions that took place, but one could understand the road to excess when it is paved with money and beautiful women. Martin Scorsese used his Goodfellas story-arch to show the rise and eventual fall of Jordan Belfort, which is why I do not understand the glorification criticism. Yes, the lifestyle looked extravagant and amazing, but when Jordan fell from grace, no one would have ever wanted to be in his situation.
With that aspect out of the way, lets talk about the important parts of the film: the story, the direction, and the acting. Yes, this was Scorsese’s longest movie to date, but the fast paced nature prevented any part of it from dragging. For this, I have to commend Scorsese because only few directors could succeed with the pace necessary for this three-hour flick.
Yes, Wolf of Wall Street had the unnecessary Scorsese tropes: like the ultra close ups, which I am not a fan of. But I actually forgot that this was a Scorsese film until about two hours in. Yes, like I said the tropes were there, but they were few and far between; do not get me wrong Scorsese with his tropes are still better than most filmmakers out there, but it was nice to get lost in the universe without the baggage of it being a ‘Scorsese film.’
To be honest, the director has made some amazing movies in the last twenty years (and I have seen them all except Hugo), but this might be his best film since Goodfellas. I must digress about the pace again because all Scorsese films have a vibrant energy, but I have not seen vigor like this since Goodfellas.
Last, the performances were amazing by all those involved. Dicaprio gave his best performance to date; as the sleazy Belfort I know I should not like him, but through Scorsese’s direction and Dicaprio’s acting I felt empathy for him. Jonah Hill was perfect for the role of Donnie and I was ecstatic when he was nominated for an Academy Award. It was easy to tell that Jonah Hill was allowed to ad-lib his lines and that aided his batty performance. The rest of the cast was amazing as well; it felt like they had a rapport with each other, which elevated certain scenes. For example when Rob Reiner and Dicaprio were talking to each other, it really felt like they were father and son.
Scorsese is the most influential director of the last thirty years. Most people do not know directors but it would be hard to find someone who did not recognize his name. Yes, this tale of excess probably was his most controversial film (even that’s up for debate). But one cannot deny that The Wolf of Wall Street delivered on what it set out to do; if one disagrees with the morals of the characters he or she should not have seen it in the first place. And for those who claim they did not know what they were getting into, the Internet is a big place. Use it next time.
10/10. As a fan of Spike Jonze and his ‘out-there’ premises, I expected to like this; but when I finally watched it I was floored by the presentation. Her was the realest depiction of a relationship I have ever seen on screen, which is very weird to say. And if you do not know why this is weird it is because the relationship was between a man and his OS system (a Siri-like system). But this OS system has the ability to learn and think.
I would advise any person who has ever been in a relationship to see this movie. Yes, this film could be vulgar at times because at the core it was about a lonely man and his willingness to seek affection. But movies have always portrayed flattering aspect of romance on screen; never have they properly portrayed the alone time spent with someone. During this time, one becomes vulnerable and opens up about things that he or she would never say or do in front of just any individual. That was what Her showed perfectly; the state of vulnerability when one trusts another with their deepest darkest secrets. As Samantha and Theodore maneuver through their blossoming romance it was hard not to relate with their characters.
Joaquin Phoenix gives a nuanced performance and in a less crowded year he would have been nominated for an Oscar. His conversations with Samantha never felt scripted even though they mainly were, which showed that Spike Jonze wrote and directed a film that had a soul. This was an extremely powerful experience and if I was to have one complaint I would have trimmed ten minutes off the runtime. However, I cannot give Her anything lower then a perfect score because I was truly touched by the final product.
1. American Hustle
10/10. American Hustle was the complete opposite of my number two selection Her. This movie was loud, crass and a blast. Sorry I could not help that one. While Her was an introverted emotional experience, American Hustle was a throwback to old crime comedies. It does not take itself too serious, but at the same time, it had an engaging set of characters that were the most compelling in 2013.
David O. Russell has come a long way from his temper tantrum days and over the course of his last few films he has developed into an amazing director. The funny part about this flick was how it felt like a Scorsese film; many said it was the greatest Scorsese film that was not directed by Scorsese. In many ways, they were right because American Hustle contained the previously mentioned Scorsese’s tropes: even my much-maligned ultra close up.
But I do not want to undersell this film by calling it a Scorsese clone; the script and performances were far superior than that description. In particular, the script’s humor was what made this; I originally thought it was a straight drama but this film was far funnier than most 2013 comedies. And the comedy was sold by the performance of our two leads and two supporting characters.
There was a reason that Bale, Adams, Cooper, and Lawrence were all nominated for an Oscar: only the second film to have a nomination in all acting categories in the last thirty years. The last movie to do that was last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, which was directed by none other then David O. Russell.
But everyone involved were on the top of their game and played the necessary role in the film. Bale, who usually plays the extravagant flashy character, played the introverted everyman. And Jennifer Lawrence played the role of a lifetime; in my personal opinion, she should not have won last year for Silver Linings Playbook, but she truly deserves to win for her scene-stealing portrayal of Irving’s (Bale) young naïve wife (last time someone won back to back years was Tom Hanks in 1994 and 1995 for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump).
Over the last week, I have been debating between Her and American Hustle as my favorite film of last year. While I had a deeply emotional experience with Her, I simply had a fun time with American Hustle. In fact, it was the most fun I had in theaters and that was what eventually swayed my decision.
Between the emotionally charged Her and All is Lost, to the fun fast paced films like Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle, the vast movies of 2013 did not disappoint. I truly thought that 2012 was going to be the year to be remembered in cinema, like 1994 or 1976; but 2013 quickly surpassed it.
Now, I hope you enjoyed my top ten favorite films of 2013. You may not agree with my choices or have other choices of your own. If so, comment below. Be sure to comment freely about my list or list the films of 2013 that you loved.