10 Best Films of 2013

After 11 consecutive posts about the music of 2013, it’s due time to switch over to my other area of intense interest: the movies. 2013 was one of the best years for the industry in recent years, with only 1999 and 2010 really posing any threat in my mind. Thus, selecting my choices for the ten best films of 2013 was an incredibly difficult task to undertake. But, after weeks of deliberation, here are my picks. With the exception of Spike Jonze’s Her, which I was unable to see before year’s end despite my most desperate efforts, I am confident that I have seen the best 2013 had to offer. Feel free to disagree, and as always, your comments on how you would have ranked the best movies of 2013 are welcomed. As a bit of a copout (but in actuality just a way to acknowledge as many of the great movies as possible), here are the 10 movies (in alphabetical order) that didn’t quite make the countdown.

About Time, All Is Lost, Disconnect, Frozen, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, Prisoners, Saving Mr. Banks, The World’s End, The Wolf Of Wall Street

So now without further ado, here are the 10 Best Films of 2013!

#10: Philomena
Directed by Stephen Frears

Billed as a fish-out-of-water comedy in the trailers, my expectations for Philomena were low heading into the theater. The latest film from renowned British director Stephen Frears, Philomena left me speechless by its ability to be so witty and yet such a powerful and empathetic story. Telling the true story of a former nun (played superbly by Judi Dench) searching with a journalist (Steve Coogan in a stereotype-shattering role) to find her son lost to adoption in the United States 50 years, the film manages to touch on the delicate subjects of faith, family, and even sexuality without ever seeming forced or demagogic. The story is one of constantly-evolving heartbreak, but the title character’s resilience and resolve to learn as much as she can about her unknown son proved to instill one of the most emotional cinematic experiences of the year for me.

#9: Blue Is The Warmest Color
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche

If I had made this list immediately after seeing Blue Is The Warmest Color at the Chicago Film Festival, it certainly would not have appeared anywhere near this post. But, as the best movies tend to do, I found myself thinking about this film for days, weeks even, after viewing. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Blue Is The Warmest Color is a unique, haunting, and exasperating piece of the finest material cinema has to offer. Over the course of an emotionally exhausting (and yes, erotic in many parts) 3 hours, Blue was able to tell a complete love story. If that sounds trivial at face value, nothing could be further from the truth. From protagonist Adele’s exploration of her sexuality to the very-relatable struggles to balance a relationship and a career, no fine details were glossed over. It took me weeks to realize that the physically and emotionally drained feeling I left the theater with was the very definition of pure sympathy with the characters.

#8: Blue Jasmine
Directed by Woody Allen

When it comes to Oscar season, it is a very unwise strategy to go around proclaiming sure bets for major awards. But mark my words, Cate Blanchett will win Best Actress for her devastating performance as the titular character in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. For a director who makes a new film every year like clockwork, it’s often difficult for Allen to elevate his unique brand of comedy into something greater. But with Blue Jasmine, he turned the trick of fashioning a whirlwind of a story: one part ensemble comedy (with great turns from Alec Baldwin and Louis C.K. and an awards-worthy supporting performance from Sally Hawkins) and one part tragic character study. The clever wit we’ve come to expect from Woody Allen screenplays dominates the early stages of the movie, but the film transitions to mirror the downfall of Jasmine, turning the biting delivery of lines into verbal warfare more reminiscent of Tennessee Williams.

#7: Captain Phillips
Directed By Paul Greengrass

Just when I think Tom Hanks has nothing more to give me to prove his worth as my favorite actor in the business, he comes through with a 2013 for the ages. His role as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks showcased the lighthearted side of his acting spectrum which has made him a family favorite for decades, but it was his gritty performance in Captain Phillips that really caught my attention. He has a fighting chance to tie Daniel Day-Lewis in March with his 3rd Best Actor win, which would be well deserved. From the moment the Somali pirates reach the Maersk Alabama, the audience witnesses nonstop mastery from two cinematic geniuses. Director Paul Greengrass proves his worth as one of the best suspense directors in Hollywood, keeping the action perfectly paced and just shaky enough to make us feel that we are on the open sea with the characters. On the other end of the camera, Hanks portrays Phillips as the resourceful and courageous man he was under fire, yet in such a relatable way that it affected me much more than any other action movie in memory. His struggles became our struggles, and the high-emotion finale cemented my support of Hanks’ Oscar candidacy.

#6: The Spectacular Now
Directed by James Ponsoldt

As a young movie fan, I often experience the unavoidable inability to fully relate to the events of adult protagonists in film. Not so with The Spectacular Now, which relays all to realistically the bliss and peril of being a high school senior. Featuring phenomenal performances from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley (probably my two favorite young actors), the film dares to be incredibly romantic without fear of cliché. Watching the popular and self-centered guy and the shy yet selfless girl make compromises of identity for each rang incredibly true for me, and I left the theater shaken to the core emotionally. Not since John Cusack lifted his boombox in vain has a movie caught the all-too-rapid rise and fall of teenage romantic happiness.

#5: 12 Years A Slave
Directed by Steve McQueen

I felt sick to my stomach leaving the theater after 12 Years A Slave, and that pit in my stomach was planted by a vividly descriptive and brilliantly put-together piece of filmmaking. Steve McQueen’s critically-acclaimed welcome to the mainstream of Hollywood deserves every bit of Oscar buzz it is generating, especially for the courageous performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor. 12 Years A Slave is as unflinching and brutal a look into the world of antebellum slavery as Schindler’s List was to the horrors of the Holocaust. McQueen utilizes his penchant for uncomfortably long scenes to sickening effect here, from Ejiofor hanging from a noose for 10+ minutes to a whipping scene which provides some of the most memorable dialogue and visually arresting images of the year.

#4: Rush
Directed by Ron Howard

One of the main reasons I go to the theater is to be exhilarated, in other words, to lose myself in the world of the movie. And no movie allowed me to do that better in 2013 than Rush. In the sure hands of Ron Howard, the incredibly true rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda was brought to stunning life in the best sports movie since Million Dollar Baby. Both drivers are explored in such detail that I had no idea who to root for in the insanely climactic final race in pouring rain. Chris Hemsworth broods with his Thor-like swagger, Daniel Bruhl portrays the very model of perseverance, and their cars are characters of their own, thanks to the best sound design and effects of the year (down to the specific sound of a shredded tire struggling to spin on the pavement at high speed). Of all the movies on this countdown, Rush is the one that demands to be seen on the largest screen possible with the best sound. Pure exhilaration.

#3: Inside Llewyn Davis
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen

The Coen Brothers have the uncanny ability to create some of the darkest characters and situations in film, yet somehow find the authentic humor in their lives. Exploring a week in the life of an arrogant yet down-on-his-luck folk singer, Inside Llewyn Davis earns a worthy place on the lofty pedestal of Coen classics. Spearheaded by a truly remarkable performance by Oscar Isaac in the title role, the film did something to me that no film has done before. When presented with anti-heroes as severe as Llewyn Davis, I have never been able to suspend my disdain for the character’s actions and support his endeavors. Yet every time Llewyn picked up his guitar after a truly heinous act, I couldn’t help but root for him. Nothing but a top-notch screenplay and artful use of music could have garnered that type of reaction from me, and I am beyond impressed. It also didn’t hurt that Carey Mulligan and John Goodman turn in wonderful supporting performances, as well as beautiful period cinematography.

#2: American Hustle
Directed by David O. Russell

Seeing both within a week of each other, I had the most difficult time deciding whether Inside Llewyn Davis or American Hustle would rank higher. After all, both featured excellent soundtracks, brilliant directorial choices, eloquent use of period, and captivating storylines. In the end, what it came down to for me was the acting. And there’s no doubt in my mind: American Hustle has the best cast acting of 2013. Christian Bale and Amy Adams anchor this funny and suspenseful crime saga, with wonderful work from Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence. Even Robert De Niro makes a memorable one scene cameo! This is an ensemble cast being utilized to its fullest extent, and each actor gets their turn to steal the show. David O. Russell managed to combine the best elements of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook to create the most entertaining story of the year.

#1: Before Midnight
Directed by Richard Linklater

Ever since 10-year old me rocked out with Jack Black in School Of Rock, I have been a huge fan of Richard Linklater’s work. But I never truly understood his storytelling power until I met Jesse and Celine in the first two legs of his Before trilogy. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are the most romantic movies I have had the pleasure of watching, and not because they are filled with mushy dialogue or steamy lovemaking. Rather, they focus on a very brief period of time to show the uninterrupted process of falling and staying in love. And with Before Midnight, Linklater managed to outdo himself one step further by showing the agony of a love on the edge of disrepair. Anchored by impeccably authentic dialogue self-written by stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, the couple’s final night in Greece contains almost as many emotions as all 3 hours of Blue Is The Warmest Color. Linklater utilizes common events like a long car ride and a family dinner to create incredibly long scenes with ebb and flow like nothing else in modern cinema. Filmed in just two weeks on a minimal budget, Linklater’s work also serves as a resonant reminder that explosions, A-list stars, and earth-shaking plot elements are not required to make a masterpiece. Sometimes all you need are two people in love and their natural range of emotions.

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So there you have it! Please feel free to submit your thoughts on your favorite movies of the year, and let me know where you think I went astray. Thanks so much for reading, my retrospective on my year at the movies will be posted sometime tomorrow!

Until then,

Ryan

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