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The 10 best movies of 2013

Oscar Isaac as the titular character in "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Oscar Isaac as the titular character in "Inside Llewyn Davis"
CBS Films

It’s rarely easy to narrow down all the movies released in a year, from the good to the bad, into a list of just ten. And even though I never get the chance to see as many movies as I’d like to, I still enjoy making a list of what I believe are the year’s ten best movies each January. This year’s list, as usual, includes a wide variety of stories and genres, from action and comedy to animation and drama. Some are based on true stories, while others are the height of fantasy. So read through my list of the best movies of 2013 below, and leave a comment at the bottom letting us know what your picks are.

Click the links to read my full review of each film. Films are presented in order from least best to best.

10. “American Hustle”: While I personally found it difficult to get involved in this film, one cannot deny the filmmaking expertise of director David O. Russell and the skills of his cast, which includes Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence, as they bring a tale of swindling in the 1970s to life. It is at times darkly funny, at others tragically sad, and overall a unique film that stand out on its own.

9. “Frozen”: Disney’s latest animated fairy tale is unlike anything they’ve produced before—at least in content, if not in visuals. With charming lead characters and a soundtrack that will have you singing for months (trust me, I know), “Frozen” has some delightful twists that make up for the small holes in the plot. It’s the first full-on animated musical Disney has produced in years, and is sure to conjure up some fond memories, as well as make new ones.

8. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”: “Catching Fire”, the second installment in “The Hunger Games” trilogy, has been referred to by many as the “Empire Strikes Back” of its series, and that’s actually fairly accurate. “Catching Fire” takes the action and drama of its predecessor to a whole new level as revolution in the nation of Panem takes flight, with the emotionally-distraught Katniss (reprised by the ever-great Jennifer Lawrence) as its leader. After this excellent film, one can only hope that this series doesn’t continue to follow the “Star Wars” trajectory, and that its finale is even more stunning.

7. “Monsters University”: Pixar’s latest film may be a prequel, and while we all love seeing original stories from them, this one is a keeper. Charming, funny, and relatable, “Monsters University” depicts “Monsters, Inc.” characters Sully and Mike in their college days, and the lessons to be learned from this story are surprisingly unconventional. It’s a refreshing take on the underdog story that proves that Pixar is still at the top of their game.

6. “Captain Phillips”: Based on a true story, this thriller directed by Paul Greengrass is fraught with suspense, as tension between its protagonist—Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), the captain of an American cargo ship—and its antagonist—a Somali pirate known as Muse (Barkhad Abdi)—is palpable as the two continue to outsmart each other. Hanks gives an amazing, emotional performance, and even though the second half of the film isn’t as strong as the first, it’s still more than worth watching.

5. “12 Years a Slave”: Also based on a true story, Steve McQueen’s riveting and often difficult to watch drama is set in the 1850s and follows Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. Ejiofor’s performance is Oscar-worthy, as is Michael Fassbender’s, who plays the slaveowner who abuses Solomon. It’s a story that’s so tragic that even a happy ending doesn’t truly feel happy, and it depicts slavery in a no-holds-barred fashion that has been rare in films until recently. It may not be an “enjoyable” film, but it’s an excellent one, one that really makes you value the freedoms you have.

4. “Gravity”: Alfonso’s Cuaron’s space-set thriller has received a lot of attention this year, and it’s not hard to see why. The special effects are unparalleled and never have a CGI feel to them, and the story is simple but fast-paced and truly terrifying. Sandra Bullock, who plays the lead astronaut stranded in space, doesn’t give what I would call an award-worthy performance, but she manages to carry the film as its only character 90% of the time, which is a hard thing to do. But, most importantly, the story has more to it than explosions in space: it’s really about the reinvention of a person, and that helps make it a memorable and unique piece of filmmaking.

3. “Pacific Rim”: This is the summer blockbuster we’ve been waiting for. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, “Pacific Rim” is a complete original, with fun characters, great special effects, and amazing creatures. On top of all that, the story is strong, with the bond between the main characters carrying much of the film, aided by the quirky supporting cast. In the end, between all the giant monster/robot fights, it’s a film about pairs, and the importance of finding your other half—the kind of touching message that you would probably be hard to come by in any other film like this.

2. “Saving Mr. Banks”: It’s a great movie about the making of a great movie—and a great person. Directed by John Lee Hancock, “Saving Mr. Banks” is the story of how Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks in another great performance) tried to coax the rights to “Mary Poppins” out of the story’s author, P.L. Travers. Emma Thompson gives one of the year’s best performances as the adult Travers, who is dry, strict, but ultimately vulnerable, as flashbacks reveal her hard past and the nanny who failed to save her family. It not only gives new light to Disney’s greatest live-action film, but it becomes one of Disney’s greatest films.

1. “Inside Llewyn Davis”: The year’s best film comes from the Coen Brothers, who have crafted yet another movie that has a hard message, but is darkly funny and filled with stunning performances and cinematography. Set against the 1961 folk music scene, Oscar Isaac turns the titular character into someone you should hate, but find it hard to because his music is just so beautiful. The circular plot adds to its tragedy, and while it isn’t an enjoyable film, nor has likeable characters, it’s a brilliant work that’s hard not to fall in love with.

Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:

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