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The Austin Indie Film Examiner's best of 2013

With many of the best films of 2013 either still playing in Austin theaters, or expanding to the Austin area this Friday, it seems like a good time to finally release my Best of 2013 recap!

Joaquin Phoenix stars in the best film of 2013 "Her."
Warner Bros., Spike Jonze

With the exception of only one film in my top 10 for the year, all of the films are independent and that fact alone illustrates just how great the year was for indie film and film in general.

What follows is both a recap of the year's best films but also a acknowledgement of the year's best film components like the best acting performances, musical scores, etc.

So, let's get this show on the road. Here are the 10 best distributed films of the year with links to my reviews for each film if applicable.


  1. Her - A modern love story as flawless as can be, Spike Jonze's masterpiece makes you question what constitutes real love and where relationships may evolve to in the very near future.
  2. Spring Breakers - While the film did not finish at the top of my best of SXSW 2013 list initially, this condemnation of young adult spring break hedonism stayed with me for the whole year and never really left my heart or mind. While not for everyone, Harmony Korine's assault on the senses is one of the year's most controversial yet beautiful films and left me in tears at its sheer magnificence.
  3. Blue is the Warmest Color - Winner of the Cannes Film Festival's top prize, Abdellatif's Kechiche's three hour epic about young love and personal transformation powerfully portrays the difficulties of a young adult discovering one's self and sexuality.
  4. 12 Years a Slave - Another filmmaking gem from Steve McQueen, this soon to be classic tale of a free man turned slave features one of the best acting ensembles of the year in addition to the masterful direction of McQueen.
  5. Frozen - The only non-independent film on this list, Disney's "Frozen" establishes itself as perhaps the best non-Pixar Disney film since The Lion King thanks to its lovable characters and its destined-for-Broadway songs.
  6. Short Term 12 - Winner of SXSW's grand jury prize and my most anticipated film of the festival, "Short Term 12" did not disappoint. Featuring some of the purest and most heart-wrenching acting performances of the year. Destin Cretton's little indie melted the hearts of many and helped paved the way for the little indies that just need that one big break to make a splash.
  7. The Spectacular Now - A wonderful tale about the issues and difficulties of adolescence, James Ponsoldt's film starring the incredible Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller feels as authentic as any high school centered drama could ever be.
  8. Inside Llewyn Davis - Written like a folk song, this latest Coen Brothers effort features some of the best movie music in years and an incredible multi-dimensional performance from lead actor Oscar Isaac.
  9. To the Wonder - A gorgeous and haunting painting of a relationship through its ups and downs, Terrence Malick shows once again why he is one of the most awe-inspiring directors today.
  10. Escape from Tomorrow - Guerrilla style filmmaking all shot inside of Disney theme parks you say? Heck yes I say. "Escape from Tomorrow" is a surreal, trippy and all together ridiculously fun satire of the power of Disney and their theme parks. Shot all in black & white with handheld cameras, this Randy Moore directed film is sure to stir up both childhood nightmares and Disney nostalgia in all of us.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • American Hustle
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Book Thief
  • Gravity


  1. The Square - The documentary audience award winner at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), "The Square" is an engrossing insight into the crisis surrounding the collapse of the Egyptian government and the attempts to restore a working government, "The Square" establishes itself as perhaps the most important documentary of the year due to its constantly evolving story and the level of immediacy surrounding the documentary's subject matter.
  2. The Act of Killing - Perhaps the most eye opening documentary of the year, Joshua Oppenheimer's film allows former Indonesian death squad members to reenact their murders with startling and surprising results.
  3. The Unknown Known - Legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris returns with this startling and unsettling one-on-one interview with former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. What ensues is a fascinating and frustrating look into the complicated mind of one of the world's most infamous figures of this generation.


Note: These films deserve special attention and appreciation before their (hopeful) public release in the coming months. These films and their components will not be included in the following categories however due to their possible future eligibility in the coming year. Links are included for those films for which I have written reviews. Some have not been formally reviewed due to the desire to save their reviews until they are publicly released or screened for Austin audiences.

  1. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her - An over three hour long, two-part epic that was shown as a "work in progress" at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, this first feature written and directed by Ned Benson simply wows. Two films telling the same story from different perspectives, this risky project pays off thanks to Benson's brilliant skill and the marvelous performances from leads Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.
  2. The Congress - Director Ari Folman's follow-up to the award winning "Waltz with Bashir" illustrates a future of multiple personalities, further digital innovation and self-discovery in a rich and complex story. A film sure to capture the hearts of many who experience its magic.
  3. Our Heroes Died Tonight - A modern noir film that plays like the classics of the past, David Perrault's film about post-World War II underground wrestlers features some of the most convincing performances and gorgeous cinematography of any film this year.
  4. Sunshine on Leith - The ultimate feel-good film of TIFF 2013, this musical mixes dazzling pictures of Scotland with the addicting and catchy music of The Proclaimers to produce one of the finest movie musicals in years. In fact, it may be impossible to not cry all through the film's triumphant finale.
  5. OXV: The Manual - Winner of the Austin Film Festival "Dark Matters" grand jury prize and my favorite film of the 2013 Festival, this sci-fi/alternate reality look into human interaction and manipulation is full of charm and original thought and hopefully will see distribution in the U.S. in some form or another.
  6. The Strange Little Cat - Another TIFF standout and possibly the least mainstream of the films listed here, Ramon Zurcher's film chronicles a family's preparation for a family dinner with odd yet effective camera choices and a undeniable sense of authenticity.
  7. How to Follow Strangers - An Austin Film Festival selection, this heartfelt dramedy comes from the words and eyes of Chioke Nassor. Starring the wonderful Ilana Glazer and Chris Roberti, this story about two strangers battling city life together and apart in the New York City metro area stuns with its emotional power and importance.

Now, back to the distributed (and largely Academy Award eligible) films for the year and the components that made them so great. Enjoy!


  • Spike Jonze, Her
  • Harmony Korine, Spring Breakers
  • Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
  • Abdellatif Kechiche, Blue is the Warmest Color
  • Destin Cretton, Short Term 12
  • Honorable Mention: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity


  • Scott Haze, Child of God (not distributed but my favorite performance of the year so felt I had to include him)
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
  • Joaquin Phoenix, Her
  • Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now
  • Honorable Mentions: Christian Bale, American Hustle & Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street


  • Brie Larson, Short Term 12
  • Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color
  • Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now
  • Sandra Bullock, Gravity
  • Sophie Nelisse, The Book Thief


  • James Franco, Spring Breakers
  • Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
  • Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12
  • John Goodman, Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Sam Claflin, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  • Honorable Mentions: Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street & George Clooney, Gravity


  • Scarlett Johansson, Her
  • Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
  • Amy Adams, Her
  • Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
  • Kaitlyn Dever, Short Term 12
  • Honorable Mention: Lea Seydoux, Blue is the Warmest Color


  • Spike Jonze, Her
  • Destin Cretton, Short Term 12
  • John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
  • Joel & Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Harmony Korine, Spring Breakers


  • Benoit Debie, Spring Breakers
  • Hoyte Van Hoytema, Her
  • Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
  • Sean Bobbit, 12 Years a Slave
  • Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis


  • Arcade Fire, Her
  • Christophe Beck, Frozen
  • Cliff Martinez & Skrillex, Spring Breakers
  • Abel Korzeniowski, Escape from Tomorrow
  • John Williams, The Book Thief

That's it. That's my best for 2013. Many of these great films are still in theaters in the Austin area, are already at your local Redbox or on Netflix for your home viewing pleasure.

Hope you enjoyed the recap of the year's best and I look forward to sharing the 2014 film year with you in the coming months. In the words of the late film critic legend Roger Ebert..."I'll see you at the movies!"

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