The year 2013 has been an exciting and intriguing time in cinema. While some movies early in the year got my attention as little gems waiting to be discovered, the last two months are been fantastic. Almost every movie I saw during that period was worthy to recognized as one of the best films to come out this banner year. Every year, it is my duty to put together a list that recognizes the outstanding work of filmmakers whether it is a big-budget blockbuster adventure or a small independent film that is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered by others. This year also saw the return of some Oscar-winning directors who are proving that like fine wine, they are getting better with age.
Close, but not cigar: Before we get into my top ten films of the year, I have reserved this spot for five movies that nearly made the final cut. These five films deserve special kudos for being as great and memorable as the movies featured on my top ten list.
“Blue is the Warmest Color” – Despite the controversy that surrounded this film whether it was the explicit sex scenes or the way director Abdellatif Kechhiche treated his actresses, this Cannes-winner is the most compelling and powerful coming-of-age/love story to come out this year. Based on a graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh, this three-hour pic is an intimate portrait of the life of Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), whose life changes when she meets and falls in love with a free-spirited girl (Lea Seydoux). Exarchopoulos’ performance is something to behold as we experience life through the eyes of Adele through the good and bad times.
“Gravity” – It is not quite a masterpiece like director Alfonso Cuaron’s previous film “Children of Men,” but “Gravity” is nonetheless a breathtaking and thrilling adventure into space that is very reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Sandra Bullock delivers the performance of her career as a medical engineer with nothing left to lose who struggles to survive the perils of outer space with the help of an experienced astronaut (George Clooney) after their shuttle is destroyed. It may lack dialogue and a compelling story, but the movie is an exhilarating ride that features state-of-the-art special effects that makes you feel like you are in space with the characters.
“Much Ado About Nothing” – Leave it up to writer-director Joss Whedon to shoot a movie at his Santa Monica home in 12 days with his close friends while in the middle of editing a blockbuster movie like “The Avengers.” Shot in black and white, Whedon’s interpretation of this play moves the story from 1600 Italy and setting in contemporary California while keeping the original text intact. Whedon’s take on the play is a refreshing breath of air in the romantic comedy genre that also allows him to give each cast member to have their own moment to shine in this film.
“Spring Breakers” – Harmony Korine’s fourth film is a trippy and hypnotizing movie that follows four young women who decide to travel to St. Petersburg, Florida for the time of their life. James Franco delivers a memorable and mesmerizing performance as a corn-rowed, gangster-wannabe rapper who helps the girls in their hour of need. While this movie is far from being a narrative-driven film, “Spring Breakers” is a neon-lit trip fueled by sex and violence that assaults each and every one of your senses.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” – “Star Trek Into Darkness” is an intelligent and fast-paced action movie that never lets up until the end credits. J.J. Abrams’ sequel to the 2009 film is a visually dazzling experience especially if you were able to catch the movie in IMAX 3D. The movie’s production values is top-notch especially the visual effects and cinematography. While it is certainly an action-packed film, the movie also soars as a character-driven film thanks to the chemistry of the movie’s ensemble.
The Top 10 Movies of 2013
10) “American Hustle” – Director David O. Russell uses the 1970s Abscam scandal to craft an fun and entertaining crime comedy about con artists, federal agents and politicians. Boosting an ensemble that includes Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence at the top of their game, “American Hustle” also features a killer soundtrack and impressive of vintage hair and wardrobe that perfectly encapsulate the 70s to a tee.
9) “Only God Forgives” – To say that “Only God Forgives” is a divisive movie is quite an understatement. “Drive” director Nicolas Winding Refn reunites with Ryan Gosling to create a hypnotic and mesmerizing tale of revenge set in Bangkok that features Gosling as a criminal with anger and mommy issues, his domineering mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) and a policeman (Vithaya Pansringarm) that uses a sword to enact swift justice. Whether you like it or not, this movie will sear in your mind with unforgettable images once the end credits roll.
8) Before Midnight” – In what feels like a feature-length version of Michael Apted’s “Up” series, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy has managed to create a cinematic evolution of a relationship between two people from different part of the world with the “Before” trilogy. “Before Midnight” is the culmination of a near-perfect trilogy about love and relationships. Just like the previous films, this film also features a fantastic screenplay and great performances from Hawke and Delpy as they deliver the performances of their careers.
7) “After Lucia” – After his wife dies in a car accident, Roberto (Hernan Mendoza) moves to a new town with his young daughter Alejandra (Tessa Ia), who becomes the target of malicious bullying at school. Director/writer Michel Franco’s film is a powerful, yet frustrating film to behold because as an audience, we witness the atrocities and cruel acts Alejandra is put through courtesy of her classmates. “After Lucia” makes Michael Haneke’s films look cheerful by comparison especially with its haunting closing shot set on a boat.
6) “The Act of Killing” – Joshua Oppenheimer’s brave and innovative documentary is more just a recollection of a past event featuring talking heads. He interviews death squad leaders who partook in the 1965 Indonesian genocide and are considered as local heroes today in Indonesia. It is a difficult and tough film to sit through witnessing some of these men open up to the filmmaker unashamed about the atrocities that have committed many years ago. Unlike anything seen in a documentary or film, Oppenheimer asks his interview subjects to recreate their experience thorough the prism of film and its different genres like horror and musicals.
5) “12 Years a Slave” – Director Steve McQueen’s latest film is destined to become a masterpiece that will endure over the test of time. It is the perfect film to captures the truth about an ugly era in American history. Based on true events, the film follows Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. McQueen tackles the subject of slavery head-on as he forces you to witness the pain and suffering his main characters and others go through. He also has an impressive cast at his disposal with each and every actor delivering great performances with Ejifor and Michael Fassbender the best performances of their career as Northup and a cruel plantation owner that torments him.
4) “Frances Ha” – Writer-director Noah Baumbach collaborated with his real-life girlfriend Greta Gerwig to make “Frances Ha,” a lighthearted comedy that also pays tribute to films made during the French New Wave, American-style. The movies not only showcases Gerwig’s talent as an actress, but also as a writer by helping Baumbach craft a film about post graduate men and women who aren’t quite ready to be responsible adults.
3) “Her” – In director/writer Spike Jonze’s latest film, he creates a believable and real futuristic where it is a possible for a man to fall in love with a piece of technology. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a subtle, yet incredible performance as a loner who falls in love with an artificially intelligent operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). As Jonze’s first original script, “Her” is a hodgepodge of many genres like comedy, romance and science fiction, but it is ultimately a movie that perfectly captures loneliness and the inherent desire for connection.
2) “The Wolf of Wall Street” – At age of 71, director Martin Scorsese proves that he can deliver a fun and vibrant film unlike anything seen on the silver screen this year. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a discordant and vigorous look at the life of crooked stockbroker (Leonardo DiCaprio) where sex, drugs (especially Quaaludes) and money fuel his world. Scorsese takes the nature of some of these true events, puts a comic spin to it, making this movie the most energetic and manic movie since “After Hours.” Featuring DiCaprio delivering the best performance of his career and an impressive turn from Jonah Hill as his deranged partner-in-crime, the film condemns rather than condone the actions of its protagonist despite what other people might think.
1) “Inside Llewyn Davis” – Nothing goes according to plan for a main character in a Coen Brothers movie. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is having a hard time being a broke folk singer that is inconsiderate to people who try to help him. In the face of adversity, Llewyn often struggles to overcome and persevere throughout the movie over any obstacle he is forced to confront. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is an interesting and unique film from Joel and Ethan Coen with a great soundtrack composed by T-Bone Burnett and a breakthrough performance from Isaac as the hapless protagonist.