2013 was a bit of a strange year for me. Sure, I saw many great films, but I also saw many films that were good but not great. I’ve missed quite a few due to being busy with work/interviews/moving and other excuses. Plus, it’s the whole living in a small town and having to pay to see every movie thing, which is another excuse. As I’ve promised many times before, I hope to see more in the next year.
But there were quite a few incredible films from 2013. My list will most likely be different from others, but I feel pretty confident about my picks. Last year, I chose 11, because I felt that I had to mention one other film. This year, I’m choosing 12. I just had to mention two other films, and I have a feeling that one of them will become a cult classic in the years to follow. Only time will tell.
I’m not going to bore you any more with an introduction. But I will say that the films I did see were proof that 2013 was another great year for film. So, without further ado, here are my 12 favorite films from 2013.
12. “Only God Forgives”
It was booed at Cannes, and it received a lukewarm response from critics and audience members everywhere. Some have placed it on their worst of the year list; I’m placing it on my best of the year. Sure, it’s not as fascinating as “Drive,” which was my favorite film of 2011, but Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling reteam for a beautifully shot and brutally violent homage to David Lynch, “Oedipus Rex,” and Hong Kong martial arts films. It’s a bizarre feature that a lot of people will absolutely hate, and I understand why. But, for me, once it ended, I felt this strange need to immediately watch it again, just to get a better understanding of it all.
11. “Captain Phillips”
We know the outcome of the story, but director Paul Greengrass takes us there in unexpected fashion. As one of the few directors who knows how to properly use the “shaky cam” technique, Greengrass recreates the true story of Somali pirates taking over a ship led by Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks). And instead of casting A-listers as the villains, Greengrass uses a bunch of unknowns from Somalia. It’s a smart move on his part, as we get one amazing performance from newcomer Barkhad Abdi as the pirates’ leader. Hanks delivers what may be the best performance in his career, and the last 15 minutes of the film will leave you rattled.
10. “American Hustle” (review)
David O. Russell creates a film that has the feel of an old-school, 70s crime drama. The dialogue is incredible, and the performances from all the actors are outstanding. Even though “American Hustle” does try to con the viewer a few too many times, this is still one incredibly fun movie.
9. “Trance” (review)
Danny Boyle’s latest is a mind-numbing puzzle into which the viewer loves getting lost. Aided by fantastic visuals, stylized editing, and the uncertainty of what is real and what is a dream, “Trance” – like “Only God Forgives” – will frustrate many. But I saw sheer brilliance in the whole thing. Boyle’s use of Moby’s “I’ll Be Right Here” and Emeli Sande’s “Here It Comes” are fitting, and those scenes, along with the music, will stay with you long after the movie is over.
I discovered this film because of a posthumous review from Roger Ebert. Like so many others, if it wasn’t for him, I would have not even known it existed.
2012 saw two special effects-laden retellings of the “Snow White” story, as well as one direct-to-DVD inspired suck-fest. This year, “Blancanieves” comes through and reminds you that the old fairy tale can be told well without the Hollywood touch. Hailing from Spain, this is a beautiful, black and white silent film that draws inspiration from the old fairy tale. There may be many comparisons to Best Picture winner “The Artist,” but “Blancanieves” is wonderful on its own.
While Matthew McConaughey may be getting a lot of praise for his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club,” it’s “Mud” that was the better release of 2013. The film contains great performances from McConaughey, Resse Witherspoon, and the child stars, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland. I can’t really go into too much detail about the film without revealing some surprises, but this is a tense, moving, and occasionally witty coming-of-age story. It’s a tragedy that it isn’t getting as much buzz as “Dallas Buyers Club,” which is good but not great.
6. “A Band Called Death” (review)
Many may not know of the band, Death, and their attempt to make it big. But this fascinating documentary shows their struggles and how they never got recognition until long after they disbanded. “A Band Called Death” is a funny and informative look at the proto-punk group that never was.
5. “Before Midnight” (review)
So many films try their hardest to capture the feeling of true love. But none are authentic as Richard Linklater’s “Before” series. The latest, and possibly last, in a series that started back in 1995 takes a look at Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) nearly 20 years after their first encounter. They’re not married, but they have two children. Assuming they’ve actually been with each other for a full nine years, they come to the realization that they are no longer the 20-somethings on the train. Jesse still loves Celine, but she doesn’t feel it.
With “Before Midnight,” Linklater has created an unexpected but fascinating trilogy that expertly shows the ups and downs of a relationship. This is a funny, touching, and beautifully shot film.
4. “Gravity” (review)
Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is one of the best theater experiences I’ve had in a long time, and one of the best uses of 3D ever. Filled with incredible one-take shots, a haunting score, and a magnificent performance from Sandra Bullock, this is one of the most mind-blowing science fiction films in years.
From a distance, “The Wolf of Wall Street” looks like it was directed by Oliver Stone, not Martin Scorsese. But when you see the film, it’s easy to tell that it is, indeed, a Scorsese film. The arguments between husband and wife are reminiscent to the Oscar winner’s previous work, as is showing the downfall of the main character. Sure, it’s a bit different from previous biopics (“Raging Bull,” “The Aviator,” etc.), but Scorsese has created a wild, darkly funny, self-referential masterpiece that features wonderful performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, as well as great small performances from Matthew McConaughey and Kyle Chandler. This is the best comedy of the year, even if it is a little difficult to like the main characters.
Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” was good but not great. “The Place Beyond the Pines,” however, is an ambitious and masterful film. Ryan Gosling plays a motorcycle stunt rider, who discovers that he has fathered a son. He turns to bank robbing to support the mother and child, and that leads him to having a run-in with Officer Avery (Bradley Cooper).
“The Place Beyond the Pines” plays out like a trilogy, showing how bad decisions from previous generations of family can have an effect on someone. This is a mesmerizing film with excellent performances from everyone involved.
1. “12 Years a Slave”
It’s received a lot of Oscar buzz and rightfully so. “12 Years a Slave” is a difficult but important film. Director Steve McQueen doesn’t shy away from showing the brutality of slavery. This film hits you hard, and it will take some time for you to shake the images out of your head. Even then, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.
What was your favorite film of 2013? Share in the comments section below.