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Films of 2013: The B-List (#60-36)

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At long last - a group of movies that can all be considered 'good.'

And this B-list includes an eclectic group of films, including documentaries, animation, feel-good indie flicks and major studio tent pole movies. And it includes films from Ireland, Japan, Norway, Australia, French Canada, France and the UK.

#60: 'From Up on Poppy Hill'
#60: 'From Up on Poppy Hill' Gkids

#60: 'From Up on Poppy Hill'

'From Up on Poppy Hill' (watch the trailer)

This sweet animated drama gets a lot of mileage from its Studio Ghibli pedigree: this is a beautiful looking, classic animated world that is richly textured and filled with defined characters.

The central theme - of a 1960s Japan quickly modernizing but still reeling from the devastation of World War II and Korean War - is an instantly gripping thematic core. While this through line provides the main narrative conflict, this story gets bogged down by an odd/possibly inappropriate relationship, which hijacks most of 'Poppy Hill.'

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

#59: 'Unfinished Song'
#59: 'Unfinished Song' The Weinstein Company

#59: 'Unfinished Song'

'Unfinished Song' (watch the trailer)

This is one of the most unabashedly sweet films of the year - but it made this list because 'Unfinished Song' never forgets this story is about the transformation of a grumpy old man.

'Unfinished' is a great character study of a stodgy old man who remains a dimensional character - he's not simply a cartoony grumpy old man. He shows moments which reveal why his loving wife adores him so -- which also makes his character arch less extreme.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

#58: '56 Up'
#58: '56 Up' First Run Features

#58: '56 Up'

'56 Up' (watch the trailer)

This ambitious, five-decade long project is simply impressive. This is exercise in great editing - this films deftly cuts interviews with 56-year-old Britons with footage from interviews with them at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42 and 49 years old.

Maybe the 'Up' series unjustly reduces 56 years of life in a 12-15 minutes - but it's still fascinating to watch the complete arch of these people's lives in a manner of minutes. Their hopes, dreams and perspectives are intercut with their divorces, successes and family life.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant.

#57: 'In a World...'
#57: 'In a World...' Roadside Attractions

#57: 'In a World...'

'In a World...' (watch the trailer)

Writer/director/star Lake Bell is a force to watch in the years to come. Her directorial debut is sharply written and well crafted story. 'In A World' is a charming indie comedy with a defined feminist point of view. This story is not simply about one character's struggle to be taken seriously - this is a critique of all male-dominated industries.

But 'In A World' is also a bit unfocused, especially with its unnecessary b-plot involving her sister's marriage. And the story ramps up to an unfulfilling third act, which involves a resolution that prioritizes story values at the cost of story tension.

DVD/Blu-ray release date: January 21

#56: 'Side Effects'
#56: 'Side Effects' Open Road Films

#56: 'Side Effects'

'Side Effects' (watch the trailer)

This Steven Soderbergh psychological thriller is never quite what it seems - which only ratchets up its mystery.

'Side Effects' is a moving target - but one that's masterfully controlled by Soderbergh. Characters are pushed into difficult situations - and just as the mystery appears solved, a new angle is introduced. And like all good films, 'Side Effects' allows the characters to drive this narrative - it doesn't resort to cheap reveals and lets the characters' motivations advance each twist and turn.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant.

#55: 'Much Ado About Nothing'
#55: 'Much Ado About Nothing' Roadside Attractions

#55: 'Much Ado About Nothing'

'Much Ado About Nothing' (watch the trailer)

Joss Whedon has proved is a master of handling massive movie casts and he has a sharp command of witty dialogue. So it only feels natural that Whedon would take on one of Shakespeare's classic romantic comedies.

This modernized 'Much Ado' hums with an energy and light-hearted fun. This perfectly cast take on a classic is entertaining from end to end.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

#54: 'The Spectacular Now'
#54: 'The Spectacular Now' A24

#54: 'The Spectacular Now'

'The Spectacular Now' (watch the trailer)

This coming-of-age drama is the most natural and genuine look at high school life of the year. This is an honest and human tale that allows its main characters to remained flawed yet impossible to root against.

'The Spectacular Now' is what a modern John Hughes film would look like - if he refrained from his schlocky dialogue or terribly dated soundtracks.

DVD/Blu-ray release date: January 14

#53: 'Starbuck'
#53: 'Starbuck' Entertainment One

#53: 'Starbuck'

'Starbuck' (watch the trailer)

This is a solid 'feel good' movie - but one that also drops its main character in a terrible dilemma. 'Starbuck' manages to be a touching and sweet comedic drama without feeling manipulative or condescending to cheap devices.

But most importantly, 'Starbuck' quickly defines just how much of a loser its main character is, then challenges him at every turn as he is forced to face the fact that he has fathered hundreds of children. This interesting premise remains character focused.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant.

#52: 'Star Trek Into Darkness'
#52: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Paramount Pictures

#52: 'Star Trek Into Darkness'

'Star Trek Into Darkness' (watch the trailer)

Although this 'Trek' sequel does not quite live up to its incredible predecessor, 'Into Darkness' works because it smartly focuses on its three main characters: Kirk, Spock and their new enemy John Harrison.

While its story may be a bit too convoluted for its own good, 'Into Darkness' is an exciting and fun ride of a movie. 

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

#51: 'Kon-Tiki'
#51: 'Kon-Tiki' The Weinstein Company

#51: 'Kon-Tiki'

'Kon-Tiki' (watch the trailer)

This true life movie is a true high seas adventure.

'Kon-Tiki' is a grand and epic take on this ambitious 1947 raft expedition across the Pacific Ocean. Many elements of this movie - from its determined protagonist to rousing music cues - are right out of classic movies about incredible journeys.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant.

#50: 'Warm Bodies'
#50: 'Warm Bodies' Summit Entertainment

#50: 'Warm Bodies'

'Warm Bodies' (watch the trailer)

This post-apocalyptic zombie flick is - if nothing else - cute.

A refreshingly hope-filled tone is a welcome change from the dreary zombie genre. Rob Corddry and John Malkovich must be recognized for adding more layered performances that add just enough dark humanity to their respective roles, which prevents 'Bodies' from becoming too saccharine.

These 'cute' dynamic forces the characters beyond simple one-dimensional 'zombies! run for your lives' personalities.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

#49: 'Don Jon'
#49: 'Don Jon' Relativity Media

#49: 'Don Jon'

'Don Jon' (watch the trailer)

The directorial debut of JGL is a confident film that has a well-defined voice, tone.

Gordon-Levitt proves he has a honed comedic sense. Much of the comedy in 'Don Jon' doesn't follow the tired 'setup/punchline' formula - this film gets solid laughs from precise comedic timing, great dialogue and great editing.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

#48: 'Populaire'
#48: 'Populaire' The Weinstein Company

#48: 'Populaire'

'Populaire' (watch the trailer)

This foreign romantic-comedy about a small-town French girl competing for the title of World Fastest Typist is the best sports film of 2013.

With its vibrant, '50s sensibility/aesthetic, 'Populaire' is a beautiful and sweet throwback to the Rock Hudson/Doris Day classics.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant.

#47: 'About Time'
#47: 'About Time' Universal Pictures

#47: 'About Time'

'About Time' (watch the trailer)

This sentimental and light romantic-drama effectively charms and pulls at the heart strings.

While the trailer sells this film as a love story, 'About Time' is more about the love between a father and son than the protagonist's relationship with Rachel McAdams.

And in keeping the story focused on the main character's experiences/misadventures with time travel, 'About Time' is able to tell a touching little story about living life each day.

DVD/Blu-ray release date: February 4

#46: 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
#46: 'The Wolf of Wall Street' Paramount Pictures

#46: 'The Wolf of Wall Street'

'The Wolf of Wall Street' (watch the trailer)

This absurd, dark cautionary tale of excess is easily Martin Scorsese's funniest film. And like all great comedy, the funniest aspects emerge from the characters or the situation - and there's plenty of opportunity in this over-the-top story of Wall Street hedonism.

All that said, 'WoWS' makes a bad habit of raising stakes throughout its long 3-hour running time -- then forgetting all about the stakes. Whole scenes end with DiCaprio's character in a bad place - but then defuses his choices by forgetting to slap his character with any consequences. This happens so frequently as to knock 'WoWS' several dozen spots down this list.

Currently in theaters

#45: 'World War Z'
#45: 'World War Z' Paramount Pictures

#45: 'World War Z'

'World War Z' (watch the trailer)

Yes, 'World War Z' feels more like a cobbled together string of action sequences than one coherent narrative. And its ill-defined main character just sort of runs all over the globe, always arriving at just the right moment.

But 'Z' is one fun ride of zombie-attack scenes. It ranges from characters cautiously navigating dark corridors to a massive zombie takeover of entire cities. For all its faults, 'Z' is still a thoroughly fun popcorn movie.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

#44: 'The World's End'
#44: 'The World's End' Focus Features

#44: 'The World's End'

'The World's End' (watch the trailer)

Edgar Wright's latest is part sad friend reunion story and part alien invasion flick.

What's most impressive about 'World's End' is its ability to shift gears from telling a somewhat broad, but fun, sci-fi narrative and still manage to a sincere story about lives lived in regret.

'The World's End' perfectly balances insane alien brawl sequences with its honest moments between childhood friends.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

#43: 'The Sapphires'
#43: 'The Sapphires' The Weinstein Company

#43: 'The Sapphires'

'The Sapphires' (watch the trailer)

On its surface 'The Sapphires' is about a quartet's dream of stardom set against '60s racism - but 'The Sapphires' works because it also weaves complex character dynamic into its story.

Although 'The Sapphires' is predictable, borders on formulaic and takes a melodramatic turn in its third act -- but this film is executed so well that it overcomes its shortcomings.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant.

#42: 'The East'
#42: 'The East' Fox Searchlight Pictures

#42: 'The East'

'The East' (watch the trailer)

This film's star/co-writer Brit Marling is a fast becoming a master of creating intriguing genre films, but always keeping the focus on characters. She is a storyteller who lets her characters define and advance the narrative.

'The East' is a taunt thriller that pits its protagonists against industrialists and eco-terrorists. But brilliance of 'The East' is that it becomes a story of identity and internal conflict - while the industrialists/terrorists frame the narrative, this inner turmoil is the core of this story.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

#41: 'Shadow Dancer'
#41: 'Shadow Dancer' Paramount Pictures

#41: 'Shadow Dancer'

'Shadow Dancer' (watch the trailer)

Sometimes a single actor's performance can elevate a film - like Daniel-Day Lewis in 'Lincoln' or Denzel Washington in 'Flight.'

Andrea Riseborough is amazing as a woman pulled in several directions: between her family, the IRA and British intelligence. In a tense, somewhat quiet, film, its Riseborough incredible performance that speaks loudest.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant.

#40: 'Spring Breakers'
#40: 'Spring Breakers' A24

#40: 'Spring Breakers'

'Spring Breakers' (watch the trailer)

Final evidence that James Franco is one of the most 'out there' actors working today: his 'gangsta' gun-toting criminal rapper who calls himself 'Alien.'

While 'Spring Breakers' offers some commentary on a desensitized youth, the real star of this film is Franco's outlandish character. He commands every scene and - in creating such a vivid character who totally embraces drugs/guns lifestyle - he also embodies the dark, logical extension to a life lived in crime.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

#39: 'Saving Mr. Banks'
#39: 'Saving Mr. Banks' Walt Disney Studios

#39: 'Saving Mr. Banks'

'Saving Mr. Banks' (watch the trailer)

This behind-the-scenes of 'Mary Poppins' drama is a fine movie - but it so earnestly tries to be Oscar bait that it forgets to tell a compelling, focused story.

Tom Hanks is a good Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is great as the 'Poppins' author who detests the idea of Disney adapting her beloved character. Their 'unstoppable force-immovable object' dynamic is the strongest aspect of 'Mr. Banks.'

That said, just about every bit of goodwill comes from its many references to 'Mary Poppins' - the only live-action Disney film to earn a Best Picture nomination. The takeaway after watching 'Mr. Banks' is not leaving in awe of how good this drama was, but in remembering how incredible 'Mary Poppins' remains.

Currently in theaters

#38: 'Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie'
#38: 'Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie' Magnolia Pictures

#38: 'Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie'

'Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie' (watch the NSFW Red Band trailer)

Before Hannity, Beck and O'Reilly - there was Morton Downey Jr.

This great documentary incredibly reminds audiences of his role in television history - his role in creating a new brand of talk show host and his rightful place in television infamy.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant.

#37: 'Wild in the Streets'
#37: 'Wild in the Streets' Gravitas Ventures

#37: 'Wild in the Streets'

'Wild in the Streets' (watch the trailer)

Some of the best films have the simplest premises - and 'Wild in the Streets' is a documentary about a three-day soccer-like game that overtakes a small UK town.

'Wild in the Streets' wonderfully explains the history of this ancient football game - but also how it continues to sharply divide a small town to this day. This is as much as story about culture and heritage as it is about sports history.

Now available on DVD/Blu-ray.

#36: 'Catching Fire'
#36: 'Catching Fire' Lionsgate

#36: 'Catching Fire'

'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' (watch the trailer)

In any other year, this incredible sequel would make the A-list ... but just falls short.

'Catching Fire' stands as the best young adult film adaptation in recent memory. It not only builds upon everything set up in 'The Hunger Games,' but it also wonderfully fleshes out this embattled civilization teetering on the edge of all-out revolution.

Currently in theaters

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