The Top Ten Films of 2013
By Kyle Osborne
I’ve often said that the opinions of critics are no more important than those of anyone else. Every single one of us brings his own set of baggage to any given film. We bring our past experiences, our affection for particular actors—there’s just a whole bowl of abstract factors that go into every movie-going experience.
One thing we critics do have is the perspective that comes with seeing hundreds of movies each year. Some we saw at 10am on a rainy Tuesday morning. Others we saw on special DVD screeners that flash titles across the screen—dire warnings like, “Do Not Duplicate Under Penalty Of Law,”- things that can sometimes kill the mood (though you learn to tune out that stuff most of the time.) What I’m saying is this: the movies that usually make my list are films I haven’t seen before. They stand out from the rest of the class by their uniqueness. They often invite repeat viewings, either because they’re so good you want to have the experience again, or you want to watch for things you didn’t catch the first time. In my case, I like to take a friend to see a movie that I have loved, to enjoy their experience of a great film.
I have seen every film on my list at least twice, and I agonized over this list more than any year in recent memory—there were enough great movies to have a Top 15 or Top 20. Alas, I’ve pared it down to ten. Here they are:
Quiet and gentle, this road film/character study combo finds veteran actor Bruce Dern at his finest, playing a man who thinks he’s won a million dollars from one of those publishers’ sweepstakes. His long-suffering son, played with surprising poignancy by former SNL cast member Will Forte decides to drive his Pop from Billings to Lincoln, Nebraska, home of the sweepstakes headquarters. The folks they meet along the way, the people who populate this movie, are charming, funny, and authentic. I’ll go easy on the hyperbole and simply say, “it’s very nice.”
9. Blue Is The Warmest Color
This three hour French film made headlines because of its lengthy lesbian love scenes, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a great coming of age story, told economically, that spans a decade in the life of Adèle, played exquisitely by Adèle Exarchopoulos . I don’t care what your nationality is. I don’t care what your age or occupation or sexual orientation is—if you’ve ever been in love, had your heart broken, or dealt with the crap that life can slam you with while you’re trying to grow up, you can’t help but be moved by the story.
Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) crafted a heist film with a jaw-dropping twist ending that I couldn’t wait to see a second time. You can see Boyle’s love of film making in every frame, and if he’s having fun, I’m having fun. Rosario Dawson is impossible to ignore. She, and this film, deserved a lot more credit than they got this year. So, here it is now.
7. The Way, Way Back
The best films put you in the shoes of the characters. It’s all about empathy. And the mother and son at the center of this summertime, coming of age story, have our whole hearts. The story of a disconnected teen who has to spend his vacation with his Mom and her loathsome boyfriend, touches some universal themes with which anyone can identify. The shocker is that the always affable Steve Carrell plays the creepy boyfriend so well, you’ll end up hating him. But you’ll love the movie.
6. The Wolf of Wall Street
Decadent and depraved? Certainly the characters are in Martin Scorsese’s three hour epic, based on a true story. But detractors have charged that the legendary filmmaker is condoning the actions of his main character. They’re full of crap. Oh, sure—the life of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio’s career best performance) looks glamorous, and for a few years, it is. The hard-partying swindler made millions of dollars off of the backs of unsuspecting investors, and he spent every penny on drugs, hookers, cars and a yacht bigger than most houses. But if it just ended there, we wouldn’t have a story arc. It’s the rise and fall of our leading man that makes this a worthwhile tale. Hate the actions of the character, love the movie. Why can’t some people make that distinction?
Another film that was even better upon repeat viewings. This stylish, creepy thriller takes its time and enjoys several passages of silence that are shattered by nasty acts of violence. If the actors weren’t slyly winking at the audience the whole way, you might have called it “campy.” But camp doesn’t know it’s camp, while Stocker knows exactly what it is. Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode are in one hell of a triangle in this Hitchcockian nail-biter, and they are all amazing in a film that was probably too “Art House” for its own good at the box office. Fortunately, this one looks great on the small screen, too.
Spike Jonez wrote and directed this futuristic love story between a lonely man and the voice of his operating system (a mesmerizing voice only performance by Scarlett Johansson). Joaquin Phoenix infuses the character with a perfect blend of infatuation, melancholia, befuddlement and warmth. It’s a great performance from an actor who is undeniably one of the country’s very best. And it’s touching without being treacly.
3. 12 Years A Slave
I was sure, for a good chunk of this year, that this film would make my top spot. And I really don’t have any complaints to offer. It is beautifully acted and crafted. It is sad and often painful to watch, yet compelling in every way. The cast are uniformly excellent, and if this movie wins the Academy Award for Best Picture, I will be neither shocked nor disappointed. It should be seen by as wide an audience as possible for many years to come.
2. American Hustle
But, ultimately, I decided to really zero in on how certain movies made me feel as I watched them. Does that sound New Age-y? Here’s the thing—after slogging through hundreds of films in a given year, a few made me feel wonderful. It has nothing to do with the subject and everything to do with the storytelling and film making. I feel a rush, a feeling in my stomach and a kind of joy that I am watching a great movie! And that’s how I felt a year ago watching David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” and again this year watching his 1970’s set film, loosely based on the Abscam scandal. Initially, I was afraid that the movie would be so focused on the terrible hair do’s and polyester wardrobe that I’d be distracted. Didn’t happen. Christian Bale’s hilarious performance made me forget who I was watching. And his character is both a skilled con-artist and a decent human being who wants to do right by the people he loves. Imagine pulling that off. Brad Cooper and Amy Adams are also doing work at a level way into the stratosphere. Is this film a comedy? Well, I certainly laughed a lot—but the film also coaxes you into investing in these characters, and that’s something usually reserved for Big Important Dramas. Everything about this film is enjoyable. How can you not feel great about that?
Every time I thought of putting another film in this spot (and let’s face it-these are all excellent apples and oranges, how do you compare?) I always came back to Alfonso Cuaron’s groundbreaking film for the same reason: he actually made me think of the cliché “Movie Magic” in literal, tangible ways. I saw it twice in IMAX 3-D (and maybe it sucks on a 2-D TV screen, but hold on) and both times I felt completely enveloped by the movie. I felt as if I were stranded in inner space with Sandy Bullock, wondering how in the hell I was going to get back to Earth alive. The realism of the visual effects, not to mention Bullock’s sympathetic turn, made me do ALL of the things that have been said so often they’ve lost their meaning. Yes, I actually did sit on the edge of my seat, and my knuckles were white, and it was breath-taking. I ran Gravity through the true test: seeing it a second time and knowing what the ending would be, and still I felt all of those emotions. I am not a huge proponent of 3-D for its own sake, but I love going to the movies for all of the experiences that can’t be replicated at home, sitting in my underwear, eating a microwave burrito. Gravity, more than any other 2013 film, was an actual “Movie Going Experience.” And for the childlike wonder it inspired in me, and the range of feelings it drew, it is my #1 film of 2013.
Still To Come: Honorable Mentions, Worst Of, and more. Stay tuned.