By Will Ashton | firstname.lastname@example.org| @thewillofash
Well, 2013 has officially come and go. So, like everyone else, it’s time to look back and see what were the best and worst movies of 2013.
Let’s start with the good. There were a lot of great movies that came out this year, and while I have yet to see some that have been popping up on some other critics’ list, like Short Term 12, Computer Chess, Frances Ha, The Act of Killing, and The Great Beauty, just to name a few, I did get around to quite a few that are making their way around the awards season, and even a few that are not, but definitely should be.
So, with that, let’s look at what are, in my opinion, the best films of 2013.
Honorable mentions: Philomena, Blue is the Warmest Color, Prisoners, Fruitvale Station, Mud, The Kings of Summer, Stories We Tell, American Hustle, The Conjuring, This is the End
10. The Place Beyond the Pines
Director Derek Cianfrance follow-up to his excellent Blue Valentine is an audacious, lyrical and thoughtful small epic that is in equal parts bold and intimate. Although the film begins to fall apart in its third act, there is no denying that Cianfrance remains a force to be reckoned with.
9. Man of Steel
There is always got to be one film on my list that is considered controversial or obscure, —and sometimes, a bit of both—and it appears that this going to be the former. While certainly not without its problems, primarily towards its climax, Zack Snyder’s re-imagining of Superman struck all the right notes to me. Moody, definitive, grounded and awe-striking, this is the Superman movie I have always wanted to see, and while it disappointed many, it was one of the few blockbuster movies this year that completely lived up to my lofty expectations. I’ll take this bold re-imagining over the blandly average Iron Man 3 any day of the week.
8. Inside Llewyn Davis
My most anticipated film of 2013 was another mini-classic from two of my favorite writers/directors in the business, the Coen brothers, who made what could very well be their most sympathetic yet dreary movie yet. Oscar Isaac nails it, capturing to a T all the subtle nuances needed to make us laugh at and with the title character. In addition to its killer soundtrack, the film perfectly captures the beautifully cold nature of ’60s New York City. While perhaps too slight to truly earn a spot among the filmmakers’ best work, it ultimately remains another masterfully funny and engaging film for their collection.
7. Blue Jasmine
After last year’s amusing but heavily flawed To Rome With Love, writer/director Woody Allen once again strikes gold with his typically sophisticated but unexpectedly riveting Blue Jasmine. Giving not only the performance of the year but the performance of her career, Cate Blanchett absolutely transforms into her incredible turn as the title character. She commands the screen every second she is on, but supporting players Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Alec Baldwin and even Andrew Dice Clay pull in powerhouse performances in what is easily one of the filmmaker’s best movies in years.
6. The Spectacular Now
While The Perks of Being a Wallflower was, to many, the John Hughes callback they were looking for, The Spectacular Now, I believe, was able to truly capture the weight, drama and beating heart that is the purity known as our high school years. Featuring another stellar script from Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ((500) Days of Summer) and a surprisingly authentic and tender directorial effort from James Ponsoldt, this YA adaptation features star-making performances from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. If Perks would have made Hughes proud, The Spectacular Now would have made him ecstatic.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
After giving the performance of his career last year in Django Unchained, Leonardo DiCaprio was somehow able to top himself yet again with his fearless turn as real-life Wall Street scumbag Jordan Belfort. Even at three hours in length, The Wolf of Wall Street is easily one of the breeziest and most engaging films I have seen this year. Director Martin Scorsese makes his most accessible and entertaining film since The Departed and is filled with more energy and life than most filmmakers several decades under his tenure. While 2013 was the year of excess, The Wolf of Wall Street was the only film that truly got it right. Where Pain & Gain went too broad, The Bling Ring went too vapid, Spring Breakers got too lost in its artistic vision and The Great Gatsby, well, was over-the-top in almost every way possible, The Wolf of Wall Street is the only one who knows what its all about. At the end of the day, Scorsese and company know that its not about the party, it’s the hangover after that’s more important.
4. 12 Years a Slave
What is there to say about Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave that hasn’t been said already by almost every decent critic in the country? Powerful, unforgettable, bold, fearless, haunting and utterly compelling, this revisiting of one of America’s darkest chapters is undoubtedly one of the finest made films of not just this year, but this decade. While I can’t say that I will be revisiting the film anytime soon, there is no denying that I will be forgetting any performance from this film, (this may be the finest ensemble acting of the year, but that is ultimately up for debate I suppose) or its incredible cinematography, script, score, editing, you name it. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you are missing one of the most important films ever made.
3. Before Midnight
Richard Linklater’s second sequel to his endlessly delightful, sophisticated and lightfooted Before series sees Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy returning to their characters Jesse and Celine, who may now be two of the most compelling characters in cinematic history. While, easily, the most mature and darkest chapter in this series, Linklater, Hawke and Delpy have produced what, in my opinion, is one of the smartest and best scripts that I have seen not just this year, but any year. I don’t know if Linklater will be returning to these characters in another nine years, but if he doesn’t, I will endlessly thank him for giving me such rich and compelling figures. He proves once again why he deserves to be one of my favorite directors of all-time.
Spike Jonze’s fourth directorial effort is not only his most mature, smart, earnest and original film, but it is the most rich, thought-provoking, compelling and warm film of the year. Joaquin Phoenix proves, once again, why he is the Marlon Brando of our time by giving his third incredible performance in a row. He is the heart and soul of this film, but it is Jonze’s script and tender direction that is the true star of this film. Perhaps what is so incredible about this film is not so much why it works so well, but how it just doesn’t fail in any way whatsoever. This is a premise that could have gone wrong in so, so many ways, but Jonze, astoundingly, makes it all work, and creates one of the most beautiful and original films of the new decade.
Breathtaking. Brilliant. Simple. Unforgettable. Bold. Masterpiece. What words can I throw at this movie that I haven’t already? Once again proving himself as one of the most original auteurs of our time, Alfonso Cuaron creates an unforgettable cinematic experience that demands you to see it on the big screen. This film not only reminds us why movies are so powerful, it reminds us why we go to the movies at all. It transforms us to a world we may never go to, but would never know, for it all feels so real in the moment. Like a dream, which is ultimately what the best movies are. It reminds us why we wish to be transported to these worlds, even if this one is not as far as we like to think.
There you have it. I hope you liked it. With that, it is time to start working on the other list.