This is probably the best year for cinema in the three years I’ve been doing best and worst lists. Of the 131 films I watched, most were in the middle of the pack, but there were also an incredible 18 that I rated above 4 stars (not including 4-star films) and 12 that I rated 4.5 stars, making it very difficult for compile this list. Fortunately, there was only one 5-star film, so the top spot was never in doubt.
Here we go. 2013. 131 movies. The 10 best. In my humble opinion.
Missing the cut: Films that came very close and might have made my best-of list in most other years — World War Z (best zombie movie in years), The Conjuring (best horror of the year), Iron Man 3 (best action blockbuster of the year), Philomena (one of the most heartfelt true story of the year), Captain Phillips (one of the most thrilling true story of the year), Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen’s best in years), Blackfish (superb documentary), Nebraska (most surprisingly awesome movie of the year)
As per usual, click on the film titles for my full reviews.
A superb “true story” script, razor sharp dialogue, skillful direction from a director in his prime (David O’Russell), sensational performances from a cast full of my favourite actors (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner) and just a whole lot of fun. For many critics, this was the best all-round film of the year. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but American Hustle was an absolute delight, with an energy and vibrancy few other films of any year can match. The other films ranked ahead of it on this list affected me a little more emotionally or otherwise, but I can’t deny that this was a high a top-notch production deserving of all its accolades.
This was a really unconventional film that put me off guard with its unusual structure, but I ended up loving every minute of it. I predicted in my original review that it would make my top 10 list and it has made the cut despite there being many other more highly touted films. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper are both electric in this ambitious epic drama that drew me in and refused to let go. I was blown away by its raw emotional power and its shocking ending. Definitely one of the most memorable films of the year.
This Ben Stiller project was released to mixed reviews, though in my opinion it’s one of the most magical film experiences of the year. If you’re a dreamer with ambitions of grandeur then this is a film that will appeal to your sensibilities. It might be overambitious and overlong, but there’s something about Walter Mitty’s story that shot straight to my heart. And besides, it’s genuinely funny, with some moments of comedic brilliance sprinkled throughout. I was caught up in his magical world and didn’t want to leave.
French film (ie subtitles), comic adaptation, lesbian theme, controversial sex scenes. I was sceptical when I watched Blue is the Warmest Color, believing I would come away underwhelmed despite the positive reviews. I ended up feeling like I had my heart torn out of me. Fueled by two of the most amazing performances of the year from Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, this is possibly the best romance I’ve seen on depicted on the big screen. It’s raw, it’s realistic, it’s heartbreaking. This is a coming-of-age story anyone — irrespective of your sexuality — can relate to and fall in love with.
I loved Before Sunrise. I loved Before Sunset even more. And so I probably had unrealistic expectations for Before Midnight, the finale in Richard Linklater’s magnificent trilogy. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, wrinkles and all, deliver the least romantic but most grounded experience in the series, with moments of hilarity interspersed with gut-wrenching drama. It’s an absolute delight that will make you question the essence of true love and the perfect ending to one of the greatest film trilogies of all time. You don’t need to have watched the other two to enjoy it, but if you have then you can’t afford to miss out on this gem.
The year’s most difficult film to watch, but also undeniably one of its best. Powered by what should have been an Oscar-winning performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor (damn you, Matthew McConaughey) and the sublime, understated direction of Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave is confronting, violent and emotionally draining — but it’s also a movie experience that leaves its impression on you like no other. Combining beautiful images and the ugliest side of humanity, this is a rare motion picture experience that beats you down and lifts you up all at once.
Spike Jonze’s sci-fi romance about the relationship between a man and a computer might be the smartest movie of the year. Not many films can be described as clever, eerie, romantic, heartbreaking and poignant, but that’s exactly how I would label Her, a modern day masterpiece where all the pieces come together in a neat little package. From Joaquin Phoenix’s pained protagonist and Scarlett Johansson’s perfect voice performance as the operating system of his dreams, to the realistic future vision of our electronics obsessed society, Her just works on so many levels. The best type of sci-fi is that which tells a compelling story of its own while also providing reflections on the life we live today. Her does that in such a moving way that it’ll be blasphemous for me to leave it off this list.
This will probably be the biggest surprise of the entire list. While most would agree that Rush is a superior drama, I’m not sure many would call it the third best film of the year. But hey, I’m probably as stunned as you are. For someone who knows nothing of and cares little for car racing, Formula One and all that crap, I never expected Rush to provide one of the most engaging, thrilling film experiences of the year. Featuring two outrageously effective performances by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, the usual brilliance of director Ron Howard, and one heck of a riveting true story that even the best fiction writers would have trouble coming up with, Rush completely annihilated all expectations I had, and for that it nabs a spot in my top 3.
This “true” story polarized viewers with the excess it portrayed on the big screen, but for me, The Wolf of Wall Street is simply the funniest movie of the year. I love black comedies like Fargo, Pulp Fiction and American Psycho, all of which are some of my favourite movies of all time, and now this Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration will join them on my non-existent mantelpiece dedicated to dark humour. Say what you want about the inappropriate and immoral gags, sex, drugs and the record number of “F-bombs”, but if you ask me there’s no harder task than finding a film from last year that had sharper dialogue, funnier characters and more classic scenes of comedy gold. It’s a carefully planned and executed mess, one that’s too long at 3 hours but feels like it’s not long enough. While it might be far from perfect, there’s only one film I liked more than The Wolf of Wall Street last year.
I’ve realized that I don’t give out five stars very often anymore, having doled out the perfect score exactly twice in the last two years out of around 240 movies. And so it follows that it takes a special film to achieve that honour. It takes a film that doesn’t just tick the right technical boxes on paper and/or appeal to my mind and my heart, but also has that extra something to elevate it to a different level. In my view, there’s only one film in 2013 that does that, and that film is Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi masterpiece, Gravity. This is a unique motion picture that creates new ground in terms of special effects and ventures into unchartered territory with its risky storytelling. Kudos to Cuaron for sticking to his guns in the face of pressure from studios to change his approach because everything paid off in the end, resulting in a very different, explosive, memorable and thought-provoking experience that’s unparalleled in 2013.