The 10 Best Movies of 2013 – A Look Back at an Interesting Year in Films

By Ian Forbes

Okay, so I’m late to this Top 10 party. Looking at the landscape of 2013, can you blame me? There were some good films but when I look at the films I’ll be referencing five or 10 years from now, the list shrinks to perhaps four or five films … and not all of those are going to be remembered because of how good they were. But hey, I like lists and so I’ve finally gotten around to putting this together. Just keep one last thing in mind: Number 1 and Number 2 are fairly set but without too much concern, I’d shuffle #’s 3-5, flip/flop 6 and 7, and numbers 8, 9 & 10 are in no means in order of my personal enjoyment. Please be more impressive 2014! You’re off to a great start with Shia LaBeouf saying he’s quit public life. Let’s all hope that between all the things he can’t do, he can keep his word.

The World's End Top 10 List#10 – The World’s End

Director/co-writer Edgar Wright, along with his cohorts Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, close out the unofficial Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) with a tale of estranged best friends coming back together for an epic pub crawl that’s certain to change their lives. Like all of his other work, Wright manages to blend comedy, drama, and action together seamlessly. Pegg and Frost are especially impressive, as it’s some of their best acting as well. This is easily the best-made comedy of 2013 and it continues to be a crime that Wright’s work doesn’t get the notice it deserves. Maybe his turn in the director’s chair for the upcoming 2015 Marvel movie, Ant-Man, will change all that. Based on his past work, it should be the best of the Marvel movies. No pressure, Edgar.

The Spectacular Now Top 10 List#9 – The Spectacular Now

Like The World’s End, another film that didn’t gain the traction it should have was The Spectacular Now. I have my own reservations and complaints about the last act, some of which are exacerbated by now having read the book and preferring its resolution. However, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley deliver some of the most sincere performances of the year; encapsulating the all too rare honest portrait of teenage life. If you want to see coming of age movies that showcase real, flawed characters and don’t try to sugarcoat or glamorize the experience, try a double bill of this and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. You’re welcome.

Gravity Top 10 List#8 – Gravity

While it seems many people have shot this much higher on their lists, I struggled with where to place Sandra Bullock’s Wild Ride. From a technical standpoint, writer/director Alfonso Cuarón has crafted something truly special. Gravity was the #1 movie theater experience of 2013 and truly can only be appreciated on a huge screen and in 3D. However, while the events that transpire are tense and it makes for a great thrill ride, the basic message of the strength of the human will to survive doesn’t leave a lasting impression for me. Bullock and Clooney do a good job but my takeaways from the movie all have to do with the visuals … oh, and that score is a manipulative drone … just because it’s loud and played over and over again doesn’t mean it’s good. E.g. Anything by whatever teenybopper is the fad of the moment.

Gemma Arterton Top 10 List#7 – Byzantium

As a longtime admirer of director Neil Jordan, this was one of the few films I was actually anxious to see in 2013. The story of a vampire and her daughter, on the run from people looking to end their immortal lives, I found myself mesmerized by the performances of Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton. To say that of Ronan comes as no surprise, as I think she’s possibly the best actress of her generation. But to say that of Arterton, whose previous work left much to be desired from an acting perspective, is the great surprise of the movie. Both women are tremendous and give this slightly off-kilter take on vampirism the kind of depth that kept me engaged from start to finish.

Before Midnight Top 10#6 – Before Midnight

Another trilogy that came to a close in 2013, Before Midnight ends (?) the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). It all began in 1995 with Before Sunrise, continuing on with 2004’s Before Sunset. That these two co-writers/actors and their co-writer/director Richard Linklater were able to deliver a real time depiction of these characters as the years went by is nothing short of amazing. This kind of storytelling simply isn’t done and the quality to which they were able to do so is a testament to their passion for the project. Like the first two films, the dialogue is incredibly naturalistic and they explore real-life issues that may seem mundane but that’s only because they’re the things we all have to deal with in our own lives. Not every film can be about some great, grand gesture that gets the girl back after you’ve made some cliché guffaw. Nor should they be.

Drinking Buddies Top 10 List#5 – Drinking Buddies

Speaking of naturalistic dialogue, director Joe Swanberg is the unofficial king of mumblecore and with Drinking Buddies, he’s taken a new approach. Typically, his films are devoid of big name actors and the actors’ exploration of situations via experimentation rather than adherence to scripted word can be an acquired taste for audiences who need a traditional plot structure and predictable resolutions. The method was the same but with Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston playing the leads, audiences are sure to think they know what they’re getting. However, what ends up happening is a non-traditional story of friends who are close to crossing the line with one another romantically and a showcase for Wilde and Kendrick, who deliver two of the best performances of 2013.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Top 10 list#4 – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Normally, biopics don’t do all that much for me. It’s usually rather cut and dried, especially if you know what events are going to unfold. Despite my knowledge of most major events within Nelson Mandela’s life, Idris Elba’s depiction of his life was simply fantastic. He brought the kind of passion, dignity, and presence that Mandela deserved. Naomie Harris also did a remarkable job as Winnie Mandela and even if you think you know about their lives, this is one of the most moving movies of 2013 and I can only assume that the generic nature of the project is what has kept it so under the radar. (That, and too many people seem to need an A-list actor involved in order to think it’s worth something.)

Mud Top 10 List#3 – Mud

Released earlier in the year, writer/director Jeff Nichol’s examination of father/son relationships just didn’t seem to get the kind of push behind it to get mentioned this awards season. That’s a shame, because although I found Reese Witherspoon a bit too much at times in her small role, and would have preferred a less drastic tonal shift in the final scenes, I’m still dumbfounded at the film’s accomplishments. The two young actors more than hold their own against a very, very good Matthew McConaughey (is there any other kind of McConaughey these days) and Nichol’s ability to focus on so many different sets of father/son relationships is astounding.

Her Top 10 List#2 – Her

While many of the other films I’ve talked about here haven’t gotten their fair share of notice, I’m happy to see that Her has managed to sneak its way into the discussion. How has it done that? Simply by being one of those four or five films I talked about in the introduction that should stand the test of time in terms of its effect. Spike Jonze has always been known for a certain edge to his movies, and while that’s certainly the case here, it isn’t what makes this such a good movie. Not only does it explore the nature of what constitutes intimate relationship, it’s a profound social commentary on technology and how it affects human interaction. We have all these tools to connect us to people all across the world but how significant are those relationships? Do you really know those people who share their vacation and baby pictures with you ten times a day? This will get you thinking … and you may be surprised you hadn’t asked yourself those questions before.

Short Term 12 Top 10 List#1 – Short Term 12

Without a strategically placed last minute release schedule, Short Term 12 went from one of the most talked about movies in critic circles to one of the most forgotten. That’s a shame because it’s probably the best ensemble of the year – with lead actress Brie Larson delivering a performance that simply outshines everyone else this year, male or female. (Don’t get me started on her snub from the Academy; it would probably be a borderline violent rant.) Writer/director Destin Cretton expanded and revamped his short film of the same name and managed to give audiences an at times heartbreaking movie that simply should not be missed. The plot structure is a bit convenient but the emotion on display, and that seeps out of the screen, is unmatched in 2013.

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