The Top 10 Films of 2013

A light painting of the year 2013 written against a black background

It’s hard to believe it’s that time again. It’s the time where I get to reflect on the movie year that was. This is the third Top 10 of the year list I’ve done and I have to say I love them. Some people don’t care for these things, but I always enjoy reading other people’s favorites and revealing mine. 2013 was a really good year at the movies and while only one film received my highest rank of 5 stars, there were a number of others that gained really high marks and deserve a mention. So before we get to my Top 10 here are my #11 through #20 (Click the title to link to the full review of the film):

#20 – “Stoker”
#19 – “Oblivion”
#18 – “Frances Ha”
#17 – “Man of Steel
#16 – “Prisoners”

#15 – “The Conjuring”
#14 – “12 Years a Slave”
#13 – “Captain Phillips”
#12 – “Star Trek: Into Darkness”
#11 – “To the Wonder”

Now without further ado, here are my Top 10 Movies of 2013

MUCH ADO#10 – “Much Ado About Nothing” – I love it when a movie surprises me and that was certainly the case with Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing”. This was the film which reminded me that the romantic comedy genre could be great when good performers are given a smart script. And Whedon really surprised me. I haven’t been his biggest fan but this film really changed my mind. And what a great cast. Amy Acker blew me away and the supporting cast of Whedon regulars hit every note. Whedon leaves the original Shakespeare language intact but melds it beautifully into the modern setting. Gorgeous black-and-white, sharp direction, a romantic and funny script, and great performances make this film a real treat.

HOBBIT#9 – “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” – This is another film that really surprised me. I had fun with Peter Jackson’s first “Hobbit” picture although I felt it fell well short of my expectations. “The Desolation of Smaug” was a much better film and it avoided the traps that the first film fell in. The danger and peril is certainly amped up which gives the central quest a greater sense of importance. I also loved the deeper tie-in to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Some intriguing new characters are introduced and some old favorites show up. And what a great ending. Unlike the first film, this time we are left with a feeling that things really do hang in the balance. What an adventure and I can’t wait to see where things go from here.

WWZ#8 – “World War Z” – This was a movie that was one of my most anticipated of the year in January. But after news of delays, rewrites, and a new ending surfaced my expectations dropped. What a surprise it was to see the finished product. “World War Z” may be the movie I had the most fun at this year. An undefined zombie epidemic breaks out and ravages the planet. Brad Pitt, giving a surprisingly subdued performance, is thrust into the search for a cure. “World War Z” features one of the most intense openings of the year and possibly the most thrilling scene as zombies breach Jerusalem’s wall and invade the city. This was a load of fun and I never expected it to be so effective.

UPSTREAM#7 – “Upstream Color” – I promise you, “Upstream Color” is a movie unlike anything else you have seen this year. It’s a very abstract and unique film that features a flowing visual style akin to the work of Terrence Malick. It’s impossible to put “Upstream Color” into a box and giving away too much of the plot would ruin the experience. And it truly is something you experience. It challanges you while also fascinating you with its hypnotic appeal. Shane Carruth served as director, writer, co-producer, co-star, cinematographer, editor, and even composed the score. This small independent film is definitely his movie but it’s also a stunning accomplishment. “Upstream Color” isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I absolutely loved it.

BOOK THIEF#6 – “The Book Thief” – Of all the films on this list this is the one I wish more people had seen. It didn’t make many ripples at the box office and critics were pretty lukewarm towards it. Personally I loved it and it was one of the most moving experiences I had all year. Set in a small German village during the days leading up to World War 2, the story shows us the life of young Liesel. She’s raised by foster parents (played brilliantly by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) and is exposed to a harsh evolving world that no child should experience. It’s a heartbreaking yet invigorating film featuring top-notch performances and one of the best scores of 2013. It flew under many radars but I adore this movie.

HUNT#5 – “The Hunt” – Mads Mikkelsen is one of my favorite actors and after hearing the tons of praise he received for his work in “The Hunt” I was instantly excited. It finally made its United States debut and it was so worth the wait. Mikkelsen gives what may be the performance of the year as he portrays a school teacher wrongfully charged with sexual misconduct involving one of his student. Thomas Vinterberg directs this searing indictment of some of our worst impulses and it’s impossible to watch this film and not be effected. It’s one of the best scripts I’ve experienced this year and when you combine it with Mikkelsen’s towering performance and the sheer emotion of the material, the result is one of the year’s best films.

NEBRASKA#4 – “Nebraska” – My hat is off to Alexander Payne for bringing us one of the funniest yet honest films of 2013. “Nebraska” is an amazing movie that deals in real life emotions and situations while injecting a smart and grounded bit of humor. Bruce Dern should get serious Oscar consideration for his work as an elderly man who thinks he’s won $1 million. “Nebraska” is soaked with funny characters and memorable lines. But there is also a subtle but effective examination of family dynamics that seldom get honest looks in the movies. I wasn’t as smitten with Payne’s work on “The Descendents” as most were, but this movie really won me over. And even with it’s few flaws, it remains one of the year’s best.

WAY WAY BACK#3 – “The Way, Way Back” – I can honestly say that this film caught me off guard. It was never on my radar but once I caught up with it I knew I had watched something special. “The Way, Way Back” is one part comedy and one part coming-of-age drama and the competency in which co-writers and co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash bring it all together is great. It’s very touching but it’s also very funny thanks in large part to Sam Rockwell who gives a spectacular performance. He had me constantly laughing and he steals every scene he is in. There is a ton of heart in this movie and while it gets close, it never becomes conventional or cliche. What a great film.

MUD#2 – “Mud” – This was my most anticipated movie at the start of the year and it’s so satisfying that the film ended up being one of my favorites of the year. This is such a great movie from writer, director, and fellow Arkansan Jeff Nichols. He has shown himself to be a masterful southern gothic storyteller. But “Mud” is much more than that. Nichols creates a live and vibrant environment that sucks you in. He tells his story through the eyes of a young boy played wonderfully by Tye Sheridan, but for me Matthew McConaughey is the shining star. Talk about getting lost in a role! McConaughey has a magnetic presence in this picture. Jeff Nichols has turned into one of my favorite filmmakers and “Mud” is a prime example of why.

GRAVITY#1 – “Gravity” – In terms of sheer experience, nothing I saw in 2013 matched the experience I had watching “Gravity. It was possibly the most exciting and visually stimulating movie I’ve ever watched on the big screen. Director Alfonso Cuaron creates a special effects masterpiece that hooks you from that first amazing shot. But this isn’t just a flashy technical accomplishment. There is a deeper emotional story that unfolds as the film moves along and while some have saw it as slight, I think it works very well. Sandra Bullock is fantastic and George Clooney gives Cuaron exactly what he needs. It all adds up to be the only 5 star score I handed out in 2013, but it’s a well-deserved one. I love “Gravity”.

79 thoughts on “The Top 10 Films of 2013

  1. Outstanding job, Keith! A terrific list with some surprises here and there, really intriguing. Glad to see someone being honest instead of following other critics. 12 Years a Slave is definitely in the top 20, just wasn’t as blown away as some to put it high enough, much like yourself. So happy you enjoyed Smaug and Mud. Did you happen to catch The Wolf of Wall Street?

    • Thanks for the kind words! I love doing these lists and reflecting back on the year.

      I really like “12 Years” but I had a few issues with it. I thought Paul Dano was terrible here. He has a small but significant transitional role. And I thought Brad Pitt’s scene was horrible. It’s as if McQueen felt he needed to tell the audience how we should feel in case we couldn’t figure it out for ourselves. He was Mr. Conscience.

      “Wolf” just isn’t my cup of tea. It has certainly grabbed a varied response.

  2. Good Top Ten. While our lists share few titles, there is only one on yours that I think more flawed than good (The Hobbit). The rest I like, too. And I love The Hunt an really like Mud.

    • Thanks man! Really appreciate you checking it out. This is one of my favorite posts of the year. I love looking back on the movie year that was. And this was a pretty strong year.

      • I completely agree. Some talk of it being a down year on some blogs, but that has not been my experience at all. There have been a lot of really good movies and a handful of excellent ones.

  3. I love reading people’s top lists of movies so I know what to watch next. 🙂 World War Z is a load of fun and uses zombies in a way I haven’t seen before. The Hunt is on a few top 10 lists so I’m very curious about that one.

  4. We had a lot of overlap at the top. There were three or four on your list that I have not seen. Looking forward to Nebraska. WWZ was entertaining but I was not sure it was as solid as you thought it was. We also had similar places for 12 Years a Slave. The Wolf of Wall Street is a mess. These are fun to do and make comparisons on. Happy New Year.

    • I love these lists too. I’m a pretty big fan of WWZ (obviously). I thought it was well done and a lot of fun. My son keeps bragging about it being “his first zombie movie”! LOL

      I think you’ll really like “Nebraska”. Very strong film that’s also very funny.

  5. Awesome list! I really need to watch Mud this weekend and get on board with all the hype. Although I haven’t watched enough 2013 movies to make a top 10, I’d have to agree that Gravity has to be in my Top 5, along with World War Z. They were pretty thrilling and intense. Although, my top movie so far has to be Stoker 🙂 At least its in your Top 20…

    • Hey thanks for reading! Definitely see Mud! I’m from Arkansas and new of this river subculture seen in the movie. But I had never actually seen it visualized until this film. It’s so well done. Be sure to tell me what you think about it. Love seeing more love for WWZ as well!

      Stoker was really good and it’s a movie I really want to revisit. Thanks again for the comments!

  6. Nice! It’s great to see Mud, Much Ado About Nothing, and especially The Way Way Back in your top 10. I also admire Upstream Color and can’t argue with its inclusion, despite my mixed feelings about it. Really strong group of films. World War Z also surprised me and was a nice thriller.

    • Thanks a lot! Mud was amazing. It was shot not far from here. Jeff Nichols is such a good filmmaker. The Way, Way Back just kept creeping up my list. My full review of it goes up next week but its obvious I loved it. Rockwell was great!!!

      Thanks for reading!

  7. Nice list and The Book Thief is interesting. Not a movie I have heard anything about. Still want to see Nebraska (has not been released here yet). Rewatched The Way Way Back two weeks ago and it was as good as the first time I saw it.

    Have put up my own top 10 as well.

  8. Fantastic list here Keith with some great films. There are also a few on here I missed that I really need to catch up on such as Nebraska and Upstream Color. We’ve not had The Book Thief here yet either so I’ll definitely try and get along to that one.

    • Thanks Chris. It turned out to be a pretty decent year for movies. Hope you get to see the three movies you mentioned. Upstream Color is unlike anything else I saw this year.

    • Thanks for reading. I just caught up with Nebraska recently and (obviously) really enjoyed it. Dern gives a great performance and the movie is really funny. Definitely worth seeing.

  9. A very solid list Keith, it resembles a lot of my own Top 8 list! 😀

    It was so hard for me nbarrowing down some of 2013’s later movies, as they started to really improve from September on.

  10. Some awesome choices there. Glad I’m not the only one who enjoyed World War Z. It didn’t quite make my top 10 but I thought it was awesome!

      • My husband was a MASSIVE fan of the book and hated every second of it. I read and enjoyed the book but didn’t find it hard to appreciate the film on its own merits. I can see why it might be tough if you were expecting a like for like interpretation.

      • Ah I see. That ‘Book vs. Movie’ thing is pretty tricky. In fact I’ve almost finished a post on that very topic. It should go up next week.

  11. Gravity is topping so many people’s lists for last year and I’m not surprised. It’s just such a beautiful film and not just technically. Adore it.

    Will be catching The Hobbit tonight, but my hopes are fairly low. I wasn’t all too impressed by the first outing. Looking forward to seeing American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave – damn these international release dates.

    • Hope you like The Hobbit. I think it’s a big improvement over the first film. Much great sense of peril and urgency which the first film was missing. It also feels more like a LOTR type adventure.

  12. Nice list. I’m still waiting to see a few before like Her and The Past before I publish my own, but I like many of your choices. I’ve felt a bit more disappointed about Gravity in the past month or so since it won’t be the same on DVD, but I still think it’s great. Also I’m happy to see Upstream Color on your list, I thought it was an exceptional picture.

    • That has been my long-standing concern about Gravity. I mean it’s such a visual experience and how can you not question how it will translate on a smaller screen. That said I do think there is more under the hood. And I’ll never forget my two viewings on the big screen. It was amazing.

  13. Good stuff here! Nice to see Nebraska and The Hunt ranked so high — both of those were among my favorites as well. You’ve got me even more interested in finally seeing Upstream Color, too. Sounds like a crazy little film.

    • Thanks for reading. Upstream Color is an amazing film. It’s unlike anything else that came out this year. It’s a bit challenging and at times you’ll wonder what the heck you’re watching. Bye-But by the end you realize that it was really something special. Hope you get to check it out soon.

  14. Awesome list, Keith! Methinks we’re gonna have plenty in agreement in the top 10. I’ll probably have a looong Honorable Mentions list though, so interesting to see you post additional faves to make up a top 20. Not sure yet if The Hobbit 2 will make my top 10, as much as I adore Thorin 😉

    • Thanks Ruth! You know, that long honorable mention list is a testament to the strength of this movie year. And I think we talked about it before, it didn’t start off that strong. But the second half of the year really brought some good movies. I only gave one 5 star rating all year, but I think I gave more 4 star ratings in 2013 than in any other year since I’ve been doing this. That’s a good thing.

  15. Yeah, good list here Keith. I’ve seen a number of them and there’s a few that would definitely make my list. I just seen Fruitvale Station. Did you happen to catch that. That would would make my cut. Fantastic film.

    • I wasn’t a big fan of Fruitville. It certainly wasn’t a bad film and I do feel I need to see it again. But I remember how on the nose it was which took me back a bit. I did just see a movie that would definitely crack my top 20. Maybe even top 10. “All is Lost”. Review coming in a day or two.

  16. Did not like All is Lost myself (the whole audience I saw it with during a festival laughed at it when the credits rolled) although I do think Redford did a good job.

  17. LOVE that Gravity is your number 1 too. The only films that I see topping this one for me are Wolf of Wall Street and Her, so I hold up with publishing my list until I saw those, but Gravity was honestly the best cinematic experience I had.

    • I’m with you. “Cinematic experience” is a great way to describe it. Gravity offered it like no other. I was swept away by its grand spectacle. I just hope it translates well onto the smaller screen.

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  19. Love your choices – those which I’ve seen are my favourites, too, and those I haven’t are on the top of my watchlist. 😛 And ohh, Gravity really deserves the first place.

    • Thanks do much for reading and commenting! It turned out to be a really good year for movies. As for Gravity, it blew me away at the theaters. I’m anxious to see how it translates to the small screen.

  20. Greta choices Keith. Gravity was a safe bet (and a terrific peice of work). Must check out Mud though.

    Surprised to see World War Z – it seems to be finding its way onto “worst” 2013 movie lists rather than best.

    • Thanks. I have to admit I would be stunned to see WWZ on “Worst of 2013” lists especially considering garbage such as Grown Ups 2, After Earth, Getaway, White House Down, The Lone Ranger, Only God Forgives, Hansel and Gretel, Now You See Me, etc.

      Gravity is making many lists but it hasn’t topped a lot that I have seen. For me the cinematic experience was a huge factor in my love for it. It was unlike anything else I saw at the theaters in 2013.

      Thanks for reading and I appreciate your thoughts.

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  22. Awesome post and list, man! Pretty great seeing WWZ up there. It was indeed an effective thriller. Have yet to watch The Hunt, Mud and The Book Thief. Looking forward to those. Thanks!

      • That’s good to hear! 🙂

        I think that despite the scripts and production snafu’s, the movie still came out solid and succeeded in impressing quite a few people.

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  25. Late to the party but Gravity, The Way Way Back and Mud would be my top three of 2013 too. All wonderful films in their own ways but Gravity was outstanding!

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