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):
Now without further ado, here are my Top 10 Movies of 2013
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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”.