Top 20 films of 2013
As with my 2012 best list that I published earlier this month, I'm going by IMDb year, which is the world premiere for the films. So that means Mud, The Place Beyond The Pines, The Hunt, Frances Ha, The Act of Killing, and Stories We Tell are logged for 2012.
At the end of the post, I've linked to 20+ year-end lists from other movie bloggers, hope it's useful!
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
Rush (Ron Howard)
Hotell (Lisa Langseth)
The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola)
Philomena (Stephen Frears)
Upstream Color (Shane Carruth)
Warm Bodies (Jonathan Levine)
Michael H – Profession: Director (documentary) (Yves Montmayeur)
Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
Out of the Furnace (Scott Cooper)
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
The Way Way Back (Nat Faxon, Jim Rash)
Borgman (Alex van Warmerdam)
Captain Philips (Paul Greengrass)
The Kings of Summer (2013) (Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
A love or hate it kind of experience, judging from other reviews. Has some funny one-liners, especially from Nick Offerman. Captures that teenage period when you rebel, and your family are embarrassing and controlling. The parents in this movie are so whiny, that they border on unrealistic, but they are quite amusing.
I agree with reviewer in Sight and Sound magazine, that the police manhunt is incompetent. Despite these flaws, recommended, if you enjoy coming-of-age movies.
Favorite quote: It’s never going to end, even when I’m an adult, she’s going to find me, question me”
August Osage County (2013) (John Wells)
Family ensemble drama with an all-star cast. I thought Meryl Streep character was funny to watch, I’m not sure if that was how it was meant to be viewed. Other scenes were really serious. It was a sad story, and most, if not all the characters suffer.
I liked it for the writing and the performances.
Breathe In (2013) (Drake Doremus)
From the director of Like Crazy (2011). The reviews for his new feature have been all over the place, probably as the story has been done before many times. The reason it’s on my list is because it’s a beautiful forbidden love story. It could easily have been creepy, yet avoids that due to the performances, and I believed in their feelings towards each other, despite the taboo age gap. Sometimes those souls you truly connect to are younger or older, or from another culture. I didn’t expect to be moved by this film in the way that I was.
30-year-old Felicity Jones believably plays a younger college exchange student, who is attracted to an older Guy Pierce.
Frozen (2013) (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)
For the sake of variation, I’m including an animated film in the top 20, and probably you won’t find a better one from 2013.
“For the first time in forever” I surprisingly prefer over oscar-winning song “Let It Go”.
The animation is beautiful, the dialogue has the right amount of humor, and the message of getting to know someone before you fall in love is so true, however tempting it might be for those who are impatient and impulsive. I also liked the way it used the symbols of cold and warm, in how we affect other people emotionally. Inspired by "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen.
Favorite quote: “Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart”
American Hustle (2013) (David O. Russell)
Not sure why there is quite a lot of hostility towards this movie, it's not that bad. I was bored during some moments in Silver Linings Playbook. Hustle I enjoyed all the way through.
My favorite soundtrack of the year so far: A Horse With No Name by America, played in the opening scene when he adjusts his hair. Other favorites are, I Feel Love by Donna Summer from the disco scene, and 10538 Ovature by the Electric Light Orchestra, when they walk out of the plane. Good Times Bad Times by Led Zeppelin is good too.
Blackfish (2013) (documentary) (Gabriela Cowperthwaite)
So irresponsible that the Sea World trainers were not given the full information about the killing at Sea Land, and just kept on training with Tilikum. And thoughtless that they split the orca families apart, and kept them in such small tanks. The cover up of whale attacks was disgraceful. No understanding that orcas thrive with their own family with the same language.
The doc has been called misleading, only showing certain aspects of the case, but even so, there’s no hiding the fact that Sea World made mistakes.
Favorite quote: “These are animals that have highly elaborate, emotional lives. It’s becoming clear that dolphins and whales have a sense of self, a sense of social bonding, that they’ve taken to another level. Much stronger, much more complex than other mammals, including humans. We look at mass strandings (on beaches), the fact that they stand by each other. Everything about them is social, everything. It’s been suggested that their whole sense of self is distributed among the individuals in their group”
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Main performance is great by Oscar Isaac, performing, singing and playing guitar, and he makes the character someone you root for. You sympathize with him, even though he at times behaves like an asshole. A tribute to the underdog, the struggling artist looking to become a star. Different to other Coen brothers films, in how serious it is, and probably not great enough to become a classic. Yet it worked for me, and I can see myself returning to it again in future. If you like the Llewyn Davis character played by Isaac, I think you will be drawn to his story, regardless if you are a folk enthusiast or not. Has one or two nice folk tunes. One of the tunes is very funny actually.
I liked the bummer humor of the film, or whatever you want to call the amusing parts. For example settling down on a sofa which is not long enough. The road movie element was the most memorable part.
Beautifully shot, it does feel like we are back in 1960s New York, but the ending wasn’t as good as it should have been.
We Are The Best (2013) (Lukas Moodysson)
Heartfelt Swedish childhood drama set in the 1980s. A story of rebellious girls who want to start a punk band. They don’t look like girls at all(see poster above), surely the two friends are male actors!? A sweet story, with unforgettable characters you care about, but also a bit predictable. Even so, I had a good time on that journey to the foreseeable ending. It’s not a requirement to enjoy it, that you like punk music. The best depiction of that tricky period between childhood and teenager you will see in a film from 2013.
The Past (2013) (Asghar Farhadi)
From the director of the Oscar-winning 2011 film A Separation. There are quite a few loose-ends, and the conflict doesn’t really become apparent until 45 minutes into the film. Very well-acted, and the everyday story is interesting to follow, and told in a way that slowly reveals family secrets. The ending is my favorite scene.
Perhaps, as another critic said, it's about the changeable nature of emotions, how you can be intertwined in another person's life, because of the history you share. You think you know where you stand, and the rational thing would be to leave, but you can't help getting involved, despite shackled with past wounds, because there is still a glimmer of affection.
About miscommunication and messy lives. Not desiring to be pulled into the dirt, yet wanting to help and figure things out.
Asks questions like, how much should you sweep under the carpet, before it starts hurting you? Do you have a responsibility to help other people, even if it's painful for those involved? What's their responsibility, and your responsibility?
The Best Offer (2013) (Giuseppe Tornatore)
Probably won’t appeal to a mass audience, the main character (Geoffrey Rush) is an introvert, and the woman he is interested in is reclusive. I loved it, and the mysteries kept me watching.
Comparable visually to the other Italian film on this list, The Great Beauty, The Best Offer looks amazing, every frame is beautiful on the eye.
While it has been criticized for being predictable, I didn’t have that experience at all. The ending was a surprise to me.
The sort of story that could have been told 50 years ago, it feels quite Hitchcockian, though there are mobile phones in a few scenes.
Deserves to have a wider audience. By the director of Cinema Paradiso (1988), the film won several awards in its native Italy.
Notable also is Ennio Morricone's beautiful score, he won Best Composer for this at the European Film Awards.
The Great Beauty (2013) (Paulo Sorrentino)
Winner of foreign language Oscar, Golden Globe, and Best Film at 2013 European Film Awards.
Arguably one of the most impressive openings of any film this year, the first 15 minutes are a treat for both eyes and ears. Great cinematography. Does a good job of describing the shallowness and decadence of that subculture in Italy. Also a love letter to Rome and its beauty.
The spiritual and physical decay, with the crumbling architecture in the background was a nice touch. The main character Jep is stuck in life, and has lost his creative spark. As Jake Cole wrote: "Instead of finding beauty, however, Jep criticizes his surroundings for lacking it. The images of the swimmer not getting anywhere in the tub reminded me of the intro in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere (2010).
To be honest, I’m not sure how original the story is, because it feels like a contemporary tribute to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), and Antonioni's L'avventura (1960).
As Film Actually perceptively wrote: "his crisis stems from curiosity rather than true disillusionment. In the end, it seems like he'll continue to indulge and I can't blame him. Unfortunately the film wants to dig deeper than this, but it eventually becomes overwhelmed by the great beauty it displays"
The guardian reviewer noted: "They are drunk on excess (...) Jep is in his 60s; he knows that time is running out. More crucially, perhaps, he knows that it's been squandered."
Loved the soundtrack, especially in that closing scene. On a macro level, maybe the film is about how Italy are racing along, and not stopping to contemplate where they are going.
Favorite quote: “The most important thing I discovered a few days after turning 65 is that I can’t waste any more time doing things I don’t want to do”
Prisoners (2013) (Denis Villeneuve)
A nail-biting thriller which I couldn’t look away from. You have to see it through to the end. There is moral ambiguity, where victim and perpetrator and good and evil are not so clearly outlined. I sure hope this wasn’t based on fact. About taking the law into your own hands.
The motivation of the villain is unexplained, but I guess that adds to the mystery and makes it scarier. Fine performances too from the cast. I've read other bloggers were disappointed how it played out, but if you just watch it as a thriller, as I did, then I think it works.
Before Midnight (2013) (Richard Linklater)
I couldn’t resist revisiting the characters. It took a while for me to reach a verdict on the film. The long takes in the car and walking outside are impressive in terms of acting. It’s one of the best films of 2013, but it breaks my heart to see my favorite screen couple so cynical. I like to remember the characters in love. I would prefer to have met them when they are young, than now.
Dialogue about technology and gender, and other issues, is interesting enough, and as said on LAMBcast, they are thoughts most of us have all had, and can relate to personally. I agree with LAMBcast, that the naked scenes are uncomfortable, because the couple are almost like our friends.
The arguing turned me off, yet the cute philosophical discussions they have I love.
It’s a brave move to make the characters unlikeable one moment, and likeable the next.
It might improve on rewatch, but my initial reaction is I prefer the first two installments in the trilogy.
I also listened to Across The Universe podcast, interesting how the hotel room could be perceived as a prison. And that Celine & Jessie accuse each other of things they did offscreen, so we can never know who is right.
Stoker (2013) (Chan-wook Park)
Atmospheric mystery, which held my interest throughout. The production design and overall look of the film is beautiful on the eye. The first 40 minutes for me is the strongest part. The second half of the movie is intent to reveal most of the mysteries.
I agree with Eric from The Warning Sign, that the director’s use of color and flawless transition shots are a thing of beauty, even if at times they do distract from the film itself.
Her (2013) (Spike Jonze)
A futuristic, raunchier Lost in Translation is a way to describe it. If you love computers, you should see it.
The Oscar worthy production design is really stylish, with a dash of red in almost every frame, and the acting is good. Although lacking in variety, maybe there are too many scenes of J Phoenix staring into space, some of those could easily have been discarded.
The strongest aspect of the film for me are the scenes when J Phoenix is running around with a smile on his face.
I thought it was cute, but I didn’t completely connect with it emotionally, which is why my rating is not as high as other bloggers. The raunchier moments I could have done without, and somehow didn't work for me with the romantic tone. Perhaps my mood wasn’t right, who knows.
I do want to see Her again in future. Has the potential to become an old-time favorite. The score is beautiful, I've been listening to that since I saw it.
On a side note, Kate Bush's brilliant song Deeper Understanding should have been on the soundtrack, the lyrics are about the same themes.
Favorite quotes: “Since my break up, I haven’t really enjoyed my writing. Sometimes I’d write something and I’d be my favorite writer that day”
“Sometimes I feel I’ve felt everything I’m ever going to feel, and from here on out I’m not going to feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) (Abdellatif Kechiche)
A powerful film, though I had a few minor issues, which is why I gave it 4/5 and not 4.5/5. How long has she been with Emma?, is she still studying, or is she now qualified teacher? Do her parents know she is a lesbian, and what do they think about that? Considering the film is three hours, it's odd these things are so vague. Interestingly a scene where Adele's parents kick her out for being with Emma wasn't used in the theatrical cut, that partly explains it.
The film’s strength is the depiction of first love, and the powerhouse performances by the two leads. The two lead actresses deservedly shared the Palme d’Or with the director. Especially Adèle Exarchopoulos, who appears in virtually every scene, gives an unforgettable performance, which is full of passion and vulnerability. The camera work is very in-your-face, so we witness every little facial expression. Another highlight is the use of the color blue, which gives the whole film a common thread, and a unique visual look.
To me, the film doesn’t feel too long, as you go on a journey with Adèle, and if you’ve ever been in love, you will likely identify with her emotions.
You don’t need to be lesbian to connect with this movie, just as you don’t need to be Chinese to enjoy a film about Chinese people.
Sorrow and Joy (2013) (Nils Malmros)
Danish autobiographical drama. Among the best Danish films of 2013. After a promising opening, my initial reaction was the middle section of the film had the wrong priority, focusing excessively on their backstory, and was not concerned enough about the period after the tragic event.
I do feel the subplot with Ida goes on too long, but obviously the director has a point with this choice, showing how Signe’s emotional struggle could be partly influenced by her husband’s lifestyle, and maybe other factors too. The husband even admits that the family is to blame, because he turned her off taking her medicine, and they were not there, when she needed someone present with her and the baby.
The audience is in the position of the judge, which punishment does she deserve, if any? Was she insane, was it an accident, or did she do it on purpose, and then deny everything? Even though these are flawed people, you care about them, and that clouds your judgment.
The film questions, what would you have done? What is the correct punishment? Can you ever forgive, or is it too much to ask? Is it responsible for Signe to ever be allowed to work as a teacher again in future, even with all the parents’ acceptance?
A though-provoking drama that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.
Gravity (2013) (Alfonso Cuarón)
The Sandra Bullock character is written in a slightly manipulative way, so the audience cares about her. But the special effects are groundbreaking, and the score is brilliant too. I really felt like I was in space!
It doesn’t top my list, because I feel the story is probably not good enough to make it an all-time favorite. Also, it might have that Independence Day problem, that it isn’t as great to rewatch on TV.
Nymphomaniac (2013) (Lars von Trier)
A controversial choice, I know. It seems Lars von Trier in his new film wanted to live out all his sexual fantasies (or sexual nightmares) on camera. I watched the abridged version including vol 1 and vol 2, which was still 4 hours.
I'm not sure when and where the story is supposed to take place. Told in flash backs, I'm guessing the UK between 1960s-1980s, judging from the accents, remarks about £s, and Skarsgård's music cassettes. The Playlist claim "the film is set in a weird sort of no man's land"
A challenging film to watch, and a challenging film to rate. Surprisingly funny in places, and hugely ambitious on a cinematic and intellectual level, full of memorable scenes and thought-provoking issues. Yet an ugly experience, with a sex-addicted main character, but that was also the intent, to show the main theme of loveless sex, so you can't really criticize it for going in that direction. Stellan Skarsgård is probably the most likeable of the characters, who listens to Charlotte Gainsbourg's wild, and possibly exaggerating stories.
Where exactly Lars von Trier stands on the many issues raised I am none the wiser. To me he is just opening a window for a debate, as scenes present both sides of the argument. For example on the one hand feeling sorry for the helpless addict, and on the other hand reckless behaviour that causes suffering to others.
I agree with reviewer Anthony Lawrie, that "those who are most offended are generally the ones who are least open to discussion."
There were moments, especially in vol 2, where I felt there were scenes missing, and character motivation was difficult to follow (especially Mia Goth in vol 2), so the abridiged version is not perfect. A number of the intellectual musings went over my head, and didn't make a lot of sense.
I think a second viewing of the director's cut 5½ hour version is needed to reach a more conclusive verdict.
I liked how the music blends with the scenes, highlights for me were "Burning Down the House" by Talking Heads and Führe mich (Lead Me) by Rammstein(which brought back memories of Lost Highway soundtrack), and Hey Joe by Charlotte Gainsbourg
Favorite quotes: "If you buy a tiger, you have to feed it"
"If you have wings, you should fly"
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) (Martin Scorsese)
Could be Scorsese's best since Goodfellas. Belfort deserves our disdain, but it somehow is a good story for cinema. It does seem wrong, though, in light of the victims, if Belfort earns money from the movie.
Although it’s over 3 hours long, it’s never boring for a second. A highly entertaining film, that’s good fun, full of life and great scenes. Perhaps my favorite scene is Matthew Mcconaughey's chest beating in the restaurant.
I’ve heard it labeled as a black comedy. Scorsese has said it isn’t just another formulaic movie you forget about where they get what they deserve, and that’s that. It’s a little different.
Don’t usually associate Scorsese with comedy, but they made it work. It goes without saying that Leonardo DiCaprio should have won the oscar for what could be described as a career best performance.
Worth a mention is the fantastic trailer
What do my fellow movie bloggers think of the year in film? Here are their best of 2013 lists:
Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob
Steeve at Cinematic Paradox
Nostra at myfilmreviews
Alex Withrow at And so it Begins
Ryan Pollard at Top 10 Films
Griff at 3guys1movie
Sati at Cinematic Corner
Ruth at Flixchatter
Steven at Surrender To The Void
Josh at The Cinematic Spectacle
Alex Thomas at Time for a film
Dan the Man's Movie Reviews
Shala Thomas at Life Between Films
Mette at Lime Reviews and Strawberry Confessions
Shane at Film Actually
Eric at The Warning Sign
Catherine at Cinenthusiast
Satua at fairytalepictures
Robert at To The Escape Hatch
Bemis at Cinevistaramascope
Courtney Young at On the Screen Reviews
Jessica at The Velvet Café
SDG at U, Me and Films
Cristi B at To The Movies And Back
Pete Turner at I Love That Film
Chip at Tips from Chip
Fernando Rafael at Committed to celluloid
Atli at The Cinematic Katzenjammer
Jack at Lights Camera Reaction
Jon at Films Worth Watching
Andina at Inspired Ground
Yet to watch from 2013:
Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke)
The Spectacular Now (James Ponsoldt)
Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)
Snowpiercer (Joon-ho Bong)
Joe (David Gordon Green)
The Immigrant (James Gray)
The Rocket (Kim Mordaunt)
A Story of Children and Film (2013) (Mark Cousins)
Mistaken for Strangers (documentary) (Tom Berninger)
Venus in Furs (Roman Polanski)
The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard)
The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam)
The Double (Richard Ayoade)
Tracks (John Curran)
Palo Alto (Gia Coppola)
Locke (Steven Knight)
The Reunion (Återträffen) (Anna Odell)
Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt)
Another Me (Isabel Coixet)
Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan)
Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang)
Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
Exhibition (Joanna Hogg)
Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz)
Die andere Heimat (Edgar Reitz)
Jodorowsky's Dune (documentary) (Frank Pavich)
Desert Runners (documentary) (Jennifer Steinman)
At Berkeley (documentary) (Frederick Wiseman)
Agree or disagree? Have I encouraged you to watch anything? Did I miss anything great from 2013? As always, thoughts are welcome in the comments