The Best Movies of 2013
There were a lot of films this year that were truly and physically painful to sit through, but for every one of those, there were ones that managed to deliver the goods, and then some.
Out of the movies I've seen, I awarded four stars to five movies (three of them I wrote and published reviews here on Hubpages). If you can see at least three movies that deserve a four star rating in a single year, then that would be considered a pretty good year. There was an inordinate amount of bad movies in 2013, so to say that there were five movies last year that deserved the highest rating is really quite something.
Now, before I get started, I just want to say that this list is comprised of movies that I have seen. I had the chance to see 12 Years A Slave, but noooooo. I had to focus on school and what not (curse you school and your stupid......educational.....learning.....stuff). Nor did I see universally praised movies like Nebraska, Blue is the Warmest Color, Short Term 12, All is Lost, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Spectacular Now for the simple fact that none of those movies were released at local theaters here in Warner Robins (I did see Johnnie To's Drug War. It was good, but not one of the year's best)
We did, unfortunately, get movies like Die Hard 5 and The Call.
Seriously, how is that fair?
It doesn't matter. I'll catch up with them eventually, but for now, here is my list of the best films that I saw in 2013.
Let's start with the Honorable Mentions, and there are a couple of big surprises here.
Star Trek Into Darkness: A lot of sequels feel cheap and lazy, and simply try and rehash the formula that worked so well in the first film. Star Trek Into Darkness is different. It tells a rich and engaging story, allows the characters to grow, and delivers some of the very best action scenes of the year. Is it as good as the first? That's debatable, but it is certainly a worthy follow-up. (three-and-a-half stars).
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Wow! The first movie was on my Dishonorable Mentions portion from last year's Worst Films list, and now here's part 2 on my Honorable Mentions list of this year. That's quite an improvement. Who knows, maybe the next one will be on my top ten of 2014. (three-and-a-half stars).
Warm Bodies: When was the last time you saw a feel good, romantic zombie comedy? I ask you. Warm Bodies is an absolute joy, wonderfully acted by Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer, and featuring one of the sweetest and most heartfelt love stories of recent memory. There was some trepidation when I went to see it; I thought it was going to be along the lines of something like Twilight (no offense to fans of that series; I just couldn't get into them), what with a hot girl falling for a monster and all. Instead, the movie was such a sweet and charming experience that it put a smile on my face from the first frame to the last. It's a keeper. (three-and-a-half stars).
And now onto the main event!
You'll notice that three of the five four-star movies got "four golden stars." These movies aren't just great movies; they're a reminder of why we go to the movies in the first place. I mean, all the movies on this list did that in one way or another, but the ones that got "four golden stars" were truly something to treasure. They were the movies I cherished the most this year.
Anyway, here we go:
The Top 10 movies of 2013.
10. The Conjuring: You wouldn't think that a scene as simple as a mother playing hide-&-clap with her daughter could be so frickin' terrifying, but that's just one of the ways The Conjuring surprises you. The story focuses on church-ordained paranormal investigators, a husband (Patrick Wilson) and wife (Vera Farmiga) team, who help a family living inside a haunted country house. Is any of this original? Of course not, but director James Wan works wonders with the familiar material. Just look at the scene where Lili Tayler's character gets locked in a dark and creepy basement, or when a teenage girl gets thrown around a living room by an unseen entity. The audience I saw the movie with screamed more than once. There were times when I myself joined them. (three-and-a-half stars)
9. Blackfish: One of the best documentaries of its kind since 2009's heroic The Cove (although not quite as good as that one), Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Blackfish is a powerful and angry documentary that cries out against SeaWorld and their kind, arguing that any sea dwelling mammals should not be kept in captivity for the sake of public amusement. The subject of the movie is the killer whale Tilikum, who was captured in the '70s and has been responsible for the deaths of several people (he currently still performs at SeaWorld in Orlando). SeaWorld has cried out against the movie, calling it "inaccurate and misleading." Let's see them make a movie that presents their version of the truth (I'd watch it). (three-and-a-half stars)
8. Captain Phillips: An edge-of-your-seat thriller with a final fifteen minutes that features some of Tom Hanks' very best work as an actor (no joke!). The movie (very loosely, apparently) tells the true story of the title character, captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, which was sabotaged by Somali pirates back in 2009. Barkhad Abdi makes his acting debut here, as do the other actors who play the pirates, although their performances are so confident and focused you'd assume they were acting veterans. There have been reports that the movie's depiction of Richard Phillips is anything but accurate, but I don't care. Captain Phillips is a terrific entertainment: suspenseful and completely absorbing. And did I mention how powerful those final fifteen minutes are?
7. Mud: Matthew McConaughey turns in what is perhaps the best performance of his career as the title character, a mysterious figure who lives on an island inside a boat in a tree. The plot kicks in when he befriends two boys from the mainland. They run errands for him, and even send messages to his lady love (Reese Witherspoon). Mud's relationship with the boys is really the heart of the movie, and the three leads (McConaughey, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) make it work. This is, however, McConaughey's show, and the actor is so riveting that you can't take your eyes off of him for a second. (three-and-a-half stars)
6. Fruitvale Station: Darn you Octavia Spencer! Because of you, I cried like a little baby at the end of this movie! Actually, she had accomplices, including Michael B. Jordan as the main character, Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend, and writer and director Ryan Coogler. You guys made me cry!!! (three-and-a-half stars)
5. Before Midnight: Richard Linklater's Before movies (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) are some of the sweetest and most romantic films ever made. There is never a single dishonest moment in these film. They each feel less like movies and more like a window into the lives of their characters. Before Midnight is perhaps the darkest film in the trilogy, as lovers Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) fight and bicker here more than in the other films (there's a scene inside a hotel that's really intense). What makes the movie really special is its hopeful message that if two people really love each other, there's nothing they can't power through. What a wonderful movie! (four stars)
4. Byzantium: This movie spoke to me on a very personal level. Among the movie's many beautifully developed themes, the one that stood out the most to me was one of outsiders longing to make a connection with other people. Saorise Ronan plays teenage vampire Elanor Webb, who's been on the run with her mother (Gemma Arterton), also a vampire, for the past 200 years. Elanor eventually meets a friendly, leukemia stricken young waiter (Caleb Landry Jones) she feels she could make a connection with. How does she try to connect with him? By opening up to him through writing. That's the best way to do it, if you ask me. Poetic, haunting, and unforgettable, Byzantium is perhaps the best vampire movie since 2008's Let the Right One In. (four stars)
Now onto the golden movies:
3. Frozen: That's right. It's a Disney princess movie, and I consider it the third best movie of 2013! S'up! This movie is so enchanting, so funny, and so vibrantly directed that it makes me feel happy just thinking about it. It's a story of sisterly love, and one that focuses on two leading characters so lovable and so sympathetic that they win us over without even trying. Out of all the recent Disney princess movies (the enjoyable Tangled and the not-so-enjoyable Brave), Frozen is easily the best of the bunch. This is one for the DVD/Blu-ray collection. (four golden stars)
2. Gravity: Gravity took me on a journey the likes of which I have never experienced. For 90 straight minutes, I felt like I was physically out there with these characters in space, and by the time the movie was over, I wanted to kiss the pavement and thank the Good Lord above that I was back on solid ground. It was that visually convincing, but great visuals were not all this movie had. The film's story, about a woman hurt by tragedy who finds the strength to live again, was such an emotionally powerful and spiritual one that I walked out of the theater feeling refreshed and full of hope. The movie is nicely carried by a performance from Sandra Bullock I feel will earn her her second Oscar win; I was right about Anne Hathaway winning for Les Miserables, wasn't I?. In a year that gave us the excruciating likes of Man of Steel (Grrrrrrr! Snarl!), Gravity revitalized my faith in movies, and it gave me one of the best times I had at the theaters this year. (four golden stars)
The funny thing is that, for the longet time, Gravity was my number one film this year. In my review, I even wrote, "If we see a better movie released this year, I shall be truly impressed." I honestly didn't think there could be a better movie this year. The only one that came close was Frozen; even Byzantium wasn't in the same ball park as it, and I consider that a cinematic treasure.
Now, I am here to tell you that, yes, I did see a movie from 2013 that was better than Gravity. I didn't think it could be, seeing as how it had such a bizarre and goofy premise, but this was such a wonderful and hauntingly beautiful movie that, not only is it my favorite film of 2013, it is also my favorite movie of the decade so far!
I don't know if I can put into words just how much I love this movie; I don't want to write a full review of it here (I'll write one after I see it again, which is something I most certainly plan to do). Just believe me when I tell you that, if there was ever a movie from 2013 that was worth seeing, this is it! It's still in theaters, so if you haven't seen it, do so immediately.
Are you ready? My choice for the very best movie of 2013 is (drum roll please!)....................
"The past is just a story we tell ourselves."
-- Dialogue from Her
Words fail me.
It's very rare to see a film that so poignantly and flawlessly captures the human desire to connect with other people, and Her does such a poetic and intimate job at it, that it touched my heart more deeply than any other film this year. Joaquin Phoenix turns in a Oscar worthy performance as Theodore Twombly, a LA-based writer who makes a living penning personal letters for one individual to another. Still reeling from his divorce from childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore buys an OS1, an artificially intelligent operating system, to ease his loneliness. The one he chooses goes by the name of Samantha (Scarlett Johansson, simply phenomenal). At first they talk and become friends, and soon their friendship turns into love.
That's right. You heard me. The basic premise of the movie is that a man falls in love with his computer. It's a spectacularly silly premise, even for a movie set in the near future like this one, but writer-director Spike Jonze does wonders with it; things you wouldn't even think of. Take the scene where Theodore explains to Samantha what it means to share your life with someone (have you heard dialogue that beautiful this year?), or the scene where Theodore takes Samantha to the beach, and she writes a piano melody about what it feels like to be there at the beach with him. The film's most memorable scene comes when Samantha hires a female surrogate (Portia Doubleday, who was in this year's grossly underrated Carrie remake) to help her experience physical contact with Theodore. The scene is actually quite awkward at first, but then it concludes on a note that is just downright devastating.
Everything about Her is sublime: the performances, the dialogue, and even that quiet, note-perfect final scene between Theodore and his neighbor Amy (Amy Adams, absolutely fantastic). It's an emotionally rich movie, but there are also a number of moments that are flat out hilarious. Kristen Wiig has a very brief cameo as "Sexykitten," whom Theodore calls up in the dead of night after hearing she's looking for a little bit of phone sex (her sexual fantasies are hilariously bizarre). I also got a good laugh when Theodore's boss compliments his work by telling him that he's "part woman." No matter how you look at it, Her is the best film of 2013. Everything about this movie is right. In the words of my dear cousin: "It's just....yeah." (four golden stars)
That concludes my list for the year's best films. Here are other films from 2013 that I liked very much, but were, for one reason or another, not good enough to be on my Best of the Year list (not even as an Honorable Mention). Even still, I feel like these movies deserve mentioning. So, here we go.
Biggest guilty pleasure of 2013:
The Lone Ranger: This movie was there when I needed it. Prior to seeing it, I had quit a job that was so negative that it put me in a state of serious depression. I didn't want to write anything anymore and...well, it got bad (we'll just leave it at that). I was haunted by that job, and when I sat down in my theater chair to watch The Lone Ranger, all I wanted was for it to make me forget that stupid job and take me on a goofy and brainless adventure, and it did just that. I smiled a lot during the movie. I smiled when Johnny Depp kept feeding that dead bird he wore on his head. I smiled when Armie Hammer (who plays the title character) got shot in the shoulder with an arrow and screamed like a little girl. I enjoyed the action scenes and the look of the movie. Is it flawed? You bet your sweet biffy it is. But I fully embrace it, and you know something, I wouldn't mind seeing it again.
Most under-rated movie of 2013:
Carrie: I say this as someone who didn't much like Brian DePalma's version (and I actually watched it twice). I really felt sympathy for Chloe Grace Moretz's Carrie; I really liked Gabriel Wilde's Sue Snell; and I was riveted by the climax. And while there are those who would label the film as "unnecessary," I think the movie's theme of school bullying, which is especially relevant in today's world, makes it anything but that, and director Kimberly Pearce treats said theme with the seriousness it deserves. It's not a great film, but it was definitely a good one, and one I think I would want see it again.
Movies that were really good, but could have been great:
Here is a list of three-star movies that had the potential to be better than they were. I liked all of them, but in the back of my mind, there was something telling me that there was a great movie somewhere struggling to make its presence known. Oh, well. They're all worth seeing, and who knows, you might even like them a lot more (or less) than I did.
American Hustle: I had a lot of fun with this movie. David O. Russell's direction is so vibrant that it's infectious, and the performances are terrific across the board. I especially loved Jennifer Lawrence's ditzy housewife, who doesn't listen to her con artist husband (Christian Bale) when he tells her not to put a metal dish in their new microwave. It's all very entertaining, but is it one of the best films of the year, or even the best of the year (as Richard Roeper claimed)? That's kind of pushing it.
The Hunt: If American Hustle was fun, then The Hunt was anything but that. The movie was so difficult to watch at times that there were moments where I didn't want to watch it anymore (I don't think I could see it a second time). As hard as it is to sit through, it is certainly worth watching, thanks to Mads Mikkleson's outstanding performance, and the movie's message about how those wrongfully accused of heinous crimes are forever ruined, whether or not their name gets cleared (and that's the truth). A couple of missteps in the screenplay prevented it from being truly great, but it's still a solid movie all the same.
Prisoners: Out of all the movies on this "good-but-not-great" list, Prisoners is perhaps the one that haunts me the most. I still think about that haunting final scene, and I still get chills every time I do (and I haven't seen the film since September, when it was released). The acting is solid across the board, and the movie is certainly very well directed, but it goes on a little longer than it should, and I'm still not sure I buy into the "explanation" behind the crime. In spite of these faults, Prisoners was such a captivating film that I almost feel compelled to add an extra half a star to my original three star rating (almost).
I wish I was able to write about every one of these movies. Unfortunately, I didn't get to do as much writing as I wanted to last year. One of my New Year's resolutions is to write about every single movie I see this year (old and new, good and bad), as well as some hubs that aren't movie reviews. It's harder than it sounds (for me it is, anyway), but I'm determined to do it, even if it means writing a lot of three to four paragraphed quick thoughts reviews or (gulp) capsule thoughts (my goal is to at least publish 150 hubs by December; I'm already at 85, so that's a plus).
Here's hoping that 2014 gives us movies that are actually worth writing about (I'm looking at you Godzilla, what with your awesome trailer and all!)
Have a happy 2014 everybody!
Which was your favorite film from this list?
My Other 2013 List.
- The Worst Movies of 2013
A look at the worst movies of last year (that I saw anyway). Should have the best of the year in a week or less!