The curtain has fallen over 2013, and we now stand at the beginning of a new year. I’ve already written about my favorite movie moments of 2013, and now would like to talk about my favorite films of the year in more detail.
As I said in that last post, 2013 was a bit of a divisive year. I can’t remember the last time movies have stirred up so much debate among moviegoers, and for every record-breaking box office juggernaut we saw our fair share of disappointing flops. But, as rocky as the year may have been, I would say that it was actually a great year for cinema. We got a plethora of movies to enjoy, in all different genres, and the movies that were good were really good, and even the bad ones had something to say or left us talking about them all year long.
I saw a total of 225 movies this year, new and old, and unfortunately wasn’t able to catch a few new releases that I really wanted to see. Films like The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, and 12 Years a Slave may have ended up on this list, but I just wasn’t able to get to them in time. It’s also worth noting that this is by no means a best of the year list. These are simply my favorites of the year.
So, without further ado, my favorite films (that I saw) of 2013! In ascending order:
13. Drinking Buddies
Drinking Buddies was the first film I saw in the Mumblecore micro-genre. The film had no script, and the actors were instead given an outline and basic plot points they needed to hit each day, then told to improvise. The final result ended up becoming one of the best gems of 2013, a beautiful character piece about two friends (played by Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde) who work at a craft brewery who struggle with developing feelings for one another, despite being in committed relationships.
Drinking Buddies was one of those films that had a very limited theatrical release and then appeared on video-on-demand for a while. If you missed it I highly recommend checking it out. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a unique movie with great performances that make it feel very, very real.
12. The Lone Ranger
I won’t even try to defend this film, because at this point most of the general and critical population have written it off as a total dud. Which I can understand. The script needs work, the film has a completely unnecessary wrap-around story and is frankly a bit too long. But, despite its plenty of flaws, this movie totally and completely worked for me.
I’m a big Gore Verbinski fan, an unapologetic fan of all three of his Pirates films, and absolutely loved Rango (I even have a Rango tattoo!). So, needless to say, I was incredibly excited for this movie. I’m a bit disappointed that it bombed in such fantastic fashion that we won’t be seeing another one, because it was a blast to watch and, hidden within its hacked-to-bits screenplay actually had a lot to offer to those who gave it a chance.
Plus, its final train sequence, played brilliantly against the William Tell overture, remains one of the best movie sequences of the year, and of Verbinski’s career.
11. Star Trek Into Darkness
You couldn’t really call me a Trekkie, despite my having seen my fair share of TNG, Voyager, and DS9 episodes and attending a Star Trek convention in Vegas when I was about 14. I’ve always been more of a Star Wars guy, and absolutely fell in love with JJ Abrams’ 2009 Trek reboot because of how he used Star Wars-esque elements to tell a new, exciting, and adventurous Trek tale.
I saw Into Darkness opening day and loved it. The film really hits the ground running and is an adrenaline fueled joyride from start to finish, with a great performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. I know people had a problem with this film (particularly with its familiar third act), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because I am not emotionally attached to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Or maybe it’s the science fiction junkie inside of me having a great time at the movies. Either way, I think Into Darkness is a solid follow-up and a great addition to the Trek canon.
10. Side Effects
I’d be lying if I said I was a big Soderberg fan. I’ve only seen a handful of his films and only really became interested in his body of work a year or so ago. Which saddens me because I really enjoyed his swan song, Side Effects. In a world dominated by big-budget blockbuster spectacle, it was refreshing to get a character driven thriller that’s just a damn good movie from start to finish without trying to be anything more than what it is.
Rooney Mara and Jude Law give excellent performances here, and the film’s direction and beautiful cinematography made it one of my most revisited films of the year.
9. The World’s End
The World’s End marks the end of the brilliant Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. Though I wouldn’t say that it’s quite as funny as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, I would say that it’s a better movie, and has a bit more to say than its predecessors. Like all of Wright’s work, it will require a few re-watches before I can truly appreciate its depth and subtle greatness, but for now it remains my favorite comedy of the year and was another solid addition to the sci-fi genre, which was given a lot of great movies this year.
This was also the first film that made me realize just how great of an actor Simon Pegg really is. He just always made it look so easy before, that I didn’t truly appreciate what he was doing. He really shines in The World’s End, and Wright manages to take what could have been a straightforward, derivative idea and turn it into something rather beautiful.
Speaking of derivative, Oblivion got criticized for being too much of an homage/amalgam of science fiction films from years past, which I don’t think is a very fair assessment of the movie. Oblivion is beautifully shot and has some of the best production design I’ve ever seen in a film like this. The soundtrack is phenomenal, and familiar as it may be, its storyline is interesting enough and so well handled that it’s easy to overlook its (small) flaws.
Again, in a year filled with enormous spectacle and overblown CGI, it’s nice to see a smaller, more intimate character study that also contains some pretty badass flying vehicles and post-apocalyptic adventure.
7. American Hustle
American Hustle was a film that kind of snuck up on me. I’m a fan of David O. Russell (particularly I Heart Huckabees and Silver Linings Playbook) and am a sucker for a good period piece. So, I was intrigued by the trailers but wasn’t expecting to see the film in time for this list. As it turns out, I got the chance on the 30th and BOY am I glad I did.
American Hustle isn’t a great film. It’s a very good one that’s made great by its performances. The movie itself isn’t as well directed as some of Russell’s past work, and the script can be a little all over the place. But I’ve gotta say, the ensemble cast really pulls it all together and deliver some of the best performances I’ve seen all year. Louis C.K. has a great small part, and the main players, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and even Jeremy Renner, do a great job at giving their characters a lot of… well… character. Lawrence and Bale are especially good, and have some great scenes together.
I think this is a film that will most likely be harmed by awards attention, because it’s definitely not a film for everybody and I think if the hype around it builds too much people won’t appreciate it for the work of art it is.
6. Don Jon
I’m a big Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan, and was intrigued when I heard he was writing and starring in his directorial debut about a man who has a porn addiction. The movie is so much more than that, though, and I think his screenplay is actually one of the best screenplays in years. He has a lot to say about society, and how the media has negatively affected both sexes. Many men unfortunately base their relationship and feelings about sex on what they see in porn, and many women are trained to approach relationships as if they’re in romantic comedies. Both of these are completely wrong portraits of what real relationships are like, and since no one wants to talk about these things people remain uninformed for a very long time, sometimes even for their entire lives.
Now, with that said, Don Jon is more than just that, and is extremely funny and well acted all around. The film had a lot more to offer than I was originally expecting and is a solid debut for JGL. I look forward to seeing what he directs next!
5. Frances Ha
I can’t say enough good things about Frances Ha. When I try to explain the film, my words come up short, and really, it’s a movie you just have to experience. A plot synopsis just doesn’t do it justice. It’s one of the films that I was least expecting to like this year, and is undoubtedly one of the movies I ended up loving the most. I love that it’s in black and white, and much of its dialogue-driven storytelling reminds me of Woody Allen’s best work.
Frances Ha is a wonderful character piece and a great film all around. Worth checking out if you haven’t seen it, and is available now on Netflix Instant.
Is there anything I could say about Gravity that hasn’t already been said? I doubt it. The movie is simply phenomenal, and had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Alfonso Cuaron deserves as many best-director awards as they can give him, because not only did he make a great film, but he made it in such a way that kept me in a state of absolute amazement and awe from beginning to end. They seriously need to make a documentary solely about how he made this film, because the way it was filmed, and the things he was able to accomplish, completely baffle me.
3. Saving Mr. Banks
I was expecting Saving Mr. Banks to be your typical Oscar-bait feel-good movie, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually fell in love with it. It’s about how Walt Disney acquired the movie rights for Mary Poppins from the book’s author, P.L. Travers. Travers is played wonderfully by Emma Thompson, and the movie has infectious charm and respect for the material that I wasn’t expecting.
The movie had me in tears several times, and I couldn’t help but get swept up in its beautiful underlying story that begins to unfold as time goes on. It’s maybe not one of the best movies I saw this year, but is absolutely one of my favorites.
2. Monsters University
I am a huge Pixar fan. Their films have meant so much to me over the years, and a few of them comfortably sit near the top of my list of favorite films of all time. I always loved how funny and imaginative Monsters, Inc. is, and was, like many of you, scared when I heard they were making a prequel. Prequels, by and large, just don’t work, and often take the things that were great about the original and nearly ruin them.
Monsters University is one of the best prequels I’ve ever seen, and stayed utterly true to its characters while showing us new sides of them we didn’t know about. It also succeeds in expanding on the wonderful world of monsters that we glimpsed in the first one, and showed that Pixar still has some great stories to tell. I’ve seen the movie several times now and get a big goofy smile on my face every time I watch it.
1. Man of Steel
Ah, Man of Steel. Easily the most debated and most critically divided film of the year; and is without a doubt my favorite. I’m a lifelong Superman fan. The character means the world to me, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting a good film adaptation for years. I saw the film opening night at midnight, on the gigantic IMAX screen, and was blown away. They finally, finally delivered the Superman I knew and loved, taking my favorite aspects of the character and bringing them to life in spectacular fashion.
I’m done trying to defend this film to those who hated it or continually include it on their “worst films of the year” lists. I’ll never understand how so many people didn’t like it, and actively (and loudly) displayed their dislike of it all over the web since its release. I just have to accept the fact that it failed to resonate with everyone the way it resonated with me.
The movie is big, bold, and fantastic. Henry Cavill is Superman, and Zack Snyder was the perfect director to show the Last Son of Krypton in action up on the big screen. I’ve seen this movie more times than any other this year, and will continue watching and re-watching until the sequel hits in 2015.
And there we have it! My favorite films of 2013! Here are a few honorable mentions that I liked, but that just didn’t manage to land on my list: Pacific Rim, Fast and Furious 6, Blackfish, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, World War Z, The Wolverine, Behind the Candelabra, and Elysium.