MovieBuff’s Top 20 Non-2013 Films I Watched in 2013

Posted: January 6, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Lists

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

Well, I recently relived the Worst, so now it’s time to lighten things up and get to the cream of the crop, the best of the bunch.  Here they are, the 20 Best Non-2013 that I watched for the first time last year.

20. Ben-Hur (Watched on February 16th)

One of the prime examples of epic Hollywood moviemaking at its finest. This was obviously my first time seeing Ben-Hur and while I thoroughly enjoyed and got caught up in it, certain aspects of the story took me by surprise, mainly how Ben-Hur’s struggle occurs at the same time as Jesus Christ’s teachings and ultimate demise. On that note, the way in which that story is constantly weaved into the film here and there I thought was well-done. Charleton Heston’s performance is tremendous and the chariot race makes for a great and thrilling set-piece. All in all, a great movie.

19. Scarface (Watched on December 20th)

Brian De Palma’s crime opus Scarface isn’t as quiet and nuanced as, say, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, but from start to finish, it’s still one wild hell of a ride, and I loved every profanity-laced minute of it. Al Pacino shows exactly why he’s such a great actor here; his performance as Tony Montanna is every bit as compelling as his one as Michael Corleone. He commands the screen whenever he’s on it and it’s hard to look away. And the best part is that Pacino’s able to create a good amount of sympathy for Tony when need be, despite the character continually taking part in such heinous acts of criminality and violence. Here’s a man who obtains everything, but still has nothing at the end of the day. There’s also a good number of top-notch supporting performances from the likes of Robert Loggia, Michelle Pfiefer, Steven Bauer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Brian De Palma’s direction is stylish, but not overly so, and it puts us right in the 80’s with minimal effort. And for a film that’s 10 minutes shy of 3 hours, it really does fly by, which can be attributed to the tightly-written script by Oliver Stone. Oh, and the climax does indeed live up to the hype. I’d rank Scarface among the greatest crime films ever, worthy of going toe-to-toe with some of the heavyweights. As a sidenote, I’m looking forward to adding it to my collection soon.

18. The Girl (Watched on April 6th)

Between the two films about Alfred Hitchcock that were released in late 2012, I find The Girl to be the superior one. Whereas Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins, took a more traditional bio route, The Girl instead takes a certain stretch of the director’s career and tells THAT story. Okay, the Hopkins film did the same thing, but The Girl does so in a much more interesting fashion … and it was a made-for-cable movie.

Toby Jones is inspired casting for Hitchcock, and his performance outshines Hopkins’ in nearly every way. The portrayal of the famous auteur is a more psychological one in this film, and kind of unsettling, too. The film is about his obsessive relationship with Tippi Hedren, star of both The Birds and Marnie, and the way the film plays out is similar to the way one of Hitchcock’s psychological thrillers would play out — and I loved that. Sienna Miller did a good job of playing “the victim”, and the film is apparently based on Hedren’s own recollections about her experiences.

I think this is a movie every Hitchcock fan should see, because it really paints the Master of Suspense in a light we’re not used to seeing him in.

17. Rosemary’s Baby (Watched on October 23rd)

Rosemary’s Baby is widely regarded as one of the best horror films ever made, but I’m not sure I’d lump it into that genre. It plays out more like a psychological thriller, which gradually builds a strong sense of unease until the climax, where an element of supernatural horror finally comes into play. That’s not to belittle Roman Polanski’s film at all, because it’s still great and draws you in more and more as it goes on. But personally, I feel like the film’s reliance more on psychological horror and paranoia was a far more effective approach than emphasizing the supernatural elements any earlier on, and because of that, the final reveal is all the more unsettling. Speaking of, the climax is handled in just the right way, particularly in how much we don’t see for ourselves. The direction by Polanski is a big part of the film’s success factor in that regard, but even more so is Mia Farrow’s fantastic performance. She sells Rosemary’s mounting sense of paranoia flawlessly, and thus elicits incredible sympathy. But what I love most about Rosemary’s Baby is how it’s so suspenseful in such a subtle way. As the movie goes on, you can feel tension slowly starting to ebb its way into the story, and the best part is that it’s not so in-your-face about it. In many ways, Rosemary’s Baby also resembles a Hitchcock thriller. While it personally didn’t scare me that much, Rosemary’s Baby is still an intense and tremendously-made thriller.

16. Before Sunrise (Watched on October 4th)

It’s rare, incredibly rare, that a movie consisting of just two people walking around and talking can be so compelling, but I give you Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. The movie follows two young people (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train, spontaneously decide to get off at the stop at Vienna, and spend the day exploring both the city and each other’s personalities. Obviously, a large part of this movie’s success is owed to the likability and sheer chemistry between Hawke and Delpy, who create characters who feel like real people. And because of that, watching what develops between the two of them is a real joy to witness. As should be the case with all the best romantic movies, we WANT to see these two find happiness, and yet at the same time, the ending feels natural and not like it betrays everything that came before it. Richard Linklater also deserves credit for this, because he does an excellent job of giving the film a very in-the-moment feel, which is essential in pulling off this story. Before Sunrise is a fantastic film, so good that I just HAD to see the other two films in this little trilogy as fast as I could.

15. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Watched on March 21st)

Oh, how much better this was than Huston and Bogart’s Maltese Falcon. The story to this film was a lot more interesting and easy to get into, plus it’s one of those classic films that has a timeless feel to it. The screenplay is one of the film’s biggest strengths, as it very effectively explores the issues of greed and paranoia that are inherent with the scenario of gold prospecting. The way Huston gradually builds upon those feelings lends this film a strong sense of atmosphere that keeps us hooked on a scene-by-scene basis. Humphrey Bogart is, of course, fantastic, as are his two supporting players, and the way his character evolves over the course of the film is fascinating. In fact, his arc may be one of the strongest elements about Sierra Madre. Overall, this is a gripping and exciting film; I loved it.

14. Fatal Attraction (Watched on February 27th)

Fatal Attraction completely lives up to the hype. The way that Adrian Lynne ratchets up tension through his sure-handed direction results in a near-perfect atmosphere that draws you deeper in the more the film goes on. Glenn Close is incredibly effective and convincing, the kind of antagonist who makes you look forward to seeing her demise, and boy, does that scene deliver. The script does a great job of getting you to sympathize with Douglas’s character, despite him cheating on his wife for a weekend, but also with his wife and daughter. Seriously, I really felt bad for that kid once or twice near the end (you can most likely guess one of those instances). And by the end, I realized just how often the movie made me forget to breathe during the Third Act, despite me already being aware of a lot of the big “moments.” Great movie.

13. The Royal Tenenbaums (Watched on August 20th)

The Royal Tenenbaums is hands down my favorite Wes Anderson movie so far. This film is just…wonderful. Fascinating and lovable characters, sharp and clever writing, terrific acting, I could just go on. Finally, FINALLY, Wes Anderson’s style worked for me completely in one of his films. I liked Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom just fine, but here, the marriage of Wes Anderson’s storytelling style with all of these great and endearing characters just made this a downright exuberant experience for me.  There’s really nothing else to say except that I’m looking forward to buying this movie sometime soon — as well as Wes Anderson’s next film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

12. Blow (Watched on July 9th)

Blow is easily among not only Johnny Depp’s best performances (maybe even THE best), as well as his best films, period. It’s really a reminder of just how great Depp can be when he’s not working with Tim Burton or Gore Verbinski, and his performance as George Jung is powerful and sympathetic in a beautifully understated way. We really come to care about George, despite his drug dealing, because the script and Depp’s performance make it clear that George is mainly doing this not only because he doesn’t know how to do anything else so well, but also because he wants to provide for those closest to him, and not be like his father. We really do root for him as a result, even if we may already know the outcome. In fact, I think this is the first time Depp has ever managed to move me to tears just a little. Also, Ray Liotta gives a very strong performance as George’s dad, with their relationship with each other proving to be a particularly strong aspect of the movie, and director Ted Demme injects the film with just enough style, but not enough to ever distract or detract. All in all, Blow is a terrific film.

11. Life of Pi (Watched on January 21st)

I’ve never read Yann Martel’s beloved novel Life of Pi, on which director Ang Lee’s latest film is based. But even so, the sheer magnitude of the story and its messages weren’t lost on me, as this film pulled me in deeper and deeper every minute. The majority of the film finds a teenager named Pi (Suraj Sharma) stranded in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger referred to as Richard Parker after a ravaging storm claims the lives of the rest of Pi’s family. In terms of story set-up, Life of Pi reminds me of Robert Zemeckis’s Cast Away, but Ang Lee’s film is a much more miraculous achievement; not to knock Cast Away, though. For one, Life of Pi has a wondrous visual scope, with sometimes breathtaking imagery worthy of being paintings in an art museum. But more importantly, the film’s emotional core is tenderly and expertly handled by Lee and screenwriter David Magee, whose script makes the film’s hour at sea a captivating stretch in every sense of the word. Suraj Sharma’s performance is more than worthy of the burden of carrying most of the movie by itself, and the way his dynamic with the tiger blossoms is really quite extraordinary, especially in how powerful and heart-tugging its resolution ends up being. Also doing great work here is Irrfan Khan as the older Pi, who recounts the events that we see play out. By the end of this movie, I felt as if I’d experienced something truly remarkable. Life of Pi is a real experience, an experience not to be missed, and I can confidently say that its 11 Oscar nominations were not wasted. If you haven’t yet seen this film, then I absolutely urge you to.

10. Zero Dark Thirty (Watched on January 13th)

Zero Dark Thirty is the most polished, riveting, intense and satisfying experience that any movie I saw from 2012 gave me, on par with the best procedural, political and military movies ever made. When I compare it against director Kathryn Bigelow’s previous The Hurt Locker, I’m even more amazed by her ability to craft a film that feels so real, it’s like the camera is a fly on the wall that’s capturing real interactions and situations as they play out. What’s more amazing is Bigelow’s flawless way of building suspense, even when we know the outcome of this story. I know I praised Ben Affleck last year for doing the same with Argo, but Bigelow earns more credit between the two because her methods are more subtle. Seriously, I could hardly breathe during the climatic raid on Bin Laden’s house. On the acting front, Jessica Chastain is extraordinary as Maya, and this marks the second year in a row after The Debt where she’s appeared in one of my Best Films of the Year. The best thing about Chastain’s performance here is how internal she keeps Maya’s struggle, and through the “less-is-more” approach, manages to get our sympathy almost effortlessly. Some may call this film emotionally lacking, but I found its decision to let the audience decide how they feel about everything, rather than being spoonfed it, much more effective and representative of how a story like this would play out in real life. If it were up to me, I’d have given Zero Dark Thirty Best Picture at last year’s Oscars; it’s the one film from 2012 where, by the time it was over, I was left in a daze from how great it was. Ms. Bigelow, here’s to seeing what you give us next.

9. Annie Hall (Watched on December 31st)

So much has already been said about why Annie Hall is such a great film, so I’ll keep this short. First off, the writing is absolutely fantastic. The characters are both believable and relatable, while the dialogue itself is sharp and wickedly funny. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton hit their performances out of the park, and it’s also a joy to see them interact with other people around them. Allen also shows considerable skill behind the camera, and he manages to inject the whole film with a wonderful energy. Overall, Annie Hall is one of the best romantic movies — not just romantic comedies — that I’ve ever seen.

8. Before Sunset (Watched on November 25th)

This entire trilogy certainly lived up to the hype. There’s very much a fly-on-the-wall quality to these movies, where they don’t feel like films at all, but rather pieces of real life experienced by two real people. Building off that, there’s such a naturalistic quality to these movies and especially the conversations between Jesse and Celine that gets you so wrapped up in what’s going on, that when the movie is over, you’re genuinely surprised. The way the relationship between these two develops during this film is vastly interesting and feels genuine. And about that ending…it sure made me eager to watch Before Midnight.

7. Shame (Watched on March 30th)

2013 was the year where I discovered the modern film director Steve McQueen, starting with Shame, and holy hell what a discovery it turned out to be.  After this, I would go on to see Hunger and 12 Years a Slave, and all I can say is Mr. McQueen seems destined to earn a spot amongst all the great directors.  One could call Shame an arthouse porn film, but that’d be generalizing it. What this really is is a fascinating character study of one man and his substitution of physical intimacy for the emotional kind, and how it can ultimately unwind the few things he really does care about. Michael Fassbender is extraordinary here, as sometimes, just a simple facial expression from him can communicate such a range of emotions. Steve McQueen’s script and direction are impeccable, serving to put us in a trance due to how great they are — at least, that’s what happened to me. Bottom line, Shame is fantastic.

6. American History X (Watched on June 2nd)

Wow. American History X completely lives up to the hype. It’s tough, unapologetic and totally engrossing from beginning to end. Edward Norton’s performance in this movie just reaffirms why he’s one of my favorite actors. He creates a truly memorable character, and perfectly embodies both sides of his growth in the film. Plus, the way the film deals with issues such as hate, family and forgiveness is just mesmerizing. All in all, a fantastic film.

5. Do The Right Thing (Watched on July 14th)

This movie…ah, is it a hell of a movie. Not to mention one that lives up to the hype. Despite having no clear-cut narrative, and just a slew of behavioral examinations, Do The Right Thing is completely engrossing. It’s truly a tour-de-force of acting, writing and direction to the point where there are times when you feel like an observer on these streets rather than a viewer sitting at home. Actors like Danny Aiello, Spike Lee himself, Giancarlo Esposito (yes, Gus Fring himself), John Turturro and more all deliver powerhouse performances, creating characters that jump right off the screen. But most of all, Spike Lee’s script is the real star here. The way it builds and builds tension as blistering as the heat wave depicted in the film. Said tension builds to such tightness, that when tempers finally explode, Spike Lee makes sure we FEEL it. The riot scene is so intense, that as I sat there watching it, it truly inspired a fire in me. Whether I was identifying with one side or the other, I couldn’t tell, but goddamn it did Lee make sure that hatred was palpable.

Overall, this is a great film, and I’m positive it’s gonna stay with me for a while.

4. Boogie Nights (Watched on April 7th)

I’ve now seen all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, and the thing about him that’s most readily apparent is the guy has such a strong passion for film, and it shows in his work.

Boogie Nights is a 2 1/2-hour epic that follows a group of people involved in the porn industry at the height of its popularity in the late 70’s, as well as their eventual downfall in the early 80’s. But Anderson’s films have never been THAT driven by story. Instead, they’re driven by circumstance and the ability of his characters to affect their surroundings. This film and Magnolia share structural similarities, and in my opinion, they’re his two best films.

The all-star cast all does stellar work, Mark Wahlberg and Burt Reynolds especially. And the strength of the acting just goes to show how great of a director Anderson can be, as he can get tremendous performances out of actors who we normally think wouldn’t be this good. But Boogie Nights also hammers home the fact that Anderson can create incredibly sympathetic and human characters out of people who either populate areas that are less-than-commendable or just happen to be involved in industries or jobs that aren’t exactly parts of high-standing society. I genuinely came to care about all these characters, even though they’re engaged in one of the dirtiest businesses possible.

Also on display in Boogie Nights is the sheer power of Anderson’s filmmaking. Between the abundance of awesome tracking shots and his ability to effortlessly cut between four and five different events going on at the same time, Anderson never misses a beat, and the film EARNS every minute of its long running time. But Anderson isn’t just making a movie about the passion of skin flick producers — he’s making a movie about the passion and integrity of any determined director in general.

This is a fantastic movie.

3. City of God (Watched on September 5th)

City of God is enthralling, fast-paced, exhilarating — an all-around great film that fires on every cylinder. There isn’t anything in this movie, be it a character or a storyline, that isn’t interesting in any way. The filmmaking by Fernando Meirrelles is simply incredible, from the way he edits scenes to how he shoots them — I can’t think of a single moment in this entire movie where I was bored. It also helps that the cast is made up of people native to the country and thus unfamiliar to American audiences; it helps us get pulled into the story even more. Plus, despite the heavy subject matter as well as the fact that it’s all based on a true story, Meirrelles makes this a highly entertaining movie to watch at the same time because of all the energy he injects into the thing.

One of the best movies I’ve seen in a while, period.

2. The Shining (Watched on October 18th)

2013 was the year I finally got around to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and holy shit, is this a great film. Not only is it easily the best Kubrick film I’ve seen thus far (and the first one I’ve loved from the get-go), it’s also already one of the three best horror films I’ve ever seen. THIS is how you do an effective horror movie, directors of today. There’s no endless barrage of cheap jump scares, no excessive gore, just an impeccably-crafted atmosphere, a perfectly-paced sense of impending terror and psychologically disturbing imagery. This film gets crazier and crazier as it goes on, mirroring the gradually deteriorating mental state of Jack Torrance. As said character, Jack Nicholson is superb, and once he starts to break down, it’s simultaneously both an entertaining and creepy piece of acting. I can see some people’s complaints about Shelley Duvall’s character, but I personally wasn’t bothered by how her character was written — mainly because I haven’t read the book. On the subject about the book vs. the movie, I’ve read fans of the book are also displeased at how the film ignores the backstories of the ghosts in the hotel, save for Grady. Well, I felt like keeping a sense of mystery in that respect only added to the whole atmosphere of terror that Kubrick was going for. I understand that Stephen King is a very verbose writer, but this film, as a film and not an adaptation (which is what I have to view it as) feels…well, perfect. I can’t imagine there being any more to this story, nor do I really WANT to, because as it stands, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a tremendous experience of terror and I freaking love it.

1. Apocalypse Now (Watched on January 31st)

One of the best war movies I’ve ever seen, and a hauntingly captivating portrait of not only the Vietnam War, but also an unflinching depiction of the theme of “war is hell.” I find it very impressive that a film I watched way back near the beginning of the year would wind up at the top of this list, but it’s certainly earned.  Apocalypse Now has stayed in my mind ever since I saw it last January and not unlike cases of PTSD in soldiers, I haven’t been able to shake it.  So many of its incredible images and scenes are still vivid in my mind.  Francis Ford Coppola’s direction here is extraordinary and puts you right in the center of all this utter chaos with no apologies, making for an experience that’s all at once riveting, terrifying and exhilarating.  Martin Sheen here gives the best performance I’ve seen from him so far, and we’re right there with him as he has nightmarish encounter after nightmarish encounter.  And then there’s Marlon Brando, in an equally memorable and more haunting performance as Col. Kurtz.  Brando is only in the Third Act, but oh my God, does he leave an impression.  “You’re an errand boy.  Sent here by grocery clerks to collect a bill.”  Apocalypse Now is another masterpiece from Francis Ford Coppola worthy of ranking right alongside his first two Godfather films.  It’s a stunning film in every sense of the word, one which I would now happily rank among my Top 30 of All-Time.

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