MovieBuff’s Best Films of 2013

Posted: February 12, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Lists

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

2013 is over, and it’s time yet again to take a look back at the best films this past year had to offer.  This year, though, I found that in assembling this list, I just couldn’t limit myself to ten.  So, I’m expanding the roster slightly to The Top Twelve Movies of 2013, because I love the films in the twelfth and eleventh slots enough that not discussing them here wouldn’t have felt right.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s my list:

12. Rush 

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This is what happens when you do a sports movie right. It isn’t so much about how the underdog has to rise up and beat the all-star, it’s more about how the drive for success affects those in the sport, and Ron Howard and Peter Morgan were smart to approach this story from that angle. It gives Rush a more gripping tone and emotional undercurrent than the usual entries in the sports genre. Plus, unlike the boring-as-hell Days of Thunder, Rush is actually exciting to watch, both on and off the track. Another thing this movie does well is to get us to care about not just one of the racers, but BOTH of them. There’s no clear-cut “good guy” or “bad guy” here, just two men driven by the need for success, and each for their own reasons. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl are both great as James Hunt and Nicki Lauda, with their performances each being so strong that by the Third Act, the movie has given us the unique desire to see them both win — which each of them do in their own way. The race scenes themselves are very well-filmed, executed and quite intense, not to mention sporting some awesome sound mixing — it sounds like you’re actually on the track during them — and are complemented by yet another teriffic score by Hans Zimmer, who never disappoints me with his music. All in all, Rush is great and deserving of more recognition, as well as being the best sports movie I’ve seen since The Fighter.

11. Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips is not only one of the best movies of the year, it’s also second in the filmography of Paul Greengrass to United 93. The intensity of this film never lets up for a single second once the plot kicks into gear. Captain Phillips is a heavily edge-of-your-seat film, even when we already know the outcome going in, a feeling comparable to the climax of last year’s Zero Dark Thirty. Greengrass’s love of handheld camerawork actually ends up complementing the whole film rather well; not only does it effectively add to the intense atmosphere, it also lends the film an appropriate sense of seasickness during the middle portion especially. Tom Hanks gives what is easily one of the best performances of his career, and it was definitely worthy of a Best Actor nomination — especially his incredibly powerful work in the final 10 minutes. As always, way to drop the ball, Academy.  Also, the Somalians who portray the pirates are really effective, despite none of them having any acting experience before this. Barkhad Abdi, who plays the leader of the group, is particularly strong.  Not only is he able to make the character feel more like a human being as opposed to a typical villain, Abdi also proves more than capable of going toe-to-toe with a heavyweight like Hanks in the film’s more intense moments.  The scenes taking place in the lifeboat between the pirates and Phillips are not only tense, but also carry a palpably claustrophobic feel which add to the tension. Overall, Captain Phillips is a tremendous thriller, and one not to be missed.

10. Man of Steel

Man of Steel is one of those movies that gets even better the more I watch it.  Now, it’s not that I don’t get the arguments of all the naysayers or can’t see where they’re coming from concerning their personal views about what the character of Superman should be … it’s just that I simply don’t agree with them.  Nor do I particularly care; hey, I know what I love.  As someone who’s never really been a fan of Superman to begin with, I have to say Man of Steel is the Superman film I’ve been waiting for.  It has what all the other entries into the franchise before it have lacked: spectacle.  Seriously, the action scenes here are incredible, fully taking advantage of the God-like powers the Kryptonians exhibit on Earth and making for some kick-ass battles.  Did I get exhausted by all of the action?  Not on my re-watches, because I was so invested in the characters by the time the epic destruction begins.  But my love for the film doesn’t stop there. I also loved what’s done with Superman/Clark himself: how the filmmakers make him very unsure of what he’s supposed to be, his place in this new world and how he should go about being the “savior” of Earth.  For the first time ever, it made him an interesting character for me.  Then there’s the ideals of John Kent concerning his powers, which I found interesting and Amy Adams’ portrayal of Lois Lane, plus Michael Shannon’s intense performance as General Zod — both do terrific work. But also, I love how the movie is treated more as a sci-fi story than a superhero one. This movie did a pretty impressive job of detailing the Kryptonian mythology and I got a kick out of seeing all of that technology in action.  Plus, there’s Hans Zimmer’s score, which is one of my favorites of the year.  Many seem to have shunned Man of Steel, but I’ll stand up for it and say it’s the best Superman film yet.

9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Could it be?  Could we actually have another superior sequel to an already very good first film? I think we do! Of course, having read the books, this comes as no surprise to me (especially since Catching Fire is my favorite novel in the trilogy), but Francis Lawrence and company really hit it out of the park. From beginning to end, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire had me in a death grip by the throat and it never relented until the closing credits. The bleaker, more dangerous aspects of the story bleed out into the overall tone of the film, and even when I knew what was going to happen, I couldn’t tear my eyes away and I felt like I was reading the book for the first time again. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was always my most anticipated blockbuster of the year, and I couldn’t be happier with it. Folks, what we have here is NOT just another teen franchise.  Instead of devoting most of its energy to the romantic politics of a few of the characters, this sequel has the brains to explore the deeper issues at hand: the toll of living in the spotlight and the cost of living with blood on your hands.  Jennifer Lawrence keeps up her streak of first-rate performances as she continues to make sure that Katniss Everdeen is a living, breathing human being with emotions, ideas and concerns.  Furthermore, her conflicted romance with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) really is quite interesting because there’s more to it than simple jealousy or any of those other usual tropes, and it’s actually worth getting invested in.  While Man of Steel may be the more exhilarating of the two, Catching Fire is the stronger movie overall, in my opinion, because it has more effective emotional components in addition to some great spectacle.  It’s a blockbuster that deals in ideas as much as it does thrills.

8. Dallas Buyers Club

Once upon a time, this year’s Best Actor race appeared to be between two men: Chiwetel Ejiofor and Leonardo DiCaprio.  But then, alright, alright … along came Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club.  And, folks, believe the hype: this is a towering performance and definitely the best of McConaughey’s career thus far, definitely worthy of all the accolades.  Between the astonishing weight loss and the way McConaughey disappears into the role, we’re truly experiencing a renaissance of an incredibly talented actor.  He portrays Ron Woodruff, a rough and tough booze-guzzling cowboy in the 1980’s who, shall we say, gets around and is told one day that he’s contracted HIV and has thirty days left to live.  Rather than accept his fate, Ron gets proactive and starts searching for the best treatments for his disease, which happen to be non-FDA approved drugs from Mexico.  Once Ron buys up enough and smuggles them across the border, he starts up the Dallas Buyers Club, where HIV patients can get free treatment and not have to put up with what Ron believes to be the ineffective ways of the hospitals.  The temptation might have been there to make Dallas Buyers Club solely about Ron, but in widening the view not only to him helping other diagnosed people, his conflict with the FDA and the friendships he strikes up with a doctor (Jennifer Garner) and an HIV-positive transvestite (Jared Leto), director Jean-Marc Vallee and screenwriters Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack ensure the most engrossing movie possible.  In addition to McConaughey, Jared Leto is equally astounding as Rayon and seeing him develop a friendship with Ron, a homophobe, is just fascinating and carries some real weight, as does the relationship with Garner’s character.  Another easy trap Dallas Buyers Club could have fallen into was being overly sentimental.  Sure, the film has some of those more heartfelt moments, but it employs them just enough and at just the right times so that they have the best possible effect.  We really get involved in and come to care about Ron’s journey, both as a human being and as a crusader for HIV patients and because of that, Dallas Buyers Club leaves one hell of an impression.

7. American Hustle

David O. Russell’s hot streak continues with American Hustle. This is one of the year’s best films, hands down. Russell’s signature style behind the camera remains intact, not only with his visual choices, but the way he has his actors deliver the scenes. If you loved the acting style on display in The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, then you’ll definitely go for this film as well. American Hustle sports a very well-balanced blend of comedy and drama brought incredibly to life by the stellar cast, all of whom bring their A-game. I’m honestly not surprised to see all four of the main performers receive acting nominations. Christian Bale in particular is great – about five minutes into the film, I forgot it was him I was watching. Getting back briefly to the tone, with these past three films of his, I have to say I love how firm a grasp David O. Russell has on humor. With a film like this, you might not expect there to be much comedy, but much like Silver Linings Playbook, there’s A LOT of humor here. Not only that, but it’s REALLY funny, too.  In fact, I’d say American Hustle is the funniest film of 2013.  I just love this style Russell has developed going back to The Fighter where there are both comedic and dramatic beats that work so equally well.  Now, American Hustle has received something of a backlash recently, and one of those complaints seems to be that the movie is all style and no substance.  Well, I wholeheartedly disagree with that.  The core of this film isn’t the elaborate con being pulled by the characters, but rather the strained romance between Irving (Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams), and the pressure this con exerts on it.  Not to mention the second thoughts Irving develops through the friendship he strikes up with the mark (Jeremy Renner).  From those perspectives, I really got wrapped up in American Hustle and did care about how the story would turn out.  In addition, the film sports some really fun stylistic touches, from the retro 70’s look to the song choices used throughout.  In a year when Martin Scorsese released a new film of his own, I think it’s safe to say that David O. Russell out-Scorsese’d Mr. Scorsese himself.

6. Prisoners

It’s a shame that Prisoners has pretty much been forgotten in Awards Season, because this truly is one of the best movies of the year.  What a terrific movie. Prisoners demonstrates an expertly-crafted level of skill in telling what’s essentially a genre story, and turning it into a thoroughly engrossing movie. From the masterful direction and cinematography, to the powerhouse performances, the compelling script and even the ambiguous title (nearly everyone in this movie is a prisoner in their own way), Prisoners is a movie that just gets better and better as it goes on. Director Denis Villeneuve instills a cold sense of dread right from the get-go which permeates every scene and creates a mounting feeling of intensity while also remaining incredibly understated about it. Hugh Jackman gives perhaps the performance of his career, perfectly capturing the desperation of a father on the edge, and the focused determination in Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is reminiscent of his work in Zodiac.  Upon a recent re-watch of this film, I marveled at the various ways in which the script shows the effects this whole situation is having on the characters without directly addressing them.  For instance, once Keller (Jackman) takes Alex (Paul Dano) hostage and begins torturing him for information on the whereabouts of his kidnapped daughter, Keller makes it a point to use his religious beliefs for strength in doing what he has to do.  But then comes a moment late in the movie where Keller’s once again praying for the necessary strength, but halfway through, he stops as tears roll down his cheeks.  To me, a simple action like that says so much more than a conversation the characters could have on the subject.  And at a running time of 2 1/2 hours, there’s never a moment in Prisoners that could qualify as boring.  For these 145 or so minutes, not counting the credits, it’s hard for me to tear my eyes away from the screen; the suspense certainly doesn’t lose any of its effect with repeat viewings.  Prisoners is a powerful and engrossing film worthy of more recognition than it got.

5. The Place Beyond The Pines the-place-beyond-the-pines-poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easily one of the most polished, engrossing, well-acted and directed films I saw all year. And the fact that it’s managed to stay this high up on the list since it was released in the first quarter of 2013 really does say something about its quality.  The Place Beyond the Pines tells a three-part story spanning multiple years, and each is just as captivating as the last; even the middle one, which deals with the kind of crooked cops plot we’ve seen done numerous times is gripping because director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance manages to instill it with a real sense of tension and dramatic weight. Now, the structure of this film may make things feel overlong to most people, but I continually found myself fascinated by the way it all played out, and the deeper it got, the more invested I became. Both Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper are stellar in their roles, as is the supporting cast. Director Derek Cianfrance manages to find the emotional core of each story fluently, and he ensures there’s never a moment that feels forced or inauthentic, even if the third section contains something of that nature. The way that this story develops over the course of the time depicted here is interesting enough that I can overlook that coincidence. The bottom line is that this is a great movie.  Like Prisoners, The Place Beyond The Pines is hypnotically watchable.

4. Before Midnight

Without a doubt one of 2013’s absolute best films, as well as a perfect close to a wonderful trilogy. This series has prided itself on maintaining naturalism throughout, and that’s certainly the case with Before Midnight, not just in terms of the conversations depicted, but also in the evolution of Jesse and Celine’s relationship. You know, in the week before I watched this film, I also watched Judd Apatow’s This Is 40, which is basically built around the same idea as this film, but Before Midnight handles it in such a graceful, smart and engaging fashion. Jesse and Celine feel like real people by this point, people I happen to care a great deal about, so seeing the way their relationship develops in this installment is sometimes heartbreaking. The entire second half, especially the hotel room scene, is incredible and if the Oscars gave out awards for individual scenes, that one would at the very least be in the running.  How Jesse and Celine’s relationship in this movie is handled feels both real and honest, and there were times here where I forgot I was watching a film.  Richard Linklater and company truly deserve recognition for being able to accomplish what they did, not just in capping off this wonderful trilogy, but in maintaining a high level of quality with each installment. In terms of my favorite film of the trilogy, it’s really between this one and Before Sunset — but I still love all of them.

3. Gravity

After a far too long seven-year absence, director Alfonso Cuaron finally returned to cinema this past year with Gravity, an astounding and breathtaking thrill-ride that does for space what Psycho did for showers and what Jaws did for the water.  The first thing to note about Gravity is that it’s not really meant to be viewed as a story-driven film. Its story is there to simply fuel the ideas that Cuaron wants to explore, mainly the triumph of the human spirit. Gravity is a survival story, no more and no less, but Cuaron handles it so beautifully. This movie connects on such a purely human level, and that’s how Cuaron is able to get us so wrapped up in this thing. How much you like this film obviously has to do with how willing you are to accept this sort of approach. I’m not saying you’re wrong if you find the lack of a deep plot disconcerting, but let me tell ya, story is usually the first thing I look at when it comes to movies, and yet I was completely absorbed in this film right from the beginning. The true marvel of Gravity is how Alfonso Cuaron can find such an emotional core in the middle of such a technologically breathtaking experience.  And that’s thanks to Sandra Bullock’s incredibly naturalistic performance in the middle of such an effects-heavy film.  Of course, with this being an Alfonso Cuaron film, Gravity is visually arresting. He gets to use his skill at tracking shots to great effect here, providing for cinematography and editing so expertly done, you really don’t notice them as you’re watching. In fact, this movie is so masterfully shot, Cuaron really does create the illusion that this was shot in space. Also, Gravity contains the best use of 3-D that I’ve seen in years, perhaps ever. Cuaron makes full use of the zero-gravity atmosphere, and if the cinematography by itself wasn’t already enough to make you feel like you’re right up in space with these astronauts, the 3-D enhances that nearly tenfold.  Gravity is hands down the best action movie of 2013.

2. 12 Years a Slave

It’s not often that I see a film so great and so powerful that it leaves the audience in a stunned and respectful silence once it’s over as they leave the theater, but that’s exactly what I experienced when I saw 12 Years a Slave.  Without a doubt, this is the most powerful film I’ve seen in a long time, one that’s very reminiscent of the core-shaking feeling left in me by Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.  Much like Gravity, 12 Years a Slave isn’t so much a film as it is an experience.  The film itself, director Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender ALL deserved their respective Oscar nominations, because their work here will not soon leave you once you see this movie.  12 Years a Slave is masterful in every sense of the word, but the thing to admire the most about it is how it doesn’t Hollywood-ize slavery.  It depicts it in a most brutally honest fashion, and neither does it turn Solomon Northup into an inspiring crusader who tries to organize a rebellion or even serve as a gentle savior to his fellow slaves.  Most of the time, he’s content to keep his head down because he realizes that no one is interested in hearing his insistence of his unlawful imprisonment.  Even if he has moments of resistance against his owners, he’s still content to ride out his sentence once he realizes the futility of any attempts to run free.  It’s such a powerful performance, and Steve McQueen’s hauntingly realistic direction hammers home the themes even more.  It’s not an easy watch, but 12 Years a Slave is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking that’s more than worth your time when all is said and done.  In many ways, it’s the most important film of 2013.

1. Her

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Here I was thinking that 12 Years a Slave was locked in as my pick for the Best Film of 2013. Well, then along came Her, an absolute gem of a film that if I had to use one word to describe, it’d be beautiful. From its stunning production design to its gorgeous cinematography (take note, this is the guy in charge of the cinematography for the upcoming Interstellar) and especially its story ripe with surprising emotional resonance, Spike Jonze has crafted another spectacular film with wondrous life and energy, much like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Jonze sells this story, which could’ve gone wildly off the tracks with a less-skilled director, effortlessly and makes the central relationship here far more real and delicate than we could’ve imagined. He uses the story of a man falling in love with his operating system to show just how overly dependent we as a society have become on our technology.  But also, and this is from my own perspective, I think Jonze is using it to meditate a bit on long-distance relationships, and the inherent strain that comes with them, especially in not being able to share a physical component of such a relationship.  Joaquin Phoenix does extraordinary work, as does Scarlett Johannson, and Amy Adams and Rooney Mara are splendid in supporting roles. But really, Phoenix is extraordinary here and it disappoints me that he didn’t receive a Best Actor nomination.  Through Joaquin Phoenix’s splendid acting and the themes of the plot, I found myself surprisingly, and sometimes uncomfortably connected to Her, more so than any other film from 2013.  I could relate to Theodore’s often times forced isolation and his simultaneous desire to find someone who understands him.  By the time it was over, it felt like I had gone on the same journey as Theodore, and the sense of renewed joy and hope present in the ending coursed through me the same way it did him. Her is the one 2013 film that I wanted to see again immediately after it was over, and if it were up to me, I’d award it Best Picture and give Best Director to Spike Jonze.

Comments
  1. Nice list! Great to see Her so high up!

    Dorian

  2. moviebuff801 says:

    Thanks! It certainly deserves it.

  3. […] PG COOPER’S MOVIE REVIEWS put together a great Best Of 2013 list that is hard to argue with. [MovieBuff’s Best Films of 2013] […]

  4. chrispink says:

    Good blog! I thought The Place Beyond… was brilliant. It really surprised me, actually. Even my girlfriend, who wouldn’t usually watch such a film, enjoyed it. I also thought it was very unique in terms of genre — few movies are capable of straddling the subtle intricicies more usually found in art-house cinema, with the visual and story appeal of films which do well with US audiences. Tough combination.

    Captain Phillips, too. Now that is a film. Ultra-realistic and very gritty.

    Chris from sillyoldgoat.com

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