2013 was a mediocre year for movies. When looking back trying to compile this list of the best movies, I discovered that I couldn’t even find ten movies from the year that I would have rated as great. Normally I make this list and have some left over for the list from eleven to twenty. There were twenty-two movies I would have rated as really good and even that number is lower than normal.
As far as I was concerned, even this year’s Academy Awards list of Best Picture nominees wasn’t very impressive. Of the nine movies nominated only two of them are on my best ten list though four of the others you will see on the other list.
Before naming the best films, here are a few statistics for you about the 2013 movie year. On the plus side kids, as usual, were well represented at the movies with the release of fourteen movies over the twelve month period. Studios have re-discovered how lucrative the market has become so families are getting a chance to go out every month with a new offering. With the current smash success of The Lego Movie it is clear the market will not be depleted anytime soon and, if the product is as well received, adults may be just as entertained and that’s the key. Anyone can make a movie for little kids as they are easily entertained but when you can equally entertain the grown-ups? That’s when you have hit the gold mine.
On to the bad news: 3D is still popular though it has waned somewhat. Audiences are starting to learn that paying $2-$3 more to see 3D with little to no 3D effects worth seeing. When I was younger 3D made a comeback in the early 1980s and though those movies were cheesy, at least you got shots of a yo-yo seemingly coming into your lap and things like that. The movies in 3D these days are largely 3D free as far as I can tell and we are still being deluged with them. In 2013 we had thirty-five movies released in 3D or roughly three new movies a month! Hollywood has never been known for subtlety but 3D went into overkill two years ago and the hits (and misses) keep on coming. Personally, I never see a movie in 3D anymore unless there is no other alternative. Another odd trend is re-releasing movies in 3D that weren’t originally in 3D. This past year I saw both Jurassic Park and The Wizard of Oz and while it was great to see them both on the big screen there was absolutely no 3D shots worth noting in either film. It was just a gimmick to make a little more money.
Another bad trend that continues to plague moviegoers year in and year out is sequels and remakes. I recently did an article on remakes so my opinion is out there and known. Sequels I have less of a problem with because I can understand the notion more. A movie hits big so the studios crank out more of the same to continue cashing in. The problem I have is that rarely do these sequels stand out as films on their own. More often than not the sequel is simply more of the same involved in stories that show little difference from the original. A good example is the upcoming 22 Jump Street. If you saw the first film you will recall that two young cops go undercover as high school students to help break up a drug ring. What’s the story of the sequel? Shame on you if you haven’t guessed it yet – they go undercover as college students to break up a drug ring. Can’t Hollywood give moviegoers at least a little credit? In 2013 we saw thirty-one sequels and remakes hit the big screen, further evidence that Hollywood doesn’t have an original bone left in its body.
Here are a few mini-lists in regards to movies of 2013.
10 Movies I Liked That You Didn’t:
After Earth; The Counselor; Escape Plan; Machete Kills; Only God Forgives; Pacific Rim; Red 2; Riddick; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; Spring Breakers.
10 Movies You Liked That I Didn’t:
Anchorman 2; Bad Grandpa; Don Jon; Elysium; Identity Thief; Man of Steel; Monsters University; Now You See Me; Prisoners; We’re The Millers.
Movies That Deserve Honorable Mention:
12 Years A Slave; Captain Phillips; Drinking Buddies; Ender’s Game; Mama; Oblivion; Out of the Furnace; Rush; Side Effects; The Spectacular Now; Still Mine.
The Ten Best Films That Didn’t Quite Make the Top Ten:
Blue Jasmine; Enough Said; Fruitvale Station; Gravity; Inside Llewyn Davis; Lee Daniels’ The Butler; The Place Beyond The Pines; Star Trek-Into Darkness; 2 Guns; The Wolf of Wall Street.
And now here are my choices of the ten best films of 2013. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did and, if you haven’t seen them, I hope you will seek them out.
10) ABOUT TIME (Director – Richard Curtis). I have a confession to make. I am a sucker for time travel stories. If there is one power or ability I could have in this life it would be to travel in time so whenever a movie on the subject comes along, I highly anticipate it. Richard Curtis’ British comedy-drama tells the story of a young man turning 21 who is informed by his father that all the men in their family have the ability to travel in time. After the initial shock wears off he takes off on an odyssey of time travel where he makes the life he has dreamt of right up to and including winning the heart of the woman he loves. What he doesn’t realize at first is that with every trip in time there is a consequence in the future. Curtis’ smart script is not without flaws if you look too closely but is filled with so much charm and wit that you forgive it. There’s a strong message about family that should resonate with everyone and I dare you not to have a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye at the end.
9) DISCONNECT (Director – Henry Alex Rubin) A terrific ensemble drama that covers the lives of different people and how each of their lives collide because of the age of computers and the Internet. One family deals with a teenage son being cyber bullied and a cop whose son is doing the bullying. Another involves a married couple whose secrets become public knowledge. To say much more would ruin a wonderful film that is quite intense at times. A strong ensemble cast is headed by Jason Bateman in a dramatic turn as a harried father dealing with a troubled son. It’s a strong performance filled with many strong performances. I cannot recommend enough everyone experience this motion picture.
8) HER (Director – Spike Jonze) A wonderfully original love story starring Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely man who falls in love with the voice of a computer program (beautifully performed by an unseen Scarlett Johansson). The film’s strength is its originality. You don’t know where it’s headed and you get caught up in the plight of the film’s hero. One scene where Phoenix can’t raise the voice on his computer causing him to panic is harrowing but a sign of how powerful a story Jonze is telling. A true original.
7) THE BOOK THIEF (Director – Brian Percival) A young girl is taken in by a family in Germany during World War II and soon they take in a Jewish refugee that they hide in the basement. Soon the girl bonds with the refugee as the horrors of the war begin to unfold around them. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson play the adoptive parents being both tough and easy going when they need to be. A wonderful moment involves a snowball fight in the basement. Some people believed this to be yet another film about the horrors of war and perhaps it was but, as seen through the eyes of a little girl, I found it riveting even it the material was a bit familiar.
6) THE WAY, WAY BACK (Directors – Nat Faxon, Jim Rash) From the co-writers of The Descendants comes this wonderful coming of age story about a teenager being forced to spend a summer with his mother and her boyfriend at his summer cottage. The young man has a hard time fitting in and he finds solace at the local water park where he meets one of the owners (played by a scene stealing Sam Rockwell) and soon finds himself and the courage to fight for what he believes in. Steve Carell is well cast as the mother’s boyfriend who may not be all that but its Rockwell’s film and he should have been nominated for an Oscar. This is one of the best teen comedies I have seen in a long time. It’s very funny with a dash of seriousness to keep it level. I loved it.
5) AMERICAN HUSTLE (Director – David O.Russell) A complex, thought provoking and extremely entertaining movie about a brilliant con man and his seductive British partner who are forced into working with the FBI on an elaborate scam that hoists them into the strange and possibly deadly world of politics and the mafia. The film features one great performance after another starting with Christian Bale and Amy Adams as the con team. Bradley Cooper almost steals the movie as an unhinged FBI agent who is so explosive he beats up his own supervisor. Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s tart-ish wife who may single handedly bring the whole con crashing down. Jeremy Renner is brilliant but largely unnoticed as the unfortunate politico caught between the con artists and the FBI. In another year Renner would have been Oscar nominated along with the other cast members. This is a deep but fun film to watch unfold as you wonder what is on the up and up and what isn’t – if there is anything on the up and up. This is one of those films you think about long after and smile and it’s genius.
4) MUD (Director – Jeff Nichols) What a year it was for Matthew McConaughey. Not only did he win the Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club but he was equally brilliant here as a man on the run from police who befriends two young boys while living in a small boat suspended in the trees on an island on the Mississippi river. He forms a pact with the boys telling them he will give them the boat if they supply him with food and help to reunite him with his girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon). The film then focuses on young Ellis, his tough home life and his struggles to maintain a friendship with the mysterious man known as Mud. Writer/director Jeff Nichols fashions a fascinating character piece (much as he did with his brilliant Take Shelter) and creates some unforgettable characters in a very real situation. Every frame of this movie rings true. Seek this film out.
3) BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (Director – Abdellatif Kechiche) The winner of last year’s top prize at the Cannes Film Festival is this haunting, exhausting three-hour French drama about a young teenage woman coming into her own sexuality when she meets and falls in love with another woman who has blue hair and is a free spirit. This touching, powerful drama was rated NC-17 for its very explicit (and long) sex scene that is real and filled with such raw emotion and power that you don’t find it erotic as much as exhilarating. The story is very real and believable and I think everyone can relate to the ups and downs of this relationship. There are some brutally frank scenes that are unforgettable and when the film ended I felt emotionally drained, almost as if it had been MY relationship.
2) MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Director – Joss Whedon) On a break from filming The Avengers, director Joss Whedon spent 12 days shooting this modern day re-telling of the classic play by William Shakespeare. Shot in black and white and filmed almost entirely at Whedon’s own home, the film takes a comedic look at love, betrayal and all the other delicious ingredients found in classic Shakespeare. This is a film to let unfold upon you and to be taken in by the lively characters and the witty dialogue. It’s a small film but one of the most enjoyable times I have had at a movie in ages.
1) BEFORE MIDNIGHT (Director – Richard Linklater) The third film in this terrific series (following Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) catches up with our couple (co-writers Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) married with children and at a crossroads in their marriage. We find them in Greece where they have been vacationing for the summer. Hawke has just dropped his son from his first marriage off at the airport and, beginning with the ride home, he begins questioning the choices he has made in his life and his marriages past and present. Over the next 24 hours we will watch this couple do as we have done before…. they talk, they think, they make mistakes, they eat and drink and they live lives that any one of us can relate to. That is the beauty of this movie and the whole series (of which each film is better than the one before), any one of us has probably lived or spoke the words of these characters even if the settings are different. If this is the end of the story I can’t think of a better way for it to conclude but I hope they find room for at least one more. I want to continue to follow these characters into middle age, retirement and becoming grandparents. This series should be watched as a trilogy, one right after the other so you can take in the brilliance of it all. I smiled from beginning to end watching this and I think you will too.