You might be wondering — aren’t I a little late on the “Top 10 Films of 2013” list?
Sigh. Yeah, I probably am. But at least I beat the Oscars. I refused to slide any further into the new year than Oscar Sunday.
2013 was a great year for movies, but it was a tough year for this movie-lover. Full-time non-movie-related employment and other part-time work put an end to a lot of opening weekend movie visits and forced me to be really selective about what I could watch in the time that I had. I barely had time to review everything I watched this year, let alone to create new, interesting content. So I needed a couple months to finish watching some more 2013 movies.
But I can only apologize so much. I still watched a lot of different movies — I just had to work a little harder. And I think my writing has been as good if not better than it’s ever been. You be the judge, and let me know what you think of my Top 10 list.
Eventually, you’re going to hear about some great movie that’s heavily Oscar-nominated and you’ll find out that the director’s name is Jeff Nichols. Nichols (“Take Shelter”) knows how to make a beautiful movie with suspenseful yet grounded storytelling. “Mud” is a modern-day “Huckleberry Finn,” a great film with a young male lead who we’ve just seen the beginning of, not to mention part of the long highlight reel for Matthew McConaughey this year. (Read my review)
9. Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen’s filmography is like a never-ending game of Battleship. That in mind, our submarine or aircraft carrier got one step closer to being sunk this summer with “Blue Jasmine,” a somewhat uncharacteristic film for Allen in the sense that it’s truly a character study of Cate Blanchett’s troubled title character. The movie has all of his trademarks, plus it boasts top-notch performances (even from Andrew Dice Clay and Louis CK of all people) and a script that beautifully balances it present tense story line with insightful and carefully planted flashbacks. (Read my review)
8. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Easily the year’s biggest blockbuster at the box office, “Catching Fire” was also the year’s best big-budget film in general, especially when you weigh it against the expectations. Its pair of Oscar-winning screenwriters definitely helped, along with action that was much better than in the first film. Because the scale grew larger as well, director Francis Lawrence responded well by letting characters other than Katniss shine. (Read my review)
7. The Way Way Back
Indie coming-of-age films are a dime a dozen, but the Oscar-winning writers of “The Descendants,” Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, made one that shines a little brighter than the rest. “The Way Way Back” evokes the nostalgia of summers growing up and feeling out one’s independence in a way so few movies like this have. It’s just realistic enough, but also just enough of an idyllic version to connect with audiences on a whole other level. (Read my review)
6. The Wolf of Wall Street
After pulling his “and now for something completely different” routine with “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese ventured back into familiar territory: drugs, sex, violence and f-words. Times a hundred. There’s nothing new in the story of an immoral man controlled by his vices rising to the top of the financial world and crashing down, so Scorsese had a lot to prove with “Wolf,” and he does it. For a film as long as it is, it’s a riveting watch and it avoids taking a moral stance, instead exploring greed and success as ideas intrinsic to humanity. Leonardo DiCaprio is at the top of his game too. (Read my review)
“Gravity” has been splitting opinion since its October release date, so naturally it splits this list in half. I can’t overstate the cinematic heights Alfonso Cuarón and crew reached with this exceptional work of technical achievement. Between Cuarón’s creativity and the zero-G look and feel, “Gravity” is both a poetic and intense movie-going experience and the only film I can remember having left a physical impact on my body immediately after watching. All that said, the story could have easily been stronger (and less preposterous), but it’s hard to complain in the face of such a marvelous visual achievement. (Read my review)
4. Inside Llewyn Davis
How this Coen Brothers film got overlooked by the Academy I won’t ever understand. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is musical melancholy at its absolute finest, a story of ambition and the American Dream captured infinitely better than Baz Luhrman’s “The Great Gatsby.” Artistic and nuanced, poetic and blunt, beautifully filmed and expertly “soundtracked,” the Coen Brothers are as good as they’ve ever been, even if this one didn’t reach the popularity of some of their other films. (Read my review)
After rubbing some folks the wrong way with such a sad, sad movie in “The Descendants” (which I, on the other hand, loved, probably explaining why its writers and director each have a 2013 film on my list), Alexander Payne has made his most universally lovable movie yet. “Nebraska” is poignant, challenging, hilarious and most importantly, incredibly easy to related to compared to every film on this list outside of “The Way Way Back” (yup, that’s the other film connected to “The Descendants”). It doesn’t matter how old you are or whether you were raised in a rural or urban environment, “Nebraska” will hit home. (Read my review)
Rarely do films so expertly capture a generation or period in time. “Her” might forever be remembered for as the movie that cracked the surface of what it means to live in a world of gradually growing artificial intelligence. Spike Jonze’s script is easily the most original and rich of the year, full of stimulating social critique, unique situational humor and big ideas about what it means to love. What I applaud most about “Her,” however, is it doesn’t waste time fretting about whether a person could fall in love with an artificially intelligent digital assistant. It pushes well beyond that into bigger and more important ideas. The people who didn’t like “Her” are most likely the ones who couldn’t push beyond it themselves. (Read my review)
1. 12 Years a Slave
It’s hard to call a film like “12 Years a Slave” my favorite of the year. That’s like saying “Oh my God, ‘Schindler’s List’ is totally my favorite movie of all time!” (Or something like that.) Films like Steve McQueen’s remind you of the important distinction between great art and great entertainment. I love films that do both, but occasionally something so artistically powerful comes along that entertainment is irrelevant. “12 Years a Slave” was the hardest film I’ve ever had to watch, but it was a thing of cinematic beauty. So authentic, so moving, so totally stirring and shot with impeccable skill, not to mention its importance as an artistic appendix to American history’s darkest era. (Read my review)
The Next 10 Best
11. Star Trek Into Darkness
12. Dallas Buyers Club
13. American Hustle
14. Frances Ha
16. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
17. The Spectacular Now
18. Side Effects