o open with a Dickensian cliché, 2013 was the best of films and it was the worst of films. Seriously though folks, I don’t think since 1999 has there been a year where I found so many films that I adored so immensely, while at the same time I don’t think I viewed so many god awful films released in the same year. However, I am not interested in wasting energy on films I do not like.
The films that follow are my favourites of 2013 and are of course completely subjective (unlike douchey “definitive” “best of” lists). Subjective meaning superlative movies like 12 Years a Slave and technical achievements like Gravity are not present. While great, they are not movies that hit me on an emotional level or connected with me personally.
After all, you are what you love.
10. The World’s End
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg provide a fitting end to the thematic Cornetto Trilogy that kicked off with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Initially after leaving the theatre, I suspected The World’s End was the weaker of Wright’s trilogy, but after thought and reflection I felt it has the most depth and will hold up much better over multiple viewings than its predecessors. The story is simple and may feature robots that are a cross between Bodysnatchers and Stepfords but at its core The World’s End is about a man desperately trying to recapture his past. That aside, you’ll love this movie for the most epic of all lavatory battles alone.
9. Mr. Nobody
Mr. Nobody is likely the dark horse on this list, and who can blame you for not being aware of this gem. Released in 2009, it only had a modest North American release this year. From director Jaco Van Dormael(a filmmaker I am not deeply familiar with), Mr. Nobody could be mistaken for being an epic sci-fi film based on its imagery, but like another film on this list it is really a story about love that uses the convenience of the near future to look at it abstractly. The story plays with quantum mechanics as a plot device like Sliding Doors or Community’s Remedial Chaos theory episode, and it has a sense of joy and wonder in its visuals that you see little of these days. Jared Leto is already receiving lots of love for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, but I suggest you go back to this work to see Jared Leto as Nemo carry an epic film that actually uses the chess term “zugzwang” not only correctly, but uses it to perfectly encapsulate the theme of the film.
Nemo: Every path is the right path. Everything could’ve been anything else. And it would have just as much meaning.
8. To The Wonder
Panned by the majority of critics, Terence Malick’s took it back to basics a bit after making Tree of Life. If the critical reception to this film starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko, and Javier Bardem has taught me anything it is that most critics have forgotten that the audience is an active participant when consuming art. In other words I don’t think they “got it”. I found Terence Malick’s subdued masterpiece a powerful tale about the clash between love and “being a good man.”. Like all of Malick’s films you may be distracted by a beautiful blade of grass so I recommend multiple viewings.
7. Upstream Colour
What can I say about Shane Carruth’s sophomore effort that I have not already said in my review. For me Upstream Colour is a film that likes to remind how little control we as human beings have over our emotions and decisions. The film doesn’t spoon feed you, and like Carruth’s Primer it demands discussion and multiple viewings. One of the most unique films in years. My only negative comment in my review is that I understood it fully on the first viewing. That says something.
6. Before Midnight
I had a Before Sunset/Before Sunrise marathon prior to running off to seeing Before Midnight, the third film in the trilogy. Richard Linklater doesn’t disappoint with his apt direction and performances between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are consistently fantastic across all three. It is truly something special to be able to watch these characters grow or at least see they have grown (and where they have not) over the course of twenty years. Before Sunset remains my favourite of the three based on location and probably where I am in my own life right now, but Before Midnight still left a big impression on me and the setting of Greece is downright gorgeous.
5. Frances Ha
Noah Baumbach’s third film and the followup to Greenberg, Frances Ha is pleasant change tonally. Shot in black and white with locations mostly in Brooklyn with a brief foray into Paris, Frances Ha has a lot in common with Inside Llewyn Davis. Both are films with protagonists that are following their passions as they watch their dreams dwindle away. Greta Gerwig brings a special joie-de-vivre and at the same time hopelessness to her role. The scene with her dancing down the street to David Bowie’s Modern Love is completely lifted from Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang (even though Baumbach denies ever seeing the film).
4. American Hustle
Yes. I get it. The hair styles are crazy. Moving on. I can’t get enough of con-artist films. With a phenomenal ensemble cast that includes Christian Bale putting on pounds (for a change), and Bradley Cooper sporting a self made perm American Hustle has no problem playing with humour. One thing I noticed from this year’s slate of films is that the funniest films tended not to be exclusively comedies. In fact most of the comedies this year forgot to include the funny. You’ll be on board with American Hustle by the closing of the first scene and scenes between Bradley Cooper and Louis CK are worth the price of admission alone. I also can’t complain about about a movie where half the soundtrack is Jeff Lynne and Electric Light Orchestra.
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
A film about a man pursuing his passions while he watches his dreams dwindle away. Huh. That sounded awfully familiar. Not surprising since this list has some subconscious themes running through it. The Coen Brothers are incapable of making mediocre films let alone a bad one, but Inside Llewyn Davis, with its amazing soundtrack and a brilliantly endearing performance from Oscar Isaac, feels like it rests comfortably in the upper half of Coen Brother films if I were to pick favourites (which I am). While the film is about followings one’s own self destructive passions I felt it was really about accepting death and one’s shadow. When you are not laughing through this film you are probably going through the same existential crisis that Davis goes through.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
Fuck. This movie has a lot of cursing. Like more F-bombs than any other movie I have ever seen by a large margin. We all know Martin Scorsese fully well and capable of directing a film where the protagonist is an anti-hero and Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of the best performances of his career playing the embodiment of everything that is wrong the world rolled into one piece of macho douche-baggery. The entire cast is ripe with reprehensible characters and Terence Winter doesn’t miss an opportunity to show how horrible these people are. What impressed me most though with The Wolf of Wall Street is that it is so damn funny. Jonah Hill looks like he should have his acceptance speech prepped for his role as Donnie Azoff. I found The Wolf of Wall Street to be the funniest film of 2013 by a long shot and it also happens to be the fastest three hours I have ever experienced in a movie theatre.
Donnie Azoff: You have my money taped to your tits. Technically you do work for me.
I don’t consider the movies on this list to have a particular order. Depending on my mood at a given time the order could easily shift. Every other film on this list that statement is true, except Spike Jonze’s Her which is firmly planted as my favourite movie of 2013. Joaquin Phoenix has one of the best performances of his career and plenty of credit is due to Scarlett Johansen who essentially has a performance based purely on her voice and its inflections. I strongly feel Her is the best film on the subject of love since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and in many ways I find it superior (saying a lot when Charlie Kaufman is my favourite screenwriter). This is the first script solely written by Spike Jonze (he cowrote the adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are) and Her feels like Jonze let himself bleed on the page. I was visibly shaken while experiencing the dialogue during my viewing. Everything in Her is overflowing with imagination, whether it is the video game that Theodore plays, the clothes designed for the near future setting, or the way that characters interact with their technology. Everything about Her feels honest and prescient. Excuse me. I think I just convinced myself to go see it again.
Theodore: Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.
Honourable Mentions (aka other movies I enjoyed in 2013)
Kings of Summer
The Spectacular Now
The Way Way Back
Only God Forgives
How I Live Now
The Place Beyond The Pines
We Steal Secrets
The Wind Rises
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty