2013 has been a great year for film. Normally critics can’t agree on much of anything, but I think this is something we can agree on. I can’t even begin to think about the Oscars. Every pick is going to be tough.
In honor of this year of glorious movies, I am NOT going to make a top 10 list of 2013’s films. Why? Because you know that list. Everyone’s already made it. And honestly, I’m getting a little tired of it. I’m sure you are too.
So, I’m going to do something a little different. I’m going to make a list of the movies that I loved the most this year. Most of them did come out in 2013 because I’ve spent a lot of my time watching new movies, but some of them didn’t. And because I love a lot of movies, I’m including 15 films instead of the usual 10.
Here are the movies that meant the most to me this year. Hey, I’ll even put them in order for you. So effort. Much helpful. Wow.
15. “About Time” (2013) – Though trailers made this look like a sweet love story with a dash of time travel thrown in for good measure, this film manages to be much more than that. It’s about family, a father and his son, and the beautiful relationship they share. It’s cute, funny, and unashamedly sentimental. In a year of dramatic and stressful films, “About Time” was my breath of fresh air. I smiled a lot, I cried at the end, and I swear, the lesson this movie was trying to teach has stayed with me.
14. “Enough Said” (2013) – Like the previous film on this list, “Enough Said” surprised me. Again, I went in expecting a typical romantic comedy, but what I got was something smart, mature, and realistic. This film paints relationships the way they really are. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini’s genuine chemistry is almost too charming. Seeing the late Gandolfini shine in this film is bittersweet, but his warm performance feels like a fitting tribute.
13. “The Crash Reel” (2013) – Ah, my first documentary of the list. Don’t you worry; there are more to come. This film chronicles US snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury. It’s special because of its brutal honesty. “The Crash Reel” is about learning to cope with change, understanding the importance of family, and knowing when enough is enough. It also demands that people take a hard look at head injuries in sports. It’s important, inspiring, and impossible to watch just once.
12. “Bernie” (2012) – I watched this streaming on Netflix this year and I’m still shocked that more people weren’t talking about it when it came out. Part documentary-part dramatization, “Bernie” tells the true story of a small-town murder. The circumstances of the crime are fascinating and Jack Black gives a phenomenal performance as Bernie. If you’re not a fan of Black, this role could change your mind. “Bernie” is a compassionate, fascinating character study, and it paints one of the most realistic portraits of a small town I’ve ever seen in cinema. This movie just gets it all right.
11. “The World’s End” (2013) – As a fan of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” I always knew I was going to like this one. It’s about a group of old friends who go back to their hometown for one last drunken huzzah. They end up facing a bunch of robots that want to take over the world. The writing is quick and dryly funny, the action scenes are crazy fun, and Simon Pegg is hilarious and infuriating as Gary King, who has to be one of the most interesting characters of the year. There’s something more profound here than simple comedy. I walked out feeling proud to be a flawed and imperfect human. I also walked out feeling a little drunk. It’s a funny, chaotic, action-packed ride.
10. “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013) – This is the first movie on the list that I’m choosing primarily because of the acting. Matthew McConaughey is unbelievably good as Ron Woodroof, a real-life Texas cowboy who was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1985 and given only days to live. McConaughey’s performance is transformative in every way. Physically, he’s virtually unrecognizable, but the inner transformation that Woodroof goes through is even more awe-inspiring. Jared Leto plays Rayon, a transgender woman who teams up with Ron, and his performance is heartbreaking, intimate, and ridiculously impressive. I recommend this film because acting like this deserves to be talked about.
9. “Grizzly Man” (2005) – This is my favorite documentary ever. I love it passionately and I talk about it all the time. Seriously. My friends probably hate this movie because I talk about it THAT much. It’s about Timothy Treadwell, a man who loved bears so much that he lived out in the wilderness with them. In 2003, Treadwell and his girlfriend were killed in a bear attack. Director Werner Herzog, who truly is one of the greats, uses Treadwell’s own footage to tell his story. Treadwell’s life is filled with contradictions. It’s frustrating but inspiring. Tragic but fulfilled. This movie is about what it means to be different and what it means to love. It’s the study of one unique, troubled person, but I think there’s a little Treadwell in all of us.
8. “It’s a Disaster” (2013) – I feel like I’ve been ranting forever about how I want to write a story that focuses on people and their relationships with an apocalyptic backdrop, and here it is. I desperately wish I had written this movie. The premise is simple enough. A group of friends meet for their regular couple’s brunch only to get trapped in the house in order to avoid chemicals in the air caused by mysterious bombings outside. It’s like a giant bottle episode. This is a movie all about relationships and the loneliness that can exist in them. The dialogue is more natural than anything else on this list, and though the jokes are never riotously funny, they feel like things a group of friends would actually say. This is dark comedy at its best.
7. “Gravity” (2013) – I’ve never seen a movie like this. I’ve never even seen anything close. There are two characters in “Gravity,” and there’s hardly any dialogue. The entire film is set in space. If you look at the format of most movies, this shouldn’t work. But work it does. This film is miraculous. It’s a wonder of modern technology and a perfect example of the magic of filmmaking. I have no idea how this movie was made. It’s that stunning. There’s not much more to say, except that “Gravity” is breathtaking and unbelievable and it’s going to be talked about for a long time.
6. “Blackfish” (2013) – You’ve probably heard of this one. This documentary is the reason that bands are canceling performances at SeaWorld. It’s the reason that the comments on SeaWorld’s Facebook posts are almost exclusively negative. This is more than a movie. It’s a statement. A call to action. “Blackfish” makes an impassioned case against keeping orcas in captivity. The film manages to be aggressive, disturbing, and effective, all without feeling manipulative. Great argumentative documentaries are more than entertainment. They inspire legitimate change. And “Blackfish” is a great argumentative documentary.
5. “Captain Phillips” (2013) – I love Tom Hanks. I’ll see just about anything he’s in, so this biopic about the hijacking of a US container ship was no exception. As expected, Hanks is wonderful. His nuanced performance is arguably one of the best of his career. But like I said, I expected that. What I didn’t see coming was newcomer Barkhad Abdi’s sense of heart and depth as Muse, the leader of the Somali pirates. He holds his own beside Hanks and the tension and respect between their characters is the highlight of the film. Even if you know how this story ends, I guarantee this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat.
4. “American Hustle” (2013) – This film features the best ensemble cast of the year, and one of the best ensemble casts I’ve ever seen. For a movie revolving around an elaborate con, believability is vital, and Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence are nothing if not believable. The directing is sharp and deliberate, the acting is impeccable, and the story is well formed. This movie is fun to watch and fun to talk about. Even now, after days of consideration, I still question the intentions of every character. And I can’t get Cooper’s spot-on impression of Louis C.K. out of my head.
3. “Annie Hall” (1977) – This is the oldest movie on this list, but it’s timeless. I had to watch a long list of films for my screenwriting class this semester and this was easily my favorite. Since seeing this, I’ve jumped headfirst into Woody Allen’s work. The man is a genius. “Annie Hall” is hilarious and clever. It feels incredibly modern despite its age. It also includes some of my favorite movie quotes ever, like this poignant observation about life: “There’s an old joke: two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know; and such small portions.’ Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” Movies with this much to say don’t come along often enough.
2. “How to Die in Oregon” (2011) – This is another film that I caught on Netflix, and I am so glad that I did. This documentary follows a number of terminally ill patients in Oregon who choose to take advantage of the Death with Dignity Act. The focus is 54-year-old Cody Curtis, a wife and mother with liver cancer. The film follows her through her decision to learn more about her options, her doctor’s appointments, her time spent with family, and ultimately, her death. This is without a doubt one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen, but it’s also one of the most important. This is absolutely essential viewing. It opens up dialogue for a heavy conversation about a controversial subject with grace and dignity. Watch this film to form an opinion, and watch for Cody Curtis, a beautiful, funny, strong woman, who was allowed to choose.
1. “12 Years a Slave” (2013) – If I could only recommend one film this year, this is the one I would choose. “12 Years a Slave” tells the true story of Solomon Northup, an educated, free man, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. There’s little to criticize in this movie. It’s brutal, unflinching, well paced, impeccably acted, and incredibly effective. Perhaps the most impressive thing about “12 Years a Slave” is the emergence of Chiwetel Ejiofor as a leading man. He’s flawless as Northup, and he’s the reason the film hits as hard as it does. At the very least, Ejiofor will pick up an Oscar nomination for his work. He’ll probably win. Like so many of the films on this list, this is so much more than entertainment. It’s painful, raw history that needs to be remembered. It’s a story that needs to be told.
These movies meant enough to me this year that I wouldn’t feel right leaving them out. I love them for different reasons, but they’re all great films. That’s the heart of it. They’re just great.
- “Chinatown” (1974) – A noir classic that I saw for the first time this year. I know, where have I been?
- “Safety Not Guaranteed” (2012) – Another smart, quirky movie I wish I had written.
- “World’s Greatest Dad” (2009) – One of my favorite movies ever. This is important to me every year.
- “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013) – Benedict Cumberbatch as a Star Trek villain… Of course I loved it.
- “This Is The End” (2013) – Raunchy, ridiculous, star-studded fun.
- “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (2013) – It’s no “Lord of the Rings,” but Martin Freeman is the perfect Bilbo Baggins and again, Benedict Cumberbatch.
Just a note:
I haven’t seen “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Her,” or “Inside Llewyn Davis” yet. I have a feeling that they would take some of these top spots. All signs point to me loving them. Alas, it’ll be a while before I know for sure.
So there it is.
What a year. Thanks to everyone who has spent any time reading these silly posts. It means the world. This has been a great year. I met Josh Ritter, saw Frank Turner live, watched a ton of great movies, and best of all, got to see Stephen King make a Twitter account. Stephen King TWEETS now.
Beat that, 2014.