This Friday we hit the halfway mark for the year in movies that is 2013 and as Movie Fanatic has done each of the last two years… we mark the first six months of the cinematic calendar by announcing our Top 10 of 2013 (so far).
It’s been a banner year (so far!) and our top 10 includes both blockbusters and bona fide Oscar contenders. Whether any of these will remain top 10 movies for the year... time will tell. Generally, that does not happen. There are so many riveting movies that arrive for Oscar season starting in September that they will surely knock some of these off the top.
But, I can say this with great assuredness… our number one for best of 2013 (so far) will undoubtedly remain in the top 10!
10. Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines is truly three riveting dramas rolled into one searing tale that at its heart is a cautionary story about fathers and sons.
Ryan Gosling is a traveling circus motorcycle daredevil who suddenly discovers he's a father. And that changes everything. Bradley Cooper is a local cop who becomes a hero to his entire town, except to his father... and his son. The third part of this riveting film follows the two characters' sons and their fateful foray into adulthood. Derek Cianfrance's film is explosive in every possible way.
9. This Is the End
How does one make the end of the world funny? Cast real-life friends James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson as versions of themselves trying to survive the Rapture.
Rogen and longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg direct from a script they wrote that is fluid enough for lots of inspired improv from its comic titan cast.
The first This Is the End trailer gives us the basics: The story focuses on Baruchel as he visits Rogen in LA, a difficult journey for a self-professed Hollywood hater. They head to a party at Franco's house and all hell breaks loose... literally. The premise allows for tons of cameos while simultaneously never straying from its story about Hollywood, how America perceives it and how good, albeit self-involved, friends would react when faced with the most dire of circumstances.
It's as meta as movies get and a triumph on so many levels including comedically, dramatically and even special effects that pop off the screen.
8. Stories We Tell
Imagine discovering in your twenties that the beloved man who you thought was your father, in fact was not? Now, what if you were one of the most talented young filmmakers working today and had the means, method and talent to share that personal journey with the world?
Sarah Polley crafts a chronicle of family roots, how exactly do we define ourselves exploration and all brilliant movie experience. Although Canadian in locale and feel, the entire message and tone is incredibly universal.
What Polley does with a camera is pure gold and Stories We Tell is the announcement of a storyteller that will change Hollywood. What she does with this story is a miracle -- brilliant art often imitates a brilliant life. Can you imagine what she can do with a tale as simple as fiction?
7. Fruitvale Station
Octavia Spencer follows up her Oscar-winning role in The Help with a powerful true story about a young Oakland man who was gunned down at a BART station on New Year's Eve, thus the title Fruitvale Station. Spencer plays the man's mother and the film manages to tell a tragic tale without overtly pointing fingers or assigning blame.
Filmmaker Ryan Coogler leaves his vision out there in all its glory and allows the audience to feel the full emotional weight of the loss of a man who awoke on his last day on earth determined to change his world in the New Year, only to have those dreams dashed needlessly hours later.
Michael P. Jordan stars as Oscar and the Chronicle actor puts the world on notice for his compelling and cripplingly tragic performance.
6. Iron Man 3
How does Marvel simultaneously follow up the success of The Avengers as well as make up for a lackluster second film in the franchise as they went to make Iron Man 3? Hire Shane Black and score yourself not only one of the most successful films of all time, but also one of the best of 2013 (so far).
Black wisely crafted a story -- teased in the Iron Man 3 trailer -- that played to Robert Downey Jr.'s strengths of comedy and character conviction. He beefed up Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper and gave Iron Man a fan favorite villain unlike any they had ever seen before.
And by not ignoring what happened in The Avengers, Black gave his hero something to emotionally wrestle with while he saves the world (again!).
5. Much Ado About Nothing
Speaking of The Avengers, that film's director had the most difficult of feats himself after helming the Marvel superhero conglomerate. What to do next?
By bringing to the big screen one of Shakespeare's best, Joss Whedon weaved a web of romance and comedy that reminds the world who the best romantic comedy crafter is... The Bard!
Whedon cast a slew of actors he'd worked with before including The Avengers' Clark Gregg, Angel's Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker and Firefly star Nathan Fillion and filmed the movie over 12 days at his home. The result is an utter triumph, as we explore further in our five-star Much Ado About Nothing review.
Matthew McConaughey gave the performance of his life in Mud as an ex-con trying to reunite with the love of his life (Reese Witherspoon). Along the way he meets a tween boy (Tye Sheridan) who, with blind belief in love, agrees to help him in his romantic quest. The film is as smooth as a Southern drawl with the intensity of a class five tornado.
The Mississippi River area of Arkansas is as much a character as the leads as its feel permeates every inch of Jeff Nichols' film.
The writer-director has penned an ode to his upbringing that's dark, violent and vivaciously vibrant. It's a love story on a multitude of fronts.
3. Before Midnight
They say three times is a charm. But what if the first two times were quantifiable brilliance? Director Richard Linklater and his stars/co-writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy continue the magic created in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset with Before Midnight. This time out it's nine years after we last caught up with the couple audiences first fell in love with in 1995.
The film shows the inner workings of a long-term relationship as few films have captured. Our protagonists have twin girls and Before Midnight illustrates how love and romance aren't the only elements necessary to keep love alive.
The first two films were lyrical masterworks of movie dialogue and the third finds that sonic succulence exponentially more musical, melancholy and masterful.
2. The East
It's been quite a year for filmmakers announcing their presence and the most powerful of them can be found in Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij's The East.
The topical film finds Marling, who also stars beyond co-writing the script, as a corporate agent who infiltrates an eco-terrorist group that makes company CEOs pay for their crimes against the planet in kind. For example, an oil company executive who oversaw an oil spill finds his home seeping with black tar.
Alexander Skarsgard stars as the leader of a group called the East, which also includes Ellen Page in her best work to date. The duo lead their group with passion and a panache for what they feel is a morally right eye-for-an-eye mentality.
The drama kicks into high gear when Marling begins to see the world through their eyes.
As we reported in our The East review, the film is a riveting and supremely stellar example of entertainment as education where the viewer will leave the theater with much to consider, discuss and dissect.
1. Spring Breakers
Florida has never looked so exquisite as it does in the pastel-laden vision of Harmony Korine in Spring Breakers. His indictment of violence and the entitlement society of America is a searing and sensational cinematic experience.
James Franco gives the performance of his life as a rapper wanna-be/drug dealer who rescues four college students on spring break looking for something different to experience compared to their perceived to be boring lives.
Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Selena Gomez star as the quartet who starts their spring break adventure by knocking off a restaurant to pay for their fun in the sun. Korine impeccably cast his fun-loving foursome as each is able to express a different facet of the reckless youth who sees violence as "just like a video game," which Hudgens says at one point.
Spring Breakers caused some controversy when it landed in theaters and that is not surprising. Sometimes the best pieces of art spur a collective cultural conversation that moves the marker on a subject. When it comes to violence in America and our adoration for it, it is a discussion that is long overdue.
Honorable mentions: Star Trek Into Darkness, Frances Ha, Side Effects, Monsters University, 42, Trance, Stoker, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, The Kings of Summer, Warm Bodies and The Sweeney