The year in movies that was 2013 was among the most astounding in recent memory. We do not envy the members of the Academy when they have to vote on choosing Best Picture. In my decade-plus of compiling these lists, I have never had so many “Honorable Mentions” as is seen in this year’s Top 10 Movies of 2013 list.
This could easily be the year that Oscar uses all ten of those spots to nominate its Best Picture! So without further ado… here is Movie Fanatic’s Top 10 Movies of 2013!
10. Before Midnight
Before Midnight is Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s ode to relationships, long after their honeymoon phase. It is a riveting piece of work and it is not compelling because it keeps you on the edge of your seat. It astounds in its ability to use dialogue as no other film this year has.
Hawke and Delpy portray the characters we first met 18 years ago, and this time out, they’re married with twin girls and things are not always roses and wine. The way the above trio, who wrote the film together, compose their prose is a gift to moviegoers. Here’s hoping that we get to revisit Hawke and Delpy’s couple in another nine years because spending two hours with them is all the love story we need in any given cinematic year.
Alexander Payne directs a black and white film with a lead actor who hasn’t headlined a film in decades in Bruce Dern and winds up with a powerhouse of a movie about growing old and the complicated nexus that is the modern American family. Will Forte makes the leap from comedy to drama with aplomb, while June Squibb steals every scene in Nebraska she’s in as the ornery wife of Dern’s patriarch.
Nebraska is told with subtlety that lets the actors breathe while giving the audience one of the more treasured looks at what it means to be family that we’ve seen in some time. As we stated in our Nebraska review, although the film is in black and white, we would be hard pressed to find a story with more color in 2013.
8. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen brothers are considered one of the more powerful filmmaking tandems in modern movie history, and with Inside Llewyn Davis, they have turned down the volume with a story of a folk musician (Oscar Isaac) in 1960s Greenwich Village. He has all the talent to be a star, but continually gets in the way of his own success potential.
The soundtrack of original songs by T. Bone Burnett is a surefire Oscar nominee and the film shows why the brothers Coen are one of the best, while simultaneously just getting going on their greatness.
7. Fruitvale Station
It is a crowded year for those who seek to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actor in 2013, but might we suggest voters don’t forget the heartbreaking turn that arrived over the summer from Michael B. Jordan in the haunting true story that is Fruitvale Station. Jordan stars as a young Oakland man who was gunned down on New Year’s Eve by a Transit Authority Police Officer. On a day when most are making empty resolutions, audiences get the feeling that Jordan’s Oscar Grant begins his New Year’s Eve by trying to live them -- little does he know that that December 31 would be his last day on Earth.
Octavia Spencer stars as his mother and could easily be on her way to another Best Supporting Actress nomination (after winning for The Help). The entire Fruitvale Station experience is one that simultaneously holds a mirror to our society, while still giving us hope that even the most hardened can change in a moment… even if it is among their last.
6. Spring Breakers
Spring Break forever! So claims James Franco’s Alien, a wanna-be rapper and drug dealer in Florida who “saves” four young women on spring break that launches the quintet into an orgy of violence, drugs and mayhem. His -- what will be iconic -- quote embodies the feeling audiences get after witnessing this powerful film that stars Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine.
Director Harmony Korine has painted a picture with Spring Breakers that firmly puts a target on the youth of today and their entitlement mentality and how it can result in the most awful of ends.
5. American Hustle
David O. Russell follows up his Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook with the true story of the little known Abscam scandal of the 1970s. The all-star cast of American Hustle, featuring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner all turn in Academy Award- worthy performances in a story that is more tragic than anything else. Caught in a sting by Cooper for fake loans, Adams and Bale are forced to set up a New Jersey mayor (Renner) who is simply trying to get his state back to work.
Russell achieves an epic feel with outrageous 1970s style and music score that goes to 11, and in the process captures a slice of American life that simultaneously pays tribute to Martin Scorsese films while further enhancing the ever-building legacy of a great American filmmaker who is simply beginning his run of greatness.
Joaquin Phoenix is one of those actors who has never been listed as one of our favorites. Yet, after watching him work his magic, one cannot help but think that he is one of the most talented men working in film. Proof of that arrives with Spike Jonze’s revolutionary love story Her. Phoenix’s Theodore is living in a not-too-distant future in Los Angeles, and after dealing with the demise of his marriage to Rooney Mara, gets a technological marvel that is an operating system that promises it will revolutionize his life.
In the process, the OS (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and him develop feelings for one another and launch a love affair that strangely feels as authentic as any classic romance Hollywood has produced.
3. 12 Years a Slave
Sure, 12 Years a Slave is difficult to watch. But, it is one of those films that must be seen. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as a free man living in New York state who is abducted and forcibly taken to the South and put into a series of plantations where he spends the titular time period working as a slave. It is harrowing witnessing what happens to him. Steve McQueen’s film is a chronicle of the blight on American history that is slavery, and the filmmaker puts us front and center into its evils.
But, the film is not without hope, and through the performance of Ejiofor, we get an uncanny portrait of the strength of the human spirit.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
No movie in 2013 celebrated debauchery quite like The Wolf of Wall Street -- although, that is hardly what makes the Martin Scorsese film great. Leonardo DiCaprio gives the performance of his career (and that is saying something) as the real life Wall Street tycoon Jordan Belfort, a man who became unbelievably wealthy in the late 1980s and early 1990s selling stocks that were overvalued to say the least. Yes, it was illegal, and yes, it took years for the government to build a case against him. But, in the process, he and his trader cronies banked hundreds of millions of dollars in a thrill ride for the ages.
The Wolf of Wall Street is pure Scorsese with its pulsating pace and rock music that seems to accompany every single emotion emitted.
Jonah Hill deserves some serious Oscar consideration in a supporting role that features him unlike we’ve ever seen before. But, the true star here is DiCaprio, who manages to act like a hurricane for exactly three hours and has us never once feeling like it. In fact, and this is a testament to Scorsese and DiCaprio, when the credits rolled… we wanted more -- much more.
No film in 2013 combined action, harrowing life and death scenes and an ocean of emotion like Gravity. Aflonso Cuaron’s space epic follows Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone, who is on her first mission into space, under the guidance of George Clooney’s expedition leader Matt Kowalski. When a Russian satellite explodes, it sends debris across the outer part of Earth’s atmosphere, firmly on a collision course with Stone and Kowalski’s space shuttle. And yes, they happen to be out on a space walk at the time and all hell breaks loose.
Cuaron’s film has breathtaking cinematography as space will never look as good as it does in his film. The action is intense, and the audience will find it difficult to breathe through most of it! But, what makes Gravity so heavy is its emotion. There is a powerful core of human feelings attached to what Bullock’s stranded in space astronaut goes through. There is a backstory that collides with her current situation that allows the actress to give a whirlwind of a performance for the ages.
Gravity is our best of 2013 because it combines all the elements of why we adore going to see movies on the big screen. The film is a story told on the largest scale imaginable, while still not forgetting that what compels audiences are characters who -- while living out the most extraordinary of circumstances -- are at their true nature, ultimately and intimately human.
Honorable mention: Frozen, The Kings of Summer, The Conjuring, The World’s End, The Spectacular Now, Blackfish, Iron Man 3, Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips, Blue Jasmine, August: Osage County, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Prisoners, Rush, Dallas Buyers Club, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Philomena, Stories We Tell