The proverbial Top Ten List. A sacred tradition passed down by our cinematic elders. This is the third time I have partaken in this holy tradition, and one thing has remained constant— this list is never set in stone. As we catch up with more films we missed or a rewatch causes us to like a movie more or less this list begins to change. My Top 10 List of 2012 is a lot different today than it was this time last year. So the question remains, “Why Do it?” Well, for one it’s fun. At least I find it an enjoyable exercise as I try to break down the year that was. I watched 158 movies that were released in 2013. Narrowing that 158 down to a Top 10 is a challenge I enjoy.
Looking at 2013 as a whole it is evident it was a great year for film…not a great year for movies. I know that sounds pretentious, but what I mean by that is the blockbusters/franchise films of this year were rather lackluster. There were a few standouts, but many more misses than hits. Even with the lack of quality blockbusters this was quite the year in film. Of all the years I have done this I would say this is by far the best year overall. With that said here is my list. Starting with some films that just missed the cut:
Director: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort(book)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Synopsis: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.
Quick Take: When all was said and done this may have been the funniest film of 2013. Many people had issues with the depiction of the depraved behavior, but I never saw this depiction as an endorsement. The performances were all terrific, and this was Scorsese at the top of his game. There was an energy to it that made the near three hour run time breeze bye. Many people criticized the length and its repetitious manner. Personally I was never bored, and felt that repetition was a key component in understanding these characters. They were on this constant search for more. Unquestionably The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese’s best film since The Departed.
Director: David Lowery
Written By: David Lowery
Starring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster
Synopsis: The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met.
Quick Take: When I named my best score of the year I gave it to Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. It was a moving piece of boundless creativity. Same could be said for its cinematography as it was one of the best looking films of the year. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was all about mood. This transfixed tone engulfed the entire picture. The acting was also fantastic especially Rooney Mara who I feel gave one of the best performances of the year. Some may have issues with this sluggish pacing as it likes to take its time. This is the type of film that does require a great deal of patience.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Written By: Travis Beacham (screenplay), Guillermo del Toro(screenplay
Starring: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi
Synopsis: As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.
Quick Take: (Full Review) I mentioned this was not a great year for big blockbusters, but Pacific Rim did everything it possibly could to buck that trend. Today everyone wants to be like The Dark Knight. Summer films have stopped being fun, and attempted to be gritty and brooding. They have become far too serious for their own good. Enter: Pacific Rim. A movie filled with unabashed flash and fanfare, one willing to have a good time and not feel bad about it. When I look at the films I had the most fun watching Pacific Rim is surely on the top of that list.
Director: Chan-wook Park
Written By: Wentworth Miller
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
Synopsis: After India’s father dies, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
Quick Take: Every year there are those polarizing movies that cause a great deal of conflicts. Stoker is a movie I saw on many people’s worst of list for 2013. I can understand why to a certain extent as it is a movie that doesn’t attempt to be for everyone. I was not expecting to like Stoker as much as I did, but I became intrigued by its incredible artistic framework. The editing, use of the camera, score, and direction all came together to make quite the achievement in filmmaking. Director Chan-wook Park has been one of the few foreign directors that has been able to make a proper transition to American film.
Director: François Ozon
Written By: Juan Mayorga (play), François Ozon (screenplay)
Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Vincent Schmitt, Ernst Umhauer
Synopsis: A high school French teacher gets increasingly drawn into a precocious student’s increasingly transgressive story about his relationship with a friend’s family.
Quick Take: I am not very familiar with the work of François Ozon at this point. After watching In the House that fact will change rather quickly. In the House felt like it was meta on top of meta without really being meta. I was fascinated by how it took a rather simplistic plot and added a great deal of complexity. The more you think about it, the more genius it becomes. Taking a page from Rear Window it comments our own obsession for observing the intimate details of other people’s lives. It takes a journey down this sadistic rabbit hole, and I greatly enjoyed the fall.
Director: Richard Linklater
Written By: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
Synopsis: We meet Jesse and Celine nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna.
Quick Take: (Full Review) Before Midnight was a movie many of us hoped for, but did not really want to see. Before Sunset left Jesse and Celine at just the right moment. Knowing an answer to that ambiguity was coming left a bittersweet feeling. Luckily, Before Midnight did not disappoint. It gave us a different movie than we were expecting, and that was certainly a good thing. It showed a deeper side to these characters, and the personal touch was even stronger than the last two films. It again left at the perfect moment, but I would not object to revisiting this dynamic duo another nine years down the road.
Director: J.C. Chandor
Written By: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Robert Redford
Synopsis: After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.
Quick Take: (Full Review) The stylistic difference between J.C. Chandor’s first film Margin Call and his latest All is Lost may cause whiplash if you watch them back to back. He went from a film that thrived off its intricate dialog to one that was nearly absent of words. All is Lost was a feat in filmmaking. One that I am still amazed was even made. Without giving too much away, my love for the film exploded with its final shot. My big question was how to end a movie like this properly. This provided an answer that was better than anything I was expecting. The ability to capture attention with silence is a skill few have. On paper this film should be a bore. Somehow it is anything but a bore. A true nail bitter.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Written By: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer
Synopsis: The purportedly true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.
Quick Take: (Full Review) If you were to ask me what movie I had the greatest overall emotional reaction to it would have to be Fruitvale Station. This is the type of movie that makes me love movies because it takes a wildly injustice incident and breaks it down in a way to add a tad bit of perspective. I know some felt it was overly manipulative, and I can understand where that is coming from. Perhaps a more seasoned director would have chosen to pull back in a few areas. Still, I cannot deny the immense impact it had on me while I watched everything unfold.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Written By: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
Synopsis: A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
Quick Take: (Full Review) Fruitvale Station is a movie that makes me love movies, but Gravity is a movie that makes me love going to the theater. This is a film you cannot fully appreciate unless you are watching it on the biggest screen possible, and yes it must be watched in 3D. (This is coming from a guy who is not the biggest fan of 3D) It was a technical masterpiece that will affect the way films are made for years to come. Its score, sound design, and use of the camera brought space from this unattainable object into the minds of people everywhere. Beyond the sheer spectacle was a contextual story about our power to overcome.
Director: Steve McQueen
Written By: John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup (novel)
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender
Synopsis: In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
Quick Take: (Full Review) When people look back at this year there is a good chance the movie that will have the most longing impact is 12 Years a Slave. At this point it is the odds on favorite to win Best Picture. Though the subject matter may appear as Oscar bait, the actual film is far from that. Director Steve McQueen did not refrain from using his skillful artistic approach, and helped cultivate some of the best performances of the year. When you look at all the different aspects that make up a film you’ll see 12 Years a Slave excels at the highest level in nearly every area.
Director: Paul Greengrass
Written By: Billy Ray (screenplay), Richard Phillips (novel)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman
Synopsis: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.
Quick Take: Although Captain Phillips may not be looked at as quite the masterpiece that 12 Years a Slave will be, it still caused me to go through an even greater emotional whirlwind. The term ‘edge of your seat excitement’ gets used a great deal, and no film fit that mantra better this year than Captain Phillips. Tom Hanks gave one of the best performances of his career, which is saying a great deal when you look at what he has done. Paul Greengrass has a knack for finding high drama in real life situations. Even when a film stars one of Hollywood’s biggest names it never loses any authenticity.
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Written By: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman
Synopsis: A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
Quick Take: (Full Review) As I said in my review the Coens should make all the movies. Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie about nothing, but at the same time it is really about everything. Oscar Issac is fantastic and his musical talents are on full display. Obviously what makes this movie work for me is the music. My favorite soundtrack of the year is placed into a film a dreadful longing. The Coens have a style that is unlike anyone. Their films can often be filled of downright dreariness, yet you cannot help but find humor in the insanity of everything going on.
Director: Alexander Payne
Written By: Bob Nelson
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb
Synopsis: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.
Quick Take: (Full Review) The one word that echoes throughout my head when I think of Nebraska is welcoming. There is a gentle atmosphere that begs for return visits. Of all the films on this list it is the one I find myself wanting to rewatch the most. I feel like this was a movie made for me as it hit me on such a personal level. Obviously I can relate to a lot of what is going on, and I find the comedic sensibilities directly match my own. Bruce Dern’s performance here is the best of the year in my opinion. He takes on this role with little disregard. For the longest time I was sure this was going to be my number one film of the year, but then I watched my number one.
Director: Clio Barnard
Written By: Clio Barnard
Starring: Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas, Sean Gilder
Synopsis: The Selfish Giant is a contemporary fable about two scrappy 13-year-old working-class friends in the UK who seek fortune by getting involved with a local scrap dealer and criminal, leading to tragic consequences.
Quick Take: My number one film of the year came out of nowhere for me. It’s a movie I did not hear a great deal about, and did not have high expectations for. As the film progressed I became engulfed in this modern fable about two kids trying to forge their own path. It is a simple story that is shocking in how heart wrenching it quickly becomes. I loved the multitude of visual motifs, especially a specific shot of two hands grasping hold of one another. It led to a shot that will forever be etched into my emotional psyche. Director Clio Barnard has instantly become a name I cannot wait to see more from. The Selfish Giant did everything I look for in a movie and surpassed in every way. A master work from a rising filmmaker.