By this point you’ve read– or at least skimmed–several end-of-year lists, but none are as accurate as this one. Well, accurate to me, at least. These are the movies that stuck; the ones that didn’t go away. That’s what I like about writing my “top 10” because it forces me to reexamine the way I felt about the movies that moved me the most in 2013. Those movies we remember, anyway. The ones we revisit and tell our friends about. The movies that work us into a frenzy because something they did touched us, seduced us and punched us in the gut.
These are the movies you write about. These are my favorite movies of the year.
Not since Disney had that run of terrific animated films in the late ’80s and early ’90s (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King) have we seen a movie with the lasting power of Frozen. Sure, the music is what makes it — with songs like “Let It Go,” “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”, “For the First Time in Forever,” and “Love Is an Open Door,” Frozen introduced Disney’s catchiest movie tunes in over two decades. You also have a strong female-centric story at its core where the dudes take a backseat and the emotional emphasis is put on the love of a sibling instead of a prince. This is Disney Animation at the very top of its game.
9. Short Term 12
No other performance this year elevates a movie the way Brie Larson’s does in Short Term 12. She takes a familiar story about the complexities of working in an at-risk home for kids and takes it to another level by churning out this rich, layered take on a girl who can barely take care of herself, let alone the kids she’s tasked with caring for or the relationship she desperately wants to save. This is the kind of performance that knocks you on your ass, and it’s a movie I won’t soon forget.
8. The Spectacular Now
The year 2013 will be remembered as a great one for movies in general, but one specific type of movie made a pretty major resurgence. The coming-of-age stories on the big screen this year were outstanding. I’m talking The Kings of Summer; Stoker; The Way, Way Back; I Declare War and Blue Is the Warmest Color, among others.
But it was The Spectacular Now that really stood out to me as being this sweet, innocent and heartwarming movie that was also uniquely powerful in that it dealt with a dark topic (teenage alcoholism) without being the least bit schmaltzy about it. Also chalk up two of the year’s most natural performances, from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, and you’re left with a captivating love story about living and dreaming in… well, the spectacular now.
7. The Act of Killing
Confession: I almost vomited while watching this movie. True story. No other film this year made me as sick as this one, but that’s what makes me want to watch it again. This is, hands down, one of the craziest documentaries I’ve ever watched. One that follows around the men responsible for a mass genocide in Indonesia as they attempt to re-create their atrocities on camera using various Hollywood genres. It’s complete bonkers, and yet incredibly moving at the same time. The way these guys pretend to celebrate their past while it sadistically haunts their present — you’ve never seen a movie about murderers like this before, and you won’t see one like it again.
The year 2013 was a banner one for original love stories on-screen, and Her is arguably the year’s best. Spike Jonze’s deep, spiritual sci-fi film about a guy who falls in love with his operating system just plain crushes your heart in so many ways as it explores our connections to other things and people. Why we grow apart, how we grow together and who we should be growing with. You’ll remember old relationships and cry, and then at some point you’ll wind up hugging a pillow and turning off your iPhone, not necessarily in that order. But it’s all good. This is a movie you just love feeling.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street/American Hustle — TIE
If American Hustle is the sexy, flirtatious foreplay, then The Wolf of Wall Street is three hours of loud, obnoxious sex on the other side of the hotel room wall. These two movies tie on my list because they’re clearly the year’s most colorful movies about sex, egos, greed and New York attitude.
What American Hustle lacks in the story department, it makes up for in outrageous performances from Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. It’s super sexy and hilariously unsexy — a cross between Goodfellas and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that’s very fond of its music moments and Amy Adams in low-cut dresses.
Meanwhile, The Wolf of Wall Street might just be Martin Scorsese’s filthiest movie to date. The drugs, the sex, the language, the midget tossing — this thing is three hours of awful people doing awful things, and yet it’s so much fun to watch. The film overindulges just like its money-hungry characters, and while you search for the meaning of it all amongst the Quaalude-induced madness, you’ll watch a master filmmaker’s fierceness invade your darkest desires and then smash them to pieces with a Lamborghini.
4. 12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen’s harrowing drama about a free man who’s kidnapped and sold into slavery is by far the most powerful movie I watched this year. There are moments in this film that are among the toughest I’ve ever had to watch on-screen. The way McQueen lingers on each scene — whether we’re watching a man come within inches of choking to death, or if we’re calmly cruising through the lush swamps of the deep South — there’s this underlying feeling of eternity, as if these long, hot, arduous days are never going to end. When they finally do end, you’re left exhausted and emotionally spent. A rough ride, but worth the journey if you can stomach it.
3. Frances Ha
On the outside you might see just another black-and-white movie about young New York City hipsters trying to find themselves, but Frances Ha is anything but. Yes, it’s in black and white, but so are the ambitions of its main character, Frances (Greta Gerwig). In her world — her crazy, apartment-surfing, live-for-the-moment existence — there’s life as a dancer, and there’s really nothing else. Problem is she’s not that great at dancing, even if she values it more than her own sanity. Frances Ha is a beautiful film about being present in every moment of your life, good and bad, while always preserving your dreams even when they seem drastically out of reach.
If there was one movie in 2013 that you absolutely had to see on the biggest screen possible, it was Gravity. Alfonso Cuaron’s space adventure is the ultimate stuck-in-a-pickle movie, but amidst all the mind-blowing special effects and spectacular, game-changing action sequences is this really sweet, poignant story about letting go. Letting go of the past — of your darkest and deepest fears — and being reborn again as a person who stared down adversity and won.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis
After watching Inside Llewyn Davis for the third time (but first with my father), he turned to me and asked what it was about the movie that made it my favorite of the year. And it’s difficult to put into words, quite frankly. I can spout off stuff like the film’s incredible, soulful music, or its deliciously neurotic ensemble cast of artists and lunatics. I can mention the cat, or the film’s darkish blue tint that gives off a sad, depressing vibe as we watch this musician approach the end of his dream.
But most of all, Inside Llewyn Davis is at the top of my list because it’s a great tale about rolling with the punches life doles out on a daily basis. We’re not perfect, none of us are. We make mistakes, we say the wrong things and we often hurt the people we love most because we’re too stubborn (and selfish) to know otherwise. We sometimes waste opportunities, and fail to get off an exit leading to a better, more fulfilling life because we can’t even imagine what that would be, or what it would feel like.
We just go. We go in a direction that feels the most right. And whenever life beats us down (sometimes literally), we find a way to laugh it off. We find a way to persevere, beginning with a place to sleep that night. You may not like Llewyn Davis, or relate to any of his problems, but it’s hard to deny that he’s basically us, warts and all. (Okay, mostly warts.)
Inside Llewyn Davis is a bleak movie about a guy who’s hard to sympathize with. But it’s also a movie with the kind of message we all need to hear at the end of another year full of life’s ups and downs. That no matter how dark it may get, or how impossible it all may seem at times, there’s always a reason to crack a smile. There’s always a punch line waiting at the end of a long, disastrous night. And if we embrace the eccentricities of own failures, then we’ll eventually learn how to punch back.
10 More Movies That Almost Made My List
The Great Gatsby
The World’s End
Dallas Buyers Club
Blue Is the Warmest Color
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
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