My Top 10 Movies of 2013

We’ve made it through yet another year in cinema and I’ve got to say that it was a pretty good one. I saw 76 2013 releases this year and of those I thought about 40 of them were pretty enjoyable. From there it only got harder to narrow down the list. These ten movies are ten of my favorite of the year and while I do think they are among the best of the year, they are my personal ten, not the be all/end all. This list was so tough to narrow down that I have a secondary list that I’ll publish tomorrow that will list movies that I thought were some of the most interesting and overlooked of 2013. Without further ado; my top 10 movies of 2013.

10. Ender’s Game

Overall Score: 8.5

“Ender’s Game” caused quite the controversy when it was released for a multitude of reasons. None of which was apparently hot enough to drive audiences to lay down their dollars down to get butts in seats. Critics were all over the map on the movie, but I found myself in the camp that really enjoyed the classic sci-fi feel of the movie. It’s a story from an era when science fiction was about more than just the story on paper, but what lied beneath the story. This movie follows one skilled and highly intelligent kid who may just be too smart for the role of solider. The movie takes many ideas about the morality of war and ethics of putting children through the military and weaves and finishes by leaving the character and audience in a scenario where there are all sorts of unanswered questions. This may be an adaption of a young adult novel, but I found it to be the most intelligent and engaging one of the year.

9. Man of Steel

Man of Steel

Overall Score: 8.5

Let’s get this out of the way. I’m a Superman fanboy. He’s not my favorite superhero, but he may be may favorite superhero whom I want to see succeed. “Man of Steel” finally gave us a Superman story for a new generation. The Richard Donner movies are classics, but hardly fit into the world we live in today. Superman has been greatly misunderstood as this shallow and flat  boy scout character. While these aspects certainly exist, he’s a character that understands the complexities of the world, but chooses to believe in the idea that the world can be better. This new movie has it’s flaws to be sure, but I think reintroducing Superman in his origins and portraying him as this alien who never fit is a way to show that this character does have struggles he has to battle. His struggle in the movie to choose between his Kryptonian heritage and human upbringing is interesting and the movie pays the idea forward by placing the character in a position that even many die hard fans have never seen him in. Did I mention the fights scenes were awesome and utterly ridiculous? I love this movie and will continue to watch it again and again through the years.

8. The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now

“The Spectacular Now” is a movie that flew under a lot of radars. It was one of three coming of age stories( others being “The Way Way Back” and “The King’s of Summer”) that hit theaters this year. This is the only one I was able to catch and boy am I glad I did! I was floored. Sutter(Miles Teller) is a kid that just can’t seem to find motivation or drive to succeed. He’s smart, funny, and capable, but is also an alcoholic who can’t seem to believe in himself. The movie follows his life and relationship with a sweet girl named Aimee(Shailene Woodly). It’s a story that is at times hopeful and exciting and in other times sad and heart-wrenching. The two leads have chemistry so good that at times you forget you’re even watching actors act. If you throw in some great writing, an unusual yet catchy soundtrack, and a direction with an eye for heightened yet relatable teen drama and you’ve got a coming of age story that is practically oozing gold. It may be low key, but the characters and their struggles as they grow together in a relationship are some of the strongest character arcs I’ve seen this year.

7. Rush

Overall Score: 9.0

Welcome back to the fold Ron Howard, you’ve been missed! “Rush” is an excellent story that goes inside the rivalry of formula one racers Niki Lauda and James Hunt. These characters both seem to be intriguing and engaging in their own right, but what is more interesting is the rivalry turned grunge match turned bromance. The two men are nothing a like and would otherwise never run in the same circles, but what brings them together is their desire to win and be the best at what they do. This movie succeeds because this movie develops both characters respectively by showing us exactly what it is that is driving them to achieve victory. The two leads Chris Hemsworth and Danny Bruel both turn in flawless performances while Ron Howard returns to his legendary status as director(something we haven’t seen since 2008’s “Frost/Nixon”. The movie is character driven, but also packs in all the flash needed to make formula one racing(something I normally have zero interest in) both sexy and exciting. This movie comes together in all the right ways to deliver what I suspect will be one of this year’s most underrated movies.

6. The Wolverine(Directors Cut)

The Wolverine

Overall Score: 9.0

This is another case of my fanboyishness, but this time around I believe I’ve got a stronger case to make. “The Wolverine” is far from flawless. The ending to this movie devolves everything the first two thirds of the movie spent developing into a cookie cutter comic book movie. It’s a shame seeing as the first two thirds of the movie do a spectacular job at delivering a movie that is unlike any comic book adaption we’ve seen to date. This is not an X-men movie and it’s almost not a superhero movie(bar last twenty minutes). This is a movie about one man coming to terms with the fact that he killed a woman he loved while he himself is doomed to immortality. It comes together as a movie that is part samurai movie, part Japanese crime flick, and part western. The stakes aren’t world ending and the movie feels very personable in a way we haven’t seen since 2005’s “Batman Begins”. The theatrical cut was good, but the directors cut was even better with Wolverine being more in character with his F-bombs, bloody claws, and finer character development. It may not be a truly “great” movie, but it’s one that I’ve already revisited more than any other released this year.

5. Gravity

GRAVITY

Overall Score: 10

Seven years after delivering the modern masterpiece “Children of Men,” director Alfonso Cuarón finally returned to the big screen to deliver a very different film going experience. This movie wasn’t going for a political sci-fi commentary as much as it was very personal look at a human who is fighting insurmountable odds to survive. It’s a character study with various bits of moral and spiritual ideas sprinkled throughout to give it just enough to leave the theater asking questions. What makes Gravity truly exceptional aside from it’s great performance from Sandra Bullock and unbelievably long takes is the visceral experience the IMAX 3D experience creates. More than any other movie released to date, Gravity makes a compelling argument as to how the technology can be used to create experiences unlike anything made in 2D. It’s not just a movie, but also an unforgettable experience that will be remembered for years to come.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street

“The Wolf of Wall Street” isn’t shy of problems. It’s far too long, probably lays the debauchery on a little too thick, and may or may not be a bit morally confused. All of these things aside, I couldn’t help but admire the fact that legendary director Martin Scorsese still had it in him to make a movie of this caliber that was parts disgusting, hilarious, and even deeply pathetic. In the days that have followed that movie I’ve found that I can’t get it out of my head. I felt dirty and unclean after leaving the theater and after having some time to chew on the ideas, I think that the movie is demonstrating the absolute evil of greed and the darkest levels of depravity it can lead to when people aren’t even aware of how much control it has on their lives. Leonardo DiCaprio turns in another Oscar worthy performance(that will surely be overlooked) that is equal parts repulsive and mesmerizing as the unreliable(and ultimately villainous) narrator Jordan Belfort. There is a lot to be said about what is going on in this movie, but the reason it cracks my top 5 is because I believe that in many ways this is the “Goodfellas” of Wall Street and the 21st century.

3. Don Jon

Don Jon(1)

Overall Score: 9.0

When I was making this list I knew from the start “Don Jon” would make the top 10, but also hadn’t realized just how much this movie stuck with me. Joseph Gordon Levitt made his directorial debut by tackling an incredibly touchy subject in relationships. Porn. The movie takes a serious look at what porn and the expectations they create can do to people in serious relationships. It may sound down and dirty, but Levitt(who also stars and writes the script) brings some comedic diffusion that gives the movie a very healthy balance between drama and comedy without sacrificing the ideas and criticism the movie is trying to present. Porn addiction is something Jon struggles(or doesn’t) with, but at its core, the movie is really taking on false and unhealthy expectations people put on relationships based on the culture we live in. This movie guns for the over romanticized relationships Hollywood perpetuates just as much as it does the porn addicted internet.  This was a bold, fresh, and effective debut for JGL and it made for one of my favorite movies of the year.

2. Twelve Years A Slave

Overall Score: 9.5

“Twelve Years A Slave” is delivering a movie that this country(and the world to some degree) has needed for years. It’s a brutal, gritty, and demoralizing tale that goes inside some of the darkest days in American history as Solomon Northup is taken from freedom and thrown into slavery. Everything in this movie is top notch. The acting is fantastic(with Michael Fassbender delivering an especially exceptional performance), Steve McQueen’s visual direction is equal parts fascinating and disturbing, and the story is both personal and universal.

This movie stays grounded with Northup’s journey, but speaks to the larger issues of human worth and why we choose to separate ourselves as humans. “Twelve Years A Slave” is doing for slavery what “Schindler’s List” did for the holocaust; it’s creating what may remembered as the dirty and “definitive” version of American slavery.  The questions that kept coming back to me was “why do we deem different inferior and why do we always act out of fear instead of understanding?” The movie is unflinching in its portrayal and messaging, but this is a story that needed to be told so that people can remember both how far we’ve come in human rights and how far we have yet to go in the twenty first century.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

“Inside Llewyn Davis” is not a movie I had a particularly strong reaction to when I finished it. I liked it, but it didn’t “light a fire” in my mind and heart as a truly powerful movie. After chewing on the movie for nearly a month, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a movie that in many ways connects with me on a very personal level. This is unusual because I’m not really a musician and while I casually enjoy some folk music, I can hardly call myself a fan. The character Llewyn Davis is a self centered mooch with no plan, few friends, and only one real hope. None of these traits are true are true for myself(at least I hope not!), but what really connected with me was his struggle to live day in and day out just so he can have a hope to find a way through his self manifested mess. It was his dedication to his passion and struggle to find his place in this world along with his desire to have a better life that really hit home the movie for me.

Aside from my own personal connection with the movie, this is a fantastic Coen Brothers movie that captures all the best aspects of their sublime direction and their odd yet irresistible sense of humor. It’ll be hard to argue that this is their best movie because it is so much different than any of their others, but it reigns exceptional on its own merits. The cast is perfect(with fun little roles for JT, Garrett Hedlund, John Goodman, and Adam Driver), the soundtrack is fitting to a tee(and I’m not even the biggest folk fan), and the washed out visual style is unlike anything I’ve seen in the last few years. It’ll be a heated debate between movie goers and critics to see what is the most remembered movie of the year(it’s been a great year), but in my mind “Inside Llewyn Davis” is one that will stick around in the minds of cinephiles for years to come.

Honorable Mentions:

This is the End

  • As utterly juvenile as this movie is, it may be my favorite pure comedy of the year
  • I’m a sucker for meta-humor. These guys poke way to much fun at themselves to not be hilarious

Frozen

  • This makes for Disney’s third year in a row to beat Pixar at their own game
  • Great characters
  • Turned a lot of cliches Disney themselves have created on their own head
  • A soundtrack destined for Broadway

The Conjuring

  • Best horror movie of the year
  • Felt like classic horror cinema

American Hustle

  • Excellent performances; average movie
  • Absolutely hilarious and over the top

The Great Gatsby

  • Very cool experiment with the soundtrack
  • Great performance from Leo
  • Gave new life to a story I had previously loathed

Prisoners

  • Breathtaking Cinematography
  • Excellent Performances from everyone involved, especially Jake Gyllenhaal
  • Great suspense
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