12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Philips, Dallas Buyers Club, Despicable Me 2, Gravity, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lists and Insight, Lone Survivor, Man of Steel, Nebraska, Philomena, Rush, Saving Mr. Banks, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street, The World's End, World War Z
I originally posted a list of my favorite films of 2013 at the end of the year. Now, having caught up on some films that I missed the first time, I give you my revised list.
Note: I am only including films released theatrically in 2013. While there were some 2012 films that I saw in 2013, such as Argo and Jack Reacher, I will not include those on this list.
Thor: The Dark World
Iron Man 3
Olympus Has Fallen
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Now You See Me
20. Despicable Me 2
It’s been awhile since we’ve had a great animation. The reason is that animated films in general aren’t able to take advantage of their format. It is very difficult for an animated film to be a legitimate action film or a legitimate drama. But Despicable Me 2 is a legitimate comedy. The great thing about Despicable Me 2 is that it recognizes that isn’t going to be the next piece of art, instead it is a really fun movie that is one of the year’s best comedies and by far its best animation. Yes the film’s story and characters are absolutely cartoonish, but that’s the point.
19. Man of Steel
Man of Steel is surely the most controversial film on my list. Some may find this film slow, or too violent, or too melancholy. But Man of Steel is an excellently directed film with very good performances. Henry Cavill’s Superman is not just a modern Superman, but he is a relatable one that struggles with decisions and restraint, giving a contrast to the constantly perfect and noble character he was portrayed as in the past. It’s not that Cavill’s Superman doesn’t possess these traits, but it shows how he came to possess them, from his regard of others to his no killing policy. Zach Snyder’s version of Superman is not depressing because of its reality; instead it is hopeful that heroes do exist in reality.
18. World War Z
World War Z is a truly the year’s most underrated action film. A PG-13 zombie film with Brad Pitt was not meant to be a gem, but it’s the direction by Marc Forster that makes the film engaging. World War Z is not a zombie film, but more of an examination of man’s reaction to a mass disaster. It isn’t Independence Day when mankind teams up to face the bad guys; it’s a convoluted and chaotic mess. There are also many subtle allegories that where missed by the casual audience, as well as a very good performance by Brad Pitt, who manages to bring his dramatic sense into the world of action. While World War Z has its flaws, it’s certainly not your average blockbuster.
17. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
It is a relief when one of Hollywood’s most profitable stars goes out of his way to create quality. Ben Stiller is a talented director, with a keen visual sense and ability to create great moments. It’s not just the fact that it’s Stiller’s first non-comedic directorial effort; it’s more of recognition of his talent both behind the camera and in front of it. While The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has its flaws, namely being overlong and having poor supporting characters, it is still a wonderful experience that shouldn’t be missed.
16. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
While The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was good, Peter Jackson brings the world of Middle-Earth truly back to life in The Desolation of Smaug. The first film was accused of being a bit slow, but The Desolation of Smaug is an all out adventure that whizzes through it’s nearly three hour runtime. Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen return to their respective roles with energy and wit, while newcomers such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lily, and Luke Evans give the world more life as the film rushes to an epic finale. The Desolation of Smaug is one of the year’s best films, and perhaps it’s most fun.
15. Saving Mr. Banks
Saving Mr. Banks is classic Disney. In the story of how Mary Poppins was translated from page to screen, Emma Thompson plays P.L. Travers with sharp humor and deep emotions in the best leading female performance of the year. Collin Farrell delivers a fantastic supporting role in one of the most heart-wrenching performances of the year, as well as great performances by Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, B.J. Novak, and Jason Schwartman. Director John Lee Hancock brings a sense of classic Disney joy combined with some fantastic drama. Combined with fantastic editing between different points in time, Saving Mr. Banks is a film that makes audiences laugh, cry, and in the end have a great time.
Rush is expertly directed by Ron Howard, who continues to be a pioneer in the world of cinema. Howard is able to bring the inconceivable world of Formula 1 racing down to Earth and create a tangible world populated by the extremely different characters James Hunt and Nicki Lauda, played expertly by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, whose rivalry is more than a view of racing, but an entire lifestyle. The world is rich, full of humor and fantastic writing, and easily one of the year’s best.
13. Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey is 2013’s biggest film hero because his story is of redemption, the story of how an actor decided to pursue quality. This is the story of Dallas Buyers Club’s Ron Woodroof, about a man whose greatest life crisis brought him one of the best opportunities that he would ever get: redemption. Dallas Buyers Club is a fantastic film with some of the year’s best acting and writing, and while its methods might be unorthodox, it’s a heartfelt film about taking a stand.
Judi Dench and Steve Coogan lead this brilliant drama about a woman searching for her long lost son. While the drama is at some points intense and riveting, there is a charm to the film about two people lost in their lives and how the past drew them together to discover the reality of age and life. Dench delivers a complex and engaging performance as the film’s title character, while Coogan continues to prove himself as an actor and writer. Philomena is an emotional film, but not a draining one.
In terms of pure visual ingenuity, Gravity is miles ahead of anything we’ve seen this year. Alfonso Cuaron creates a condensed thrill ride with such sharp direction that every feeling of claustrophobia, confusion, and fear is felt by an engaged audience. On top of that, the performances by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are tremendous and only further an already fantastic script. Gravity is an artwork of cinema with such creativity that it is also one of the year’s most entertaining films.
10. Star Trek Into Darkness
J.J. Abrams continues to be one of the most energetic and a creative force in Hollywood, as Into Darkness is pure entertainment. The sequel to the 2009 film pays homage to classic Star Trek with lots of old references for long time fans, but keeps the story new and original. The acting is great throughout, as Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto continue their excellent chemistry and Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a fantastic new addition to the Star Trek universe. Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun film that has more originality and pure fun than any other summer blockbuster this year.
9. Captain Phillips
Paul Greengrass really knows how to deliver a thriller. Captain Phillips tells the story of the 2009 Somalia pirate hijacking with intense realism and a building tension that keeps audiences on the edge of their seat for the entire film. Tom Hanks is so immersed in his character that the actor is completely forgotten and the character is only seen, but the accolades should be saved for Barkhad Abdi, an unknown actor that delivers one of the year’s best performances, as he plays the terrifying but surprisingly relatable Somalia pirate captain. Captain Phillips is one of the year’s most powerful films, with a finale that easily is the most riveting scene of the year.
8. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers are one of the best filmmakers working in Hollywood, and Inside Llewyn Davis is another one of their fantastically quirky films. Inside Llewyn Davis is a melancholy film with enough quirks and wit to make it an enjoyable film. Oscar Isaac delivers one of the year’s best performances as the struggling musician Llewyn Davis, who is portrayed as a three-dimensional character with flaws, but is still incredibly relatable. The 1960s music scene is shown in an incredibly interesting sense, as the Coen Brothers create an incredibly interesting world with great characters and fantastically performed songs throughout. Inside Llewyn Davis is a brilliant piece of filmmaking that is not for everyone, but is definitely one of the year’s most unique films.
7. Lone Survivor
Lone Survivor does not have a message. It is not corrupted by endless metaphors and hidden meanings. It does not have a social commentary or political affiliation. It simply is a riveting true story that shows the incredible work done by U.S. Armed Forces. Mark Wahlberg delivers the best performance of his entire career, with fantastic supporting performances by Eric Bana and Ben Foster. There’s not much to be said except that Lone Survivor is an incredible cinematic achievement that should be seen by any fan of cinema.
Nebraska is not just one of the year’s best films, it’s among the funniest. While many comedies seek to use celebrity cameos or over the top nonsense to appeal to a crowd, Alexander Payne cracks the comedic secret in Nebraska: great characters. Bruce Dern, June Squibb, and Will Forte simply inhabit the characters from Bob Nelson’s script in a fashion that is both hilarious and touching. Nebraska is another film about the old reconnecting with their youth, but the style of Nebraska is still oddly “old fashioned”.
Her is a film about the reality of the future, love, and life. While it’s difficult to cover so much in one film, Spike Jonze manages by presenting a realistic relationship and covers it from beginning to end, showings its hits and misses. Joaquin Phoenix remains one of the best actors in the business, and his performance here is the best of his career and of the year. Scarlet Johansson also has an incredible presence in the film, as does an underrated Amy Adams. But the true star of Her’ s Spike Jonze, who from the film’s haunting opening shot to its emotional climax, doesn’t take a stand on technology, relationships, or the future: it simply presents them.
4. 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave doesn’t make the number #1 spot purely because it’s not a film that I could ever watch again. Nevertheless, Steven McQueen should be praised to no end for the brutal world he has created and the shocking realism of the film. The film is so beautifully shot and wonderfully acted that the brutality of the film’s content couldn’t have been more heartbreaking. Chiwetel Ejiofer carries the film with an incredible performance that truly demonstrates the tragedy of the situation, but the film’s best performance lies in the demonic plantation owner played by Michael Fassbender, who is unforgivably cruel and easily the year’s best supporting performance. An impressive ensemble cast adds to the film, including Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, and Brad Pitt. The film is also incredibly edited and completed with an amazing score by Hans Zimmer. Truly this decade’s Schindler’s List, 12 Years a Slave is a masterpiece of cinema that any fan of cinema should view.
3. The World’s End
Edgar Wright is perhaps the greatest comedic director in Hollywood, as The World’s End is one of the decade’s best comedies. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost return for the third installment in the unofficial “Cornetto Trilogy” that includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The writing is sharp and witty in one of the year’s best written films, completed with fantastic performances. But what makes The World’s End so much better than any other comedies this year is its great characters and unique story, completed by some surprising drama that fits the film’s style and some really great action sequences. The World’s End is a masterpiece of comedy with some of the year’s best scenes including a fantastically hilarious ending.
2. American Hustle
American Hustle was one of the years best directed, acted, and written film. David O. Russel has crafted a witty and dramatic story that follows con artists in their personal and professional events, with the year’s best blend of comedy and drama. The cast is incredible; Christian Bale is hilarious and completely invested in his character, Amy Adams plays a great foil for Bale and delivers one of the best female leading performances of the year, Bradley Cooper is completely bizarre and incredibly funny as the FBI agent paired with the con artists, Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s ridiculously stupid wife that adds a lot of humor to the story, and Jeremy Renner as the corrupt but well-meaning politician in the year’s most underrated performance. American Hustle was an enjoyable film, and one of the most interesting experience I had watching a film all year.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
A 3-hour film requires the audience to be invested, the dialogue to be sharp, the acting to be incredible, and the filmmaking to be revolutionary. The Wolf of Wall Street does this. Scorsese crafts a story that is not only satirical, witty and hilarious, but also dramatic and thought provoking. The performance by Leonardo DiCaprio is not only the best of his career, but it sums up the core themes of The Wolf of Wall Street. This is what makes the film so fantastic: it can be viewed not only as a superb comedy, but as a deeply satirical film that demands repeated viewings to comprehend its subtle elements. Under a lesser director, The Wolf of Wall Street would’ve been a disaster. But under the fantastic and edgy direction by the incredible Martin Scorsese, it is the best film of the year.
What do you think of my list? Do you agree? Disagree? What are your top twenty films of the year? Let me know in the comments below.