Monday, December 30, 2013

My 20 Favorite Films of 2013

This year, I got a car, so I was able to see more movies in 2013 than I did in any other year.  I won't try to come up with some unifying theme for the year in film, other than "umm...there were some good movies, huh"?  Many films this year were tales of survival under brutal circumstances (Captain Phillips, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, All is Lost), while others were concentrated character studies that watched their protagonists sink or swim (Blue Jasmine, Frances Ha, The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis).  Usually we think of summer popcorn films as the low point of the year in cinema and arthouse films as the beacon of quality, but this year there were some great blockbusters (Fast & Furious 6, Pacific Rim) and some pretty awful indie movies (Upstream Color, Only God Forgives).  2013 saw new films from beloved directors like Alfonso Cuaron and Terrence Malick, and allowed newer directors like J.C. Chandor to make more of a mark in the film world.

As always, many of the year's most acclaimed films get released for a week in New York and Los Angeles, to meet eligibility for the Oscars, while the rest of the country has to wait until January of the next year to see them.  So I like to think of my film list at the end of the year as an unofficial version.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to see some films that I was really looking forward to -- Her, Nebraska, The Past -- because they haven't come out in theaters near me yet.  On the other hand, the fact that you won't see Enough Said on this list is all my fault, because I didn't see it when it was in theaters, but I'm sure I would've loved it.  Finally, I had the opportunity to watch Prisoners and Blue is the Warmest Color in my usual end of the year crunch, but I just got too exhausted.  Even still, I'm satisfied with my list, which features a great balance of big and small films.

One last thing to note is that eligibility for this list is based on when the film came out in theaters in America.  Some of the smaller and foreign films tend to premiere at festivals in the year before, but if it didn't get a theatrical release until 2013 then it's allowed to be counted.  So without further ado, the list...

Honorable Mentions (25-21)
Something in the Air may not have the tightest narrative, but its digressive plot beautifully reflects the freewheeling spirit of Paris in the early 1970s.  Decry the downfall of Pixar all you want, Monsters University might be their funniest film to date.  I'm kind of baffled by the lukewarm response to Thor: The Dark World, because it's leaps and bounds better than the first one, and Marvel's most aesthetically interesting film. Similarly, I feel bad for the people who let the fact that they didn't like the (brilliant) Mandarin reveal in Iron Man 3 get in way of experiencing the joy of Shane Black applying his distinct stamp to a superhero film.  It's a Disaster got overshadowed by the bigger and better end-of-the-world comedies that came out this year, but it's still a really terrific character piece.

20. All is Lost (Directed by J.C. Chandor)

We never learn much about Robert Redford's character in All is Lost -- there's nobody for him to interact with, we don't know why he took this trip on his boat, and he never says anything more than a few expletives over the course of 100 minutes. Even in the credits at the end of the film, he's only enigmatically referred to as The Man.  This level of economy is a surprising choice, given that director J.C. Chandor's first film was the hyper-chatty Margin Call, but it's an intelligent one.  He strips this survival tale down to the bare essentials, giving it a visceral and primal feeling, and Redford's austere performance matches that.  All is Lost is a film that's full of openings for metaphorical interpretations -- I myself think it's a story that symbolizes the elderly experience -- but it speaks to the human condition in a universal way.  Life can often be a lonely and difficult experience, but we have a habit of finding a way to persevere.

19. Captain Phillips (Directed by Paul Greengrass)

At its core, Captain Phillips is a movie about how much having a job sucks.  I'm being a little glib, but it's true that the titular captain and the Somali pirates are both united by the fact that they're "just doing their jobs."  For captain Phillips, that entails sailing through incredibly dangerous waters where lots of money is at stake for those who are exporting the goods.  For Muse, the leader of the pirates, his duty is to rob these ships of their valuables, lest he face the consequences from the criminal overlords back in his village.  The film doesn't try to get you to sympathize with Muse, but it makes a point that these two men are opposing forces, all for the sake of people higher up on the chain.  Using his documentary style realism and shaky camera, Greengrass has crafted an action film that's less about setpieces and explosions and more about clever gamesmanship.  Holding everything together, though, is Tom Hanks' performance, which starts out workmanlike and slowly becomes more and more powerful as his character's circumstances get more dire.  It culminates in a scene near the end that's one of the finest pieces of acting I've seen all year.  Captain Phillips may be about the structures that drive all of these operations, but it never forgets the humanity at the center of it all.  [Read the original review]

18. Gimme the Loot (Directed by Adam Leon)

While watching Adam Leon's debut film, Gimme the Loot, the easy comparison to make is to Spike Lee.  Certainly, there are bones of Do the Right Thing in the way that it depicts New York as a vibrant cultural hodgepodge with all kinds of colorful characters looking for anything to do to pass the time.  Like Lee, Leon fills every corner of the frame with detail; there's always something going on in the background in addition to the main action in the foreground.  The story is about two teens (relative newcomers Ty Hickson and Tashiana Washington) who are on a quest to tag the apple at Shea Stadium, and the diversions they face along the way.  Gimme the Loot is gentler about its racial commentary than a Spike Lee film would be, but it's still there, even throwing some ideas about gender into the mix.  Malcolm and Sofia are like heist-planning partners, navigating the city and the translucent lines that define their relationship.  Most of all, it's just an incredibly fun movie, driven by its ramshackle energy.  The characters' ambitions may be high, but the film's are modest, and the result is a charming and hilarious little adventure.

17. The World's End (Directed by Edgar Wright)

Edgar Wright's very loosely connected Cornetto Trilogy all share the same pet themes -- navigating the complex terrain of friendship, confronting adulthood, etc. -- but they all manage to feel unique.  Despite being united by whip pans and clever dialogue, there's something inherently different about the livewire energy of The World's End when compared to the lackadaisical charm of Shaun of the Dead and the brute force of Hot Fuzz.  And though Simon Pegg may play the protagonist in all three films, Gary King is unlike any character he's played before.  There's some real melancholy behind Gary, who in attempt to relive the youth he's never truly left behind, convinces his friends to go on a 12-stop pub crawl with him.  Along the way, the story takes an interesting turn and increases the stakes in ways that fit into the film's themes of conformity, maturation, and letting go.  In the midst of all of that, Wright pens some sharp lines and delivers kinetic action scenes, and the whole thing moves along at a steady clip.  While the third act lost me a bit, the script stays well-structured until the very end.  The World's End closes the loop on The Cornetto Trilogy, not only with the evolution of Gary King, but Edgar Wright's skills as a director as well.  [Read the original review]

16. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Directed by Francis Lawrence)

I liked the first installment in the Hunger Games film series well enough, but I found it to be rather bland and devoid of personality.  Film adaptations are usually at least somewhat beholden to their source material, but without a certain aesthetic stamp, The Hunger Games just felt like a slideshow of events from the book.  The one scene I always cite as showing real spark is the Reaping scene at the beginning of the film, because it's the only time that the gravity and stakes of the story really land.  Catching Fire is filled with these kinds of moments -- in fact, the entire first 90 minutes of the film is brimming with a raw energy that emphasizes the harsh realities of the growing rebellion.  Part of this improvement is by design -- not only is Catching Fire the best book of the series, it also allows more room for the tense political machinations on display during the first half -- but it's also because the film is backed by a stronger script and more assured direction.  By the time the film returns to the eponymous games, it loses a tad bit of the spark that carries its best moments, but they work more than they do in the first film because of the better sense of the characters the second one has.  It's 146 minutes long, but the best thing that can be said about it is that you're still wanting and expecting more by the time the end comes.  That ending, however, is a satisfying ellipsis to leave the film on; I'm surprised by how much it (and the entire film) has lingered with me, and how excited I am to see the next installment.

15. Side Effects (Directed by Steven Soderbergh)

Who knows whether Steven Soderbergh is actually going to retire from directing films (although I'd place my bet on his return), but if he remains true about his intentions, then the last few years he's had are a great way to go out.  In 2011, he struck gold twice with Haywire and Contagion, both examples of him applying his cool, clinical style to genre exercises.  Then in 2012, he made the salacious subdued in Magic Mike, a film that promises male stripper fun, only to wander into being a film that's secretly about the state of the American economy.  2013's Side Effects (not to mention the supposedly great Behind the Candelabra) is another strong effort, and one that also continuously wriggles out of any expectations placed upon it.  For the first half of the film, it seems to be some kind of moral tale about the pharmaceutical industry, following a depressed woman's (Rooney Mara) path from anti-depressant to anti-depressant after an apparent suicide attempt.  If that was just what the film was, it'd probably still be one of the best of the year, backed by Mara's moving performance, which really sells the bottomless despair her character feels.  But that's what makes its transition into a limber, B-movie thriller all the more brilliant.  It's so bold and unexpected, but it works because the film just trudges forward, reveling in its fun potboiler plot.  By the time you get to the end, you'll wonder how you ever got there in the first place, but the one thing you'll be sure of is that you were guided by the hands of a master.

14. The Wolf of Wall Street (Directed by Martin Scorsese)

I've never done cocaine, so I'm no expert, but I think that nobody does cocaine-fueled intensity better than Martin Scorsese.  It's what made the twitchy third act of Goodfellas so brilliant and it carries The Wolf of Wall Street, which moves along on a feverish high for the better part of three hours.  For a while, I was very conflicted about this movie, because I couldn't tell whether it was glorifying its misogynist, bacchanalia-filled, "dudes being dudes" story.  But as it goes along, it becomes increasingly clear that we aren't neccesarily supposed to root for Jordan Belfort.  His broker cronies may idolize him like he's a god, but the film has these tiny moments where we get to see how the world at large views his actions, before averting its attention as quickly as the coke-addled protagonist does.  On a surface level, this film is about addiction -- just look at the way Belfort consumes everything from cocaine to sex to money.  What elevates the story is that it's also this twisted spin on The American Dream, pinpointing the ways in which our country allows people like him to thrive.  With The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese managed to depict excess and indulgence better than Baz Luhrmann did in The Great Gatsby, deliver flashy style better than David O. Russell did in American Hustle, and do over-the-top satire better than Michael Bay did in Pain & Gain (well, that last one isn't too surprising).  Other directors can only hope to be this vital when they're 71.

13. The Conjuring (Directed by James Wan)

People overuse fear as a barometer for judging horror films.  Again and again, I see horror films get dismissed because they "aren't scary."  There's nothing particularly scary about The Conjuring to me, but none of that matters, because it's so well-crafted that it's hard not to be entertained.  It's less of a horror film than it is a guided experience, and director James Wan is in control of all of the variables.  He knows all the right buttons to press, with the perfect timing to maximize tension.  It strikes the difficult balance of being serious about its suspense, while also having a playful self-awareness of all of the tropes and devices it's using to push the story forward.  Like many efforts in the genre, the story is mostly mumbo-jumbo, but we care because the characters at the center of it all are so compelling.  It may be a rollercoaster ride, but it's one that places just as much importance in the loops and drops as it does in the spaces in between.  [Read the original review]

12. Much Ado About Nothing (Directed by Joss Whedon)

You could make the case that there have been better, more substantial film adaptations of Shakespeare plays, but I'd argue that none capture the true spirit of The Bard as well as Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing does.  Filmed during his vacation time in the middle of The Avengers, Whedon gathered many of his regular collaborators to quickly shoot a version of Shakespeare's classic comedy of misunderstandings at his house in Santa Monica.  It feels less like a movie and more like watching a roving troupe of actors coming together to put on a show, much like it must have been in actual Shakespearean times.  Whedon doesn't make the mistake of trying to fool around with much of the play's story or dialogue -- though the modernization and subtle change in the main characters' background does benefit the film -- and instead makes his mark through visual flourishes.  Framing is used to convey the sense of disconnect between characters' understanding of the transpiring events and the reality of the situation; the physical bits that happen in the background of a scene are the best moments.  And though it's largely for budgetary reasons, the black and white cinematography is absolutely gorgeous.  Much Ado About Nothing may be trifle; but it's well-acted, well-directed, and most of all; loads of fun.

11. This is the End (Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg)

If we're going by laughs alone, This is the End might be my favorite comedy in a very long time, because it delivers them with a high order of intensity and frequency.  I know I'm supposed to be a highbrow man of dignity, but I can't help but be amused by this silly, ribald movie.  Cum jokes?  Dudes drinking their own pee?  Watching Michael Cera get brutally impaled?  Hilarious!  Along with intensity and frequency, variety is also important to This is the End.  The film basically moves from comedic setpiece to comedic setpiece, but each of them feels different than the last, so it never gets as repetitive as many other comedy films do.  Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are disciples of the Apatow brand of filmmaking, and like his films, this one places alot of stock in the emotional arcs of its characters.  Bro-ish as it may be, there are also some keen insights about the nature of male friendships.  The meta elements of the film -- everybody's playing a skewed version of themselves -- are less about self-indulgence and more about self-deprecation (notice how we never really know whether this apocalypse is happening worldwide or just in Los Angeles, because it doesn't matter to the characters).  Comedy is so subjective that I totally understand the people who hate this film for all of the same reasons I cite as positives, but if it's on your wavelength, then This is the End is a funny and heartfelt celebration of friendship.  [Read the original review]

10. 12 Years a Slave (Directed by Steve McQueen)

Every year, there's usually at least one "take your medicine" film that pops up around award season.  These are films that you don't really want to see, but you feel obligated to because they receive so much critical acclaim and Oscar buzz.  Usually, they're about the Holocaust or Abraham Lincoln or something equally historical and "important."  12 Years a Slave, one of the favorites to win Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards, is another in a long line of movies about slavery.  It's a brutal, difficult film; one that's got McQueen's usual cold, unflinching style.  Early in the film, there's that scene where Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor, in a performance that's sure to get him a Best Actor win) is first placed on a slave ship to the South.  The camera focuses on the boat's rudder endlessly turning, grinding away as Hans Zimmer's score loudly blares in the background.  Through McQueen's lens, slavery is more like a machine, systematically turning over thousands of African Americans to work under extreme conditions for hours on end.  Yet the film remains human at its core, carried by Solomon's resolute determination to be free once again and if that fails, then to just survive.  Although there are no flourishes to the most emotional scenes (save for a bravura long take near the end of the film), the moments are deeply felt all the same.  If 12 Years a Slave is this year's "take your medicine" pick, we're lucky to have one that's so darn good.

9. About Time (Directed by Richard Curtis)

Writer-director Richard Curtis peddles in schmaltz, making films that are unabashedly soaked in naked sentimentality.  It's there in his 2003 classic (yeah, I said it!) Love, Actually and it's there in About Time too.  What makes it work is that his characters are filled with such charm and wit that it's much easier to tolerate them going through the standard trappings of the romcom structure.  Luckily, there's more to that in About Time anyway.  The love story actually feels kind of matter-of-fact and inevitable, and the film refreshingly makes something that would usually take an entire film to resolve and handles it in one act.  That's because the real point is the father-son relationship between Dohmnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy, and how things happening on the fringe of the story are often more important than what you think is the center.  It plays fast and loose with the idea of time-travel, caring less about the logic of it and more about using it as a jumping-off point for the film's themes of finding contentment with your life.  Ultimately, all of the changes you try to make in the world still result in a relatively messy outcome.  Gleeson learns to stop fretting over everything, seeing life less as a puzzle to solve, and more as the vista you see after the puzzle has already been put together.  It's easy to explain the broad strokes of what makes me like About Time, but there are so many tiny, incommunicable moments of emotional honesty that make me love it.  Although it's probably not a film that you'll see on many other best of the year lists, it really resonated with me.

8. Short Term 12 (Directed by Destin Cretton)

At first glance, everything about Short Term 12, which revolves around a foster care facility for at-risk teenagers and the barely older 20-somethings who supervise them, just screams "SUNDANCE INDIE DRAMA!!!"  Grim, gloomy setting?  Check.  Troubled, damaged protagonist?  Check.  Emphasis on tight close-ups and muted colors?  Check.  But it's the assembly of those component parts that makes it stand out from the pack and ultimately work.  Part of that is thanks to the subdued script and direction by first-timer Destin Cretton, which takes moments that would otherwise seem like melodrama and grounds them in pure, wrenching drama.  Another benefit is some really amazing performances from the younger actors, including the always amazing Kaitlyn Dever and newcomer Keith Stanfield.  But the really heavy lifting comes from Brie Larson, whose character Grace is the main focus of the film.  Larson owns the screen from start to finish, making a character type that sounds generic on paper -- "she's looking after troubled teens but she's got problems of her own!" -- and turning her into a raw, complex individual.  Short Term 12 is a story that's all about trepidation: the fear of opening up to others, the fear of confronting the next stage of your life, the fear of existing in a world whose harsh truths sometimes grind individuals to dust.  But the film itself is a fearless, terrific debut.  [Read the original review]

7. Spring Breakers (Directed by Harmony Korine)

Is Spring Breakers art masquerading as trash or trash masquerading as art?  That's been the question on everybody's mind ever since the film came out, and to that, my answer would be: Can't it be both?  If you want to, you can just view it as purely hedonistic thrills, the apex of Harmony Korine's difficult filmmaking style.  It's a rewarding approach to take, because most of all, the film is a sensory experience.  The vivid colors, the blaring sound, the disorienting editing; it's all a series of firing synapses wrapped around a nightmarish tale.  And James Franco's wildly entertaining turn as the rapper/drug-dealer Alien is one of the greatest things to happen in 2013, a performance that's equal parts comedy gold and demonic intensity.  But peel back the surface pleasures and there's some really cutting and incisive observations about our generation to be found.  It takes the concept of youth and twists it to a slightly heightened state, but only to highlight the point it's trying to make about its Millennial protagonists.  There's much to make of the moral depravity that takes place, but it also shows that these are women with a real sense of autonomy and agency.  That's basically Spring Breakers in a nutshell: delivering on the promise that baits you into watching it, but also subtly subverting your expectations.  [Read the original review]

6. Frances Ha (Directed by Noah Baumbach)

It seems like lately there's been an increased interest in stories focusing on what I like to call "the new adolescence," that period between legal adulthood and true adulthood.  Frances Ha is another example of this, as it follows the exploits of a 27-year-old would-be dancer, as she tries to navigate New York and figure out what she wants to do with her life.  There are a few things that elevate Frances Ha past the level of these other second wave coming-of-age films.  First, there's Greta Gerwig.  I've been a fan of her since her mumblecore days in films like Nights and Weekends, and she's even better here as the daft, but good-hearted Frances.  Gerwig has this uncanny ability to do things with her face that I can't even fathom, expressing a wide range of emotions and unspoken thoughts over the course of the film.  Second, there's Noah Baumbach.  I'm always convinced that I don't like him as a filmmaker, but then I remember that I enjoyed The Squid and the Whale and Greenberg quite a bit.  Here, his talents make their mark both visually -- the entire film is shot in crisp black-and-white -- and in the script's snappy, clever dialogue.  Third, there's the inherent brightness of it all.  It pulls a trick on you, making you think you're heading for some bleak ending, only to deliver a lovely and optimistic alternative.  Frances Ha is not just great, it's unexpectedly the most uplifting film I've seen all year.  

5. Blue Jasmine (Directed by Woody Allen)

After two fluffy affairs in Europe with Midnight in Paris and To Rome With Love, Woody Allen returned Stateside for Blue Jasmine, his first dramatic film in a while.  Listen, I loved this movie when I saw it in theaters over the summer.  Since then, I've seen an increasing number of people griping about how unrealistic the film is and the shallow way Allen depicts the working class in San Francisco.  But to me, those points seem moot, because the reality of the film clearly reflects the mindset of its high-strung, mentally ill protagonist.  Just take a look at the way it seamlessly cuts from regular scenes to flashbacks without warning, similarly to how Jasmine's mind bleeds together past and present.  Blue Jasmine is a character piece first, and a magnificent, heartbreaking one at that.  As the film's titular character, Cate Blanchett gives what is by far the best acting performance of the year, imbuing Jasmine with a sense of fragility, as we see her slowly crumble throughout the film.  Perhaps I'd be less enthused about it if I'd seen A Streetcar Named Desire (from which this movie apparently borrows heavily) or if I'd seen every single film in Woody Allen's filmography, but for now, I think Blue Jasmine packs a huge punch.  [Read the original review]

4. The Act of Killing (Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer)

In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown, and afterward, anybody perceived to be a Communist was executed.  The leaders of these executions were "gangsters," promoted from petty crime on the streets to leading the death squads in charge of these tragic killings that occurred in the country between 1965 and 1966.  When filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer traveled to Indonesia to ask two of the most famous of these executioners to recreate some of those killings, they gleefully agreed, and The Act of Killing follows that process, giving us something that's equally weird, harrowing, and sad.  A recurring theme in the film is the idea that these killers were inspired by the brutality that they saw in American films, as the recreations mirror mob movies and westerns.  Multiple times throughout the film, one of the executioners talks about how the word "gangster"'s origin is rooted in the term "free man," almost as if their killing was just a way for them to exercise their freedom.  In fact, in getting into the psychology of murderers, The Act of Killing is all about the lies that these people tell themselves to justify their actions, anything to avoid actually confronting the atrocities they committed.  Like Stories We Tell, this film is about fact and fiction bleeding together, and the way that re-enacting these killings stir up dormant demons is really powerful stuff.  Oppenheimer is smart enough to not intrude upon his own film, often letting the camera just sit there and capture what's unfolding without any commentary.  The Act of Killing is a fascinating beast, becoming an important piece in the cinematic pantheon while also excoriating the effects that film can have on people.  It's a documentary that you won't be able to shake quickly.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis (Directed by The Coen Brothers)

I often respect the Coen brothers' films more than I like them, and when I do enjoy one of their movies, it's usually after a second or third viewing.  It's hard to put a finger on the true reason why, but the cold, indifferent way that they approach their stories and characters makes it hard to latch on to the first time around.  Inside Llewyn Davis marks a first for them, in that I loved it after one viewing and it's a film that's very sympathetic to the tribulations of its protagonist.  Though it may be shot through the muted, gorgeously wintry lens of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, this is easily their warmest work yet.  Llewyn is constantly called a "dick" and an "asshole" by others, and they are certainly not wrong, but there's something very moving about the binds that he finds himself in, even if the reasons for being in them are frequently his fault.  That's partially because the Coens do a great job of hinting at a larger pain that's driving him (his former singing partner's suicide, his incapacitated father, etc.), but also because despite all of his prickliness, Llewyn is incredibly talented.  There are a number of heart-stopping, soul-bearing musical numbers in this film, there for the sake of their own beauty and because they're the few moments where we truly get to see Llewyn unguarded.  Inside Llewyn Davis is mysterious, funny, and complex in the way that all Coen brothers films are; but moving, soulful, and compassionate like none of their others have been before.  If this is an introduction to a new side of them, then I can't wait to see what's next.

2. Stories We Tell (Directed by Sarah Polley)

The other day, I wondered what it'd be like if Sarah Polley directed a superhero film.  There probably wouldn't be any action scenes, and characters would just sit around and talk about the mundanities of life, loss, and memory.  In other words, it'd be the most amazing film ever.  Stories We Tell, her third feature film but first foray into documentaries, is like an origin story of sorts.  In it, she interviews various members of her family about her mother, who passed away when Sarah was just 11.  If it was just a straightforward, navel-gazing look into her own family history, I'd wonder why she felt the need to make this anything other than a home video, but the documentary has some genuinely interesting twists.  There's also the film's meta angle, which ruminates upon the nature of stories, the way they continue to shape themselves long after the events they're depicting have happened.  Polley pieces together these individual stories to craft a larger narrative, one that's tender and gentle, and filled with her recurring themes of grief, fractured memories, and infidelity.  Though it's only her third film, Stories We Tell is a confident, emotionally rich work from somebody who's already on her way to becoming one of our greatest living directors.  [Read the original review]

1. Before Midnight (Directed by Richard Linklater)

The first two installments in Richard Linklater's Before series play off of the two biggest fantasies for any hopeless romantic.  For those who dream of randomly meeting somebody and immediately falling in love with them, there's Before Sunrise.  Then, if you long to be reunited with a long-lost love under improbable circumstances, there's Before Sunset.  If that's the case, then Before Midnight will be your worst nightmare.  Picking up another nine years later from where we last left them in Before Sunset, Before Midnight finds Jesse and Celine now married with two kids.  At first, all the telltale signs of a Before film are there: the impressively laid-back long takes, the philosophical dialogue, the exquisite locales.  But as the film goes on, we see that the initial luster of their romance has worn off, and resentment and disappointment is starting to show.  Here, the brilliance of Richard Linklater's creation really becomes obvious.  Would we care about the possible dissolution of their marriage as much if we didn't spend two films (and 18 years) rooting for them to be together?  The film's not just content with letting you check in on these characters you've grown to love -- it also brings new insights to the table.  Much like the previous two installments, Before Midnight is reflective of Jesse and Celine's age, and many of their conflicts are rooted in the concerns of being in your 40s.  Sunrise and Sunset were already two of my favorite films of all time, but Midnight somehow manages to be even better.  I won't spoil it, but the final scene is the most beautiful thing I've seen all year.  I'm interested in seeing what Linklater does if he decides to make another of these films in 9 years, but I wouldn't mind being left with the wonderful image that Midnight closes out on.  [Read the original review]

Well, that wraps things up for my best of 2013 list.  I love reading other lists, so feel free to share yours in the comments.  Or if you want to just tell me how much my list sucks and that I'm a stupid, awful person, then you can do that too!  To see a complete ranked list of all the films I've seen this year, CLICK HERE.


  1. Ok first of all.
    Films I clearly need to see because of this list:
    -Before series
    -The Act of Killing
    -Side Effects

    Films I've wanted to see that you made me want to see more:

    -Spring Breakers
    -12 Years a Slave
    -Much Ado about Nothing (I KNOW!)
    -The Wolf of Wall Street
    -Captain Phillips
    My list is probably considerably less refined than yours (Though I have not seen a majority of the films on your list), so I'm going to do something a little different. There will be films on this list from 2013, but I'm also going to make this a general list of films I saw this year, regardless of what year they came out (If only because it appears that I haven't seen a lot of movies this year). Yes this may be cheating, but otherwise there would be less than 10, and half of them would be terrible choices. So here is my top ten nonetheless:

    Films I saw, but that I wouldn't put on a list:

    The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
    Star Trek Into Darkness
    Iron Man 3
    Thor: The Dark World

    10. SE7EN (1995)
    Probably one of the reasons why this is so low on my list is that I knew the twist of the film going in from the start. One of the more human characters I've seen Morgan Freeman play and a very compelling dark thriller.

    9. Psycho (1960)
    Only reason I watched this is because of Bates Motel, and it's definitely a classic. I knew most of the reasons why it was famous going in (the shower scene, the twist), but it still was very interesting and I enjoyed seeing the ways Bates Motel threw in little nods to this film here and there (such as the animals).

    8. Maniac (2012)
    A very different kind of film, shot entirely from the protagonist (antagonist?)'s perspective. I loved the way it really allowed you to get into the killer's mind; it's very gory, very explicit, and I loved the way the killer's perspective morphed from what he thought he was seeing to what was really going on. I'd never call it a great film but I'm really glad I saw it.

    7. Ender's Game
    This was a big one for me. I read this book when I was probably 11 or 12 years old and I knew this was in the works for a long time. As with every other adaptation you hear about, rumors come and go, but I knew it was real when Harrison Ford was officially on the project. It may have fallen slightly short of my expectations (the battle room sequences were just kind of okay), but it had heart and I'll send you my full review when it's up (this is the first of my filmed reviews that I've done).

    6. Gravity
    I saw this when I was very tired after having seen Ender's Game earlier in the same day, so I know I didn't get the full experience, but at the same time I knew which of the two films I saw that day was better. Between the extremely long takes and the frantic, terrified acting by Sandra Bullock, I understood why people called this a horror film. In fact I think my sleep deprivation added to the experience because at the moment where she's hallucinating George Clooney's character, I DIDN'T KNOW WHETHER OR NOT IT WAS REAL, because I was in and out and had lost track of what had happened to him (I had seen him say goodbye, but I wasn't sure if he had returned). Including the thrilling finale, the only real detriment that stuck out to me was the score, which was overbearing and could have been more subdued.

    1. 5. Donnie Darko (2001)
      This movie completely changed the way I look at Jake Gyllenhaal. With that excellent opening song, the quirky dialogue and that infamous strange bunny, I knew I was watching something different. While this movie is essentially an upward progression of strange things occurring, I found it very intriguing and loved shots such as the one with Donnie looking into the mirror as he delves deeper into his insanity. Not an amazing film by any stretch of the imagination, but memorable nonetheless.

      4. The Conjuring
      By far one of the best horror films I've seen in years, this really has to be the year I discovered Vera Farmiga. Far better than "Mama" (the only reason that I saw that was because of Nikolai Coster-Waldau), "The Conjuring" gripped me from start to finish, from that memorable doll to the children's night terrors leading up to the exorcism at the end. The only thing that stuck out to me as a flaw was when we kept following Shannon Kook's character looking for the girl near the end.

      3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
      First of all: DEFINITELY better than the first film. The tone of this series got dark quick, in a way that (I would agree) wasn't seen since the reaping. I loved the very clear comparison to reality television, and while the games themselves are okay, the best parts of the film usually involve Stanley Tucci's character. Two memorable scenes from the games were the screaming mockingjays and the ending. Looking forward to Mockingjay, but I've heard it's not as good and I'm not thrilled about the two-part split.

      2. Rec (2007)
      By far the best found footage film I have ever seen, Rec is far better than its American counterpart (Quarantine-the only reason I saw that was because of Jennifer Carpenter). Following a TV reporter working on a story about firemen, it slowly devolves into a dark scarefest with an interesting story that doesn't disappoint. Highly recommended.

      1. Evil Dead (2013)
      Harrowing. Relentless. Gory in such a campy way, it's ridiculous. I had not seen the original Evil Dead before this, so I had no idea what to expect, but I was significantly surprised that it was so gripping. Jane Levy really knows how to play both terrified and creepy (though the make-up department probably has more to do with the latter), and I loved watching her descent as everyone around her thought it was simply the withdrawal that was getting to her (a plausible reason to keep her in the cabin!). The blood-soaked finale is forever going to be in my mind and I can't wait to see what comes next.

      My TV list is going to be much better than this one.

    2. Solid choices all around. I'm not a huge David Fincher fan, but I love Se7en. It's got such great texture and sense of dread. The unnamed city feels like a literal Hell on Earth.

      I haven't seen Ender's Game or Evil Dead yet but I'm going to get around to them eventually.

      I didn't like Mockingjay much but the Catching Fire movie honestly did some things better than the book version did, so I'm remaining optimistic.

      Another film on my list that I think you'd dig is The World's End. Have you not seen any of the other films in the Cornetto Trilogy? Those movies seem like they'd be right up your alley.

    3. I agree regarding Se7en, enjoyed the tone of that movie a lot.

      My enjoyment of Ender's Game is probably at least partially influenced by my love of the source material, it wasn't universally praised; it feels rushed the way they compressed the story, but I still think it's a solid adaptation.

      Only see Evil Dead if you're okay with gore, otherwise you're going to hate it. Assuming you're fine with that though, I enjoyed just how ridiculously over the top it is.

      I heard Mockingjay is half set in that District 13 (which sounds like that's what part 1 will mostly be) and the other half is the "Revolution." I also heard that it would be kind of like HP7 P1 & P2 (where most people thought Part 1 (which I liked) was very slow and most people thought Part 2 was "sad". My hope is that they make Part 1 a lot like the first half of Catching Fire (A.K.A. the reality TV stuff), but since they're supposed to be in hiding, I can't see how they'll be in any Stanley Tucci scenes so...probably not.

      I only saw Shaun of the Dead, and that was about 5 years ago. I should check it out again along with Hot Fuzz and this, just haven't found the opportunity (or the right person to watch them with).

      I should mention I forgot that I saw This is the End, but regardless I'm not sure if I would put it on this list anyways. The best part of the movie for me was the party at the beginning and the ensuing aftermath; along with the stuff with Emma Watson; the rest was just kind of okay (the 5 minute cum joke was...what it was). Not terrible, just wish the rest of the movie had been more like the beginning

    4. I should note I'm watching Elysium right now, and it's pretty good but this damn shaky cam is annoying the shit out of me.