It has been a long year but one that contains a slew of fantastic films. It was incredibly difficult to pick ten out of the group that I made but here are the films that made the biggest impact with me.
10. Prince Avalanche
This a film that I think will continue to be underrated in the scheme of 2013. Nothing is big about it but the small size gives way to a beautiful representation of people dealing with big stuff in their own lives even if the scale is small. Rudd and Hirsch are fantastic as solitude workers who don’t have much human interaction but themselves through their time working on the roads. The chemistry between them makes the film and a wonderful performance out of Rudd shows that he has even more to offer than just a few niche comedy roles. His character Alvin carries most of the emotion in the film and Rudd plays the loner role so well. It is one that begs more viewings and shows that David Gordon-Green still has a lot to offer as a director with sweeping visuals to accompany the small story.
9. Frances Ha
I meant to write about this one but never did. I caught it one night on Netflix, just giving it a shot because I knew it had been a favorite with critics over the summer. I never thought that I would just absolutely love it. While it felt to me like an ode to both Woody Allen’s Manhattan and a Francois Truffaut film, Frances Ha is a deeply misunderstood film that probably turns people off just looking at the poster or trailer and really does beg your attention. Gerwig plays the in-between adult/child role fantastically and it feels more aesthetic than say an episode of Girls. The black and white of New York always will spark my interest but the way that it helped silhouette this story of life for an upper-20 year old still trying to figure life out, it seemed to work perfectly. Frances knows the two sides she can be on, one being maturity (job, husband, etc.) and the other is being a total slacker, and she walks a fine line between both in this great film.
8. About Time
It is easy to write-off this film as “that time travel movie with Rachel McAdams and the guy who wrote Love Actually,” but by doing that you would be excluding yourself from not only of the best romantic comedies in a long time but one that transcends the normal rom-com and examines parts outside of the sphere of the man and woman relationship. About Time is not just about Tim (Gleeson) finding “the one” in Mary (McAdams), it is about Tim discovering life and the special relationship he has with his dad (Bill Nighy). Nighy steals about every scene he is in as the dad who seems to always be there for Tim and while nothing in this movie seems new for rom-coms, it all feels fresh thanks to this different approach, the performances by all involved, and the attachment you get to these characters as they make their way through life.
7. The World’s End
As the summer became more distant and I began to view my favorites over and over again, it soon became apparent that I loved The World’s End more than I thought I did. The characters, the action and the story was all just so fantastic and how much it got better with each viewing blew me away. There is more to this movie that just your simple comedy and the layers that writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright gave to the film is astounding. Pegg gives one of the year’s more underrated performances as Gary King, a man/child, but not in the sense of Frances in Frances Ha. Gary lives in one moment and while the others move on, he wants nothing more than to be in that moment forever. It is honestly incredible to watch where this movie takes you and it is a journey I can’t wait to take for many years to come.
I caught this film twice and it showed a lot of growth in the second viewing. This isn’t a film that will particularly move you but one that will entertain you and, if you’re from small-town America, may make you a little nostalgic for home. Alexander Payne directs this in black-and-white, a decision that isn’t really necessary for the film but something that works when you think about it. This film is not really a road trip film but a trip to the past and the black-and-white creates this older feel that brings more meaning to Woody Grant’s (Dern) odyssey for a million bucks. Even in the second viewing, it still impresses me how great Forte is and I hope this can be a step into doing more work like this because his role as David, Woody’s son, gives the audience a vessel into the story and a way to share the excitement and frustration of taking this trip along the countryside.
5. 12 Years a Slave
While it doesn’t top my list, there really isn’t a more powerful movie this year outside of 12 Years a Slave. The tale of a free man who is deceived and sold into slavery hits you at your core throughout the running time. Ejiofor, who plays Soloman Northup, is incredible as he embodies the role and leaves nothing behind in one of the year’s most raw and incredible performances. I honestly went away impressed just as much with Fassbender, who could completely rule the picture whenever he was on screen. Him and the performances by unknown actress Lupita Nyong’o are scene-stealing roles that accompany Ejiofor as characters that make-up the core of this film. It isn’t one you will walk away feeling good after but it is an important film and one that will surely resonate in the decades to come.
I think the problem that Gravity has to overcome with some viewers is that it came out so heralded that many labeled it as overrated or an Oscar gimmick and that is taking away from one of this era’s crowning cinematic achievements. Gravity is much more than just a wildly innovative, technical film, it contains great performances by Bullock and George Clooney, it has a simple but resonate story, and it features some of the best visuals you will see on a film screen. Alfonso Cuaron took the biggest risk of any filmmaker with this film and it paid off ten-fold and actually made a killing at the box office. It can be tense, very tense, and it can be sentimental. Bullock is fantastic as Ryan Stone, a role that challenges her beyond anything she has done before, and one that deserves more recognition than her Oscar winning role in The Blind Side. Gravity is a triumph and one that I hope doesn’t get stomped on.
3. Before Midnight
The earliest film to make it this high on my list, this is the one that has stood the test of the year and continued to stay atop my favorites, Before Midnight does what I thought was impossible and surpasses its two predecessors by a lot. The conversations are still here but in Midnight they inject humor and scorn that makes them different from the optimism and pessimism that dominated Sunrise and Sunset. The characters have changed and Hawke and Delpy capture where they are now in their lives perfectly. Delpy especially shines as a woman who is not where she expected herself to be and is now dealing with the repercussions of it. Hawke almost eclipses her as he gives his funniest performance in the series to date. The expert directing and writing by Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke continues to show that this series is one of the best in cinema today.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
This is a film that I loved coming out of it but once I sat and thought about it more, as the week went by, I began to adore it. The Coen Brothers do everything correct in this small look into the mind of a struggling artist who won’t give up on his craft. There is something inspiring about this character, Llewyn Davis, who is played expertly by Oscar Isaac but while you may find Llewyn to be a role model for artistry at times, he becomes the worst thing ever immediately after. The songs that come along the way help and the hilarious supporting roles by the likes of John Goodman and Justin Timberlake gave me one of my favorites of the year and a film that I can’t wait to dive back into multiple times after this year.
Is it not right to put a film that you just saw about two days ago as your favorite of the year? If so, we then I don’t care. I knew instantly when that final shot went to black and the credits began to roll, this was the best film I had seen in 2013. There is something unique about Her and it isn’t the easily seen weirdness that comes from the concept or that odd, sci-fi-like feel that it has, it is that these characters are real, even the operating system, and I feel like this film is very personal not only to Spike Jonze, the director and writer, but to me, as the viewer. I feel for Theodore (Phoenix) as he struggles to connect with other humans but can find solace in the voice (Scarlett Johansson) of an operating system. This film is much more than just him falling in love with his computer but is about finding love and relationships in life. Not just romantic ones either, Theodore struggles to befriend anyone, with his only true friend being his former flame, Amy (Amy Adams). This film is rich in themes and one that I can’t wait to dive into more but nothing hit me like this film did. It is one that I think will go past this year and be important in the years to come because I haven’t seen too many revolutionary romance films like this.
Star Trek: Into Darkness
Place Beyond the Pines
Dallas Buyers Club
The Spectacular Now
The Way, Way Back