2013 was such a fantastic year in film – almost overwhelmingly so – that whittling my choices down even to a hefty Top 20 list would relegate some of my favorites to the “honorable mention” section. A few wonderful films that didn’t make the cut – “Saving Mr. Banks”, “The Spectacular Now”, “Nebraska” and “Mud”, for example – are movies that would have been Top 10 contenders had they been released last year. In the ever-expanding spectrum of movies, from animated features to blockbusters, documentaries to foreign language pictures, there were at least two films that represented very strongly in each category; even my runners-up for horror offerings (“You’re Next”, “Evil Dead”), a genre which has been woefully underwhelming in the mainstream in recent years, proved to be quite noteworthy. Of course there are always the films that critics think are overrated – for me, those were the Coens’ “Inside Llewyn Davis”, Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” and Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” – as well as two very critically divisive films: Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers”, which just didn’t appeal to me (and yes, I “get it”) and Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel”, which was just a huge, sloppy CGI-laden disappointment. Still, they each had their creative merits, one way or another. Indeed, 2013 was a year that wasn’t dependent on remakes and sequels (or remakes of sequels, as I often complain), though we certainly could have done a hell of a lot worse than “Iron Man 3”, “Fast & Furious 6” and “Star Trek Into Darkness”. And for that, I pay due respect to those filmmakers for not only thinking and working outside the box, but altogether avoiding the conventions of their respective genres (“The East” and Danny Boyle’s “Trance” are two examples of creative films that were mostly overlooked). It made it a whole lot easier for me to forget rubbish like “The Lone Ranger”, “Olympus Has Fallen”, “The Hangover Part III” and “Grown Ups 2”.
So, without further ado, here are the films that narrowly missed this year’s Top 10 cut: 20) “In A World” 19) “The Wolf of Wall Street” 18)“Rush” 17)“Blackfish” 16)“The Conjuring” 15)“Before Midnight” 14)“American Hustle” 13)“Dallas Buyers Club” 12)“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” 11)“Philomena”
MIKE’S TOP 10 FILMS OF 2013:
#10) “Oblivion” – Reminiscent of films like “Planet of the Apes” and “The Omega Man”, this post-apocalyptic odyssey is just as smart and creative as it is visually spectacular. Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough star as a cleanup crew in the wake of Earth’s war with a mysterious alien force. Unlike the typical dinginess that pervaded this year’s similar-on-paper “Elysium”, as well as many of the predecessors from which it derives some components of its theme, “Oblivion” is a refreshing, clean-looking, honest-to-goodness science fiction film that will not only throw you for a loop but actually transcends its obvious influences. Director Joseph Kosinksi and cinematographer Claudio Miranda (both of “TRON: Legacy”) imagine a vast, brightly lit world that is more beautiful than bleak. Plus, it’s a blockbuster with a brain. I think Heinlein and Asimov would’ve enjoyed it.
#9) “Frozen” – Pixar, eat your heart out! This is the best animated picture of the year, and maybe the best Disney film in a decade. Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, “Frozen” is destined to be a classic, and strikes the perfect chord between old-school Disney and contemporary computer animation. The songs are infectious, and the characters are unusually rich; it is funny, tear-jerking and has a surprisingly mature message at the end.
#8) “Captain Phillips” – If some recent, relatively dull roles have made you forget, the last fifteen minutes of this fact-based film will be a jarring reminder of just how talented an actor Tom Hanks is. He plays the captain of a cargo ship that, despite his taking proper precautions to prevent it, is hijacked off the coast of Somalia. Director Paul Greengrass (“United 93”, “The Bourne Ultimatum”) steadies his camera a bit for this one, if only to prove that he’s capable of doing so. “Captain Phillips” is an emotionally stressful ride, and Barkhad Abdi makes an unbelievable acting debut as the pirate-in-charge. Even if you know how the story turns out, it will draw you in.
#7) “The Hunt” – Quietly intense, infuriating, and acutely mindful of its very sensitive topic, this Danish picture is one of the most intriguing, intelligent films of the year. Mads Mikkelsen (“Casino Royale”), who is pictured above, plays a kindergarten teacher wrongly accused of sexual misconduct with a child, which causes an understandable uproar in his tight-knit community. Ultimately, the film examines the poison we spread amongst ourselves – in part from ignorance and in part out of pure instinct to protect our loved ones – but ultimately it speaks to how we inadvertently perpetuate our worst fears. Directed and co-written (with Tobias Lindhom) by Thomas Vinterberg, “The Hunt” is a meticulously crafted psychological study that is daring enough to question our knee-jerk tendency to not only believe whatever we hear, but to lead people into fulfilling what we believe to be true.
#6) “Her” – One of the most sensitive and thought-provoking films of the year. Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”) writes and directs this unusual romantic drama that is set in the not-so-distant-future. The film finds Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a talented writer who develops a relationship with his artificially intelligent operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). An incredibly insightful view into relationships and a subtle commentary on our technological revolution, “Her” is an altogether different kind of film that feels at once deeply personal, deliberately removed, and hauntingly plausible.
#5) “Gravity” – Really, is this not on everyone’s Top 10 list? A technological and cinematic marvel, Alfonso Cuarón’s epic is the most visually immersive film of the year. The film’s scope and realism are absolutely staggering. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play astronauts who find themselves stranded in space when debris from a neighboring satellite destroys their shuttle while they’re working on the Hubble Telescope and they’re left to find their way to a Russian space station – possibly holding the only ride back to Earth. What ensues is absolutely unbelievable – yet entirely realistic. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is phenomenal. If this film is still in a theater near you, go see it immediately. Unfortunately, it’s just not the same at home, unless you have a ridiculous home theater.
#4) “Fruitvale Station” – This film is so subtle that you won’t even realize how close you’ve gotten to the characters until tragedy strikes. Though it’s based on a real life police shooting that occurred at the titular Oakland train station on New Year’s Day 2009, the 24 hours preceding it gives a wholly positive outlook on society. Michael B. Jordan (2012’s “Chronicle”) plays a guy who’s trying to get his life back on track after a stint in prison, making amends with his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz), young child, and his mother (an always stunning Octavia Spencer). But Ryan Coogler’s film doesn’t expect pity for Jordan’s character – in fact, there’s a deliberate neutral quality about the film. Nothing is black and white. “Fruitvale Station” is beautiful and tragic, and possibly the most understated, intimate film of the year. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
#3) “Prisoners” – If your jaw doesn’t ache from clenching your teeth through this relentlessly intense thriller, then more power to you. Denis Villenueve’s dark, unsettling film ticks like a time bomb with faulty wiring. Hugh Jackman, who plays a man desperately trying to find his missing daughter, gives the best performance of his career, and Jake Gyllenhaal is incredible as the tormented detective in charge of the investigation. This is the most gripping film of its type I’ve seen in ages – and I won’t divulge any more.
#2) “12 Years A Slave” – Steve McQueen (2011’s “Shame”) directs this harrowing tale about a free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. John Ridley (“Red Tails”) adapted the screenplay from the memoirs of Solomon Northup, who is played in the film by Chiwetel Ejiofor in the best performance of the year. Don’t expect a glossy story with requisite plot points where every evil soul gets their due; “12 Years A Slave” is designed to instill as much of the horror of Northup’s experience as possible, and in that regard, it is about as unforgiving and effective as a film can be. Ejiofor deserves an Oscar for Best Actor and Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress. This is something that everyone of the appropriate age needs to see, if only as a reminder that such a deplorably unforgivable absence of humanity occurred in our country’s history.
#1) “The Broken Circle Breakdown” – Halfway through Felix Van Groeningen’s exquisite and heartbreaking love story, I knew I was watching my favorite film of the year. This enthralling, fragile Belgian drama ponders life, death, and the obscurity of everything in between with remarkable sensitivity and depth. It is a cathartic masterpiece that is sure to speak to people in very different ways.