I’ve had plenty of great experiences watching movies in 2013 and have just scratched the surface on what’s out there. Having missed so many key releases, it doesn’t seem fair to create a normal Top 10 list. Even narrowing it down to a Top 5 list wouldn’t be fair because it would come from such a small sample size. However, I would like to spotlight some of my favorites from the past year. The five choices below might not all qualify as the best films, but they were the most memorable choices for me. I’ve added three movies that just missed the list plus aspects of others that have stuck with me since the initial viewing. I’m hoping to catch up with a lot of the other 2013 releases in the upcoming months. The positive side of missing them originally is having a wealth of options for home viewing. I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments section! I’ve also included quotes from my original review (with one exception) that summarize my original reaction to each film.
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater) – “It’s haunting to watch Jesse and Celine lose their way, but those problems make their lives more poignant.”
It seems incomprehensible for a film to rank as my least favorite in a trilogy and still be a favorite. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have such a clear understanding of what makes Jesse and Celine tick. The romance is still there, but the challenges of real life have made everything more difficult. Idealized love gets a lot more complicated when kids enter the picture. The opening hour shows the couple trying to re-kindle that passion, but hints creep up about issues beneath the surface. When chaos erupts, it’s a difficult but spellbinding experience. Delpy is especially good at showing Celine’s manic behavior, which might seem overboard yet springs from true assumptions. It’s a tough, intriguing continuation that expands the characters without betraying them.
Go for Sisters (John Sayles) – “The personal challenges outweigh any political message, and that makes for a riveting experience.”
I’m a John Sayles apologist and can’t say enough good things about his films. Even so, I’ll admit that his output during the past decade hasn’t been as sharp. This trend makes the success of Go for Sisters even more refreshing. He creates two intelligent African-American female characters that are embodied with great depth. Yolanda Ross and LisaGay Hamilton both give excellent performances as high-school friends reconnecting under difficult circumstances, and Edward James Olmos shines in a supporting role. Sayles again reveals his ability to depict connections within a community that surround the main story.
Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon) – “Whedon gets the chance to pull back from the blockbuster world, and the result is a joy to experience.”
After his gargantuan success with The Avengers, Joss Whedon thrives in the small-scale setting of this charming Shakespeare adaptation. It doesn’t hurt to have so many familiar faces on hand from his TV shows and movies. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof make a sharp couple as Beatrice and Benedict, and Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Sean Maher, and many others thrive in supporting roles. The black-and-white cinematography is perfect for the classic tale even when it’s moved to a modern setting.
Mud (Jeff Nichols) – “This slow burn of a film grows on you because the characters are so well-defined.”
Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) has only directed three films, but he’s already shown the ability to depict a believable community. His characters have depth and rarely explain their true motivations at the start. Matthew McConaughey’s Mud is intriguing to the boys because he’s a mystery. He lets them into his world as the pursuing forces surround him. Nichols gives characters their own arc while still moving the story forward. Tye Sheridan brings such heart to Ellis, who’s looking for any hint that love is possible while his parents drift apart. It’s a moving, effective tale that rarely hits the expected notes.
One of my best viewing experiences this year was seeing this film in an empty theater on a rare night out with Erin. Jim Rash and Nate Faxon use the formula but supersede it because we’re drawn to the characters. Sam Rockwell injects such life into the story as the mentor who helps Duncan (Liam James) escape from the doldrums. Any film that can sell a ridiculous dance sequence and make me laugh out loud deserves a lot of credit. It wears its heart on its sleeve but never falls prey to the expected tropes.
These three films just missed the top group and are equally deserving. Here’s a quick blurb from my original reviews about each one.
In a World... (Lake Bell) – “There’s a confidence and maturity that’s often missing from debut filmmakers.”
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach) – “The pivotal factor is Gerwig’s performance, and she delivers the strongest of her excellent career.”
Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh) –“Soderbergh shows how idealistic visions of love can only go so far when the entire system is corrupt.”
These films didn’t make the list, but they had elements that I really enjoyed. Here are some reasons they kept me engaged:
- A celebrity culture that’s run amok in The Bling Ring
- Found footage done right in the believable Europa Report
- M83’s music that sets the tone in Oblivion
- The epic visual scale and grand ambitions of Pacific Rim
- The Britney Spears music interlude in Spring Breakers
- Benedict Cumberbatch’s looney performance in Star Trek into Darkness
- The serene beauty that masks the villainy in Stoker
- The parade of guest stars and dorky insanity of This Is the End
- Upstream Color’s confounding and inexplicable mystery
- A ladder of zombies piling into Israel in World War Z
What were your favorite films of 2013?