2013 was a good year for the movies. It had its ups and downs, but in the end there was a pretty good crop of films and more than a few great ones.
A couple of things to consider before reading. First there are a few movies I haven’t seen that I’m pretty sure would have a good shot at being on this list, namely Frances Ha, Her, Short Term 12, Inside Llewyn Davis. Some of them just aren’t out in Canada yet, some of them didn’t get released in my city. and some of them just managed to pass me by.
Also, this list (as with the worst of list) isn’t meant to be an objective “this film is technically superior to that film” list, it’s list of the films that had some effect on me over the course of the year, whether that means they made me feel something or had me thinking for days and weeks after the fact.
Righty-o then, let’s get to this.
10. Iron Man Three + Thor: The Dark World
A cheat right out of the gate I realize but while neither of these movies are perfect together they represent something bigger to me: the Marvel Universe is in good hands and doing well.
If you’ve read this site at all you must know I’m a bit of a Marvel fanboy so this is big news to me. Like I say, neither of these are top ten on their own but the fact that Marvel is putting out great films, letting their directors play to their own strengths and styles, and maintaining the films as stand alone projects while at the same time building their connected universe up to another big event film.
9. Furious 6
The Fast & Furious franchise has never been accused of being intellectually stimulating but there’s something to be said for a film that strives so damn hard simply to put a smile on your face. Sure, the big chase at the end last so long at a speed so high that the runway must be 30 miles long (that’s 15 times longer than the longest in the world) but you know what? Who cares?
The vehicle action in Furious 6 is outstanding, the acting is as good as it needs to be, the fights are off the hook, and you legitimately care for the characters.
What the hell else do you need?
8. This Is The End
It’s not perfect but This Is The End was a movie made pretty much specifically for me and as such I loved it. It’s hilarious and has a lovely story about being best friends through adversity, has roughly all the best cameos of the year and ends with a dance number that made my 1990s self laugh so hard I cried.
Plus it’s fun to see all the stars play themselves as exactly the personas you probably think they are.
7. Spring Breakers
I don’t like Harmony Korine’s movies usually but Spring Breakers is probably going to go down as his masterpiece.
De-constructing the spring break dream and using Disney princesses to do it? Brilliant. Coaxing an Oscar worthy performance out of James Franco? Also brilliant.
Not only is this a solidly good movie as well as a near perfect update to the Disney Princess formula for the 21st century. Frozen features strong vocal performances and a heart warming story and gorgeous animation but you know what? It’s just nice that Disney is, well, the Disney of animation again.
5. The World’s End
The so called Cornetto Trilogy came to a close this year with another homage to the classic science fiction genre of alien invasion. While Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz both had more going on, The World’s End takes on some very personal themes of friendship and dealing with a world changing around us, about hanging onto the past in the face of an uncertain future.
It also coaxed a career best performance out of Simon Pegg, especially in the third act when it requires him to go to a pretty dark place. It also has a nice role reversal casting Pegg as the loser and Nick Frost as the mature and competent one. Plus Edgar Wright makes Nick Frost look like a god damned ninja, bringing in his know how developed with in other projects.
Not only the best of the trilogy, not only the funniest movie of the year, but one of the best movies of the year.
4. Captain Phillips
It’s a great pleasure to see one of the great actors of our time doing some of his best work and this film gives us not one but two. Tom Hanks is stellar as the titular captain and new comer Barkhad Abdi is phenomenal as the Somalian pirate who takes him hostage. All of this is held together by Director Paul Greengrass who keeps the pacing tight, the political overtones present but not overpowering, and the action so tense that even though I already knew how it was going to end I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.
It’s not a perfect film –in fact it has some pretty serious flaws if you really want to look for them– but Gravity is a hell of a ride. The first act in particular will have your heart pounding and the last act will see you cheering for Sandra Bullock as she’s spiritually reborn. The whole thing is visually spectacular, director Alfonso Cuaron’s signature long takes and visual design in full effect.
It’s still playing in some places. Go see it on the biggest screen you can find it playing on.
2. Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro is a director with both vision and a flair for visuals. This year he brought us to a world where the natural response to an incursion by giant monsters is to build giant robots with which to punch them in the face. No, seriously, that’s pretty much the entire movie. Giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. It’s exactly as stupid and exactly as awesome as it sounds.
There’s little in the way of a message or allegory to the film, it simply exists to be fun. Remember that? Having fun at the movies? Pacific Rim is the most fun I had at the movies all year.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
So here we are: the best film of the year. I took a break in December so I didn’t actually get a chance to write my review of The Wolf of Wall Street so here is the shortest version I can think of of that review.
The movie tells a story of greed and corruption and the excess that comes about when people have plenty of the former and easy access to the latter. Leonardo DiCaprio gives another spectacular performance in the lead, simultaneously your best friend and the slimiest sales guy you ever met ready to screw you over if the opportunity presents itself. Jonah Hill once again proves his ability as the guy who is basically everything Leonardo DiCaprio is minus the looks and charm.
There’s a contingent of people who seem to think that the movie glorifies the behaviour the characters engage in but I think they missed the point. The film shows the meteoric rise and then the inevitable fall and punishment of the characters. It’s true that maybe they didn’t get punished to the extent they deserved however that’s the point here. When you catch yourself laughing with the characters instead of them, when you find yourself enjoying their behaviour instead of being disgusted by it (and make no mistake, you will catch yourself doing these things) that’s the point, The Wolf of Wall Street is as much a criticism of us as it is the characters, and it’s a harsh criticism of the systems in place to punish these types of criminals –men who ruin lives– by taking some of their money and maybe a few years of their life in prison.
Martin Scorsese is at his best here. The film has such energy it’s hard to imagine that he’s 71 years old. He takes cues from all his best work and this stands as one of his best films. It’s brash, funny, smart, and engaging, and it’s the best film of 2013.