My Top 25 Films of 2013

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome, to my top 25 films of 2013!

It’s already taken me till the middle of 2014 to publish a list of my favourite films from 2013, so, I won’t make you read this whole big piece about how much I love movies but  hate lists. I’ll just to get to what you actually came here to read.

But first here are some honourable mentions. I wasn’t able to include the non-stop hilarity of This is the End, or the zombified version of Romeo & Juliet in Warm Bodies or the beautifully sweet The Spectacular Now or the exhilarating biopic Rush or even the more thoughtful than people realize Iron Man 3.

There are movies that should be celebrated beyond this list, just remember that as you read it and movies you enjoyed in 2013 aren’t on it. It doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy them, it just meant that I already expanded my list to 25 from 10 and couldn’t do any more than that.

Pain and Gain movie gif

A caveat: I didn’t see every film of 2013, especially a lot of foreign language films (The Hunt, Le Passe, Touch of Sin),  but I saw the ones that a lot of people were talking about. And the top 5 or maybe even the top 10 movies on my list are all a tied for number 1. I love them equally.

These aren’t reviews or defences for the following films but more so, reasonings as to why I chose them as the best of 2013.

PS: Since most people have Netflix, I also note which films are available for streaming in both Canada and the United States. Sorry to the rest of the world.

Let’s Begin…

25) Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale_Station“You shot me. I got a daughter…”

If you look at the what’s going on in the world around us, Fruitvale Station becomes one of the most timely films of 2013. In 2013 the Trayvon Martin case was coming to a close and now in 2014 the murder of Mike Brown has brought the issue of racism to the forefront of our conversations. Fruitvale Station could have easily become an exercise of emotional manipulation but director Ryan Coogler approaches the story by letting us see a day in the life of a person who loved his family, was facing struggles and trying to organize his life. Coogler paints Oscar Grant as one of us. We see him angry, sad, making love, compassionate, etc. We get to know him as person instead of judging him on the colour of his skin. Fruitvale Station made it to the list because it’s an important film. It shows us the problem of our society in regards to racism and racial profiling, with being too heavy-handed in its message.

Available on Netflix Canada.

24) The Grandmaster *Chinese Cut*

THE GRANDMASTER_2013“If life had no regrets it would be really boring.”

The Grandmaster is probably one of the best martial arts films I’ve seen in a long time. Wait would The Raid count as a martial arts flick? The word visually dazzling gets thrown around a lot but The Grandmaster is a film that fully embodies that description. Wong Kaw-wai’s dreamy take on the life of martial arts master Ip Man is filled with slow-mo’s and hazy close-ups of his stars. Also, Zhang Ziyi is a goddess in it. Full of mesmerizing cinematography and meticulously crafted fight choreography, The Grandmaster is the finest version of the legend of Ip Man.

American cut available on Netflix USA & Netflix Canada.

23)  Captain Philips

2013 captain philips“I came too far, I can’t give up”

Paul Greengrass is one of the few directors who knows how to film using shaky cam. But more importantly he’s one of the few directors that can give you one of the most intense experiences you’ve ever had at the movies. And with Captain Philips he displays both of those abilities. Captain Philips got a lot of attention because of how intense the film is, but what really made Captain Philips something special was the fact that the film humanized the pirates as well as the sailors. And we also got a stunning performance from Tom Hanks; his best in years.

22) The Bling Ring

bling-ring 2013“America has this sick fascination with this Bonnie & Clyde thing.”

The Bling Ring tackles a big theme of our times the, “hey look at my stuff!/It’s capitalism so I can do whatever makes me feel good,” but with  Sofia Coppola’s stylistic flourishes of pastel colours and an electro pop score. The Bling Ring isn’t just a critique about our obsession with celebrity culture and fame but also the idea of people not knowing who they are, so the idea of being someone else is most seductive thing they can be offered. The films crafts each of its characters as complex human beings, with different motivations, different desires and reasonings. It’s a film that on the surface seems incredibly shallow and superficial, especially in the way it’s characters talk, but it’s incredibly rich. It’s a portrait of a society that lost control of its culture. Also, Emma Stone should do more comedy because she is freaking hilarious here.

Available on Netflix Canada. 

21) The Great Gatsby

THE GREAT GATSBY“I knew it was a great mistake for a man like me to fall in love…”

With the negative critic reviews and even its mediocre audience reception, The Great Gatsby is the first film on my list that I’m going to have defend. Because it’s great. The words empty and hollow got thrown around this film a lot upon its release but I always felt like that was the point. The Great Gatsby is one of the earliest stories about the American Dream and the eventual downfall of chasing it. So Baz Luhrmann approaches the film by first focusing the parties and the good times and then slowly unravelling the longing of a man who has everything but really has nothing. Baz Luhrmann is one of the great visual storytellers of our time. Many people chalk him up to being style over substance. But he is a director with a fully formed vision who executed his retelling with incredible slickness and energy that most directors should be jealous off. Luhrmann adapts The Great Gatsby on a scale its source material deserved.

20) Frozen

disneys-frozen-2013-screenshot-princess-elsa“Some people are worth melting for.”

Frozen is the most important film Disney has ever made. From a studio who past animation works had tones of racism and sexism, the Mickey Mouse Club finally told a fairytale that celebrated feminism and independent women. The creation of Ana and Elsa, two female characters who are so wonderfully complex and different from one and whose problems and evolution shape Frozen’s entire story. It’s an animated fairytale that brings a message of female empowerment and the idea that women should be somebodies instead of somebody’s. Filled with catchy songs that also fulfill its story telling purposes, Frozen is the Disney film that signals a new era for Mouse Club.

19) The World’s End

The world end 2013“Hey it is our basic human right to be fuck ups. This civilization was founded on fuck ups and you know what? That makes me proud!”

The World’s End is the final film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy. A thematic trilogy that started back in 2004 with Shaun of the Dead.  It contains a complex exploration of alcoholism and adulthood, that is buried deep within the film. The jokes like the action sequences come at you fast and your repeat viewing will definitely be rewarded. The World’s End is my favourite film of the trilogy, one that contains so much subtext, that I know I haven’t even discovered all of its themes. It’s definitely about how friendships change or sometimes don’t change at all. It’s thematically packed film that deserves repeat viewings.

18) Blue Jasmine

Blue-Jasmine 2013“Some people, they don’t put things behind so easily.”

Woody Allen usually makes a great film every two years. But when he’s off his films are awful. Thankfully, Blue Jasmine is one of the greats. And while people praised the film mainly for Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-winning role, she’s absolutely flawless, you can’t ignore the attributes of the film that are shaped by Allen’s impeccable understanding that some aspects of the human condition are timeless. Woody Allen’s films are usually wonderfully human and funny but as the story of Jasmine French unwinds you realize that you’re watching a tragedy. You’re watching someone fail at dealing with their grief and mental-illness, both timeless aspects of the human condition. Note: I am aware of what Woody Allen is accused of doing, this is not a defence of his character; it’s about why I love this film.

Available on Netflix Canada.

17) Nebraska

Nebraska 2013 movie“No, he just believes what people tell him.”

Nebraska is another addition to Alexander Payne’s incredible filmography. He loves making films about average people who take a chance and break out of their daily routines. He has a perceptive feel for the banalities of everyday life. His films are always simple but convey a powerful and poetic message. The themes of your legacy and dealing with acknowledging your own mortality are main the focus in Nebraska. But Payne also manages to weave in a commentary on greed and the value of family. At times funny but always moving, Nebraska is one of Alexander Payne’s best films.

Available on Netflix USA and Netflix Canada.

16) The Act of Killing

the-act-of-killing2013“Imagine, in all this darkness, it’s like we’re living at the end of the world. We look around, there’s only darkness. It’s so very terrifying.”

While watching The Act of Killing I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Men who engaged in genocidal war crimes in Indonesia about fifty years ago were voluntarily re-enacting their crimes for the camera. They play out mass slaughters, rape and admit their complicity in all kinds of atrocities. It a documentary that’s dedicated to revealing the truth but does it in a way that blends the documentary approach with genuine and seamless storytelling. The Act of Killing tries to share insight into how these kind of atrocities happen. It shows the power of films and their ability to convey themes and the vastness of humanity.

Available on Netflix USA.

15) The Wind Rises

the-wind-rises 2013“Inspiration unlocks the future.”

I’m not a fan of anime. Even as a kid I never cared much for the genre. But Hayao Miyazaki’s films are my only exception. He makes films that explore deep human emotions in imaginative worlds. The Wind Rises is his final film and it’s one that has the great director looking back at his work. It’s an ode to artistry and a celebration of living one’s life with their heads in the clouds. It’s a bitter-sweet swan song from a cinematic treasure who showed us that stories that tackle universal human emotions matter more than the genre they take place in.

14) Stoker

stoker 2013“He used to say, sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse.”

From start to finish, Stoker held my attention. The acting, the score, the cinematography, the directing, it all came together in this beautiful and audacious symphony of picture and sound. Chan-wook Park made his hollywood debut with one of the most stylish and beautiful films of the year. Through his manipulation of cinematography Park delivers one of the most tense experiences the moment he decides to let the audience in on the big secret.  Stoker is a foreign language director coming to hollywood without losing any of the traits that makes his films so explosive. A mainstream movie this is not.

Available on Netflix Canada. 

13) Laurence Anyways

Laurence_Anyways 2013“Our love wasn’t safe, but it wasn’t dumb.”

Xavier Dolan is one of the best filmmakers to come out of Canada. With only his third film, he’s being hailed as a prodigy. And there’s good reason for it. Laurence Anyways follows the story of a trans-man living in the 1990s. It’s a well-acted drama about two lovers struggling with their own flaws in an unjust society. It’s such passionate and powerful filmmaking about human beings feeling trapped by the society they live in. Even the way Dolan films it, using an unconventional square frame, with lots of shots down corridors and through doorways. It creates a trapped in feeling of a relationship under fire. The film treats their relationships as if they were any ordinary couple without ignoring hardships that would be specific to their situation.

12) Upstream Color

Upstream-color 2013“Take a drink now.”

Where I do even begin when discussing Upstream Color? It’s a film that feels so infinite in its themes. One moment it’s tackling trauma and recovery, the next love and loss. Upstream Color is an easier film to follow than Shane Currath’s first film, Primer, but like Primer, the film is  coded, one that unravels its meaning to you as you watch. Currath acted, wrote, shot, produced and directed this film. It is a singular vision from a man who is currently pushing the way stories can be told through film. It’s a beautifully poetic work of science fiction and character drama.

Available on Netflix USA and Netflix Canada.

11) The Great Beauty or La Grande Bellezza

The-Great-Beauty 2013“We’re all on the brink of despair, all we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little… Don’t you agree?”

The Great Beauty is a portrait of a man who knows what his problems are but is not ready to solve them yet. It’s lead character is in search of meaning, through entertainment or alcohol, whichever comes first. It is one of the most elegantly staged films of the year, one that is so rich and poetic. It is also a portrait of contemporary Italy, a declining economic power where everyone still loves to party. If you were to see at least one foreign language film this year, I’d recommend this one.

Available on Netflix Canada.

10) Frances Ha

Frances-Ha 2013“I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet.”

Frances Ha, understands that our stories about real life are much more intimate than the myriad of other stories we see in film. It doesn’t pretend to understand what life is like, especially what living in your twenties is like. It tells us that love and friendships mean everything to us. It understands that even the small victories are so precious to us. I saw my own feelings reflected in Frances. It’s a movie about someone who’s adrift in life. She know’s what she want to be and do but she has no idea how to get there. It’s something we can all connect with. It’s a movie I demand anyone in their twenties watch. The reason Frances Ha is able to connect with you on any level is because of Greta Gerwig’s charming and lovable screw-up of a character. It’s a film that had an incredible impact on me and that feeling still hasn’t gone away.

Available on Netflix USA and Netflix Canada.

09) The Wolf of Wall Street

The-Wolf-of-Wall-Street 2013“Let me tell you something. There’s no nobility in poverty. I’ve been a poor man, and I’ve been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time.” 

Martin Scorsese still makes movies with the energy of a teenager. The Wold of Wall Street is funny, offensive, profane, exhausting and just plain entertaining. Scorsese is a cinematic treasure. The man has a myriad of brilliant movies and he arguably made his best film to date. It’s a charge against capitalism without forgetting about the pleasures of the system. It’s a picture of greed, not just of its characters but of us all; what else would that final shot mean if not that.

Available on Netflix Canada.

08) Gravity

GRAVITY“You’ve got to learn to let go.”

Gravity is an experience. It’s a movie made in the tradition of old hollywood blockbusters that needed to be seen in theatres. Alfonso Cuaron merged 3D and CGI to deliver a story of terror. Terror of the cosmos. Cuaron is in perfect control of everything. Every moment of silence, every musical cue, every shot, every cut. This is masterful filmmaking that no other director could deliver on. On top of all of that Gravity is a film about humanity’s unwavering ability to survive. I wish they’d release it again in IMAX 3D, I’d pay to experience it again. Gravity is a film made with the spirit of old hollywood, with the technology of new hollywood. It’s the perfect blend of the two to deliver one of the most terrorizing and uplifting films of 2013.

07) Blue is the Warmest Colour or La Vie d’Adèle

Blue is the warmest color“I’m missing something. I’m all messed up. I’m crazy.”

Blue is the Warmest Colour received a lot of attention due to its ten minute sex scene. But, if you only watched this movie for that scene then you missed one of the most realest depiction of love. Here, love has no boundaries. It’s an honest depiction of a young woman finding herself. Experiencing love, sex, heartbreak, loss, and healing for the first time. It’s an unflinching look at life without cutting all the messy aspects of life. Adèle Exarchopoulos is one of the greatest new additions to international cinema. She’s a big reason the film is so effective. If she didn’t commit 100% to the role, then we would have a hard time believing in anything that her character goes though. 

Available on Netflix USA and Netflix Canada.

06) Spring Breakers

Spring breakers 2013“This is the fuckin’ American dream. This is my fuckin’ dream, y’all! All this sheeyit! Look at my sheeyit!” 

I completely understand why people disliked this film. It’s incredibly profane, sexually explicit, and a massive fuck you to the turnt up generation. It’s Project X but with an actual message and purpose. I have this running theory that anyone who liked Project X hated this film. Because where Project X celebrated its debauchery; Spring Breakers throws some real consequences at its characters. It’s gorgeous cinema, playing almost as if the whole thing was a dream. Harmony Korine, smuggles smart critique into every moment, even in its casting. But, even then he goes beyond the mere critique of Disney girls gone bad. It’s about the pleasure of the body at the death of the soul. Korine delivers a movie that is almost otherworldly; it’s just fucking amazing. And I almost forgot about Franco as Alien, it was the character he was always meant to play.

Available on Netflix Canada.

05) Short Term 12

short-term-12 2013 brie larson“Mason, you have no idea what I’m going through right now.”

Short Term 12 is the only film in 2013 to bring tears to my eyes. Which is an incredibly hard thing for a movie to do. It’s a film about trauma and depression and it just gets it. It gets how people turn their destructiveness inward. It just gets everything. Brie Larson is perfect. John Gallagher Jr is perfect. The kids are perfect. This film is a flawless masterpiece. One that goes beyond the norms of cinema to a place where true emotion lies. There’s no emotional manipulation here, just raw, honest and organic storytelling with relatable characters.

Available on Netflix USA and Netflix Canada.

04) Inside Llewyn Davis

inside_llewyn_davis 2013“You don’t want to go anywhere, and that’s why the same shit’s going to keep happening to you, because you want it to.”

It’s a nightmarish trek though the 60s folk scene. It’s one of the best films the Coens have ever made. Just as dark and clever as any of their other films, Inside Llewyn Davis is a heartbreaking tale of musician who never makes it. People in the past have accused the Coens for having a hatred towards mankind (just cause they seem to kill a majority of their cast by the end of their films), well, Inside Llewyn Davis should erase those accusations. I’ve only seen this movie twice but it’s already stuck with me. It’s funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. And let’s not forget about the soundtrack and how each song perfectly captures each characters current state of emotion. And Oscar Isaac giving the year’s most complete and perfect performance.

Available on Netflix Canada.

03) Her

Her 2013“I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.”

Spike Jonze just went and made one of the greatest modern romance film’s of our time and in doing so solidified himself as one of our greatest filmmakers. He made a movie that understands that life is wonderful because of other people. That love is a beautiful and special thing and that it deeply affects you and like all things it has an end. It’s a film that allowed me to think about my own life and my own humanity while also entertaining me. It’s a remarkable piece of cinema, one that will surely evolve as I get older.

02) 12 Years A Slave

12-Years-a-Slave 2013“Are ya a slave?” “No.”

I could give you this long write-up about how 12 Years A Slave is one of the most important movies of 2013, maybe even of the last decade. Instead, you should read David Simon’s (creator of The Wire & Treme) piece on why this movie matters so much. It is a gruelling experience that shows the psychological toll slavery took on both slaves and masters. Unlike Shame and Hunger, 12 Years A Slave is the one McQueen film that more people will watch and it needs to be watched by everyone.

Available on Netflix Canada.

01) Before Midnight

Before-Midnight 2013“Like sunlight, sunset, we appear, we disappear. We are so important to some, but we are just passing through.”

No CGI or digital filmmaking here; just good old-fashioned story-telling. Richard Linklater went and made my favourite trilogy of all-time. We’ve seen these characters fall in love, fall back in love and now we get to see them attempt to be a family. They are still very much in love with each other but time has made them cynical towards each other. Through some of the most natural dialogue and breathtakingly long tracking shots, Linklater crafts a beautiful film. One that gets away from the noisy and bigger films of cinema and delivers an experience better than any of them.

Available on Netflix Canada.

I hope many of you noticed the running theme on this list. I love movies that tackles the vastness of the human condition in entertaining and thoughtful ways. Our greediness, our grief, our trauma, etc. There aren’t many blockbusters on my list because no film is too small when films are expansive as the human heart.

Jeez, that last paragraph is the most pretentious I’ll ever get. I promise.

So, that was my list for 2013. Let me know if I didn’t include any film that you think I should; chances are I probably didn’t get around to seeing it. Hopefully, my best films list for 2014 gets done by the end of this year. You know, when these lists are actually supposed to be published.

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