2013 was a great year for film. With the Academy Awards on Sunday, here’s a list (listed alphabetically) of my favorite films of 2013.
Directed by Woody Allen
You can see Cate Blanchett literally disintegrate on screen during Blue Jasmine. Her physicality in the film is astonishing–the beads of sweat running down her face, the jittery pill popping, the words with no one but herself. The film slowly reveals the tragedy of Jasmine, shuffling us back and forth through time. We see Jasmine trying to hold up the crumbling façade that is her life, the lies she repeats until she believes them. It’s a very disturbing film at times; the ending is bleak as hell. Andrew Dice Clay is a revelation. His last scene is unreal. Dice’s performance is humane and honest, it’s a shame it seems to have been forgotten this time of year. I hope he gets the chance to write a second act to his career off his work here.
Directed by Joe Swanberg
Jake Johnson is a star. I want Jake Johnson in every movie. I just wanted to say that up front. Drinking Buddies doesn’t really have a plot. We follow characters as they walk through life and knock into one other. We watch them drink a lot of alcohol in every scene. Olivia Wilde has never been better. I wish she did more stuff like this. Her performance here shows how criminally wasted she has been since kissing Seth Cohen in The Bait Shop. She’s messy and unfuckwitable and sexy and ballsy. I really can’t get over how much I loved her in this movie. Every scene between Wilde and Johnson slyly portrays all the things we never say to each other. Anna Kendrick is great because she’s always great. This is the best piece of work Swanberg has done. I’ve probably watched this movie more than any other this year.
Directed by Noah Baumbach
I’m in love with Greta Gerwig. If you have seen Frances Ha, I’m pretty sure you are too. Frances Ha is a beautiful film. We follow Greta’s Frances through apartment moves and dance classes and trips to Paris she can’t afford. We watch her fail and lie to her best friend and decide if she should accept the $3.00 ATM fee. We watch her and we love her, because we are her. We have been her. We will be her. I’m still her most days. The “22 Catherine Street” sequence is probably my favorite film moment of the year. We watch Frances sprint through Chinatown in her leather jacket and backpack, pirouetting across the crosswalk while “Modern Love” by David Bowie plays. To watch her in motion, in crisp black and white projection, is sublime. I love this film with every fiber of my being.
Directed by Ryan Coogler
This film destroyed me. I sat in a small movie theater surrounded by strangers, minutes from the end of the film, bawling my eyes out. I sat in that theater hoping Oscar would pull through, wishing Ryan Coogler went Tarantino and changed history. But he didn’t, he couldn’t. Watching Oscar Grant getting cut down so senselessly on his way home was an ugly reminder of America. Anger. Fear. Hate. The inability for some to start anew, young men and women marginalized by society at large. Fruitvale Station is the story of a father trying to get home to his daughter, hoping that tomorrow will be better than today. Oscar Grant never made it home.
When the film ended I stumbled out onto Houston Street, punch drunk on sadness and anger. I walked twenty or thirty blocks; just walked, trying to understand how this is the world we exist in. I thought about how this isn’t some isolated incident. I thought about how this happens every day. I saw my brother Michael, or Silas, or Pennisi, or anyone our age for that matter, up on that screen. Just young people just trying to get through the day, trying to be better people, just trying to make it in the world. The idea that any of those people could be lost because of unnecessary events like Fruitvale scares the shit out of me.
Michael B. Jordan delivers one of the most devastating and nuanced performances of 2013. A performance that delves into the layers of Oscar’s pain, his kindness, his anger. I can’t wait to see what he and Ryan Coogler do next.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Gravity is pure cinema. It’s cinema made for a movie theater with the biggest possible screen and the best possible sound. I don’t know how Cuaron made this film. I don’t know how he accomplished this incredible piece of storytelling. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know the trick. I don’t want to see behind the curtain. I just want to enjoy the magic. I want to think he shot this on location in space with an exploding spaceship and an avalanche of satellite debris. The opening unbroken shot is completely immersive, it teaches you how to watch this movie, how to experience this world. The silence is crushing at times. The late scene between Bullock and Clooney is otherworldly. I want to build an IMAX screen in my home so I can play this on loop.
Directed by Spike Jonze
Spike Jonze Tha God. His never-ending ability to find humanity in the oddest, smallest space is breathtaking. Take away the OS. Take away the red dress shirts. Take away the cursing video game character. Strip away every “quirk” and see that this is a story of love and insecurity and growth. It’s about the other person slowly changing before our eyes, small shifts of shape that only appear in retrospect. Joaquin Phoenix continues to be our most impressive character actor. It’s inconceivable that Theodore Twombly and Freddie Quell came from the same human being. Scarlett Johansson knocks me out, what an original, beautiful performance.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
The overlooked film of 2013. It’s not about failure. It’s grim and unflinching in a way that is all too true. Llewyn is a lost boat in the sea that is 1960’s New York City. The beautiful photography and the badass soundtrack pull us through Llewyn seemingly never ending winter. He fucks up and he is short sighted. He punches blindly in the dark. He’s on the edge. He might tip over. Oscar Issac is incredible in this movie. This one ranks pretty high in the Coen filmography.
Directed by Harmony Korine
A fever dream. A neon soaked, Skrillex scored, bikini clad fever dream. Spring Breakers is orbiting in a different galaxy than every other film I saw this year. The gorgeous cinematography, the hypnotic editing and sonic bursts of sound. It’s spellbinding. James Franco. My god, James Franco. That dude owns this movie. Franco dances and cocks guns and rocks cornrows. He’s smeared in tattoos and smiles wide with his gold teeth. Alien is distilled insanity–decadent, Britney Spears harmonizing insanity. It’s the best he’s ever been.
Stories We Tell
Directed by Sarah Polley
I’ve never seen anything like this. I can’t say much about this movie without ruining it, so I’ll just say this. Go watch it. Don’t read anything about. Just go watch it. It’s a beautiful film about family. I worship at the feet of Sarah Polley.
The Place Beyond The Pines
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
This was my favorite movie for the better part of 2013. I was left stunned at moments. My heart swelled as the words “you’re calling him back” fading into a boy traveling down a road like his father once did years earlier. I sat frozen, on the edge of my seat, as confrontations unfolded in the woods of upstate New York. I felt completely overwhelmed as I watched this story of fathers and sons, this story of the sins that generations carry, this beautiful commentary on life. The Place Beyond The Pines is about the decisions we make and the far-reaching effect of those decisions. I thought of my father. I thought of the things that he did to provide for me. I thought of the lengths he went to try and make sure I was going to be ok. I saw my father in Ryan Gosling’s character Luke. I saw my father in Bradley Cooper’s character Avery. I saw my father all over this movie. He would have loved it.
The filmmaking on display is incredible. Sean Bobbit’s amazing cinematography (his first of two appearances on this list) and Mike Patton’s score elevate the film higher and higher as the minutes tick by. The film is full of deceptively simple scenes that become richer upon reflection. The first time around the ice cream scene is gorgeous, a portrait of a father’s love for his child. Re-watching the scene a second or third is heartbreaking. I’ll be carrying this movie with me for a long time.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Directed by Martin Scorsese
What can I say? To be able to say I worked on this film is not just a career highlight, but also a life highlight. The Wolf of Wall Street is a masterpiece (one of two made this year, the other one is below). Three hours of the best rails of celluloid cocaine available in the streets. Leo gives the best performance of his life. Jonah too. Margot Robbie kills it, she’s gonna be a star. Kyle Chandler is the quiet rock in this sea of insanity and the delivery of his “what a hero I’m gonna be when I seize this fucking boat” line filled me with palpable glee. His game of cat and mouse with Leo on the yacht is my favorite scene in the whole movie. McConaughey continues to rule the universe, telling us all how to feed the geese and not tip the fuck over. Rob Reiner steams. Jon Bernthal is the emperor of fucksville and a teacher of supply and demand. Joanna Lumley has perhaps the best piece of voiceover this year. P.J. Byrne, Kenneth Choi, Brian Sacca, Henry Zebrowski and Ethan Suplee are the best weed and furniture selling, hairpiece wearing, danish eating, baseball bat smashing morons an investment firm can ask for. The cast is superb, not a wrong note played across the board. Everyone has a moment, or ten, to just burn the house down. The film is a treasure.
The Wolf of Wall Street crashes yachts and helicopters and Lamborghinis, eats goldfish, fucks hookers, swallows Quaaludes by the handful, hangs butlers over balconies, throws little people and does it all in under three hours flat. It is the third chapter in the “Organized Crime In America” trilogy–which includes Goodfellas and Casino–this time focusing on the top of the crime food chain. It portrays Belfort and his compatriots as the complete and utter assholes they are–schemers and criminals of the highest order. Are you mad at the film? Good! You should be. You should be mad that people like this not only exist, but continue to thrive in the financial sector. The film is a mirror held up to reality. It’s a sick, disgusting and all too real joke.
At 71, while most of his contemporaries have pulled back from the edge or straight up lost their nerve, Scorsese continues to push, experiment and explore. He’s making the movies with the energy of a 25 year old and the experience and craft of a 200 year old. He’s a marvel, he’s a unicorn, he’s a fucking godsend. He’s the greatest filmmaker of all time. Thank you for this gift Marty.
This Is The End
Directed by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
This Is The End blindsided me. I thought I knew what it was going to be. I thought it was just going to be some of the finest comedic performers of our generation riffing on their past transgressions and movies. Dick jokes. Michael Cera doing copious amount of drugs. I got all of that. The highlights included Danny McBride getting not one, but two of the best film entrances of 2013. Jonah’s perfect portrait of a passive aggressive name-dropping phony. Gluten. The Backstreet Boys. If This Is The End just gave me just these things it probably still would have ended up on this list, but it delivered far, far more.
It’s a mainstream studio comedy that talks about religion. About being a good person. About growing up and how that fucks up old friendships. It was incredibly real and honest and I couldn’t believe Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg smuggled it into this movie. The character work is incredible in This Is The End. I cared about these people. I was heartbroken as Rogen sacrificed himself, plummeting from the sky towards a demon with a huge cock as Whitney Houston played. I screamed when that blue beam of light opened up, pulling Seth from the pit of death to be with his best friend in heaven. This happened in a comedy, a comedy where James Franco and Danny McBride have a four-minute argument about ejaculating on a porno mag. This is a beautiful film.
12 Years A Slave
Directed by Steve McQueen
A masterpiece. In all honesty, I waited before seeing 12 Years A Slave. I was scared that it could in no way live up to the tremendous hype it had produced. It happens every year, a movie is unanimously praised, championed to be the best filmmaking of the year and it disappoints me to no end. I didn’t want that to happen with 12 Years A Slave. I should have known better, because Steve McQueen never disappoints. I think McQueen is one of the most important directors of this moment. He’s a powerful filmmaker. He’s unflinching. He directs with a purpose, every shot means something. Nothing feels false. 12 Years A Slave is somehow better than “Shame,” which I think is one of the best films of the last five years. For the third time, he has delivered an iconic film. It feels wrong to use the word “beautiful” when describing the film, due to the tremendous pain that fills the frame during its running time, but Sean Bobbit’s cinematography here is beautiful. The way McQueen holds a shot is stunning, allowing the performers to transform before our very eyes, slowly, brutally. The images of Solomon hanging from the tree as the plantations daily activities continue. The sustained take of Patsy’s whipping is as disturbing as it is a technical marvel. The shot of Solomon resistance to singing at the funeral, before relenting. The bright burning embers on the floor. The final shot of the film.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is the soul of 12 Years A Slave. Ejiofor blends shades of Solomon’s pride, his quiet desperation and his harrowing sorrow. Movie stars and actors of various import cross paths with Solomon throughout the film, yet he remains the most magnetic presence. He’s unequivocally brilliant in the film. Solomon is a tremendous showcase for an actor who has been both uniformly excellent and consistently overlooked for years.
Other Great 2013 Film Stuff Not Mentioned Above:
- Every job Shane Carruth did on Upstream Color. Such an exciting filmmaker.
- Before Midnight. I hope I get to see Jesse and Celine every 9 years for the rest of my days.
- Roger Deakins work in Prisoners.
- Matthew McConaughey & Jared Leto’s performances in Dallas Buyers Club.
- Tom Hanks examination scene in Captain Phillips.
- Bill Nighy in About Time.
- Brie Larson in Short Term 12. Heartbreaking.
- Dom’s Superman leap in Fast & Furious 6.
- The Rock in Pain & Gain.
- When I watch The World’s End in ten years and it becomes my favorite Edgar Wright film. I don’t think I’m ready for it yet.
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