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The Best Movies of 2013

January 29, 2014

By John Corrado

Gravity PosterAlthough things started slowly, 2013 revealed itself to be a banner year for cinema throughout the fall and winter, with numerous crowning achievements that will be talked about long after this awards season is finally over.  But first my personal choices for the best movies of last year.

Because 2013 was just such a strong and even competitive year, I had a lot of trouble narrowing down this list.  But the ten movies that I’ve finally selected are all extremely well made, many of them emotional experiences that are also entertaining.  The same could be said of my ensuing countdown of honourable mentions, which also provides a great selection of movies worth celebrating.

There were also a bunch that I admired and enjoyed throughout the year that didn’t even make the cut, and my prize for the most underrated film of 2013 would easily go to Gore Verbinski’s artfully crafted popcorn movie The Lone Ranger.  Because this was also an exceptional year for nonfiction filmmaking, you can check out my countdown of the best documentaries of 2013 right here, topped off with Lucy Walker’s masterpiece The Crash Reel.

That’s not to say things were all good.  The boring mediocrity of After Earth and the muddled mess The Host were two of my least favourite movies in 2013, but I thankfully avoided many of the other bad ones and therefore have decided not to publish a worst list this year.  Let’s just focus on the positives this time, shall we?  At the end of the day, below are the films that feel like they provide an excellent representation of 2013 in general, a year that offered an abundance of cinematic riches.  I’ve also included some of my favourite albums of 2013, and everything below is listed in alphabetical order.  Enjoy!

12 Years a Slave:  Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man living with his family in New York, when he gets abducted and sold into slavery.  Struggling to survive as he faces cruelty at the hands of abusive slave owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), he also encounters unexpected kindness from a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt).  Based on a true story, the incredibly talented director Steve McQueen does an excellent job of viscerally recreating this brutal time in American history.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is deeply affecting as he plays off the excellent ensemble cast, and the strong performances of the powerful 12 Years a Slave are matched by striking cinematography.

American Hustle:  Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) makes his money by swindling others.  Along with his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), the two hustlers are forced to work with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).  The plan is to take down corrupt politicians, including mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), but sexual tension and Irving’s loose cannon wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), threatens to derail their elaborate con game.  Director David O. Russell orchestrates the outstanding cast like a great musician, and American Hustle is his jazz, an electric and incredibly entertaining story of con men and double crossing, that is masterfully pulled off and matched by a perfect soundtrack.

Captain Phillips:  There are no easy answers in Captain Phillips, as the film intensely depicts the desperate decisions that were made when a cargo ship under the command of Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) was hijacked by a group of Somalian pirates, led by the conflicted Muse (Barkhad Abdi).  There is constant tension throughout this multilayered film, and Tom Hanks is at the top of his game, matched by challenging work from excellent newcomer Barkhad Abdi.  The final few scenes are powerful, playing as high drama instead of heroics, leaving the audience just as shaken as the characters.

Dallas Buyers Club:  A passionate look at the AIDS crisis, Dallas Buyers Club is the true story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) who played the system to help save lives, smuggling natural meds from Mexico and providing them to other patients, including the spirited Rayon (Jared Leto).  As we watch Ron struggle with his own health while finding increasingly clever ways to get these people the treatments that might just prolong their lives, Dallas Buyers Club is by turns moving and entertaining, life affirming and deeply sad.  This is a special film that never loses sight of the humanity behind these characters, led by mesmerizing performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.

Gravity:  After a storm of debris destroys their shuttle, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) find themselves stranded in the middle of space, drifting slowly away into the darkness.  Sandra Bullock delivers a stunning performance as a woman without much to live for who finds herself struggling to survive.  Directed by the visionary Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity is a tightly wound experience that holds us in suspense right up until the unforgettable final scene, a profoundly emotional moment that closes the film on a perfect note.  This is a groundbreaking, breathtaking and deeply moving masterpiece that won’t soon be forgotten.

Her:  Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is lonely, when he installs a new operating system on his computer that addresses herself as Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johannson), an artificially intelligent and seemingly sentient program that is rapidly evolving with every new experience.  From the production design to the screenplay, Her is the latest work of art from visionary director Spike Jonze, a beautifully written and brilliantly acted conversation piece about the nature of relationships and our increasing over reliance on technology, that leads to a touchingly perfect final scene.

Inside Llewyn Davis:  Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is drifting through the burgeoning folk music scene of Greenwich Village in 1961, struggling to make a name for himself.  The latest cinematic triumph from Joel and Ethan Coen, the actual narrative takes place over a week, as the excellent soundtrack from T. Bone Burnett helps move the story forward.  As these beautifully performed songs transport us into the world of the film, Inside Llewyn Davis blends filmmaking and music together in a really beautiful way that represents why both art forms are so important to me on such a deeply personal level.

Nebraska:  Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is determined to make his way from Montana to Nebraska, to collect the million dollars that he blindly believes will be waiting for him.  Although his wife (June Squibb) tries to convince him otherwise, his son David (Will Forte) sees no problem with keeping this dream alive, and they take a road trip together that leads them to the small town where their extended family still resides.  The haunting black and white look of Nebraska helps represent these people and places who are lost in time, and this is another masterfully acted character study from director Alexander Payne, an entertaining and bittersweet film that closes on a deeply touching note.

Rush:  I saw Rush twice in theatres, and both times found myself completely immersed in the story of the rivalry between drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) that braced the 1976 Formula One season.  The title perfectly describes the feelings of pure adrenaline and emotion that fuel this racing drama, as Chris Hemsworth delivers the best work of his career and Daniel Brühl turns in a brilliant performance.  Director Ron Howard is at the top of his game with Rush, delivering compelling entertainment with gripping racing scenes and excellent acting.

Saving Mr. Banks:  A beautiful look at the deeply personal elements that every writer puts into their own work, Saving Mr. Banks brilliantly depicts the struggle that Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) faced when trying to convince reluctant author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to sign over the film rights to Mary Poppins.  This is a beautiful, entertaining and moving film, a masterful tribute to two great artists, who are portrayed through wonderful performances.  From the bookending shots of a blue sky that promise hope at the beginning and symbolize so much more at the end, Saving Mr. Banks is outstanding.

Honourable Mentions

All is Lost

August: Osage County

Before Midnight

Blue Jasmine

The Conjuring

Don Jon

Enough Said

Frozen

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Iron Man 3

Labor Day

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Monsters University

Mud

Pacific Rim

Philomena

Prince Avalanche

Prisoners

The Spectacular Now

The Story of Luke

To the Wonder

The Way Way Back

The Wolf of Wall Street

The World’s End

The Best Albums of 2013

The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake

The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 – Justin Timberlake

Frozen – Soundtrack

How We Fly – Justin Hines

Inside Llewyn Davis – Soundtrack

Magna Carta Holy Grail – Jay Z

Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

Same Trailer Different Park – Kacey Musgraves

Trouble Will Find Me – The National

Volume 3 – She & Him

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