What a great year for movies 2013 was. I don’t know that we ever went more than a few weeks without something great to see in theatres, unlike most years when the really great stuff only comes out in the fall. Throughout the year, there were consistently great releases. February, April, August. Didn’t matter.
Before getting to my top 10 movies of 2013, I wanted to write about some other films that didn’t make the cut but very well could have. More than any other year, I’d say every genre but animation – Disney’s Frozen stands out as the best animated movie in the genre’s weakest year in memory – had a hell of a year at the movies in 2013.
The Act of Killing
Stories We Tell
L’Inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake)
La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour)
The Place Beyond the Pines
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Dallas Buyers Club
The World’s End
The Way Way Back
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Documentaries: The great, eye-opening and heartbreaking Blackfish, about a temperamental killer whale at SeaWorld and the park’s spin machine that keeps families visiting it in the thousands (dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite); the astonishing The Act of Killing, which I still can’t wrap my head around. Filmmakers follow former executioners, now old men, who killed thousands in Indonesia as they make a movie about their exploits (dirs. Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and a director who remained anonymous); Sarah Polley‘s Stories We Tell: at first look, a documentary about the director’s search for truth about her family. Upon closer examination, a study of the human condition and the way our memory works. Polley is one of Canada’s best filmmakers.
Romantic comedies: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon had a lot to say about sex, porn and gender roles and featured Scarlett Johansson’s best work in years (note that Her, for which she does voice work, does not come out in Montreal until Jan. 10, 2014); Enough Said, directed by Nicole Holofcener and starring Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and James Gandolfini in one of his last roles.
Vive la France: There is nothing like the movies to really highlight North American prudishness. L’Inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake) and La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour) are two French films heavy on sex and nudity, but those things never distracted from the films’ cinematic prowess and their deeply affecting stories. In L’inconnu du lac, Frank is drawn to Michel, a man he’s only just met and whose secrets make him even more desirable to Frank, rather than cautious and wary of him. Enough can’t be said about Adèle Exarchopoulos’ performance in Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue. Much has been made about the long and graphic sex scenes, but there’s much more here: it’s a coming of age story that’s hopeful then devastating then heartbreaking.
Best of the rest: The beautifully photographed Mud with Matthew McConaughey delivering yet another great performance and Tye Sheridan, one of the most promising young actors; Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, an exciting, powerful and surprising drama about a motorcycle stuntman and his run-ins with the law and the legacy he leaves his family; Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects, a far-fetched and twist-full Hitchcockian tale released in February; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, a great sci-fi movie on its own, but also a great adaptation of a so-so book; Pacific Rim: It’s much more than just Transformers with a brain and a heart (dir. Guillermo del Toro); Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club, in which Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto surprise and delight. It’s Erin Brockovichesque in its treatment of a serious subject matter which is apt since its slick editing and occasional dark humour are so Soderberghesque; The World’s End another fun entry from the Wright-Frost-Pegg trio, The Way Way Back if only for the incredible work by Sam Rockwell, The Conjuring, which does old-horror tropes very well, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
Tie for 11th place
It was a toss up, but if there could be a three-way tie for 11th place, it would include: Spring Breakers: it’s a hypnotic film that I admit took me about 20 minutes to get used to its visual and narrative style. I imagine this is one that will only get better with each viewing. By the end, you know that there is style and substance in Spring Breakers. Frances Ha, the latest by Noah Baumbach that stars Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach. It’s a black-and-white film that’s a cross between Woody Allen and Girls, if anyone on the HBO show was likeable. Frances Ha is breezy, fun, funny and the perfect vehicle for Gerwig. Nebraska, which I wrote about earlier this month when I first saw it. It’s emotionally sincere, often funny but also heartbreaking and heartwarming. A man takes his father on a road trip to claim prize money he thinks he won. Great performances by Bruce Dern and June Squibb.
BEST OF 2013: TOP 10 MOVIES OF THE YEAR