The Best (And Worst) Films of 2013
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/03/14 07:06:45
Originally published at RogerEbert.com, here is my list of my 10 favorite films of 2013, now expanded to include the other titles that I admired and, of course, the absolute worst of the bunch for good measure.
There have been many lists proclaiming the 10 best films (and occasionally more) of 2013--quite a few of them are on display here, as a matter of fact. However, this is the one truly and completely correct one. Enjoy.1.BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (directed by Abdellatif Kechiche): Ever since making its debut at the Cannes Film Festival last spring, where it won the coveted Palme d'Or, this epic-length drama, loosely based on the semi-auto-biographical graphic novel by and chronicling a teenage girl (newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos) and the intense relationship that develops between her and a slightly older art student (Lea Seydoux) over the course of several years, has been one of the year's most controversial films--partly because of the explicit sex scenes and partly because the public war of words between Kechiche and his two stars (who wound up sharing the Palme with him, the first time that honor has ever been bestowed upon the actors of a winning film) that has continued on even after it went into general release. And yet, not only did it live up to all the hype, it exceeded it by giving moviegoers one of the most powerful and passionate cinematic experiences of recent times thanks to Kechiche's deft handling of tricky material and the career-making performances from the two leads. At three hours, some have complained that it goes on a little too long for its own good but I have to say that I have seen it three times now and have been absolutely spellbound each time. Even if you go to see it only for the aforementioned erotic material (which takes up maybe 12 minutes of screen time in total), be prepared to be equally mesmerized by everything else on display.
2. PASSION (directed by Brian De Palma): De Palma's remake of the 2010 French thriller "Love Crime"--detailing the increasingly brutal attempts by co-workers Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace to climb the corporate ladder--wass a sexy and stylish knockout of a film and his finest and most consistent work since his 2002 masterpiece "Femme Fatale." Darkly funny, breathlessly exciting and teasingly erotic in equal measure, this was the work of a master director firing on all cylinders and the end results put most other contemporary movies of its type to shame.
3.THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (directed by Martin Scorsese): If the mark of a truly significant artist is their ability to continually provoke and outrage viewers in their later years instead of falling into a complacent rut, then Scorsese once again proved himself to be a provocateur for the ages with this jaw-dropping, eye-popping depiction of the true story of a crafty little weasel (Leonardo Di Caprio in what now stands as the performance of his career) who created a billion dollar empire out of selling crappy penny stocks and subsequently rode it into the ground in a blaze of greed, hubris and more cocaine than "Scarface" and "Boogie Nights" combined. Breaking out of the stylistic confines of his last couple of films, Scorsese hit the ground running with a go-for-broke epic that ran for three breathlessly-paced hours, was horrifying and hilarious in equal measure (an extended sequence involving some old quaaludes, luncheon meat, a looming legal catastrophe and an old "Popeye" cartoon was a set-piece for the ages), was jam-packed with great performances across the board and which offered viewers the pleasure of seeing a top director working at the peak of his powers. Ignore the naysayers who have griped about its length, the excess that it unapologetically depicts and the lack of any overt moral statement about how Greed Is Bad (none of which would have made any sense since the film is seen entirely through the tunnel-visioned eyes of its anti-hero, a guy not known for self-reflection) and let them stick with the likes of the long-forgotten "Boiler Room"--this is another instant classic from one of our greatest living filmmakers.
4.HER (directed by Spike Jonze): The premise of this film--a romantic comedy-drama in which the lovers in question are a lonely and withdrawn man (Joaquin Phoenix) and his computer's new and highly advanced operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson)--was so inherently odd that it seemed impossible that it could ever work as anything other than an exceptionally absurd "SNL" sketch. However, the end result wass absolutely brilliant and always surprising thanks to Jonze's witty, touching and incisive screenplay and direction and the knockout performances from the two leads, who, against all odds, created one of the most fascinating on-screen couples in recent memory in a love story for the ages.
5.INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (directed by Joel & Ethan Coen): The Coen Brothers have made a career out of delivering the unexpected with each one of their films but their latest work, set in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960's just before the arrival of Bob Dylan and focusing on a singer (Oscar Isaac) whose obvious talent is not enough to make up for his disastrous personal and professional lives, was one of their biggest curve balls to date. Instead of mocking the ultra-sincere scene or having fun with the age-old narrative of the brilliant-but-troubled artist, they instead cast a remarkably sincere eye on their hero and his plight, perhaps recognizing that artistic success has as much to do with luck and timing as it does with talent. What it did have in common with the Coens' previous work wass a gallery of great performances (Isaac's impressive turn is ably supported by the likes of Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham and Coen fixture John Goodman), any number of great scenes (a bit where our hero visits his shabby record company is arguably the funniest of the lot) and a soundtrack that you will almost certainly be buying as soon as you leave the theatre.
6.AMERICAN HUSTLE (directed by David O. Russell): After trading in the anarchic brilliance of such earlier films as "Three Kings" and "I Heart Huckabees" for more conventional (though admittedly entertaining) material like "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook," Russell returned to form with this fast and funny comedy-drama that uses Abscam (that sting operation from the late 1970's in which the Feds employed con men to help entrap crooked politicians into taking bribes from phony sheiks) as a springboard for a more freewheeling character study focusing on a group of people for whom duplicity is of such second-nature to them that the very notion of someone who is entirely honest and upfront about who they are is enough to drive them to distraction. There were great performances across the board by Christian Bale (whose combover alone deserves some kind of award) and Amy Adams as the con artists, Bradley Cooper as the fed who is as tightly coiled as his perm and Jeremy Renner as a politician who falls into their trap out of a genuine desire to help his constituents but the whole thing was stolen outright by Jennifer Lawrence as Bale's wife, a live wire whose innately direct nature is enough to blow the entire deal in an instant, in what may be the best performance to date of her already incredible career.
7.BEFORE MIDNIGHT (directed by Richard Linklater):Nine years older and somewhat wiser than when we last saw them, Celine and Jesse (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke), who met in 1995's "Before Sunrise" and reunited in 2004's "Before Sunset," returned for another extended bout of talking about their hopes, fears and dreams, not to mention the increasingly complex nature of their relationship. Considering that the previous films in this loose trilogy were among the best screen romances (although they were more than just that) of recent times, it would seem almost impossible for a film to top them and yet this one managed to do just that thanks to beautifully fluid direction from Linklater (who also did the earlier films), a wonderfully smart and incisive screenplay and performances from Hawke and Delpy that were so convincing and deeply felt that they really and truly feel like a genuine couple going through the paces of the marriage.
8.GRAVITY (directed by Alfonso Cuaron): After a summer in which one would-be blockbuster after another failed to inspire much enthusiasm, moviegoers were starving for something that reminded them of the genuine sense of magic that the cinema could inspire in the right hands and they got it with Cuaron's visually stunning and emotionally gripping thriller about a space mission that goes horribly wrong and leaves two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) floating in the cosmos with little chance of returning to Earth. From a technical standpoint, the film was one for the ages (this was one of those increasingly rare movies that cried out to be seen on the biggest screen possible and was even one of the few to make intelligent use of 3D technology) but what was even more surprising was how effective it was from a dramatic standpoint as well, thanks in no small part to the career-best work from Bullock and the deft use of Clooney's glib star quality to help orient viewers for what might have otherwise been an off-putting experience). Even better, its worldwide success at the box-office demonstrated that an ambitious and original work can be just as popular with the mainstream audience as just another remake or comic-book adaptation.
9.THE BLING RING (directed by Sofia Coppola): For her latest masterpiece, writer-director Sofia Coppola recounted the true-life story of a group of spoiled and self-absorbed L.A. teenagers (including a never-better Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga and striking newcomer Katie Chang) who broke into the homes of celebrities like Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson and Orlando Bloom in order to steal clothes, money and other gaudy trinkets as a way of getting closer to the glamorous lives that they want for themselves. What made the film so brilliant and compelling despite its theoretically repellent cast of characters is that instead of going for cheap shots or silly attempts at psychological insight, Coppola simply observed them in ways that helped inspire a certain understanding into their mindsets and how they had been shaped and influenced by a celebrity-obsessed culture that overwhelms them on a daily basis.
10.BULLET TO THE HEAD (directed by Walter Hill): The early part of 20113 was not a good time to be an aging action movie star as much-hyped titles like "The Last Ride" and "A Good Day to Die Hard" failed to attract much critical or commercial interest. One such film that did not deserve such an ignominious fate was this refreshingly straightforward Sylvester Stallone vehicle in which he plays a hitman who winds up teaming up with a young cop (Sung Kang) in order to bring down the corrupt businessman responsible for the death of his partner. It may not have sounded like much on the surface (another reason why it probably didn't do very well with audiences or most critics) but legendary director Hill (the man behind such classics as "The Warriors," "48 HRS" and "Streets of Fire") brought both his impeccable technical gifts and a genuine sense of personal style to the proceedings that elevated the material to something that came far closer to what one might refer to as "art" than one might rightly expect from a genre picture these days.
The ten runners-up are as follows:
11. THE WIND RISES (directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
12. SPRING BREAKERS (directed by Harmony Korine)
13. THE CONJURING (directed by James Wan)
14. STORIES WE TELL (directed by Sarah Polley)
15. SOMETHING IN THE AIR (directed by Olivier Assayas)
16. TO THE WONDER (directed by Terrence Malick)
17. UPSTREAM COLOR (directed by Shane Carruth)
18. STOKER (directed by Chan-wook Park)
19. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (directed by Peter Strickland)
20. BLANCANIEVES (directed by Pablo Berger)
Other films of 2013 that I enjoyed, roughly in the order of their theatrical release, include "Mama," "Tiger Tail in Blue," "Beyond the Hills," "From Up on Poppy Hill," "No," "Like Someone in Love," "War Witch," "Our Irish Cousins," "Upside Down," "Renoir," "Trance," "Antiviral," "In the House," "The Attack," "Pieta," "Fast & Furious 6," "American Mary," "The East," "Grow Up, Tony Philips," "Much Ado About Nothing," "This is the End," "20 Feet From Stardom," "Byzantium," "White House Down," "V/H/S/2," "Blue Jasmine," "Still Mine," "The Act of Killing," "Muscle Shoals," "Wolverine," "2 Guns," "The Artist & the Model," "The Canyons," "The Spectacular Now," "Prince Avalanche," "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," "Drinking Buddies," "The Grandmaster," "Short Term 12," "The Trials of Muhammed Ali," "Therese," "The World's End," "You're Next," "Riddick," "Wadjda," "Enough Said," "Herb & Dorothy: 50X50," "We Are What We Are," "All is Bright," "All is Lost," "The Armstrong Lie," "La Camioneta," "Nebraska," "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," "The Punk Singer," "Tim's Vermeer" and "The Past."
And finally, for the masochists of the group, I offer up the 10 (okay, 15) worst films of the year. One note of explanation: in comprising this list, I have deliberately left out the overtly junky movies that no sentient person could have possibly expected to be any good--your cheapo horror films like "Texas Chainsaw 3D" and "Dark Skies," your gross-out comedies like "A Haunted House" and "The Starving Games" and the various Tyler Perry joints--in order to concentrate on the films that actually involved interesting premises and/or talented people and were all the more disappointing as a result. Even with that purging, I still could not find room for such gumdrops as "Out of the Furnace," "Now You See Me," "Olympus has Fallen," "Gangster Squad," "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty--Brought To You By Papa John's, Cinnabon, E-Harmony and Ben Stiller's Ego." In other words, there were a lot of shitty movies this past year.
"The Big Wedding"
"August: Osage County"
"A Good Day to Die Hard"
"The Lone Ranger"
"Pain & Gain"
"Lee Daniels' The Butler"
"Man of Steel"[br]