Top 20 Films of 2013

20.  THE CONJURING

A classic horror film with top notch scares and a tense, frightening plot will always get the better of me, and with THE CONJURING, it is easily one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen.  Outside of it’s bone chilling techniques and torturing long sequences, the film itself is done with precision and quality.  James Wan is a master of the scary, and add in great performances from the always reliable Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and Lily Taylor, this is an exception horror film that’s irresistibly terrifying.

19.  CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

You can always appreciate Tom Hanks and the kind of work he brings to the table, but the last scene with him breaking down in the infirmary is easily his best work as an actor.  CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is more than just pirates taking over a ship.  It brings upon the ideals of American success, the dreams the world has for itself, and what it takes for people to get a sense of that ideal.  It’s a tense, fast pace adventure with excellent performances from Hanks and first timer Barkhad Abdi.  Overall, it’s an achievement to execute a film like this that provides an ample of opportunities to twist and create subjectivity, but Paul Greengrass is so much better than that.

18.  BLACKFISH

A documentary like BLACKFISH is so important because it promotes change.  The waves that this little film has created is enough motivation for documentary filmmakers to truly believe that their film can create a difference in our saddening society.  Following the story of Tilikum, an orca taken from its habitat and placed in captivity at Sea World, and the trainer that was killed by Tilikum, it reveals the blanket of secrets and dark antics the “family-fun” corporation has consistently performed to keep the money coming in.  Animal captivity is a tragic situation that deserves more discussion, and BLACKFISH has become the fuel in what should become the blazing fire.

17.  AMERICAN HUSTLE

Though I feel this film doesn’t deserve a Best Picture win, it is still, in my opinion, one of the best films of 2013, mostly because of the top notch performances that surround AMERICAN HUSTLE.  You can’t get a better cast than this, and each provide a flawed and deeply infuriating character that keeps you glued to the screen.  The plot is insanely complex, and if you miss one scene, your most likely lost, but it’s a sight to behold.  David O. Russell continues his impressive streak of modern America folklore, bringing out the ugliness in our humanity, but dazzling it with a touch of love and… Jennifer Lawrence.

16.  INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

There’s nothing like a Coen Brothers’ film, and with INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, the story about a man wrapped within self-loathing and pity, is beautiful, unflinching, and daring, especially with how the character unravels.  There’s much to be said about success, and how we define exactly where we want to be.  But it’s clear where we all don’t want to be, and with Llewyn, it seems that’s the only place he wishes to be at, hurting those that he encounters, and pushing away any possible form of progress from himself.  Anyone pursuing a career like show business know the difficulties of climbing that steep mountain, but Llewyn refuses to take that climb, and somehow expects to reach the peak without breaking a sweat.  He’s the definition of talent without passion, skills without drive, and it’s heartbreaking to watch, but also expected.  Add that with one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard, and well, you got a great film.

15.  LABOR DAY

Though not widely released until January 31st, catching this film at Telluride, and having a small release in 2013, it’s a classic love story executed finely by Jason Reitman.  These are one of those films that don’t deliver some insane technique or brilliant writing.  In simplistic terms, it’s a romance based on pure love and chemistry.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Most of LABOR DAY occurs in a house, so all we see are these characters, in dying need of love and care, embrace each other, though from the outside, it’s a criminal taking hostage of a family.  It’s such a moving film with tear-jerking moments, and if anything, it’ll make you crave peach pie afterwards.

14.  THIS IS THE END

We all expected this film to have great lines, brilliant improv, and a lot of fun to poke at their own supposed selves, but the greatness of THIS IS THE END is that it takes a wild turn into a religious-infused apocalyptic dread, and the way we see everything unfold gives you assurance that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have much more talent than we give them credit for.  The cameos help, that ridiculous cast really helps, but what works here is the utter ridiculousness that continually raises as the film progresses, knowing that what they sold the audiences on (lots of barking at each other, playing themselves) would eventually get old.  It’s a smart and well-crafted film that is laugh out loud hilarious.  One of the best ensemble comedies in recent memory, it’ll be something that we watch years down the road.

13.  FRUITVALE STATION

A heartbreaking and gut-wrenching experience, FRUITVALE STATION exclaims to its audience the unfairness in which lives are lived based solely on culture and stereotype.  But more than that, it’s a tragic story about a young man trying to remake his life, doing the right thing, and to unfortunately not see how those drastic decisions would’ve played out.  First time writer-director Ryan Coogler takes this story and doesn’t fine tune it or mess around.  He takes that one fatal day and speaks volumes with it, raising its quality and its ability to speak for many issues without taking a stance on all of them.  With it’s final scene bringing me to tears, it’s a film that can be a intricate moving piece to real African-American films in today’s society.

12.  ENOUGH SAID

Sometimes, simple works best.  Nicole Holofcener’s ENOUGH SAID is exactly that, and what’s so great about it is that it’s centered around great characters, not necessarily great story.  James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus work magically together, having the audience to believe that these are real relationships, brought in with our human flaws and our uncontrollable behavior.  It’s a love story, but not between male and female, but between families, friends, and that subtle feeling of loss and trying to replace it with something imperative.  It’s a hilarious script with plenty of touching moments, and it deserves more attention.

11.  THE KINGS OF SUMMER

This is a film that I’ll show my kids, and no, not because I want them to run away and build their own house deep into the woods to escape my utter dread and embarrassment (which really could happen), but because of its ability to resemble innocence in youth, and the meanings and sacrifices we make as we continue to grow older.  THE KINGS OF SUMMER is a hilarious, well written film that entails the journey of a boy who hates restriction, but more so, unhappiness, and we can find unhappiness right around the corner.  Dealing with our problems head on is the act of maturity that we all must face, and the film greatly exhibits both sides of execution.  The characters are loveable but also flawed, and what we see here is a classic coming-of-age story with some of the best improved scenes you’ll see this year.  Not forgetting Biaggio, easily one of the most memorable characters in 2013, THE KINGS OF SUMMER will definitely be one of those films that I watch every year and appreciate what it represents: defiance in youth.

10.  PRISONERS

Seeing this film before even knowing what it was about, I was thrown into a dark and morally conflicting world where we dive into child abduction and kidnapping in a painful and humanistic manner.  Denis Villeneuve’s direction, Roger Deakins’ cinematography, and Aaron Guzikowski’s tightly written script works in all manners, creating an thriller wrapped within multiple themes of religion, tragedy, and what we’re willing to do for our own family, even if it’s criminal.  PRISONERS is a refreshing take on cliche genre, and is a multiple viewing considering how dense the film is.  I specifically love Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performances, and this cast works very well together.  It’s a film that deserves more recognition and is an entertaining but an investigation on the relationship between action and reaction.

9.  THE PAST

In simple words, Asghar Farhadi, the director of THE PAST, is a genius.  The way we layers his films, creating an intimate world between a facet of characters all intertwined within difficult relationships.  This film, another dense and pact cinematic experience, is the epitome of careful and detail outlining with the pace moving beautifully and slowly revealing the truth about the overlying situation and the reality of these flawed characters.  It’s an immense accomplishment, surrounding itself with multitudes of conflict, and the infatuation we as humans have with our past and its inability to propel ourselves to progress.  It’s a film many should watch, and can help us understand ourselves in ways that we may never have wanted to discover.  That’s the purity in cinema.

8.  STORIES WE TELL

The best documentary I’ve seen this year is STORIES WE TELL created by the talented Sarah Polley, and it’s obvious why I would appreciate a film like this.  The story, being centered around her family’s ill-structured dynamic, it’s another tale of misfortune, reveling in the past, and the ability to let go.  There are multitude of revealings that happen throughout the film, and once they all hit, the message works so well in tune, emphasizing how truth is as fragmented as our own stories, only connecting to what our memory serves us to remember.  It’s a great work of art, and I hope this film moves towards legendary status.

7.  GRAVITY

A roller coaster ride of an experience with an emotional punch packed within, GRAVITY, Alfonso Cuaron’s most recent picture, is something to behold.  The visuals on this film will easily be regarded as the best that’s ever been done, but the film doesn’t work just because of its special effects, but it’s hinged on Ryan Stone’s growth into surviving and living, rather than peacefully disappearing from existence.  The entire film is a metaphor to how tragedy can inflict our souls, and how we have two options to make: either to overcome or to wither.  Stone’s surmounting hurdles and obstacles are life’s way of making things never easy, but the power of motivation and the will to live can overcome, and the way it all works together creates a powerful and moving piece of work.

6.  THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

The most polarizing film of 2013, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a grand example of a mastermind and auteur of everything cinema.  Yes, it’s a hypnotic and gratuitous watch, infused with sex, drugs, alcohol, and all kinds of debauchery that posts a lost ability to reflect but more to just witness.  But the film is a satire and a commentary of all things evil, and the methods these scums of the States have used throughout time to steal from whoever they can manage.  But we don’t see the victims because Jordan Belfort doesn’t see the victims.  We don’t see character growth because there is no character growth.  We see only one perspective, the shallow and inconsiderate kind, which of these men, to, at the end of day, realize that this kind of life is fraudulent and unkind to all involved.

5.  HER

This is the love story of our generation, our inability to discover true and human relationships, and rely on our computer screens or iPhones to fulfill the emptiness within our souls.  HER is a reflection on our society’s infatuation with illusion, the mere existence we share with someone on the other side.  Spike Jonze creates a world where this has become the standard, not just acceptable behavior.  The film is based in the very near future, not resembling a vast different skyline of Los Angeles or greater technology.  But the near future is a reflection of how close we are to actually falling in love with our computers, and finding our strongest connection with software.  If we really think about it, the behavior we exhume is awkward and definably questionable, but those who dissociate themselves from it are almost looked at outcasts.  HER, with a simple touch of human love and how conflicted we are as people, is an incredible achievement in story telling.  Hail all parties involved as this film will last throughout time.

4.  12 YEARS A SLAVE

Eloquent, graceful, distant, and emotionally careful, 12 YEARS A SLAVE will be the most important film that has come out in the 2000s.  Steve McQueen’s direction is clearly felt, easily having a large creative hand in how the product eventually results.  You’ve got one of the great ensembles piece of the year, with each performance pulling its weight and taking us on this journey of Solomon Northup.  It takes a few viewings to truly understand the grandness of it all, to appreciate the exact execution it took to pull of a passionate, moving, and somber tale one man’s story in a culture that has haunted American history.  It deserves Best Picture, not just for how great the film is, but for important it will be to finally reward this kind of artistry tackling an issue that should’ve been tackled a long time ago.

3.  BEFORE MIDNIGHT

In my opinion, the greatest trilogy I’ve ever seen, BEFORE MIDNIGHT is the icing on the cake, the completed work of three progressive films that get better and better.  A simple and private story of two people falling in love, it’s a realistic but yet also hopeful take on relationships and how love, as twisted as it is, is the only thing we really have in this world that stays throughout time.  Richard Linklater, with the writing aid of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (who play the leads) have enabled us with a new range of filmmaking, ignoring the cliche rules and standards of new age American cinema, allowing us to divulge in words and their eloquent ways of expression.  It’s a study that should be constantly taught in film schools and all media classes as the epitome of risky story telling.  It works so well, and is one of the best films of 2013.

2.  SHORT TERM 12

The battle between #1 and #2 was as difficult as ever, but in the grand scheme of things, both films will be in my all time favorites so it’s really a redundant conversation, but it shows just how good SHORT TERM 12 really is.  It’s a film that nails the honesty and the truth of disturbed and pained children and teenagers, and how the victimization of innocence is what truly ruins this country.  But really, it’s a story of appreciation and finding the good in people.  Stripping away all reputation and background from an individual, and giving each and every person a chance is what’s important here.  Destin Cretton does an invaluable job of displaying these difficult stories where tortured teenagers must find ways to survive, regardless of it being healthy or legal.  The performances from each member of its cast including Brie Larson, Keith Stanfield, and John Gallagher Jr. are all essential components to this vast success of storytelling.  It’s a film that I’ll show my kids, and I hope they’ll show theirs.  It’s a recommendation I’ll always make to people because it’s a true human story, and regardless of what we have or haven’t gone through, we can all understand the difficulties of living with pain, no matter how small or big we think they are.  SHORT TERM 12 is a film you must watch.

1.  BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR

It’s hard to really explain my love for this film, from its grand themes of love, identity, individualism, and the road to happiness, but each and every individual that has seen this film has its own personal affection for it and with very good reason.  It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen.  It’s a visual display of the power in sexual chemistry, and how overpowering it can be to find love within our physical hunger and appetite.  It’s a thesis of conversations ranging from the beauty of art, the difficulties of maturity, literature, food, and all things important in our daily lives.  It’s a reflection of relationships, and how there’s always that one person that has captured our breaths in ways that no other partner ever has.  It creates this small, intimate world of Adele that infatuates our need to find and discover.  Not just in our sexual exploration or our human interactions, but within ourselves, and to find what completes us and makes us whole.  To label this film a “sex infused lesbian movie” is unjust and unfair.  The film is so much more than that, and deserves an audience willing to explore these thoughts and ideas that provide great detail of the difficulties of living.

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