10 Best Films of 2013

This is my favorite part of being a critic: the privilege of choosing the 10 best films of the year. In a year like 2013, it’s incredibly hard to narrow it down to just 10. I probably could have picked 10 more, easily — but the internal debate is part of the fun. I hope you had the pleasure of seeing some of these films, as well. And I’d love to hear what you’d choose as your favorites.

1. “Gravity”

Gravity Movie Review

Visually dazzling and emotionally gripping, “Gravity” held me in its spell for 90 breathtaking minutes. I still don’t know how Alfonso Cuaron made this movie — how he made us feel as if we were actually watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney struggle for survival in space. But man, is this an astounding achievement on all levels, from the performances to the editing to the precise tone, one that had me on the verge of tears much of the time. (And you guys know what a big deal that is, given how cold-hearted and soulless I am.)

Read the full review here


2. “American Hustle”

American Hustle Movie Review

Sexy, raunchy, heart-pounding and hilarious, “American Hustle” is a complete blast. David O. Russell out-Scorseses Martin Scorsese himself with this swaggering story of con artists and corruption. At first it feels as if he’s taken his A-list cast — including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence — to the Goodwill store to find the grooviest ’70s duds possible for an elaborate game of dress-up. But the clothes are a reflection of his characters’ desperation as they strive for the American dream.

Read the full review here


3. “Her”

Her Movie Review

Just completely lovely from start to finish. Spike Jonze’s film features some of the fantastical notions that are his trademark, but it’s also the most grounded in reality of all the movies he’s made, which gives it an emotional immediacy. Joaquin Phoenix plays perhaps his most regular-guy character yet as a recently divorced man in a near-future Los Angeles who finds new love … with his operating system. Scarlett Johansson is called upon to create a complete character with only her voice and does so with great richness and humanity.

Watch the What the Flick?! clip here


4. “Stories We Tell”

A total original. Sarah Polley’s film repeatedly astonishes, inspiring us to rethink not just the documentary format but also the way we recall events from our own lives. In interviewing members of her family about their history, she mixes memory, photographs, archival footage and reenactments. The result is a hazy, shared truth, one that’s at once personal and universal. At just 34 and with only her third film, Polley has established herself as an artistic master.

Read the full review here


5. “Upstream Color”

Upstream Color Movie Review

Shane Carruth’s film is a hypnotic sensory experience — a bold, challenging experiment like nothing else I saw all year. It’s a capital-A art house film with a mesmerizing use of imagery; as writer, director, composer, editor and star, Carruth throws us in at the deep end and makes us work. But at its core is the wrenching tale of two lost souls, with Amy Seimetz giving a brave supporting performance as Carruth’s counterpart.

Read the full review here


6. “The Spectacular Now”

The Spectacular Now Movie Review

Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley give beautifully nuanced performances in this authentic and honest look at teen romance. Teller is the hard-partying popular kid; Woodley is studious and shy. They wouldn’t seem to belong together but bring out the best in each other. Through long, intimate takes, director James Ponsoldt lets their relationship unfurl in charming, organic fashion, but he also isn’t afraid to make some tough choices with his characters.

Watch the What the Flick?! clip here


7. “Nebraska”

Nebraska Movie Review

Alexander Payne rips the lid off the mythology of the Midwest in this hilarious and poignant father-son road trip. Bruce Dern gives an effortless, unadorned performance as an alcohol-addled Korean War veteran who believes he’s won a million-dollar prize and insists on making the 900-mile trek to collect it in person. Will Forte and June Squibb are among the inspired supporting cast, and the stark black-and-white cinematography gives everything a bleakly beautiful sheen.

Read the full review here


8. “Frances Ha”

Frances Ha Movie Review

Greta Gerwig absolutely charms in a role that’s tailor-made for her naturalistic screen presence. As a 20something wandering around New York City in search of a career, a purpose, an identity, she’s sweet, funny, cringe-inducing and heartbreaking. Noah Baumbach’s film borrows affectionately from both 1970s Woody Allen and the French New Wave while achieving a timelessness and a universality all its own.

Read the full review here


9. “Short Term 12”

Short Term 12 Movie Review

This drama set in a foster-care center for at-risk teens could have been painfully mawkish. Instead, it sneaks up on you with its understated honesty and unexpected dark humor. Writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton’s film is brimming with originality, and it provide a long-overdue leading role for the lovely Brie Larson as a counselor who finds herself in flux.

Read the full review here


10. “The World’s End”

The World's End Movie Review

This blisteringly profane send-up of sci-fi apocalypse extravaganzas provided the most fun I had at the movies all year. The third genre tweak from director Edgar Wright and co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is simultaneously their most ambitious and their most effective. Their epic pub crawl is full of absurd humor and rapid-fire dialogue but also has something to say about the dangerous tug of nostalgia.

Read the full review here

17 Comments on “10 Best Films of 2013

  1.  by  Gerardo V.

    Agree on #1 but,….. “The World’s End” in #10???? Regarding the films on the Wright/Pegg/Frost trilogy: after all these years I’m still not sure if I love them or detest them. They are very funny but also maddening.
    Merry Christmas Christy!

  2.  by  JozieLee

    Great list. Gravity gripped me and kept me interested. Good choice.

    Frances Ha. Black and white film. UGH! Hope someone comes along someday and colorizes it. I don’t think B/W films add to the experience. It’s like not wearing underwear just cause you can. Puhlease! We’re living in 2013 . . . use color.

    Frances annoyed the hell out of me. Too dependent on the opinion of others, especially her best friend. Freeloader unmindful of the burden she was to her friends and family. The ending completely changed my perception of the entire movie. Felt like I’d walked down a semi-lit tunnel, got to the end, turned around and the lights blared on. I got her. Liked what the film maker had to say about friendship, and growing up. Made me think about my friendships and how devoted I have or haven’t been to people I profess to love. Bravo!

  3.  by  JozieLee

    Can’t imagine American Hustle compared to Frances Ha or Gravity or World’s End for Best Picture of 2013. Not in the same league.

    American Hustle reminds me why I LOVE to go to the movies. It grabs you by the throat, tosses you from side to side, then spits you out, panting for breath. I’m exhilerated, exhausted, enthralled, and mesmerizingly entertained!

    So many great scenes: (1) Bradley Cooper’s character at home cleaning the fish bowl. The rollers were funny, but how he’s portrayed is even funnier (2) Cooper/Adams at dance. Sexy, funny, raw (3) Meeting of the mobster & sheik … tension seeped from screen right into the theatre auditorium … surprise and revelation enhanced with perfectly timed pauses … O’Russell gets huge kudos from this scene (4) Cooper/Louis CK … LOL, these two are so funny on screen together (5) Jennifer Lawrence is a budding Meryl Streep. Head to head with the veteran Christaian Bale? Even he looked impressed by her work during their final bedroom scene. The nail polish metaphor, overused. We got it the first time round. Perhaps O’Russell used the device to give her additional camera time (6) Amy Adams kept me guessing throughout the film. She’s consistently superb.

    While I was captivated by the film I was aware of the time, especially during explanation of the elaborate schemes. And at one point O’Russell brings the story to a crescendo . . . almost like the main characters sing a battle before the rumble in West Side Story . . . so beautifully done . . . but there was way more story to tell.

    Last year Sliver Lining Playbook was my favorite film, but Am Hustle far surpassed that film. Can’t wait to see how O’Russell will top AH.

    So far, for me, American Hustle is the Best Picture of 2013. Until I see the other nominations.

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      Thanks for the elaborate break-down, Jozie! I enjoyed your astute observations.

  4.  by  Rick

    1. Gravity. What a great film experence

    2. Rush. Cant believe its not on anyones list

    3. Frances Ha Thank you Christy .your review made me want to see this film..

    4 Prisoners

    5 Short Term 12

    6 12 years a slave

    7 american hustle

    8 the wolf of wall street

    8 Europia report

    10 her

  5.  by  David

    Great list Christy! I can’t really argue with any of your picks.
    Others that I particularly enjoyed were…

    In A World
    You’re Next
    Before Midnight
    The Bling Ring
    The Counselor
    Blue Is The Warmest Color
    Saving Mr. Banks

    Those are off the top of my head. I’m sure I’m forgetting some great ones.

    Hey, you and Ignaty need to get back on tv. I miss your show!!

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      Thanks, David! We miss doing the show, too. I also enjoyed “In a World ….” Lake Bell has such a distinctive voice, in every sense of the word.

    •  by  JozieLee

      Where did you find In A World?

      Hasn’t been in any movie theaters near me. And I’ve been looking since I saw Christy’s review. Hasn’t shown up yet in my DIRECTV queue.

  6.  by  JozieLee

    Stories We Tell. I’m a bit surprised it made your Top 10 List. While I found the film interesting, it didn’t blow me away like American Hustle, Gravity, World’s End, and even Frances Ha. Whose family doesn’t contain a dose of complexity and high drama. We live for it.

    Polley’s Take This Waltz is a gem. Michelle Williams career choices always intrigues me, which is what drew me to renting Waltz a few years back.

    For such a young filmmaker, and especially for a woman, Polley’s work promises growth and direction that will lead us into new territory. I’m already missing Nora Ephron. We need more women telling their stories, so your encouragement makes a lot of sense . . . and I guess could be partially the point of it being on your list.

  7.  by  Christian Toto

    “The Spectacular Now,” combined with the recent “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” give me hope that the teen movie genre isn’t dead – it’s just taking a nice, peaceful nap.

  8.  by  ben

    hey christy, love you on what the flick. great list. I really wanted to like frances ha, I saw it tonight, but have to see it again. Hype may have gotten to me. Gravity is my favorite as well. ST12 is my 2nd (I love the photo you have with it) and Frozen at 3rd. Rush at 4th, and Philomena is 5th. Before Midnight is probably 6th and the rest, it’s hard to come up with. Again, great list. Love your reviews.

  9.  by  JozieLee

    Upstream Color reminds me of a Morongo Casino commercial – beautiful people filmed under gorgeous lighting living their lives when suddenly they’re stopped in mid action.

    What I got from UC’s plot?: Beautiful people should not eat pork, or buy drugs from people they don’t know; we live in a randomly violent world; protect your assets because someday you’ll die from excess living.

  10.  by  Christian

    I also loved Gravity and American hustle, but yet my favorite movie of the year, and nobody else will agree, is The Wolf of Wall Street. What did you think of it?

  11.  by  Brett Robison

    Great list, Christy! Although, I was admittedly disappointed to hear your indifferent review of The Wolf of Wall Street on “What The Flick?!.” I feel like it’s the most misunderstood film of the year. Perhaps it will be for Scorsese what Barry Lyndon was for Kubrick.

    I feel like an overwhelmingly unnoticed aspect of “Wolf” is that it’s a film about learned behavior and how dangerous said behavior can become detrimental in unorthodox circumstances (i.e. the world that “Wolf” inhabits). As I heard Scorsese say in an interview (to paraphrase) “Not one of these characters possesses a model for normality.” I think Marty’s brilliance lies in his handling of the material: he observes it impartially, in all its vulgarity, and allows us to draw our conclusions about what’s occurring.

    I’ve been a fan of yours ever since “Ebert Presents” (I’m still saddened by its disappearance), and now there are only four places I visit in order to feed my need for effective opinions/criticism: RogerEbert.com, “What The Flick?!,” this site and The Dissolve. You all rock!

    Here’s my top 10 for 2013:

    1. The Wolf of Wall Street
    2. Nebraska: a poignant, masterful meditation on family, old age and how we relate to one another
    3. Blue Is The Warmest Color: important, gorgeous and entirely of the moment
    4. Upstream Color: grimly beautiful, complex and masterfully photographed (not to mention that sound design!)
    5. Inside Llewyn Davis: it’s just… so awesomely… Coen
    6. Short Term 12: a hyper-authentic indie gem rife with moving moments
    7. American Hustle: pure high-octane bravura
    8. Mud: the 2nd best coming-of-age story of the year
    9. To The Wonder: deeply contemplative and effectively ‘Malick’
    10. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints: lyrical, moving and singular

    Best wishes!