To begin, as I do every year, with my standard disclaimer: This may be my list of the Top 10 Movies of 2013 – but it’s not necessarily a rundown of the year’s 10 Best Movies. Because, quite frankly, I haven’t seen every single movie released anywhere during the past 12 months. But this most certainly is a list of my favorite films to open in U.S. theaters in 2013.
(To be sure, at least one hasn’t yet opened in a Houston theater – but it will, soon.)
While compiling these titles, I found that they more or less naturally divided themselves into pairs. Kinda-sorta like the animals Noah led onto the ark.
These are, of course, purely arbitrary and totally subjective choices. And I’ll freely admit that, a decade or so hence, I might look back on the following lineup and want to make additions or deletions. At this point in time, however, I can honestly state these are the 2013 releases that impressed me most. And best. So there.
Why is this year’s list different from previous lists? Well, it’s a funny thing: While compiling these titles, I found that they more or less naturally divided themselves into pairs. Kinda-sorta like the animals Noah led onto the ark. Or like my Top 10 list of 2006, which really was a Top 20. If there still were such a thing as the revival house circuit, these would be five terrific double features.
Nebraska and Inside Llewyn Davis
The year’s most melancholy and bleakly funny road movies. In Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, a dutiful son (beautifully played by Will Forte) tries to better understand, or at least bond with, his willfully unknowable father (Bruce Dern) during a long-distance drive that ends in disappointment, followed by a quietly moving moment of grace. In Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, a self-absorbed and (apparently) second-rate early-‘60s folk singer (Oscar Isaac) is repeatedly impeded by his bad decisions and worse attitude, and winds up discovering after a long auto trip that, sometimes, you can’t move far or fast enough to get from where you’re stuck.
American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street
A double dose of adrenaline rushes, explosively funny and exhilaratingly entertaining, and all the more gobsmacking for being based on real-life events. David O. Russell’s American Hustle is a bold and brassy dark comedy about con artists eager to deceive everyone, even themselves, and the fine art of making people believe what they really want to believe, even when they should know better. Martin Scorsese’s marathon Wolf of Wall Street traces the rise (to dizzying heights) and fall (to impermanent and not-so-terrible depths) of a self-made wheeler-dealer, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, in the performance of his career so far), whose insatiable appetites – for more money, more women, more drugs – fuel his frenzied pursuit of success and excess. Some folks have chided Scorsese for not explicitly condemning Belfort’s bad behavior. (Like, we poor dumb lugs watching the film really need to be told: Hey, kids, don’t try this at home.) My gut response to both films: Wheeeeeeeeeee!
Gravity and Hours
The clock ticks, the tension mounts, the audience sweats. Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, a thrillingly spectacular existential adventure, focuses on a lost-in-space astronaut (Sandra Bullock, never better) who has no reason to survive, and will do so only if she chooses to. Eric Heisserer’s Hours, a smartly crafted small-budget indie drama, focuses on a desperate father (Paul Walker, exceptionally fine in one of his final roles) who struggles to keep his prematurely born child alive in an evacuated New Orleans hospital in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The Great Gatsby and Tim’s Vermeer
Two very different tales of obsession – one deliriously romantic, the other meticulously schematic, both uniquely fascinating. In Baz Luhrman’s audaciously stylized take on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Leonardo DiCaprio affectingly plays the flip side of his Wall Street Wolf, a man who pursues wealth only as a means to an end – i.e., to recapture the elusive object of his desire. In Penn & Teller’s documentary Tim’s Vermeer (set to open wide in January after Oscar-qualifying runs in New York and L.A.), a San Antonio inventor named Tim Jenison sets out to prove his theories about 17th-century painter Johannes Vermeer by replicating one of the Dutch Master’s masterpieces. Much like Jay Gatsby, he goes to extremes, for a very simple reason: He can.
This is the End and The World’s End
Apocalypse winningly played for laughs, with surprisingly serious undercurrents. For all of its free-wheeling and foul-mouthed hilarity, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This is the End is the most weirdly sincere religious-themed movie since The Rapture. (And, mind you, I mean that as a compliment.) Meanwhile, Edgar Wright’s The World’s End – the latest gem from the guys who gave us Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead – persuasively insists that life as a delusional, struck-in-the-past under-achiever is preferable to a life as an extraterrestrial-enhanced mutant with all human frailties smoothed away. Or something like that.
Ten Runners-up: Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, The Sapphires, 12 Years a Slave, One PM Central Standard Time, Fruitvale Station, Medora, Herblock: The Black & The White, LUV and In a World…
Guiltiest Pleasure of 2013: Big Ass Spider!
Best Movie of 2013 That Hasn’t Yet Opened in Theaters: The Retrieval.
Worst Movie of 2013: Movie 43.
I Stand Alone: While fully realizing I am in a tiny minority, I still feel The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was much funnier than its critical reception would indicate. But, hey, I kinda-sorta liked MacGruber, too, so what do I know?
Joe Leydon writes all about movies on Moving Picture Blog.