Top 10 Films of 2013
by Delon Villanueva
Yes, we have reached that time once again. The year is rolling out as we head into 2014, so us film geeks must do what we always do right before New Year’s: create our top 10 movies of the year list. I’ve got to say, this has been an absolutely great year for movies. This year’s film festivals, such as Sundance and SXSW, were filled to the brim with excellent flicks, and this Oscar season is probably the most competitive one in a very long time. You can imagine how much I was looking forward to making my top 10 list this year.
Though just like last year, I should remind you that this is my top 10 list. NOT a ranking of the greatest cinematic achievements of the year. These are basically movies I personally enjoyed the most this year, so it’s really just for you to get an idea of my taste in film. You can argue over the real best films of the year with the Academy, an organization that still often gets it wrong anyways. Anyways, no matter how you feel about this list, I love sharing it with you guys every year anyways.
Before I get right into it, here are some films that I missed this year that probably would have been huge contenders for my top 10: The Place Beyond the Pines, Upstream Color, Blue Jasmine, Short Term 12, Rush, Prisoners, Don Jon, Captain Phillips, All is Lost, and Nebraska.
Also, here are some honorable mentions (in no particular order): Mud, Monsters University, The Way Way Back, Fruitvale Station, Pacific Rim, Gravity, and Frozen.
DELON’S TOP 10 FILMS OF 2013
10. This Is the End: What is essentially a studio funded home video of the funniest guys working in Hollywood today, This Is the End is a surprisingly clever take on celebrity egotism, a hilarious spoof of apocalyptic and horror films, and a rather heartfelt tale of friendship. Yes, this is still very much a full-on R-rated raunchy comedy, so it’s not for everyone, but as a huge fan of these actors, they completely delivered in going all out for this one. This is a great directorial debut for writing duo Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, as they manage to have a well-written story while still being able to go absolutely berserk. Goldberg and Rogen take so many comedic liberties in This Is the End, which is something that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
9. The Kings of Summer: As I look back at all the coming-of-age films from this year, the one that I could relate to the most was The Kings of Summer. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts hilariously and accurately captures what it’s like to be a young high school kid in a rush to enter adulthood, as the story is about three boys who run away from home and decide to live on their own in the woods. This film focuses on how much we think the world revolves around us when we’re fifteen, where overbearing parents are just the worst and love is always on our minds. Vogt-Roberts elevates the simple but overdramatic life of teenage hood by making it bigger than it actually is, as displayed through the beautiful forest cinematography and also the very funny banter between the adults over how ridiculous their situation is. The Kings of Summer is refreshingly weird and effortlessly charming, just like how we think of our early teenage years.
8. The Spectacular Now: While I did relate to The Kings of Summer a whole lot, I wouldn’t say it’s the best coming-of-age film of the year. In my opinion, The Spectacular Now is. Although I wasn’t in complete love with the movie when I first saw it, over the past few months, I began to reflect on how natural and down-to-earth it was. Director James Ponsoldt has made a very honest film about young love, while dealing with genuine personal problems such as parental detachment and alcoholism. Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber succeed in taking the challenge of having to write the perspective of a protagonist we don’t normally get in coming-of-age films: the popular kid, rather than the socially awkward one. Miles Teller really brings a lot of humanity to his performance as the film’s main character, Sutter, where he balances obnoxious goofiness with hidden vulnerability. Shailene Woodley is also great as the introverted but endearing love interest, Aimee. The Spectacular Now is a timeless teen film that will be watched by many generations to come.
7. The World’s End: Director Edgar Wright completes his unofficial Cornetto Trilogy with The World’s End, arguably his most mature film yet. While this film may not be as non-stop funny as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, it is just as creatively put together, if not better. Wright’s usual touches are seen everywhere here, such as recurring gags, fantastic attention to detail, and pop culture references. Though this is certainly the most emotionally involving film Wright has made so far. It’s a movie that takes on themes of nostalgia, lost innocence, and accepting adulthood, and by doing so, it heads into some dark territory. Simon Pegg does some memorable comedic and moving work here as Gary King, a man desiring to fulfill his youth, while Nick Frost also does well in playing against type as Andy, Gary’s old childhood friend who has grown apart from his juvenile past. Edgar Wright once again does some solid work in The World’s End, and there are no signs of him stopping yet.
6. Frances Ha: What may seem like a small story about finding independence turns into a very beautiful tribute to the French New Wave and modern New York culture called Frances Ha, directed by Noah Baumbach. It’s a consistently funny and visually attractive film that follows Frances, a twenty-seven year-old woman trying to find success in her dancing career while struggling to manage her relationships. Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the movie with Baumbach, is amazing as the naive and charismatic Frances, as she basically carries the whole film on her shoulder. Gerwig’s striking performance is even supported with some gorgeous cinematography and a creatively compiled soundtrack list. While this movie may not seem like it appeals to all tastes, considering its artsy style, you’re very likely to be surprised by how much you’ll enjoy Frances Ha.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street: Director Martin Scorsese has made a three-hour epic of debauchery, greed, and excessiveness. The Wolf of Wall Street is probably Scorsese’s raunchiest film yet, and with good reason. While it is a bit strange to see such content like this played for laughs in a Scorsese movie, the performances are still top-notch, the screenplay by Terence Winter is brilliantly written, and the film never stops being entertaining. It is extremely hard to find a boring moment in The Wolf of Wall Street, and a lot of credit goes to Leonardo DiCaprio, who truly gives it all in his performance as Jordan Belfort. Considering how much physical comedy is involved in this movie, this also could be the funniest DiCaprio has ever been. Given its energetic tone, The Wolf of Wall Street is admittedly an exhausting experience, but it’s a feeling that parallels the film’s subject matter itself and you’ll want to revisit it again soon after it’s over.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis: Here is a film that is the very definition of melancholy. The Coen Brothers are at it again with Inside Llewyn Davis, the depressing but reflective journey of struggling folk musician Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac, who faces many obstacles in trying to make it big, including himself. Isaac is terrific as Llewyn Davis, a not particularly likeable character, though a fascinating one, to say the least. Isaac not only has the acting chops to play this role, but he also has incredible musical talent. The emotional presence he brings to each musical performance throughout the film in contrast with each failure Llewyn faces makes for a very tragic juxtaposition, as probably intended by the Coen Brothers. While Inside Llewyn Davis is in no way an optimistic portrayal of an artist’s life, it is a very realistic one that artists of all kinds will definitely appreciate.
3. 12 Years a Slave: Believe the hype. While most Best Picture frontrunners end up being rather overrated over time, I can firmly tell you that this is a film that deserves all the praise it is getting. 12 Years a Slave is masterful filmmaking by director Steve McQueen, as he tells a brutal and unapologetic tale of losing everything and painfully trying to regain whatever that remains. This movie never tries to sugarcoat the reality of slavery in America, as it adapts directly from the memoir of Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and sold back into slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor is phenomenal as Northup; he’s an emotional force in every frame of this movie. His performance alone already puts this film above most movies on this subject matter. Though the true star of 12 Years a Slave is Steve McQueen, as he proves here that he is one of the most gifted storytellers in the film industry today.
2. Before Midnight: Even in a cinematic year full of big-scale stories, there really is nothing that matches a tightly enclosed story involving mainly two people. To make it more interesting, it is a story involving two people we think we know so well that there’s not much left to say about them. Before Midnight not only destroys that misconception, but also becomes a type of romance film that is rarely captured on-screen. Director Richard Linklater has made a film even more intimate than Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, as the story centers on his characters, Celine and Jesse, now as both a couple and parents who are surely not the same young, wandering lovers that met eighteen years ago. Linklater presents the difficulties of long-lasting relationships and retaining love so closely that it puts the audience literally right in the midst of conflict. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have grown so much as actors, and it’s upsetting but powerfully effective to see them as Celine and Jesse work against each other. Before Midnight is a fantastic representation of the necessary efforts to preserve relationships, and it’s done on a very personal level, especially considering all that has led to where Celine and Jesse are at by the end of the film.
1. Her: I believe this is probably the most relevant film to our generation since The Social Network, and even that is somewhat of an understatement. Her takes place in a futuristic LA, yet director Spike Jonze consciously knows that this is not at all far from the world we live in now. Aside from the technology, Jonze recognizes how poorly people connect in today’s society, which he immediately and ingeniously addresses within the first five minutes of the movie. This isn’t just some forced satire of how people are attached to their smart phones; it’s a mesmerizing and poetic look at how society has forgotten the essence of human relationships. The movie follows a heartbroken, divorced man named Theodore, played marvelously by Joaquin Phoenix, who is sick of his loneliness, and the only one that is able to satisfy his love life is an artificially intelligent operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who soon develops emotions of her own. It’s incredible how Her manages to comment on both the advancements in technology and how it directly affects the desire to communicate with another human being, for better or worse. The film inspires you to look around and see where humanity is going, and what you can do about it in your own personal life. The way this movie embraces the euphoria of feeling complete with someone else that can’t be captured with some electronic device will make you appreciate the concept of love so much more. As you can tell, I can go on and on about the work Spike Jonze has done here. Her is wholeheartedly my favorite movie of the year.
Another yearly top film list is complete! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did choosing the movies themselves. Before I go, I should acknowledge that I haven’t published a review on the site in a while, but I will get back on track early next year. As always, I’m looking forward to the coming year in film, including the many big blockbusters (such as X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy), indie surprise hits from incoming film festivals, and highly anticipated pictures by critically acclaimed directors (Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar). You’ll be seeing me at the movies very often in 2014. Thank you so much for reading my reviews in 2013!