By Film Threat Staff | December 30, 2013

Our writers see so many films over the course of the year, not just the theatrical-friendly, critically revered and/or festival-darling fare, that our choices for the best films of the year can be all over the place. Still, each year we submit our lists and see what shakes out. Some writers have simply listed their picks, some didn’t respond and others have written more… much more. Is there an overall Top Ten consensus to be had from all of this? Not quite…

Utilizing the films chosen by our writers in either the best overall films, or in their subcategories of best narrative and documentary films, we’ve compiled 8 films that were on enough lists to be considered the Top Films of 2013, with an additional 18 films listed more than once, and therefore worthy of an Honorable Mention.

That said, please don’t stop at only the top two lists, but explore the individual writers’ picks, as there are far more films worth checking out. Here’s the overall Top Films of 2013 and Honorable Mentions followed by, in alphabetical order by writer, the individual picks for their Top Films of 2013…

(number of top lists film appears on in parentheses)

  1. Her (7)
  2. 12 Years a Slave (6)
  3. Gravity (6)
  4. Nebraska (5)
  5. Short Term 12 (5)
  6. The Act of Killing (4)
  7. Stories We Tell (4)
  8. Upstream Color (4)

(number of top lists film appears on in parentheses)

  1. Blackfish (3)
  2. Captain Phillips (3)
  3. Inside Llewyn Davis (3)
  4. Mud (3)
  5. Spring Breakers (3)
  6. Twenty Feet From Stardom (3)
  7. Wolf of Wall Street (3)
  8. After Tiller (2)
  9. Before Midnight (2)
  10. Blue Is The Warmest Color (2)
  11. The Crash Reel (2)
  12. Don Jon (2)
  13. Escape from Tomorrow (2)
  14. Fruitvale Station (2)
  15. In a World… (2)
  16. The Place Beyond the Pines (2)
  17. The Spectacular Now (2)
  18. This Is The End (2)

Jessica Baxter
It was a good year for the ladies, many of whom helmed pictures which had very little to do with fairy tale romance.

  1. Her – Spike Jonez isn’t the most prolific filmmaker, but what he lacks in quantity, he makes up for in quality. His first script is just as rich, unique and thought-provoking as anything Charlie Kaufman or Dave Eggars has written and this late entry into the 2013 ring dominates the competition.
  2. Stories We Tell – Sarah Polley is a brilliant filmmaker with an extremely unique style. Her third film is less a biography about the mother she lost when she was 11 and more a visual poem about memory, perspective and legacy.
  3. The Place Beyond the Pines – Cianfrance assembled the perfect cast (including but not limited to Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper) for his follow-up to Blue Valentine. It’s a gripping meditation on paternal identity and fuzzy morality.
  4. Don Jon – Exceedingly smart script, pitch-perfect performances and the tightest editing this side of a music video. Joe Gor-Lev is a true Renaissance man.
  5. The To Do List – Too long we have settled for either the John Hughes romantic version of adolescence or the horn-ball sex romps like Porky’s in which women are nothing more than set pieces and plot devices. Writer/director Maggie Carey’s vastly underrated debut shines a light on an under-represented female archetype: the intellectual oddball who just wants to get laid already.
  6. The Punk Singer – Sini Anderson’s rock doc is more than just a portrait of Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna. It’s also a feminist history lesson and a passionate polemic on cutting society on its bullshit.
  7. Spring Breakers – Harmony Korine has never been one of my favorites, but his version of Girls Gone Horribly Wild is a fabulous exception. It’s part social satire, part XX chromosomal companion piece to the parental nightmare, We Need to Talk About Kevin. I loved every squirm-inducing minute. Perhaps ironically, this film also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.
  8. The Heat – Writer Katie Dippold brings the same balance of witty wackiness and heart that she employs on TV’s Parks and Recreation to Paul Feig’s follow-up to Bridesmaids. Perhaps someday, The Heat will prove a mediocre example of female buddy cop films. But seeing as how it’s currently the only entry, it automatically rules.
  9. In A World… – Writer/director/star Lake Bell’s film is the hilariously satirical and well-constructed story of aspiring voice-over actress struggling for recognition in the male-dominated field.
  10. Teddy Bears – Debut black comedy from writer/director Thomas Beatty, co-directed with his wife, Rebecca Fishman with a script that is loosely based on an event in their pre-marriage relationship. Though the plot resembles a broad sitcom premise, the resulting film is anything but broad. A group of extremely capable actors (many of whom have done sitcoms) play it straight, and find the humor in grief-inspired downward spirals.

As usual, I haven’t gotten to see everything on my list. So here are some films I’m 90% sure I will love, even though I haven’t seen them:

  • Nebraska – Alexander Payne is usually quite competent and I will watch anything Will Forte has had a hand in. Bonus: grizzled old man protagonist!
  • I Am Divine – It would be hard to f**k up a documentary about John Water’s #1 Muse.
  • Inside Llewyn Davis – The Coens have only one transgression to their name thus far: 2004’s The Ladykillers. I have no reason to believe this will be anything other than great.

Mark Bell

Narrative Features

Documentary Features

Short Films

Brad Cook

Top DVD and Blu-ray Releases of 2013
I’m the outlier among the Film Threat crew: Work and family commitments tend to keep me from staying current with new releases (I’m a Spielberg fan and I *still* haven’t seen Lincoln), so I catch up on what I can on DVD and Blu-ray, which means that’s all I review for this site. And even then I tend to be woefully behind on new stuff (see my previous parenthetical).

So I told Mark I’d put together some thoughts on my favorite DVD and Blu-ray releases of this year. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition: Shout! Factory puts out a new “MST3K” set quarterly, but each one will usually set you back 40 or 50 bucks, so I realize not everyone can keep up with the series. If you’re a fan, though, this and the 20th Anniversary Edition from five years ago are perfect additions to your home video library. Where the 20th Anniversary set laid the groundwork with a great retrospective documentary, this one digs into the little details, such as the minor characters who popped up here and there.

    This set also contains some other great supplements, along with a bonus disc that contains Joel’s final episode, Mitchell, along with Mike’s first try at hosting the show, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.

    Honorable mention goes to Mystery Science Theater: The Movie, which Shout! released this year on Blu-ray. It has some nice supplements too, but it’s not as in-depth as the 25th Anniversary set.
  • City Lights: I like to describe Criterion’s releases as “a film class in a box,” and this Blu-ray release of Chaplin’s send-off of the Little Tramp is worth of that description too. In addition to a nice crisp print of the film, we get oodles of bonus stuff, including a nice commentary track that’s like listening to a film class lecture. (That may sound deathly dull to some, but I enjoyed it a lot.)
  • Wild Strawberries: Another Criterion film class in a box, this one focuses on one of Ingmar Bergman’s greatest movies. It’s a somber character piece whose primary themes are still relevant more than 50 years after its initial release.
  • The Power of Myth: 25th Anniversary Edition: Thanks to George Lucas’ many public discussions of Joseph Campbell’s influence on Star Wars, we’ve all seen at least parts of this series, probably on PBS way back when. While Athena put this out on DVD just three years ago, they decided that the 25th anniversary merited a new release this year. It’s mostly the same as the last one, but it has some extra bonus features. And if you’ve never seen this series, this is a great set to dive into.

    Like I said in my review, I hope JJ Abrams and company appreciate what Campbell had to say but also look at other storytelling devices beyond the hero’s journey as they embark on a new Star Wars trilogy.
  • Pacific Rim: I thought this movie fell flat, with cardboard characters, silly conflicts, and plenty of plot holes, but the Blu-ray release shows off its amazing visuals. This two-disc set is also packed with enough bonus materials to keep fans happy well into the new year.

KJ Doughton

  1. 12 Years a Slave
    There’s a scene in 12 Years a Slave in which Michael Fassbender, playing a drunken plantation owner who uses religion as an excuse to justify sadism, inexplicably rounds up his slaves. Gathering them into his mansion and demanding that they participate in a “festive” dance, the scene becomes freakishly surreal. The message is clear: undisciplined power can quickly metastasize into madness if left unchecked. Filmmaker Steve McQueen understands the power of silence. There’s a scene of McQueen’s protagonist strung upright by a noose, barely touching ground and avoiding strangulation by standing on exhausted tip-toes. This prolonged image is made all the more obscene by the sight of other plantation slaves continuing their daily routines around him, having long since surrendered to the omnipresent shadow of such inhumanity. 12 Years a Slave also pulls off the amazing feat of offering redemption without being sappy. McQueen suggests uplift while simultaneously acknowledging the continuation of a human plague that will go on to infect lives and destroy generations.
  2. Short Term 12
    Short Term 12 is a beautiful swirl of cathartic emotions. Director Destin Cretton uses delicate, telling details to help us understand the fragile, young souls living within a foster care facility. This could have been a dreadful parade of stereotypes. There’s a sullen black rapper, a seething female “cutter,” and a supervisor who identifies too closely with her clients. Sound clichéd? Not on your life. Cretton’s kids, and the staffers who give their hearts and souls to these damaged masses, are smart, complicated artists of emotion, their tangled thoughts expressed through fierce poetic release. When a despondent street kid purges his hurt through a raging, rhythmic rant, the hairs will stand up on your neck. Cretton debunks the myth that all foster parents are evil oppressors or twisted villains, and applauds the exhausting emotional tolls weathered by foster home caregivers. Short Term 12 also examines the impenetrable scars that harden hearts when abuse victims fail to deal with their issues.
  3. Captain Phillips
    When Captain Phillips set sail from the docks of Hollywood, it reassured us that great movies can still surface amidst the film-by-committee dreck churned out by big studios. Yes, Captain Phillips is a big-budget action flick. But at its core, this is a sensitive, thoughtful story. While desperate Somalian pirates are manipulated by warlords into a high-seas crime spree, ordinary men muster up extraordinary courage to defend their watercraft. Director Paul Greengrass grounds his film in reality, even as he masterfully ratchets up anxiety towards a climactic burst of violence that’s abrupt, cruel, and shocking. For all its muscle and might, Captain Phillips ultimately ends not with a bang, but with the whimper of a human hero collapsing from post- traumatic stress. As the credits roll, we’re not in the mood to cheer… only relieved that the film’s bubble of agonizing, expertly-sustained tension has finally burst.
  4. Nebraska
    Meet Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), a disheveled, wispy-haired wreck of a man passively resigned to his impending mortality. But after receiving a scam sweepstakes letter announcing that he’s the recipient of a million dollar prize, fire is re-ignited in his emaciated belly. Shaking off the residue of dementia and alcoholism just long enough to take on one last mission in life, Woody treks from Montana to Nebraska to claim what he believes is a legitimate fortune. David (Will Forte), his thirty-something, sad-sack son, smells fraud but agrees to drive his determined dad in hopes of reviving their faltering relationship. There’s an eerie melancholy permeating Nebraska and its sad little Midwestern world, where family members sit passive like undead mummies with formaldehyde in their blood. Outside, spindly trees reach for the sun, like the skeletal hands of a buried witch. Most haunting of all are the film’s bluesy rhythms between grown children and the elderly parents they’re still struggling to understand. Nebraska ends on a note of wise, unsentimental truth: we’re assured that love will prevail, even when it’s buried under years of messy baggage and stunted emotional expression. Silence, in this case, is golden.
  5. Blue Is The Warmest Color
    Blue might be the warmest color, but it’s not the only one featured in Abdellatif Kechiche’s vibrant, blooming garden of a film. We watch two people connect, furiously and unconditionally, then tear apart with a heart-rending sadness that makes our bones ache. With uninhibited realism, Adèle Exarchopoulos plays a tentative, innocent young woman embarking upon a euphoric love affair with an older, more seasoned female soul-mate (Léa Seydoux). Exarchopolous’ heroine is stripped bare – emotionally, physically, and psychologically. We become accustomed to her every movement and mannerism: the pouty lips, chipmunk smile, unkempt hair (repeatedly bunched up, then let down, by fidgety hands), and naked skin. We share in both her exhilaration and sadness as love takes its bittersweet course. Years from now, Exarchopolous will either regret this fearless, daring feat, in which her heart and body are forever exposed for all the world to see, or remain proud to have produced one of the most honest, fragile souls ever immortalized on film.
  6. As The Palaces Burn
    Once upon a time, documentaries were calculatedly crafted to educate people on impassioned causes and overlooked events. Maybe expose the unhealthy aspects of fast food, or warn us of the very real risks posed by global warming. In recent years, however, docs have demonstrated that a filmmaker’s plans can be easily thwarted by fate. As they say, life happens. As The Palaces Burn follows Lamb of God, a musically brutal heavy metal band from Virginia. We’re invited on tour to celebrate heavy metal’s transcendent, cathartic power, watching it pulsate across the globe to unite fans from nations otherwise awash in religious and political unrest. Before you can cast a devil’s horn sign at the screen, however, Don Argott’s film takes a massive, tragic detour. When the band’s singer is inexplicably charged by Prague authorities with manslaughter and thrown into prison, “As the Palaces Burn” becomes something entirely more profound: the towering Rashomon of rock docs. We observe, analyze, and weigh out different perspectives on the alleged crime, and follow one bewildered man down a surreal rabbit-hole of emotional unrest more hellish than the most sinister of metal lyrics.
  7. Her
    During the final stretch of Her, a film about love between a sensitive human nebbish (Joaquin Phoenix) and his Siri-styled Operating System, I felt restless and fidgety. The spell that Spike Jonez’s dazzling film had cast upon me was wearing thin. But until then… what extraordinary magic! Welcome to a near-future where Vengeful Skynet computers don’t exist, and the endless landfills of Wall-E are replaced by urban towers glistening with candy-coating gloss, their interiors slathered in orange-sherbet hues. Still, there’s something lost and lonely in this pleasantly pristine universe. And even though robots haven’t laid waste to civilization, Jonze’s film suggests that artificial intelligence is capable of human heartbreak on a viral level. Phoenix’s soulful hero becomes smitten with Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a non-human Operating System with a sultry, irresistible personality. That she has no body to accompany her inviting conversation might seem a critical conflict, but Her suggests that in many ways, our flesh, and not the formless energy of cyberspace, is the liability. Jonez depicts technology as a repressed, restless mate held back by the complacent limitations of humanity. Perhaps, suggests “Her,” there will come a day when the crashing of one’s hard drive carries more trauma than being jilted by a long-term human lover.
  8. The Crash Reel
    Watch The Crash Reel, Lucy Walker’s superb documentary, and you will never again delight in televised images of skiers and snowboarders wiping out on the slopes. Instead, you’ll grimace and reflect back on the battered body of Kevin Pearce, a 22-year-old snowboarder and Olympic hopeful, after his face has slammed into a stunt ramp during a practice session gone horrible awry. Broken, bleeding, and comatose, Pearce would remain confined to an intensive care unit for 26 days, his ski helmet replaced by a neck brace and tubes. The brilliantly acrobatic athlete had sustained a career-ending brain injury that would forever alter his life. The Crash Reel follows Pearce’s recovery, but really isn’t about miraculous comebacks. It’s about remaining true to one’s passion, while honoring the love of family. And despite a “happy” ending in which Pearce appears to be at peace with his limitations, the film asks a troubling question: Can a warrior hard-wired for thrills ever truly feel whole without the ability to perform at the levels he once defined? Only time will tell.
  9. Furever
    Furever, the always-thoughtful, sometimes-absurd, and completely amazing documentary by Amy Finkel, reveals the astonishing steps taken by humans to mourn and remember their beloved house pets. Step into Finkel’s visual kennel and become enlightened to our society’s $52 billion dollar love affair with domesticated animals – one which continues well into the afterlife. When it comes time to grieve these furry soul-mates, contemporary methods of memorializing are extreme. Cremated pet ashes might become glass-blown “memory beads,” diamond rings, fertilizer, vinyl records, fireworks displays, tattoos, and even gunpowder. And I haven’t even mentioned the film’s forays into freeze-drying, mummification, and cloning of these furry friends. Wisely, Finkel passes no judgment on her distraught subjects and the lengths they will go to maintain connections with lost pets. When a gentle-eyed Seattle man says of his deceased cat, “We’re attached from the souls,” it’s testimony to her deep empathy for these unique individuals. Furever made me ponder both the fragility of the human condition, and the awesome balm that pets provide to all of us.
  10. Good Ol’ Freda
    Flash back to Liverpool, England in 1961. Freda Kelly was a teenaged secretary who blew off steam by watching The Beatles during their early club gigs. Spotted by band management and offered the job of secretary and fan club president, Freda would join the Fab Four’s inner circle for the duration of their 11-year career. Good Ol’ Freda, Ryan White’s trivia-packed documentary, is certainly indispensable fodder for Beatles fanatics. But it’s also a commentary on the universal power of respect, integrity, and loyalty, even within the raucous, untamed landscapes of rock ‘n roll. Kelly is presented as fiercely protective of the band, which makes her plentiful recollections seem all the more honest and intimate. Asked if she ever dated a member of the band, Kelly responds with a simple “Pass.” But as her defensive poker face softens into a delighted, sheepish grin, we’re left to ponder the details behind her magical mystery tour with John, Paul, Ringo, and George. It’s a moment more delightfully memorable – and infinitely more meaningful – than a landfill’s worth of trashy tabloids.

Phil Hall

  • The Book of Jane. Antero Alli’s profound drama on the friendship between an enigmatic homeless woman and an emotionally brittle professor offers a wealth of challenges to subjects ranging from gender empowerment to emotional attachment.
  • Charulata – The retro release of this year is this long-overdue restored version of Satyajit Ray’s 1964 classic about a sheltered woman’s rocky journey to intellectual and emotional self-determination. The Criterion Collection, which released this film on DVD and Blu-ray, deserves special praise for making this and other long-unseen films by Ray’s available to a new generation of film lovers.
  • 55 Socks – Animator Co Hoedeman brings uncommon sensitivity to this adaptation of the Marie Jacobs poem on survival during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
  • Innocence Abandoned: Street Kids of Haiti – Young Man Kang’s documentary offers a harrowing view of how seemingly benevolent nonprofits have exploited orphaned boys in today’s Haiti.
  • Isolated – Justin LePera’s remarkable documentary follows a group of carefree surfers whose search for the perfect wave takes them to the Indonesian territory of West Papua – and into an unexpected political minefield.
  • Kiburi – Justin Melillo created this short, sweet, irresistible 3D animated film about a lost lion cub befriended by a family of fireflies.
  • The Loss – Turkish filmmaker Mete Sozer crafted a wonderful short film that questions whether time actually heals all wounds.
  • The Painter – Thomas K. Delson helmed this wonderfully eerie short drama about a housepainter who turns psychotic following his role in a violent love triangle. Needless to say, the painter’s approach to home decoration will not be seen on HGTV.
  • Protector of the Kingdom – Kelly DiMauro’s short drama on the heated confrontation between a reckless teenager and her beleaguered stepmother was fueled with an intensity and maturity that too often lacking in many contemporary indie films.
  • Real Change – Adam Michael Becker’s documentary short on the lives of homeless men in Seattle offers a poignant and disturbing view of contemporary poverty.

Amy R. Handler

  1. Gravity
  2. Her
  3. Gabrielle
  4. The Hunt
  5. Pieta
  6. Girl on a Bicycle
  7. 12 Years a Slave
  8. Mud
  9. The Bling Ring
  10. The Act of Killing

Rick Kisonak

  1. 12 Years a SlaveGravity (tie)
  2. Her
  3. Enough Said
  4. This Is the End
  5. Frances Ha
  6. Captain Phillips
  7. Nebraska (Honorable Mention: Will Forte)
  8. World War Z
  9. Upstream Color
  10. Fruitvale Station

What better place than my end-of-the-year wrap to note that 2013 was a year in which the end itself proved a major trend? I don’t have a clue what was in the pop culture water (global warming, the NSA, the Jonas Brothers break up?) but the end of the world as we know it featured prominently in enough films for a festival:

End-of-the-world-a-thons like The World’s End, After Earth, It’s a Disaster, Oblivion, Snowpiercer, Elysium, The Colony and This Is the End-which on November 11 ironically just happened to be the last title ever rented by Blockbuster. Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder could be about the end of the world too-who can say? One thing we can say with certainty, and sadness, is that it just happened to be the last title ever reviewed by Roger Ebert.

The end, it became painfully clear this year, has come for film itself with venues across the country facing a ticking Go Digital or Go Dark time bomb. For many small theaters and drive-ins (did you know the country’s smallest is in my adopted home state of Vermont?) the $70,000-$100,000 conversion cost means a way of life and business and art for all practical purposes is coming to an end. Hey, how to kick things off on an upbeat note, huh?

Most Stellar Performance
Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. Not. As I said last year when everybody was fawning over Denzel Washington’s performance in Flight, “He’s won two Oscars. Playing a drunk probably didn’t rank among the greatest challenges of his career.” Blanchett is likewise an Oscar winner and her portrayal of a fallen Park Avenue power wife who chugs Stoli like it’s Perrier and grows delusional in Woody Allen’s half-baked Streetcar riff has been given way more awards season credit than it deserves.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey Greta Gerwig, Bruce Dern and Joaquin Phoenix all impressed the hell out of me this year but the performance that pierced me was James Gandolfini’s. Not because it was his last-it wasn’t-but because it was brilliant, hilarious, affecting and revelatory in every respect. Enough Said.

Most Annoying Performance
Sean Penn was pretty fricking annoying in Gangster Squad. Ditto Benedict Cumberbatch in The Fifth Estate, Inside Llewyn Davis’ Oscar Isaac and everybody in The Hangover Part III but I’ve got to go with everything the pod version of Robert De Niro did this year-pandering paycheck parts in The Family, Last Vegas, Killing Season (direct-to-video!) and The Big Wedding-one of 2013’s biggest flops according to Forbes.

Best Comedy
2013 kept the end times and the good times coming with high quality comedies (I’m counting comedy-dramas) like The Way Way Back, The Sapphires, The Heat (not a bad year for Bullock) and Noah Baumbach’s moving ode to inertia, Frances Ha, along with This Is the End, which would’ve been my choice for Best Comedy if I hadn’t seen and fallen madly in love with Enough Said. I can’t say enough about how wonderful Nicole Holofcener’s latest is in every conceivable way. Elaine and Tony-in a million years would you have thought you’d live to see this match up? And see it work so perfectly?

Lamest Comedy
The Conjuring. Because, surely, they had to be joking with those super-hokey old school scares. That aside, I’d have to say it didn’t get a whole lot lamer than Bad Grandpa. For the first time, a Jackass feature went for Punk’d-style hidden camera yuks. My suggestion: Next time hide the whole thing.

Biggest Letdown
Well, Blue Jasmine sort of goes without saying. Allen’s last two releases have represented career lows. I don’t know why it’s not obvious to more reviewers. Hopefully he’ll pull out of this late career tailspin but, since his previous film blew, I can’t say I had high hopes to let down. The Fifth Estate, Jobs and Renoir all should’ve done better by their complex, culturally significant subjects and I was not impressed by Inside Llewyn Davis. But the biggest bringdown for me was simply the fact that yet another year went by without a new movie from Jack Nicholson.

Biggest Surprise
A.) That someone is finally trying to entice Jack back and B.) that, of all the people you might think would take on this mission impossible, the guy trying to make it happen is everybody’s favorite couch-bouncing Scientologist. Which inspired me to tweet: “No More Tom Cruise Jokes,” World Promises, “If You Pull This Off:” Star tries to lure Nicholson back to work.

Most Unnecessary Remake
Carrie. When somebody better than Brian De Palma comes along, then you start remaking timeless masterpieces like that. And not a minute before.

Most Necessary
CBGB. The timeless music that came out of that place deserves a screen chronicle less forgettable than this cheesy, braindead embarrassment.

Film That Was So Forgettable I Literally Didn’t Remember I’d Reviewed It Until Doing This Year End Review
I swear I’m not making this up: I read something about somebody believing the film Dead Man Down deserved nomination in some category and, drawing a blank, I went to Rotten Tomatoes to find out who’s in it and what the movie’s about. What do I find staring back at me but my very own review.

Best New Name to Watch in Front of the Camera
You probably didn’t catch Mickey Sumner’s Patti Smith impersonation in the above mentioned CBGB. If you had, though, there’s no way you would have recognized her as Greta Gerwig’s BFF Sophie in the fabulous Frances Ha. Sumner’s a woman of a million faces and an infinitely more inventive, nuanced actor than her dad (himself impersonated in CBGB), Sting.

Best New Name to Watch Behind the Camera
A close one. JC Chandor’s second feature, All Is Lost, is such a 180 from his 2011 debut, Margin Call, you wonder what the writer-director can’t do. With his riveting, heart-rending fact-based debut, Fruitvale Station, writer-director Ryan Coogler took both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance. Finally, while Netflix is hardly a new name, what the company is suddenly pulling off behind the camera is completely unprecedented. It used to rent movies and TV shows. Now it makes them. And very, very well.

Most Inexplicable Hit
Philomena for all practical purposes is this year’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with the minor difference that it blows like Duke Ellington’s horn section in hell, flames shooting out the saxophones and the devil doing the mashed potato in reverse.

Apparently audiences are programmed at this point to assume that anything featuring Dame Judi Dench automatically possesses high artistic merit. The problem is the actress totally pulls a De Niro here, trading on her legend in the service of a profitable triviality. I’ve seen Lifetime movies with more artistic integrity.

Am I the only one who finds tasteless the cynical way the film’s creators made the patronizing decision to repackage the true life tale of an Irish woman’s tragedy, her lifetime of loss and regret into a feel-good buddy film offering yuks at the unsophisticated biddy’s expense? And completely fabricate the main characters’ trip to the states? Evidently.

Most Inexplicable Flop
There was a time when Spike Lee could do no wrong. It was a long time ago. These days the embittered auteur can’t buy a hit. $30 million should’ve bought a movie as stylishly wacked as Oldboy some overdue love but, with ticket sales of slightly more than $2 million, it wound up one of the biggest flops of 2013 instead . On the bright side, it’s a smash next to last year’s Red Hook Summer which definitely did not do the right thing at the box office bringing in $300,000.

Freshest, Most Creative Screenplay
This one’s a no-brainer because the past year gave us a brainy, heartbreaking new movie from Spike Jonze. His films are like comets. They don’t come around often but, when they do, you want to go out and get a look. That’s certainly the case with Her, a story of the love that blossoms between a lonely man and a sophisticated digital operating system or OS. The filmmaker and his stars, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, do the most fantastic work of their careers. This is one you don’t want to delete from your holiday list.

Most Formulaic, Cliche-Infested Screenplay
James Wan’s 2004 breakthrough, Saw, was the definition of torture porn. His latest, on the other hand, was simply torture. There’s a reason so many reviewers described The Conjuring as a throwback to horror films of the 70s. The script appropriates tropes and motifs from a decade’s worth of movies-and, in the case of one cheeseball chestnut, offers a virtual remake: Welcome to The Amityville Horror 2.0. Literally every one of this story’s elements is lifted verbatim from that 1979 hit. It’s scary how shamelessly the director ransacked the original. And totally got away with it.

Best Omen of Civilization’s Impending Downfall
I might’ve said Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring until I saw Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, a portrait of four female college students who embrace a break in routine as an opportunity to leave behind not only reading, writing and arithmetic but their sense of right and wrong. And I’m not talking about taking drugs. I’m talking about taking lives. Coppola’s film depicted events which actually happened. The creepy thing is Korine’s story of girls gone wild shows us stuff that, while unthinkable, is no longer unimaginable.

Best Movie With No Movie Stars
Upstream Color. Not only did it have no stars; it had no discernible story. It was so out there it made Mulholland Drive look like Mary Poppins. Plus there’s a guy whose head is made out of material from the sun. Of course, Vermont comes up. A fact I doubt the Tourism Bureau will jump on. I loved it. I didn’t understand a single minute but I loved it!

Worst Movie With an All-Star Cast
One movie would be hard pressed to squeeze in more A-listers than August: Osage County. You got your Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch to name just the top tier. Plus the play it’s based on won a Pulitzer. The movie charges out of the gate like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? only with offspring that aren’t imaginary but fizzles into such dysfunctional family formula you end up wishing they were.

Who Would We Like to See More of in the Movies These Days?
Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman have stopped making films and I wish they’d reconsider. On the other hand, Timothy Bottoms-who peaked in 73 with The Paper Chase-has made a new movie or two nearly every year since then. He’s great; we just never get to see them because they’re not. Somebody should give the deserving actor his Bruce Dern moment.

Who Would We Like to See Less of in the Movies These Days?
De Niro goes without saying. Daniel Brühl’s made like 13 or 14 pictures since Inglourious Basterds and he’s just gotten less fun with every one. After Rush (#81 on Box Office Mojo’s domestic scorecard) and The Fifth Estate (officially declared “The Year’s Biggest Flop” by Forbes), something tells me we’ll be seeing a lot less of the Brühlster. I can live with that.

Best Documentary
Blackfish, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite‘s infuriating/enlightening report on the consequences of keeping creatures as sentient as Orcas in conditions literally capable of driving them insane. Thanks to the film, SeaWorld is the new Sun City. At press time, the list of performers who’ve canceled after watching it include Willie Nelson, Heart, The Barenaked Ladies and Joan Jett and is getting longer by the day. A close second: Dave Grohl’s Sound City. Apparently the guy can do anything.

Worst Picture
There was no shortage of big screen boners this year but the low point of awards season has to include such well financed failures as Stories We Tell, Philomena and Inside Llewyn Davis (you watch; almost nobody’s going to see that). Those look like The Godfather though next to Saving Mr. Banks, which isn’t just the most cloying and annoyingly pinheaded film in its star’s career but in the entire year as well. Somebody in his circle should’ve spent more time thinking about saving Mr. Hanks.

Best Picture
American Hustle, so far as I can discern, is a con. I’ve watched it three times and I still don’t see what all the buzz is about. It’s Donnie Brasco with more cleavage and sillier hair. Very disappointing. On the flip side, some films were way better than we were lead to expect in 2013. World War Z, for example, had been written off as an over budget bomb before it’s release then promptly turned out to be an instant classic. Nebraska, Captain Phillips, Frances Ha, Enough Said, Her and Fruitvale Station, among others, were all top drawer but, for me, the year comes down to a pair of remarkable pictures-one in which human beings do amazing things in the present and another in which they do appalling things in the past. It came down to a contest between beauty and ugliness, between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. Call me a cop out but I call it a tie.

Silver Medals, Timeless Questions, The Second Worst Thing Ever Done to Nelson Mandela & Assorted Final Thoughts
I’m not telling you the news when I note that more than ten exceptional movies were released in the course of the past twelve months. Worth mentioning-and going out of your way to catch-additionally are two blistering documentary indictments from one guy: Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars and War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State, both directed by Robert (Koch Brothers Exposed) Greenwald. You’ll never see Obama the same way after seeing these.

It would be a mistake to miss Twenty Feet from Stardom, Lone Survivor, A Hijacking (the flipside to Captain Phillips), All is Lost (the flipside to Gravity), A Place at the Table, Mud, Before Midnight or The Great Beauty.

Several performances were more extraordinary than the pictures which contained them: Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now, Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club and Ashton Kutcher in Jobs, for example. Seriously, the dude did not blow.

While they weren’t mysteries, a number of films left me with unanswered questions: How did Nymphomaniac manage to make virtually no one’s ten best list? It got great headlines like The Guardian’s “Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Arouses Debate (as a Really Bad Porn Movie).” It has a penis montage. It’s almost 300 minutes long. OK, maybe I answered that one for myself.

On the other hand, how exactly do you screw up a movie about Nelson Mandela-especially one based on his own book? Scott Tobias perhaps put it best in his Dissolve review, writing “As a lesson in how not to make a historical biopic, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom proves remarkably complete: It’s a dull, glossy, uncomplicated portrait of a man whose personal and political legacy is marked by serene idealism and shrewd calculation.” Also it probably wouldn’t have hurt to choose a director (Justin Chadwick) whose background isn’t almost exclusively in TV. Even the week-long, round-the-clock media obsession with its subject’s passing couldn’t give this bloated dud a bump. It was DOA.

In Out of the Furnace, Woody Harrelson plays a hillbilly maniac with the delightfully fitting handle Harlan DeGroat. The actor’s pretty much perfected the type with his work in movies like No Country for Old Men, Rampart and Seven Psychopaths so we’re not surprised when he fails to play well with others. My question concerns the film’s much discussed opening scene in which he gets drunk, turns on the date he’s brought to a drive-in and proceeds to force a frank down her throat against her choking protests.

Harlan’s a meth kingpin in a dirt poor backwoods toilet of a town. Everybody there knows him. Most, we learn, live in fear of him. So my question for writer-director Scott Cooper is what did this woman expect-the rose ceremony from The Bachelor? For me, not the year’s most believable moment.

Noah Lee
2013 has had an intriguing mix of fantastic film releases. Narrowing down what I thought was the best was easy for about half of my picks, but then sublimely tricky for the rest. My usual plan of attack when tackling a year end list is to choose not what I think is technically the best, but what resonated emotionally with me. Unfortunately, I do admit that I think this year is going to show a lot of really similar picks from critics across the board, and I don’t feel I have many surprises contained in mine.

  1. Gravity – Very rarely do I spend time revisiting movies theatrically and after seeing Gravity, and being left nearly breathless, when it played at Fantastic Fest, I’m made absolutely sure to go see it again as soon as it was released. I had doubts that Cuarón’s latest would have the same effect upon a second viewing but I was ecstatic to find that not only was I equally moved but electrified and entranced by this beautiful technical achievement. Sandra Bullock is as outstanding as the team that brought space to life. This is next level movie making that proves that we can still be left in awe.
  2. Mariachi Gringo – Almost certainly this is a movie most will overlook. Given my roots growing up in West Texas, surrounded by the sounds of the Mariachi at almost every taco joint or even on the intercoms at stores, Mariachi Gringo really resonated with me. Shawn Ashmore shines in his performance as a midwesterner who befriends an older Mexican man and has his love of playing guitar rekindled. He learns that he has a deep love and respect for this culturally classic music and ventures to Mexico to become a Mariachi himself. Ashmore learned to play the music and even beyond that stunning feat, manages to put in a very heartfelt, genuine performance alongside the lovely Martha Higareda. I love this film and hope more people give it a chance.
  3. Spring Breakers – I’m an unadulterated fan of Korine’s work, even when he’s at his most esoteric. Although I missed this at SXSW I made absolute sure to cram it into my eyeholes once it hit the theaters. The most mature film he’s done, while still pushing the boundaries of how he tells stories, this neon, Floridan, teenage nightmare is endlessly quotable, rewatchable and works on multiple levels.
  4. John Dies at the End – There are few directors working who could handle a story like this and to have Don Coscarelli take the helm, there couldn’t be a more perfect fit. A movie I’ve revisited a few times and one I love to just throw on when killing time, it’s hilarious, weird, and captures the heart of the novel the best that any visual media possibly can.
  5. Resolution – Each year I love having people tell me about new, up and coming directors working in horror. Last year my favorite of the year was Absentia from Mike Flanagan. This year the directing duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead have Resolution, an unconventional, unsettling horror film. Above and beyond the slick studio releases (Evil Dead, The Conjuring) and even better than other indie releases I enjoyed this year (You’re Next, The Battery, V/H/S/2), Resolution builds from a simple tale of a friend trying to get his old high school friend off drugs into a mind bending and meta exploration of the conventions of horror films. It’s anchored by two inspiring performances from its leads Vinny Curran and Peter Cilella and remains fascinating from frame one to the credits.
  6. Upstream Color – Upon first seeing this latest film from Shane Carruth, a director who continues to challenge the audiences with his unconventional and inventive storytelling, I was left feeling both confounded but yet enamoured with what unfurled on the screen. This is not a film that can be easily deciphered on its first viewing, and maybe not even on second, but is so beautifully assembled, with a fascinating performance from Amy Seimitz, that once you come to understand it, feels utterly and beautifully simple, much like it’s message about the circle of life. Carruth shines here as an actor, as well as a director and he remains someone that makes filmmaking exciting.
  7. Twenty Feet From Stardom – SXSW is home to a stunning documentary lineup and this year was no exception. I really loved Milius but it hasn’t surfaced with a release as of yet, and I Am Divine and Mr. Angel are exceptional in their own right. But, beyond that, there are two documentaries that have stood out in my mind and both are on this list. Twenty Feet From Stardom shines a light on the backup singers and we get to see the impact of ladies like Darlene Love, Táta Vega, and Merry Clayton upon some of the best musicians of our time. It is a heart warming, uplifting experience. The movie is so well formed and beautifully constructed that I’m unsurprised to see it showing up on the year end award nominations.
  8. Drug War – I spent many hours this year sitting in theaters or at home watching the films of Johnnie To. His Hong Kong action and gangster films are often times are shockingly improvised as he goes along, and they are still absolute must sees. This year he sticks out yet again with Drug War, a story of drug lord who is forced to betray his accomplices by an aggressive cop. This is a taut, intense thriller punctuated with some amusing moments of comedy to offset the heavy atmosphere. It’s really To at his best and when that happens, the audience is in for film gold.
  9. Big Bad Wolves – Directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papashudo burst onto the genre scene with Israel’s first (and most excellent) horror movie Rabies back in 2011, so expectations were high for their new movie when it hit the festival circuit in 2013. And it delivers. Not only is it an improvement in storytelling but Big Bad Wolves excels on every level. It’s beautifully shot, has a magnificent soundtrack, tight performances and is easy the best thriller of the year.
  10. Rewind This! – The other documentary that I adored this year is one that I have to disclose I have ties to, being friends with the filmmakers. That being said, it is still one of the best docs I’ve seen this year, solidly constructed, funny and eye opening, as it focuses on the rise of VHS as a medium and the impact it had on the home video revolution. It’s not overly dense but is packed with so many entertaining interviews from filmmakers and fans of the format that it’s one of those perfect marriages of subject and enjoyment, much like King of Kong.

Don R. Lewis

  1. Short Term 12
    I saw this film at SXSW last March and was totally blown away. Not only was I moved to tears several times during the film when it was over, I kind of felt like something had changed inside of me. For the better. Powerful films can do that to you and Short Term 12 is incredibly powerful.

    Much like Destin Cretton’s debut feature, the horribly underseen and underappreciated I Am Not a Hipster, Short Term 12 is just full of honesty, sadness, truth and best of all, heart. You won’t find a movie this year with more heart than Short Term 12. Plus the performances across the board (particularly Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr. and newbie Keith Stanfield) are naturalistic and simply wonderful. Obviously I see quite a few movies throughout the year and the stories and imagery in Short Term 12 have stuck with me for a long, long time.
  2. Inside Llewyn Davis
    Every year I’m lucky enough to receive all sorts of Oscar screeners. Some of the films are good, some are bad and inevitably something mediocre snows me by kicking my a*s in the moment and making me fall in love with it and thus put it into my Top 10 of the year. Inevitably I look back at my list later and wonder what the hell I was thinking. So I vowed this year to be more honest and thorough and not let some shiny new Oscar bait mess with my list. Happily I can say that Inside Llewyn Davis is not that kind of film. It’s an amazing, entertaining and thought provoking film that I’ve watched four times and am ready to watch it again. And I’m not even “THAT” big of a Coen Brothers fan.

    I love the film for what it is but I also love the conversations it’s spawned across the internets. It makes you think and question. It causes discussion and disagreement but thus far, all have been pretty well balanced and argued, a rarity in this day and age. I think a film this good just demands to be seen and discussed and I wish more films were able to create such intelligent discourse. Perhaps it’s because Inside Llewyn Davis is so accessible but it’s many mysteries remain in your head days later. Great film!
  3. Nebraska
    For a long time Alexander Payne’s Nebraska was edging it’s way onto my s**t-list, not my top ten. After many years of covering film festivals and reviewing movies, it’s easy to get sick and tired of a film trying as hard as it can to get awards season buzz. Nebraska seemed to be playing every end-of-year film festival and the shadowy black and white poster featuring a frizzy haired Bruce Dern was plastered everywhere. Luckily I decided to give this film a chance and I’m glad I did as it easily became one of my favorites of the year.

    Bruce Dern is fantastic as a man I swear was plucked from my dad’s side of the family. Grouchy, silent, lost and wandering. In fact the scenes of Dern’s family all gathered together around the TV reminded me so much of Christmas’s past I felt like someone might owe me a story credit. But that’s what really sells the film for me: the realism. These are simple, normal people. This is a small story that’s big to them but really, no one else. While Dern is getting all the buzz it’s Will Forte’s straight-man to daddy Dern’s grizzled fogey and audacious and raunchy momma June Squibb that is really the glue that holds the film together. Plus, it’s incredibly funny, touching and sad.
  4. The Spectacular Now
    Much like Short Term 12 James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now punched me right in the heart but for totally different reasons. While I definitely related to the main character Sutter (Miles Teller) who has a certain charm but does his very best to squander it all away by becoming a self-destructive, near-parody of himself, this film on the whole is just a wonderful peek into adolescence about to become adulthood. While it’s been quite some time since I was on the precipice of manhood, this film brought those feelings flooding back.

    Shailene Woodley as the sweet and innocent Aimee is a perfect mirror for Sutter to hold up to himself as his self-destruction and selfishness have apparently never been seen before. But will this new love and the experiences it brings really change anything? And that’s what I really appreciated about the film, we never know if Sutter will get his s**t together. But then again, do any of us really know when someone will get their s**t together?
  5. Spring Breakers
    Harmony Korine’s amazing and bizarre peek into the lives of young, vapid, drug addled youth culture kind of sent me into a rabbit hole of exploration. You can read that here and here. And as much as I enjoyed the film and loved the need to dig deeper at what the film is about, I still think I might be full of s**t. Similarly, I think Harmony Korine might be full of s**t about three quarters of the time so it all equals out. My point is, on a surface level, Spring Breakers is an incredibly weird and entertaining movie that will live on in cult infamy. But I still think there’s something more to the film as is evidenced in those articles linked above. But as the father of a young girl, I can’t really bring myself to watch it again to see if I’m right.
  6. The Conjuring
    Simply put: this movie was the roughest experience I’ve had in a movie theater in quite some time. It was physically jarring and thrilling at the same time not to mention, scary as hell. While I’ve yet to see any of director James Wan’s Saw movies, I loved Insidious even though is kind of falls off when it basically becomes a first-person point of view movie of a haunted house ride at a carnival. Not so with The Conjuring. Wan pulls a wire taut and slowly drags his cinematic nails across a chalkboard as the horrors onscreen unfold. The Conjuring made me literally cover my eyes and when the credits rolled, I was sweaty, exhausted and needed a drink. Some might say that’s typically how I am anyway, and they may be right. But in this case, I can genuinely say The Conjuring scared me better than any movie has in ages. It’s a masterful look at how to make a movie scary.
  7. Upstream Color
    I’m nearing my one year anniversary of first seeing this film and I’ve seen it three times total. Each time I see it, it becomes something more but things I thought I had figured out fall away. It’s a malleable movie that’s not just something you can watch and throw away like so much in entertainment. And even though I started this paragraph off tying into the idea that Upstream Color is some kind of Rubik’s Cube of an experience, it’s actually not all that difficult to decipher. The key is letting go and enjoying the experience of watching a unique way of visual storytelling. Then sit back and think about it later, much like one does with poetry. So much was lost on me in terms of characters and feelings the first time I saw the film and going back has really helped to show me a heartbreaking tale of identity and loneliness.
  8. Frozen
    I’m frankly a little disappointed more people aren’t raving about Frozen. Sure, everyone seems to like it and it’s doing well at the box office, but this film is such a huge moment (dare I say, game changer?) in the evolution of Disney- particularly their cash cow “Princess” lines- that it deserves to be discussed.

    For one, this is the first animated movie at Disney that’s been directed by a woman which seems crazy, but it’s true. Second, the film takes everything Disney Princesses have taught us and flips it. And they do it in a pretty incredible way as well. I don’t want to spoil the movie but go see it and tell me if I’m wrong. Frozen is a movie about female empowerment and support, not one about striving for seeming perfection as so many previous Disney princess movies before them have been.
  9. Room 237
    It feels a bit unfair for me to include this film since I saw it in 2012, but had it been released last year, it would have made my top ten anyway. There’s was some fear the movie might never see release due to it’s heavy use of scenes and shots from various films. However “fair use” prevailed and now everyone can enjoy one of the best movies ever about art criticism.

    In my eyes the film is basically saying, if you can provide enough insight and “facts” to a film (or song, or book, or painting) you can believe and try to prove that it’s about pretty much anything you want. In Room 237 director Rodney Ascher, using only shots from the movie “The Shining” and other films (Kubrick and otherwise) to show 4 different points of view on what The Shining is “secretly” about. The most compelling (and amazing) scenario is that Stanley Kubrick was hired to fake the moon landing and The Shining is his mea culpa for doing so. Such a great, fun and interesting film, a must-see for cinema fans.
  10. 12 Years a Slave
    Of all the films I was kicking around for my year-end top ten, I had the most trouble with 12 Years a Slave. When I first saw it, I was convinced it was akin to a horror film and not far off from the lowest form of manipulation contained in that genre. Watching it reminded me of “Passion of the Christ” in that we were manipulated to care for a character only to see him physically destroyed for the next two hours. But as time went on, it was the moments of pain and poignancy from the other characters in the film that stuck with me more than the pain and suffering endured by the main character Soloman Northup.

    And don’t get me wrong, without the spectacular performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup, this movie doesn’t work. But throughout the film we see pain and suffering from every angle and there’s no bright spot to be found. Director Steve McQueen’s forte is the body politic so I was also able to come to my senses on this film by holding it up next to his other films (Shame and Hunger) and thus the idea that this was a horrifying movie took the place of it being a “horror” movie. 12 Years a Slave is also an incredibly important film that touches on a subject hidden far too long, I’m just concerned now that the conversation sparked by it has dwindled.

Other favorites from the year in no order…

  • The Way Way Back
  • Lone Survivor
  • Pain and Gain
  • Before Midnight
  • Pacific Rim
  • Frances Ha
  • The Act of Killing
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Her
  • Drinking Buddies
  • We Are What We Are

    • Elias Savada
      This year brought a helluva lot of great films to the multiplex and the art house. For every misguided flop (A Good Day to Die Hard, The Lone Ranger, The Fifth Estate, R.I.P.D., and After Earth among them, with 47 Ronin ending the year as perhaps the biggest piece of flatulence in 2013) thrusting a samurai sword into the box office, there were more than enough big and small gems to make us forget the disasters. In the first six months there was Star Trek Into Darkness (God Bless J.J. Abrams), the magically enchanting Now You See Me, Mud (one of the several marvelous films this year showcasing the talent of Matthew McConaughey), Before Midnight (the final segment of the Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy trilogy), The Place Beyond the Pines and a small dramedy from down under called The Sapphires. The last six months brought enough high-quality output to fill all ten of Oscar’s Best Pictures slots, with a few left over for honorable mention. Herewith, my offerings. A full plate–enough to satisfy everyone!

      Best Narrative Feature

      1. 12 Years a Slave
      2. Gravity
      3. Nebraska
      4. Fruitvale Station
      5. The Way, Way Back
      6. Dallas Buyers Club
      7. Prisoners
      8. Her
      9. Before Midnight
      10. Blue Jasmine
      11. American Hustle
      12. Inside Llewyn Davis
      13. The Wolf of Wall Street
      14. August: Osage County
      15. Mud
      16. The Place Beyond the Pines
      17. The Spectacular Now
      18. Captain Phillips
      19. Star Trek Into Darkness
      20. Now You See Me
      21. Fast & Furious 6
      22. Short Term 12
      23. The Sapphires
      24. Philomena

      Best Director

      1. Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
      2. Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
      3. Spike Jones (Her)
      4. Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
      5. Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club)
      6. Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines)
      7. David O. Russell (American Hustle)
      8. Ethan & Joel Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis)
      9. Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
      10. Denis Villleneuve (Prisoners)
      11. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Way, Way Back)

      Best Actor (Main & Supporting)

      1. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
      2. Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
      3. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
      4. Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
      5. Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
      6. Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station)
      7. Joaquin Phoenix (Her)
      8. James Franco (Spring Breakers)
      9. Matthew McConaughey (Mud)
      10. Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
      11. Christian Bale (American Hustle)
      12. Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace)
      13. Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
      14. Robert Redford (All Is Lost)
      15. Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
      16. Leonardo Di Caprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
      17. Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
      18. Hugh Jackman (Prisoners)
      19. Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners)
      20. Barkjhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
      21. Will Forte (Nebraska)

      Best Actress (Main & Supporting)

      1. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
      2. Sandra Bulloch (Gravity)
      3. Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
      4. Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
      5. Scarlett Johannson (Her)
      6. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
      7. Judi Dench (Philomena)
      8. Brie Larson (Short Term 12)
      9. June Squibb (Nebraska)
      10. Amy Adams (American Hustle)
      11. Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
      12. Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now)
      13. Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)
      14. Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
      15. Margo Martindale (August: Osage County)
      16. Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station)
      17. Allison Janney (The Way, Way Back)

      Best Acting Ensemble

      1. 12 Years a Slave
      2. August: Osage County
      3. American Hustle
      4. The Way, Way Back
      5. Dallas Buyers Club
      6. Mud
      7. Prisoners
      8. Nebraska
      9. The Wolf of Wall Street
      10. Star Trek Into Darkness
      11. The World’s End

      Best Screenplay (Original & Adapted)

      1. John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)
      2. Spike Jonze (Her)
      3. Alfonso Cuaron & Jonas Cuaron (Gravity)
      4. Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight)
      5. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Way, Way Back)
      6. Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now)
      7. Bob Nelson (Nebraska)
      8. Joel & Ethan Cohen (Inside Llewyn Davis)
      9. Jeff Nichols (Mud)
      10. Tracy Letts (August: Osage County)
      11. Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)
      12. Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12)
      13. Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)
      14. Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station)
      15. Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)
      16. Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners)

      Best Animated Feature

      1. Frozen
      2. The Wind Rises
      3. Despicable Me 2
      4. The Croods
      5. Monsters University

      Best Documentary

      1. Blackfish
      2. Twenty Feet From Stardom
      3. Stories We Tell
      4. Mistaken for Strangers
      5. The Act of Killing
      6. Let the Fire Burn
      7. Tim’s Vermeer
      8. Our Nixon
      9. The Crash Reel
      10. Gideon’s Army
      11. Bridegroom
      12. If You Build It
      13. A Will for the Woods
      14. The New Black
      15. We Always Lie to Strangers

      Best Foreign Language Feature

      1. The Hunt
      2. The Broken Circle Breakdown
      3. A Hijacking
      4. Wadjda
      5. The Past
      6. Beyond the Hills
      7. Blue Is the Warmest Color
      8. The Grandmaster
      9. The Great Beauty

      Best Youth Performance
      (under 20 years old at time of filming)

      1. Tye Sheridan (Mud)
      2. Liam James (The Way, Way Back)
      3. Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now)
      4. Waad Mohammed (Wadjda)
      5. Onata Aprile (What Maisie Knew)
      6. Asa Butterfield (Ender’s Game)
      7. Pauline Burlet (The Past)
      8. AnnaSophia Robb (The Way, Way Back)
      9. Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Color)

      Brian Tallerico

      10 Best Narrative Features

      10 Best Documentary Features

      10 Best Lead Performances

      10 Best Supporting Performances

      10 Most Underrated Movies

      John Wildman
      These are my Favorite Films of 2013 list. Collectively, these films thrilled me, encouraged me that filmmakers were trying for a little something extra or different, fascinated me with either real stories of humanity and human spirit at its best or with brilliantly heartbreaking depictions of the same, inspired me with the filmmakers’ artistic invention and innovation or just managed to capture some giddy joy – both behind and in front of the camera.

      1. Sightseers
        Saw it first at Sundance, and then again at Film Comment Selects. This was easily, hands down the most enjoyable film for me this year. Pitch perfect dark humor with a casual, non-self conscious approach to the serial-kill violence emanating from the flowering relationship between the sightseeing couple. My wife and I watched this film four times this year (and bought a region-free Blu-ray player so we could do so), that’s how much we enjoyed it.
      2. Blue Is The Warmest Color
        A NY Film Festival selection, I had a great debate with director Andrea Arnold (FISH TANK) about the appropriateness and necessity of the much talked about lengthy sex scene in the film. Like everything in the film, I found it more than necessary because of the intensity of the “first love” love affair being depicted. It hit me like a gut punch and instantly sent me back to my version of the same, the memories of which I thought I had successfully buried so many years ago. Nope. They were there and Adèle Exarchopoulos and company dredged them back up. Wow.
      3. 12 Years a Slave
        Another NYFF film. Devastating. Which sounds so obvious and trite to say. But it is. There are obvious “want to look away” moments, but the ones that stick with me are the quieter moments of horrific and matter-of-fact inhumane behavior. That was ultimately what continued to resonate for me.
      4. Short Term 12
        This one snuck up on me. So perfectly modest in its goals and yet so successful in achieving them that I wanted to spend more time wit those characters. I gave a damn about them. Each of them – Brie Larson’s, John Gallagher Jr’s and all of those kids. I cared.
      5. Stories We Tell
        A New Directors/New Films selection, I was pre-disposed to like it because I’m a Sarah Polley fan. And yet, it surprised me because the artistry in making the film leapfrogged the story – which had already grabbed me emotionally. It was like being told you had witnessed a magic trick when there was no expectation that was on the program.
      6. After Tiller
        I am an admitted facebook political debater and this film dealt with a topic that I have had multiple debates about in a way that I feel short circuits much of the argument against abortion. By introducing us to the handful of people that are charged with the responsibility to care for the women dealing with arguably the most terrible of scenarios in that realm – late term, the film takes the firebranding out of the “argument” of the topic and places it back where it belongs: with the people actually dealing with it and affected by it.
      7. Her
        The Closing Night selection for NYFF, watching this film was one of those experiences where I felt like I was seeing “something different”. I was very aware that Spike Jonze had ambitions to put something onscreen and explore ideas that I hadn’t really considered. And regardless of how much a filmmaker ultimately succeeds on that front, the attempt is always great.
      8. Only God Forgives
        I think I moderated three different Q&As with Nicolas Winding Refn over the course of a week and a half and watched the film each time prior. And each time I found myself lazerbeaming onto something exciting or entrancing about what he had crafted. Moments of horror, bizarro beauty, fever dream imagery, etc., the film never ceased to fascinate me.
      9. Twenty Feet From Stardom
        Another situation where I spoke to Darlene Love three times over a couple of weeks following screenings at Film Society and plainly and simply, the film is just a joy. And it is a rare joyful experience based not just on the celebration of music (which is always ripe for delivering some “happy” to the audience), but more than that, it is a celebration of some people – like Darlene – that so richly deserved a bright shining spotlight on them AND their talent.
      10. The Wolf of Wall Street and The Act of Killing
        I’m conflicted about these two (They both appeared separately on two previous “Best Of” lists I did.) because I really enjoyed the filmmaking on both fronts, yet I abhor the monsters being portrayed in the films. I enjoyed the ride that Martin Scorsese delivers with his film, and because of that I had knocked Joshua Oppenheimer’s doc completely off my list with the idea that as much as I really appreciated and admired his film, I never had a desire to see it again. Yet, the more I have reflected on the subject, I realize that there are complete and total idiots that are missing and WILL miss the idea that while he didn’t kill anyone, Jordan Belfort is just as disgusting in real life and as worthy of our scorn as the subjects of The Act of Killing.
      11. Gravity
        Shock and Awe: The Movie. I know, the script was so-so and maybe the earth’s reflection in Sandy’s or George’s glass faceplate wasn’t completely correct (for the anal retentive DPs out there), blah, blah, blah. Don’t care. It was a great time in the IMAX movie theater. A legitimate movie event.
      12. The Square
        An NYFF selection. Watching the film, which had been updated since its screening at Sundance was like watching living history unfolding in front of you. Fascinating, involving and shaming/lacking of what is presented to us through our country’s media.
      13. Cutie and the Boxer
        I was late to the party with this one, but I love this couple and my wife and I will likely reference it for some time now as we compare our relationship to theirs.
      14. You’re Next
        This was just fun. And there hasn’t been a lot of “fun” to be had with recent horror releases.
      15. Don Jon
        Thoroughly entertaining and slyly delivers a great (and under-served) message as well when it comes to the dullard pornification of “romance” for women.
      16. White Reindeer
        This one is destined to be a perennial holiday movie touchstone for those that need a smart antidote to simplistic and manipulative Christmas festivities.
      17. This Is The End
        It comes down to this: This movie made me laugh. In a big way. And I know it will be the subject of repeated viewings in the future.
      18. Escape From Tomorrow
        A next-gen Carnival of Souls. It was audacious beyond the story of how it was made. A REAL horror show.
      19. Thor: The Dark World
        The degree to which this film took itself seriously amidst all the comic book hoopla and effects-fare was spot-on. And Hiddleston. That guy can seriously do no wrong as far as I am concerned.
      20. In A World…
        A very late add. A modern day romantic comedy that didn’t make me throw up in the back of my throat even a little. A movie that brought together a hipster collection of funny people/stars without making me want to check out due to its pat-ourselves-on-the-back smugness at the door. Really nice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Jack Frost says:

    Chessdogs. yes.

  2. Rick Kisonak says:

    What Amy said. Plus I’d add The Hunt. It’s like something Lars von Trier might make in a good mood. If he ever was in a good mood.

  3. Amy R Handler says:

    It’s so interesting to read everyone’s very thoughtful choices and comments. I’m not surprised that the very talented Joaquin Phoenix continues to get better and better with age. It’s also great to see recognition for lesser known films such as: ” A Hijacking,” and
    “This is Martin Bonner.” I think that both of these movies are hugely provocative in very different ways, and should definitely be seen.

  4. Kevyn Knox says:

    To toss in my own two (or three) cents:

    1. Stoker
    2. American Hustle
    3. Spring Breakers
    4. Before Midnight
    5. Frances Ha
    6. Blue Jasmine
    7. The World’s End
    8. Upstream Color
    9. The Act of Killing
    10. To the Wonder

    1. 47 Ronin
    2. After Earth
    3. A Good Day to Die Hard
    4. The Counselor
    5. Machete Kills
    6. Oz the Great and Powerful
    7. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
    8. Elysium
    9. Bullet to the Head
    10. Gangster Squad

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon
Skip to toolbar