The Best Films of 2013

What a great year it was at the movies!

Our local movie houses were brimming this year with stories of true-life heroes, singing snowmen, astronauts fighting for their lives, shy daydreamers going on globe-hopping adventures, and men falling in love with their computers. We saw the big-screen returns of the likes of Ron Burgundy, Mike and Sully, Kirk and Spock, Bilbo, Katniss, and even the Man of Steel.

2013 in Film:

One of the hardest parts of such a great year at the movies is the inevitable task of whittling them all down into a best-of list. 2013 had so many great movies that it physically pained me to have to leave some off of this list, as there were just so many to choose from… Alright, maybe not physically, but you get the point.

Notable omissions from my Best Films of 2013 list that you might find glaring include Iron Man 3, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, American Hustle, Elysium, Dallas Buyer’s Club, 42, Thor: The Dark World, Pacific Rim, The Bling Ring, August: Osage County, Now You See Me, World War Z and Oz: The Great and Powerful. Sorry, but they are not here for a reason.
Also, movies that very well could have landed a spot on this list but just didn’t because I never got a chance to see them include Warm Bodies, Before Midnight, Identity Thief, Fast and Furious 6, Much Ado About Nothing, Prince Avalance, Trance, The Counselor, Short Term 12, In a World…, A Hijacking, Delivery Man, and others.

I could say a lot more about why each of these moves were so great (and the exact reasons why I left off many other movies released this year), but there’s only so much room on the interwebs.
But, like with any list, there will probably be things here you agree with and probably many things you disagree with. So comment, either here or on Facebook, and let me know what you thought about this year’s movies! What did I get right? What did I leave off? Let’s relive this year’s best!


30) Despicable Me 2
29) Rush
28) Man of Steel
27) Captain Phillips
26) The Great Gatsby
25) The Book Thief
24) Enough Said
23) All is Lost
22) About Time
21) Inside Llewyn Davis

(Idris Elba, Naomie Harris)
Directed by Justin Chadwick

That guy who played Michael’s replacement on The Office as one of modern history’s most revolutionary figures: what more could you want?
Both a moving history lesson and a reverent eulogy, Long Walk to Freedom is a sprawling biopic that spans forty years of Nelson Mandela’s life. The true story of the man who became President of the South African nation that thirty years earlier sentenced him to life in prison is, by its very nature, inspirational. Even if the film struggles to move past that built-in inspiration, it remains an emotional account of the life, failures, and accomplishments of the South African leader.
BEST PART: Idris Elba carries the film on his charisma and powerful performance as Mandela. This will be the performance he’s remembered for.
Read my full review here

(Marky-Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch)
Directed by Peter Berg

The terrifying true story of Operation Red Wings, in which four Navy SEALS were dropped into Afghanistan to capture or kill a top Taliban leader, is breathlessly retold in Lone Survivor. Though it borders on heavy-handed, the film compels throughout and reminds its audience of the incredible sacrifice men and women halfway around the globe are making on a daily basis so that we can sit on our couch and watch Netflix all day and forget there’s even a war going on at all. True heroes are fighting for our freedom and safety in grueling and excruciating circumstances everyday, and Lone Survivor helps us remember that.
BEST PART: The film’s message of bravery, sacrifice, and courage acts as a patriotic tribute to the Armed Forces.
Read my full review here

(Jennifer Lawrence, others who are not Jennifer Lawrence)
Directed by Francis Lawrence
(who, despite his last name, is not related to Jennifer Lawrence, or her husband– which is welcome news)

The Hunger Games: All-Stars Edition? Katniss Everdeen is forced to go through hell all over again: the painful memories of brutal deaths and lives ended too soon haunt her every waking moment. Catching Fire is just as solid, smart, exciting, and adventurous as the first film, and it does an excellent job at leaving its audience in eager anticipation of “Mockingjay” in 2014. The abrupt ending is admittedly jarring, though, and I do miss the beautiful Jennifer Lawrence’s smile and joyful personality in this darker, tenser sequel. But there’s little to complain about when the rest of the movie is this good!
BEST PART: Jennifer Lawrence. Am I right?
Read my full review here.

17)  MUD
(Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon)
Directed by Jeff Nichols

Forget Dallas Buyer’s Club, this is the McConaughey performance of the year. A Southern blue-grass folk tale painted with the same brush as “Tom Sawyer” and the like, Mud is never quite what you expect it to be. Soulful, charming, lighthearted and dramatic, it is gritty and relatable. This is one of the most overlooked films of the year… McConau-Hey! Check this one out!… (sorry).
BEST PART: Matthew McConaughey gives his best performance to date.

(Judi Dench, Steve Coogan)
Directed by Stephen Frears

Charming and witty, the true story of Philomena Lee’s search for her lost son is a moving journey through grief with the unlikeliest of duos. Paired with a recently fired journalist named Martin, the two go about tracking down her son in the States. Racked with guilt ever since she had to put him up for adoption fifty years ago, Philomena finds solace in the bond she creates with Martin and the journey they take together. Philomena is an incredibly clever and heart-wrenching tale that’s full of rich characters you can’t help but feel connected to. Plus, it’s Britishif you’re into that sort of thing. 
BEST PART: Philomena is simultaneously rich in drama, silly and lighthearted, and also gloomy and dim when it needs to be. It is a truly emotional film that never feels schmaltzy. It feels real.
Read my full review here

(Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell) 
Directed by John Lee Hancock

Saving Mr. Banks? Psshh, I’ll save my bank, and not spend the money to see this one,” you might be thinking. Poppycock!
Disney’s Mary Poppins is nearly 50 years old now, and Saving Mr. Banks is a moving tribute to the rarely-told story that unfolded behind the making of the film. While Mr. Disney tries his best to light up the charm in hopes she’ll give up the rights to her books, she does her best to refuse being charmed. Predictably sentimental, Saving Mr. Banks may be seen by some as a shameless plug for the Disney Corporation, but even if it is- it’s a brilliant one. The heart of the film is in finding these two artists, both children at heart in different ways, learning how to interact with one another and put aside their differences: through each other, they learn to face the adult fears that their inner children are afraid of dealing with. It’s a special tribute to both the creators behind Mickey Mouse and Mary Poppins, as they come to further realize the redemptive power stories play in our lives.
BEST PART: Walt Disney is not made out to be the squeaky-clean image of perfection that one might expect the studio bearing his name to portray him as, but instead is shown as the flawed, cigarette-smoking, stubborn man with a flair for the “magical” that he was.
Read my full review here.

(Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad)
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

By now, Disney has the whole “princess-movie” thing down to a science.  Sure, Frozen may seem to just be Tangled repackaged in a new adjective– but it’s beautifully animated, features plenty of fun new songs, and ends up one of their best animated films since the “Disney Renaissance.” Olaf the Snowman, in particular, seems all but destined to become a new “classic” Disney character. Grouped with recent classics Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled, Disney Animation seems to be back in the business of recapturing the magic they’re known for. If you don’t fall in love with this movie by the end, your heart must be… wait for it… Frozen. Ba-dum-chh!
BEST PART: The most refreshing part of Frozen is its departure from what is now the expected, cliched ending of most films in Disney’s Princess Pantheon—no longer just the damsel in distress, Princess Anna takes action on her own, stands up for her beliefs, embraces her quirky awkwardness, and learns that “true love” doesn’t happen at first sight. She feels like a real, genuine character that young girls can look up to.
Read my full review here

(Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman)
Directed by Edgar Wright

As my British friends would say… “Brilliant!” Edgar Wright has crafted another wild, raucous, energetic screwball comedy with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in front of the camera. This time it’s an apocalypse comedy that’s simultaneously silly and sad, focusing on a boyish man who just can’t get over the fact that his glory days are behind him and gets the old gang together again for a pub crawl. Wright continues to make insane, crazy movies that are unlike anything else being made these days, and cinema is the better for it! Despite some crude humor and language, The World’s End is an endless bucket of laughs and Simon Pegg kills it, as usual.
BEST PART: The fast-paced, frenetic editing style of The World’s End is almost a character in itself, keeping the movie engaging and energetic for the entire two hours.

(Bruce Dern, Will Forte)
Directed by Alexander Payne

One for the hardcore cinephiles. Director Alexander Payne is a master of the subtle family drama-comedy (About Schmidt, The Descendants). With Nebraska, he’s crafted a poetic journey through the broken relationship of an aging retiree and his son. Played alongside lonesome interstates and tumbleweed-heavy Midwest towns, Nebraska is an intimate portrait of a dysfunctional family who all live lives leaving much to be desired. The true heart of the film, though, comes in watching David (Will Forte) slowly peel back the layers of his once-thought senile/drunkard father Woody (Bruce Dern), who slowly learn to bond over the course of their road trip… well, as close as two stubborn and emotion-averse men can, at least. Payne loves to take flawed, unlovable characters and make them into relateable, but still flawed, lovable heroes. He’s done it again with the delightfully funny and heartfelt Nebraska.
BEST PART: An impressive turn from Saturday Night Live cast member Will Forte (in a dramatic role) is surprisingly one of the best parts of the film.
Read my full review here

(Billy Crystal, John Goodman)
Directed by Dan Scanlon

Was it necessary for Pixar to make a prequel to Monsters Inc.? No.
Am I glad they did? Yes.
Pixar’s best effort since Toy Story 3, this delightful and beautifully-animated coming of age tale is loaded with fun moments and heartfelt storytelling. And while it retains the spirit of Monsters Inc., it does so without simply copying and recycling what made that film so successful. Full of hilarious jokes and the heartfelt moments we’ve come to expect from Pixar, Monsters University is well worth a watch– and charms with a great theme for kids and adults alike, of learning to become yourself, and being proud of what you have to offer.
BEST PART: Pixar has outdone themselves here with all the spectacular and dazzling animation; it has some of the most vibrant, eye-popping stuff I’ve ever seen in an animated film.

(Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner)
Directed by Adam McKay


Anchorman 2 is sheer insanity. Even more so than the original Anchorman (which we’ve waited nearly a decade to see sequel-ed), The Legend Continues brings laughs a mile a minute, and packs in so many celebrity cameos, it must be seen to be believed.
Much of the plot seems to be based on- “hey, what if we did this, that’d be funny, right?” Plots are woven in loosely, some with no apparent purpose. But my goodness, it works. Anchorman 2 obviously has no other agenda than to make its audience laugh. And laugh often. it’s a ridiculously entertaining opportunity to see a bunch of incredibly funny and talented comedians getting together to do what they do best: make people laugh. When you look back on it, will it all make sense? Not at all. But that’s sort of the point.
BEST PART: Anchorman 2‘s few montage scenes are so absurdly out of left field that they may leave you rolling on the floor.
Read my full review here

(James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill)
Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg


Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Danny McBride, Emma Watson, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Aziz Ansari, Jason Segal, Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Channing Tatum, Kevin Hart, and more are all at a party in James Franco’s house. Sounds like a good time, right? Nope. As a house full of Hollywood A-listers mingle and party the night away, the Rapture takes place.
And so begins the end of the world. 
What is so absolutely hilarious about this film is how all these actors join in on the comedy, playing fictional versions of themselves and lampooning the Hollywood lifestyle at the same time. Full of hilarious gags, gut-busting one-liners, and jokes that move the story forward instead of just pointing at the premise for fun, This is the End is one of the most refreshingly funny comedies in a long time. If some language and crude humor don’t keep you away, prepare yourself for one of the most original, self-deprecatingly hilarious movies in recent years.
BEST PART: The chemistry and camaraderie between all these comedians is so perfect that it’s easy to see why they’re all good friends in real life, and why they continue to make movies together.

(Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch)
Directed by JJ Abrams


J.J. Abrams continues to turn us all into Star Trek fans. 
Into Darkness
 offers a thrilling and viscerally exciting new chapter to the Star Trek saga. Full of stunning special effects, an incredible cast, and a whole lot of fun, the newest Trek is a fast-paced and action-packed story that maintains the standard set by the first film.
Very much a modern Spielbergian tale, this bromantic Star Trek is the newest film from what I consider one of the greatest powerhouse teams of storytelling of our generation- with JJ Abrams at the helm, Damon Lindelof behind the script, and Michael Giacchino returning to recreate the beautiful soundtrack.
It may not break new ground, and some of the dialogue is just a little too cutesy, but why nitpick in the midst of such an incredibly enjoyable and fun ride through space with such great characters? Star Trek: Into Darkness delivers everywhere it needed to.
BEST PART: Benedict Cumberbatch is just a boss.

(Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano)
Directed by Dennis Villeneuve

Forget Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine— this is his film. One of the most overlooked dramas of the year, Prisoners is a well-crafted and brilliantly-acted crime thriller. What would you do if your child was kidnapped but the authorities refused to take action against the man you are convinced did it? The movie is shot in dark, beautiful tones, and stays heart-pounding the entire time. If you enjoy a great mystery with unexpected twists and a strong emotional center, look no further.
A powerful take on moral ambiguity, Prisoners challenges us to think about how we deal with grief, and look at why loss and tragedy drive us to make awful decisions.
BEST PART: This is the most solidly-acted film of the year, giving us all-around great performances from Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, and Terence Howard.

6)  HER
(Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson)
Directed by Spike Jonze


This is that movie that most people just know as Joaquin Phoenix Falls in Love with a Computer. But it amazingly offers much wisdom on the state of modern relationships, as Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson wonderfully bring Spike Jonze’s odd little love story to life. her is both a study of falling in love for the wrong reasons, as well as a clever exploration of technology’s power to ruin our relationships. It raises a huge amount of questions (refusing to give its opinion on many), and leaves it up to the viewer to wrestle through what they just saw onscreen.
Theodore Twombly is a love letter ghostwriter for people in the not-so-distant future who are either too lazy, too busy, or not creative enough to write their own. Despite his penchant for writing intimately moving letters for other people, he remains a profoundly lonely man. Then he downloads a brand new highly-developed operating system that comes to know its user better through time. The OS, Samantha, astounds him. Thirsty for companionship, Theodore embraces her wholeheartedly.
her is a truly heartbreaking and poignant exploration of the many facets of falling in love, the reasons we give ourselves for accepting counterfeit love, and an artistic look at the mess of romance and relating to others. It is incredibly gorgeous to look at, will cause plenty of discussion, and is one of the most though-provoking and profound movies in years.
BEST PART: On paper, her sounds like a ridiculous idea. But it is an absolute testament to the brilliant work of Joaquin Phoenix (who carries the entire film visually, as the other lead character is merely a voice), and Scarlett Johansson (who breathes so much life into Samantha that it’s sometimes hard to believe she’s not actually real) that it does work, and incredibly at that.
Read my full review here

(Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance


This bold and ambitious drama about moral compromise and the legacies we leave is unflinchingly beautiful: and by “beautiful,” I mean ugly, gritty, flawed, and heart-wrenching.
Ryan Gosling, in his best performance to date, is the heart of The Place Beyond the Pines, a captivating, bold, and moving story that grabs you and doesn’t let go. The film might be for the more patient of viewers, but this incredible epic about family, fate, and the sins of the father is thematically rich and nothing short of brilliant.
BEST PART: A while into the film, you’ll literally have no idea where its going. In an age where trailers seem to give everything away and spoilers are usually rampant in pop culture, something is to be said for that. The compelling plot holds new twists around every corner, and does not relent.

(Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Liam James)
Directed by Jim Rash & Nat Faxon


My favorite overlooked film of the year: it may seem like a familiar tale– an awkward teen struggles to find his independence as he transitions from boy to man– but The Way Way Back‘s seemingly simplistic story carries with it a depth and poignancy that’s easily relatable (and truly delightful to see unfold). Straight off their Oscar Win for The Descendants, Directors/Writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon have crafted a delightful new story full of humor, heart, and lovable characters.
The Way Way Back is honestly one of those movies I could see myself watching over and over again. It is genuinely funny, heartfelt, and accomplished what few movies seem to be able to these days: it filled me with pure joy.
BEST PART: Someone give Sam Rockwell an Oscar! All the characters here are great, but Rockwell’s takes the cake. His is one of the more nuanced and hilarious performances I’ve seen in a comedy.
Read my full review here

(Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Patton Oswalt)
Directed by Ben Stiller


If The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a woman, I would marry her.
Inspiring, beautiful, quirky and clever, Mitty makes me laugh and makes me cry. It challenges me to look at the world differently, helps me appreciate life more, and gives me hope for the future. Is it perfect? Maybe not. But hey, that’s marriage.
Ben Stiller directs, and stars in, this incredible reimagining of James Thurber’s short story of a hapless day-dreamer. Escaping the monotony of his daily life, Walter Mitty often fades into his fantasy worlds of romance, action, and adventure. Stiller’s modern masterpiece takes us on a breathtaking adventure full of spectacle, wonder, and whimsy, celebrating the power of imagination, while also reminding us that imagination is only as good as the actions it inspires us to.
It may be too sentimental or artsy for some viewers, but Ben Stiller has crafted a modern masterpiece in this moving story about taking risks and living life to the fullest. Walter Mitty artfully balances reflective moments with the humorous, awes with its incredible scenery, and delights with its wonderful soundtrack. This inspiring adventure about the life of Walter Mitty, the colorful characters he meets in exotic lands, his hopes, his dreams, his failures, and his triumphs, will appeal to the dreamer in everyone.
BEST PART: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is visually stunning, one of the most gorgeous films I have seen in years.
Read my full review here

(Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt)
Directed by Steve McQueen


To experience 12 Years a Slave is to be increasingly uncomfortable, to be horrified, to weep, and to ache for human suffering and for mankind’s history of inhumanity towards each other. This is the masterfully-told true story of Solomon Northup, a black man born free in the North, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. This unrelenting and unflinching story may just be about the tragedy of one man’s life, yes. But it acts as a grieving over the millions of tragedies to men, women, and children just like his.
Did we need another movie about slavery? Maybe not. But do we really need movies about anything? 12 Years a Slave is an excruciatingly heart-wrenching and brutal look at our nation’s greatest atrocity.
12 Years a Slave is one of those films that transcends being simply a “movie.” It is an experience that one has, wondering “how could this have happened?”, vowing to treasure human life, and grieving alongside entire generations ripped of their very lives simply because of the color of their skin. It is increasingly uncomfortable to watch as an entire society excuses away such horrible cruelty, but oftentimes the things we need to experience and be reminded of most are uncomfortable.
BEST PART: 12 Years a Slave is an incredibly moving film that is unafraid to force its audience to look our nation’s greatest atrocity straight in the eye, demanding to be seen for what it truly was. It is unapologetically brutal, it is cruel, and it is heartbreaking. But it could be no other way.
Read my full review here.

(Sandra Bullock, George Clooney)
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron


This is the movie that 2013 will be remembered for, whether it ultimately wins Best Picture or not.
Gravity is a tour de force of filmmaking, and there is little doubt that it will go down in the great pantheon of films that shattered technological boundaries in visual storytelling, with the likes of Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Titanic.
At the same time terrifying, beautiful, sentimental, and nerve-racking, the sheer scope and ambition of Alfonso Cuaron’s first film since Children of Men is breathtaking. Not only is Gravity a spectacle for the senses, it is grounded in an emotional story of one woman’s reflection on mortality, life, death, and the lengths humans will go to survive. Sandra Bullock gives the performance of her career, the cinematography and special effects astound, and the musical score chills you to the bone. It will baffle you as to how it was made as it simultaneously draws you in with its compellingly simple storyline.
Gravity is the type of movie that reminds me why I go to the movies, and why I chose to be a storyteller. All this praise sounds like an exaggeration, but it is an incredible achievement. It is, quite possibly, one of the most stunning and beautifully simple films ever made. Watching this film on your TV or your laptop just won’t cut it. Gravity demands to be seen in 3D and on the biggest screen possible. Anything less and you will be cheating yourself out of one of the most incredible movie-going experiences you will ever have.
BEST PART: Gravity will be remembered for changing the perception of 3D in modern movie-going. It is also the first film I can’t imagine without use of 3D, which is surprising as I mostly view 3D as a money-making gimmick. But Gravity was made especially for 3D, and masterfully uses it to completely immerse the audience into the setting of outer space. Breathtaking.
Read my full review here


Who gave the best acting performances this year?

(Three-way tie):
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond the Pines
Joaquin Phoenix, her

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Sam Rockwell, The Way Way Back

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Scarlett Johansson, her

Who did the best work behind the camera this year?

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

The Way Way Back– Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

12 Years a Slave– Jon Ridley

Gravity– Steven Price

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Inside Llewyn Davis

The World’s End

Other Oddities and Curiosities of the year in movies:

American Hustle
The Wolf of Wall Street
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
World War Z
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
The Dallas Buyer’s Club
Captain Phillips

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Place Beyond the Pines
The Way Way Back

12 Years a Slave


Olaf, Frozen
Samantha, her

So that’s what I thought about 2013 at the movies!
Let me know what you thought, and what your favorite movies were this year! But first, if you excuse me, I think I’ll grab my popcorn and head to the theater to start it all over again!

© Matt Tory, 2014. 

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