Alright, so there’s still a lot from 2013 that I haven’t yet seen. BUT I’ve also seen some fantastic movies as it is, and I’m getting swept up in the end-of-year lists, so here’s my top 10 movies of the year at this point.
(Just know that Spike Jonze’s Her would probably be on this list, but it doesn’t get released near me until mid-January.)
Honorable Mentions: Blue Jasmine, Star Trek Into Darkness, Before Midnight, Stoker
10. Fruitvale Station
Yes, the movie can be a bit heavy-handed, but overall, it does a great job of showing who Oscar Grant was as a person. We see so many little interactions that seem innocuous on their own but are fascinating to watch and ultimately add up to something much bigger by the film’s heartbreaking end.
This is a film that I certainly enjoyed at the time, but it has really grown on me in the weeks since I’ve seen it. It’s funny, touching, and dark all at the same time, boasting great performances and a pleasantly offbeat visual style.
8. Dallas Buyers Club
McConaughey and Leto turn in career-best performances, completely inhabiting the complex characters they are given. But there is more to Jean-Marc Vallee’s film than the sum of its actors. He tells a tender underdog story, refusing to be morose and instead filling every inch of the screen with genuine warmth and an effective visual tone. It’s grim, but it’s also inspiring.
7. Something in the Air
Olivier Assayas’ latest film follows a group of teenagers living in France during the aftermath of the May 1968 protests. While its opening half hour is haunting for the depiction of the violent demonstrations that our protagonists become involved in, the film really falls into its groove after that point, when it shows the fracturing of the group of friends upon graduation. They shift and detach from each other in subtle ways, and Assayas expresses this beautifully, enveloping the film in a warm, hazy sense of nostalgia.
I’ve seen a lot of people trying to oversell Gravity as a deeper film than it is, but if you accept what is actually given to us, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Sandra Bullock is charming, exasperating, and relatable all at once, turning in an amazingly layered performance considering that she is not given all that much to work with. And indeed, Cuaron has crafted something truly special in the film’s visuals. The scope is something to behold, and Gravity is no doubt a highly impressive and entertaining achievement.
5. 12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is not only an “important” film, but also an impeccably crafted one. It is his most accessible film yet, but it still offers his signature visual grit and no-nonsense take on some very dark subject matter. Every scene in this movie feels vital, and it all adds up to a punishing but ultimately emotionally resonant epic. Led by a completely electric Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave is a film that everyone should make the time to see.
In Germany during the aftermath of WWII, teenage Lore is forced to bring her four younger siblings on a trek across the German countryside after the disappearance of their Nazi parents. Along the way, they meet a young man who challenges the hatred that has been instilled in them, adding another layer of tension to an already very taught film. Lore doesn’t pull its punches, and it feels something like Winter’s Bone crossed with a Michael Haneke film. It’s stark and beautifully aching, boasting revelatory performances from its two young breakout stars, Saskia Rosendahl and Kai Malina.
Prisoners is an unrelenting thriller that sits somewhere between arthouse and mainstream. This seemed to make it an unfortunate mismatch for a lot of moviegoers, and despite its star-studded cast, it failed to make much of a dent in the public consciousness. This is a real shame, as Denis Villeneuve has created a visceral, often brutal near-masterpiece here. Partly thanks to Roger Deakins’ impeccably icy cinematography, Villeneuve seems to relish keeping the audience tense and on their toes to an extent that few films manage to achieve. Jake Gyllenhaal turns in the best performance of his career here, and Prisoners is a rare film that plays its suspense perfectly and left me completely satisfied as the credits rolled.
I love Dazed and Confused as much as the next person, but I have seen (and, in many cases, avoided) enough post-2000 Matthew McConaughey rom-coms to sour any goodwill stemming from one movie that came out 20 years ago. Yet here we are in 2013, and somehow McConaughey is one of the most interesting actors we’ve got working. And his first great performance of the year came in Mud, Jeff Nichols’ follow-up to the eerie critical favourite Take Shelter.
Mud is a somewhat nostalgic look at youth in the vein of Stand By Me. Young star Tye Sheridan is completely believable and often heartbreaking as Ellis, a good-hearted kid from poor circumstances. But it’s McConaughey as the enigmatic titular Mud that gives the movie
a unique wildcard. It’s a surprisingly toned-down performance from McConaughey, and his on-screen chemistry with Sheridan is a treat to behold. There’s something so sturdy and sad about their relationship. That combined with Nichol’s languid look at small town America and the loss of youthful innocence makes Mud a quietly beautiful and piercing ride.
As I walked out of the TIFF screening of The Place Beyond the Pines in September 2012, I knew I’d seen something special. A genuine achievement in filmmaking at a point in time where a lot of movies seem to blur together. And while I saw many other good and very good films over the course of 2013, none of them could quite touch my early TIFF favourite. (The same thing might just happen for me again in 2014 with Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves.)
I went to see The Place Beyond the Pines again during its theatrical release and loved it just as much the second time around. The plot turns may not have been surprising this time, but knowing what was coming made the movie even more urgent and aching. I’d initially thought that the second third of the film (which revolves around Cooper’s character) was the film’s weakest aspect. But knowing where that storyline leads only amplified the damage of his character and it made me appreciate that storyline and Cooper’s performance far more.
This is a sprawling movie that explores a lot of heady territory when it comes to family, the consequences of our actions, and legacy. I’ve found it’s impossible to do The Place Beyond the Pines justice with a simple plot description, and I think this is a testament to the film’s power. On the surface, the story and themes of this movie aren’t groundbreaking. Yet, the way that it’s constructed and its tone almost turn it into something completely different, and the results are breathtaking.
There’s almost a dampness to this film that just sort of…seeps in as you’re watching and long after the film ends. It’s difficult to explain. But regardless, this is a movie that’s sat with me for over a year now, and it’s impacted me in a way that very few films do.