So you guys remember last August when we told you that the blog would be receiving an overhaul, and that we would now review many different forms of entertainment in addition to music? Things like movies, TV shows, and even food? And you know how that hasn’t happened yet? Well, wait no more. The remaining parts of the music version of The List are currently on hold (though I hope to be bringing you my top three albums of 2013 soon!) so, as promised, I have decided to go ahead and upload my list of the top ten films of 2013!
This will be the second annual publication of The List: Movie Edition, and the first one to appear on this blog. I’m happier with this one than I am with last year’s primarily because I believe that all of the films truly deserve to be recognized (most of last year’s did too, but toward the bottom of the list I was a bit unsure). Last year, I watched 44 films before narrowing down my list; this year I watched 60. There was a lot of competition, but the ones listed below are my favorites. Of course, The List is only my opinion, and as with any list, I don’t expect you to agree with everything, and I encourage your comments about what you don’t think should be on The List or what you think should be there instead, as long as they are respectful. And of course, if you do like my choices and just want to say why, that’s always welcome too!
Alright, enough intro talk. On with The List!
10. The Book Thief
Markus Zusak’s moving novel about an adopted girl in World War II Germany who comes to understand the true power of words was adapted to the big screen this past year, and despite a score by John Williams and an impeccable performance by Geoffrey Rush, it came and went without eliciting much of a response. This is a shame, because the movie was fantastic.
If you haven’t read Zusak’s book, I still must recommend it first; though the book is NOT always better than the movie, it usually is, and this is no exception. The film does not have the benefit of profiting from the narration in the way that the book does, and narration sometimes makes all the difference (think of last year’s The Hunger Games). That said, unlike The Hunger Games, this film does not truly suffer from what it lacks. Instead it manages to hit the right notes despite being presented through what is perhaps the inferior form of media for this type of story. As stated before, Geoffrey Rush is great as Hans Hubermann, and Brian Percival’s direction combines with John Williams’ score to bring this great book to life in an unforgettable way. If you missed this when it was in theaters like so many did, go rent it. But only after you read the book.
9. Side Effects
This cerebral thriller from Steven Soderbergh was one of the first films I watched this year, but the impression it left in my mind has lasted through the marathon of films that have come after it. That alone makes it worthy of consideration for The List, but strong performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara don’t hurt. I am admittedly a sucker for movies with twists that I don’t see coming a mile away, since we now live in a world where most stories have already been told in some form and those that haven’t often give away at least part of their twist in the trailer. Only one other movie I watched this year was better at keeping me guessing, and go figure, it’s higher on this list. Side Effects managed to surprise me and make me think. It was admittedly a bit hard to follow some of the more subtle clues, but the struggle to do so was well worth it in the end.
8. Man of Steel
Disclaimer: I am a huge Superman fan. Huge.
How huge? Well, I own every single Superman comic along with every even slightly relevant tie-in from the 1987 reboot to the end of 1998. That’s probably close to 2,500 comics. So whatever that counts for. Anyway, I say that ahead of time to reveal any bias that I may have in ranking this film. That said, my being such a huge fan could just as easily work against the movie, seeing as how I would know just what to nitpick. So I still think my placing it here is fair.
This film scored huge at the box office, as was expected, but critics tended to be divided on their opinions of it. I will admit that the movie was not perfect. One of the hardest things to do in a live action Superman film is to make the character relatable, something that I have always thought is best done by helping us get to know him as Clark Kent, a country boy raised by a loving (if adopted) family. This is the method that the comics took after the ’87 reboot, and it’s also the method Smallville used to get to 10 seasons. This movie tries to do that too, but it rushes through it because of the necessity of including all of the Krypton related background that is necessary for the chosen plot-line. Despite this, this movie succeeds where the original Superman movies did not (no disrespect to Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner). Portraying a hero with the power of Superman on the big screen with style and grace is something that is rarely achieved. Usually, we get something heavy on the action and light on the drama. Man of Steel, under the guiding hands of Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder sufficiently delivers on both. It also leaves open a path for some great plot development in the sequels. Whether or not that will be taken advantage of is a long debate for another day (or the comment section, if you insist.)
7. Catching Fire
What a difference a change in direction makes.
2012’s The Hunger Games was not bad, but it failed in many ways to live up to the runaway best-seller that spawned it. As previously noted, I blamed that largely on the fact that Katniss’ narration is integral to the quality of the books, and the movie goes without that. It doesn’t seem to matter all that much in the capable hands of Francis Lawrence though. He brings us a film that is not only a worthy adaptation of the source material, but is also one of the most enjoyable films of the year. It also serves as a surprisingly good vehicle for showing off Jennifer Lawrence’s (no relation to the director) tremendous acting talent, which in my opinion was a bit overshadowed in the star-studded American Hustle.
The big question for me is why Francis wasn’t chosen as director in the first place. His resume includes previous futuristic science fiction work in I Am Legend. Conversely, Gary Ross, who directed the first film, is known for more family oriented entertainment such as Big, Lassie, and Seabiscuit. Sure, technically The Hunger Games is a kids book. But anyone who has read it knows that it falls closer in subject matter to Francis’ work than to Gary’s. No matter. The franchise certainly looks to be in good shape now, which is only fitting for such an amazing series.
6. The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic is one of few to be called by many “the Great American Novel.” I must admit that when I read it the first time in high school, I did not see it’s wide appeal. Not much action happens until the end, after all. Reading it again now that I am a soon-to-be college graduate, I realized that much of it’s appeal comes in the depth and beauty of Fitzgerald’s storytelling. Of all of the films on this list, Gatsby would probably suffer most from losing it’s narration, so it’s a very good thing that Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce decided to keep large chunks of it as voice-over material. The acting in the film is spot-on, with Leonardo DiCaprio portraying Gatsby in a way that is, at least in my opinion, completely true in spirit to the novel, and with Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan perfectly cast in the roles of Nick and Daisy. With the addition of Baz Luhrman’s modernized soundtrack and beautiful filming and set design, even the most impatient viewers have little chance of being bored.
There were plenty of people who found reasons to dislike this film of course (no film version of Gatsby has ever been well-reviewed, and there have been several), but I disagree with their gripes. Even at two and a half hours, I found myself wanting more of this world and willing to see it again. I do not often watch movies again shortly after seeing them the first time, so that is saying something.
5. Now You See Me
Who would have predicted a few years ago that Mark Ruffalo would become an A-list star? Some may have, but those some would not have included myself. Now though, with The Avengers, Now You See Me, and the surprisingly good Thanks For Sharing under his belt, Ruffalo has begun to show that he can command films where much of the cast around him is even more famous than he is.
Now You See Me is great for many reasons beyond Ruffalo though. He is only one of many strong points in this clever and fast-paced mystery that is the aforementioned “only film that kept me guessing more than Side Effects.” Befitting its subject matter, Now You See Me has no shortage of tricks up it’s sleeve, and succeeds in being the most entertaining of all the big budget films that came out this past summer.
This is where the quality jumps up a notch. This film is so good. The fact that it lands at only four on this list speaks to how great the films are that placed ahead of it. The fact that it managed not to garner a nomination for best picture would be an atrocity, except that this was a pretty strong year for Hollywood, and while I watched many films this year, I did not watch all of them. So I will withhold my judgment.
The movie is about a man whose children are kidnapped. He doesn’t know where they are, but he believes that he has some small idea of who does, and he must struggle with the lengths he is willing to go to to get his children back. Hugh Jackman plays the lead role in this film, and turns in what is probably among the three or four best performances I saw all year. The determination of his character, Keller Dover, at times borders on disturbing, but his anguish is one that makes anyone identify and ask what they would do in a similarly hopeless situation.
If you don’t take my advice on seeing any of the films I have listed before now, take my advice on this one and all the ones to follow.
Speaking of actors you would not expect to deliver on the level that they do, Sandra Bullock deserves an Oscar for this one. Bullock has actually shown her acting chops on several occasions, so her performance isn’t completely out of left field, but it’s still shocking how truly good it is.
The bill for this film lists George Clooney as her co-star, but he only shares the screen with her for about a third of the film. This movie is about her journey, alone in space, an experience that cannot possibly be like anything she has ever been through, and which was obviously greatly assisted in it’s portrayal on the big screen by special effects. Nonetheless, Bullock makes every minute of it feel real. She makes you share her terror and feel like you are floating apart from safety just as much as the camera angles do. Gravity truly is an experience, and I say that even without having seen it in 3D.
2. Dallas Buyers Club
Dallas Buyer’s Club is inspired by the true story of Ron Woodroof, a man who contracted AIDS back when people still thought the disease was spread through the air and almost exclusively linked to homosexuality. Ron is not a naturally heroic man, and he believes in the stereotypes as much as anyone at first, but upon discovering that he has the disease, he begins to realize what it truly means for those who suffer with it, and how unfair the medical system can be sometimes when it comes to healing the sick.
This film is not an attack on the medical system, not really, although it can seem that way. It is much more about the experience of AIDS victims and the indomitable spirit of humanity. Backed up by an all-star performance by Jared Leto as a transsexual who befriends Woodruff in the hospital and Jennifer Garner as their nurse, Dallas Buyers Club provides tough commentary on the world of medicine while simultaneously supplying hope for even the most disparate members of our society to come together.
1. 12 Years A Slave
In 12 Years A Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a knockout performance as Soloman Northup, a free black man from New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. The ensuing journey back is one I cannot accurately describe in words without being cliche or revealing the story; it is powerful, it is heart-wrenching, it is inspiring, it is appalling, and it is painful. What I can say is that it transcends everything else on this list. Congratulations to Steve McQueen and everyone else involved in this project; this is the best movie of 2013.
In case anyone is wondering what movies I watched this year, here is the full list, in order of release:
Struck By Lightning, Warm Bodies, Identity Thief, Side Effects, A Good Day To Die Hard, Jack The Giant Slayer, Dead Man Down, Spring Breakers, Olympus Has Fallen, 42, Disconnect, Oblivion, At Any Price, Mud, The Iceman, Iron Man 3, The Great Gatsby, Star Trek 2, The Fast and The Furious 6, The Hangover 3, The Kings of Summer, Now You See Me, The Purge, The Bling Ring, Man of Steel, This Is The End, The Heat, White House Down, The Lone Ranger, The Way Way Back, The Hunt, The Wolverine, Elysium, In A World…, Lovelace, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, The Butler, Kick-Ass 2, Scenic Route, Afternoon Delight, The Family, Prisoners, Thanks For Sharing, Don Jon, Gravity, Carrie, Ender’s Game, Thor 2, 12 Years a Slave, The Book Thief, Charlie Countryman, Dallas Buyers Club, Catching Fire, Out of the Furnace, Inside Llewin Davis, The Hobbit 2, Anchorman 2, American Hustle, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street.
The worst movies I watched on that list, and the ones I would recommend that you avoid, were:1. A Good Day To Die Hard, 2. The Bling Ring, 3. The Heat, 4. At Any Price, 5. Afternoon Delight
Yes, Sandra Bullock was also in one of the worst films of the year. But we’ll give her a pass. Also, it’s worth noting that Dennis Quaid is actually great in At Any Price. It’s just that it’s impossible to like anything about his character, or really the entire movie as a whole. It’s depressing.
I hope you guys enjoyed this list. Please leave your comments below, I’m really excited to talk about these and any other movies with you all!