Before Midnight! Gravity! The Wolf of Wall Street! Fruitvale Station! The Great Beauty! Philomena! Frances Ha! Blue Jasmine! Spring Breakers! Nebraska! Dallas Buyers Club! The Wind Rises! Saving Mr. Banks!
None of the thirteen critically acclaimed films above are on my list of the thirteen best films of 2013 below.
Make of that what you will, but of the whopping 241 new releases I watched this year these are the thirteen that have stuck with me the strongest. That said, I did make a conscious effort to focus on U.S. releases for the list since I have a separate Top 13 for Best Foreign Language films. It’s been a fantastic year in cinema all around, and I could just as easily offered a list twice as long.
Keep reading to see what I feel are the thirteen best movies of 2013.
13. Much Ado About Nothing
No other film this year had me smiling as much as Joss Whedon‘s minimalist take on William Shakespeare’s deliriously good comedy of manners and fidelity, and like my number one pick it’s sat high in my memory for nearly a year now since seeing it in March. The cast is perfection, the black & white photography is illuminating, and the humor feels right at home in modern times. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof are the heart and soul of the film, and it’s nigh impossible to watch them without falling and feeling in love.
12. The World’s End
Yes, Edgar Wright‘s most recent film is extremely funny, highly energetic, and visually creative, but it’s also the deepest and weightiest film of his career. You can watch it for the laughs and physical hijinks, including some of the best fight scenes of the year, and that would be more than enough to make it a fantastic film, but if you scratch the surface even a little bit there’s a wonderfully effective and affecting story about friendship and memories pulsating beneath.
11. What Maisie Knew
This is not only one of the least known films to make the cut but also one of the simplest. It’s about a young girl whose parents have split up, and we watch as she’s shuffled about as little more than a weapon to use against each other and as hope sits achingly near in the wings. Onata Aprile‘s title performance reveals her as the least precocious or annoying child actor of all time, and seeing the world through her eyes is an alternately heartbreaking and celebratory experience. It also might just be the best adaptation of a literary classic that you didn’t even know was a classic literary adaptation.
10. American Hustle
Yeah, that’s right. David O. Russell‘s not so subtle riff on the work of Martin Scorsese is a better film than the one Scorsese himself released this year. To be sure, I love both, but Russell’s film adds a layer missing from The Wolf of Wall Street in that its characters actually have character. There’s something to them aside from being tools, means to an end, or vessels for showing human weakness and depravity. They come across as actual humans. Sure it’s played a bit over the top at times and there’s a messiness to the way it unfurls, but people are messy, especially when they’re trying their damnedest to be someone they’re not.
9. The Act of Killing
While I’ve enjoyed many documentaries over the years they rarely leave a lasting impression on me. (Sorry Chris.) 2013 changed that with two docs that not only held me in their grip while watching but that also found a permanent home in my mind ever since. Joshua Oppenheimer‘s film looks at the men behind Indonesia’s mass killings in decades past through the lens of their current celebrity, but while that alone would be enlightening he crafts something incredible by letting his subjects tell their stories using various film genres. The results are astounding and include some of the most jaw-dropping moments of the year.
8. The Hunt
I intentionally shifted away from foreign language films here as I’ve posted a separate list for those, but I felt compelled to include this one because it really is just so damn good and effective. Mads Mikkelsen‘s central performance as a man accused of the most heinous of crimes is a wonder of fear, rage, and a barely concealed loss of control. The film’s exploration of rumor as fact, mob mentality, and the core idea that we’ll never really know everything there is to know about a person are expertly presented in the form of a very human thriller.