I love movies. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to sit down and write about them but I love them! In 2013, I made 57 trips to 9 different theatres to see 50 different features: 47 different new releases, 3 return trips to This Is The End, 1 encore each for Spring Breakers, The Conjuring, The World’s End and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, crazy-fun screenings of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz as part of a “Cornetto Trilogy Marathon” and a special one night only 3D screening of The Time of The Doctor, the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special. Quite a year. Read on for a spoiler-free round-up of the films that resonated with me the most.
Crystal’s Top 25 Films of 2013
25. Much Ado About Nothing (Dir: Joss Whedon)I have worshipped at the altar of Joss Whedon since I was a kid so I was beyond excited to see his take on a Shakespeare classic. The cast filled with beloved players from his previous projects was icing on the cake. The resulting film is one of the most delightful and charming that I saw in 2013. I thought Whedon’s choice to use Shakespeare’s original dialogue was a particularly brave one; it definitely takes a few scenes to not find the old English terrifying but once you adapt, it is an absolute joy to hear and the natural, modern delivery from the cast shines a whole new light on the brilliance of the writing. It’s mind-boggling to think that this story was written hundreds of years ago because the humor and emotion are remarkably modern-feeling and accessible.
24. The To Do List (Dir: Maggie Carey)
I walked into this movie hoping for amusement simply because of the impressive cast and ended up seeing one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. While it’s exciting and kind of remarkable to have a movie this outrageously raunchy centered on a female lead, the film wisely doesn’t treat that fact as a novelty or a gimmick. Funny is funny no matter who’s delivering the joke and sex is absurd no matter who’s having it. Quality teen comedies are sadly hard to come by and this is a solid, delightfully offbeat entry into the genre.
23. Stoker (Dir: Park Chan-wook)
Another great surprise for me in 2013; another great take on a coming of age story. I don’t have much to say about the film: you kind of have to see it to believe it. This is probably the most technically beautiful film I saw in 2013 – everything from the cinematography to the sound design was absolute perfection. The trio of astounding lead performances completely sell and keep you engaged in a story that veers from tension to dark humor to near absurdity.
22. Side Effects (Dir: Steven Soderbergh)
If this ends up being the last Steven Soderbergh film I get to see in theatres, I’ll be devastated but what a way to go out. I’m hesitant to discuss this film at length because experiencing the twists and turns it takes are part of the fun – and honestly, revealing there are twists and turns almost feels like saying too much. It feels like it’s going to be one type of movie until the very moment it is clearly a different type of movie. And by the end, THAT movie seems to have become something else entirely. It’s a strange, near-maddening experience that I enjoyed oh so very much. On its own, the film is a fun and engaging Hitchcockian chess game but Rooney Mara’s performance and Soderbergh’s always exquisite style elevate it to one of the year’s best.
21. Pacific Rim (Dir: Guillermo Del Toro)
In a summer blockbuster season full of disappointments, this is the one that didn’t disappoint me. A formula film if there ever was one but if the formula works, does it really matter? The tropes and imperfections are easy to overlook because this movie is so darn fun. Once I got caught up in the spectacle and the magic of it all, it grabbed me and did NOT let me go. It reminded me of the kind of movie that I would always WANT to rent at the video store when I was a kid but my parents would say I was too young and steer me towards the Disney section. Well now I’m all growed up and guess what? These kinds of movies are still awesome.
20. Drinking Buddies (Dir: Joe Swanberg)
I had zero expectations going into this movie so I was completely surprised at how hard it hit me. I could be biased because I kind of love the cast (Olivia Wilde, who knew?) and am fascinated by improvisation but I found the film to be a pleasant surprise that stayed with me for quite some time. It’s definitely not for everybody, it’s a particular kind of film but I thought the performances were excellent across the board and the story was frustratingly real and effective.
19. Iron Man 3 (Dir: Shane Black)
It’s hard to live up to The Avengers and not so hard to out-do Iron Man 2 – I think this film performs admirably on both counts. The focus on the thematic elements/character development is what left an impression on me and I really hope this is the direction the rest of Marvel’s “Phase Two” films go in. There are some pretty serious character things happening and yet the film still manages to be fun and frequently hilarious.
18. Gravity (Dir: Alfonso Cuaron)
I was afraid the INSANE hype was going to set me up for disappointment but there really is no overselling the experience of seeing this film in theatres. This was one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen and for all the crap I’ve given 3D over the years, I can’t imagine seeing the film any other way. Through the language of filmmaking, (the sweeping cameras, the sound design, the editing) the viewer already feels totally immersed in the film’s portrayal of outer space and the unbelievably believable special effects put that immersive feeling on an entirely new level. I knew this film was really doing something to me during a scene when I was literally flinching at 3D debris flying towards my face. And it happened MULTIPLE times. It happened long enough for me to laugh at myself for doing it and then I accidentally did it again a few more times. An unforgettable experience.
17. Blue Jasmine (Dir: Woody Allen)
It’s always a gamble sitting down to watch a film from Woody Allen’s oeuvre, especially one from his most recent era where the highs are so very high (Midnight In Paris) and the lows are pretty darn low (I’m looking at you, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger). Thankfully, Blue Jasmine is one of the good ones. The dialogue sings and pops in that iconic Woody Allen way and in what was always undoubtedly an Oscar-worthy performance, Cate Blanchett totally owns the role of a woman who we immediately feel like we know and as we learn more about her, we both love AND hate her just a little bit more. By the end of the film, (no spoilers) do we feel bad for her or does she get her just deserts? It probably depends on who you ask, which is one of the reasons why this is one of my favorite films of the year.
16. You’re Next (Dir: Adam Wingard)
I went into this movie armed only with vague impressions from a trailer I half-watched and the recommendation of a trusted friend. So while I’ve called other movies on this list “a pleasant surprise” this really truly was a pleasant surprise. As mentioned above, I’m not really a horror movie person, especially in theatres, but this was such a fun ride. Thrilling, surprising and so delightfully weird and wickedly funny, this film absolutely deserves the cult following it already has and will no doubt continue to enjoy for many years to come.
15. Short Term 12 (Dir: Destin Daniel Cretton)
With its festival debut in March and its limited theatrical release in late summer, I spent the majority of 2013 hearing great things about this movie. And it turns out, as everyone and their mother told me, it’s pretty darn great. Everything about the film – the look, the performances, the relationships – has an air of realness to it. Everything looks and feels lived in, which is a great quality for a film to have.
14. Frozen (Dir: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee)
Despite the endless praise I did NOT expect to love this movie so much and I feel like an idiot for waiting as long to see it as I did. Like Tangled before it, Disney is somehow able to find ways to subvert the tropes that their own movies helped introduce. A Disney movie without a traditional capital V villain? Starring TWO female leads? And the great love story it tells is -GASP- sisterly? Wowee. I was really and truly floored watching this.
13. Anchorman 2: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Dir: Adam McKay)
Leaving the theatre on opening day, my brother referred to this film as “a surrealist masterpiece” and I really can’t think of a more fitting description. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay take absurdity to levels never before seen in a mainstream studio release and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. It’s not a tightly written, off-beat but accessible comedy like its predecessor, it is decidedly, AGGRESSIVELY something else entirely. And I LOVE IT.
12. Inside Llewyn Davis (Dir: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)
This film really got under my skin and I found my thoughts drifting towards it for long after I watched it. Everything about the film is superb – the cast, the look, the music, the humor, the nuance. I especially like that it seems as dark and as mean as a film by the Coens usually is but the presence of hope and light can also be argued – sometimes even in the same scene or event.
11. The World’s End (Dir: Edgar Wright)
Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two of my all-time favorite films so to say I was eagerly anticipating this film would be a vast understatement. Unshockingly, I was not disappointed by the surprisingly poignant, fairly dark comedy that was tasked with concluding Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy. I can’t imagine ever being able to pick a favorite between the three films but I am beyond thrilled that this film is even in the contest.
10. The Conjuring (Dir: James Wan)
Probably the most surprising film of 2013 for me. I’m not much into the horror genre these days – I just don’t find the stories they’re telling to be interesting or scary. But the hype got to me with this one and I was pleased to find a decidedly old-school vibe. Creepy occurrences and tense silences instead of violent attacks and noisy jump scares, psychological torture instead of physical gore and a sense of dread that builds and builds until you can feel it in the pit of your stomach. Not only was it a good and effective horror movie, it was also just a good MOVIE. A second viewing brought me the thrill of discovering that knowing what’s coming makes the film even more disturbing.
9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Dir: Francis Lawrence)
I liked the first Hunger Games movie, I LOVED this one. This film course-corrects on basically everything that the first installment had trouble with and as a result, the story works better and the characters feel more real. This film was so good, I was literally GASPING in the theatre at climactic reveals even though I had read the novel it was based on. They were somehow able to surprise me with information I already knew. I love it.
8. The Wolf of Wall Street (Dir: Martin Scorsese)
179 minutes and I can honestly say there was never a dull moment. Is it terrible to say that I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun watching a movie? That I found this to be one of the most hilarious films of the year? The whole film has a kinetic energy that is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. A fantastic theatrical experience.
7. 12 Years A Slave (Dir: Steve McQueen)
The rare “awards season” feature that actually feels genuine and honest – more of an artist’s vision than a studio’s. Chiwetel Ejiofor, whom I have long enjoyed, gives the performance of a lifetime and Michael Fassbender is typically great. The direction is spectacular – Steve McQueen has really honed his craft with this film. If you’re familiar with his style, the long takes and silences are still present but they are employed a bit more tactfully and the restraint makes them that much more effective. The same with his shot composition – everything is still striking and beautiful but not in a way that draws attention away from the story.
6. Before Midnight (Dir: Richard Linklater)
I need to keep this brief: not only because I could go on and on about how much I adore this movie (and trilogy in general) but because talking about it feels weirdly personal. The short version is these films and these characters are very close to my heart and this installment was exactly what this series (and what I) needed.
5. This Is The End (Dir: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg)
I will never get over the fact that we live in a world where this movie actually worked. Not only worked but even exceeded all the ridiculous hopes and expectations I had for it. What could’ve been an obnoxious, self-serving, feature-length inside joke ended up being one of the most clever and exciting crowd-pleasers of the year. I went to see this movie FOUR TIMES during its run and every single experience was one for the books: wall-to-wall cheers, screams, applause and uproarious laughter – sometimes even all at once! I’m still hesitant to single out my favorite jokes or scenes for fear of robbing someone the joy of discovering the bizarre treasures that lie within this film so I’ll just end with these two hyperbolic statements: 1) There are 2 particular scenes in this movie that I genuinely think we’ll be talking about at length for years to come. 2) Best ending ever.
4. Nebraska (Dir: Alexander Payne)
A simple story, simply shot and quietly performed but man, does it pack a punch. This film touched me in a way I was not prepared for. A beautiful musing on family and the things we do to protect them, the things we do out of love for them; an elegy for the past lives of our parents and a toast to the things they’ve taught us through both their triumphs and their mistakes. A pleasant and often funny watch with a stirring undercurrent of melancholy. Definitely my favorite Alexander Payne film to date.
3. Frances Ha (Dir: Noah Baumbach)
I’ve been a fan of Noah Baumbach for a while so it is a decidedly unusual feeling to describe one of his films as “light-hearted” or “delightful.” While this is certainly a different type of film for Baumbach, I think it still fits in nicely with the rest of his canon (at times it plays like a nicer, more hopeful companion to Kicking and Screaming) and feels like the potential start of an exciting new era. I love this movie for many reasons, one of which being that it’s one of the few I’ve seen to really nail the complexities of female friendship. Bridesmaids had glimpses of it, For A Good Time, Call… got it but Frances Ha really conveys the EXTREMITY of our relationships. Some of us fall for our friends harder than we ever fall for a romantic partner. And sometimes we love our friends so much we can’t help but hate them. Greta Gerwig is always a marvel to watch but this is truly the greatest she has ever been. Every look that falls across her face perfectly captures the “oh no” feeling that every twentysomething experiences at some point when you realize that no matter how young and immature you still feel, you’re expected to start acting like an adult at some point.
2. Her (Dir: Spike Jonze)
One of the most emotional experiences I had at a theatre in 2013. It’d been a long time since a movie affected me in this way – if I had been 10 years younger, I would’ve ran home and scrawled as many lines from it as I could remember into my diary to pore over. The concept of technology’s conveniences eliminating our human connections but still being “programmed” to long for that, so we turn to our technology to fill the void really struck a chord with me. On one hand, the film feels like a cautionary tale but it also somehow weaves one of the most engaging romances I’ve seen in recent memory. I spent the last 15 minutes in severe pain from the lump in my throat. And I haven’t even brought up the technically outstanding aspects of the film: the performances, the screenplay, the score, the look. Spike Jonze just gets it, man.
1. Spring Breakers (Dir: Harmony Korine)
I accidentally snort-laughed in public. TWICE.
– The Kings of Summer (Dir: Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
The story beats and coming-of-age tale may feel familiar but the offbeat sense of humor keeps it fresh and the trio of young performers at the center of the film definitely make the film worth a look.
– Only God Forgives (Dir: Nicholas Winding-Refn)
I didn’t fall for it as hard, as fast or as definitively as I did for Drive but I can see myself getting there at some point. So weird, so gorgeous, so ugly. I completely understand why this isn’t for everyone but I’ll definitely be watching this film many more times, if only to try and wrap my head around what on earth I just saw. But my goodness was it shot beautifully.
– Pain & Gain (Dir: Michael Bay)
For the first hour or so, it feels like Michael Bay might have suddenly become self-aware and might be doing a “joke’s on you!” satire of the lifestyle and mindset he’s been representing his entire career. But then at some point the movie kind of forgets all that and just turns into “a Michael Bay movie”, albeit one with less explosions. BUT despite that bait and switch, I kind of really enjoyed it?
– The Place Beyond The Pines (Dir: Derek Cianfrance)
Crystal’s Top 5 Most Disappointing Movies of 2013
4. A Good Day To Die Hard (Dir: John Moore)
3. American Hustle (Dir: David O. Russell)
2. The Hangover Part III (Dir: Todd Phillips)
1. Star Trek Into Darkness (Dir: J.J. Abrams)