TOP 15 OF 2013

2013 was a pretty great year for film. As I've grown accustomed to ranking films on a five-star system I've realized how differently we approach each movie and how that rating reflects how well the film achieved the goals it was intended to meet. Four stars has become the standard for the above average film, ones with exceptional qualities that make them better than anything else playing at the given moment. There were a ton of four-star ratings this year and many of them even came in the midst of the summer movie season which I have been able to re-visit now and have verified that rating was worthy of most, especially films like The Great Gatsby, World War Z and The Fast and Furious 6. I would have liked to include more on the list, as there were so many above average to really good flicks this year, but I already expanded the article to what I would call fifteen of the best films I saw this year and I hate to expand the list further than that to weaken the value of the ones that do make it. I try to mix it up and keep as many small, indie films in there as much as big studio fare that tend to defy there stereotype and deliver something substantial. I really enjoyed Side EffectsPain & Gain, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyer's Club and The East and in a lesser year you would see them ranked here. Then there were of course animated films like Frozen and Monsters University that played really well and I enjoyed, but not to the point I felt they earned a place on a year-end list. We also have awards bait such as Her and American Hustle or the two black and white front-runners on many lists this year, Nebraska and Frances Ha, all of which I enjoyed well enough but didn't think of them as exceptional pieces of work or understood what the hype was about surrounding each of them. You could also lump Before Midnight in that category as I appreciate what those films do and how well constructed and written they are, but I don't necessarily get what all the fuss is about. 42Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. BanksOut of the Furnace, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and even Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues are all well deserving of a mention here, but with such stiff competition it was going to be difficult to carve out a spot and Ron Burgundy knows I have a special place in my heart for him. 2013 was a great year for films, but the ones I have chosen to put on my list are the ones that I could watch over and over again or left an impression on me I wasn't able to shake and needed to see again, immediately, to confirm the legacy they will leave. So, without further adieu...

If there will be one thing remembered about the summer movie season of 2013 it will certainly be the number of coming-of-age tales that were released. Mud, The Way, Way Back and The Kings of Summer are each fine films in their own right, but none of them will hit you the way The Spectacular Now does. As this is as much a film about love and progression, with one of the sweetest and most honest supporting female characters portrayed on film lately by the wonderful Shailene Woodley, it is really a film about the self-destructive Sutter Keely (the great Miles Teller) and his path towards adulthood and the hard truths that come with it. Both leads do phenomenal work yet director James Ponsoldt is truly one to watch Full review.

Ron Howard’s latest is a psychological evaluation of two men who have vastly different approaches to the same thing and how those approaches define them as men and determine every other aspect of their lives that has nothing to do with their job which happens to put them in life or death situations every time they start their engines. It is a fascinating and thrilling story to experience and a well-crafted film that defies story convention and features great performances from its two leads that will serve as a true breakout for one and a definitive breakaway for the other. Full review.
What makes Fruitvale Station the exception to the rule is not that it is "based on a true story" but that it doesn't follow the conventional arc of a movie in that we know what we're getting, we know there is no happy ending, and that even though we can't escape the heartbreak of the events this movie sheds light on there is a profound meaning to come from the the performances along with the lean direction from Ryan Coogler help breathe inspiring life into a story of unnecessary death. There are no excuses for how wrong things ended for Oscar Grant, but if its any testament to his legacy this film will serve to both make people aware and inspire others looking to make change. Full review.

There are moments throughout Martin Scorsese's latest film that hint at greatness, entire scenes even where you wish you could stay tucked in that little moment for just a bit longer while others go on for far too long and rather than re-enforce the throughline plot or contributing to character development, stand as evidence that more time was needed to fine tune the film. This is by no means a disappointment, as it is a strong film with easily the best performance of Leonardo DiCaprio's illustrious career, but it is not the coherent masterpiece individual aspects of the ensemble piece hint it very well could have been. Full review.

There is a large amount of sentiment going on here and I didn't expect to be as swept up in the world of these characters as I became, but that is essentially why we become so attached to certain films and Richard Cutis’ About Time is a movie that took me in and made me a part of the experience, a part of the family it was discussing and dissecting. It is at once very specific to the people, the nature of their lives and the circumstances they find themselves in, but also has the ability to hit close to home. It is a truly moving film that I didn't see coming with a handful of great performances. It struck a chord no other film last year did and has serious replay value, something I strongly consider when putting together this list. Full review.

Easily the most divisive on the list, this, much like The Lone Ranger, was a film too quickly and harshly judged. From the performances to the Hans Zimmer score to the look of the film to the impressive visual effects Man of Steel delivered on every promise of spectacle that a Superman movie could be expected to achieve. You can feel the artistic license in the way shots are composed and the way that first half of the film is put together and you can feel the director wanting to please those who complained about the lack of action in Superman Returns with the final battle scene, but there will always be detractors. It delivers an origin story that truly fleshes out the world and the people that surround our titular hero while keeping a shade of mystery to the main attraction that will hopefully continue to be peeled away in the next installment. Full review.

Short Term 12 is a slice of life dramedy that will suck you in immediately and have you engulfed in the world of its timid characters that are only trying to do their part to make a difference in the world with an approach that truly means something to them. It is also one of the more emotionally demanding films I've seen all year and no matter if you end up relating only in the slightest or as much as I did there is still an impact here that is unavoidable and that is what good movies are supposed to do: they hit you right in the heart. With a strong script and some purely exceptional performances Short Term 12 turns out to be one of the more affecting films of the year that has probably been seen the least. Full review.

Director Peter Berg's latest effort, Lone Survivor, is a simple story with which he is able to say much more about the nature of war than the surface story implies. It is not only shining a light on the heroic acts of these men that sacrificed their lives, but also analyzing the the psychology of those who voluntarily put themselves in situations most would run away from. We come away with much more than an adrenaline rush of action or misplaced pride, but a real understanding for the value of life and how it is not worth throwing away for inconsequential details. Full review.

It's obvious Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are both geniuses and they both provide good reason as to why here, but it is also easy to look past what director Edgar Wright was trying to say here with his final film in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. Buying into the idea that what we are watching is nothing more than some friends going out, talking about old times and running into some aliens along the way because what is more popular than aliens right now? Instead the aliens come along to represent or form an extension of the fear that each of our characters has for some aspect of their life that is exposed along their journey and thus the real wit and intelligence of this trio comes to a grand fruition and finale. Full review.

Sometimes, in life, there are subjects and themes that float in and out of our existence and can define certain time periods of our life. Whether it is for the fact that many of the ideals and themes represented in Philomena are also present at this time of my life made this film hit closer to home than I ever expected or if it is simply because the story in which the film tells is so interesting and captivating that I was completely swept up in it, I can't tell. Regardless, the real lesson to be learned here is that T.S. Eliot sure knows how to make life conundrums feel a lot less complicated. Full review.

Prisoners is as much a compelling drama as it is an investigation into the psyche of moral dilemma and how far is too far when the end goal is hope, but the road is littered with hate. It presents an interesting debate for the audience to discuss not only because it documents a gripping series of events, but because it begs you to ask yourself what you might do were you placed under the circumstances of the characters on display here. Add to this a roster of strong performances not only from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, but the entire cast with precise direction from Denis Villeneuve and beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins and this is easily one of the best of the year. Full review.

From its extended opening shot that is captured in one take to the multi-generational arc of the story it is clear The Place Beyond the Pines is looking for something extra, something more than what most films shoot for. It is a dour, brooding piece of work from Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance that will hit you in the gut and keep you yearning for more. It is a film that sums up what it means to leave a legacy and how those moments that will be remembered as ones heritage come about and play out in every day life. It is a story that attempts to humanize something that will come to only be thought of as myth which appropriately fits the epic tone of the overall experience. Full review.

Steve McQueen’s film is both so involving and at the same time so draining that you feel exhausted after having experienced it. It is a tough film to watch, but a necessary lesson in perspective that ultimately makes you appreciate what you've seen if not for the unflinching history lesson, but for the craft in which it is conveyed. McQueen's work presents us with this picture and then sits back to have us interpret it as we will without giving any indication of his stance. It is a method of storytelling that doesn't always work, but when done with as great an understanding of the story and subject as McQueen has here it can be all the more fulfilling. And if that isn't enough (which it very well should) the final scene is one of both joy and heartbreak in the actuality of what Solomon's life had become and what was really taken from him. Full review.

The latest film from the Coen brothers brings their bleak, deadpan humor to the 1960's Greenwich Village folk scene and a kind of day in the life of a struggling musician. Ultimately, the film becomes more than this though and plays into the larger themes of disappointment and the differences in leading a fulfilling life and simply existing. It is, in many regards, a hard truth to swallow about human nature, our dreams and how we are conditioned to believe things must go a certain way in order to be regarded as a success which commonly translates to a satisfaction with ones self not too many people seem to ever fully reach. Inside Llewyn Davis feels like something special though, something I'll cherish for a long time to come. Full review.

Alfonso CuarĂ³n has crafted a film that meshes some big questions into a single, direct piece of work that doesn't so much intend to answer any of them as much as it does put them into a context that may help us better understand. The simplicity with which Gravity conveys these ideas is its strength as it doesn't need to be overly-pretentious or mystical to be provoking, but simply looks to the facts of the tiny part we play in the universe and how our immediate problems can so quickly be dwarfed by the enormity of what has yet to be discovered. Gravity was easily the most rewarding cinematic experience I had in 2013, but having watched it again since (and not in IMAX 3D) it still holds up as an incredible piece of filmmaking with a story and performances that deliver more than your initial reaction will give them credit for. Full review.

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