Every year I post this list and someone asks me how I have time to see so many movies. I’m something of a data nerd and I like to record data about my activities, which comes in handy for answering questions like this. In 2013, I watched 107 movies, of which 57 were 2013 releases and therefore eligible for the end of the year list. That’s basically one trip to the theater and one home rental a week. I’m sure that’s more than most people, but it doesn’t seem that crazy to me (especially because the theater is two blocks away). I may not have much of a social life, but it’s not because I watch too many movies (it’s actually because most people are intimidated by my good looks).
Usual disclaimer – I’m not much of a film critic and my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. A grain of salt which, when viewed under a microscope, contains the inscription: “THIS ASSHOLE WOULDN’T KNOW A GOOD MOVIE IF IT HIT HIM IN THE FACE.”
- Gravity. This movie is amazing. A supreme technical achievement, a sphincter-clenching thriller, a first-rate acting showcase, and possibly the first movie since Avatar that I thought was worth wearing those dipshit 3D glasses for. I’ll admit the story and script are a bit weak, but no film this year rivaled it for sheer spectacle. This movie went up and did not come down.
- Her. When I heard the premise of this movie (“Joaquin Phoenix plays a sensitive man who falls in love with his computer’s operating system”) I had to suppress a gag reflex. This film is about a thousand times better than you would think based on the ridiculous-sounding plot. It was a really tough choice to pick between this and Gravity for the #1 spot.
- Upstream Color. This is a small, independent film that few people saw (from the director of Primer, another fantastic, little-watched film). Like Her, it’s nominally science fiction but really at its core about relationships and their aftermath. It’s also incredibly weird (the main characters may or may not be psychically linked to two pigs), and you will definitely spend time on the internet afterward trying to figure out exactly what you just saw. Well worth your time!
- Inside Llewyn Davis. I’m a nut for the Coen brothers and even though I consider this probably one of their lesser works, I’m unable to place it any lower than #4. There’s not much plot here, it’s a film focused on character and music and setting (Greenwich Village folk music scene in the 1960s). I’m not a fan of folk music but I enjoyed spending some time hanging out with a classic Coen character. Also a great movie for cat lovers.
- Before Midnight. The third of Richard Linklater’s “Before” movies, this continues the story of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s decades long romance. I still think Before Sunset is the best of the three, but I love all three. Here’s hoping they make another one in nine years.
- No. As a former political worker, I thoroughly enjoyed this Chilean film which explored the intersection of advertising and politics in the last days of the Pinochet regime. The movie is shot using the VHS cameras of the time, so it really has the feeling of watching history.
- The World’s End. Edgar Wright’s conclusion to his “Cornetto Trilogy” (begun with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) is hilarious, but also the most poignant and sad of his films. Completely relatable for any of us who feel like we maybe haven’t grown up enough since leaving high school.
- American Hustle. This movie was very well done, very funny, very sly. I can’t escape the feeling, though, that it’s just a bit slight. There’s not as much going on under the surface as there are in the other films on this list. I think it made it on the list just because of Louis CK as the FBI middle manager.
- The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I’m a little embarrassed to have this on the list but I honestly love this movie. I thought it was far better than the first Hunger Games movie and had a lot going for it. It’s a fun adventure but also a trenchant political film. Jennifer Lawrence glaring at the camera in the final scene may by my favorite scene of the year.
- Oblivion. This is my “most underrated” film. I love science fiction, especially ORIGINAL science fiction, based on a new idea and not just pumping some moribund franchise for more money (*cough* Star Trek *cough*). Critics didn’t love it but I found this to be surprisingly well made. Great action setpieces, thought provoking ideas, and gorgeous cinematography. Don’t worry, I still hate Tom Cruise.
Honorable Mentions: Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Drug War, Frances Ha, Frozen, Stories We Tell, The East, Computer Chess, Side Effects, Iron Man 3, Stoker, and, oh fuck it, Pacific Rim
Most Essential Film of the Year: 12 Years a Slave. I struggled with where to put this one on the list, as I have very mixed emotions about it. This is a great film, perhaps the best of the year. I hated watching it. Every American should see this movie (especially politicians who compare our national debt problem to slavery). I never want to watch it again. This movie is rich and complex and important and really really brutal and horrifying. I’m glad I saw it, but at the end of the day, I’m not a fan of horror films. This movie teeters on the edge between historical document and torture porn. Ultimately I couldn’t call it one of my “favorite” films so I had to make up a category for it.
Disqualified for Moral Reasons: The Wolf of Wall Street. There was so much to love here. It was funny as hell, the dialogue and acting were fantastic, the cinematography daring and who couldn’t love the Quaalude scene. But I can’t condone a movie that’s just going to help create another generation of Wall Street assholes. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio insist that this movie is a critique of the lifestyle depicted in the film, but when you watch the movie it feels more like a celebration. The character DiCaprio plays is a real life guy, Jordan Belfort, who was inspired by Gordon Gekko from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Wall Street is far more critical of Wall Street than The Wolf of Wall Street, yet dickwads like Belfort still revere Gordon Gekko as a hero. Imagine how many finance douches will be quoting from Wolf for the next thirty years. I can’t be a part of it.
Biggest Disappointments: A Good Day to Die Hard, Elysium.
Least Favorite of 2013: Man of Steel