Now that my Overrated and Underrated picks have been released (which many of you have strong opinions about), it's time for me to unveil my 10 favorite films of the year. As I have said before, 2013 has been an incredible year at the movies, with fantastic big-budget blockbusters (Iron Man 3 and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), superb drams (Philomena, Mud), comedies (The Way, Way Back, Drinking Buddies) and everything in between (Spring Breakers). As much as I loved all of those films mentioned above, you will not find them on my Top 10, which can only mean that the quality of movies released this year was rather special, since superb cinematic experiences like these didn't make the cut. Of course, I didn't see EVERY movie released in 2013 (CLICK HERE to check out every movie I saw this year), but this list represents the films that blew me away, in more ways than one. Plus, I also have an honorable mention, a wonderful movie I saw this year that won't be released until next year, that is well worthy of being mentioned. So, here they are, my Top 10 Movies of 2013.
If you would told me in January that this under-the-radar thriller would have cracked my Top 10, I probably wouldn't have believed you. Sure, I was looking forward to the English-language directorial debut of Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park, but I never thought it would be as amazing as it truly was. Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska deliver stunning turns as Evelyn and India Stoker, a mother and daughter grieving the loss of their family patriarch, when they are visited by a relative (Matthew Goode) India never knew existed. Chan-wook Park delivers a truly unique and subdued thriller, from a tremendous script by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller in his screenwriting debut, capturing this dysfunctional family in extraordinary ways, with an ending that is simply out of this world awesome.
I love seeing big risks pay off in wonderful ways, such as the enormously captivating All Is Lost. I'm actually really looking forward to reading writer-director J.C. Chandor's script in the near future, because this one-character narrative features a whopping three lines of dialogue throughout the 90-minute runtime. Robert Redford portrays a character listed as "Our Man" on the IMDB page, a sailor whose boat collides with a shipping container, forcing him to use his considerable nautical skills to try and survive in an uncharted area of the Indian Ocean. I doubt anyone but Robert Redford would have the amazing skills needed to pull off such a complex performance that is almost exclusively dependent on body language and his actions at sea. Honestly, I saw this film out of sheer curiosity (similar to what drew me to The Artist two years ago), completely unsure of how one man and just a few lines of dialogue could sustain my attention for 90 minutes. I left the theater with an experience unlike any other I had in 2013.
Jared Leto will most likely be honored by the Academy with a nomination for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, but it was his transcendent turn in Mr. Nobody that really got my attention. Oddly enough, this film debuted at the Venice Film Festival back in September 2009, making the rounds at a number of festivals and playing in several countries around the world before finally arriving in American theaters this November. Ironically, this was Jared Leto's last film before taking time off to focus on his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, and it was released on the same day as his "return" to acting, Dallas Buyers Club, this fall. Regardless of release date oddities, Mr. Nobody is one of the most ambitious films I've seen in quite some time (Cloud Atlas is child's play compared to this), set in a world where technology has advanced to the point where having one simple procedure means you will never die. Jared Leto plays Nemo, an old man about to be the last man ever to die, who tells several conflicting stories about his life to a journalist trying to make sense of it all. Diane Kruger, Linh Dan Pham, Rhys Ifans and Juno Temple round out an extraordinary cast in a film that examines the power of choice, which isn't easy to follow, but is incredibly rewarding if you can keep up with it.
It remains to be seen if Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller will be honored with Oscar nominations for their remarkably authentic performances in James Ponsoldt's breathtaking indie. I don't think I've ever seen a teenage drama portrayed so honestly, with every emotion ringing so true it does even feel like you're watching performances on a screen. It feels like you're there, watching this relationship unfold in amazing ways before your very eyes, from the first kiss (possibly the best scene in the film) to Miles Teller's struggles with alcohol and the issues he has with the father who abandoned him. It plays like a Good Will Hunting for the high school set, but even this jaded 36-year-old critic found a big soft spot in his heart for this phenomenal film.
I recall talking with a colleague at a screening this fall, who had already seen 12 Years a Slave a few weeks before its release. He described it as a "horror film," which I found somewhat surprising at the time, but frighteningly accurate after viewing this powerful drama. Make no mistake, director Steve McQueen's harrowing tale is brutal, unflinching and certainly not for the faint of heart, but it is also one of the most powerful films you'll see all year. Chiwetel Ejiofor shines in an Oscar-worthy performance that will be talked about for years to come, playing Solomon Northup, a free man living in New York who is duped and sold into slavery in the antebellum South before the Civil War. You will also be seeing Lupita Nyong'o's name pop up quite a bit in the awards conversation, for her breakthrough turn as Patsey, another one of many tormented slaves whom Solomon lives and works with. Director (Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) solidifies his presence as one of the best filmmakers working today with his third film, that will surely be in contention for all the major awards this season.
27-year-old writer-director Ryan Coogler was the toast of Sundance back in January with his feature film debut Fruitvale Station, which became only the fourth film ever to win both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Awards, the last being Best Picture nominee Precious. It remains to be seen whether this riveting drama will ride a year's worth of critical acclaim all the way to Oscar season, but I was thoroughly blown away by this film. While Chronicle put Michael B. Jordan on the cinematic map last year, Fruitvale Station launches him into a whole other level with a tour de force performance as Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old man whose death at the hands of a transit cop galvanized the Bay Area and made national headlines. With both Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan teaming up again for the Rocky spin-off Creed, I hope this is the start of numerous collaborations between an actor and filmmaker whose best work is likely ahead of them.
With a critical reception (97% on Rotten Tomatoes from 290 reviews) that's just as impressive as its box office haul ($653.2 million worldwide, $254.5 million domestic), Gravity hit that always elusive sweet spot of critical and consumer success that doesn't happen every day, or every year, even. Sandra Bullock may end up walking away with her second Oscar in four years for her harrowing performance as Ryan Stone, who gets set adrift in the abyss of space in one of the most visually arresting experiences of the year. It's been six long years since director Alfonso Cuarón's last film (Children of Men), but it was well worth the wait for this meticulously-crafted thriller that will be talked about for years to come.
I've seen director Martin Scorsese's frantic financial drama on several of my colleagues' Top 10 lists, and I was hoping I'd love it enough to make my own list. I didn't get a chance to see it early, so The Wolf of Wall Street was the last film I saw in 2013, and that's one hell of a way to close out a year. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are in absolute top form in this adaptation of Jordan Belfort's memoir, which chronicles how he swindled his clients out of hundreds of millions of dollars through his phony stock firm Stratton Oakmont. However, the real star is Martin Scorsese himself, bringing such a maniacal energy I haven't seen since Goodfellas to the silver screen in truly exhilarating ways, while showing up directors half his age by making the ultimate three-hour movie: one that doesn't drag a single bit. Fans of the marvelous and underrated indie Boiler Room will likely notice a lot of similarities, since that film was loosely based on Jordan Belfort's exploits before he wrote his tell-all memoir, but The Wolf of Wall Street delves deep into a lifestyle that may be disgustingly indulgent. but utterly fascinating to watch.
This was the biggest surprise of the year for me, hands down. I had heard plenty of positive reviews coming out of the South By Southwest Film Festival in March, where it first premiered and took home both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. Still, I was not at all prepared for the glorious perfection of Destin Cretton's second feature film, following I Am Not a Hipster. There is not one false beat in this story about a social worker who comes to grips with her troubled past, with pitch-perfect performances by Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Stephanie Beatriz (who is awesome on Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, by the way), and the remarkable feature film debut of Keith Stanfield, who could easily be a dark horse Oscar contender for Best Supporting Actor. While I've seen these actors shine in several other projects, Destin Cretton seems to bring out something very special in this diverse cast, with such an incredibly assured style he has developed already after just two feature films. This style is highlighted by the best ending I've seen in many, many years that I still can't stop thinking about, four months after watching it.
If you're the type that obsessively reads Top 10 stories this time of year, you've no doubt seen Spike Jonze's brilliant romance atop quite a few lists. While I did ponder putting Short Term 12 in the top spot, and Her at #2, I couldn't deny this wholly unique, cerebral and touching experience as the best film of the year. What I didn't realize right away is that Her is the first original feature screenplay Spike Jonze has written, after directing the Charlie Kaufman-scripted Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, along with writing and directing the Where the Wild Things Are adaptation. I can only hope that the filmmaker sticks to writing and directing his own material from now on, since Her is ridiculously gorgeous and original on so many levels. Everything from this man-machine romance between the lonely Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and his highly-advanced computer operating system (Scarlett Johansson), to the filmmaker's futuristic vision of L.A. (A subway that goes to the beach? What? Elevated monorails throughout the city? What?) and even something as seemingly insignificant as the company Theodore works for, where he writes personal letters for other people all day long, is just awe-inspiring and so incredibly relevant in this day and age. Just as our modes of communication are constantly changing and upgrading, Her shows us how love itself can evolve in the 21st Century.
Honorable Mention - The Lunchbox
I had the chance to see this wonderful film at the AFI Fest here in Los Angeles last month (CLICK HERE to check out my review), and it was the movie I was the most impressed with, followed closely by Big Bad Wolves. Ritesh Batra makes a remarkable directorial debut with this drama/romance about a solitary man (Irrfan Khan) about to retire, who suddenly connects with a housewife (Nimrat Kaur) after an incredibly rare mistake in Mumbai's lunchbox delivery service. Most romance films, I avoid like the plague, but The Lunchbox isn't bound by the bullshit conventions Hollywood always sticks to, offering an authentic antidote to this trite formula with this compelling story. Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film in May, although it isn't known when the studio plans on releasing the film, so stay tuned for that announcement.
That wraps it up for my Top 10 Movies of 2013. If you agree or disagree with my picks, share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @GallagherMW.