2013 in Review: My Favorite Movies…and All the Rest

Before Midnight

Below, you’ll find my ranked list of every new movie I saw in 2013. (I saw many of them in theaters, some on DVD and Netflix and a few of them in advance screenings.) If it’s not on this list, I haven’t seen it.

First, a few notes: these rankings are really quite arbitrary. I’m happy with the first few at the top and the bottom, but in between, I could make a case for bumping almost every movie up or down one or two slots. I wrote this list to give you a sense of what I enjoyed at the movies in 2013. My hope is that you’ll start at the top of the list and find a few movies worth checking out, or you’ll disagree with my rankings and we can have a discussion about the relative merits of your favorites and mine.

On with the list!

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1. 12 Years a Slave

12 Years

Slavery without sentiment. Art as confrontation. Dark, deep, disturbing. Masterful.

Listen to my podcast with Devin Mitchell for more details.

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2. Short Term 12

Short Term 12

A deeply empathetic story about flawed people who discover themselves in each other. Very few people saw this movie. Don’t be one of those people.

“If I told you what Short Term 12 is about, you would tell me that it sounds like an after-school special, or that it sounds depressing, or that you don’t need to see another movie that explores those subjects, or that movies suck. You’d be wrong on all accounts.” Read my review for more details.

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3. Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

Oscars, schmoscars. Gorgeously musical, achingly soulful and frustratingly circular.

“It’s not an easy movie to love, but it has a beating heart and a dark soul.” Read my review for more details.

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4. Her

Her

The year’s most touching romance is between a man and his computer.

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5. Before Midnight

Before Midnight

Richard Linklater’s epic trilogy is one of the finest long-term achievements in movie history. With this third installment, Jesse and Celine’s honeymoon phase ends, and reality sets in.

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6. Gravity

Gravity

After sitting through countless instances of etiquette slaughter, movies like this remind us why movie theaters still exist. It’s an experience.

“Some movies demand to be seen. Gravity demands to be experienced, in 3D, on the widest possible screen, surrounded by the most excitable people you can find.” Read my review for more details.

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7. Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale

Tightly focused, emotionally devastating, politically evocative.

“When the artifice falls away, when the significance of the event and the humanity of these people shines through, Fruitvale Station proves a powerful, succinct reminder of the injustices that plague our country every day.” Read my review for more details.

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8. Captain Phillips

Captain P

I had no greater visceral reaction to any movie in 2013 than I did to this one, which swells in intensity without sacrificing coherence.

Listen to my podcast with Devin Mitchell for more details.

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9. The Spectacular Now

Specatucular Now

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller explore the struggles of teenage life without the slightest whiff of cutesy.

“Because The Spectacular Now transcends the trappings of its genres and finds honesty and genuine longing in characters who come across as fully fleshed-out individuals almost instantly.” Read my review for more details.

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10. American Hustle

American Hustle

I’m not sure how it all adds up, but David O. Russell can direct actors like no one else working in Hollywood right now.

“Anchored by this magnificent quartet, director David O. Russell’s follow-up to last year’s Oscar winning romance Silver Linings Playbook is overlong, narratively confounding, tonally precarious and utterly exhilarating.” Read my review for more details.

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11. The World’s End

World's End

Zippy, surprising sci-fi comedy with twists aplenty. The most fun of this year’s not-so-fun summer movies.

“Wright and Pegg explore arrested development with greater finesse than ever before, and the result is the summer’s most satisfying, fun experience.” Read my review for more details.

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12. Frances Ha

Frances Ha

A little absurd, a little rough on the edges, but winning for its embrace of young-adult experiences.

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13. The Wolf of Wall Street

Wolf of Wall Street

Morally bankrupt? Exhausting? Sure. Wildly entertaining and operatic? Undoubtedly.

Listen to my podcast with Devin Mitchell for more details.

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14. Nebraska

Nebraska

Lacks the noisy appeal of its Best Picture competitors, but Alexander Payne’s Midwestern dramedy never condescends to the lives of its characters, even when perhaps they deserve a little condescension.

Read my review for more details.

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15. Upstream Color

Upstream Color

Baffling on a narrative level, beguiling on nearly every other level.

Upstream Color defies description, review and analysis. It’s a spectacular visual feast of oddities with only a tangential connection to what audiences might expect for a ‘plot.'” Read my review for more details.

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16. Drinking Buddies

Drinking Buddies

A shambling romantic comedy notable for its stubborn lack of contrivance.

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17. Mud

Mud

The first of three great Matthew McConaughey performances in 2013. Plus: compelling work from the two central child actors, and a decidedly unexplored cinematic setting.

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18. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Catching Fire

Blockbuster filmmaking of the highest caliber, with delightful performances and striking visuals everywhere you turn.

The Hunger Games movies represent a rarity among Hollywood franchises: uncommonly intelligent and socially conscious, littered with terrific performances and supported by unobtrusive special effects.” Read my review for more details.

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19. Frozen

Frozen

Simultaneously embraces and subverts the Disney animated tradition.

“Look closely at the beating heart of Frozen, and you’ll find just enough intriguing subversions of the formula to justify a return to these tropes.” Read my review for more details.

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20. The Way, Way Back

Way, Way Back

Charming late-summer comedy with actors you love and characters you’ll grow to like.

The Way, Way Back is charming and gentle. It goes down smooth. It’s written deftly and performed subtly. It’s funny, it’s moving. It’s everything most of this summer’s movies aren’t.” Read my review for more details.

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21. Blue Jasmine

22. Spring Breakers

23. Dallas Buyers Club

24. Rush

25. Prince Avalanche

26. The Heat

27. Lone Survivor

28. Lee Daniels’ The Butler

29. Monsters University

30. Computer Chess

31. Side Effects

32. Iron Man 3

33. Saving Mr. Banks

34. About Time

35. Trance

36. Pacific Rim

37. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

38. World War Z

39. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

40. Thor: The Dark World

41. Star Trek Into Darkness

42. The Great Gatsby

43. Olympus Has Fallen

44. Elysium

45. The Host

46. Oblivion

47. The Fifth Estate

48. Jack the Giant Slayer

***

49. Man of Steel

Man of Steel

Grimly humorless, excessively portentous and mind-numbingly violent.

“In its first half, Man of Steel builds a world of intriguing mythological import. In its second half, Man of Steel tears that world down in a pileup of fiery explosions and collapsing buildings.” Read my review for more details.

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50. Dead Man Down

Dead Man Down

I have almost no memory of this long-forgotten “thriller” starring Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace. That’s never a good sign.

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51. After Earth

After Earth

Will Smith spends 80% of his screentime lounging in a grounded rocketship while his charisma void of a son traipses through the forest muttering. Not exactly cinema at its finest.

“The best science-fiction is provocative and propulsive. After Earth is inert and impenetrable.” Read my review for more details.

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52. Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures

Some critics warmed to this insipid Twilight-esque YA fantasy with a Southern twist. Not me.

“While the spirit of faithfulness is admirable, though, the spirit of producing a film that does not induce groans, snoring and derisive laughter is far more important. On that score, Beautiful Creatures fails.” Read my review for more details.

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53. Identity Thief

Squanders two immensely funny actors with the year’s most dire premise.

“Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to visually enjoy this lazy, sloppy, inane movie.” Read my review for more details.

Identity Thief

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