Aaron’s Top 10 Films of 2013

It was a big and bright year, but somehow I managed to put together a list of my favorite films of 2013.  I have to say that this was once again not the easiest list to put together.  Theatrically, I have seen 150+ films this year, so there were a lot of films to consider and figure out how to reference in terms of their placement on this list.  Some of these films certainly got a bigger response out of me than others, but at the same time, some stuck with me throughout the year and wound up receiving even higher praise than I may have initially given them.  It took a lot of effort, but I am very satisfied by this final list that I have put together, mainly because it is my list and it contains films that I really enjoyed the most this year, for various reasons.  So here we go.

10. NebraskaThis is a fun way for me to kick off my Top Ten list, as Nebraska was a film that grew on me as I thought more about it.  I was already a big fan of the film, as the performances from all involved and the work done by director Alexander Payne to really convey a sense of place and state of being for the characters was enough to have me appreciate the film for being a sad comedy, but Nebraska stuck with me.  I think it came down to a lot of the photography for me.  Aside from the gorgeous Black & White cinematography, Payne utilized a lot of close-ups on his actors, which worked in some cases to really make for an affecting feature. Some realizations that are seen through these close-ups stuck with me enough to believe Nebraska to be one of the films that deserves special end of the year notice from me and that meant placing it up on my Top Ten list.

“Have a drink with your old man. Be somebody!” (Review HERE)

9. The Hunt – I saw this film back in April and I have been trying to support it ever since.  Here is a drama that deals with some dark subject matter, as it involves awful accusations of a sexual nature and what happens when a person is dragged through the mud because of it, regardless of whether or not they deserved it.  Mads Mikkelsen gives a tremendous performance in this Danish feature.  He is put through a terrible ordeal, with almost all of his loved ones turning on him.  It is the kind of film that can make a viewer angry, based on how things are handled, put up against the knowledge they have, but still engaged, because of how effectively handled the film is and how extreme the scenario can be.  I wish I could have seen more foreign film's this year, but I am glad I saw The HuntIt is a hard film to watch, but certainly worthwhile.

“Look into my eyes.  Look me in the eyes.  What do you see?  Do you see anything?  Nothing. There's nothing. There's nothing.” (Review HERE)

8. In A World… - Moving away from the more depressing picks, here is a really fun comedy that I really wanted to support.  In A World is a film written, directed by, and starring Lake Bell.  The story revolves around the world of voice-over artists.  It was a little comedy that came and went during the summer, but everything about it clicked with me.  The story was fun and interesting, it was populated by an ensemble cast made up of fun comedic actors, and the whole film just gave me a great feeling by the time it had finished.  I was surprised at the time by how much I enjoyed the film, but was happy to continue sharing my thoughts on it to others.

You sound like a squeaky toy and it’s bad for the species.” (Review HERE)

7. The Wolf of Wall Street/Spring Breakers (Tie) – I honestly moved films around so many times in the forming of this list that I just had to settle on having a tie to satisfy myself.  Both The Wolf of Wall Street and Spring Breakers (along with other films from this year) involve characters attempting to take what they want in life, using what apparently comes naturally to them.  For me, both films were also hypnotic exercises in excess.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a much longer, better acted, and more effectively made film perhaps, but Spring Breakers gets plenty of credit for me by not only creating my now favorite James Franco character, but doing such a fine job of making something that had the impression of one thing, but turned into something fascinatingly gritty, under a haze of neon lighting, and reaching certain points that were comparable to Fight Club.  It also does not hurt that DiCaprio may be giving his best performance yet in ‘Wolf’, while Spring Breakers has one of the best and most effective soundtracks of the year.  If it helps, I also found a convenient article that discusses the similarities of both films.

“Bikini's and big booties - that's what it's all about.” (Review HERE and HERE)

6. The World’s End – It is getting to the point where I will basically assume that any Edgar Wright film will be on my Top Ten list.  The World’s End is the latest collaboration between Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost, which caps off their ‘Cornetto Trilogy’.  Once again, as with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the trio has created something special.  After zombie and action satires, the gang has decided to move towards 70s sci-fi/paranoia features.  This is a bit more obscure, perhaps, but it comes with how these guys have grown up in the time they have been making films together, as there is a significant amount of drama that comes with the laugh-out-loud moments and expertly crafted action sequences.  I had a blast with The World’s End and have rewatched it multiple times, which is made only better by the fact that I will continue to enjoy it on further viewings and will likely continue to pick up new jokes in this heavily layered film.

“How can you tell if you're drunk if you're never sober?” (Review HERE)

5. 12 Years A Slave – A lot of times one has to consider how rewatchable a film may be, when considering what the “best” or “favorite” films of the year are.  Some may leave 12 Years a Slave off of their list due to this fact, as the film is certainly important, but perhaps not one that can be watched numerous times.  I cannot quite say I buy into that for this film.  Director Steve McQueen has done a superlative job at bringing Solomon Northrup’s memoir to the big screen and I think his approach makes it a film that, while extreme in its depictions of slavery, can be admired for its filmmaking and acting on display, which allows 12 Years A Slave to be a film that can be watched from different perspectives and appreciated on numerous levels, making it easier to get behind seeing it more than just once.  However, even if that is not the case, it is still one of the best acted films of the year, among other things, and certainly one that will be appreciated more, as time goes by.

“I apologize for my appearance. But I have had a difficult time these past several years.” (Review HERE)

4. Inside Llewyn DavisWhile I can maybe assume that future Edgar Wright films will make my Top Ten, I have no doubt that future films from the Coen Brothers will always make my Top Ten.  These guys are brilliant filmmakers, as they make the movies they want to make, which also happen to be some of the most interesting of their respective years.  Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of a 60s folk singer and as minor as that subject matter could be, the film has everything I like about the films of the Coen Brothers.  It plays in an offbeat manner, it is really funny, it has random symbols layered throughout, and as a bonus, the film has another one of the best soundtracks of the year, made up of wonderful folk songs.  I am not even a huge fan of folk music, but dammit if the songs sung by Oscar Isaac (who is brilliant in this film) do not make you want to put the tracks on repeat and enjoy for all their melancholy wonderment (as well as ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’ for its goofy joyousness).

“Explain the cat.” (Review HERE)

3. GravityIf there was one movie to see in theaters (ideally on the biggest screen possible) it was Gravity.  This is the kind of movie that the big screen experience is designed for, as Gravity is such a wonderful thrill-ride full of spectacular filmmaking and visuals, along with a wonderful use of sound.  It is made all the better by the fact that the film is anchored by a career-best performance from Sandra Bullock, with George Clooney providing some great supporting work as well.  Director Alfonso Cuaron managed to take a simple premise and utilize his talents to great effect, as he created what was The film event for moviegoers.  The best thing about this is how much ‘win’ Gravity achieved, as the film was both a critical and financial success.  All of that and it doesn’t mean we are getting Gravity 2: Hope Floats Again, it just proves that audiences are just as happy to see great, original movies when they are out there to see.

“Clear skies with a chance of satellite debris.” (Review HERE)

2. Fruitvale StationI was honestly pretty set on Gravity being my number 1 for the longest time.  Eventually things changed in my mind though, even though I saw Fruitvale Station before Gravity.  It comes down to how things stick with me and while Gravity provided the ultimate theatrical experience, I was so invested in this debut feature from writer/director Ryan Coogler that I just had to place this film as high as I have it in my Top Ten.  In telling the story of Oscar Grant, the film does a wonderful job of presenting a simple man on the last day of his life.  Michael B. Jordan does a terrific job at playing this character and imbuing him with qualities of a normal human, who has obviously had issues in his life, but is not a saint or anything other than a guy trying to get by and be a decent person.  Because of that, the film leaves you with a sense of anger as it gets to a pivotal point, but there is still more to it than just the part that people have seen in real life YouTube videos.  It is a film that was very affecting for me, featured terrific performances (Melonie Diaz should not be overlooked), and was very worthy of all the acclaim it received.  It is based on a true story and features a ticking clock of sorts in getting to what inspired the film, but it is handles the topic completely right.

“I thought I could start out fresh, but it aint workin’ out.” (Review HERE)

1. HerSpike Jonze is really annoying me lately.  Not only does he pop up for a hilarious cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street, before disappearing and making me want more of his character, but he also made a film that forced me to reconfigure my whole freaking Top Ten list.  Her is flat out brilliant filmmaking.  Here is a film that is both a love story and a science fiction tale.  It is completely original, strongly acted, and incredibly emotional.  In mentioning the acting, I should note that it is not only the fantastic performance from Joaquin Phoenix and the subtly great work from Amy Adams, among the other live-action performances here, but the vocal work from Scarlett Johansson, who does something pretty amazing by just using her voice, but still making an incredible impression as Samantha, the sentient operating system that Theodore falls in love with.  All of this and the film looks incredible as well.  Jonze did some subtle work and used some nice cinematography techniques to build a near-future society that is not a dystopia or a utopia, but just a plausible place we could reach, complete with new styles and fun jabs at the state of technology.  I could go on and on about the different things I loved about Her, but it comes down to how engrossed I was with everything about this film.  I cannot wait to catch it again and continue to revel in all that went into the making of it.  Congratulations Spike Jonze, you not only made me hold a spot for you just in case, but you wound up at the top of my list with your film and really annoyed me by doing so, as there were some many great films to choose from, but Her just feels right at the top.

“Falling in love is a crazy thing to do. It's like a socially acceptable form of insanity.” (Review HERE)

Films I Wish I Had Seen:
20 Feet From Stardom, A Hijacking, A Touch of Sin, The Act of Killing, Blue Caprice, Computer Chess, Drug War, From Up on Poppy Hill, Gloria, The Grandmaster (Director’s Cut), Wadjda, The Wind Rises

And that should do it.  This ended up being a pretty fantastic year for movies, with the fall-winter period, in particular, delivering on a lot of promise.  I am happy with all of the films I have represented and hope to catch many of the ones I missed soon.  I also hope that more people check out some of these films they have not seen, particularly some of the independent features and documentaries that could always use more love.  Given how strong this year ended up, I can only hope that next year has a number of films that can match up.

Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.


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