2013 was the year of movies that I had been waiting for.  After a disappointing 2012 where I struggled to even choose a top 10 at the end of the year, I’m having trouble coming up with a top 40 films this year.  2013 was stuffed to the brim with wonderful cinematic experiences that pushed both the technical limitations of the medium but also saw the return of some major players that have been long absent from the silver screen.

There were also a great many films that managed to slip past me this year that I intend on viewing and adding to this list.  Films like Short Term 12, Captain Phillips, The Act of Killing, The Hunt, Sightseers, and countless others have all appeared on the lists of other film critics that I adore and I hope to see them as soon as possible.

Here are the films that I consider my top ten films of 2013:

Exquisite Corpse Project

10.  The Exquisite Corpse Project

From its premise, Ben Popik’s The Exquisite Corpse Project should never have worked out to be anything more than a simple writing exercise and unmitigated narrative disaster.  With only a few short months until Popik planned to move to Belize he decided to make real on a dream that he always had, directing and producing a feature-length film.  He decided to roundup all of his comedy writer friends, who had been growing apart over the years, for a special project.  Each of them was challenged to write fifteen pages of a screenplay, after having read only the previous five pages of the script that the previous writer had provided.

What we, the audience, are treated to is not just the finished project, which is just as crazy as you might expect it would be, but is ultimately a hilarious portrayal of all the drama and fun that can go into any creative project.  Each segment of the film tells us more about the author, their individual interests, and how they interact as a group.  Meanwhile, the documentary aspect of the film, featuring the different writers discussing their work, adapts to fit each writer’s personality and hilariously updates the film like a director’s commentary.  The film is a triumph of the vision and editing that Popik and his team had for the project and ended up being, for me, one of the best films about filmmaking, creativity, and friendship that I have ever seen. The film is available here.

Wolf of Wall Street

9.  The Wolf of Wall Street

After Hugo I was not sure whether or not Martin Scorsese still had it in him to be as subversive and kinetic as he was in his younger days.  The Wolf of Wall Street proved me wrong in every way.  This film does for Wall Street what Goodfellas did for the mob.  It is ugly, explicit, bloated, extravagant, and (best of all) hilarious.  The cast is magnetic and so full of life that they manage to make a 3+-hour movie breeze by.  But the number one reason, by far, to see the film is to bask in the magnificence that is Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfont, which I believe to be the performance of his career.  Jordan is a direct representation of how the “American Dream” has become twisted and morally bankrupt and I could not have had a better time with this incendiary critique of our modern culture.

Upstream Color

8.  Upstream Color

Director Shane Carruth is the living embodiment of Francis Ford Coppola’s “little fat girl.”  It may have taken nine years for him to follow-up his beloved Primer, but Upstream Color was more than worth the wait.  Again, Carruth directed, wrote, starred in, scored, produced, and edited the film to great success.  What initially begins as an unclear, perhaps nonsensical, vision eventually gives way to an incredibly singular voice that is unlike any other in theaters this year.  It is a story of how our lives are entangled and just how easily our identity can become just a mere illusion; any more details about the narrative would destroy the fun of figuring out what Carruth has been up to for the past nine years.

Listen to my discussion of the film here.

her

7.   Her

Director Spike Jonze has always tackled topics and themes that are monumental in scale and with his newest film, Her, he does not show any signs of abating.  Her’s premise might seem absurd at first glance, it follows a man (Joaquin Phoenix) as he falls in love with his computer’s operating system, but I find his premise to be barely even science fiction.  As technology develops and people become increasingly more attached to their devices it is not inconceivable that humanity might invent artificial intelligence to solve our universal feeling of loneliness.  This means reassessing the idea of what a relationship and love is and whom it can be with.  Her does so in a way that is touching, comical, and full of heartbreak.  Can we only rediscover our own humanity once even our technology abandons us?

Gravity

6.  Gravity

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a technical masterpiece that not only pushes the capabilities of the medium forward but also manages to make that technology enhance the existential themes of the film.  If there is one film to see in theaters this year, it is Gravity.  It is a stomach-churning, edge-of-your-seat, thrill-ride that should inspire a new generation of filmgoers and filmmakers as well as reaffirm that the power of the theatrical experience is still alive, even more so with its masterful use of 3D.  Never has the location of space been utilized in way that Cuarón has used it here.  Gravity is more than a cautionary tale or adventure story; it is a cinematic experience unlike any other I’ve seen in years.

Read my full review here.

Spring Breakers

5.  Spring Breakers

Beyond the casting of several Disney princesses as bikini-clad protagonists, Spring Breakers is a searing indictment of the nihilism and hedonism that has seized today’s youth.  The journey deep into St. Petersburg quickly gives way to a fantasyland powered by the musical stylings of Britney Spears and the culture of excess.  With James Franco’s unforgettable Alien as our guide, Spring Breakers clearly demonstrates that an unstoppable desire for pleasure can come at the cost of one’s soul.

Listen to my discussion of the film here.

Blue is the Warmest Color

4.   Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color, a film about a young adult’s sexual awakening as a lesbian, was directed by the acclaimed Abdellatif Kechiche, a straight male like myself, and had me questioning the perspective the film takes towards the often explicit sexual imagery and character portraiture.  While I can never be sure of the authenticity of the experiences being depicted, I found myself hopelessly lost in and emotionally bombarded by Kechiche’s film.  The film’s lead actresses, Adèle Exarchopolous and Léa Seydoux, are both acting forces to be reckoned with, with every moment shared between the two crackling with energy and nuanced realism.

Read my full review of the film here.

Before Midnight

3.  Before Midnight

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and now Before Midnight are everything that I look for when I escape to the cinema.  Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s performances as Jesse and Celine, along with the naturalistic and outright genius writing throughout this series, have convinced me that these characters are actual people.  Their conversations and actions are the height of honesty in cinema, creating actual moments of intimacy between both the characters and audience.

After all this time, I feel like I know these people in a way that I know few friends and family members.  Jesse and Celine’s conversations have always been about two people connecting and sharing an intimate moment of discovery and I’ve always felt like I was right there with them.  However, unlike intimate moments in my life that have occurred in carpeted bedrooms and riverside marinas these moments of intimacy are set against the backdrop of Vienna, Paris, and a Greek island.  This creates a potent mix and an unbreakable spell.

Read my full review of the film here.

Frances Ha

2.  Frances Ha

I truly believe that we will be discussing Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha years from now in a similar manner with which we discuss Woody Allen’s films from the late 70’s.  In Frances Ha, gone are the narcissism and negativity of Baumbach’s earlier work. Instead Baumbach, with a huge assist from writer/star Greta Gerwig, presents a New York that, like Allen’s Manhattan, is “idolized all out of proportion.”

Like many 20-somethings in the modern New York City, the titular character Frances is determined to achieve her dream (joining a dance company)… reality be damned.  Despite her troubles, most of which or bred from her own social ineptitude or carelessness with money and relationships, Frances is full of life.  In one of the film’s best images, Frances dances down the streets of New York set to David Bowie’s “Modern Love.”  This moment illuminates everything there is to know about Frances and the disconnect she exhibits from the harsh world that surrounds her.

12 Years a Slave

1.  12 Years a Slave

The image of a man hanging from a tree is one that no matter how many times I see it depicted in a film will never lose its horror and gruesomeness. I have such a hard time psychologically connecting with the persons doing the hanging, as if they were some strange aliens whose link to humanity is scattered and confused.  Yet, I am keenly aware of how closely tied these images are with the history of the country that I call my home. Very few films have ever allowed me the opportunity to understand the circumstances that allowed for the subjugation of my fellow man as this film did.

12 Years a Slave, the newest film from director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), is that rare film that not only highlights the cultural birth of all of America’s racial problems but does so by moving away from fairytale-like romanticism into a realistic depiction of the country in the 1840s. It does this by presenting the story of American slavery from the most logical, yet novel, viewpoint: that of a black slave. How is it that it has taken this long for cinema to produce a film that does nothing to sensationalize our history of slavery?

I believe that 12 Years a Slave is far and away the most successful artistic statement in cinema this year.  The film forever changed my perceptions on not only the history of my country but also into the history of race.  12 Years a Slave should be a part of a global discussion right alongside Schindler’s List.

Read my full review of the film here.

Honorable Mentions:

American Hustle, Berberian Sound Studio, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Don Jon, Fruitvale Station, In A World…, In The House, Inside Llewyn Davis, It’s A Disaster, Lore, Man of Steel, Mud, Nebraska, Pain & Gain, Prince Avalanche, Room 237, Rush, Side Effects, Star Trek Into Darkness, Stoker, Stories We Tell, The Kings Of Summer, The Spectacular Now, The Wolverine, The World’s End, Thor: The Dark World, V/H/S 2, Vanishing Waves

About The Author

Do you remember that dorky kid from school who loved movies and comic books? Dan's him, but an adult... well in most senses of the word. He's an aficionado of all things pop culture and wants to share!

  • Movie Munce

    Pretty good list, mine comes out tonight. I pretty much only disagree with Spring Breakers. I don’t get why people enjoyed that.

    • http://www.dangvozden.com/ Dan Gvozden

      I’d be curious to find out why you didn’t like it. Though, I’m definitely aware that it isn’t for everyone. Thanks for reading.

      • Movie Munce

        When someone asks me for a movie recommendation, I can’t just say “Rent Spring Breakers this weekend with your wife.” 8/10 people would be pissed off. Those two other people have their reasons for loving the movie, and that’s fine.