My Favorite Movies of 2013

Happy New Year folks! Apologies for the slack in postings, as I’ve spent the last couple of weeks celebrating the holidays and catching up on movies from this year in preparation for this very list. With the year ending, the time has come to reflect back on the movies I’ve seen and consider which ones moved me, excited me, and inspired me the most. HOWEVER, before we get into which movies those are, it should be clear that these are my favorite movies, not the ones that I necessarily consider to be the best. And I’ll explain the difference on my way to my Favorite Movies of 2013, after the jump.

It’s my feeling that too often end-of-year lists become declarations of quality, and lead to needlessly combative arguments where people try and debate each others’ emotional responses to movies as if it’s an argument that can be won or lost. Either that or it’s a bunch of people parroting the same eight movies because everyone’s using the same basic “objective” rubric of quality rather than talking about what really spoke to them personally. End-of-year lists should be more self-reflective, and about expressing love and affection for what you connected with, rather than pontificating one random film’s quality over another.

On top of that, I think its possible to recognize the objective quality of a film without really connecting to it on a personal level. 12 Years a Slave is a great example this year; objectively it’s probably better crafted and more complex than most of the movies on my list, but as of now my reaction to it has been more intellectual than emotional. There are more imperfect/messy/lower-brow movies on my list that I still have more personal affection for, and I’d be more interested in people talking about those kind of movies than trying to prove how well they understand the preconceived conventions of good filmic storytelling. I have a friend who is a real grade-A cinephile with plenty of arthouse-y interests, but he recently said that one of his all-time favorite films is Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which was so much more interesting than listening to him talk about David Lynch again.

On that note, I’ll point out that my Favorite Movies are listed in alphabetical order except for my Favorite of the Year, rather than trying to rank completely different movies against each other and getting obnoxious complaints about “How could you say (Movie A) is better than (Movie B)?!?!?” So without further ado, here are my Favorite Movies of 2013:

American Hustle: The fact that American Hustle is clearly emulating the likes of Goodfellas and Boogie Nights shouldn’t distract from it’s overall quality (neither should all of the uninspired awards buzz). Taken on its own merits, it’s still a well-crafted con man movie that is equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and bitterly sad. The film’s themes of deception and dysfunction are emphasized by the overblown ‘70s style and over-the-top performances, and the whole sprawling narrative is particularly engaging and well-paced. While not the kind of movie that you could find much depth in, it’s definitely the sort of likable and rewatchable movie that I’m thankful for. And any movie that has Bradley Cooper gleefully playing a villain again is A-okay by me.

Frozen: Not sure I need to pontificate on Frozen any more than I already have, but I don’t think it should be understated how good a movie it really is. Anna and Elsa are characters that can be held up as great role models and great characters in general, the music is terrific, and the animation is as good as anything Disney Animation has done since their switch to CG. A lovely and emotional story that I can’t wait to revisit over and over again.

Her: An incredibly deep and touching portrayal of human relationships, both with computers and among each other, Her is incredibly well-crafted story with some terrific low-key world building. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johannson perfectly capture the highs and lows of relationships, and the film delivers the otherwise sobering message of “Relationships will end, but they can still make you a better person” in a surprisingly hopeful voice. Combine that with some terrific science fiction metaphor and you have the kind of movie that hits me right where I live. An amazing movie that reminds me that Spike Jonze is the sort of filmmaker I should pay more attention to.

In a World…: When I wrote my Year-So-Far review, I mentioned In a World… in passing as a solid and enjoyable film, but as the year has gone on I’ve only grown more fond of this movie and more appreciative of how well-crafted it is. Lake Bell (in addition to being a great lead among an equally-great cast) tells a great story that explores both societal gender issues and parental relationships, mixing them both together to great effect. Bell examines both how women can be objectified by their peers (even by other woman, if it serves their goals) and how parents can be fearful to step aside and let their children take the lead, and the results are equal parts touching and hilarious.

Iron Man 3: Continuing my “I already talked about this in September!” Tour, I’m still excited by Iron Man 3, both as a great, old-school Shane Black action film and as a marker for the continued evolution of Marvel Studios films in particular and superhero films as a whole. More than almost every other Marvel movie to this point, Iron Man 3 feels incredibly distinct and specific to the filmmaker. And it also demonstrates how a superhero movie can work without piling on the villains and the CGI stunts; outside of the finale and the attack on Tony’s house, the action of Iron Man 3 is very low-key and based more on Tony’s inventiveness and ingenuity than on just showing off the armor. It’s the kind of superhero storytelling I want to see more of, the kind that’s defined more by character and less by costume, and I’m glad that somebody is getting that right.

Pacific Rim: IT’S FUN, OKAY? It’s a fun, energetic action film that bleeds love for monsters and mechs in every frame, and doesn’t hold back anything in the process. Is it incredibly smart? Not really. Is the acting goofy and one-note? A lot of the time, yeah. Is it on the lower end of the Guillermo del Toro Quality Spectrum? Absolutely. But every time I watch it I get the same sense of wonder and excitement that I did watching Star Wars and Independence Day as a kid, and sometimes I need that. And Pacific Rim is one of the best examples of that kind of filmmaking that I’ve seen in awhile.

Pain and Gain: There’s a Michael Bay movie on my Favorite Movies of the Year list. Who the fuck saw that coming? But in addition to Bay returning to his roots as Tony Scott Jr, and doing so with a story that’s driven by character instead of explosions, it’s also one of several movies this year that perfectly encapsulates the entitled excess of modern America, and there’s something poetic about Michael Bay being one of the guys to explore that. Funny, crass, violent and ridiculous, I had a ton of fun watching it, and I hope to see him make more movies like this soon.

Spring Breakers: By rights this movie has no business being on this list. I very rarely go for movies that are long on thematics and short on narrative or character. And yet Spring Breakers totally and completely worked for me. More than anything, I think that the sheer force of Harmony Korine’s vision, the clear anger and frustration towards this generation that is driving him here, pulled everything together in a way I don’t usually sense in movies like this. The film is hypnotically gorgeous and depraved in equal measure, the whole cast (not just James Franco) commits to the insanity, and the end result is the big surprise of 2013 for me, an arthouse diatribe against the excess of 21st teen culture that I completely enjoyed, even while feeling kind of dirty watching it.

Wolf of Wall Street: And then there’s this sprawling, ridiculous motherfucker, the latest Scorsese/DiCaprio joint. The perfect culmination of the likes of American Hustle, Pain and Gain and Spring Breakers (just to name the ones I liked), Wolf of Wall Street is the epitome of excess, an almost-overlong movie that explores every nook and cranny of the perverse life of Jordan Belfort and exposes the insane appetite of the American Dream and the people that sell their souls in pursuit of it. To see a 71-year-old make a movie with this much furious energy, and to see Leo fully let loose in playing such a crazy individual, is nothing if not exciting, and also frequently funny as hell. Because if you can’t laugh at shit like this, you’ll probably curl up in a ball and cry thinking about how guys like this are handling your parents’ money.

And, after all that, my Favorite Movie of 2013 (which is actually still in alphabetical order) is:

The World’s End: Oh yeah. After a year that was pretty balanced for me between genre-based tentpole entertainment and deeper dramatic material, Edgar Wright’s whip-smart sci-fi comedy is the movie that perfectly walked the line between the two. It has all the zany alien/robot antics that make movies like Iron Man 3 and Pacific Rim so fun, while also telling a deep and emotional story about friendship, addiction, nostalgia and the nature of humanity. The fact that Wright (along with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and all their other frequent collaborators) is able to juggle all of these disparate elements and still be funny on top of it all just serves as a reminder of how great a filmmaker he truly is, and why Ant-Man is one of my most anticipated blockbusters of the next two years.

Full disclosure, as of publishing this I still haven’t seen the following 2013 films that I wanted to: Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Caprice, Stories We Tell, The Way Way Back, The Kings of Summer, The To Do List, A Field in England, Upstream Color, Only God Forgives, Byzantium, The Grandmaster, All Is Lost, You’re Next, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now…. so hopefully I’ll catch some of those soon. Thanks to all of those who read my blog in 2013 and I hope you’ll continue reading it through 2014!

(And feel free to comment below with your own Favorite Movies list… but let’s keep it positive, guys!)


2 Comments on “My Favorite Movies of 2013”

  1. shiran says:

    Good mix of movies. Still not sure if I should see Her, since I know it’ll majorly depress me, but your recommendation goes a long way for me. I’m glad you liked it so much!

    My top 10, in no particular order other than the first:

    This Is the End
    Wolf of Wall Street
    Enough Said
    In A World…
    Much Ado About Nothing
    Pacific Rim (except I won’t make excuses for liking it; it’s awesome and I’m proud)
    Star Trek Into Darkness

    One of those may have been a joke.

    • brendanfh says:

      Glad you liked Enough Said so much; that and This Is The End were both great, just less in my wheelhouse; definitely wanna revisit Rush and Prisoners, they were both good but fell just short for me.

      I will not address that last one, whether it was a joke or not…

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