Top 10 Films of 2013

The Oscars are upon us, but before the Academy has their say, here are Den of Geek's Top 10 Films of the Year!

On Sunday, Hollywood will have its golden night when the Academy gathers to award Oscars to who they deem most deserving from 2013. However, before we really knuckle down into the horse race that is about to reach its photo finish, we thought it was time to look back on the actual films, awards darlings or not, that comprised some of the best efforts in 2013. So without further adieu, here are our Top 10 Films of 2013. ***NOTE: We have narrowed the selection down to English language films. But if you have not seen The Hunt, Blue is the Warmest Color, or The Act of Killing, do so now.  Honorable Mention: Blue JasmineWritten and Directed by Woody AllenDen of Geek Review If filmmakers half his age could be as prolific as Woody Allen has been during his 70s—the era in which he’s produced Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Midnight in Paris, amongst others—cinema would be a much richer medium. Always observant, articulate, and eminently witty, particularly with his acute fixation on the oblivion of death, Allen has never ceased in his nearly 50 years of filmmaking at creating memorable, insightful characters (especially when they’re women). But the real power of his latest effort, Blue Jasmine, comes from the volcanic emotion perpetually cued to erupt behind Cate Blanchett’s eyes. Loosely based on a socialite of fallen grace in New York’s moneyed circles, Blanchett’s Jasmine should be a creature of infinite disdain for audiences. She’s the wife of a Wall Street shyster (Alec Baldwin) who placed a willful Jasmine in her gilded cage right out of college. But after the husband’s house of cards tumbles under mysterious circumstances, Jasmine faces a fate far worse than death: a real world she’s not faintly equipped to handle. Groomed and prepared for maximum fabulousness all her life, seeing Jasmine on the streets of working class San Francisco with her less pretentious sister (Sally Hawkins) is akin to witnessing a Porsche be redressed as a taxi cab. Literally all dolled up with no place to go, Jasmine must retreat further and further into the reaches of her crumbling mind, brought to agonizing realization by one of the finest performances of the year.  10. The Way Way BackWritten and Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim RashDen of Geek Review Coming of age is difficult for any young adolescent, particularly when he’s a child of divorce. However, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (screenwriters of The Descendants) prove that this can still be an emotionally honest and cathartic subject for film. That’s achieved in no small measure by a sterling supporting cast that includes Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, and Anna SophiaRobb. Yet, one of the two real standouts is Steve Carell as Trent, the nastiest of passive aggressive villains. He isn’t just an evil would-be stepdad; he is a genuine force of evil in protagonist Duncan’s (Liam James) life. He goes far and beyond needling the son-he-never-wanted, practically urging him toward teen suicide. Carell is allowed to showcase a new side and gives the movie real meaning when Duncan finds earnest inspiration and patriarchal warmth from a fantastic Sam Rockwell. As Owen, Rockwell is the ringleader of an entire water park worth of colorful characters, and also the single lifeline to desperately needed joy in what otherwise could have been a story of teenage nihilism. In the water park, Duncan treads the tracks of many a young man, but it feels earned and, most importantly, real. Plus, his rapport with Rockwell remains one of the most endearing onscreen pairings all year.  9. Inside Llewyn DavisWritten and Directed by Joel & Ethan CoenDen of Geek Review Film has been used to celebrate the liberating power of music and the transcendence offered by audible glory. What makes Inside Llewyn Davis so unique is its reverence for when the music stops. In the Coen Brothers’ hands, nothing is more pure than artistic failure, and failure is all that Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) will ever know. A perpetual couch surfer living in 1961 Greenwich Village, Llewyn’s life is as dreary as the slushy-snow hybrid blowing down Washington Square Park. Success is measured in how many gigs he gets to play, and responsibility is paying for the mother of his unborn child’s abortion…for the second time. He will never have that moment where he inspires a record producer to take a chance on him and is indeed part of an old guard on their way out long before Bob Dylan’s imminent arrival, singing “The Times They are a-Changin.’” Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie about a fleeting moment in the New York folk music scene, but it is universal for any who never achieved their dream. And there’s something enduringly beautiful about that.  8. Captain PhillipsDirected by Paul Greengrass; Written by Billy RayDen of Geek Review Paul Greengrass is no stranger to adapting real-life tragedy into pulse-pounding “entertainment,” and Captain Phillips may be his best to date. As a harrowing retelling of how Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) was taken hostage by Somali pirates following the hijacking of the U.S.-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, it is a narrative that we all (hopefully) know. But in Greengrass’ masterful hands, it is one of such white-knuckle intensity that the armrests of many a theater seat were probably destroyed. This biopic is the most intense cinematic experience of the season and is raised up by Tom Hanks bringing his long-missed A-game. The final scene of Phillips going to the U.S. Navy’s infirmary is the stuff awards are made of.  7. GravityDirected by Alfonso Cuarón; Written by Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás CuarónDen of Geek Review There are movies, and there are experiences; Gravity is the latter. A technical marvel that’s execution is still nigh impossible to conceive, this is the result of when auteurs are given free reign on a large canvas. A premise that took nearly a decade to get produced, Gravity is a mind-bending trip into a space that is so real, it is still confounding to believe that even much of the costuming was computer generated. Cuarón, notorious for his elaborate steadicam shots, opens up the cold vacuum of space into a glorious splendor with stunning “dollies” (using our orbit as their only tracks) and camera tricks that finally made 3D a worthwhile investment. Even when things quickly go to Hell, and the Heavens threaten to burn astronauts George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, our eyes can only bask in the graceful majesty of the coming storm (or satellite debris). This technical ballet is the one that will be talked about at film schools for many, many years to come.  6. The Wolf of Wall StreetDirected by Martin Scorsese; Written by Terence WinterDen of Geek Review “I will not die sober,” Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) screams at the top of his lungs when his yacht sails head-on into a rogue wave during a mad dash across the Mediterranean to his offshore bank accounts. As you can guess, he doesn’t die, nor does he stay sober for much of the movie’s nearly three-hour running time. Positioning itself as the Goodfellas of white-collar crime, The Wolf of Wall Street is a lurid peak behind the curtain at the “job creators” of Wall Street and a debauched lifestyle that could have made Caligula blush. About 180 minutes of drugs, sex, and more drugs, this movie is not for everyone, but for those who cherish Scorsese’s maddeningly fluid camera movements and fourth-wall defying narratives, complete with countless editing jumps, this wild cocaine-fueled ride is as covetous as the final bottle of “Lemons.” It may not achieve all the high-minded ambitions of taking the wolves, bears, bulls, and other assorted monsters of Wall Street to task, but when audiences see an overdosing Jordan narrate his crawling “drive” back home from the WASP-y country club, they’ll know that they’re in the hands of a master filmmaker who has not been so uninhibited in over a decade. That’s money in the bank.  5. FrozenDirected by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee; Written by Jennifer LeeDen of Geek Review During end of the year plaudits, family films often are left out the cold; good thing that would never bother Disney’s Frozen, anyway. Long in the shadow of Pixar, DreamWorks, and nearly all other animation houses, Walt Disney Animation Studios has quietly rebuilt its brand with a series of promising family entertainments like Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph. But with Frozen, they are again atop the snowy mountain, and it is a sincere pleasure to behold. Embracing the Broadway-styled fairy tale musicals of the 1990s that Disney has run away from for so long, Frozen is an unapologetic showstopper of a movie with luscious songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, harkening back to the glory days of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s partnership (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin). While this project does not quite live up to those giants, it carves out its own inevitable legacy as the first Disney princess movie to promote the love of sisters and family over the first charming prince who steps off the boat. It is a surprisingly clever film with a message as timely for adults as young children, and it will be cherished by generations to come.  4. American HustleDirected by David O. Russell; Written by Eric Singer and David O. RussellDen of Geek Review Two conmen, an overeager FBI agent, a working class hero mayor, and a seriously deranged housewife with a big mouth…American Hustle should be the set-up for a great joke. And maybe it is, despite the opening title card reminding viewers that “some of this actually happened.” Based loosely around the Abscam affair, David O. Russell uses the 1970s scandal where the feds busted New Jersey politicians and civic leaders for taking bribes to build an Atlantic City casino as the backdrop for either the funniest drama or most twisted comedy of 2013. Either way, we’re instantly hooked by a slew of mesmerizing performances from Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner. With a beer belly and a shaved head (done for the authentic comb over), Bale has never appeared to have more fun, at least until he comes face to face with the legitimate head of the mafia, embodied by a prodigious cameo. Meanwhile, Adams gets to show a sultrier side to her big screen persona, as she and Bale dance their way through a story so cynical that it must be greeted with a smile and a kidney punch. However, the real standout is again Jennifer Lawrence, who announces in back-to-back Russell films that she is the actress of her generation to beat. Her shrill presence is so bombastic in Hustle that laughter is the sole way to not quiver in fear every time she appears. This is a movie where everyone is hustling so quickly through the kaleidoscopic frames that they never once have enough time to look in the mirror and realize how ridiculous their clothes and disco ball-sized haircuts appear. A microcosm for the entire “Me Generation” birthed in the 1970s (and going strong today)? Mayhaps. It’s highly unlikely this is a realistic depiction of conmen or the FBI, but who cares? Let Russell channel his inner-Scorsese in this tricky narrative that jumps around so much that you’ll only know for sure it’s a fantastic ride you’ll take again and again.  3. Before MidnightDirected by Richard Linklater; Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan HawkeDen of Geek Review Jesse and Celine can talk. For three movies now, they have been able to dissect the meaning of the universe and their own personal love lives with such loquacious awareness that it’s a wonder they don’t realize it’s not so cute anymore. Maybe they do. Before Midnight is about more than just the time of the day their next life-altering conversation occurs; it is them coming to terms with their love story after boating off into the Parisian sunset and before the onset of life beyond middle age. Theirs is no longer the love story of hopeless romantics, but seasoned lovers who know exactly what to say to each other, making for some of their most hilarious and poignantly hurtful insights to date. Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke demonstrate an intimate understanding of their characters after nearly 20 years, and their cinematic experiment has drawn multitudes of moviegoers into the conversation. Before Midnight is not as sweet as its predecessors, but it is wiser and more fulfilling in its hard-won realizations. It is also the most satisfying love story of the year, leaving us to hope that Jesse and Celine will one day still have more to say.  2. HerWritten and Directed by Spike JonzeDen of Geek Review Yet the most timely love story of the year is perhaps the most reflective. Whether a cautionary horror film about the future of our culture or a modern fairy tale for the 21st century, Her works on as many levels as its vocally curious operating system, Samantha. Voiced with spunky charisma by Scarlett Johansson, the faceless voice of Theodore’s computer is the most fascinating character of the year. Developed to be the first fully aware artificial intelligence operating system, Samantha insists repeatedly to Joaquin Phoenix’s sad sack protagonist (and the audience) that she’s fully her own independent entity. But until the third act, one is left to question how much of her personality is indeed hers and how much of it was designed by programmers who are so precise that she could be created for Theodore just based on the timber of his voice and the relationship with his mother. Recovering from his own divorce, Theodore is a hapless soul realized in a remarkable performance by Phoenix, who is likely holding a one-way conversation the whole production. Theodore has retreated into many of the satirical comforts of modern day life as lampooned by Jonze’s script and deceivingly bright, sunny cinematography. Doubling as both an Apple commercial and the style of any current indie rom-com, Her depicts Theodore sincerely falling in love with his smartphone’s voice. Is that really so wrong to an audience that has long been smitten with Siri? Perhaps, the most telling aspect of the movie is just how cool Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, and any number of likable, “normal” actors are with this romance. The truth is that we already accept this form of romance; Samantha just vocalizes it. Program or person, lover or harbinger of societal doom, Samantha will be the subject of many a term paper to come. And the boundless ambiguity of this story makes it the most revelatory of 2013.  1. 12 Years a SlaveDirected by Steve McQueen; Written by John RidleyDen of Geek Review Slave narratives have remained one of the defining fabrics of American culture since they were first published as abolitionist literature in the early and mid 19th century. One such story that fell into obscurity over the last century, Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, now stands as the source for the most unflinching and meticulously painful cinematic portrait of an American experience since Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Captured in unnerving detail by English-born Steve McQueen, this film avoids much of the sentimentality and emotional couching of other slave films, instead choosing to capture this fraction of the institution’s power with all the autonomy and mercy of a slaughterhouse machine. An unending, clanking sound of metal underscores the terrors in store for Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a born freeman tricked and trapped into onscreen bondage of visceral feeling. Whether it is a Southern planter whose soul quietly cringes as his slaves are whipped or the hands of a sadist played with authentic evil by Michael Fassbender (the mind instantly wanders to Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth), the end result is the same for Solomon: suffering, indignation, and survival. Solomon eventually achieves freedom from his chains, but his story remains nothing short of a national tragedy that haunts the consciousness of filmgoers long after the final credit has passed. This is not the highest entertainment of 2013, but it is the most engrossing, leaving a severe mark in the shape of Ejiofor’s inescapable eyes. There are our 10 best films of 2013. Agree? Disagree? Want to write a strongly worded rebuttal about any of the above selected films? Let us know in the comments section below! Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing.