Top Five Movies of 2013

Published: Mar 06, 2014 16:36pm EST
By Bob Phelan, Movie Critic for Konsume Entertainment

Please Note: This article was updated Mar 06, 2014 @ 04:36pm EST


With the Academy Awards finally putting a bow on the year that was 2013 in film I figured now would be a good time to write about my personal 'Best Picture' nominees, by way of a top five list. I actually thought the Oscars did a very good job this year as you'll see there is more overlap than usual for my year end favorites. I thought the best picture was well deserved and I didn't really have much of an issue with any of the awards handed out although I thought they played it safe with Best Documentary. I would've went with 'The Act of Killing' myself.

2013 was a year that was pretty significantly back loaded. Only one of my top five was released before October. For a while there I was worried about the quality of films coming out but Hollywood restored my faith by the end of it. I wish they would space it out better but the real problem was the lack of quality blockbusters. It was a long summer with plenty of expensive effects heavy films but not many that made an impact outside of 'Iron Man 3'. 'World War Z' and 'The Wolverine' were probably the next best but both far from great.

Lets hope 2014 brings more balance but for now here are my top five favorite movies of 2013.


1. 12 Years A Slave

Steve McQueen is a director that has had an incredible visual aesthetic to his first two films with a great sense of pacing and tone, which pretty much describes what I look for in a film. I was a fan of 'Hunger', his first film, but it wasn't until I saw 'Shame' that I knew he was a film maker that I had to be sure to follow moving forward. The performances he was able to get out of Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan and the patience he showed in letting scenes play out really impressed me. With '12 Years A Slave' already on my radar and the fantastic word of mouth it was getting out of the fall festival circuit I knew this was a film I had to make sure to catch in theaters and it did not disappoint. There might be some out there who roll their eyes at the thought of a hollywood slavery film but this isn't a cheesy message movie beating you over the head. Its a brutally realistic portrayal of a terrible moment in American history. This and 'Django Unchained' are a nice one two punch on the subject, coming at it from two completely different angles.

Its hard to really 'enjoy' any of McQueen's films to date so lets say my appreciation for them has measurably grown each time out. With '12 Years' he has shown more of the same qualities from his prior films but only even more-so. He got Oscar worthy performances from pretty much everyone involved (thanks for making me include that qualifier Brad Pitt...) in an absolutely powerful, moving, beautiful film following Solomon Northrup's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) epic journey. I've heard the complaints of it being torture porn but it just didn't come across that way for me. The other complaint I've heard is actually something that worked for me. It didn't feel like he was in captivity for 12 years but that felt intentional to me. Showing that you can get lost in the life you're forced into, trying to survive, and as suddenly as you're in it, its over. Lastly, no scene touched me more in 2013 than the final scene of this film. A sensational piece of art that will probably go down as a masterpiece.


2. Gravity

The best theatrical experience of my life just might have been when I saw this film in IMAX 3D in October. Alfonso Cuaron really makes you feel as if you're in space with these characters as tragedy strikes and they're floating in space trying to find a way to survive. Its immersive, awe inspiring, and exhilarating while at the same time simple and straight forward. Its a roller coaster ride with three big hills that'll have you holding your breath until you realize that you and the characters are still alive. The camera work is something of a magic act with even some show boating that made me like it even more.

I had a couple reservations going into the movie that kept my expectations in check. I'm not generally a fan of Sandra Bullock and the fact that the whole movie centered on her could've been a problem. Fortunately it wasn't. She was a sympathetic character, very easy to root for. My other concern was Cuaron. I hadn't seen Y Tu Mama Tambien before (I have now, its great) but I didn't think his Harry Potter film stood out above the rest and while 'Children of Men' was impressive from a technical standpoint, I thought it was a bit overrated. Obviously everything turned out to be alright but I do wonder how well the film will hold up outside of the theatrical setting. Even so, its a technical marvel that shows that even now its possible to see something completely new at the theater.


3. The Wolf of Wall Street

My stance on this film's controversy is quite clear. I don't think there should be any. Its obvious throughout the entire movie that these are horrible people doing horrible things. Its also the funniest movie of the year. I think thats the problem some people have, they can't separate the two. And if not, thats fine, but I thought Martin Scorsese’s motives were to produce a biting dark comedy satire and thats exactly what he did. Now, if you don't find the attempts at humor funny its going to be a long three hours but it my case it flew by. Theres always something shocking, hilarious, or interesting going on to carry you scene to scene.

Leonardo DiCaprio is at his best here playing the despicable Jordan Belfort, a man outside of wall street who was able to lie, cheat, and steal his way to success and riches. Clearly having fun in the role while making some pretty daring choices (candlesticks and lemmons), he carries the film despite great supporting performances all around him. Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Rob Reiner, Kyle Chandler, and Matthew McConaughey all make their presences known in a profound way. The visual style is great as in all Scorcese films and so are the music choices. I feel like this film is infinitely rewatchable and will only get better over time.


4. Her

It always seems to comes down to the film maker when I'm making this list and Spike Jonze ('Adaptation', 'Being John Malkovich', 'Where the Wild Things Are') is a guy that remains perfect in my book. Hes very good at making bizarre sounding premises really come to life and feel authentic and he continues that with 'Her', a movie about a man who falls in love with his operating system. Of course there’s more to it than that but Joaquin Phoenix plays a man in the not too distant future who you believe this could happen to. Scarlett Johansson is perfect as Samantha, the voice of the first artificially intelligent operating system. Amy Adams is also excellent in a supporting role.

The relationships feel so authentic and believable for something we can't really fathom happening at this point in time. It not only works as a relationship drama but is also very funny. Perhaps my favorite part of the film is how real this future world feels. All the technological advancements are so seemless that it took me 10-15 minutes to readjust to real life after leaving the theater. Whereas '12 Years A Slave' hit me in the heart and 'Gravity' hit me in the gut, 'Her' hit my mind. Its rare that a film will leave you feeling the slightest bit high without any mind altering substances involved but this one did for me.


5. Mud

Matthew McConaughey might've won the Oscar for Best Actor with his performance in Dallas Buyers Club but its his performance as the title character here that I remember him for in 2013. He plays the title character (in a supporting role), a mysterious man on the run from the law, shacked up in a boat stuck in a tree on an island. The way Jeff Nichols shoots the film from the perspective of the lead character Ellis and his friend Neckbone really gives Mud a fantastical element that comes crashing down at the same time it does for Ellis. McConaughey really makes it work. He had me believing what he was saying as much as the boys did. The final act might not work for everyone but I thought it added some rousing action in what would've been a great movie without it.

With McConaughey's powerhouse performance it could be easy to forget the central coming of age storyline with Tye Sheridan as Ellis. Hes great as well, proving that his turn in 'The Tree of Life' wasn't good solely because of the director. I tend to enjoy these coming of age stories in general but I thought this was one of the better ones it quite a while. Nichols is another director that is shooting up my list of must see auteurs. I also loved Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories. He seems to get this type of setting just right, evidenced by the shots of Ellis riding in the back of his father's truck.


Honorable Mentions: The Place Beyond the Pines, Short Term 12, Before Midnight, Blue is the Warmest Color, Fruitvale Station


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Bob Phelan
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