10. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese’s latest film has come under fire by many who criticize it for not telling its audience enough that the main characters are bad people. Sure, The Wolf of Wall Street likes to have fun, and the film is all the better for it as it’s a nice blast of energy in the middle of all of the prestige fare in theaters right now. However, at its heart, The Wolf of Wall Street is a dark satire on what America really is about. Scorsese doesn’t hit you over the head with it (which is why so many people are overlooking this component), but that is the sign of a true master of filmmaking.
9. Spring Breakers
Harmony Korine’s exploration of the life of today’s teenagers was pretty to look at (and I’m not just talking about all of the hot bodies but the Malick-ian like visual style too), but what really makes this film special is how unapologetic it is in its view of the culture the next generation is creating. It also helps that it has a great performance at its center with James Franco as the gangster-rapper Alien.
8. The Way, Way Back
Ultimately, The Way, Way Back is your typical coming-of-age film. However, a top-notch script from Oscar-winners Jim Rash & Nat Faxon (who also make their directorial debuts with the film) and a stalwart cast featuring Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph and Steve Carell (who is great here playing against type) bring this film to the next level.
7. This is the End
A comedy film about celebrities playing themselves during the apocalypse could have gone in so many different ways. Yet This is the End is not only funny (it’s hysterical actually) but it might also has more character development than all of the other comedies released this year combined. The friendship of Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel is the best of the year and James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and (especially) Danny McBride do great work in supporting roles.
6. Iron Man Three
With Iron Man Three, a blockbuster trilogy hasn’t closed so well since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Newcomer (to the series) Shane Black found a way to maintain what made the previous Iron Man films great while still being able to find an arc for Tony Stark that worked well as a conclusion. Iron Man Three just goes to show you that a great concluding act can change an okay trilogy into a great trilogy.
5. Drinking Buddies
There seems to have been many romantic dramas released in 2013. One of the best was Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies. Drinking Buddies finds a way to be fun, dramatic, charming and original. It has a surprisingly great cast led by career best work from Olivia Wilde, and it takes one of the genres most common clichés (people being meant to be together) and completely flips it on its head.
4. The Spectacular Now
Ultimately, The Spectacular Now makes some safe decisions in its adaptation from book to screen. Yet there is just so much to like in this film of teenage romance to let that effect your viewing of it. The film’s cast is one of the best of the year, and Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley show why they are two of the best and brightest of the next generation of actors while creating one of the most memorable onscreen couples.
3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug might not be as good as its unfairly maligned predecessor, but this film once again shows that Peter Jackson is the master of world-building as he introduces us to such unique places as Mirkwood and Esgaroth. This film also shows that Jackson still knows how to direct an action set-piece (the Mirkwood spider attack and the barrel chase) and the film also might contain one of the most interesting characters in Jackson’s entire filmography in the young elf warrior Tauriel (played wonderfully by Evangeline Lilly).
2. Before Midnight
I was only introduced to the Before… Trilogy this year, but I was immediately hooked into Jesse and Celine’s romantic adventures in European settings. Before Midnight may be the best film of the entire trilogy. It definitely takes the most risks out of the three films as Jesse and Celine’s story reaches more ambiguous and darker territory. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are better than ever, and I can’t wait to see their next collaboration with Richard Linklater.
Alfonso Cuaron has always been a great film away from becoming one of my favorite directors ever. Gravity is that great film, and while I may still prefer Children of Men, Cuaron proves that he is one of the greatest visual storytellers we have. Gravity is not only a tour-de-force in visual filmmaking, but it also has a great storyline that is easy to get invested in. From the jaw-dropping opening scene to the odes to 2001: A Space Odyssey to the triumphant ending there is just too much to like in this film to not put it at number one on this list.