2013 in Film

Boyd picks Nebraska; Grimm picks Wolf of Wall Street as the year's best film


It was a year of socially conscious movies (and superheroes and Katnisses). And while a heavy tone definitely hung in the air, even the most unrelenting of the films on this list is approachable and addictively watchable. All in all, 2013 proved to be a solid year for the movies—though maybe not so much for Hollywood as for the outliers—and the best last couple months of any year in a while.

It should also be said that the distance between No. 1 and No. 10 on this list is very close; they're all highly recommended.

1. Nebraska

Perhaps because it isn't the play-for-keeps human gamble that most of the other notable films of the year are, Nebraska feels the most unique. There are no special effects here, no history-changing journeys, no epic scale. But even for films where those things are true, the characters have to pull you in. And on those terms, Nebraska wins the day—or the year—in this case. Bruce Dern is heartbreaking and hilarious as a man dead-set on claiming a bogus million-dollar sweepstakes prize, and director Alexander Payne offers his best, most complete film to date.

2. Her

Spike Jonze has always walked to the beat of his own mariachi band, but Her shows a new subtlety. Jonze delivers the unexpectedly touching story of a man who falls for his futuristic operating system. It's a deft look at love and our growing addiction to technology, anchored by a sublime performance from Joaquin Phoenix.

3. 12 Years a Slave

The consensus pick of 2013 is the genuine haymaker of the bunch. There's no getting around the power of 12 Years a Slave, no avoiding the quality work from star Chiwetel Ejiofor and director Steve McQueen. If not for a fumbling Brad Pitt performance and a villain who is too clichéd (Michael Fassbender), this would easily be higher on my list.

4. Short Term 12

Here's the movie more people should have heard about this year, and there's better than a snowball's chance that Brie Larson winds up in some Best Actress discussions to build that conversation. A look inside a foster care facility that focuses largely on its staff, Short Term 12 is strong on fractured characters, strong on ensemble acting and strong on knowing its own universe.

5. Gravity

Although 12 Years a Slave probably has a slight edge for Best Picture, the biggest studio achievement is Gravity, hands down. It's past $600 million worldwide and is the best science fiction movie in years. The performances are solid, balancing out a pretty average script, but sweet Jesus, the visuals in this thing are so far beyond what we've seen in space movies before that just watching it is kind of transformative.

6. Mud

Nobody in Hollywood has had a better two-year sprint than Matthew McConaughey. Mud is his most understated performance in a six-pack of outstanding work, and it comes in the service of the most literary movie of the year. Mud feels like a Southern gothic novel, unfolding slowly and carefully and paying close attention to the kind of characters you don't find anywhere else.

7. Captain Phillips

The last 30 minutes of Captain Phillips represents some of the most exceptional work in the careers of director Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks. That alone is quite an achievement. But, as with all good films with incredible third acts, how they get there is just as important. It just gets overshadowed by the pure adrenaline rush of the big finish.

8. The Wolf of Wall Street

American Hustle might be the more popular choice to cover this ground, but shady con men are handled much more thoroughly, enthrallingly, believably and powerfully in Martin Scorsese's latest tag team match with Leonardo DiCaprio.

9. Dallas Buyers Club

That thing we said earlier about Matthew McConaughey hits its zenith here. You could make a strong case that his work in Dallas Buyers Club is the best performance—male or female—of 2013. Now, who would have predicted that a few years ago? Jared Leto is also terrific, and the film packs a huge punch without being preachy.

10. Fruitvale Station

Like Short Term 12, Fruitvale Station comes from a rookie director and tackles some tough issues. The story of Oscar Grant, a young black man killed on San Francisco's public transit system by a white cop, Fruitvale Station undoubtedly sticks with you. It's the kind of serious, mature film the studios would never make instead of an Adam Sandler movie, which is frankly getting tiresome.


1. The Wolf of Wall Street

And with this epic ode to debauchery, Martin Scorsese reclaims his birthright as the master of cinematic insanity. Leonardo DiCaprio goes full-throttle crazy in the true story of Jordan Belfort, one seriously touched-in-the-head stockbroker. For Scorsese, this is a crowning achievement in a career full of them.

2. Inside Llewyn Davis

Yes, we have a film year where the top two films are occupied by Scorsese and the Coen brothers, so I'm going to go ahead and call 2013 a GREAT film year. Oscar Isaac comes out of nowhere and brings down the house as the title character, an acerbic folk singer surfing couches with an orange tabby in the early '60s. Isaac did his own singing and guitar playing, and it's impressive.

3. Her

Spike Jonze (who also had an awesome cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street) wrote and directed this beautiful love story about a man smitten with his computer's operating system (voiced by a lovely Scarlett Johansson). Not only is it sweet, and acted very well, but it's a damn good-looking film, too.

4. Gravity

Speaking of good-looking films, this one takes the prize for the year's best visual feast. Sandra Bullock was aces as an astronaut enduring a rather troublesome first mission. This was the 3-D film event of the year.

5. 12 Years a Slave

Director Steve McQueen has given the world the ugly, nasty, vicious film about slavery that the world needed, and he has done it in extraordinary fashion. Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose name I will never be able to spell without looking it up, delivered one of the year's best performances as a free man kidnapped into slavery.

6. Mud

Yes, I liked Dallas Buyers Club, but I was more impressed with Matthew McConaughey's turn as the title character in this dark fable. It's a movie about a dude living in a boat in a tree, and I love it.

7. Fruitvale Station

Michael P. Jordan delivered a breakout performance in this heartbreaking movie based on the real-life murder of Oscar Grant.

8. Blue is the Warmest Color

Adele Exarchopoulos was dynamite in this three-hour epic about a young woman falling in love for the first time, with a blue-haired female painter played by the equally terrific Lea Seydoux. The sex scenes caused a lot of controversy, but the more I think about them, they really don't bother me all that much.

9. Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett blew my ass out the back of the theater with her sheer power in the best Woody Allen film in many years. Take note: I did not like Midnight in Paris, and I rarely raise a glass to Allen's latter film career. But he's made up for many duds with this one.

10. The Spectacular Now

A high school romance film unlike any ever made, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are more than memorable as a confused couple that drink a little too often. It's bittersweet moviemaking at its best (and it has Bob Odenkirk, too!).


1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

This was my first tango with High Frame Rate 3-D, and I despise this shit with every fraction of my body. It's not film, it looks stupid ... knock it off! The movie is also bloated, mundane and boring, the complete antithesis of Tolkien's wondrous novel.

2. The Lone Ranger

Say, kids, let's go see the new Disney Western with Captain Sparrow in it! Say, did the bad guy just cut out a dead man's heart and eat it? Err ... sorry about that, kids. Blame the nightmares on me. On second thought, toughen up. Bad guys eat people's hearts all of the time. It's everything Disney stands for. Stop crying. No really ... stop.

3. The Host

This alien yarn wants to be Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a side helping of Twilight and a pinch of Cocoon without the old people. It's nothing but terrible.

4. Kick-Ass 2

The first Kick-Ass managed to mix vulgarity with superviolence and got big laughs. This one tries to do the same, but gets nothing but pained groans in return.

5. Spring Breakers

There were many critical raves for this thing, but I found it intolerable. Sometimes when a director just turns on a camera and lets the performers roam, improvisation translates into magic. Not this time.

6. The Internship

A Google commercial starring a couple of guys who used to be funny acting like schmucks for a paycheck that was probably freaking huge. So who can blame them, really?

7. Insidious: Chapter 2

Director James Wan delivered his best film to date with The Conjuring in 2013, then promptly followed it up with this ghostly garbage.

8. Getaway

Ethan Hawke starred in Before Midnight this past year, which was great. He also starred in The Purge, which was pretty bad. Then, he showed up in this thing, which was downright execrable.

9. Grown Ups 2

Adam Sandler, you continue to lose my respect, even if you did once play Canteen Boy.

10. (Tie) Only God Forgives/Gangster Squad

Yes, Ryan Gosling gets his own special place on this year's list. I love me some Gosling, but his advisers need a good talking to after these turkeys.

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