The Top 10 Movies of 2013: Editors’ Picks

At the Mediascape Blog, we like to think the movie year ends with the Academy Awards. To mark this year’s Oscars, editors Matthias Stork and J.M. Olejarz present their Top 10 lists for 2013.

Matthias Stork:

10. American Hustle
High-caliber acting and tremendous production design, with smart dialogue and excellent close-up camerawork…it is too long, however, and moves at a slow, too deliberate pace.

9. Inside Llewyn Davis
With wonderful music and a star-making performance, the Coens craft yet another intricate character study about how we continuously process failure.

8. Upstream Color
I cannot fully explain it. In fact, I can hardly explain it. But it does evoke a legacy of mind-bending cinematic and literary exercises that cannot but fascinate. This is a film that made me reevaluate how I watch movies.

7. The Place Beyond the Pines
Such an ambitious and intricately designed art-house narrative with reverberations, both biblical and philosophical in nature, that go far beyond its premise.

6. The Hunt
Thomas Vinterberg’s films are known for the piercing moral questions and societal conundrums they raise and this is no exception. Mads Mikkelsen gives a terrific performance in this haunting dissection of small-town morality.

5. The Wolf of Wall Street
Not a celebration or glorification but a harsh critical examination of this excessive lifestyle, Scorsese’s masterpiece evokes the stylized critiques of Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Casino.

4. Frozen
Essentially, it is cliched formula with a twist, yes, but it is also the most beautifully designed and performed animated movie of the year, an ode to Disney’s glory days and a perfectly choreographed musical exercise.

3. Gravity
I have no words for the technological mastery this film puts on display. And it grounds it in a simple, yet universally tangible story about rebirth. It is simply astonishing.

2. To the Wonder
Terrence Malick has created yet another film that is unlike any other work of art in its aesthetic logic. Whenever I see one of his films, I see and appreciate the world in a new and different light.

1. Before Midnight
My favorite film and filmgoing experience, this is what happens when cinema intersects with the real and produces connections that inform how you perceive life. I cannot but admire Richard Linklater’s tremendous artistic achievement.

Honorable Mention:
Fast & Furious 6
The Wolverine
12 Years a Slave
The Wind Rises
Pain and Gain
The Great Beauty
The Great Gatsby
All Is Lost
Big Bad Wolves
The Lone Ranger
The Act of Killing

J.M. Olejarz:

10. Escape from Tomorrow
A straightforward documentary of what some of us always knew Disney World is like.

9. The Great Beauty
Are writers naturally more interesting than other people, or do writers simply want their writer characters to appear that way? The Great Beauty has some things in common with 2013’s other, similarly titled movie about wealth, love, and loss, but Beauty somehow manages to edge Gatsby on its home turf: clothes and parties.

8. The Bling Ring
There are probably criticisms to make of all of Sophia Coppola’s movies, but I just don’t want to make them. No one working today is better with music, colors, and youth. Emma Watson delivers the line reading of the year, and neatly encapsulates the entire movie, when she looks at another girl dead-serious and says, “Your butt looks awesome.”

7. Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett’s knockout performance alone would get Blue Jasmine on this list. That the movie spins off an all-time character into new territory is what takes it to a really smart place.

6. Mud
For a long time we know hardly anything about Matthew McConaughey’s titular character—where he comes from, what he wants—and still I couldn’t take my eyes off him whenever he’s onscreen. McConaughey spins a flesh-and-blood human being out of a few mannerisms and confidence; as far as definitions go, that’s great acting for me.

5. Spring Breakers
The movie’s merits are obvious: they’re the same things its detractors point to as its flaws. It’s subversive satire, the stunt casting is entirely the point, and it makes good use of James Franco, which is itself worthy of acclaim. Additionally, it enters the hallowed halls of Movies with a Perfectly-Fitted End Credits Song.

4. The Act of Killing
Killers learn how to kill from watching movies. Filmmakers make a movie about the killers. The killers make a movie about killing, using the tropes of the movies they love. This genius documentary is a revelation about the ways that life and movies overlap, intersect, and influence each other.

3. The Wolf of Wall Street
I knew where the story was going almost down to the beat, and I was still thoroughly entertained. A lot of people have said this is Scorsese proving he’s still got it. No arguments here.

2. Frances Ha
Some reviewers complained that they didn’t recognize the New York in this movie, to which I would say either 1) Um, OK? or 2) That’s because it’s a better version of New York—one in which things happen, and they’re accompanied by a soundtrack, and 27-year-old Frances starts to achieve what she wants to—but she also works for it. There are real feelings here of needing to succeed on your own terms, doing things now because you can (apparently flying to Paris for the weekend is easier—logistically, if not financially—than I realized), trying to scrape together rent, realizing your friendships are evolving with age and changing marital statuses, and finally growing up. Maybe you have to be 27 to get it.

1. Before Midnight
I thought a lot about Her, 2013’s other big relationship movie, while trying to articulate why I loved Before Midnight so much. Her, which isn’t on this list, is speculative: it’s an idea of what might happen if technology takes a certain path and if humans use it in certain ways. But Before Midnight is about now. It gets the difficulty, the near-impossibility—the insanity, to use Her‘s term—of trying to live your life alongside another person. It’s about the way things are, the way they always have been, and the way (or one way) they always will be.

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