2013 was a memorable year for movies, with a lot of great stories told. But not a single “perfect” 5-star movie for me. It’s the only year since the 1970’s that I don’t currently have at least one 5-star film for the year. That’s kind of surprising to me now that I know about it. I’ve seen 60 movies that were released in 2013 so far, but none of them grabbed me as being worthy of 5 stars…at least not yet. Maybe one or more of these films will move up at some point down the road, which has happened for other years. But I’ll settle for the 40 great to outstanding films I saw in the 3.5 to 4.5 star range for now. That’s probably better than most years.
My Top 10 is an eclectic mix of mainstream and indie films that range in box office receipts from $800 thousand to $800 million. So there’s probably at least one movie that you saw and one movie that you didn’t see. It’s exciting to see movie making at every level each year, bringing small films that surprise me at the last minute along with blockbusters that are expected years in advance. 3 of my Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2013 actually made it on this list: Man of Steel, Mud, and 12 Years a Slave. Most of the other films I anticipated were very good, but they just weren’t good enough for this list. With all of this said, on to the list:
10. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (4 stars)
9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (4 stars)
8. Kill Your Darlings (4 stars)
7. Prisoners (4 stars)
6. Man of Steel (4 stars)
5. Mud (4 stars)
4. Captain Phillips (4 stars)
3. 12 Years a Slave (4 stars)
2. Disconnect (4.5 stars)
1. Before Midnight (4.5 stars)
The best and most surprising movie watching experience of 2013 for me was the “Before” Trilogy of movies from writer/director Richard Linklater. I had not seen either of the first 2 films, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), until a few weeks ahead of the release of Before Midnight in May. They just weren’t on my radar of interest until I saw the trailer for Before Midnight and heard the buzz out of Sundance. So I rented the first 2 films on DVD from Netflix and got to work. Before Sunrise was great (4 stars). But it was Before Sunset (4.5 stars) that really grabbed me emotionally and then made me appreciate Before Sunrise even more. And Before Midnight (4.5 stars) just cemented the trilogy into my heart and head forever. There’s something about these 2 characters, Jesse and Celine, as played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, that just capture something very real and human. Their relationship has gone through a roller coaster ride over 18 years and it’s amazing to see these actors age on screen and off in these roles and develop their lives as these characters and as actors. There’s really no other series of movies quite like the Before Trilogy. And that’s a big part of why Before Midnight is my #1 movie of 2013. It was a coin toss between Disconnect and Before Midnight, but I went with Before Midnight because of the weight of all 3 movies connecting with me.
Disconnect is a greatly under appreciated film that has been completely overlooked by critics during the end of year awards. Which is extremely sad to me because it’s both classic in terms of good storytelling and modern in its plot details and execution. The cinematography, music and performances in Disconnect are among the best of the year. Jason Bateman is fantastic as a frazzled father of a son who attempts suicide. And the rest of the ensemble cast deliver standout characters that feel fully alive and fleshed out as real human beings. Disconnect is the film I wish Crash (2004) had been.
As for the rest of my list, each film featured great scenes with incredible cinematic experiences. All 10 of these movies are stories I will definitely revisit over the years and experience again. And maybe, just maybe, one or two of these will endear themselves to me in a way that elevates them to “perfect” status with 5 stars. That’s the beauty of movies…the best ones almost always get better over time.