MoviefiedNYC’s 10 Best Films of 2013!

At the end of every year hordes of entertainment writers remark on how surprised they were that it was a great year for films. We at MoviefiedNYC can say that we are, indeed, surprised at the crop of good films that came out in 2013. Keeping in mind that most of these films were released in the last quarter of the year, it was, actually, a great four months for film; the previous nine months were pretty dismal. Without further delay, here are Myrna’s and Dave’s Top 10 Films of 2013, and a few extra.


Myrna Duarte’s 10 Best Films for 2013

1. Her  
Spike Jonze (writer-director) doesn’t simply direct, he innovates in this exploration of emotional connection. Her is an intoxicating and profoundly romantic science fiction drama that dares to be different, offering new insights into our dependence on technology, asking questions that there are no easy answers to.  Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore Twombly), who consistently impresses with the range of his performances (Walk the Line and The Master), swooning in the presence of his beloved OS (operating system), might seem laughable or heartbreaking were it not so sincere. The key to his character’s realism is that he learns to accept the other’s limitations—a difficult part of any relationship between two people, let alone a person and an OS. And the result is a freedom within himself.  Scarlett Johansson’s performance is, like that of a radio actress, entirely dependent upon the drama of her voice, with no help from an avatar to ground her in our minds. She creates a quickly-learning young person who, we discover, is capable of creating her own forms of emotional baggage, engaging in duplicity and withholding information similar to what Theodore experiences from his human counterparts. Unlike anything else you’ll see this year, Jonze is at the peak of his storytelling prowess.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street 

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is a jubilant exploration of the dark side of the America Dream (money, crime, narcotics, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll). The Wolf of Wall Street forms a loose trilogy with Goodfellas and Casino, and, I dare say, this is Scorsese’s best in the last fifteen years. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Jordan Belfort is unapologetic, fierce and in-your-face; he turns him into an incarnation of greed and arrogance. This is not a likable man. But dripping with some kind of intoxicating charisma, Belfort wants to confess all. DiCaprio’s ability at playing to the camera makes this descent into hell irresistible.

3. The Act of Killing 

The Act of Killing is a daring reinvention of the documentary form, as well as a mind-boggling demonstration of man’s infinite capacity for evil. Director Joshua Oppenheimer pulls off the impossible: he confronts great, incomprehensible evil and puts a human face on it; evil looks like a gentle grandfather. Anwar Congo is a fit, well-dressed man who would go unnoticed until he starts to speak about his past. Congo was one of the street thugs who became a death squad leader after the military overthrow of the Indonesian government in 1965. Anyone deemed problematic by the new regime (intellectuals, artists, ethnic Chinese) were immediately branded communists and marked for execution. According to the film, one million people were killed in the span of one year. But by focusing on Congo, the movie also serves as a reminder of our inherent sense of empathy. You can’t possibly forgive the man for what he’s done, but you can’t just dismiss him as a monster, either.

4. Inside Llewyn Davis 

Inside Llewyn Davis is set in the Greenwich Village folk music scene of 1961 with its protagonist Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac, who does his own singing and guitar playing). A gifted folk singer, he fully embodies the definition of ”struggling musician.” He’s a talented freeloader, crashing on his friends’ couches and living off the pass-around basket after gigs. Llewyn’s face is a picture of irritation and disappointment that only changes when he’s performing. Sulky and desperate, rarely pleasant company, Isaac turns in an impressive performance and makes it easy to feel the extent of his frustration. And when he sings, he sings in a voice that sounds like it needs to be heard. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel has set the tone of Inside Llewyn Davis with a beautifully diffused color palette, giving it a melancholy feel, a wistful sadness, a lasting glance at Llewyn’s deep depression. You may not like Llewyn much, but you don’t laugh at him, either. The Coens take care of that for you, ending the movie with a bitter twist that suggests that Llewyn could have benefited from better luck and timing. Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the Coens’ more intimate movies (this one doesn’t have the mass market appeal of No Country For Old Men), but like Llewyn’s music, it comes from the heart and is deeply felt.

5. 12 Years a Slave 

Director Steve McQueen’s (Shame and Hunger) film is stylistically traditional, but its viewpoint is confrontational and uncompromising, as any ripped-from-the-headlines drama. This is not a sprawling Spielbergian tearjerker, nor is it an aloof, artsy undertaking. 12 Years a Slave does not waffle over the brutality of its subject matter. McQueen gives us a close-up look at what a prolonged bout of whipping does to the human body. More important, he also shows us the effect such violence has on the mind and soul, creating scars that endure for generations. 12 Years a Slave creates an honest, believable experience. The result can, at times, be estranging—Solomon is a tragic, achingly sympathetic figure; he is, at all times, a victim; he is no hero. Nonetheless, the snowballing emotional effect is devastating: the final scenes here are as angry, as memorable, as overwhelming as anything modern cinema has to offer—a film difficult to watch but impossible to turn away from.

6. Stories We Tell 

Stories We Tell is not only moving, but narrative wizardry. It is a ghostly journey through truth and fiction that will haunt you long after viewing. Director Sarah Polley (Take This Waltz and Away from Her) turns the camera on to herself and family to tell the relationship between her parents, Michael and Diane Polley, including the revelation that the filmmaker was the product of an extramarital affair. Polley incorporates interviews with her siblings from her mother’s two marriages, interviews with other relatives and family friends, Michael Polley’s narration of his memoir, and Super-8 footage shot to look like home movies of historical events in her family’s life. Stories We Tell is not only a beautiful film, but it leaves you contemplating the nature of documentaries, the heart of storytelling and the complicated relationship between them both.

7. A Hijacking 

A Hijacking is a riveting and realistic Danish thriller from writer-director Tobias Lindholm. Based on a true story, Lindholm takes us on a harrowing journey when a Danish freighter is taken captive by a band of Somali pirates on the Indian Ocean.  Now this storyline seems ripe for Hollywood blockbuster material—explosions, bigger than life heroes, and a score to punctuate everything with an exclamation point. But no. Lindholm goes in the completely opposite direction of that, giving us a slow-burning and intimate portrait of the hijacking victims’ psychological breakdown. 

8. Much Ado About Nothing 

Much Ado About Nothing looks suave and sophisticated. It is actually not something I would have expected from the mega-talented Joss Whedon ( Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers).  Shot in twelve days at Whedon’s (breathtaking) California home on a budget that would qualify as a coffee run on The Avengers, the film is a delightful, engaging version of one of the Bard’s most popular plays.  His cast, many with Whedon projects on their résumés, deliver very memorable performances:  Amy Acker as Beatrice  and Nathan Fillion as the inept constable Dogberry who steals every scene. Much Ado About Nothing relays the genuine enjoyment had during its filming; delectable itself is the opportunity to see Joss Whedon flex his creative muscles in the name of what must have been a labor of love.

9. Fruitvale Station 

Fruitvale Station, the impressive debut feature of twenty-seven-year-old writer-director Ryan Coogler, follows what should have been another ordinary day in the life of Oscar Grant (an extraordinary performance by Michael B. Jordan). As storytelling, it’s extremely compelling. Oscar’s fate is preordained; his every movement haunting;     his every brush, replete with extra meaning. Coogler’s self-assurance as a director makes the weight of the story bearable. Despite some imperfections, both Coogler and Jordan are both up to the task of bringing the last day of Oscar’s life to the big screen. By the time the fatal climax nears, the tension of anticipated sadness is crushing.

10. The World’s End 

I loved The World’s End’s tight dramatic structure and steady flow of good jokes that puts most mainstream American comedies to shame. Writer-director Edgar Wright’s film is the third and perhaps best in his wonderful trilogy of genre spoofs, known as The Cornetto Trilogy. Wright begins the trilogy with the zombie romantic comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004), followed by the buddy-cop action adventure Hot Fuzz (2007), and ends it with The World’s End, which might be classified as a sci-fi bromance. Gary King (Simon Pegg), the protagonist of the film, is the darkest Wright hero yet, a lonely alcoholic in his early forties who is still fixated on his youthful heyday as the hardest-partying kid in the village of Newton Haven. He impulsively plans to seek out his now-estranged childhood mates, although they are at present functioning adults with careers and families.  Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine) and Andrew (Nick Frost) (now a teetotaler), crankily consent to come along, and the five men set out to drink their way through the twelve pubs that make up the “Golden Mile.” But Newton Haven is being taken over by some sort of malevolent aliens, and it’s the boys’ job to: Save the world? Get the hell out of town? Or should they, as suggested by the charismatic but demented Gary, try to escape alien detection and achieve some ill-defined moral victory by sticking to their plan and finishing the Golden Mile? The World’s End makes a more than worthy conclusion to The Cornetto Trilogy—it also stands on its own as one of the sharpest, saddest and wisest comedies of the year.

Very honorable mentions:

James Franco – Spring Breakers

American Hustle – Amazing performances by the fantastic four.

Gravity – Mind blowing visuals.
Spring Breakers – FRANCO!
Dallas Buyers Club – McConaughey and Leto are brilliant.
The Grandmaster – Dazzling and profound.
The Bling Ring – Great looking and great soundtrack.
The Conjuring – A total scarefest.
Short Term Twelve – So much heart and humor.
Stoker – A very slow burn.

Pacific Rim – A fun blockbuster with an original script and diverse cast.

Fandango Now Tickets for AMC Theatres!

John David West’s 10 Best Films for 2013

1. Her 

Director Spike Jonze’s visual tone poem about love and longing in the near future inspires action: turn off that iPhone and be present. The outstanding direction and writing results in a unique film that is very much of its time—“Seri, do you love me?” Joaquin Phoenix is charming in his subtle and honest performance (the complete inverse of his character in The Master but equally effective). Scarlett Johansson’s performance, although unseen on screen, is more than just heard; her presence is felt as strongly as any leading role seen on screen this year.   

2. 12 Years a Slave

Unrelenting in its portrayal of the horrors of American slavery, yet at the same time visually stunning, director Steve McQueen presents lasting images of beauty: a field of flowers, a lingering close-up of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s face. McQueen holds these shots just shy of too long, yet long enough to let the viewer rest from the pain and momentarily reflect—a kind of negative space between the terror. Yes, it’s an in-your-face history lesson, but it’s not didactic. The film plays like Picasso’s Guernica; it’s both haunting and beautiful at the same time.

3.  Blue Is the Warmest Color

Director Abdellatif Kechiche’s frequent use of extreme close-ups creates an intimacy rarely felt in film. The screen is filled with the actresses’ faces, allowing the viewer to linger on every line, smile, emotion, running fluids—thereby bringing the audience in closer proximity to the lovers.  All of this along with intense performances by both Adèle Exarchoupolos and Léa Seydoux help create a movie that uniquely connects the audience with the characters in a way that is seldom experienced in most films.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street

Director Martin Scorsese is back to form in this manic, cocaine-induced ride through Jordan Belfort’s rise to mega-wealth, sudden fall, and unfortunate rise again.  Leonardo DiCaprio turns in a tour de force performance. Style-wise, Scorsese has thrown everything including the kitchen sink into this bleak comedy: narration, flashbacks, breaking the fourth wall, sex, drugs, improvisation—excess, excess, excess—and some unfortunately clunky editing. If for no other reason, this film is in my top ten because of the instant classic “Quaalude-cerebral-palsy” scene between DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. Let’s just hope tomorrow’s Ivy League MBA grads don’t make an idol out of Belfort as they did of Gordon Gekko.  

5. Before Midnight

Céline and Jesse are back in this voyeuristic trip into the couple’s own midlife doubts and fears. The very loquacious movie gets things rolling eighteen minutes in with the question of their possible split. Two minutes later, as they do some routine grocery shopping, it’s clear that Jesse and Céline will be fine. Yet, you want to stick around for the next one hour and twenty-eight minutes, just because they are so engaging; and the scenes are so beautifully shot. 

6. Inside Llewin Davis

Despite the selfishly irritating title character, Llewin Davis (subtly and truthfully played by Oscar Isaac), I found myself totally enwrapped by the look of the film. The cinematography and art direction are transportive. With its glowing light, soft focus, and faded colors, the Coen brothers have created a captivating and melancholic treat for the eyes and ears. It’s a simple story that goes no further than full circle, allowing the viewer to simply ride along and live inside this slice of a musician’s life.

7. American Hustle
Everyone wants to be something other then themselves in David O. Russell’s energetically paced film. It’s complete with an engaging story, great costumes, and fantastic performances from all. Christian Bale, who unnecessarily adds a beer gut (is great acting measured by how much weight one gains or sheds?), turns in one of his best and most honest performances. The film made me jump onto the Jennifer Lawrence bandwagon. OK, now I get it. She’s freakin’ hilarious! Low-cut Amy Adams does some of her best work to date.

8. Wadjda

Wadjda is the first full-length film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and directed by a woman. This was miraculously accomplished in a country where women are forbidden to direct (or ride bikes). In the vein of DeSica’s The Bicycle Thieves, director Haifaa Al-Mansour has created a delicate film about a girl who simply wants to buy a green bicycle, but for each viewer (especially women) there’s so much more.  

9. Nebraska
With Nebraska’s nostalgic black-and-white look, restrained yet sharp-edged humor, its timeless theme of father-son relationships, the cast and crew have created a melancholy-comic portrait of Middle America that, like its lead actor, should prove to age gracefully.

10. Much Ado About Nothing
This pleasant little summer flick came as quite a surprise. It’s a Shakespeare comedy, directed by Josh Whedon, filmed in black and white, shot in only twelve days, and features a bunch of lesser-known actors (Amy Acker is outstanding). As I watched the credits roll I thought, Now, that was a perfect film.

David’s honorable mentions:

The Act of Killing – Shocking and innovative doc.
Stories We Tell – Proving we all have stories to tell.
A Hijacking – Somali pirates from the corporate perspective.
Short Term 12 – It was Brie Larson’s year.
Museum Hours – A meditation on life and Pieter Bruege.
The Great Beauty – La dolce vita!
Francis Ha – A clueless millennial in black and white NYC!
Nobody’s Daughter Haewon – Hong Sang-Soo journey into circular bewilderment.
Prince Avalanche – Well tempered drama/comedy with a dash of surrealism.
The Past – Asghar Farhadi’s multicultural separation drama!

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