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The 10 Best Films of 2013

By The Pajiba Staff | Film Reviews | January 3, 2014 | Comments ()


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10. Enough Said — Nicole Holocefner has quietly become one of the most important female voices working in cinema today, her keen understanding of the experience of being a woman and her gentle way of conveying emotion is so well-done as to be deceptively simple. To make something this carefully crafted and drenched in realism isn’t easy, it’s one of the hardest tasks there is. As Truffaut preached, “The film of tomorrow will be an act of love,” and Holocefner is living proof of the truth of that statement … Though there are many laughs to be found in Enough Said, the the film is quite sad at times, made all the more sad by the constant presence of James Gandolfini. I had doubted his ability as a romantic lead, but I take it all back. His acting is exceptional enough to supersede the sad truth of his death, but for much of the film it’s difficult to look at him, knowing this was one of his last films. When an actor dies, it’s all too easy to either attribute too much excellence to their work (no one wants to speak ill of the dead) or to look for hints of foreknowledge in their performances. I study his face in each scene, wondering if his sad, slow, gentle smile holds anything more than what’s needed for the scene. But, no. There’s no way he could have known, and his sad smiles are simple the exhaustion of hope, another false start, another attempt to love someone. — Amanda Mae Meyncke

9. Frozen — There’s no way to blurb the interview I conducted with my son about the movie that stands in for our review, but we’ll just say that Frozen was phenomenal, and here’s another 10 reasons why.

8. Inside Llewyn Davis — Ultimately, Llewyn Davis feels like a smaller Coen brothers film, a small fable revisiting their old wheelhouse of outsiders in an unforgiving world — but it seems to have a more personal touch, with some interesting allusions to Jewishness, death, and creative partnership. The stylistic exercises of music and period recreation are successfully done, but more than this, Inside Llewyn Davis stands out in the brothers’ work as a deeply human and meditative work. — Caspar Salmon

7. 12 Years a Slave — Discussing the slave trade in the late 18th century, William Wilberforce said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” That’s the best way to describe the extraordinary work McQueen’s done here. He’s rendered a stunning film that does what the best art can do: It moves us into new worlds even as it helps us shape our own. 12 Years a Slave is one of those movies that makes you use phrases like “towering achievement” and mean them, even as you know how small and grasping those words feel and how poor a tool they are for pinning the film down. Stripped of melodrama, tricks, and apologetics, the film instead becomes a living record, a testament to love and freedom and death and suffering and every horrible and loving thing we do to ourselves. It’s not for nothing that one of the film’s transitions is simply Solomon in the fields, listening to the world around him, slowly turning until he stares into the camera for a moment before moving on, as if to remind us that we’re a part of everything that’s happened — that’s happening. Solomon’s legacy was almost lost to the ages, too: if not for the dogged work of historians and researchers, his account would’ve washed away, long since labeled fiction by those who sought to rewrite history. But his story is our story, and in telling one man’s life, McQueen gets to tell them all. His film — his brutal, sweeping, uncompromising, beautiful, worthy film — feels as much a summation of who we are as anything else, and it reckons with our past with its eyes open. Watching it, you can hear the chains, and the cries, and the pleas for mercy. Maybe we’ll never comprehend it, not really, but we’re closer. Never say again that you did not know. — Daniel Carlson

6. Frances HaFrances Ha is one of those bolt-of-lightening films, something so modern and tangible, you’re utterly surprised to see that someone has managed to capture the feeling of being alive, right now, so exquisitely. The meandering moment-here and moment-there approach of editing and black and white filming of the story gives one the overall snapshot of one woman’s existence, in a style very much like Woody Allen. And oh my god, is it all so funny at times. Frances Ha is a remarkable, visceral meditation on the power of loving and being loved, and our endless attempts to even understand what it might be to love ourselves. — Amanda Mae Meyncke

5. American Hustle — David O. Russell brings a brisk, darkly comic tone to the film. He scores most of it with bittersweet pop ballads from the era that perfectly capture the feeling of something slick on the outside but rotten underneath, and there’s an inescapable verve to the way he handles the sprawling story. The con artists are working schmucks, and most of the feds are power-hungry bureaucrats. The sole voice of reason — Richie’s supervisor, played by a beleaguered Louis C.K. — is shouted down at every turn. This isn’t a message movie. Crime pays and it doesn’t, the law works and it doesn’t. When bigger and bigger political targets become the focus of Richie’s sting operations, Irving feels sorry for them. They don’t have “larceny in their blood,” as he laments. They’re just out trying to make a buck. They did it before all this went down, and they’ll do it again. Everybody hustles, Russell’s saying, and that goes for him, too. He’s made a slick, entertaining, tricky movie that hangs together even when it almost shouldn’t. That’s the power of intention, as one of his characters might say. Some of this actually happened. — Daniel Carlson

4. HerHer is an amazingly fun film to watch. Inventive, creative, beautiful and interesting. Director Spike Jonze’ vision of the future looks a lot like our modern day life with a few tweaks here and there, product design is different in the future, video games are immersive, cities appear to be so spread out that they are rather sparsely populated. People still look the same, and dress like it’s the seventies, so I guess not too much is different. Everyone seems to work in online environments that still relate to the minutiae of daily life. Jonze’ world is also beautiful, muted colors and grand urban vistas, it’s clear a great deal of thought went into the look and feel of this future … We often speak of having love for others, but to leave someone far better than you found them, to love them so well that you bring them into the fullness of life, seems the truest expression of our humanity. Her is really more the story of them, and in the softest details, the best story of us, the one we tell ourselves can be, if we let it. — Amanda Mae Meyncke

3. GravityGravity is a massive, gripping spectacle that overwhelms through sheer size and scope. It’s a stripped-down, kinetic, exhilarating, fully engaging adventure that makes you want to say things like “big-screen thrill ride” unironically even as you realize how stupid that sounds. And it’s important to stress that that’s what this is: a ride, as blissful and exhilarating as you could want, taking you from initial drop to return dock in a smooth 90 minutes. There’s barely an ounce of fat on it. A film programmer I know refers to Gravity as Gimmick: The Movie. This isn’t pejorative, either, and I feel exactly the same way. This is one of the most kinetic film experiences I’ve had in a while, but also one of the most honestly and appropriately superficial. There is exactly as much here as you see. — Daniel Carlson

2. Mud — More than anything, this is a movie about love. It seems cheesy to just say it like that, but it’s true. The plot is driven by Mud’s love of Juniper. Ellis is a teenager just getting his feet wet in what it means to fall into and out of love, and he’s practically compelled to help Mud because of Mud’s relationship with Juniper. There’s one scene in particular, where Shannon has a conversation with his nephew’s friend about this adventure the boys are on. While it’s about them staying out of trouble, it’s also about how to cope with heartbreak. While the dialogue is delivered in a funny yet touching way, which leads to the funniest line of the whole movie, it’s also really the heart of the film. We all love and, sadly, we all have our hearts broken. But we keep at it, because of the hope of the next love. — Seth Freilich

1. Short Term 12 — Brie Larson’s Short Term 12 is more than just an unexpected delight, it’s an outstanding little movie about the power of emotional processing, about dealing with psychological trauma, and about the ways in which we cope. It is dizzyingly sweet, immensely heart-achey and anchored by one of the most nuanced and beautifully subtle performances in a very long while. It really is a beautifully wistful film, and Brie Larson turns in a performance that will blow the mindhole of the indie world. She is quietly commanding and serene, a damaged angel trying to rescue her flock. — Dustin Rowles


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Mer Mullins Brumfield

    I know people hesitate to include two Matthew McConnaughey movies on the list...but I feel like not including Dallas Buyers Club is a bit criminal.

  • SmokinLiketheJoker

    Dallas Buyers Club? I thought MM and to an extent the entire film itself was better than Mud. Just the opinion though solid list.

  • crispin

    Meet me in 10 years when everyone is watching "Short Term 12" over "Gravity".

  • Debra Kessing

    I prefer television series to movies most of the time now. With the quality of the shows - the top actors, writers, cinematic effects - I enjoy them more. Especially since I always watch a whole season in one (or two) very long but fun filled days :)

    From this list - I thought Gravity sucked (haha) and I look forward to Short Term 12, Her & Mud - the rest ... meh.

    PS - Drinking Buddies is hardly a classic, but I enjoyed it more than most, much more highly spoken of films. Those actors did a fucking amazing job adlibbing the whole damn thing and there was not one boring or false moment IMO :) That guy from that comedy I cannot watch because the world's most irritating MPDG is the star ... yea, the one with the beard. He is an awesome actor and very lovable without seemingly needing to try.

    PPS - heyyy, where IS the Hunt? Brilliant brilliant movie, Mads is one of the best actors currently working and that little girl - WOW.

  • Jiffylush

    I want to see Short Term 12 but missed it during it's brief run here, when will it be available to rent/stream/download?

    I went to it's website and saw nothing btw.

  • Uriah_Creep

    It comes out on Blu-ray/DVD on January 14th.

  • AudioSuede

    Movies I would have included: PRISONERS, This Is The End, Fruitvale Station, and Catching Fire. Oh, and Don Jon, which I thought was phenomenal.

    But then, I haven't had a chance to see most of the movies on this list.

  • AudioSuede

    It'd be really great if the best movies of the year came out so people could see them during the year. I'm so sick of the Christmas movie rush it's insufferable.

  • JR, I have no idea if this is a great top 10 list, cuz I'm a shitty moviegoer, apparently (nay, obviously, to quote Sherlock). But boy did it bring out the negativity. What a way to start the new year…now about that sobriety problem. Let's talk.

  • Some Guy

    Not a single mention for This Is The End?

    I laughed harder in that movie than I had in years. How come all the good movies are always serious movies that make you think? Sometimes I don't want to think.

    And anything that makes me laugh for 90 minutes straight is worth its weigh in gold.

  • AudioSuede

    This Is The End is a goddamned comedy masterpiece.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I think you're confusing it with The World's End.

  • Jezzer

    As much as it pains me to admit liking a James Franco vehicle, I like This Is the End a hell of a lot more than The World's End. The World's End was kind of a letdown after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

  • AudioSuede

    I meant what I said.

  • Stevie Oh See

    Interesting that most of these have been released towards the back end of the year. I often wonder if we forget what actually was released earlier on. Down here in Aus I don't even think Her or 12 Years a Slave have been released. All are on my to watch list, with American Hustle most enjoyed! Anyhoo, I still contend that Iron Man 3 was one of the best films of the year, mostly because it attempted to break the genre fiction mould. How many films get made about PTSD? How many are also superhero films?

  • AudioSuede

    Plus, it was basically Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with superheroes, and that's a very very good thing.

  • PACIFIC RIM, BITCHES.

    I don't even CARE. That movie made me so happy I can't even tell you.

  • Guest

    I feel same way about Star Trek. It was a great year for Pegg.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Yeah, but it isn't a good movie.

  • llp

    I was coming to write that down too. I saw it three times in 2013 - twice in the theatre, once on a plane. It was the most fun of any movie I saw this year. I plan to buy it so I can watch it over and over again.

    I really liked Frozen, as well. I know This is the End isn't a masterpiece, but I hadn't laughed that hard at a movie since my first watching of Bridesmaids.

  • It was the only movie I could even think of buying this year, so I did, and I've watched it three more times since I did. It's so damn fun.

  • Stevie Oh See

    It was certainly fun, and one I'm likely to watch again, and Idris Elba. So, win!

  • A. Smith

    That's probably the only movie I loved in a very forgettable 2013. Movies like Now You See Me, American Hustle, Frozen, Catching Fire, (surprisingly Bad Grandpa) and Hobbit 2 (my town got rid of 12 Years A Slave and Fruitvale Station after 2 and 1 week respectively) were alright movies but really 2013 for the most part either disappointments or just forgettable. So far 2014, isn't shaping up to be any better but I have hope.

  • DominaNefret

    I didn't really like American Hustle or 12 Years A Slave. Maybe my expectations were too high with both.
    The acting in 12 Years was phenomenal, but unlike seemingly everyone else, I wasn't moved by it at all. The way it was filmed ended up with Northup kind of playing the part of the Magical Negro, telling us about how there were some good white people and some really bad white people and some complex white people. I never actually felt like I was really getting HIM. He almost had no personality.

  • AudioSuede

    I have heard a similar argument elsewhere and I don't understand it at all. The film is about him. He's not playing the "magical negro." That might make sense if the movie was about, say, Brad Pitt's character, and he thought slavery was okay until one magical black guy taught him it was wrong. But the film is about one man trying to survive a desperate situation who finally escapes only after 12 years of trying because he got some help. This movie is not at all about the white characters.

  • DominaNefret

    I understand all of that, but it isn't what I got out of the movie. It felt really emotionally detached to me; his character was the least developed character in the entire movie, it was as if we were seeing out of his eyes, but not feeling what he felt. Patsey's character was the only one of the slaves that really had any emotional punch.
    I am talking about the way the film was directed. I think it is interesting that so many people connected with it so strongly and thought it was so powerful, since it fell so flat for me. This is all personal opinion though. The movie just didn't work for me.

  • manting

    Is Gravity worth seeing? I really like Cuaron; Children of Men is my favorite sci-fi film of the past 10 years, but I cant stand Sandra Bullock.

  • Uriah_Creep

    It's basically Sandra's film (George only Cloones for a part of it), so you may be in for a rough time.

  • manting

    Gracias, I will check it out ondemand in the near future

  • jollies

    I loved Gravity in 3D on iMax screen. I believe I would have actively disliked it on my TV set. It's similar to my experience of viewing Avitar, which I also enjoyed in 3D iMax, but would never want to watch without all the bells and whistles.

  • Zeus McGuinnes

    No a place beyond the pines? or was that a 2012 film in America?

  • googergieger

    Man, pretty shitty year.

  • Uriah_Creep

    And he's back.

  • Repo

    I really wish I liked American Hustle as much as everyone else, but it was middle of the pack for me.

    I was really hoping to see Rush on this list.

  • A. Smith

    I missed Rush. That came and went so fast (no pun intended), I heard good things about though.

  • crispin

    American Hustle was filled with great acting but you've seen the story a million times before and done much, much better.

    Where's "Before Midnight"?

  • Stevie Oh See

    I think this was the point though. It's not about the story, but is a character piece. I just think we're no longer used to seeing these kinds of works anymore. Or at least that's what I got from my fellow audience attendees who audibly criticised the film on leaving. I enjoyed it a lot, especially Jeremy Renner, actually. Bale and Adam's are pros, but I think a slightly older actress would have better fit where Jennifer Lawrence tried her best. But indeed, where's Before Midnight??

  • crispin

    Wait... So because I felt that the story was pretty cliched I'm just not used to seeing character pieces anymore?

    How did you get that from me hootin' and hollerin' over "Before Midnight" not being on this list?

  • TheOriginalMRod

    I've got a lot of movies to see.

  • Tinkerville

    I didn't realize what a lackluster year for comedies it was until this was posted.

  • AudioSuede

    Really? The World's End, This Is The End, Anchorman 2, Bad Milo, Hellbaby?

  • crispin

    Please don't remind me of the disappointing shit-fest that was "Bad Milo".

  • Tinkerville

    Really. The World's End was the only one of those I liked (haven't seen Hellbaby), so one decent comedy in a year makes for a lackluster one for me.

  • AudioSuede

    Ah, well, to each their own.

  • JustOP

    If we're including films that were screened at Cannes in 2012, then this list is sorely missing The Hunt. Possibly my favourite movie this year.

  • Davis

    American Hustle fucking stinks and David O Russell is the most perverted directed since Roman Polanski he makes Michael Bay look like Germaine Greer

  • You know, with Obamacare now in effect, you don't have to skimp on the meds.

  • Davis

    For not liking American hustle, also i'm not american so i get free healthcare anyway buddyboy

  • touche. Americans don't have keyboards with the little thing over the e. We don't even know which one is for which word or what it's called.

  • carrie

    ??????

  • Davis

    What?

  • Jezzer

    "Frances Ha" was a worthless piece of crap, its inclusion invalidates the entire list, and I hope everyone connected with the film chokes to death on a squirrel. A quirky squirrel.

  • Bananapanda

    A magic squirrel? I know a blogger with one...

  • daniel23

    I really want to downvote your comment, but damn, that quirky squirrel line is just too good.

  • Arran

    LIGHTNING. You get struck by LIGHTNING. It is a bolt of LIGHTNING. Things are LIGHTNING quick. LIGHTENING is when you make something lighter.

  • Wigamer

    That one bothers me, too, because I'm seeing it *everywhere*. Here it may be a typo, but on my Facebook wall it just means I know a lot of dumbasses.

  • Arran

    Right. I think that's why it irrationally bugs me. The other one that a bizarre number of people get wrong is "discreet". I swear more than half the time I see it as "discrete".

  • Bananapanda

    Re: Discreet/discrete - misspelled or misused?

  • Arran

    Kind of both, really, since "discrete" is a word. So they're misspelling "discreet" but correctly spelling a word that means something completely different. Pretty much the same as using "lightening" for "lightning".

  • sense for since is also on the rise. I hate it.

  • Arran

    I should of known.

  • Uriah_Creep

    I should of known.

    * Urge to kill rising... rising... *

  • Wigamer

    Also, "definately" and "sneak peak" are hiiiigh on my list.

  • alannaofdoom

    I know I'm two days late on this, but "sneak peak" is making me giggle like crazy. "Say, where did that mountain come from?!?!"

  • TK

    Shhh. There there, it's just a typo, not a war crime. You'll be alright. We're gonna get through this, OK? Just have sit back, relax, have a drink, and calm the fuck down.

  • Arran

    WAR CRIMES OF THE GRAMMAR NAZIS

    No one steal that idea.

  • 1. Gravity
    2. American Hustle
    3. Side Effects
    4. Spectacular Now
    5. Lone Survivor
    6. Prisoners
    7. A Hijacking
    8. Fruitville Station
    9. The World's End
    10. 12 Years a Slave

    Did not see: WoWW, Nebraska, Short Term 12, Mandela, Inside Llywen Davis, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, All Is Lost

  • AudioSuede

    Way too many people slept on Prisoners. That movie was a gut-punch.

  • Stevie Oh See

    Been trying to get a hold of A Hijacking...worth it, huh?

  • I quite enjoyed it. Feel like it was on netflix for about two days

  • Andrew

    Her?

  • wonkeythemonkey

    Dammit, you beat me to it!

    Ah well, at least I still have bragging rights beneath the original review.

  • I know it makes me unpopular, but I really didn't get what all the fuss was with Gravity. The effects were fine, I guess, but the rest of it felt like dumbly sentimental crap to me. If I wanted to watch Sandra Bullock whining quietly to herself I would have watched The Lake House.

    Also, the nonsensical lack of realism in that tether scene drained it of every ounce of emotional poignancy it was meant to have.

  • AudioSuede

    I saw it in IMAX, and I really believe that's the only way to see it, because it was a thrill ride. The second you think about the script too hard, it falls apart. It's heavy-handed treacle, dressed in a pretty package, but that package is insanely pretty.

  • And the repeated scenario! Really, have to repeat the process of entering another thing? Ridiculous way to finish up a pretty great piece of eye candy up to that point. But not a top 10 IMHO.

  • DeaconG

    I watched it with a friend/former co-worker and most of the scenes that people had a problem with I didn't. The part of the movie I DID have a problem with was the idea that those astronauts couldn't contact Houston...that was absolute bullshit.

    I spent 25+ years working as a NASA contractor for the NASA Ground Network. There is NO MOTHERFUCKING WAY that those astronauts would NOT have been able to contact the ground; even without a TDRS link they still had UHF comm. Trust me on this, had that kind of shit happened on ISS I can guarantee you at least three stations that I know of-BDA (Bermuda), MILA (Merritt Island, FL) and WPS (Wallops Island, VA) would have had their UHF antennas pointed at the ISS track 24/7 and had folks working overtime to so much as get a PEEP from them.

    I'm sitting in the theater with my former coworker and muttering "Where the fuck is the 259.7 Bravo? The 296.8 Alpha? Hell, where's the 243.0 emergency fucking link?" And he's chuckling going "Deac, MILA's gone." (Thank you NASA, for putting me and 65 others in the street and leaving a grassy field where a tracking station was).

    Other than that, it was OK...

  • "The effects were fine, I guess."

    Cuaron put the viewer in outer space. Are we that hard to impress these days?

  • AudioSuede

    Seriously. The only elements of the movie that weren't made with computers were the actors' faces and bodies. HOW IS THAT NOT AMAZING?!

  • It looked fake, didn't it? I might be too jaded.

    IMAX 3D might have made all the difference, though...

  • Guest

    So did Kubrick in 2001. Putting the viewer in space stopped impressing after 1968.

  • carrie

    there is a strong story in 2001 contrary to Gravity

  • Idle Primate

    THIS^

  • letsspoon

    I saw Gravity in IMAX 3D and it was one of the most engaging and breathtaking(ly beautiful) movie going experiences I've ever had. To each his own.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I just can't get behind Gravity as #3(or even on this list). Otherwise a great list.

  • Steve

    Mud came out in 2012

  • Sean

    Mud was released 4/26/2013

  • Guest

    Actually it premiered May 26, 2012 at Cannes. then sat on the self until it was picked up in August 2012 and then it was released in 2013. It was intended to have 2012 release but no one wanted it.

  • manting

    I think the U.S. premier was at SXSW - That's where I saw it.

  • JoannaRobinson

    Mud was at Cannes in 2012. Were you at Cannes in 2012? We weren't. It was released to the general public in April of this year.

  • JoannaRobinson

    Downvotes for unnecessary cattitude? I accept that. It's been a rough three days of sobriety so far.

  • Sobriety? Do you read the news? We're here for you, and so is alcohol.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Sober January? I have only recently heard of such a thing.

  • googergieger

    Da fuck is, sober?

  • Do you know the dolphin? Does he call you at home?

  • Guest

    The World's End not being here is a bit of mystery *(My #1 Film, and I normally discount any "Best of 2013 List" where it is not a Top 3 choice) but I applaud you for choosing Short Term 12 as #1.

    *No Stories We Tell? Or is there a Documentary list coming?

    **Also where's The Hunt?

  • A. Smith

    Don't know why I'm forgetting that one. That had pretty much had nothing of what you were expecting. Sure beer, aliens, the fence & Cornetto gags meeting the fight scenes from Scott Pilgrim, but what I wasn't expecting was aging, disappointment and depression angle. For what appeared to be a nice romp with old friends bait and switching into an invasion fight, had a surprising amount of depth and drama I really wasn't expecting. While not my favorite, I definitely thought it was a well made flick.

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