Oscar Weekend is finally upon us and what a year it has been for cinema. There were the usual heavyweights dropping more anticipated hits, head-turning surprises, and a strong comeback of a certain genre. Maybe it’s just me, but 2013 feels like one of the strongest film classes in recent memory. Where there’s usually only one or two movies clearly deserving of the title “Best Picture”, this year there’s a handful. The Academy managed to get some of them, but there were so many more that went on unacknowledged.

Which, of course, is why I’m here. Here are my Top 13 Films of 2013.

First, though, some honorable mentions:

The Kings of Summer, The Way, Way Back, Gravity, Dark Skies, The Call

And now, the list:

 13. Mud


This year continued a scary revelation: Matthew McConaughey can act. In fact, being in three films on this list and the star of two of them, you can make the argument that no actor had a bigger year in 2013 than the man who’s usually only good for taking his shirt off. And while he can’t help but to reveal the washboard super-glued to his abdomen a few times in this unusual coming-of-age folk tale, it’s far from the main reason why this flick was worth a watch.

12. Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

Again, McConaughey, folks. But instead of a devilishly handsome Southern fugitive (see ‘Mud’ above), the Texan plays a hard-partying lowlife whose body is being ravaged by the HIV virus. His homophobic buddies want nothing to do with him and the doctors say he’s already got one foot in the grave. So what’s a guy to do? Befriend a transgender drug addict and embark on one good pharmaceutical scheme who’s happy byproduct is changing the lives of hundreds if not thousands. A great, true story that will probably deliver Oscars for McCounaughey and Jared Leto.

11. The Conjuring


2013 was something of a renaissance for the horror genre and ‘The Conjuring’ is perhaps it’s best example. Its poster child, if you will. Spinning a rather familiar story, this haunting won’t win you over with originality but rather near-flawless execution. And, when you’ve been scared to the point where Ambien is about as useful to you as a sugar pill, you’ll realize this isn’t the usual plot-less haunted house we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in recent years. From Vera Farmington to Ron Livingston, there’s not a weak bit of acting in the bunch, which only leads to you sitting even more tensely in your seat.

10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games Catching Fire

Before you go rolling your eyes, hear me out. This is not just another teen read effortlessly thrown onto the big screen for nothing more than a quick buck (though, financially, it was successful). Francis Lawrence (director) and Simon Beaufoy (screenwriter) continued brilliantly what Gary Ross did so well with the first one. They’ve taken this novel series and transformed it into a real, palpable sci-fi story with plenty of commentary about present-day government and politics. It’s not the greatest thing since ‘1984’, but it’s pretty damn close.

9. You’re Next

You're Next

This one comes with a bit of an asterisk because the film actually originally debuted in 2011, but only finally enjoyed a wide release this past year. And besides, when you’ve got a modern-day horror classic on your hands, you make it work. What’s so great about it, you ask? ‘You’re Next’ picks up on a long-forgotten truth about horror: it doesn’t have to scare the crap out of you to be a “good” horror flick. This little twisted tale of an entitled family with some deep-seeded issues puts the fun back into the slasher sub-genre. Gore-porn enthusiasts will be plenty happy with the product, but it’s the attention to detail and almost laughably-unexpected plot twists that’ll really gets your juices flowing. Not many truly great horror movies can make you leave a theater with a smile on your face, but ‘You’re Next’ is definitely one of them.

8. 42


Baseball and cinema have always shared an uncommon bond, so it wasn’t completely surprising that their most recent love child, ’42’, was such a success. Lost in the ‘Best Actor’ debate between McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is Chadwick Boseman, whose portrayal of baseball legend Jackie Robinson puts the hairs on the back of your neck straight up. The movie itself has everything critically-acclaimed ’12 Years a Slave’ has (powerful black protagonist, a love interest that looks more like the best of friendships, scores of racists contrasted by a few progressive-thinking white folks) with the added kicker of America’s national pastime. It won’t dethrone the greats like Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, but it’s definitely, as baseball scouts might say, a plus pitch.

7. Short Term 12

Short Term 12

When Brie Larson inevitably wins an Oscar somewhere down the line, we’ll remember ‘Short Term 12’ as the film that delivered her to us. Yes, we’ve seen her in other things (including lesser roles in Don Jon and The Spectacular Now just this year) but this is the performance that was so eye-opening, I can only compare it to that of Christian Bale in ‘The Fighter’. Larson is an emotional maelstrom in this movie that so brilliantly redefines both what a family is and what it can be. Stuck in Larson’s shadows are likewise strong performances from John Gallagher, Jr. (The Newsroom), Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and Rami Malek (The Pacific). This tale of tortured souls goes so dark, you think it can’t possibly have a happy ending but, spoiler alert, it gets there in its own little way.

6. 12 Years a Slave

Chiwetel Ejiofor

The problem with movies that receive as much hype as ’12 Years a Slave’ did is that we subconsciously go into them already holding them to a higher standard. In the case of ‘Gravity’, a good-but-not-great little space thriller, the bar failed to be reached. ’12 Years a Slave’, however, gets there and then goes a little further. Director Steve McQueen nabs Michael Fassbender, whom he worked with on ‘Shame’ in 2011, and throws him into this powerful cast of actors you know-but-only-sort-of (Brad Pitt aside, obviously). Yes, Chiwetel Ejiofor is great, but so is everyone else. The performances are a perfectly-cooked Filet Mignon that is expertly garnished with an awesome soundtrack and visuals.

5. Star Trek Into Darkness


Months before Benedict Cumberbatch played the nicest slave owner in the South in ’12 Years a Slave’, we all enjoyed him as the latest villain in the modern Star Trek saga. While giving us Alice Eve in her underwear would probably be enough to get this movie on the list, what really makes Star Trek Into Darkness fly, as it was with the first one, is J.J. Abrams. The deity to the modern nerd once again reminds us that he gets it. We don’t want far-out tackiness running roughshod over our beloved franchises, we want healthy doses of imagination grounded by strong parallels to the modern day. This installment of what is about to become a trilogy is so good, that we can probably unleash a deep sigh of relief that Star Wars Episode VII is in very capable hands.

4. The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now

Let me preface this one by saying, I didn’t want to like this movie. Sold as that sort of chick flick that might just be masculine enough for boyfriends everywhere to endure, the marketing strategy of ‘The Spectacular Now’ couldn’t be farther from the film. This is not a coming-of-age tale. No, this is THE coming-of-age tale. I can’t think of another movie that so perfectly grasps what it’s like to 18 years old, thinking you have all the answers while casually forgetting you have even more questions. Like Sutter Keely’s drunken driving, this film narrowly avoids so many disasters. A hair to the left and it could’ve been a tacky PSA on teenage alcoholism. A hair to the right and it could’ve been the teenybopper most veterans of puberty initially wrote it off as. But ‘The Spectacular Now’ is none of those things. Instead, it’s an utterly-engrossing, 95-minute story that should serve as a terrific springboard for the careers of Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. And in case you don’t believe me, Teller is already back at Sundance killing it again.

3. Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks

Kicking off the Top 3 is one of four films actually nominated for Best Picture on this list. And while the odds of ‘Captain Phillips’ actually taking home the Oscar is somewhere around Miley Cyrus ever getting nominated for one, there are far worse movies the Academy could go with. To me, ‘Captain Phillips’ is this year’s ‘Argo’. That story we sort of knew but never actually understood the details of. And what Paul Greengrass did so well, as Ben Affleck did last year, is paint in those details with edge-of-your-seat vividness. And just as it was with ‘Argo’, the final outcome constantly seems in doubt despite the fact you already know how the story ends. And, oh by the way, it’s probably Tom Hanks’ best performance since Charlie Wilson’s War in 2007. Nay, I’ll go further than that. Catch Me If You Can, 2002. Yeah, I said it.

2. Side Effects

Side Effects

Even with as many big names as it boasts, ‘Side Effects’ came out of seemingly nowhere like a certain plot twist about halfway through its run time that we won’t talk about. What we will talk about is how ‘Side Effects’ is the kind of movie that reminds us why we love movies. It may or may not be only loosely-tethered to reality, but that’s beside the point. Everyone loves a good big-business, small-person crime thriller and ‘Side Effects’ without a doubt has the goods. No matter how many times you watch it, it will always be a 106-minute roller coaster. Shame on me for not seeing this the day it hit theaters, my birthday, last year. That would’ve been one hell of a gift.

1. The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Fall Preview

The critics can get off their knees, wipe their mouths, and step away from ‘Gravity’ and ’12 Years a Slave’, because ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’  is this year’s best movie. It won’t win the Oscar, you say? Fine, neither did The Dark Knight, The Shawshank Redemption, Inception, or any of the original Star Wars trilogy. Good luck trying to convince me those weren’t instant classics the second they came out. What ‘Wolf’ is is immorally delicious. It’s Goodfellas with business cards, Casino with portfolios. To get this sort of 3-hour gem from a cinema god like Scorcese is akin only to waking up to that perfect Christmas present on Christmas Day. Fitting it came out on said day, no? That is how good ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is. Remember when I was saying what a year for movies this was? Well, when it comes down to it all, the choice for numero uno was never really close. Said Martin Scorcese, “You’re welcome, everybody.”


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