10. Blue is the Warmest Color
The engrossing and immersive romantic drama may be best known for its NC-17 rating, but the beauty and heartbreak in this loose narrative make it one of the best films of 2013. Adele Exarchopoulos provides among the strongest performances onscreen this year in a love story that is as emotionally explicit as it is sexually frank.
9. Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley proves her mettle as a documentarian with a private story that becomes universal, entertaining and genuinely moving. Through a profoundly personal investigation, Polley looks at the validity of those comfortable truths that live in every family, and it’s all clever, fascinating, funny stuff. Polley has quickly become a filmmaker you cannot ignore, and it is a testament to her own storytelling skill that even as she turns her focus inward, you can’t help but look at your own world in a different way.
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
Director Martin Scorcese’s three hour showcase of unchecked hedonism is a terrifically frenzied, wickedly funny ride. Leonardo DiCaprio is electric as Jordan Belfort, the real life Wall Street wizard who made millions before the Feds brought him down for rampant securities fraud. This is no hand-wringing reflection on the wages of sin, just a swaggering, appropriately superficial and completely entertaining lesson in the American dream.
The great Alexander Payne exceeds admittedly high expectations with this gracefully restrained father/son journey. The Oscar favorite will no doubt pull in a nomination for its lead, an unforgettable Bruce Dern, but the entire ensemble – June Squibb as Dern’s spitfire of a wife, in particular – beautifully convey the spite, regret, hilarity and insanity of family. Wistful and rambunctious, the film packs a dramatic punch but still leaves you smiling.
Alfonso Cuaron redefines SciFi with a jaw-dropping interstellar adventure – undoubtedly this year’s most surprisingly tense action flick. He untethers a novice astronaut in outer space, and his audience with her, in the most intimate and epic journey of the year. His stunning directorial achievement reminds us of why people started making movies in the first place.
Though it won’t hit many theaters until January, this film is too magnificent to be relegated to the category of afterthought. Spike Jonze has written and directed this year’s most poignant love story, cast it impeccably and set it just far enough into the future to let breathe. The eternally underappreciated Joaquin Phoenix breaks your heart as the lonesome lover in a world that encourages isolation, while Scarlett Johannson – in her second excellent turn this year, following Don Jon – delivers an award worthy performance with just her voice. It’s a beautiful, imaginative, relevant image of love in the modern world.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Brothers Coen offer just another nearly flawless film, this time immersing us in the tribulations of a struggling musician in the 1961 Greenwich Village folk scene. Boasting a beautifully nuanced lead performance from Oscar Isaac and populated with hilarious and touching supporting turns, the film is the brothers’ most impeccably crafted character study. It’s also another great exploration of the artistic connections possible between cinema and music, reminding us again of that Coen genius.
3. The Act of Killing
Those responsible for exterminating more than a million Indonesians during the 1965 government overthrow re-enact their savagery for Joshua Oppenheimer’s camera in the most surreal and riveting documentary of this year, or perhaps any other. You simply cannot believe what you are seeing. The film is absolutely not what you expect it to be, regardless of what those expectations may be. It is essential viewing.
2. American Hustle
With a dream ensemble, wickedly sharp writing and an explosive pace, director David O. Russell gives us a con movie that explodes with heart and humor. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper erupt while Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner anchor a very human, impossibly captivating comedy/drama.
1. 12 Years a Slave
Intimate storytelling and flawless acting come together to eliminate the distance of time and create a powerful, visceral, unforgettable cinematic and human experience. Director Steve McQueen has created a film that makes all others set during the shameful American history of slavery seem almost precious. His film is a profound and brutal experience, and an awe-inspiring feat of moviemaking. There is no close second in a list of the best films of 2013.