Anton's Top 10 Films of 2013

This is not a definitive list of the best films of 2013. Posterity will be better able to sort out, evaluate, and rank the year's cinematic creations, for every age has its blinders, and so does every viewer. Still, I'd wager at least a handful of my top 10 films of 2013 will be watched, studied, and admired in the years to come. Like most of the world in 2013, most of the new releases I watched were made in America, and most of those were produced by Hollywood. I still watch and enjoy a fair number of blockbusters, but Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World confirmed that I'm losing interest in superhero movies in general, and the Marvel cinematic universe specifically. If most of today's inflated action spectacles are losing their appeal for me (Pacific Rim and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug being exceptions), big budget mainstream fare by interesting and talented filmmakers (such as The Great Gatsby or The Wolf of Wall Street) continues to engage me. And in 2013, as always, a few thrillers were exemplars of cinematic skill and technical proficiency.

I also tried to pay attention to other countries and independent productions. However, for the sake of consistency, I have excluded films that did not receive either a limited or wide North American release in 2013.

Unfortunately, I did not see every new release, not even every major one. I watched fewer movies than both Aren and Anders, but more than your average filmgoer, I figure.

Plain and simple, out of all the new releases that I saw in 2013, these are the ten movies I liked the most.

1. The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu) (dir. Hayao Miyazaki)

Every now and then one comes across a special work of art that one not only enjoys and admires but also entirely agrees with--a deeply satisfying unity of form and content, craft and message. A beautiful, moving, and mature story about the creative process, Miyazaki's The Wind Rises is one of those special works for me.

2. 12 Years a Slave (dir. Steven McQueen)

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the evil we do to one another. Steve McQueen's film about Solomon Northup, a freeman forced to live as a slave for twelve years in the American South, does so with unblinking precision and awful clarity.

3. Prisoners (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

An absorbing procedural about the investigation of a pair of child abductions, a meticulous, quietly menacing thriller, and a fascinating study of the dark regions of the human condition.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street (dir. Martin Scorsese)

Satire that goes all the way. If some people weren't horribly offended, Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter wouldn't have gone far enough. I'd argue, though, that this film doesn't glorify the idiocy, reckless extravagance, and moral disease it portrays; rather, it shows us the idiocy, reckless extravagance, and moral disease we glorify.

5. Mud (dir. Jeff Nichols)

It's a good story, told really well. That's what I keep telling people, and I think that's rare enough to mean something.

6. Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth)

If Mud is a narrative that involves the linear, cumulative development of its characters and events, then Upstream Color is almost the opposite: circular, shifting, and continually deconstructing itself in order to examine our desire for connection and the human project of constructing meaning.

7. To the Wonder (dir. Terrence Malick)

Like the experience of romantic love, the movie is both incredibly easy and quite difficult to describe. Malick pushes his signature techniques to their limit here, but it works.

8. Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)

Before Midnight and its predecessors embody for me everything good about those small, talky, character-driven movies capable of showing us our own lives in new ways.

9. The Great Gatsby (dir. Baz Luhrmann)

Whatever the widespread but misguided belief, you cannot put a book on film. You can only take certain threads from a literary work and weave them into a cinematic screen. Parts will always be missing. Things will always be different. Luhrmann captures the superficial energy of Fitzgerald's Roaring Twenties, and draws attention to how important spectacle is to the construction and preservation of Gatsby.

10. Side Effects (dir. Steven Soderbergh)

There are so many good twists in this film that I remember being distanced for a moment while watching it, and simply smiling to myself as I admired its ability to lead me about.