50 Pretty Good Films from 2013

Every year around this time I make a list of my favorite films from the year before. (Or thereabouts. A few of these may technically be 2012 releases, at least in some parts of the world.) Lists from previous years: 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

RT = Rotten Tomatoes score
MC = Metacritic score

1. Gravity 1. Gravity
RT: 97% / MC: 96
After two decades of good movies (including the best, but least profitable, Harry Potter film), Alfonso Cuarón finally achieves greatness. Gravity was visually spectacular, thematically rich and ultimately quite moving. The best space movie since Kubrick’s 2001 half a century ago.

2. 12 Years a Slave

2. 12 Years a Slave
RT: 96% / MC: 97
It doesn’t happen very often, but once in a while the winner of the Academy Award for best picture is among my favorites as well. Considering its topic (it’s based on a slave memoir from 1853), Steve McQueen’s movie was almost disturbingly entertaining. Incidentally, McQueen’s previous film Shame was #7 on my 2011 list.

3. All Is Lost

3. All Is Lost
RT: 93% / MC: 87
An old man (Robert Redford!) versus the sea. Very little dialogue. For a moment I felt like putting this at #1, since it’s been much less celebrated than Gravity and 12 Years, and is very nearly as good. Almost unbearably exciting at times. Director J.C. Chandor’s debut feature Margin Call was #22 on the 2011 list.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street

4. The Wolf of Wall Street
RT: 77% / MC: 75
One of Scorsese’s most purely entertaining movies ever. Three hours that fly by. In many ways it’s similar to GoodFellas, except in this case the bad guy arguably won in real life.

5. Before Midnight

5. Before Midnight
RT: 98% / MC: 94
The third installment in the decades-long project by Linklater/Hawke/Delpy is at least as good as Sunrise (1995) and Sunset (2004). Can’t wait for the fourth one in 2022.

6. Upstream Color

6. Upstream Color
RT: 87% / MC: 80
Shane Carruth’s follow-up to the brilliant time travel movie Primer, one of my favorite films of all time. This one’s about the cornerstones of life: pigs and orchids and love.

7. Frances Ha

7. Frances Ha
RT: 92% / MC: 82
Mumblecore princess Greta Gerwig tries to learn to how to live in New York.

8. The World's End

8. The World’s End
RT: 89% / MC: 81
All the Cornetto films are excellent, but this might just be the best one. Funny and poignant.

9. Her

9. Her
RT: 94% / MC: 90
Leaf Phoenix falls in love with his ScarJo-voiced operating system, mild drama ensues.

10. Sightseers

10. Sightseers
RT: 84% / MC: 69
Black comedy by Ben Wheatley, whose even darker Kill List made #5 on my 2011 list.

11. The Counselor

11. The Counselor
RT: 34% / MC: 48
Written by Cormac McCarthy, one of my favorite contemporary authors. Audiences hated it and quite a lot of critics trashed it. I kind of loved it. It’s definitely a little pretentious, but how often can you say that about a Hollywood thriller with an all-star cast?

12. Captain Phillips

12. Captain Phillips
RT: 93% / MC: 83
Tom Hanks versus pirates. Based on a true story – although in real life the Tom Hanks character was a captain, named Phillips. It wasn’t actually actor Tom Hanks who met the pirates, is what I’m saying. He’s just acting.

13. A Field in England

13. A Field in England
RT: 88%
Ben Wheatley again. Black-and-white low-budget hallucinatory historical weirdness.

14. Stories We Tell

14. Stories We Tell
RT: 95% / MC: 91
Sarah Polley documentary on family secrets and parenthood. Made me cry.

15. Only Lovers Left Alive

15. Only Lovers Left Alive
RT: 85% / MC: 77
This is how I like my vampires: laid-back and cultured.

16. The Congress

16. The Congress
RT: 86% / MC: 65
Robin Wright plays an aging actress named Robin Wright. Partly animated, partly live action. Flawed but sometimes pretty awesome. Loosely based on a Stanisław Lem novel.

17. Alan Partridge Alpha Papa

17. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
RT: 84% / MC: 63
The first motion picture with the charismatic star of Knowing Me, Knowing You, I’m Alan Partridge, and a bunch of other endeavors. I also read his book last year.

18. Much Ado About Nothing

18. Much Ado About Nothing
RT: 84% / MC: 78
What Joss Whedon did while on vacation from The Avengers (which I put at #8 on the 2012 list). But the best Much Ado adaptation is still the Branagh/Thompson version.

19. Blue Jasmine

19. Blue Jasmine
RT: 91% / MC: 78
Woody Allen’s portrait of evil. I put Midnight in Paris at #8 for 2011.

20. American Hustle

20. American Hustle
RT: 93% / MC: 90
Over-hyped, but still a decently entertaining film. Robert De Niro steals the show in a bit part. Based on a true story – though Hollywoodized.

21. Inside Llewyn Davis

21. Inside Llewyn Davis
RT: 94% / MC: 92
Comparatively weak Coen film, still worthwhile. Their True Grit remake was #8 on my 2010 list and A Serious Man was #2 in 2009.

22. Filth

22. Filth
RT:78% / MC: 70
Fun and depraved. Based on the Irvine Welsh novel, which was even sillier.

23. Nebraska

23. Nebraska
RT: 92% / MC: 86
Road movie by Alexander Payne. His The Descendants was (surprisingly) #3 two years back.

24. It’s a Disaster

24. It’s a Disaster
RT: 77% / MC: 57
The second best (after The World’s End) of the many recent comedic end-of-the-world movies. David Cross ftw!

25. Blue Ruin

25. Blue Ruin
RT: 95% / MC: 76
Revenge is a dish best served not at all.

26. Europa Report

26. Europa Report
RT: 79% / MC: 68
Mostly realistic found footage film about space exploration that might have gotten a bit more attention if not for Gravity.

27. Smashed

27. Smashed
RT: 84% / MC: 71
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as an elementary school teacher and Aaron Paul as her non-working husband – both alcoholics. Plausible and moving.

28. Cheap Thrills

28. Cheap Thrills
RT: 88% / MC: 64
As if Funny Games was actually funny! This movie feels slightly dirty and immoral, but it’s still better than watching Fear Factor or something.

29. Short Term 12

29. Short Term 12
RT: 99% / MC: 82
Troubled teens in a group home. The setup is so interesting on its own, it’s disappointing that the film eventually introduces some unnecessarily dramatic (and predictable) elements.

30. The Place Beyond The Pines

30. The Place Beyond the Pines
RT: 81% / MC: 68
Crime drama by Derek Cianfrance, whose Blue Valentine was #20 in 2010. The title is the literal translation of Schenectady.

31. Berberian Sound Studio

31. Berberian Sound Studio
RT: 83% / MC: 80
Psychological thriller set in a fictitious Italian horror film studio in the 1970s. Fun for fans of the period.

32. Computer Chess

32. Computer Chess
RT: 86% / MC: 74
A very strange period piece, made with archaic technology.

33. Philomena

33. Philomena
RT: 92% / MC: 76
Journalist Steve Coogan helps Judi Dench search for her son, given up for adoption 50 years ago. Based on a true story, with surprisingly few changes. (Incidentally, the Coogan-starring The Look of Love just barely didn’t make the list. It would probably have been #51.)

34. Dallas Buyers Club

34. Dallas Buyers Club
RT: 94% / MC: 84
Matthew McConaughey (star of the unintentionally offensive Tiptoes) gets AIDS, starts smuggling pharmaceutical drugs. Based on a true story, though perhaps a little too fictionalized.

35. Iron Man 3

35. Iron Man 3
RT: 78% / MC: 62
Not based on a true story, as far as I know. I thought it was fun, although for my money the least fun of the Iron Man movies. (I know everyone disliked Iron Man 2 but I enjoyed it. Admittedly that might be partly because I watched it in a completely empty theatre, which made it a slightly surreal experience.)

36.Drinking Buddies

36. Drinking Buddies
RT: 82% / MC: 71
The third movie on the list (after #8 and #27) that’s all about drinking and relationships.

37. In a World...

37. In a World…
RT: 92% / MC: 79
War of the voice-over artists. Amusing, but not all it could have been.

38. The Hunger Games Catching Fire

38. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
RT: 90% / MC: 75
It used to be rare that a sequel was better than the original, but in the current franchise-heavy cinema landscape it’s become fairly common (The Dark Knight, X2, the Raimi Spider-Man 2, Toy Story 2 and 3…). So too with The Hunger Games, even though the first book was superior to the second.

39. Kaze Tachinu The Wind Rises

39. Kaze Tachinu/The Wind Rises
RT: 88% / MC: 83
Far from Miyazaki’s strongest work, but weak for Miyazaki is still better than, say, Frozen, which took home the Academy Award. Somewhat controversial, but a lot milder and more tasteful than I expected.

40. First Cousin Once Removed

40. First Cousin Once Removed
MC: 96
Documentary about a poet who got Alzheimer’s disease.

41. Puhdistus Purge

41. Puhdistus/Purge
The Sofi Oksanen adaptation, not the scifi hit. (I haven’t seen the latter, but from all appearances it should be avoided.)

42. Mama

42. Mama
RT: 65% / MC: 57
Weak ending aside, not too shabby. But I prefer the original short film.

43. Room 237

43. Room 237
RT: 93% / MC: 80
A plethora of interpretations of Kubrick’s The Shining. Some are more convincing than others. I’m actually a (hesitant) subscriber to one of them myself.

44. Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox

44. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
The DCUAOM have been hit-and-miss. This was one of the better ones. (Another couple I liked were the Morrison adaptations Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, which I put at #45 for 2010, and All-Star Superman, which was all the way up at #19 for 2011.

45. This Is the End

45. This Is the End
RT: 84% / MC: 67
Yet another end-of-the-world comedy (see #8 and #24 above). I blame the media attention surrounding the Mayan calendar ending. Many cameos from actors of the Judd Apatowniverse.

46. Don Jon

46. Don Jon
RT: 81% / MC: 66
Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars as an Italian stereotype addicted to porn.

47. Side Effects

47. Side Effects
RT: 84% / MC: 75
A minor effort from Steven Soderbergh. Slightly silly but mostly effective.

48. Byzantium

48. Byzantium
RT: 62% / MC: 66
Mother-and-daughter vampires by Neil Jordan. Not all it should be, but plenty of atmosphere.

49. The Conjuring

49. The Conjuring
RT: 87% / MC: 68
Competent horror. The first five minutes are the best.

50. Thor The Dark World

50. Thor: The Dark World
RT: 66% / MC: 54
Amusing, if mostly because of Stellan (pantsless above) and Loki.

And that’s it. Barring disaster or debilitating disease, I’ll be back in a year or so with ”X Pretty Good Films from 2014”.

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