Here at We Got This Covered, we’ve seen a lot of movies this past year. Looking back on 2013, there have been hits and misses, surprises and disappointments, films that played it safe and films that astounded us in their willingness to test cinematic boundaries, and just about everything in between.
On this list, you’ll find films that made us laugh, made us cry, caused our hearts to soar, dazzled us with endless ambition and ultimately reaffirmed our belief in the transformative power of movies.
Our hope in assembling this list is that you, the reader, will enjoy reading about our picks, contribute your own top ten list, seek out the films that you missed, discover the ones that passed you by and perhaps gain a greater picture of what the cinematic year looked like as a whole.
Happy reading, and best wishes for the new year from all of us here at We Got This Covered.Next
If there’s one thing that the usual glut of end of the year prestige films creates, it’s a vacuum that sucks out quality films released earlier in the year. To wit, the racing drama Rush, which is not only one of the best movies of 2013, but it’s easily one of the finest of Ron Howard’s career. What’s so great about a racing film? Maybe it depends on how you define sport, and whether or not driving a car in a circle 74 times counts as a sport, but what Rush is really about is rivalry, and how sometimes it takes a great competitor to help us find the greatness in ourselves.
All the elements come together in Rush thanks to Howard’s impeccable skill and experience as a filmmaker, and two great central performances from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. No matter how you feel about car racing, this film is one heck of a ride.
What’s fascinating about Rush is that Howard, a child of Hollywood if there ever was one, went completely non-Hollywood to make the film. Without a big studio, and with very little in the way of star power (save for Hemswroth), Rush is realized very well with tremendous immediacy and intensity without relying too heavily on a lot of protracted racing scenes. The real fireworks are between Hemsworth’s Hunt and Brühl’s Lauda, who, like all great rivals, were two sides of the same coin, with Hunt’s raw talent and instincts pitted against Lauda’s knowledge and calculation. Hemsworth mixes charisma and arrogance well as Hunt, and Brühl makes you feel empathy for Lauda’s drive even in the midst of his coldness.
The revelation of Rush though is Howard. Even though he’s made over 20 films, there’s something fresh about this one, something stripped down and more focused than some of the director’s other recent efforts. Maybe that’s because Rush was made for the price of about four or five Da Vinci Codes, or maybe it’s because there’s a particularly good synthesis between Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan, who penned the director’s last great film, Frost/Nixon.
Despite the best efforts of a lot of filmmakers, car racing has always been a difficult subject matter to convey on film, but Howard captures it for all its speed, ferocity and intensity on a budget, with pure visual finesse. Really though, the reason Howard’s successful is because the more internal race between the main characters matters more than the actual one on the track.Previous Next
9) The Act of Killing
In Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark plots to get the King to betray his own treachery, saying, “The play’s the thing. Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. Murder has no tongue, but miraculously it still finds a way to speak.” Director Joshua Oppenheimer seemed to take those words to heart when he made The Act of Killing, which invited Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry, leaders of an Indonesian death squad under Suharto, to film re-enactments of their killing campaigns. The scenes captured by Oppenheimer are stunning for their lack of humanity, and leave the viewer speechless as Congo and Zulkadry talk about genocide in such maddeningly pedestrian terms. But was he able to “catch the conscience” of the men?
It’s hard tell what’s more disturbing about The Act of Killing – the growing meticulousness and artistry through which Congo and company relive their methodical mass murders, or when they comment on how their domain was an “office of blood” for the number of people they killed, or that they were always examining how to “wipe out the communists in a more humane way.”
Vexingly, as one finds oneself ready to indict these men as complete monsters, painstakingly reliving their own monstrosity, Congo shows tenderness to one of the actors overwhelmed by his role as one of his countless victims. Of course, such tenderness was lacking as Congo went about killing 1,000 people with a garrotte. But as you begin to wonder how Oppenheimer’s clinical detachment is able to hold, it becomes Congo’s turn to play the victim and soon enough he begins to buckle under the pressure of reliving his crimes from the receiving end of his brutality.
Suddenly one begins to feel for this brutal man, even as one’s imagination lingers on the real horrors he just helped re-imagine as if they were some kind of Hollywood slasher film. “My conscience told me they had to be killed,” Congo says through tears, but as a justification after the fact one simply cannot forgive him. How can someone who killed so many people, so clinically, not on any level think for a minute that what they were doing might have been wrong? It is hard to decide where the power of The Act of Killing lies. Is it in the way Oppenheimer takes judgment out of the equation? Is it in the way the soldiers elaborately re-live their crimes? Is it the greater question of the human condition, how we draw the lines between black and white, good and evil? Either way, there has probably been no more complex or complete criminal confession ever caught on video.Previous Next
8) The Place Beyond The Pines
Very few films that attempt to span multiple generations have been successful. But the small bunch that have succeed are remembered far past their release because of the incredibly expansive story they tell. 2013 adds one more film to those ranks with Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines.
The director originally said he tried to create something epic like The Godfather. While there’s little chance of anything being as great as Coppola’s masterpiece, at least in the foreseeable future, there’s no question that Cianfrance created something grand in its own right. He takes a story of a few seemingly-average people and the decisions they make, and he crafts that story together so well that it becomes Herculean.
Everyone in the cast is excellent. There may not be Oscar nominations coming for this film, but there should be. Gosling’s stoic manner works very well and you’ll have a long search if you want to find a better character who is hardened and vulnerable, yet keeps believably far into both extremes. While Bradley Cooper has proved in other movies that he can be a dramatic force, he shows it again here, taking on a character who goes on an incredible 20-year journey within one film. Heck, the first time we see him he’s killing the guy who previously was the main character. To see him go from that spot to where he is at the end of the film is a journey worthy of its own three hours, and Cooper is spot-on the entire time.
Still, the one performance that shines above the others here is Dane DeHaan’s. He’s gone from an unknown to a household name in the last couple years, but he’s never been any better than he is in Pines. Rarely would I call a performance heartbreaking, but his really is, and everything about his character will stick with you for a long time after watching the film.
Even if the acting wasn’t so great and the story so epic, the visuals alone are enough to make the film a feast for the eyes. Sean Bobbitt captures everything in a unique and hauntingly beautiful way. It’s a gritty film, and the visuals never contrast that. There are beautiful long takes and everything is framed to perfection. It’s more than just a film, it’s a work of art.
The Place Beyond The Pines is one of the most ambitious efforts I’ve ever seen and fortunately for moviegoers everywhere, Cianfrance is on the mark from start to finish here, creating one of the most epic and memorable movies of the year.Previous Next
7) Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers are arguably the most reliably consistent American filmmakers working today. Considering they write, produce, direct and edit their work, it is astonishing how extraordinarily disciplined and unpretentious they are as artists. Their films never feel indulgent, rather, they feel precise and a perfect length for the story they are telling, and the fact they have only ever put a foot wrong once or twice is something to be marvelled at.
Inside Llewyn Davis ranks among the best films of their career, and taking into account a filmography which includes No Country for Old Men, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and many other greats, that is an incredible achievement in and of itself. In many ways, this is a very different film than we’ve come to expect from them. The quirky Coen humor and razor sharp dialogue is present, but the film has a striking melancholic tone that is perfectly pitched for their tale of a down and out musician. There is a sorrowful aspect to the film, and for the most part, the Coens seem to have abandoned their trademark ironic, detached eye and have actually aimed for a tone that carries a certain unabashed pathos.
Everything from the wonderful soundtrack to the beautifully muted, almost faded cinematography to the titanic performances is honed to perfection. Each aspect is balanced in favour of the film working and it all comes together in glorious harmony as not one element seems to overshadow the other. If anything, however, the film belongs to Oscar Isaac, who gives one of the greatest performances of the year and one of the most iconic in the Coen canon. It is a thematically dense and beautifully constructed film, the kind we have come to expect from the Coens, but one which more than exceeds any and all expectations.
For more on Inside Llewyn Davis, be sure to check out our exclusive video interview with the cast below.
It takes only a short amount of viewing time to realize that Spike Jonze’s Her is more than just a movie. From its earliest moments to its blisteringly beautiful, impossibly clear-eyed conclusion, Her is a piercingly raw artistic confessional, a film that takes a seemingly outlandish science-fiction concept at face value to lay bare some of the greatest complexities of the human spirit.
In telling the story of Theodore Twombly, a lonely and brokenhearted man who falls in love with his artificially intelligent operating system, Jonze refuses to take any of the subjects he raises easy, never oversimplifying or selling short, and constantly presenting something so much more thoughtful and nuanced and creative than expectation would dictate.
It is arguable that no performance this year was as excellent as Joaquin Phoenix’s passionate and naturalistic work in the lead role, while the impression Scarlett Johansson leaves in her stunning voice-over work is unshakable. At once both a story about the pain that comes when romance ends and a study of the contrast between the world we inhabit and worlds beyond our understanding – between the tangible boundaries of sight and the far-reaching marvels of human perception and emotion – Her is dense, rich, and layered to the awe-inspiring degrees we expect of cinematic masterworks.Previous Next
5) Before Midnight
Before Midnight is an emotional roller-coaster of a romantic drama that marvellously captures so many fears and ideals that today’s lovers hold on to, as director Richard Linklater thankfully treats his audience like adults who can actually process conceptual information without having a spoon jammed down their throats.
It’s not easy to see Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy traverse the rough waters of true love, but it’s damn near the most rewarding romantic watch you’ll find this year. Hawke and Delpy – who also contributed to the screenplay – have these characters in their DNA, and are both affecting and stingingly funny. Few screen couples have ever shared such electric chemistry and it is incredible to watch these two interact.
Before Midnight marks another exceptional chapter in one of cinema’s most powerful, tender, complicated and dialogue-rich love affairs, and it is a true delight to watch.Previous Next
4) 12 Years A Slave
Steve McQueen’s first feature film, Hunger, was a stunning and self-assured debut for the director. It was a gut-wrenching, brutal look at the 1981 Irish hunger strike starring a still relatively unknown Michael Fassbender in a career-defining role. Seven years later, McQueen has returned to the historical drama genre for an adaptation of 12 Years a Slave, an 1853 autobiography by Solomon Northup, a free man from the North abducted and sold into slavery in the South. The results make Hunger look like a Disney film in comparison, as McQueen pulls no punches in giving moviegoers the most honest, unflinching film about American slavery to date.
12 Years a Slave is the kind of movie where audiences sit and try to compose themselves as the credits roll rather than gather their things together to leave the theater. It is not cinema as escapism, but something like the exact opposite. Where many films about slavery, even the most well-meaning ones, gloss over its sheer brutality, McQueen very deliberately puts that brutality on full display. The result never comes across as gratuitous violence-for-the-sake-of-violence, but rather as a statement: This is what it was like, the original sin of the United States of America.
Some critics complained that 12 Years a Slave is too beautifully shot for a film about such an ugly subject. Those critics missed the point. It is a film about contrasts. White plantation owners live on beautiful, sprawling estates surrounded by opulence while only several yards away their slaves live in filth and squalor. A man who was loved by his family and respected by his peers in free society is treated worse than an animal after his freedom is snatched away from him. The true horror is how easily it all happened, how an entire country let it happen.
That’s what makes 12 Years a Slave such an effective film: it out-horrors any horror movie around just by sheer virtue of its veracity. McQueen took the details for the film from Northrup’s autobiography. He didn’t embellish, because he didn’t need to. These were horrors that really happened, not just to Northrop but to millions of other slaves as well. It’s disheartening that it has taken this long for a film this honest about slavery to be made, but now we have it, and it is nothing less than a masterpiece.Previous Next
3) American Hustle
Director David O. Russell has been improving as a filmmaker throughout his career and his filmography has reached its peak with American Hustle, an ambitious true-crime story that moves with the director’s boisterous energy. It is based on Abscam, an elaborate sting operation in the Northeastern U.S. in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Russell, extending an already sleek, formerly blacklisted script from Eric Warren Singer, creates a wonderful concoction filled with humour and pathos.
The rock and jazz-fueled comedy is a stellar ensemble piece, using some of the moment’s finest actors in performances that rival the best work of their careers. Leading the pack is Christian Bale and Amy Adams as Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, two con artists who promise broke New Yorkers loans that are never paid. Bradley Cooper is Richie DeMaso, an FBI agent who promises these sharks immunity to help him catch white-collar criminals. Jeremy Renner is suave but sympathetic as the Elvis-haired mayor, Carmine Polito, who becomes one of DeMaso’s targets. Louis C.K. is terrific in a self-deprecating role as DeMaso’s boss. Finally, Jennifer Lawrence is shrewd and sexy as Irving’s buttery wife, Rosalyn.
American Hustle boasts one of the year’s most dynamic screenplays, packed with a lot of characters and plotlines to fulfill. However, it never feels indulgent or slight – the pacing is brisk but covers enough emotional ground to treat each of the characters with complexity. The ebbs and flows of their relationships directly feed into the convoluted crime story.
The film sparkles with a new movie sheen, including glamorous period details (great costumes, hairdos, a plush Seventies soundtrack) and a fabulous ensemble. It is a supreme entertainment that recalls a mix of vintage Scorsese and that manic stream of energy that ran through Russell’s past films. For the writer/director, American Hustle is a delightful, delirious crime comedy and his most accomplished film yet.Previous Next
2) The Wolf of Wall Street
After the brief excursion into the magical and whimsical world of Hugo, Martin Scorsese wildly howls back to life with a film that could not be more different than his last. The Wolf of Wall Street sees him return to New York, diving straight into the corrupt world of Wall Street and the hedonistic life of Jordan Belfort. The split down the middle reaction to the film, those who love it and those who just see it as rank filth, tells you that Scorsese has crafted something equal parts special and confrontational.
Those who have subsequently been outraged by the highly graphic content seem to be forgetting this is a film by Scorsese, a filmmaker who made his name pushing buttons. Someone who has put his name to some of the most extraordinary transgressive films in American cinema. He’s doing it again here, fearlessly putting some of the most wild imagery you’ve seen on screen this year. It is graphic and outrageous but it is made with the same confidence and no bullshit approach that Scorsese has been respected and lauded for throughout his career. The film’s mantra seems to be: “if we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this no holds barred,” which is to be applauded rather than assaulted.
It is also worth noting that DiCaprio and Hill have never been better, but the brilliantly assembled supporting cast (Matthew McConaughey to Kyle Chandler to Jon Bernthal) practically steal every scene they’re in. The film is big and brawny and supremely assured. Scorsese turns it up to 11 and the film is all the better and more fascinating for it.Previous Next
Gravity is the movie that film lovers, science-fiction lovers and space lovers had been awaiting for a long, long time, even if it takes place in a galaxy not so far away. Director Alfonso Cuarón has created a space odyssey that is both a piece of technical virtuosity and buckle-your-seatbelt, grip-the-armrest visceral excitement.
Simultaneously, Gravity awed and thrilled us. A marvelous 13-minute opening shot begins with a graceful float toward a space shuttle. It ends with a chaotic crash of debris that slingshots a rookie engineer, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), out into the abyss of space.
As the oft-marooned and determined Dr. Stone, Bullock is gripping. Her every-woman appeal captured audiences as she played a character both fragile and strong, making the moments of terror felt even deeper. As Dr. Stone faces a shortened air supply and a small window of time for survival, the viewer’s breaths become just as shallow as hers. George Clooney also gives terrific supporting work as wry, but protective veteran astronaut Kowalski, trying to keep Dr. Stone calm on her perilous maiden voyage.
Innovative cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski, Cuarón’s partner in developing stunning long takes, is working at peak form. Here, his camera dances around the actors, fluid and free, making the audience feel as weightless as the characters bouncing around 300 miles above the earth. However, Lubezski’s camera also whisks us into Dr. Stone’s perspective, spinning and tumbling as the astronaut encounters life-or-death challenge after life-or-death challenge.
Its epic moments of carnage are thrilling, but Gravity achieves greater depth because it is also a gripping, intimate struggle of a woman fighting the unpredictable elements of space. Gravity is a film of such magnificent technical mastery that it could not have been made five years ago. 50 years from now, it will remain a high point for the science-fiction genre. It breaks through the possibilities of what filmmaking can do and is an operatic achievement in cinema that doubles as a breakneck roller coaster ride.Previous Next
1) Inside Llewyn Davis
2) 12 Years a Slave
3) The Place Beyond the Pines
4) The Wolf of Wall Street
5) Before Midnight
8) The Great Beauty
9) The Act of Killing
10) American Hustle
1) The Wolf Of Wall Street
2) Kill Your Darlings
4) The Kings Of Summer
5) The Place Beyond The Pines
6) The Act Of Killing
7) 12 Years A Slave
8) American Hustle
9) Frances Ha
10) Metallica: Through The Never
3) Inside Llewyn Davis
4) Short Term 12
5) The World’s End
6) The Wind Rises
7) Stories We Tell
8) 12 Years a Slave
9) The Act of Killing
10) The Wolf of Wall Street
3) Saving Mr. Banks
4) The Way, Way Back
5) The Place Beyond the Pines
6) Star Trek Into Darkness
7) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
8) Much Ado About Nothing
9) Tim’s Vermeer
10) Before Midnight
2) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
3) The Act of Killing
4) Star Trek Into Darkness
5) Behind the Candelabra
6) Before Midnight
7) A Field In England
8) American Hustle
10) Blue Jasmine
1) The Wolf Of Wall Street
2) The Place Beyond The Pines
3) American Hustle
5) 12 Years A Slave
6) Fruitvale Station
10) The East
2) 12 Years a Slave
4) Inside Llewyn Davis
5) A Hijacking
6) The Spectacular Now
7) Spring Breakers
8) The Hunt
9) The Conjuring
10) Stuck in Love
1) Short Term 12
2) The Hunt
3) The Wind Rises
4) Stories We Tell
6) Before Midnight
8) Blue Jasmine
9) The Crash Reel
10) Inside Llewyn Davis
1) It’s Such a Beautiful Day
3) Captain Phillips
4) The Act of Killing
8) Before Midnight
9) American Hustle
10) Europa Report
1) The Wolf Of Wall Street
2) Captain Phillips
4) Pacific Rim
5) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
6) American Hustle
7) Pain and Gain
8) This Is The End
9) Out of the Furnace
10) The Fifth Estate