Matt Donato’s Top 10 Films Of 2013

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I know I’m typically the “horror guy” here at We Got This Covered (“Why can’t you watch nice things!” is typically a comment heard numerous times while visiting the parentals), but believe it or not, on top of the 90 horror films I was able to catch this year, I do watch what more conservative movie fans would call “real cinema.” I’m not a horror only guy, trust me, I’m a cinephile through and through – but horror just happens to be the most fun genre to write about in my eyes.

You’re not here for horror, though. While I’m currently compiling my Best Of/Worst of lists for the horror genre as we speak (which will be posted in the coming two weeks!), I’m here today to discuss my personal Top 10 list of movies that don’t involve killer dolls, bloodthirsty creatures, spooky ghosts – but certainly a monster or two. This year was a phenomenal year for film, filled with truly poetic storytellers crafting some of their best work to date, new talents shining through as the future filmmakers of their generation, and moving moments of utter whimsy that remind this critic why writing about movies has to be the best job in the history of professional, well, anything.

Fellow site critic Jonathan R. Lack already gave you his take on the best 2013 had to offer, and I’m glad to see we don’t overlap that much so you can get the most recommendations out of us WGTC writers as possible. Opinions are opinions, which is a simple statement that makes film criticism so unique and rewarding. No matter how you view a film, how you soak it up and let it percolate, someone else is going to have a completely different experience, and from that you can discover new depths to a film. I don’t believe there’s really one way a film can be received, and we rely on the masses to uncover every little stone a director might toss out for us. Film criticism is supposed to spark debate and conversation – not hate and stubborn dismissal. Share, learn, discover – that’s what film criticism is all about! Well, that, and telling you what sucks and doesn’t.

With that said, I present you The Top 10 Films of 2013 - as seen by me of course. These are the films that stuck with me long after watching, making it just as easy to create this list from memory than it was to write all my numerical ratings down and order them accordingly. You may agree (probably not), you may disagree (it’s the Internet, c’mon), but for my money, these ten films deserve your undivided Theatrical/RedBox/VOD/Netflix attention right this very second. If you’d like a little warm up, I talked through picks 20-11 over with my good friend Dennis Holden on his podcast, which you can only find there, but if you’d just like to jump in with my Top 10, by all means, the water is fine. To the list!

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10) Metallica: Through The Never

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…and I’ve lost you already. It’s a shame that the best concert film I’ve ever seen was probably missed by most viewers who aren’t a fan of the aging metal Gods, but catching the midnight release of Metallica: Through The Never might have been the most fun I had at the movies this year. Sure, that’s probably because the random guy sitting all by himself three rows ahead of me was rocking every Lars drum solo and headbanging like he was front row at the actual show – but that’s the atmosphere such an amazing musical film delivers.

From the very first riff that starts blaring out of the speakers until the final instrumental diddy that plays out the credits, Metallica absolutely rocks as hard as any fan could dream. Cranking out classic after classic, we’re treated to a show full of lavish set productions and high-octane adrenaline that promotes the audience morphing into a real concert crowd. This isn’t just due to Metallica’s unmatched stage presence, but also director Nimród Antal’s steady direction that makes the larger than life icons seem too large for even the IMAX 3D screen. The concert film is an experience, and we’re given unprecedented views of a Metallica live show that we’d never get from sitting in the nosebleeds. The camera soars over the massive set, capturing Metallica surrounded by screaming fans, while also being permitted to walk the stage while Robert Trujillo does his patented “creep.”

Oh yeah, then there’s Dane DeHaan and the ongoing side-story of one warrior roadie tasked with saving the day. Turns out he gets stuck in some crazy apocalyptic scenario, and instead of watching his favorite band shred what have become bonafide rock scriptures, DeHaan fights to stay alive. These cutaways work as music videos for certain songs, and embrace the idea of flashy visuals and elaborate pieces to give audiences a break from the foursome. It’s not like we need one, but the mystical quest adds a layer of entertainment that still lets us experience the concert atmosphere simultaneously.

Coming from a Metallica fan, Antal’s film sets the bar for rock concert films just a little bit higher than it already was, paying tribute to a band that rewards audiences with a downright jaw-dropping, fist-pumping, heart-pounding experience.

Metallica: Through The Never will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray January 28th, 2014. Read my full review of the film here

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9) Frances Ha

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Noah Baumbach is a filmmaker that independent audiences know very well, but mainstream audiences do too even though they might not realize it. He’s written or helped write so many hit films, and his directorial efforts are almost all winners themselves, but it’s his latest project with star Greta Gerwig that had me utterly entranced. Maybe it’s a generational connection, maybe it’s because I currently live in New York and actually see people like Frances, maybe it’s because Greta Gerwig is an absolutely phenomenal actress, but Frances Ha, to me, was a whimsical treat about living life and following your dreams no matter what’s keeping you down.

Sure, I guess some people can be turned off by Frances’ constantly perky sensibilities, but in the way that Gerwig flaunts Frances’ hipster attitude of chasing creative freedom, I found our lead character charming and loveable. She doesn’t just walk the streets, she runs around them like a happy little elf brightening people’s day with a smile. No apartment? No job? Not making headway on her dreams? She looks towards the comfort of family, shares more joy, and dives right back into her zero prospects to keep trucking. I’m all for dark, gritty, realistic cinema, but I’m also a fan of the optimistic underdog. Frances is a perfectly wonderful character to root for, and her journey is quite inspiring for those wide-eyed grads ready to tackle the big apple with zero direction.

This has independent cinema written all over it, right down to the black and white filming, so it’s definitely going to be an acquired taste – but what isn’t’? Frances Ha promotes happiness and all that’s good in life, even if it seems like there’s nothing going on. I think we can all use a little dose of sunshine via the dazzling Greta Gerwig, no?

Francese Ha is available on DVD and Blu-Ray right now.

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8) American Hustle

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I’m a bit of a David O. Russell fanatic, so it’s no surprise that his latest film, American Hustle, is making my top ten. Silver Linings Playbook topped last year’s list me for, The Fighter made that year’s Top 10, and although David isn’t being graced with my “Best of the Best” honors, it’s still incredibly deserving of its spot. Just look at that cast and their awesome fashion sense, how could you not love the essence of this wacky, kind-of-true period piece? This is definitely the biggest movie Russell’s attempted to date, and the writer/director pulls off his start-studded film with the utmost ease – or he cons us all into thinking so.

A good movie always needs a good cast, but this cast isn’t just good – it’s dynamite. It’s the kind of cast that you read all the names for – Adams, Cooper, Renner, Bale, Lawrence – and then still get surprised by the likes of Louis C.K., Michael Peña, and Robert De Niro. Bradley Cooper rocks some tight jerry curls like a champ, Christian Bale adds 50 pounds of manly girth and dons an atrocious combover, both Adams and Lawrence sizzle in their bombshell dresses, and Renner plays Robin Hood just like any good-willed yet dirty politician would, but the most important feature of our cast is the amount of fun they have. You’re not only watching a film, you’re watching tremendously talented performers interact with one another on a level that’s a bit surreal at times – which makes for unmatched entertainment.

I can’t exactly say this is David O. Russell’s best, as Silver Linings Playbook won me over tenfold, but I do believe it’s his next best film without a doubt. Get caught in the hustle, you’re going to dig the hell out of this one.

American Hustle is in theaters now.

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7) 12 Years A Slave

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I can now officially say that no film this year moved me like 12 Years A Slave did. Honestly, I’ll probably never re-watch Steve McQueen’s beautifully heartfelt re-telling of Solomon Northup’s horrifying journey into slavery, because it weighs on your conscious like eating an entire Crave Case from White Castle would weigh your stomach, but this is absolutely a film that DEMANDS to be seen once. It’s two hours of unfiltered hatred, unjust societal treatment, savagely tragic slave beatings, wrongful imprisonment, and bastard plantation owners, but McQueen’s raw and honest treatment of the source material, channeling the human suffering that took place during the film’s time period, makes his film an absolute show-stopper.

Caught in the Southern slavery system is actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays the main character of Solomon Northup like he’s enslaved himself. I already described in great detail how Ejiofor delivers one of the most astounding performances of the year, so I’ll save the space here, but I can promise you if we’re not discussing this prolific performer’s name come Oscar season, it will be a grave injustice. Michael Fassbender also deserves a shot at some Oscar gold himself for his role as the “evil” plantation owner Edwin Epps, but Ejiofor is the real stud pony, one I truly hope gets the recognition he deserves. Of course, the whole cast is phenomenal, so what I really should be saying here is bravo all around – bravo.

12 Years A Slave is an important film. It’s not really something you watch for entertainment, but instead for historical recounting and gutsy, true filmmaking. There’s a reason I walked out of the theater and couldn’t even carry a conversation for more than maybe two minutes.

12 Years A Slave is in theaters now. Read my full review of the film here.

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6) The Act Of Killing

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Crap, after reading my 12 Years A Slave write-up only one page back, I’m already making myself out to be a liar. There was one more film on par with the moving nature of McQueen’s film, and that’s Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act Of Killing. I watch a lot of horror movies, as you may have seen from my short introduction, but no film terrified me more than this brilliant, genre defining documentary masterpiece. Some documentarians set out with a goal, achieve some of it, and are happy just to have a movie together, but Oppenheimer sneakily goes into his project with a plan, and not only gives us historical information on atrocious Indonesian killings, but exposes certifiable killers on camera breaking down with their own true, emotional realizations. This is “WOW” material, 100% of the way.

I can’t point out any one moment that defines The Act Of Killing because every moment seems to trump the last. Anwar Congo, the film’s focal point, is a film lover turned government death squad hero during a time in Indonesia where the idea was to exterminate all Communist threats. Anwar shows how it was done, displays the tools of the trade, dances about with joy, and always keeps a skip in his step – all this coming from a man boasting a personal body count in the hundreds. By the end of the movie, Anwar is, well, watching his “transformation” (along with the other characters) is what represents the greatest reward of Oppenheimer’s powerful, juggernaut of a life lesson. You really have to experience this film for yourself to understand. I’m honestly just going to leave it right there.

The Act of Killing is not currently playing in theaters, but will arrive on DVD and Blu-Ray January 7th. Read my full review of the film here. 

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5) The Place Beyond The Pines

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Hey everyone, remember The Place Beyond The Pines, that movie all Ryan Gosling fans went to see only to find out Ryan Gosling wasn’t technically the main star? Right, well to me, I interpreted the scenario as Ryan Gosling wasn’t the ONLY star, because I absolutely love what Derek Cianfrance created. I know some people disagree with me here, but I believe The Place Beyond The Pines held up against this year’s best and brightest, giving us three solid acts filled with brilliant acting and stories about the consequences of our actions told through not one, but two generations. Is it a little long? Is the material dense? Yes and yes, but pushing onward into this forrest of emotion is an adventure worth the sacrifice.

Starting out with Gosling’s renegade circus character, we watch a devoted father try to care for his family and life, but struggle to advance his state through legal means. Family is family though, and you do what you have to, but unfortunately this doesn’t end well for Gosling – and this is where we meet Bradley Cooper’s character. From here the story shifts to crooked cops and another father struggling to do the right thing, but his story continues on and on, leading to the third act where we meet both men’s sons – and they meet each other. Enter Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen, Gosling’s and Cooper’s sons respectively, and the story takes a full circle kind of arc, but also starts yet another story between the boys. When each chapter closes, another one opens – it’s some of the best storytelling I encountered all year.

I love The Place Beyond The Pines just as much now as I did when it was released, making it a hard-fought warrior amongst some of the more recent releases on this list.

The Place Beyond The Pines is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Read my full review of the film here.

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4) The Kings Of Summer

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These kids truly were the kings – I’m not sure I saw a better film during the summer of 2013. I’ve seen a ton of those typical “coming of age” stories where the main kid learns life lessons, grows up a tad, starts to get a handle on life, and all that jazz, but The Kings Of Summer is the golden standard for today’s “coming of age cinema.” The whole idea of children becoming adults revolves around doing so on their own, and what kid wouldn’t want to live in the middle of the woods with their two best friends – in a house they built? Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s film mixes fantasy and reality with just enough sweetness to really create a feel-good story about self-discovery and maturity, making us wish we were young again.

The real success here is in large part thanks to our budding lead actors. Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias not only display tremendous chemistry, but they make us feel what it was like to once be free of all responsibility and still figuring out what was coming next. They’re absolutely hysterical together, especially the comedic relief from Arias, but when you mix in other veteran actors like Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, the cast rockets to another level – a level that makes you fall in love with almost every scene.

I know this film only got a limited release, but now that it’s out to the public, you have no reason not to see The Kings Of Summer. Don’t do yourself the disservice of missing this independent gem – you’ll be missing one of the best films of 2013.

The Kings Of Summer is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Read my full review of the film here.

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3) Rush

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Not being a true Formula 1 fan, or any racing fan for that matter, I’m so happy that I can say Ron Howard’s Rush is hands down one of the three best films of 2013. That fact that it’s based on truth is only a portion of the appeal, as we’re not only treated to a showy feud-like competition between two flashy racers, but we’re also given a true dissection of the adrenaline junkie lifestyle – those people who risk their lives just to feel a bit more alive. Niki Lauda and James Hunt took the racing world by storm with their antics, and both Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth do a magnificent job of highlighting both racer’s lifestyles.

While Hemsworth provides a perfectly entertaining performance, it’s Daniel Brühl that steals this high-speed show. For those of you that don’t know, Niki Lauda was involved in a serious crash that leaves his body mangled, but through perseverance and the will to still beat Hunt, Lauda wills himself back onto the track eventually so he can continue his points battle with James after “letting” him catch up. Brühl’s performance during the whole progression is really some award-worthy stuff, so we’ll see if he gets the proper recognition he deserves. Hemsworth is the funnier, more light-hearted character here, but even he gets to flex his dramatic muscles a few times, and when he does, he shows they’re just as toned as his lovable woman-killer side.

Rush keeps the pedal to the floor and never lets up, which is why it’s one of the most exciting films of 2013. Plus, it’s always nice chalking up a win for Ron Howard, and after The Dilemma, he needed this.

Rush will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray January 28th, 2014. Read my full review of the film here.

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2) Kill Your Darlings

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I’ve said it once but I’ll say it again – Kill Your Darlings makes me want to be a better writer. The mentality of these wacko beat poets helped define a generation of free thinkers, big dreamers, and creativity pushers, which helps bolster the vibrant life of John Krokidas’s first feature film. It’s a film about intellectual anarchy, going against the ways set in stone by stoic rule-followers who need a box to think inside of. Oh yeah, it’s also about the murder that brought such names as Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) together, and without them, we wouldn’t have had the “New Vision!”

For my money, I saw some of the best acting of 2013 in Kill Your Darlings. Jack Huston, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall – all of these men filled the shoes of their characters with passion and intensity. Dane DeHaan and Daniel Radcliffe – these men went above and beyond the call of duty, creating characters that popped off the screen. In every scene these two were acting their hearts out, and each scene was more powerful than the last. Kill Your Darlings is the moment Daniel Radcliffe proved he wasn’t stuck being Harry Potter his whole life, and where Dane DeHaan proved he was ready to be a top-tier talent – mark my words.

I feel bad for John Krokidas because he had my top pick until only a few days ago, when a little film came along and just, JUST edged him out. Still, I’m sure being the second best movie of 2013 is a pretty nice achievement.

Kill Your Darlings is currently not in theaters. Read my full review of the film here and be sure to check out our exclusive video interview with the cast below.

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1) The Wolf Of Wall Street

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Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, you’ve done it again. You glorious, filmmaking super-team. Running at an eye-popping three hours, The Wolf Of Wall Street blazes along at a brisk pace that never lets you feel bogged down by such a demanding run time, as the story of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort provides the single best movie experience of 2013. Filled with quaaludes, nudity, greed, corruption, money, Matthew McConaughey being awesome, and little people being thrown at targets, Scorsese’s genius once again brings a unique cinematic experience that’s perfect from start to finish.

Jordan Belfort was not a nice man, and Leonardo DiCaprio completely transforms into the seedy stockbroker like the chameleon he is. Leo always puts on a proper show, but his performance in The Wolf Of Wall Street has to be my favorite from recent memory. Working with the actual Jordan Belfort, DiCaprio was completely committed to showing every depraved act these multi-millionaires carried out in their hayday, from the prostitutes to the excessive drugs – and boy does it translate on camera.

Not enough people have seen this film yet at this specific point, so I really don’t want to reveal any more than this: Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Dicaprio may have just created their magnum opus. In my eyes, it’s that good. Like, good enough to be best film of 2013 good. Like, good enough to ignore your family on Christmas Eve to see it at midnight good. Congrats Marty, no one else deserves the crown more than you do this year. Wear it with pride.

What were your favorite films of 2013? Let us know in the comments how many of my picks made your own year end lists!

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