Editor's note: I left his top 15 in order, however #s 11 - 15 are called honorable mentions. His list of additional honorable mentions is also included at the end.
Hands down the most beautiful film this year. The direction, the world, the script, the people, the message, everything. It was all just so well done. It had me smiling hours after leaving the theater and thinking about it for days on end. Joaquin Phoenix is in great form, as usual, as is Scarlett Johansson, who I don’t usually think of as an overly expressive actress, but who surprised me here. See it, with a significant other if possible.
You’ve heard all the acclaim. And it is well deserved. Steve McQueen’s third film is faster paced than his previous films, which helps lend power to the scenes that do slow down. It’s a potent combo, one I hope he continues to perfect.
3. Upstream Color
Shane Carruth’s second film has a premise far too complex and strange to sum up in a few sentences. Just know that it is an incredible amount of intellectual fun to follow and piece together this strange tale. And once you accomplish that significant task, you realize it is wonderfully well shot and edited t’boot, particularly the sound editing.
What can I say about Gravity that hasn’t already been said? I could say it sucked, because certainly no one has said that, but that would be a revolting, nauseating, bald-faced lie. What an experience. Thrilling just doesn’t do it justice.
5. The Conjuring
I love being afraid. It saddens me to realize that as I’ve gotten older I just don’t get scared by ‘scary’ movies as much anymore. It was exhilarating, then, to find that The Conjuring managed to seep into the darkest corners of my psyche and make me experience fear again.
6. The Impossible
I think this only barely qualifies as a 2013 movie, but I thought it was close enough. Once you get past the controversy of the film starring an English family in the Indonesian tsunami instead of, you know, Indonesians, you’ll find a really well done, affecting movie. I became whole-heartedly invested in this family and moved by their tale.
7. Captain Phillips
Paul Greengrass, director of the later Bourne films, takes on the story of Somali pirates hijacking a cargo ship, and tells it in exciting fashion. He also, in a surprising and most welcome move, decided to give equal screen time to both the hijacker and the hostage, making the whole affair much more complex than simple good vs. evil.
8. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
I have to be upfront and say I’m biased towards this one. I saw it on Christmas day with my family and was easily swept away by the fantasy of Ben Stiller’s tale. It was so fun and life-affirming, I couldn’t resist adding it to my “best of” list.
9. The Way, Way Back
I’m a sucker for a good coming-of-age tale, and this one took the crown this year. The drama and the comedy both worked really well, while also deepening my man-crush on Sam Rockwell.
10. Wolf Children
Now that Hayao Miyazaki has retired, I believe Mamoru Hosoda is the next big name in Japanese animation films. Hosoda follows the excellent Summer Wars, and the even better Girl Who Leapt Through Time, with Wolf Children, a beautiful tale of a single mom raising her two werewolf children in the countryside. Aside from being gorgeous to look at, it also explores in beautiful fashion the themes of love, loss, family and identity.
Honorable mention: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Unlike some, I loved the first Hobbit film. Yes, that’s probably influenced by my lingering love of the Lord of the Rings films, but I don’t care; I liked it all the same. And our second episode in the adventures of Bilbo and the dwarves was definitely better than the first. Here’s to an even better concluding chapter.
Honorable mention: Philomena
A good old-fashioned drama. No grit, no guns, no guts. Just an interesting story, great actors, a good dash of humor, strong direction, and a well-developed script. It never became more complex then it needed to be. Very satisfying.
Honorable mention: Mud
I was a big fan of Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols’ sophomore effort, so I was really looking forward to Mud, and it didn’t disappoint. Matthew McConaughey has become a fascinating actor to watch in recent years. He does a great job in this interesting tale of two young friends helping a fugitive reunite with his love.
Honorable mention: Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers are two of the few members of the Hollywood elite who can jump to any genre they want and make a great film while keeping a distinct, common style. Boasting great music, a strong lead, and an engaging, seemingly plot-less story of a 60’s folk singer, Inside Llewyn Davis is a great entry into an impressive roster of films.
Honorable mention: American Hustle
Although I enjoyed it very much, it seemed I wasn’t as big a fan of Silver Linings Playbook as most people were. However, David O. Russell proves he has something special by releasing American Hustle just one year later. With impressive attention to detail, a great ensemble cast (damn Christian Bale, you’re gonna die a young man if you keep packing and losing the pounds like that), and a fun script, Russell is already evolving as a director.
Additional honorable mentions (in order): Prisoners, Pacific Rim, Before Midnight, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Kings of Summer, Star Trek Into Darkness, Warm Bodies, Frances Ha, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Worlds End.
Biggest misses (in order): The Spectacular Now, Blue is the Warmest Color, Fruitvale Station, Dallas Buyers Club, In a World…, Short Term 12, Rush, The Past