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Editor's Note 01.15.14: The Top 10 Best and Worst Films of 2013
Posted by Chad Webb on 01.15.2014

Opening Thoughts

2013 is behind us and that means we get Top 10 lists. This year I had a tough time narrowing down my choices, which is why you'll see more "sub-categories" than usual below. The year began horrendously, with barely any titles sufficient enough for me to consider them among the best of 2013. But as Hollywood proves more and more each passing year, they prefer to backload all the awards contenders and prestige pics so that we have to see them all in the last 2-3 months of the year. From a box office perspective, 2013 was a success in that it came very close to that of 2012, which was one of the biggest years ever in cinema. The industry is doing well, which is good, I just wish people didn't act like douchebags in the theater. I digress... I wrote last year that I'm learning why critics voice their distaste for compiling Top 10 lists and that sentiment has not changed, but I will admit it is still fun to a degree during this period. I do think that each Top 10 list says a lot about the writer though, and I hope my personality comes through every time. In the end, this list represents the opinion of one person.

As far as how many movies I saw this year, it was about as much as 2012, which is not as high as I would like it to be, but things are pretty hectic and thus my time is increasingly precious when it comes to traveling to the theater. There are always titles that slip by my radar. Most critics go out of their way not to share this information as they feel it makes them look weak or something, but hey, it happens. For example, I wish I could have seen Diana. I heard horrible things, but I'm curious. It opened nowhere in my vicinity. Nevertheless, I am pretty happy with what I did make time for. Every year, after the fact, I stumble across one or two titles that were excellent/horrendous and could have shaken up my lists. That may very well happen again, who knows?

And as I said last year, television was a huge factor in my not paying for theater admission as regularly as I normally do. I'm not getting lazy, but was a ton of superb TV in 2013, still is as a matter of fact. Breaking Bad, Futurama, Dexter and others came to an end. Hell on Wheels is still going despite being left for dead on Saturday nights. Copper was sadly cancelled. I could go on and on. My DVR is packed all the time now. I have the full season of The Bridge and my wife and I haven't watched it yet. One day. I did use VOD and Redbox more than I ever have, mainly because watching at home is more convenient and the theater-to-DVD window decreases constantly. Documentaries always seem to take a back seat. I have a long list of intriguing ones I really want to watch.

My Top 5 was easy to assemble. The rest of the Top 10, not so much. So many Top 10 lists from 2013 look the same. Everyone is putting the exact same titles and to me, that gets old. Don't get me wrong, they all are deserving, but I try not to have a list that comes across like dozens of others, which was difficult to avoid this year. I say this because you'll notice Gravity is an honorable mention and not a Top 10. The entries from #6-#15 are rated closely, so I had to nitpick so the placement became clearer. As for the placement of Her, it came down to which love story I preferred, Spike Jonze's latest or Blue is the Warmest Color. Both are fabulous, but I chose the latter. In terms of animation, Miyazaki's final epic is the best in my eyes. Frozen appears to be getting more buzz, but I'm crossing my fingers that The Wind Rises pulls out the upset. 2013 showcased numerous directors exhibiting their boldness and ambition. We had plenty of films tackling stories we have seen before, but we also had quite a few that pushed the envelope and experimented with new ideas or approaches.

And for the paragraph I always copy and paste from previous years: I construct my top lists in a specific way. My goal, whenever possible, is to include films from many genres. Sometimes certain genres contribute all the best movies, and other times one specific genre has no worthy offerings. The point is, I pick my favorite films of the year, while also trying to cover each genre. I also factor in how the film is different with a second viewing. I noticed that some critics' lists include crossovers from 2012 to 2013. If they were released in 2012, they belong on a 2012 top 10 list. If they were submitted for the Oscars in 2012, I cannot justifiably put them on my 2013 list. It is one of those unfortunate circumstances where some foreign films fall through the cracks. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but I try to stick to that. I continue to see documentaries as well. As a rule, they are not looped in with my film list because they are not films, they are documentaries, and should be judged differently. Here are my top 10 best and worst films of 2013!


10. The World's End - The conclusion of Edgar Wright's Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy is the only film I saw twice in the theater in 2013. Nowadays it is rare for me to pay admission more than once for anything, but I couldn't wait to see it when it was released and when my wife wanted to see it after that, I made sure we went to the Alamo Drafthouse Theater…where they serve alcohol, which should always be consumed when watching this. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have never been funnier, but they have Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan joining them. This is a blast from start to finish. If I had to compare this to the other installments, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I would put them about equal. I hope this isn't the last collaboration between these guys.

9. Blue is the Warmest Color - Amidst controversy and endlessly ballyhooed sex scenes, this exquisite graphic novel adaptation still managed to be brilliant, organic, and fully engaging. Her would get the award for most creative love story, but with Blue is the Warmest Color we are offered a total glimpse into the world of Adele. Yes, that includes explicit sexual encounters. Abdellatif Kechiche wanted the viewer to observe lesbian sex and that's what we got. But the film is more than that. At no point did the 3 hour running time or sex take me out of the experience of getting swept off my feet by observing these lives and this relationship. As gripping and intense as the sequences involving both Adele and Emma are, this is really Adele Exarchopoulos' picture. She gives the best female performance of the year, taking nothing away from Lea Seydoux, who is also amazing. This is about Adele and how her existence is changing, evolving. Every single moment is so beautifully molded and nuanced and the cinema verite camerawork (with cinematographer Sofian El fani) was a perfect choice in carrying out this tale. This richly textured love story made such a deep impact on me. Thankfully Criterion is releasing it on DVD.

8. Frances Ha - What a joy this film is to watch. Seeing it on the big screen was one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences of the year. It is funny, moving, and leaves a meaningful impression on the soul. Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's writing is witty and adept in a playfully refreshing manner. The jokes and character developments are astute and rhythmic. The plot is an empathetic glimpse at friendship and how the meaning and complexities of that can change as people age, move on, and mold different identities. It's also about how one young woman is growing and finding herself in a manner all her own as she plays hopscotch with various apartments. Gerwig is so outstanding. It is a natural, witty, and delicate performance. No one else could have played this part. This movie also looks and feels like New York City more than the majority of projects that are shot there. I was glad to see Noah Baumbach bounce back with such energy and ingenuity after the middling Greenberg. Go see this! It doesn't overstay its welcome, isn't overly quirky, and isn't self-aware. This one soothes.

7. 12 Years a Slave - The hardest decision for this year's Top 10 was determining where 12 Years a Slave and Gravity would go. I love both films, but ultimately Steve McQueen's adaptation of the story of Solomon Northrup got the higher spot because it's a shade better. While it's true that 12 Years is a draining piece and I'm not sure how many times I'll revisit in the future, McQueen weaves this tale in near masterful fashion. What I appreciated about 12 Years a Slave is how screenwriter John Ridley and McQueen are not trying to manipulate our emotions or play to the clichés we have grown accustomed to. They are interested in adapting Northrup's odyssey, which in turn exposes areas of slavery that are not commonly explored on the big screen. The style of this director is a bit unusual, but he succeeds in making the story stand out above comparable offerings on the subject. The acting is uniformly superb. 12 Years a Slave triumphs without being desperate or overly polished. Beautiful, heart-wrenching, stark, graceful, visceral, and spellbinding, this is a film that is impossible to shake from your memory.

6. Captain Phillips - When it comes to dramatizing a real life ordeal, there are few filmmakers better than Paul Grengrass. He has done this brilliantly three times, first with Bloody Sunday, then United 93 and most recently Captain Phillips. This is a film that will have you digging your nails into the arm rest of your chair. It is undeniably suspenseful, meticulously detailed, and uses Greengrass' signature pacing and methodology to great effect. What makes this so exciting is that the material is not rushed. It is allowed to develop and build as naturally as possible. Captain Phillips would be nothing without its acting. Tom Hanks delivers another bravura performance that starts out as very straightforward and procedural and snowballs into a man placed in an untenable position. He is wonderfully matched with Barkhad Abdi as the pirate leading the hijacking, Muse. Their scenes together are electric. I read the reports of the crew who said the movie did not portray Phillips accurately. I'm not bothered by the controversy. This is a poignant, tense, and sterling effort.

5. Drug War - I didn't get a chance to see this in the theater, but thank goodness I was able to see it before the year's end. This is a phenomenal action thriller. The cover for the DVD/Blu-Ray describes this as "The French Connection meets The Wire," which is certainly accurate and high praise indeed. All you need to know is that this movie all kinds of awesome. It was directed by Johnnie To, who has over 30 directing and producing credits to his name. The man knows his stuff, and this was the first time he filmed on the mainland of China, which augments the script. There are so many bad-ass titles coming out Asia (specifically South Korea) all the time now that I could have created an entire list devoted to those. I blind bought this because I was curious, heard good things, and it was very cheap at Best Buy. It was worth it.

4. American Hustle - Honestly, I think David O. Russell is overrated. He has talent, sure, but he goes out of his way to churn out Oscar bait material now, mostly in genres that have already been conquered. Having said that, I have to admit that American Hustle is pure cool. This is exactly the type of flick I will want to watch repeatedly. I fell in love with the trailers for this and when I finally saw the movie I was riveted from beginning until end by its panache. I even purchased the soundtrack recently, which is rare for me. The cast is marvelous. Any time you're seeing Christian Bale on screen, it is a treat. But he is backed up by Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Bradley Cooper, Louis C.K., and Jennifer Lawrence (among others) who steals every scene she is in. The pacing is what drives this and causes its energy to jump off the screen. This one has it all.

3. Nebraska - It is safe to say that Alexander Payne is now one of my favorite filmmakers. Sideways is in my Top 10 of all-time now and he is one of those directors whose offerings will always be worth checking out even if they aren't always classics. In my eyes, Nebraska is another masterpiece from Payne. Many critics have taken issue with how it depicts people from this area of the country, but as Payne is from Nebraska I think the arguments are incredibly silly on many levels. Bruce Dern gives his career best as Woody, a man who just wants the money he is owed from a sweepstakes. Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach are also terrific. I adored every aspect of this, from the black-and-white cinematography (post-converted) to the humor and all of Payne's trademark themes. This is a low-key, yet multi-layered and infinitely fulfilling dramedy.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street - Maybe I'm getting predictable in my old age, but if Martin Scorsese releases a film, chances are it will appear somewhere in my Top 10 Best list. Am I just blindly devoted? I'd like to think I would know a bad film from him, but he hasn't made one in my opinion. His latest is just friggin brilliant. This is his 5th collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio and they outdo themselves once more. DiCaprio gives a performance that easily ranks alongside the pinnacle of his resume. Some people say it's too racy, others say it's too long, and still others have argued that it's too over the top. Yes, this has enjoyed controversy, but I say all of the naysayers are wrong. What people forget is that this is not strictly a biopic or based on news articles. This is adapted from Jordan Belfort's memoir. He is an unreliable narrator, and Scorsese follows the book closely, so who's to say what is exaggerated and what's not? As for the length, if you paid for a ticket to a Scorsese movie and were annoyed at the running time, what rock have you been living under? Most of his films are between 2 and 3 hours long. Deal with it. Every actor is sensational, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, everyone. This flick exudes adrenaline. It is epic.

1. Before Midnight - The third installment of Richard Linklater's franchise following Celine and Jesse was the first 10 out of 10 rating I gave in 2013. I knew it would be a tough act to beat, though a few came close. Truthfully I was a little scared of how Before Midnight would stack up after the previous two, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, which were both flawless as well. I didn't think it was possible to love a series more, but this one has dazzled me again and again. You become immersed in the world of Jesse and Celine to the point that you don't want to leave them when it's over. This is a gorgeous, romantic, honest, thought-provoking, and exceedingly poignant picture. I have favorite moments, but I don't want to elaborate for too long. If you have not given this franchise a shot, you owe it to yourself to do so. I have observed these characters for so long now and they are aging right along with us. At this point in my life, I could really relate to them and what they were going through. This is of course a very talky movie, but the dialogue shines. This is filmmaking at its finest. To me it is the best film of the year.

Honorable Mentions

*Gravity (11)
*Short Term 12 (12)
*The Wind Rises (13)
*Her (14)
*The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (15)


10. The Counselor - I can't say or judge how any other writer constructs their Top 10 Worst list, but I choose the films that made me the angriest. The failure of The Counselor is extremely aggravating. Considering the talent involved, it is baffling how it arrived and flopped as being such a giant turd. You have Ridley Scott at the helm. He doesn't have a spotless resume, but this is a man with more than one classic under his belt. For the cast he brings Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Rosie Perez, Edgar Ramirez, and more. After all that, Cormac McCarthy penned the script. Unfortunately the dialogue is horrid and overwritten, the actors either try too hard or are underused, and the characters are broad and superficial. Scott and company took the worn out premise of a drug deal gone bad and somehow couldn't even reach mediocrity. Diaz screwing a car was memorable, but stupid in the context of the picture. I'm getting frustrated just writing about this again.

9. The Hangover Part III - I was never the biggest fanatic of this franchise in the first place, but it is genuinely depressing how atrocious the conclusion to this trilogy was. The first sequel was bad enough in that it was an exact replica of the original in a different locale, but the third installment was a dreary, unfunny, anti-climactic affair. You can even tell that the cast was sick and tired of the characters. They were barely trying (except for maybe Galifiankis). The tone is all over the map, switching gears regularly and to zero effect. If there is any evidence that supports my theory that sequels can tarnish the reputation of the original, here it lies. The script, the plot, the timing, the everything is awkward and piss poor in execution. I hated this. I for one, won't miss the Wolfpack.

8. Only God Forgives - Once more we have a highly anticipated film, packed with gifted folks, that is a complete and utter disappointment. The easy criticism is that Nicolas Winding Refn falls victim to style over substance. While that's true, the reason this film blows is that both the style and the substance are dull, ugly, and self-aware. Ryan Gosling, heartthrob to millions of women, embraces every single flaw of his acting by looking sleepy, lazy, and emotionless. Basically what the audience gets is a lot of walking, silence, and dimly lit rooms. The execution of the plot is compiled as if a pre-schooler were handling it via bullet points. This is the definition of a chore to sit through. Only God Forgives is a misfire on just about every level.

7. Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor - I skipped A Madea Christmas, but I did see this laughably awful attempt from Tyler Perry to make a drama. Tyler Perry is one of the worst filmmakers in history. Whether he's pumping out a comedy, a drama, or :gulp: a thriller, he is clueless. The best way to describe it is a mixture of Fried Green Tomatoes and a soap opera but for mentally challenged people. The characters are almost all shallow and unlikable, the script is written in an extraordinarily poor manner, and the ending is God awful. I mean that whole-heartedly. Every part of this excrement is predictable, sloppily directed as if it were airing on Bravo, and saturated with gaping plot holes that would intimidate the Grand Canyon. The filmmaker who pumps out at least two moronic efforts per year now injects a ham-fisted rich versus poor message, religious nonsense, and even shoehorns an HIV thread into the yarn for absolutely no reason. Was the goal here to craft a seething melodrama, a noirish thriller (the hokey music would indicate yes), a torrid love affair, or something else? Only Madea knows. It's mind boggling how horrendous this is, truly. The scenario, the characters, the everything...is STUPID. Adam Sandler, you've met your match.

6. A Haunted House - I will say that compared to past parody movies, this does have a storyline. It's a horrendous and supremely irritating story that aims to mock found footage style pics, but it does have one. This is every bit as bad as you would expect. It should go without saying that this is not funny because it seems as if Marlon Wayans, co-screenwriter Rick Alvarez and director Michael Tiddes have no sense of how to make its audience laugh. So many of the jokes are obvious and dumb, whereas others are offensive and crude, yet still others go on for too long. The acting is over the top in that typically eye-rolling parody manner, the characters are either mean-spirited or piercing to the ears, and overall it fails to prove why it should exist. I hated this, but then how could you not?

5. After Earth - As bad as M. Night Shyamalan's latest dump was, it has the ability to get worse the more you think about it. However, spending too much time thinking about After Earth might induce seizures. Nearly the entire picture is mishandled, haphazardly built, poorly acted, and lousily written. For starters, this is a deadly serious film considering it's science-fiction and about escaping CGI monsters. It's almost uncomfortably somber at times, as if everyone involved feels it's a sweeping epic. After Earth commits one sin that I find absolutely unforgivable. That would be the acting, specifically from Will Smith. I'd be lying if I said I loved all of Smith's movies, far from it, but even those I wasn't a fan of at least exuded his personality. His role in this dud has nothing; it is empty. Smith is completely wooden, stiff, and emotionless. Quite a feat by this director. Jaden Smith certainly tries, but he's not a star like his father…period. The editing is choppy, the CGI is ghastly, the plot points are hazy and uninteresting, and the names are goofy for a flick that wants to be so sincere and deadpan. Cypher Raige? Come on! Shyamalan can deliver a great film, but people expect the opposite and he keeps giving them that. Too bad.

4. R.I.P.D. - The trailer for R.I.P.D. told everyone exactly what to expect: This is a shameless rip-off of Men in Black. The stars are terrible in different ways. Ryan Reynolds "phones it in" as much as humanly possible, and while Jeff Bridges attempts to convey enthusiasm, he looks and sounds ridiculous. The action sequences are horribly thrown together, the script is predictable and transparent, the CGI is appalling, the plot is saturated with inconsistencies, the universe is poorly laid out, the jokes are one-note, and the characters are moronic. That covers pretty much everything...except for one of the most disturbing scenes of the year, Mary-Louis Parker "billy goating" Jeff Bridges. This is just a cartoonishly awful failure from Robert Schwenke. Show this to someone only if you hate them and wish to inflict cruel and unusual punishment.

3. Grown Ups 2 - If Scorsese is expected on Top 10 Best lists, Sandler is expected on Top 10 Worst lists. He clearly doesn't give a hoot about his fans anymore. Basically anyone that paid for this was paying to help Sandler and his buddies go on vacation. Does that make you feel nice? Describing Sandler as lazy doesn't fit. We need to invent a new word for his carelessness. Pixar's once long-running streak of masterpieces has nothing on Happy Madison's chain of garbage.

2.Scary Movie V - At this juncture, what more needs to be said about this franchise and parodies like this? Calling this a "movie" is almost giving it too much credit. I didn't laugh once. Anybody that has talent in this cast or crew, wastes it. Scary Movie V = cinematic torture. I'm moving on. Fu** this movie.

1. Movie 43 - I wrote a mini-review for this on Letterboxd in early February of 2013. One of my final lines was "if any agonizing offering manages to top this between now and December, it would be a remarkable achievement." Here we are in January of 2014 and I can assuredly say that Movie 43 is the worst, most despicable stain on cinema this year. I usually enjoy anthology movies and I was actually looking forward to this. My outlook is now forever tainted. The sketches are just hideously shi**y. Some are rip-offs, a few are recycled from features, others simply serve no purpose whatsoever, and those which are original are handled with the utmost idiocy. I'll admit to chuckling every now and then, but out of awe & pity, certainly not because anything was genuinely amusing. There are no redeeming qualities here. I envision some people being generous due to the caliber of its stars. If that is the case, you are delusional. Everyone involved should be embarrassed.

Dishonorable Mentions

*Battle of the Year (11)
*The Big Wedding (12)
*21 & Over (13)
*Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (14)
*Identity Thief (15)

The Best and Worst of 2012
The Best and Worst of 2011
The Best and Worst of 2010
The Best and Worst of 2009
The Best and Worst of 2008
The Best and Worst of 2007
The Best and Worst of 2006
The Best and Worst of 2005

Most Overrated Films of the Year
Lee Daniels' The Butler
Pacific Rim

Most Underrated Films of the Year
Prince Avalanche
In a World…

Most Overlooked Films of the Year
I Declare War
Like Someone in Love
Something in the Air

Most Disappointing Films of the Year
Star Trek Into Darkness
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Kick-Ass 2

Movies That Would Have Ended Up in the Top 20
Beyond the Hills
The Place Beyond the Pines
Dallas Buyers Club
The Grandmaster

You Didn't Like It, But I Did
Pain & Gain

You Liked It, I Didn't
Inside Llewyn Davis

Best Family Film of the Year
Saving Mr. Banks

Terrific Films You Shouldn't Watch While Traveling
All is Lost
Fruitvale Station

This One is for All the Weirdos Out There
Escape from Tomorrow

For the Gentlemen
Escape Plan

For the Ladies
Enough Said

For the Couples
Don Jon

The Best Documentary of the Year
The Act of Killing

Mystery Theater 2013

It's a Horror Night
You're Next
The Conjuring

This Movie Would Play Well During a Party
This Is The End

It Was a Coming-of-Age Sort of Year
The Way Way Back
The Spectacular Now

Excellent Movies I Couldn't Find a Place For
Ain't Them Bodies Saints
Blue Jasmine

It Was a Good Year for…Matthew McConaughey
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street

This Person Needs a New Agent: Robert De Niro
Grudge Match
Killing Season
Last Vegas
The Big Wedding
The Family

Closing Thoughts

I have no idea what 2014 will hold for me in terms of how many movies I see, but I'm relatively content with how I managed to balance all the great shows and all the films entering theaters. It can get crazy sometimes, but it's still fun for me. There are a few titles I wish I could have seen, but in retrospect had they been really good it would have made compiling this list even harder. I will continue writing Ask 411 Movies for the foreseeable future and hope to post an Editor's Note every now and then. Perhaps I'll even bring back Nether Regions for a second run. Hold your applause. The next Editor's Note will spotlight all of my most anticipated films of 2014, not to mention taking a look back at my Oscar predictions from early last year. Stay tuned for that! If you want to know more about my movie tastes, check out my page on Letterboxd by clicking right here. Also, make sure to look at all the great articles and writers at 411. Thanks for reading! I welcome all feedback as usual.

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