Starting today, I am counting down my list of the Top 25 Films of 2013. Looking back on the year, I think 2013 was an incredibly strong year of quality filmmaking, with much more quality depth than in 2012. I saw a lot of films this year, including many more in the theater than I normally do, largely in part to my decision to acquire a MoviePass account. For a flat monthly fee, I can use my MoviePass card to see one movie per day, with the only limitations being I can’t see the same movie twice on my card, and it doesn’t work for 3-D and Imax movies. Not to be a shill for the company, but it was a very useful tool that I tried to make the most of in 2013 and hope to do so in 2014. So, starting today, and continuing for the next several days, I will continue to count down my list. Here are 25-21.
25. Much Ado About Nothing – There are few genres as worn out and clichéd as the rom-com, but what Joss Whedon does with the Bard here is a true gem. It’s a beautiful black and white film that Whedon and friends filmed over just 12 days at his home. I’m not well-versed in Shakespeare, but I loved the way the actors in this movie made the dialogue come alive in a modern setting. Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry is inspired comedic stuff. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker are great in the leads.
24. Rush – Ron Howard made the best sports movie of the year with this telling of the rivalry between two premiere Formula One racers from the 70s, James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The racing scenes are exciting, and the performances by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl are terrific. Ron Howard is a bit of a cinematic chameleon, no signature style and all over the map in terms of his projects, but this is probably his best film since A Beautiful Mind.
23. Nebraska – The 2nd of 3 black and white films in my Top 25. Alexander Payne is not a director I’m really familiar with (I still haven’t caught up with Citizen Ruth, About Schmidt, or Sideways) but I really liked The Descendents and appreciated Election. A question I’ve heard brought up in relation to Payne is if he has any love for the characters in his films. With Nebraska, I think it is a resounding “Yes.” Bruce Dern is great as the aging, drunk, maybe-not-all-there father determined to get to Nebraska from Montana and collect his million dollars. Will Forte really impresses here as well. The film treats the small town folk and Dern character with dignity and respect even as what he is doing screams to be laughed at. It’s a touchingly sincere film.
22. Fruitvale Station – This debut film from writer-director Ryan Coogler tells the story of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant. This film captured some of the zeitgeist of the nation as it was released at the height of the Trayvon Martin case in the early summer. But while a film like this could easily come off as manipulative or exploitative given what was going on the country at the time, this film stands on its own merits, mainly due to the performance of up-and-coming star Michael B. Jordan. Jordan doesn’t portray Grant as a saint but a flawed man struggling with his bad in the past and trying to make a way in life for his family with limited options. This film left me with a pit in my stomach by the end.
21. The Act of Killing – One of the most unusual films of the year was this documentary by Joshua Oppenheimer about the death squads of Indonesia from the nation’s troubled political past. Oppenheimer talks to former leaders of these squads and asks them to recreate their real-life mass-murders. Almost as shocking as the violence they depict and describe is their eagerness and willingness to share this information and make a movie. It’s one of the most difficult films I watched this year, and could not believe how twisted and broken their mindsets were to carry out such atrocities. You also see how these men have had to live with their actions and what it has done to some of them. It’s a challenging, enraging, shocking, heartbreaking, uncomfortable documentary and reaffirms the power of this kind of filmmaking.