Top ten film lists are hard. I started this article with the intent of making a top ten list. I failed. Every single film on this list deserves to be in my top ten. But, there are twenty. What to do? Hey, maybe I just won’t be boxed into the mold of a top ten (or maybe I don’t have the discipline to trim my list, whatever). Maybe I’ll write a top twenty list instead. So that’s what I’m doing.
One item of disclosure however. I have not seen all the films that there were to see this year. Some of the films I didn’t get to see were films I wanted of almost felt I needed to. Some were not. But I got (deathly?) ill earlier this month and it really threw a monkey wrench into my plans. And while I’ve been on Christmas vacation this last week I thought I would have a chance to see at least Saving Mr. Banks. I was wrong (crazy family, they think I should spend my Christmas vacation with them…). So there may be even more films that deserve to be on this list that are not. But that’s okay. This is my list. I like these films. There are many lists like this one on the internet, but this one is mine. Let’s dive in.
20 - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - 3.5 Stars
This film just barely makes it onto this list. But yet, it does deserve to be on a
top ten top twenty list, so here it is.
The bottom line for me is that I liked this film despite the fact that I think Peter Jackson has really jumped the shark. I mean really, splitting one book into three films? Come on. That said, I really enjoyed this film. I finally did manage to see this one in HFR 3D, and I’m not a fan. But watching it in 24 FPS 2D makes for a really good film.
19 - Ender’s Game - 3.5 Stars
While this film was not a slam dunk, nevertheless I enjoyed it quite a lot. The essentials of the story are in place even if some of the heart and the spirit were lost in the rush to make sure every plot detail was alluded to. I was particularly annoyed by the climax which was in some ways like the book, but yet in big ways it was a big departure.
However, it did capture many things from that book that only existed before in the imaginations of the readers. It was essentially faithful to the book so many love so well and it was a worthy film.
18 - World War Z - 3.5 Stars
This film was one of the bigger surprises to me this year. I mean it had a seriously troubled production, a lot of reshooting, a firing of a director… the list of things that went wrong with this film was lengthy. Despite that, I enjoyed it a lot — even if it was a little obviously exactly where the re-shoots and new new direction took over the film to try to patch things up. It was amazingly good and entertaining and I’m excited to see where they can take this franchise. It was not without it’s faults, but hopefully now that they have established a direction for the franchise, the next film can really dive into this universe and explore it.
17 - Gangster Squad - 3.5 Stars
Most critics did not like this film. I did, for the most part. I don’t know what my “critic” status is, but I do run a Movie website, and I am critical of many films, and I liked this one. One of the things I think hurt this film was that there was not a lot of separation between the brutal gangster violence of this film, and the Sandy Hook shooting that left so many people feeling so raw. It’s really too bad. This film is no Goodfellas, but it was a fine, modern gangster film. While I do have some criticisms of the characterization of the villains and the like for this film, I enjoyed myself immensely watching this one.
16 - Oz the Great and Powerful - 3.5 Stars
While this film offered a few disappointments, occasional cheesy acting, some overreaching, and a little bit of a lack of characterization for the villains, I like this film so much better than the old Judy Garland Wizard of Oz (yes I know they are not telling the same story in Oz, but still) it’s not even funny. And Sam Raimi certainly turned in one of the most visually striking films of the year here, no doubt about that.
The critics weren’t really all that keen on the film, but who cares about them, I liked it a lot.
Joe and I talked about the film on The MovieByte Podcast 35.
15 - Prisoners - 4 Stars
Minor flaws, a slightly unsatisfying ending, but a great bit of drama, beautifully photographed, very dramatically told. This film will certainly make you uneasy, but in a good way in my opinion. How far will a man go to get his daughter back? Well, Hugh Jackman will go a long way, and that’s not really a good thing.
14 - The Wolverine - 4 Stars
I wondered going into this film how it was going to work out. This is the first X-Men film to be placed in the timeline after the completely and total screw up that was X3 (or whatever it’s stupid official name it). How could a film possibly be any good when hampered by the stupidity placed in the timeline of that third film. Well, it turns out that it can be pretty good. I’m not saying that it makes up for that awful film which I will no longer name, but it is interesting how this film took a bad situation and bad elements and made them work in The Wolverine’s favor. I was very happy with this. Additionally, taking this film over to Japan worked out well too. It kind of got us away from the mutants we know and love so that this film could in a way do it’s own thing.
Some of the climax annoyed me, but that’s okay, a lot of films have that problem for me.
13 - RED 2 - 4 Stars
RED was really good. It’s got a lot of humor, but it’s mostly all good humor. And the primary conceit is a fun one — a lot of older retired agents doing their thing, wiser than the young whippersnappers running around these days. I was not entirely certain that a second installment could be as good as the first, but I was quite happy to discover that I indeed liked RED 2 quite as well as the first one. Fun, funny, great plot, and great cast.
12 - Pacific Rim - 4 Stars
Here’s another one that really surprised me. As a rule, if a movie exists purely for its bash ‘em crash ‘em qualities, I’m not really going to like it. From all external appearances leading up to the film, the big robots bashing big alien monsters thing appeared to me to be some of the worst of that tendency. The tagline “go big or go home” didn’t help my attitude at all. It’s a wonder that I even went tot he theater to see it. But I did and I was completely wrong. Yes, there were big robots and big aliens and lots of crashes and bangs and booms and explosions that I really don’t care too much about, but there was a good story there. There was some heart behind the film and so I was quite surprised and happy. Believe me it is a big surprise to me that this film is on this list.
11 - Star Trek Into Darkness - 4 Stars
I was not overly fond of JJ Abram’s first reboot film (Star Trek 11) simply titled Star Trek. I was therefore completely taken by surprise when this film turned out so good. Even if, all things considered I would still rather have had more films in the primary universe with the Next Gen cast, or maybe even a DS9 film, Star Trek Into Darkness definitely scratched my Star Trek itch in a good way. It was not a perfect film, but it hit the right emotional notes and I was well satisfied with it. I do hope with Star Trek 13 they venture into some newer territory and avoid some of the “rehash” pitfalls, but this is a worthy installment.
10 - Iron Man 3 - 4 Stars
This film did not catch me by surprise — well, I mean, that it was good did not. There was a major plot twist that did catch me off guard a little bit (but only a little bit, because in hind site, why would Marvel have let such a big cat out of the bag before the filim came out?). Marvel has been turning out some pretty top notch films. And now with Joss Whedon spearheading Marvel’s Phase 2 — even if he’s not directly involved with ever film his philosophy and leadership is important — how could it not be a great film. Well I suppose it would have been possible, but as expected, I was not disappointed by this film.
The first Iron Man film is one of my favorite pre-Avengers films. Iron Man 2 was not great. But now Iron Man 3 makes for some pretty good competition with Iron Man and for that I am happy.
9 - Jack the Giant Slayer - 4 Stars
I found this film to be simply delightful, as I usually do Singer’s work (Bryan Singer having directed the film). His Superman film, Superman Returns gets a really bad rap and I’m not really sure where that comes from because it’s an amazingly awesome film, giving Superman The Movie a run for its money. Less controversially, I don’t think anyone denies that his two X-Men films (the first two) are thus far the best in the franchise. X2 was a particularly good bit of filmmaking.
Well with Jack the Giant Slayer, Bryan Singer is back in the hot seat according to the critics. The reception of the film wasn’t too great. I think the critics are a bunch of ungrateful slobs because this film was pretty great. While not a deal breaker, my biggest complaint was a lack of characterization of the villains (hey, is there an echo in here? I keep hearing that phrase, seems to be a theme).
8 - Oblivion - 4 Stars
Sign me up for some more of that Tom Cruise sci-fi action! I can’t say that this film was entirely unique, but it had a bit of originality to it, and a lot of style. Joseph Kosinski has a lot going for him right now in my book. He turned out a pretty solid sci-fi film (one that was far better than the original on which it was based) in Tron: Legacy. And I think I am right in saying this film is every bit as good in its own way. I’m excited to keep an eye out for what Kosinski does next (speaking of where, where is the next Tron film from him???).
7 - Thor: The Dark World - 4 Stars
Again, not shocked that a another Marvel film makes my list. I was never a big comic book fan, but I have quickly become a big fan of Marvel, like many other folks these days (the hipster in me questions what’s going on, but then, I slap myself because so many other films I like are liked by the mainstream as well). But it is interesting because Thor was/is my least favorite Marvel film to date (I am referring only to official Marvel Studios films considered a part of Phase 1). It was a passable film, but nothing very special and had many problems. Thor: The Dark World pretty much blows that first film away. Where the first film’s story was silly and the character chemistry was questionable at best, this film puts both of those elements right. Plus, you know, LOKI! What’s not to like?
6 - The Way Way Back - 4 Stars
Chad talked me into seeing this film, and let me tell you that despite my initial hesitation, I was blown away by this film. I totally did not expect to like it. But this film had charm, and a uniqueness coupled with a great story to tell that made me say, “wow, how good was that?” While there is no question that Liam James makes this film what it is in the lead role, and we would have no film without him. This film also would have failed, I think, if not for Sam Rockwells stunningly great performance.
The bottom line is that this is a heartfelt film with a great story, great cast, and wonderful talent.
5 - Captain Phillips - 4 Stars
Paul Greengrass, having gained popularity directing the later two Bourne films, is back to wow us with his exceptional directorial skill. And he does not disappoint. This is truly a great film giving us a great inside look at the goings on of the Maersk Alabama hijacking. Admittedly the film’s start is a bit rocky, but once you get past a little bit of the choppy waters of the opening sequence, the story settles into one that will get your blood pumping and your heart pounding. While I wish we could somehow have explored what was going on with the Somali pirates just a bit more, this is nevertheless a fair treatment of what happened.
Chad and I talked about it on The MovieByte Podcast 65.
4 - The Book Thief - 4 Stars
Though based on a fictional story, this film nevertheless captures a great look at what it was probably like for a (somewhat) average German living in Germany during WWII. This film is both utterly delightful, and deeply tragic and sad. When watching, you’ll both laugh and cry, love and hate. There’s a wide gamut of emotions on display here and it makes for a pretty satisfying drama. And oh man! You better believe I’ll be keeping my eye out for Sophie Nélisse’s roles. She was absolutely phenomenal.
Catch Chad’s and my thoughts on The MovieByte Podcast 71.
And now we come to just those handful of films that attained unto my high mark of 4.5 star films. There were no 5 star films in my book this year — not that I expected there to be. 5 stars is not a rating I throw out lightly. Indeed, I can count on one hand the films I have seen that I would rate 5 stars. So, 4.5 is pretty much my high mark a film should strive unto in any given year. I’m hopeful now that I’m running a movie website and seeing lots of movies that some day I can actually see a film that I would rate 5 stars in the theater. But that day did not come this last year.
But again, a 4.5 star film is pretty much as good as you can get in my book. Let’s see what three films attain to that mark and are my top most three for 2013. These are all three really, really good films.
3 - Catching Fire - 4.5 Stars
Guys, I was blown away by just how good this film was. It’s not that Gary Ross’ first installment in the franchise was bad — oh there were definitely some quibbles I had with that film — but this film shows it up in just about every imaginable way. The cinematography was phenomenal, the story was better adapted to the big screen than the first, the acting was top tier, the directorial choices (such as, oh, I don’t know, maybe let’s not shoot everything with shaky handheld hard to see style) were superior in every way. I can’t wait to see where Directory Francis Lawrence takes this franchise in the next two installments. Admittedly I’m slightly worried because, as much as I enjoyed the books, I was not a huge fan of the very end. And I’m not sure if there’s a way to improve upon that. But if there’s a way, Lawrence will find it.
I talked about this film with Chad and Fizz on The MovieByte Podcast 70.
2 - 42 (Jackie Robinson) - 4.5 Stars
I’m not a particularly big fan of sports, and certainly I’m not a fan of baseball in general. However, that did not stop me from loving this film dearly. In fact I can’t believe I have not watched this film again since seeing it in the theater.
It is no secret that this country has a racism problem. Sure it’s gotten better, but because of the nature of human beings, color discrimination still exists and it’s horrible. What’s worse, our modern racism has very real roots in very real race based abuse — namely the institution of slavery. While slavery no longer existed in the late 40s and early 50s, racism was certainly still quite strong. In fact watching how people treated Jackie Robinson was simply disgusting and despicable. But films like this are necessary lest we forget the evil that came before and repeat it.
This film was well told, well directed, and well acted.
And finally, here it is. My top movie of 2013 is:
1 - Gravity - 4.5 Stars
This film was intense. This film was beautiful. This film was terrifying. This film was emotional. This film was GOOD! Make no mistake, I cowered in fear under my seat in the theater for the entire length of the film but it was worth it. This film is comprised of extremely long takes, coupled with some of the best CGI I have ever seen in the business, and some kind of crazy good real life capture techinques that made me really believe Sandra Bullock was in space. I would not have believed that Alfonso Cuarón, director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, good directory though he may be, would have delivered 2013’s best film. But he did it.
It would simply be way too hard for me to capture any of my thoughts further in this short blurb format so I recommend you read my reivew, and listen to Chad and I talk about it on The MovieByte Podcast 64.
And that’s it. Those are my top twenty. I have no doubt that many of you will take issue with some films on my list, many will wonder about films that are not on it. I look forward to a lively discussion with you in the comments. We all have our opinions and our likes and dislikes. That’s what makes all this so fun!