I'm a little late with my end-of-the-year list, but there were so many good films to choose from that it took me a little while to finally narrow it down to this. I normally limit it to just 10, but that was almost impossible this year. So, you're getting a list of 25. If you haven't seen some of these, then you now know what to look for on Netflix or at the Redbox for the next few months.
Cinema was celebrated in many different forms and fashions in 2013. We saw and experienced things we've never before (Gravity). We traced history through unrelenting eyes (American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave). We saw ourselves in characters' eyes and hearts (Her). We tapped our feet to great music (Inside Llewyn Davis and Frozen). We came of age (The Kings of Summer and The Way Way Back). We were reminded of family (Nebraska and August: Osage County) and brotherhood (Lone Survivor). Here's a look at the best of 2013...
25. THIS IS THE END (Dir. Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen)
A party at James Franco's house ends with the deaths of a ton of celebrities and the rapture. The basis sounds like a ridiculous waste of time, but the result is a laugh-out-loud adventure of epic proportions.
24. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (Dir. Steve McQueen)
The story of free man Solomon Northup's imprisonment as a slave in the antebellum South is really hard to watch. McQueen's attention to detail and storytelling take it to the next level.
23. AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS (Dir. David Lowery)
An under-seen tale of a Texan outlaw and his escape to find his wife and daughter is the diamond in the rough of indie films of 2013. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara light up the screen.
22. BLACKFISH (Dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite)
Bringing to light the true story of Tilikum, a killer whale who kills a trainer, and the controversy around the SeaWorld theme parks, Blackfish is the rare documentary that could spark a change.
21. STOKER (Dir. Chan-wook Park)
This is the dark tale of a girl named India after her father dies and her uncle, previously unknown, comes into the picture. Full of strange twists that crawl under your skin, you may need to see this twice.
20. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Dir. Paul Greengrass)
Tom Hanks on the high seas is enough to bring in a full audience. Add in Somali pirates and a real life heroic story and you've got a pretty exciting edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.
19. THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Dir. Francis Lawrence)
When movie sequels can sometimes feel bloated and unnecessary, especially when it comes to book series, the further adventures of Katniss Everdeen pack even more of a punch. The bigger budget helps.
18. SAVING MR. BANKS (Dir. John Lee Hancock)
It's clearly Disney-fied, but that's okay. Tom Hanks as Walt Disney works. Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers is one of the performances of the year. Mary Poppins will never look the same.
17. LONE SURVIVOR (Dir. Peter Berg)
Ranks with the likes of Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down. The intensity of the true story is matched by the intensity of the no-holds action and delivery by the talented ensemble cast.
16. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (Dir. John Wells)
Shares the deep, emotional, turmoil that a family gathering brings, along with the laughs. Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts is refreshing in a role we haven't seen her play in a while.
15. FROZEN (Dir. Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)
Disney hasn't made a perfect family film since its pre-Pixar days. Each song is just as exciting as the songs of Beauty and the Beast, but what really works is the deadpan comedy of the script, creating a memorable and endearing story for all ages.
14. THE KINGS OF SUMMER (Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts)
Some coming-of-age stories have the ability to mean something more to adults rather than the ones actually coming of age. Reminds you the summers with your friends, listening to good music, pretending to not realize that you're not as invincible as you think.
13. THE GREAT GATSBY (Dir. Baz Luhrmann)
Luhrmann brings out his colorful and crazy style to Fitzgerald's classic American tale of greed and love. DiCaprio, Maguire, and Mulligan shine in the coveted and prized rolls every high schooler grows to love and appreciate. The soundtrack is stellar, too.
12. THE WAY WAY BACK (Dir. Nat Faxon, Jim Rash)
In an even more-relatable coming-of-age story than The Kings of Summer, Liam James shines in the breakout role of the year. Steve Carell, Toni Collette, and Sam Rockwell also shine in one of the best ensemble casts seen on screen. Set in the summer, the story resonates for a lifetime.
11. PRISONERS (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Edge-of-your-seat thrillers can be done right and can be done wrong. This drama takes a spin on its own head never letting up until its unbelievable twist ending. The performances are top notch, as well.
10. SPRING BREAKERS (Dir. Harmony Korine)
One part neon lights. One part college girls gone wild. And, one part crazy James Franco. Where this could be an exploitation film glorifying spring break frivolities, Korine has instead built an homage to the ridiculousness out there. It's more of a warning sign than a praise. It's stunning camerawork is beautiful. It's electronic, dub-step score is brilliant. Spring break forever.........
9. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (Dir. Derek Cianfrance)
Moody and involved are two ways to describe this three-act thriller, but neither could fully explain the ride of emotions and action represented here, much like Cianfrance's Blue Valentine. A true tragedy told in three parts, each act is full of life and adventure as Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper play off of each twist and turn.
8. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Dir. Martin Scorsese)
This three-hour epic of American greed is wildly irreverent and rude, which is exactly why its extreme vulgarities are hard to not look at. Leonardo DiCaprio gives the performance of his career as a drug-taking, fast-talking, money-swindling anti-hero of the 90s.
7. AMERICAN HUSTLE (Dir. David O. Russell)
The director of last year's beloved Silver Linings Playbook is back with a tour de force picture, an all-star cast, and a 70s-chic soundtrack. Jennifer Lawrence has probably secured herself another Oscar.
6. MUD (Dir. Jeff Nichols)
Matthew McConaughey has had a good year in the movies, but it's the younger Tye Sheridan that shines in this Louisiana-set American gothic drama about a runaway felon and the two young boys who find and befriend him. It's a great piece of modern American cinema.
5. THE SPECTACULAR NOW (Dir. James Ponsoldt)
Teenage love has never looked so real or raw as in The Spectacular Now, based on and adapted by the book's author. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley won a special jury prize at Sundance last year for their realistic and vulnerable portrayals of the two star-crossed.
4. NEBRASKA (Dir. Alexander Payne)
A road trip movie like no other. The black-and-white photography sets the mood in an elegant and classy way without taking away from the poignancy that is the great American midwest. Bruce Dern proves he's a film legend and Will Forte surprises as the son. June Squibb is the scene-stealer, though, with her frisky wife/mother role that is both endearing and hilarious.
3. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (Dir. Ethan and Joel Coen)
Greenwich in the 1960s was full of heartbreak and song. Oscar Isaac stars as the titular Llewyn Davis, a down-on-his-luck folk singer who can't quite catch a break. The supporting soundtrack hasn't stopped playing in my car since I saw the movie.
2. HER (Dir. Spike Jonze)
Much like his previous films Where the Wild Things Are and Being John Malkovich, Jonze has a way of making even the strangest of stories relevant to each and every person watching. Joaquin Phoenix has mastered the introverted extrovert and Scarlett Johansson's sultry voice is just what makes Samantha, an operating system, seem so real and lovable. A true statement for the time we live in and the perfect representation of this modern era. Already a classic.
1. GRAVITY (Dir. Alfonso Cuaron)
No other film was as powerful as Gravity. No other experience at the theater was as intense this past year as Cuaron's masterpiece. The visuals are stunning. The effects are beyond groundbreaking. And Sandra Bullock gives the performance of her career. Many compare it to the "magic" that was Avatar years ago. But, where Avatar had exceptional graphics, Gravity completely implodes with unbelievably real-looking images and a storyline with heart and adventure and thrills. There simply was no other film as affecting as this piece of cinema this past year.