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Laramie Movie Scope:
Top, bottom films, etc. of 2013

Best, worst and ruminations on 2013 films

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

February 1, 2014 -- Here is my list of the best and worst films, best actors, etc. from the year of 2013, with the usual caveats. There are a few top films, such as “The Great Beauty,” I have not seen for various reasons, and I have definitely missed (on purpose) most of the year's worst films. My picks for the best and worst films and many other categories, such as best actor, director, etc. are listed below.

There were a lot of good films this year, particularly in the field of documentary films. This list of top films is shorter than usual this year. You may notice the absence of some films usually included in most top 10 lists, such as “Stories We Tell,” “Before Midnight,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and a few others. You will some films that others think highly of in the Overrated movies section below.

Below the list of top films is a list of honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by lists of the worst films, overrated films, funniest, saddest, etc. I've added a couple of Dubious Distinction awards as a satirical comment on certain awards that seem to be based on factors that are literally skin deep. My top 10 lists include more comedy and films starring black actors, two varieties of movies absent from most top 10 lists. Drama is easy, but comedy is tough to get right.

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Saddest movie Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Worst movies,   Dubious Distinctions.

Best 10 films of 2013

1. American Hustle[4 stars]

I do like movies about hustlers and con men, such as “The Sting,” and this is one of the best of that genre, with a fabulous cast of actors and a top-notch script, based on the Abscam scandal. There is also crisp direction by David O. Russell, who directed last year's great romantic comedy, “Silver Linings Playbook.”

2. 12 Years a Slave[4 stars]

Based on a true story about a free man sold into slavery, this is in a virtual tie for best film of the year. I had to pick one, so I picked “American Hustle” because it is funny. Comedy is much harder to do than drama. This film has some great performances in it and it has been rolling through the awards season picking up plenty of statues.

3. Short Term 12[4 stars]

This is one of those hidden gems. It is an independent film that did not get wide distribution to a lot of theaters or a big advertising campaign lavished on lesser films like “The Lone Ranger.” It doesn't have any big movie stars in it, either, at least they aren't stars yet. It isn't a big action film either. It mostly takes place in a few rooms. This is just an incredibly well-written, well-acted and well-directed film. It is a deeply affecting drama about troubled youths in a small treatment facility.

4. After Tiller[4 stars]

This is a documentary about the only four doctors in America still performing late-term abortions after the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller. This is not one of those documentaries that spews forth a lot of statistics and interviews a lot of experts, politicians and activist wing nuts. This is a film that interviews the doctors, the people who work for them and the people who seek their services, and it is fascinating.

5. Blackfish[4 stars]

This is a powerful documentary that has already had a big effect on Sea World. This documentary investigates some deaths at various water parks over the years caused by attacks from killer whales kept in captivity. This hard-hitting film makes a convincing argument that captivity causes the whales stress and that this makes it too great a risk for people to be in the water with these stressed-out whales just to entertain an audience.

6. The Great Beauty[4 stars]

Beautiful, funny, sad and moving, filled with truth and tenderness — All this is illustrated largely through the great performance of Toni Servillo, as the world weary Roman party animal reflecting on his life, a decadent man in a decadent city. This masterpiece of filmmaking, written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino seems at first to be a haphazard collage of images and sounds, but it somehow all fits together perfectly.

7. Philomena[4 stars]

This drama, based on a true story, is a kind of road movie, which takes a woman searching for her lost son back to where she started. Wonderful performances from Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. I'm not a big fan of Steve Coogan, but he does a great job in this film as a world-weary politician-turned-journalist. Judi Dench is always good and she is powerful in this role as a long-suffering woman of faith.

8. The Book Thief[4 stars]

Here is where I depart from my fellow critics who panned this film. I loved it. This movie got mixed reviews. About half of all critics gave it a positive review. The other half gave it negative reviews. Not too many of us critics call it, as I do, one of the best films of 2013. I was very surprised to find out so few share my opinion of this great film.

9. We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks[4 stars]

This remarkable documentary has the courage to show both sides of Wikileaks: The side that revealed a lot of things that the public had a right to know, and the side of it where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange found himself completely unprepared to be the world's most famous man and fell from grace because of all that pressure, combined with his own personality flaws. Assange fans were outraged that instead of a hagiography of Assange, this film gives Assange more of a straight biographical treatment. Journalism is often irritating that way.

10. The Act of Killing[4 stars]

The makers of this highly imaginative documentary were able to convince mass murderers to reenact cold-blooded killings on camera. They did this by letting the killers choose how they appeared in this film. It is the cinematic equivalent of giving them enough rope to hang themselves. The result is a one-of-a-kind movie with some of the strangest scenes you will ever see. It is also an effective, chilling documentary about hundreds of thousands of people murdered with impunity in the name of capitalism.

Honorable Mention

Dallas Buyers Club[3.5 stars]

This movie has two of the year's best performances and is based on a true story. Matthew McConnaughey and Jared Leto are both fantastic in this film about a small time hustler and rodeo cowboy who goes up against the FDA and the medical establishment. These two characters, the hustler (McConnauhey) and his drag queen friend (Leto) are fascinating. They power this film.

Mud[3.5 stars]

This is a Tom Sawyer-like story set along the Mississippi River in present day. A man on the run enlists the aid of a young boy to set up a meeting with the woman he loves. This is one of those rare “coming-of-age” stories that really works, thanks to superb performances by Matthew McConnaughey (what a year he had) and youngster Tye Sheridan, who is the real star of this film.

Gravity[3.5 stars]

Although this has some great special effects and the zero gravity scenes are amazing, this is really about one character's personal emotional journey. Sandra Bullock's performance easily ranks among the year's five best.

Nebraska[3.5 stars]

This film is extremely well-written. The dialog is some of the funniest, most realistic dialog I've ever heard. It captures certain kinds of people from America's heartland so perfectly, it is just uncanny. A very funny, well-acted bittersweet film. A great father and son film. June Squibb unleashes the year's best f-bomb. The script and actors give these characters a lot of emotional depth.

Side Effects[3.5 stars]

A fiendishly clever psychological drama, with elements of a murder mystery thrown in. I'm not a fan of pscyhological dramas, nor Jude Law, but Jude and the story won me over. The story has some excellent twists and turns, too.

Her[3.5 stars]

This well-written science fiction film is an exploration into the nature of love and artificial intelligence. Spike Jonze appears to write himself into a corner. You can only go so far with computer love and computer sex, but he devises a very clever exit from this dead end. Great acting in this film, too.

Captain Phillips[3.5 stars]

Another winner from Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass, this is a film with a high level of suspense and drama. Great supporting work from first-time-actor Barkhad Abdi, who got an Oscar nomination his first time out.

Frozen[3.5 stars]

The year's best animated film (some like “The Wind Rises” better, but that didn't open until 2014, so it doesn't qualify for this list) has some great music in it, some good comedy and a timeless story. This is a worthy addition to a long line of Disney fairy tale classics.

A Place at the Table[3.5 stars]

This documentary is a searing indictment on our political system which awards fat government subsidies to large corporations while taking money out of the mouths of children in the name of fiscal responsibility. This will make you mad.

Gimme the Loot[3.5 stars]

This is a wild urban comedy about a couple of taggers hoping to make their mark on the Big Apple. It is one funny, sometimes bittersweet, misadventure after another for these two. While they behave irresponsibly, and often illegally, they do grow up a bit over the course of the film.

Rush[3.5 stars]

The best movie about motor sports I've ever seen. It is based on the incredible true story of one of the greatest rivalries in the history of sports and the greatest, closest, one-season rivalry in the history of Formula One racing. The two main characters couldn't be more different, or more fascinating people.

More lists below

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Links to reviews of all the films below are indexed in the following web pages:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Best director

1. Destin Cretton — Short Term 12
2. David O. Russell — American Hustle
3. Steve McQueen — 12 Years a Slave
4. Stephen Frears — Philomena
5. Brian Percival — The Book Thief

Best actor

1. Matthew McConnaughey — Dallas Buyers Club
2. Christian Bale — American Hustle
3. Leonardo DiCaprio — The Wolf of Wall Street
4. Chiwetel Ejiofor — 12 Years a Slave
5. Bruce Dern — Nebraska

Best actress

1. Cate Blanchett — Blue Jasmine
2. Sandra Bullock — Gravity
3. Judi Dench — Philomena
4. Brie Larson — Short Term 12
5. Amy Adams — American Hustle

Best supporting actor

1. Jared Leto — Dallas Buyers Club
2. Barkhad Abdi — Captain Phillips
3. Jonah Hill — The Wolf of Wall Street
4. Tye Sheridan — Mud
5. Bradley Cooper — American Hustle

Best supporting actress

1. Lupita Nyong'o — 12 Years a Slave
2. Kaitlyn Dever — Short Term 12
3. Jennifer Lawrence — American Hustle
4. June Squibb — Nebraska
5. Amy Adams — Her

Best adapted screenplay

1. 12 Years a Slave — John Ridley
2. Short Term 12 — Destin Cretton
3. Philomena — Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
4. Captain Phillips — Billy Ray
5. Mud — Jeff Nichols

Best original screenplay

1. American Hustle — David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer
2. Her — Spike Jonze
3. Nebraska — Bob Nelson
4. Gravity — Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón
5. Dallas Buyers Club — Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

Best documentary feature

1. After Tiller
2. Blackfish
3. We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
4. The Act of Killing
5. A Place at the Table

Best animated feature

1. Frozen
2. Monsters University
3. Despicable Me 2
4. From Up on Poppy Hill
5. The Croods

Note: “The Wind Rises” opened in 2014 in the U.S., so it will be on next year's list.

Best foreign language film

1. The Act of Killing
2. The Hunt (Jagten)
3. A Hijacking
4. Reality
5. Narco Cultura

Best cinematography

1. The Great Gatsby
2. Gravity
3. To the Wonder
4. Saving Mr. Banks
5. Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Best editing

1. Gravity
2. After Tiller
3. Blackfish
4. 12 Years a Slave
5. Side Effects

Best music

1. Frozen
2. Saving Mr. Banks
3. Muscle Shoals
4. The Great Gatsby
5. The Broken Circle Breakdown

Best makeup effects

1. Lone Survivor
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. Dallas Buyers Club
4. American Hustle
5. Elysium

Links to reviews of all films on this site are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Funniest film of the year

The Wolf of Wall Street[3 stars]

Saddest film of the year

12 Years a Slave[4 stars]

Scariest villain of the year

Timmy Choi (played by Louis Koo) in Drug War[3 stars]

The year's most overrated films

All of these films have won awards or have been highly rated by some critics groups, or have won praise at some film festivals, or are just rated higher by critics than they have a right to be. These are listed alphabetically.
Computer Chess[1 star]
This is the End[2 stars]
The Broken Circle Breakdown[2 stars]
Room 237[2 stars]
Stories We Tell[2.5 stars]
Before Midnight[3 stars]
Inside Llewyn Davis[3 stars]
Upstream Color[3 stars]

The year's best films you've never heard of

Short Term 12[4 stars]
The Act of Killing[4 stars]
After Tiller[4 stars]
Blackfish[4 stars]
Dirty Wars[3 stars]
Europa Report[3 stars]
Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie[3 stars]
Frances Ha[3 stars]
From Up On Poppy Hill[3 stars]
Gimme the Loot[3.5 stars]
A Hijacking[3 stars]
The Hunt (Jagten)[3 stars]
In a World[3 stars]
It's a Disaster[3 stars]
Kiss of the Damned[2.5 stars]
Muscle Shoals[3 stars]
Narco Cultura[3 stars]
No Place on Earth[3 stars]
A Place at the Table[3.5 stars]
These Birds Walk[3 stars]
Venus and Serena[3 stars]
The Way, Way Back[3 stars]
The Wind Rises[3 stars]

The Worst Films of 2013

While I saw most of the best films of the year, I purposefully missed nearly all of the reportedly bad films, including Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Grown Ups 2, Identity Thief, The Smurfs 2, The Hangover Part III, 47 Ronin, R.I.P.D., After Earth, Runner Runner, Texas Chainsaw 3D and Free Birds. Those are all wide release films which made it to most cities and towns in the U.S. I also missed most of the limited release bad films, among many others, so this is not in any way a list of the worst of the worst films, just the worst of the films I saw. After all, I don't get into the movies for free, and I don't like to waste my money. I did see Escape Plan Bullet to the Head and Jobs which are supposed to be bad to mediocre, but I didn't think they were bad enough to make this list. Careful as I am, I did get fooled into watching the following bad films anyway:

The ABCs of Death[1 star]

This is 26 short films on an alphabetical theme of death, mostly comedies in poor taste.

Computer Chess[1 star]

A truly weird film. Some think this is a great film, but I thought it was so slow moving that when it finally got to the point, I no longer cared.

The Host[2 stars]

This is one of those dreadful movies based on a Stephenie Meyer book (the “Twilight” series). It stars Saoirse Ronan, who always seems to find a way to play the same kind of passive agressive victimized character with a severely limited emotional range in every movie I've ever seen her in. I don't mind that so much, but she has irritating, nagging fans who tend to whine and complain to me if I fail to write that she is brilliant in every review I do of every movie she's in. I'm not alone in my assessment of this film. This is on a lot of “worst films of the year” lists, which is hard to understand, given Ronan's brilliant performance.

This is the End[2 stars]

Not a bad film, but I am sick and tired of hearing from fans of this film who think it is one of the year's best. It is not. It is basically a movie version of a reality TV show, like “Big Brother Celebrity Apocalypse.” Some critics think it rates an “A,” but there are just as many critics who rate this a “C,” as I did.

The Lone Ranger (2013)[2 stars]

Not a bad movie, but very disappointing. It should have been a lot better with all the money and talent that went into this project.

A Good Day to Die Hard[2.5 stars]

Another big disappointment. I really liked “Live Free or Die Hard,” but this sequel was not nearly as good.

Kick-Ass 2[2 stars]

Yet another disappointing sequel. I really liked the first one. This was not nearly as good.

Safe Haven[2 stars]

This romantic movie had too many creepy elements in it.

To the Wonder[2 stars]

This Terrence Malick movie is like a slow motion exercise in existential ennui. It is so slow moving that there is no pulse. It looks great, but it lacks any kind of energy or spark of life.

The Call[2 stars]

It starts out as a pretty good police drama, but gets more and more unbelievable as it goes along.

Dubious Distinctions

The honorary Roman Polanski Juicy Jail Bait Award, also known as the “Breakthrough Actor” award or the “Best Young Actress” award, or the “Newcomer” award (insert Beavis and Butthead snickering here) is the first dubious distinction award. The second dubious distinction is the Marilyn Chambers Memorial Nudity Award.

The jail bait award is usually won by very attractive, very young women, or girls, some of whom are pre pubescent, or at who least look like they might be, and who get high praise from critics for reasons perhaps not entirely based on their performances. Why is this you ask? Because most film critics are men and most men (especially older men) have trouble remembering actors at the end of the year for awards purposes unless they are very young and pretty. O.K., so they are dirty old men.

Past winners are Saoirse Ronan for “Atonement,” Anna Paquin for “The Piano,” Ziyi Zhang for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” of course Polanski's old flame, Natasha Kinski for “Tess,” and the stars of “Thirteen.”

This year both the Jail Bait and Nudity awards go to Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux their fine performances in the high class porn movie that played in art houses around the country, “Blue is the Warmest Color” (La vie d'Adèle). This film has incredibly hot lesbian sex scenes in it. The story is about ... well who cares what the story is about? The sex scenes are what stick with you, so to speak.

Links to reviews of all the films are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Saddest movie Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Worst movies,   Dubious Distinctions.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2014 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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