The Reelist’s best and worst movies of 2013: From ’12 Years a Slave’ to ‘Olympus Has Fallen’


Chiwetel Ejiofor, left, and Michael Fassbender star in one of 2013’s best movies, “12 Years a Slave.” (Fox Searchlight)

I like to think that my job is to engage with films, evaluate how well they serve the medium, and communicate that to readers in an entertaining and educational way. I enjoy doing that — except when people don’t listen to me about which movies to see. Then I want to march down to the mall, grab people by their collars and throw them into the movie of my choice. As the year winds down, I thought I’d go beyond the traditional top 10 list. So I went a lot further, ranking all 84 films I saw this year. (“Olympus Has Fallen” is so much worse than the rest, I’m bumping it to 100. And that’s being generous.) I singled out eight that I feel too few people saw (or, in the case of “Gravity,” saw the right way). Consider this my end-of-year temper tantrum, my foot-stomping, pouting moment about underappreciated films.

1. 12 Years a Slave
This is at the top of nearly everyone’s best-of-2013 list, with good reason. Not only is it my top pick of the year, I think it’s the most important film to come out in a decade. It’s also incredibly difficult to watch, since it represents the shame of American slavery in a way most people have never seen before — which is why some people don’t want to see it now. Well, toughen up, buttercup. Missing this film because you think it’ll make you sad means you’re depriving yourself of a deeper understanding of an integral part of American history.
(In theaters)

3. Wadjda
This extraordinary film out of Saudi Arabia — where the female director had to work from inside a van to shield herself from male eyes — is about a girl who wants a bike. A rare, intimate glimpse into another culture, “Wadjda” is an engaging, funny, wonderful film that barely made a blip. (Guess you’ll have to wait for the Blu-ray/DVD, due Feb. 11.)

6. No
It was a good year for foreign films; this one, from Chile, is about the ad campaign that eventually ousted dictator Augusto Pinochet. Featuring a phenomenal performance from Gael Garcia Bernal, the film smartly examines how American-style political advertising brought democracy to another country. (Available on Amazon, iTunes and Blu-ray/DVD)

8. The Act of Killing
It was a good year for documentaries, too, and none was more powerful than this. Director Joshua Oppenheimer got leaders of death squads to recreate their roles in the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s through vignettes modeled after American film genres. This deeply weird strategy leads to staggering results. (Available on iTunes on Tuesday; on DVD Jan. 7)

14. Gravity
This did well at the box office, but too many people just meant to see it and … didn’t. And I told you. I told you to see it with as much technology as possible, because this is a film that needs technology to be told properly. Unless you’ve got a 3-D Imax projection system in your living room, there’s no point to watching it at home. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Because I did. (Hope for a pre-Oscar theatrical rerelease.)

19. Short Term 12
Brie Larson (who was also in films Nos. 33 and 72 on the list below) gives a criminally underrated performance as a worker in a foster care facility in this movie, which was expanded from a short film. The smart script and intimate direction give the small story a big wallop. (Available on iTunes; on Blu-ray/DVD Jan. 12)

30. A Place at the Table
This examination of food insecurity in America should have swept the nation, and that nation should have demanded sweeping changes in how government deals with hunger. With moments of anger, heartbreak and hope, this documentary has the potential to change the world — if the world would just see it. (Available on Amazon, Netflix, iTunes and Blu-ray/DVD)

54. Drinking Buddies
It’s low on the list, but this kind-of romantic comedy, kind-of drama, kind-of … something else was a film that stuck with me. It’s about a guy and a girl, and you think they belong together, but then they kind of don’t, but then they’re friends and it’s all very hard to encapsulate. It’s rare that a movie takes on the complexities of relationships as well and as believably as this one does, so it’s certainly worth a watch. And it takes place in a brewery, mostly, so bring beer. (Available on Amazon, iTunes and Blu-ray/DVD)

The Best of 2013 Movies

From top to bottom, here’s how I spent my time in the dark throughout 2013.

1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Nebraska
3. Wadjda
4. Her
5. Much Ado About Nothing
6. No
7. Dallas Buyers Club
8. The Act of Killing
9. Stories We Tell
10. Fruitvale Station
11. American Hustle
12. All Is Lost
13. Inside Llewyn Davis
14. Gravity
15. Stoker
16. We Steal Secrets
17. Blackfish
18. Fill the Void
19. Short Term 12
20. Captain Phillips
21. Philomena
22. The Grandmaster
23. Frances Ha
24. Blue Is the Warmest Color
25. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
26. Saving Mr. Banks
27. West of Memphis
28. Midnight’s Children
29. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
30. A Place at the Table
31. Inequality for All
32. Star Trek Into Darkness
33. Don Jon
34. Only God Forgives
35. Trance
36. The Heat
37. The Way Way Back
38. The World’s End
39. God Loves Uganda
40. Lee Daniels’ The Butler
41. Ender’s Game
42. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
43. Side Effects
44. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
45. Thanks for Sharing
46. To the Wonder
47. Iron Man 3
48. The East
49. The Place Beyond the Pines
50. The To Do List
51. A.C.O.D.
52. Despicable Me 2
53. The Armstrong Lie
54. Drinking Buddies
55. The Great Gatsby
56. The Bling Ring
57. The Fifth Estate
58. 20 Feet From Stardom
59. Closed Circuit
60. Now You See Me
61. Baggage Claim
62. Thor: The Dark World
63. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
64. Lovelace
65. Jobs
66. Austenland
67. 42
68. Oz the Great and Powerful
69. Ginger & Rosa
70. Man of Steel
71. LUV
72. The Spectacular Now
73. Crystal Fairy
74. The Host
75. Not Fade Away
76. Diana
77. On the Road
78. At Any Price
79. Arthur Newman
80. Venus and Serena
81. Pandora’s Promise
82. The Sapphires
83. Black Nativity
100. Olympus Has Fallen

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film, arts and events for Express.

express

express

Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read

express

express

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Next Story
Matthew Razak · December 27, 2013