I took my time with this one. I find it odd that we wait all year, collecting our favorite films in our consciousness, watching hundreds of movies, and then come December so many critics rush to get their list out there. This is frustrating at times since a good amount of quality films are released towards the end of the year. Maybe it’s bragging, something like: “I saw this movie weeks early?” I can’t really say but I don’t really get why there is such a rush to get the lists out there.
I’ve watched so many movies this year, and more importantly I watched so many quality films this year. There were films that were itching to make it into the top 20, and it does hurt in a way to leave some movies out. It has to be done of course since the fact remains that the list has already been stretched out from 10 to 20.
As many movies as I have seen, there is absolutely no way that I could possibly see them all. This forces me to be a bit more selective with even what I choose to see. So my favorite movies may differ from yours because of what I bring to each movie. I find something to relate to, even in the giant spectacle and especially in the small, intimate films. That being said, I’ve waited until the final hours of the year to publish this and feel confident in this list. Here are my top 20 films of 2013.
20. Fruitvale Station
At this point, Michael B. Jordan is on the edge of superstardom. He’s been slowly building up his resume in iconic roles on The Wire and Friday Night Lights, to name a few, and has recently begun to display his charisma on the big screen. The story of Oscar Grant is a tragic one, not because he was a great man, but rather because he was such an average one.
The brutality and nightmare at the center of Fruitvale Station could have and can happen to any one of us. That’s the real scary thing about it. While there is no need to make Oscar Grant into something he wasn’t, tragic is tragic whether he picks dogs up off the street or is selling drugs to make a living.
What I take away most from the film is how we must enjoy each day as if there was no tomorrow. Grant tells his daughter how tomorrow he was going to take her to Chuck E. Cheese, and for some reason that really got to me. We do it all the time. We’ll do this tomorrow or we’ll go next week, well tomorrow doesn’t always come and it certainly didn’t in his case.
The fact that such an act of violence and what is nothing less than an execution can happen in this day by the people sworn to protect us is such a scary thought. This is just a day in the life of Oscar Grant, just an average person like you or me, and of course, that’s the point.
19. Zero Dark Thirty
The controversy with this film is that it was given a limited release towards the end of last year. It did not officially get a wide release until early January, which is when I saw it. Because of all that, I decided to include it on my list this year.
It’s not a film that too many people expected when they hear it’s about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, but then again, what were people really expecting? A non-stop action movie this was certainly not. If that’s what you prefer then I’m sure the other film about the subject will cater better to you.
Despite the huge subject matter, it manages to be a small film about a CIA analyst (Jessica Chastain) and her obsession with finding Bin Laden. The scenes of torture will certainly make you uncomfortable and lead to debates about our military, government, and about how far is too far.
The film is not without action however, if that is what you’re looking for then the final raid will certainly have you on the edge of your seat. You may or may not agree with some of the actions that occur in this film, but it is presented the way it happened. It may not always be pretty, but sometimes the ends do justify the means.
18. Oz the Great and Powerful
It seems at times that Oz doesn’t know what kind of film it wants to be. It works best when it’s not so concerned with just being a family film. There are darker aspects to Oz and grander ideas, and that is when the movie really shines. Now, I wouldn’t want an Oz film that was pure darkness since the film does look so gorgeous at times.
The magic on display during the black and white introduction is a highlight of the film. You smile while being conned during some of the early ‘magic’ tricks. As James Franco’s Oz is unveiled to be a fraud, unable to really fix a crippled little girls’ legs in the audience, we feel much like Oz feels. It’s a somber moment of reality in such a bombastic film.
Then there’s the opposite to that scene once we actually get to the land of Oz, as this time Franco’s ‘magic’ works and he is able to do what we couldn’t do before as he heals a girls broken legs. It’s beautiful to watch as we see Oz realize that he can actually help these people and do something great with his life.
Glinda the Good Witch tells Oz that she knows he isn’t the great wizard they were expecting, but that the people don’t know that. He must keep up that lie in order for the people not to lose hope. It’s hard not to see the real world parallels in that statement. Oz the Great and Powerful sets out what it intends to do as it serves as a perfect companion to The Wizard of Oz, I mean as long as you don’t think about it too much.
Tom Cruise’s film promised something along the lines of Wall-E of I Am Legend, at least from the trailers. While it did evoke things from those films, as well as old school sci-fi inspiration, it still managed to be something all its own. It’s not too surprising that the film was a visual treat, but where it really succeeded was in the quieter character moments.
Much to his credit, I don’t really see Tom Cruise mega-star as he chooses to underplay things instead. I’m convinced that even without dialogue this film would still be one of my favorites. I take it in much like I take in a great poem. That’s really what this is, a great, reflective poem.
I’ve talked about this before, but the implications in this film are terrifying. We have all been duped and the majority of Earth has been destroyed. You have numerous Cruise clones out there, along with his companion, and only a small fraction of the human population remains. Finding out that there is no human settlement on one of Saturn’s moons comes as a huge shock.
While Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman as kamikazes, destroying the alien entity provides one of the ‘hell yeah’ moments of the year, the aftermath of it once you think about it is not too much of a victory. This is a beautiful looking film, with two beautiful leading ladies. Tom Cruise seems to have a true passion for original science-fiction movies; it’s hard not to admire the man for that.
16. Pacific Rim
This movie is a victory for the little kids in each and every one of us. It’s not strictly for little kids though as it provides some serious moments amidst the monster and robot chaos. Regardless of your thoughts on the Transformers films, Pacific Rim is not that. This is a film that I never knew I always wanted. Director Guillermo Del Toro seemed to know that even if I didn’t.
Pacific Rim wears its influences on its sleeves. The homages to old Japanese monster movies are of course most evident, but you also have so much more. This film started from a simple premise: giant monsters against giant robots and evolved into something greater. If it was just that it wouldn’t have the impact that it did.
Above all, Del Toro alongside his actors have created some truly great characters. Charlie Hunnam shines as the hero of the film whose life is turned upside down at the beginning of the film. Del Toro uses Asian actress Rinko Kikuchi as his lead female character (something we’ll see in another film on this list) which is extremely rare. The film’s secret weapon is Idris Elba as the commanding officer of the Jaegar program. Elba provides more than just motivation speeches as he keeps the film grounded.
This was one of the best theater experiences I had this year, mostly because it surprised the hell out of me. For how huge the world in the film is and how huge the monsters and robots are, the film still manages to feel personal and intimate, at least at times. Don’t judge a book by its cover, you may miss out on something special.
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