Looking Back: Joey & Jeremy Pick Their 10 Favorite Films from 2013
by Ethan Anderton
December 31, 2013
Winding down our look back at the year in cinema that was 2013, we're finally taking a look at some of the staff's favorite films of the year. This time it's our awards expert Joey Magidson (follow all his Oscar updates here) and The Golden Briefcase co-host Jeremy Kirk chiming in with their best. Sadly, the podcast's other host, Tim Buel, hasn't been able to catch up on some of the more acclaimed movies of the year, so he didn't feel prepared to deliver a comprehensive list (though you can check out his favorite horror films of the year right here). So without further adieu, here's Joey & Jeremy's 10 Favorite Films of 2013.
Jeremy's Top 10 Films of 2013:
#10. This is The End
The most riotous experience I had in the theater all year, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This Is the End is an armageddon of comedy. An incredible idea, some were actually turned off by Rogen and crew - including James Franco; Jonah Hill; and the highlight of the show, Danny McBride - playing themselves at the center of an end-of-the-world story. They thought it was self indulgent. Whatever. When the results are this hysterical and full of over-the-top enjoyment, who cares if the actors are having fun playing caricatures of their own celebrity selves. This is especially the case with McBride, who ends up being the only character here who deserves his own spin-off movie. This Is the End is as much fun the eighth time you seen it as it is the first, and it’s a film fun enough to warrant eight viewings. At least.
#9. We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks
Alex Gibney is such a powerhouse documentarian that he had not one but two critically acclaimed films out this year. While The Armstrong Lie was the one chosen to potentially represent Gibney at the Oscars, it was We Steal Secrets that really floored me this past year. Told with absolute objectivity, the film documents the rise and results of Julian Assange’s hot-button website; government leaks, security breaches, and all. But Gibney doesn’t simply tell us about WikiLeaks, he obtains eye-opening information through interviews with those who worked with and for Assange. We Steal Secrets provides over two hours of fascinating information, told with so much more nuance and care than The Fifth Estate.
#8. Warm Bodies
The first “must see” movie of the year remained one of the best. There’s little question that Jonathan Levine is a gifted storyteller, and his adaptation of Isaac Marion’s novel is arguably the best work he’s done to date. Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer are flawless as the Romeo & Juliet of the zombie apocalypse, and though Warm Bodies is loaded with thrills and chills alike, it’s also weighed down with exceptional heart and spot-on comedy. Rob Corddry gets the major assist on that last part. It’s even more exciting that Warm Bodies came out the same year Levine’s earlier trip to the world of horror, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, got released. Each film aims for a different emotion, and Levine is a gifted enough filmmaker that both work with perfect results. Needless to say, they would make an excellent double feature.
#7. We Are What We Are
Another candidate for “future horror classic”, Jim Mickle’s remake of Jorge Michel Grau’s Spanish language original takes all the best elements and works them into a film that actually ends up being better. This version of We Are What We Are keeps the central conceit, a family of cannibals who must cope with the loss of one of their most important members while still trying to keep their secret. However, Mickle, co-writing with long-time collaborator Nick Damici, has crafted this story into an exemplary tale of American gothic horror. We Are What We Are is loaded down with as much visual atmosphere as it is genuine thrills, and Bill Sage’s turn as the family’s troubled patriarch will go down as one of the year’s most underappreciated. It’s the best horror film of the year, one fans of the genre will surely be glad they sought out.
#6. Inside Llewyn Davis
Surprise, surprise. The Coen Brothers show up on this list. But who is going to argue with it really? There’s every case to be made that the Coens are the best filmmakers working today, in America or otherwise, and Inside Llewyn Davis is just one more example of why that is. It not only captures the cold, hard times of 1960s New York City - especially for a struggling folk singer - in all the vibrant color the Coens are known for, the story is captivating. It’s made all the more so by the incredible performances, especially Oscar Isaac who not only acts with the best of them, he sings and strums guitar as if it were an effortless gift of talent as well. Inside Llewyn Davis leaves as many unanswered questions as any Coen Brothers movie, but that’s an aspect that makes their films endlessly rewatchable and ripe for conversation. See the movie, then listen to the soundtrack, then discuss.
#5. A Band Called Death
A Band Called Death marks the second documentary to end up on this list, and there could have easily been more. 2013 was a great year for documentaries, and the year will eventually be viewed as one of the best. Yet, this music documentary brought to us by Drafthouse Films took the punk rock cake, telling us a story we didn’t already know while giving us the chance to discover some amazing music. Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett bring us this story of a group of brothers, three African Americans who formed a punk band before punk was even a thing. They called themselves Death, an artistic choice that had a hand in keeping them from the spotlight until now, and though they didn’t make their mark until 40 years after forming, their music hits just as hard in 2013. God bless films like A Band Called Death and last year's Searching for Sugar Man, because music this good should never be kept from having its day in the sun.
There was little doubt Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity would hit with more suspense and intensity than was seen elsewhere this year. Those early trailers sealed that deal. What was unknown at the time was just how exciting and incredibly well-made Gravity would be when we finally did feast our eyes upon it. It’s an engaging story of survival and the determination of the human mind and body, and Cuarón’s film supplements that captivating story with the most amazing visuals of the year. It’s not “style over substance” to say you could watch Gravity with the sound turned off. It’s just that beautiful of a film. However, the marriage of wondrous visuals and gripping narrative - to say nothing of Sandra Bullock's stupendous performance - make it a shoe-in for this list. Now, if Cuarón would just make a live action Buzz Lightyear movie starring George Clooney.
#3. Upstream Color
Shane Carruth’s Primer is one of the most intelligent, elaborate-in-story sci-fi films of all time, a film that, released in 2004, takes nine years or more to get your brain around. With Upstream Color, Carruth follows that up with something as intelligent, as elaborate-in-story, and as engaging. Yet Upstream Color is also one of the most beautiful stories of the year, an alluring, hypnotic even, story of love, life, and the illusion of the world. Carruth is a storyteller with huge ideas, even if those ideas are represented by smaller, character-driven narratives. Upstream Color, like Primer, is a film which takes some work getting your thoughts wrapped around. But, also just like Primer, the rewards for experiencing and understanding Shane Carruth’s latest film - attempting to understand, anyway - are endless.
#2. The World's End
Things we knew: Edgar Wright is an incredibly gifted filmmaker. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are even more hilarious when working in tandem than they are by themselves. The Cornetto Trilogy - the first two films, at least - is a collection of awesome, genre films that showcases the talents all three can muster when working together. Things we didn’t know: The World’s End, the third and final film of the Cornetto Trilogy, is just as entertaining as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. But not only is it a hilarious, sci-fi romp, it’s an extremely smart story about friendship, and when the film ends, the stamp Wright, Pegg, and Frost have put on this unofficial trilogy is unquestionably important. The World’s End is working with so many significant ideas that its inclusion here has nothing to do with the other two films. However, all three together form a complete, cinematic package that provide hours upon hours of fun, intelligent moviemaking.
#1. Spring Breakers
When Spring Breakers hit back in late March, no one was as stunned by its merits as I was. Writer/director Harmony Korine is a filmmaker whose work has never interested me. It’s not a love/hate relationship with his films, it’s more a hate/detest relationship. Imagine my shock when Spring Breakers came along. A chaotic blend of crude parties on the beach and vulgar criminals in the streets, the film works so masterfully by its editing.
Korine and editor Douglas Crise piece together a lyrical, almost dreamlike explosion of sex, drugs, and violence, none of which is depicted in Spring Breakers in any standard way. There are surprises at every turn, and not just in terms of story. Every move Korine makes with this film is unexpected, and this Natural Born Killers for the Britney Spears generation is a cinematic assault on the current state of our culture. Also James Franco’s “Look at my shit” tirade, which is just as awesome the tenth time you sit through it as it is the first. The same goes for Spring Breakers as a whole.
Honorable Mentions: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Before Midnight, Big Bad Wolves, Blackfish, Captain Phillips, The Dirties, Don Jon, Drug War, Evil Dead, Graceland, The Kings of Summer, Leviathan, Man of Steel, Nebraska, Pain and Gain, Redemption, Saving Mr. Banks, Side Effects, The Wolf of Wall Street, You’re Next
What I Missed: The Act of Killing, All is Lost, Blue is the Warmest Color, Dallas Buyers Club, Drinking Buddies, Frozen, Fruitvale Station, Her, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now
Joey's Top 10 Films of 2013:
#10. American Hustle
David O. Russell's American Hustle is not just a love letter to Goodfellas, but is actually a film I prefer to that particular crime epic. Yes, high praise, but I seem to like the former more than average and like the latter a bit less than average, so that evens things out a bit, right? Armed with an amazing A list cast that delivers dynamite performances (particularly Jennifer Lawrence), this is the sort of period film that fully transports you to the period, not unlike Boogie Nights. Few films this year were as easy to just plain enjoy. I fell under the spell of it early on and I never wanted to leave.
#9. 12 Years a Slave
I may have preferred Steve McQueen's last film Shame and to some degree find this one a touch overrated, but that doesn't mean that it's not a real good movie on its own, since it is. Easily the most powerful film ever made about Slavery, McQueen gets some powerhouse performances (notably from Chiwetel Ejiofor) and just tells the story, warts and all. It might not be a completely perfect movie, but it's a damn good one. If Oscar decides that this is the Best Picture of the year, I won't put up much of a fight. 12 Years a Slave is passionate filmmaking through and through.
#8. Lone Survivor
For 95% of the film, this is a good, but not great, war movie. That is, until the final scene/end credits, where Peter Berg effectively reduces his audience to a blubbering mess and puts the flick over the top as one of the year's best and most memorably visceral experiences. Berg and Mark Wahlberg were driven to tell this story as a tribute to those who died, and it shows. The intense battle you're right in the middle of sets you up for the emotional look at the real men who lost their lives. Peter Gabriel's cover of Heroes plays, photos/videos of the real folks come on screen, and the tears are sure to run. Lone Survivor is an emotional experience you're not expecting, but glad you have anyway.
#7. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
I know I'm one of the few ardent lovers of Ben Stiller's film, but as I originally said in my review here, this is "a love letter to daydreams, the power of imagination, and how extraordinary fantasies can help liven up the reality of an everyman". The movie is beautiful, entertaining, and heartwarming. Yes, it can be cheesy at times, but if you buy into the concept and associate with daydreamers like I do, this is one of the most satisfying films you can see this year. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is for all you daydreamers out there!
Few movies this year surprised me as much as this one from Denis Villeneuve did. What I assumed would simply be an above average thriller turned out to be a morally complex and startlingly effective procedural that enthralls you at every turn. Jake Gyllenhaal has never been better a detective trying to find Hugh Jackman's daughter, while Jackman himself gets to show some welcome range. The film doesn't quite stick the landing quite as perfectly as it could have, but other than that Prisoners is a nearly perfect and shockingly bleak experience. The title has more than one meaning folks, keep that in mind.
#5. The Spectacular Now
The best thing I saw at the Sundance Film Festival this year, The Spectacular Now is quite simply a spectacular film. From Shailene Woodley's amazing performance to Miles Teller's transcendent and potentially star making turn, every move James Ponsoldt and his writes make are phenomenal ones. This is the honest look at high school and coming of age that we all too rarely get in the movies. Featuring an amazing and surprising scene in a car as well as a take on teenage alcohol use that's unusually complex, I loved every moment of this flick through and through. It's likely to go down as a modern high school classic.
#4. The Place Beyond the Pines
Proving that Blue Valentine wasn't at all a fluke, Derek Cianfrance delivers here in a big way with an ambitious and powerful tale of fathers, sons, and the effect that the sins of the father can have on the son. Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling are excellent, while Cianfrance takes some huge third act risks that pay off in unexpected ways. The less you know about this film going in, the better. It's got some tricks up its sleeve and by the time the end credits roll, you need to catch your breath and think about just what you saw. Yes, it's just that special.
#3. Inside Llewyn Davis
The first Coen Brothers movie that I've ever loved, this is an incredible film, simply put. Maybe to some degree being a struggling artist of sorts myself (though being a writer and being a musician are obviously two very different things) factored into it, but I just connected with this flick from frame one. Inside Llewyn Davis features not just the best use of music this year, but one of the best uses of it to tell a story in a long time. Oscar Isaac is heartbreakingly good, and the moment (spoiler alert) where you see (or moreso hear) a certain folk legend come on stage for the first time just hits you like a shot to the gut. Like a ship passing in the night, Llewyn is doomed to be a footnote in history. This film though, is far more than just a footnote in 2013. It's one of the best that the year has to offer. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen have finally won me over.
#2. The Wolf of Wall Street
One of Martin Scorsese's best in a long time, this is an absolutely hilarious film. Almost as if Judd Apatow had inhabited Scorsese's body and set out to remake Goodfellas on Wall Street by way of Boiler Room, The Wolf of Wall Street is a laugh riot. Sure, you feel bad a bit for having so much fun with the awful people on screen, but between Leonardo DiCaprio's career best work, Matthew McConaughey's scene stealing supporting turn, and Margot Robbie's fiercely sexy performance, there's just a ton here to love. By a large measure the funniest movie of 2013, it's also just one of the best on the whole.
No movie this year came close to hitting me as hard as Spike Jonze's Her did. I laughed, I cried, I fell in love. Not only is this easily the best film of the year for me, it's the best film I've seen in perhaps a decade. Joaquin Phoenix will break your heart, while it's impossible not to fall in love with Scarlett Johansson. She gives a voice acting performance for the ages. When the final shot of this film comes to a close and the end credits roll, you wipe away your tears and the feeling of having seen something special just washes over you. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a perfect motion picture.
Honorable Mentions: About Time, Before Midnight, Blue is the Warmest Color, Blue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, The Conjuring, Don Jon, Frances Ha, Frozen, Gravity, The Kings of Summer, Labor Day, Mud, Only God Forgives, Short Term 12, Stories We Tell, Stuck in Love, This is the End, Tim's Vermeer, You're Next
Well, that's it for the writing staff's picks for their 10 Favorite Films of 2013. Also, don't forget our list of this year's best performances (for both actors and actresses) along with his 20 Favorite Scenes of 2013. In addition, we also tossed up my picks for the 15 Best Official Movie Posters and Tim Buel's 8 Favorite Horror Films. Jeremy Kirk also counted down his 10 Favorite Soundtracks/Scores of 2013, and Ethan Anderton listed his 6 Most Hilarious Comedies of 2013, along with a reflection on his 13 Most Anticipated Films of 2013. Finally, Ethan will debut his favorites of 2013 tomorrow. Thoughts on Joey & Jeremy's picks?