World of Winners
PW critic picks the top 10 films of 2013
By Carl Kozlowski 01/02/2014
For movies, 2013 has proven to be the best year of the century. Picking just 10 great films to represent the year’s best has been more difficult than usual. Since I can’t see literally everything that comes out in a year’s time, I always note that these were my 10 favorites, the ones that moved me to gasp, rage, think, laugh and cry.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
This adaptation of a classic short story by James Thurber was a passion project of star-director Ben Stiller. The movie itself is an ode to the dreamer in us all, depicting a lovable loser who’s lost in constant flights of fancy until a work crisis forces him to take highly adventurous and often funny action in the real world. Jet-setting from Greenland to Iceland to Afghanistan, it’s one of the most epic and ambitious comedies I’ve ever seen, and it packs an emotional punch as well.
Writer-director Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation”) has made some of the most unique movies of the past 15 years, but his divorce from fellow director Sofia Coppola knocked him for a loop that severely limited his output of films. His comeback, starring Joaquin Phoenix in the most likable role of his career, depicts a nice-guy loner in near-future Los Angeles who falls in love with the sweet and sexy voice (delivered by Scarlett Johannsen) on his computerized Operating System when it starts to develop the artificial intelligence to converse emotionally. “Her” is a deeply profound exploration of what really matters in love and whether humans are losing the ability to truly communicate in this era of texting.
Co-writer-director Alfonso Cuaron takes his time making movies (his prior one was “Children of Men” in 2006) but when he does finish them, they’re like no one else’s. Here he takes Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as a two-person cast of astronauts and depicts how things go terribly wrong on a satellite-repair mission in space. Perhaps the best use of 3D effects ever put on screen, “Gravity” also nails its human drama due to its superb performances.
Woody Allen’s late-life creative renaissance continues, with the story of a blue-blood woman (Cate Blanchett) whose life slowly unravels in both comic and tragic fashion when her husband is convicted of Bernie Madoff-style fraud. Forced to move in with her total-opposite, working-class sister in San Francisco, she has to mix it up with all manner of loudmouths. While Blanchett is drawing deserved praise as the likely winner of this year’s Best Actress Oscar, the true surprise of the year was former foul-mouthed comic Andrew Dice Clay delivering a hilarious and touching supporting performance.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Based on the story of the longest-serving butler in White House history, who worked under presidents from Eisenhower through Reagan, “The Butler” featured one of the year’s strongest ensemble casts. Best of all, it gave juicy roles to plenty of talented black actors, including Cuba Gooding Jr., who are normally underused these days. Forest Whitaker as the title character and Oprah Winfrey as his wife are likely shoo-ins for Oscar nominations. The overall movie deserves a nod as well.
The most tear-inducing film of the year, this docudrama was about the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 23-year-old African-American man shot to death by a white transit police officer in a controversial confrontation on a Northern California commuter train platform. Michael B. Jordan was the acting discovery of the year in the lead role, portraying a young man who wasn’t a saint but certainly didn’t deserve to die the way he did.
We’re the Millers
By miles, this is the funniest movie of the year. Jason Sudeikis plays a pot dealer who has to sneak an RV filled with marijuana over the Mexican border when he’s robbed of a huge stash of pot and cash. He decides that the only way to avoid drawing attention from the authorities is to pretend to be on a family vacation. So he hires a family composed of a stripper playing his wife (Jennifer Aniston), an annoying teenage boy as his son and a tough teen runaway girl as his daughter. Countless things go wrong from there. It’ s not really awards material, but it hits a hilarious home run.
Olympus Has Fallen / White House Down
The year’s nuttiest, giddiest action movies both featured plots in which the White House was captured by bad guys. “Olympus” took itself slightly more seriously, with Gerard Butler as the hero who fights off a horde of North Koreans in a “Die Hard”-worthy extravaganza of explosions. “Down” took things even farther, with Jamie Foxx as a black president who straps on his sneakers and picks up a grenade launcher to whoop ass alongside his Secret Service agent, played by Channing Tatum.
The Spectacular Now
This emotionally powerful film about an alcoholic Ferris Bueller-style high school king, the nerdy girl whom he falls in love with, and the transformation they cause in one another was the best teen romance since “Say Anything” nearly 25 years ago. Miles Teller delivered the best acting performance of the year in a movie too few people saw. He is one to watch, the possible heir to Tom Hanks.
A recovering alcoholic Catholic man (played by Hugh Jackman in an Oscar-worthy turn) finds his young daughter was kidnapped. When the cops let the lead suspect go, he kidnaps him himself and tortures him in the hopes of learning where she is. But what if the suspect really is innocent? A harrowing ride through the darkest impulses of humanity, “Prisoners” is a powerful morality tale that places viewers squarely in the midst of wondering what they would do in a similar situation.