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The 13 Best Movies of 2013

2013 was a fantastic year for film. It seems every few years critics start crying about the death of cinema and the rise of TV or web content that will overtake it as an art form. But this latest year proves just how varied and strong film is and while major blockbusters disappointed across the board (here’s looking at you Star Trek, Man of Steel, The Lone Ranger, etc.) it allowed smaller productions and the indies to shine. And with added ease of access through iTunes Movies, Amazon Instant, Netflix, and increased local screenings through services like Tugg it’s easier than ever to catch your favorite films.

I asked Screen Invasion writers to submit their top 10 films from this year and it’s a true testament to the overall strength that between 11 contributors, we named nearly 60 outstanding movies. With so many great films out there, it was hard to narrow down our best movies list to just 10, so in honor of it being the 13th year in the 21st century, here are our 13 Best Movies of 2013. Click through to see the 13 films that made the cut and be sure to read through to the last page to see everyone’s individual lists.

 

13. Frances Ha

Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen

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“Charming” is the best way to describe Frances Ha, from its romantic black-and-white portrait of New York City to an effervescent star turn by Greta Gerwig as an unemployed dancer ticking off all the boxes on her quarter-life crisis checklist.  That palpable sense of goodwill is what sets it apart from other indie comedies about the second childhood of urban twenty-somethings.  The key is the film’s ability to blend navel-gazing neuroses with pointed, satirical humor.  While the feelings and failures are highly specific to the titular Frances, they’re immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever struggled to fit in – which is to say, all of us.  As Frances Ha whimsically illustrates, being yourself just gets tougher once you’re on your own.    – Eric Ambler

There’s no such thing as a tired, clichéd story when you’ve got an dynamic protagonist at the center, and Greta Gerwig’s titular character in Frances Ha is so inherently complicated, charming, hopeful, and loving that I could conceivably watch another 10 films following her life. Flipping the typical struggling millennial piece on its ear, Baumbach and Gerwig ditch the self-loathing in favor of infectious optimism, and the results are delightful. – Nick DeLorenzo

Read our review.

 

12. Pacific Rim

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Rinko Kikuchi

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While some wrote this film off as just dumb fun, a lot can be said for a film that sets out to achieve a simple goal and does it well. Incredible effects, fast pacing, and a touch of humor, this is a quintessential 80s and 90s action film with the added oomph of the technology of today. Not only was a roaring good time, it was downright refreshing to see a strong Asian woman at the center of this film. While Charlie Hunam’s character was the lead, Mako Mori gets the meatier backstory. How often do you leave a theater with little boys and girls squealing about wanting to be just like the female lead in the film? – Kristal Bailey

Going to film school can sometimes make you a little, well, “snooty” when it comes to summer blockbusters.  Once you learn about stuff like mise en scene, diegetic vs. non-diegetic sound, and Eisenstein’s dialectical montage, it can be hard to get all that excited about popcorn flicks where the main conflict seems to be “how much stuff can we blow up before the credits roll?”  But the best summer movies make you forget all that and just have a good time.  Pacific Rim is an incredibly silly movie, but watching it I felt like I was eight years old again, smashing plastic toy monsters together in my parents’ living room while making “fwoosh, roar, toof toof!” noises.  Is it a little dumb?  Yeah.  Did I pay to see it three times?  Totally!  So much fun. – Daniel Johnson

Read our review.

 

11. Spring Breakers

Director: Harmony Korine
Cast: James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine

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Korine finds Terrance Malickian beauty in one of America’s most grotesque traditions.  From brutal reality to modern day fantasy, this is unlike any movie I have ever seen.  Like it’s protagonists, Spring Breakers is unpredictable, uncomfortably seductive, teeters between disturbing and hilarious, and something I need to get behind. – Brian Rudloff

If any film released this year to be mentioned in the same sentence as “Zeitgeist,” it’s Harmony Korine’s scabrous takedown of the American Dream: College Edition. An oneiric ode to crass, crude, vulgar excess – exemplified and embodied in Jame Franco’s cultural appropriator Alien – Spring Breakers is the kind of love it or hate it type of film generally absent from American cinemas (The Wolf of Wall Street being another, with Michael Bay’s similarly themed crime-satire, Pain & Gain, worth a mention). It also effectively gutted the sanitized Disney crafted images of two of its star, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, the better to knock down our celebrity-obsessed culture a peg or three. Spring Breakers is also propulsively directed by a filmmaker at or near the top of his craft. Just look at any of several set pieces – the fast-food restaurant robbery for one, the ill-fated assault on the drug dealer’s mansion for two – for examples of visual storytelling at its finest.  – Mel Valentin

A satire of Millennial generation hedonism, a dreamy slice of faux-gangsta exploitation, a Day-Glo nightmare of the American Dream – Spring Breakers is all this and more.  It’s easy to assume that Harmony Korine has reverse-engineered a scenario to achieve specifically surreal (a serene and expressive Britney Spears sing-along) and scandalous (tween-friendly stars Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson forcing James Franco to fellate their twin pistols).  Still, there’s a method to Korine’s madness as he shoots a world of beachside tourist traps and grubby suburban sprawl with the gauzy humanity of Terrence Malick.  Spring Breakers may be a story about bad girls gone even worse, but it ultimately packs a moral punch as jolting as the rush of cinematic pleasure delivered by its frenzied yet hypnotic style. – Eric Ambler

Read our review.

 

10. Blackfish

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Cast: N/A

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I was mostly disappointed with the summer blockbusters this year, finding many of their plots even more nonsensical or unmotivated than usual.  However one of the most exciting and gripping films I saw in cinemas was actually a documentary; Blackfish has more in common with a psychological thriller than a basic doc, and watching it will not only make you question going to Sea World again, but ponder about humanity’s relationship with all other species of strong intelligence.  Need more convincing?  Read my review here.  It’s a great watch, but not for the faint of heart. – Daniel Johnson

Documentaries rarely make it on my Top 10 list of any year, but Blackfish forced it’s way to the top with its incredible story and cringe-worthy facts about the brutal life of killer whales at Seaworld. An absolute must see, Blackfish is packed from beginning to end with facts that make me question the value of entertainment in animal confinement locations such as Seaworld. Seaworld lovers may not want to watch this, but if America faces the facts, hopefully corrupt places like Seaworld will shut down for business, giving these creatures the free life they all deserve. – Kevin Taylor

Read our review.

 

9. Mud

Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Reese Witherspoon, Jacob Lofland, Michael Shannon

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A coming-of-age tale set in America’s heartland, this Mark Twain inspired fable is an old-school all-ages family adventure filled with mystery, treasure, romance, heart, and real danger. – Brian Rudloff

I’m a sucker for coming-of-age tales, and this independent feature about two Arkansas boys who find a strange man living alone on an island on the river was full of wonderful acting and storytelling.  It’s very simple filmmaking, but layered with strong symbolism (those snakes!) and themes about temptation, right-and-wrong, and the purity (or lack thereof) of true love.  McConaughey is great as expected, but it’s newcomer Tye Sheridan as the main character Ellis who really anchors the film in one of the best child performances I’ve seen in quite a while. – Daniel Johnson

Unfolding less like a film and more like a Great American Novel, Mud is a slow-burning and atmospheric, moving at the pace the rural southern life it’s depicting. While Matthew McConaughey shines in the title role, displaying his patented charisma as a de facto deity figure, Tye Sheridan is called upon to carry the film as the hopeful, Romantic and naive Ellis and brings heartbreaking range to a young man who desperately wants to put his faith in something despite getting consistently kicked to the dirt. – Nick DeLorenzo

Read our review.

 

8. The Wolf of Wall Street

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey

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“My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.”
From the moment I saw this trailer, it immediately became my highest anticipated film of the year. The combination of DiCaprio and Scorcese haven’t steered me wrong, and this is no exception. The fact that The Wolf of Wall Street ended up being a vastly different movie than I had conjured up in my head makes this movie that much better. The portrayal of who had to be amongst the highest percentiles of Type A personalities and the downfall that was his obsession with the desire to simply have more and never stop was a fascinating thing to watch. Every performance was also among the best of the year, including Jonah Hill’s, who proved that the brilliance exhibited in Moneyball wasn’t a fluke. – JC De Leon

A Scorsese picture through and through, for better or worse, Wolf is a delicious overindulgence of douchebag debauchery. DiCaprio adds arguably the best performance of his career to an impeccable resume, showcasing a shockingly brilliant aptitude for black comedy. The stakes never get as high as in Scorsese’s classics, and the film has no business clocking in at three hours long, butWolf’s highs are so high that its flaws are easily forgiven. – Nick DeLorenzo

Read our review.

 

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The Author

Kristal Bailey

Kristal Bailey

With a soft spot for movies that fall into the “So Bad They’re Good” category, Kristal Bailey regularly watches B-movies, 80s comedies, and sci-fi from the 50s and 60s. She also refuses to grow up if that means she has to hide her love for Disney and Pixar films.

In her free time, she enjoys reading graphic novels or books that are soon to be turned into movies, watching hours and hours of television, and spending way too much time on Twitter.