The Top Ten Films of 2013: Broken Hearts and Astounding Journeys

Compiling top-ten lists of films at the end of the year is one of those completely subjective things people and publications do. When done right, they’re hopefully ways to expose audiences to films they may not have seen. While there are certainly arguments to be made for some other films released in 2013, here are ten films – listed in alphanumeric order – that we recommend you watch if you haven’t seen them already.

12 Years a Slave

Of the films that made this list, 12 Years a Slave is the one that makes for the most uncomfortable viewing. We’re talking about a film with violence that makes Django Unchained look tame by comparison, without any of the satisfaction of seeing horrible people getting their due. This is a grueling view of slavery in the United States, and how it was allowed to prosper in American society for so long.

Availability: Playing in theaters now.

Blue is the Warmest Color

The French title, La vie d’Adèle, is a more accurate description of this film, a story about a young girl whose first experience in love involves an older, female art student. It’s a complex, deep look at the realities and fantasies of love, from the mundane to the erotically charged moments. With a three hour running time, Blue is the Warmest Color unwinds at a pace that allows characters to grow naturally. And yes, that includes the sex scenes that earned the film an NC-17 rating stateside.

Availability: Available on Blu-ray Feb. 11.

Don Jon

We should hope that more former child stars end up like Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In Don Jon, which finds Gordon-Levitt as star, writer and director, audiences were given one of the freshest, most charming romantic comedies – with a nice dose of reality – the silver screen’s seen in the past several years. He’s ably helped by a brassy turn by Scarlett Johansson as the object of Jon’s affection.

Availability: Now available on Blu-ray, iTunes, and VOD.

Gravity

There were plenty of films worth seeing this year, but if any film made a case for the importance of theatrical exhibition, it was Gravity. On a technological level, the work done by director Alfonso Cuarón to create a realistic version of space is a marvel. What helped turned it into a box office phenomenon, though, was the emotional weight of the story, sold in large part by Sandra Bullock’s most effective role to date.

Availability: Playing in theaters now. Available on Blu-ray Feb. 25.

Her

On the surface, the story of Her sounds a bit silly: a man falls in love with a highly advanced operating system. As it turns out, though, director Spike Jonze (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) has created a love story that’s incredibly relevant for today. The film’s central message: learning to live through heartbreak and coming out better for it. It’s a message that should resonate with anyone who’s ever experienced a bad relationship, romantic or otherwise, and in Her, it’s told with warmth, humor, and not an ounce of cynicism.

Availability: Opens in Atlanta Friday, Jan. 10.

Nebraska

Road trips are a cinematic staple, but with Nebraska, director Alexander Payne delivers a charming, intimate look at the relationship between an uncontrollable father who’s convinced he’s won a million dollar sweepstakes and the son who reluctantly agrees to drive him to Nebraska to claim his reward. Will Forte, best known for his absurd Saturday Night Live characters, pulls off understated surprisingly well here, but the cast standout is June Squibb as the mother with an unfiltered mouth.

Availability: Playing in theaters now.

Philomena

The promotional materials for this film suggested a humorous journey, and there is some amusement the film derives from Judi Dench’s Philomena Lee, but Philomena is an affecting drama made all the more heartbreaking by its basis in reality. Philomena follows a woman forced decades earlier to give her son up for adoption by the Catholic church, and the journey she took with BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith to find him.

Availability: Playing in theaters now.

What Maisie Knew

Based on the Henry James story of the same name from 1897, What Maisie Knew tells the story of Maisie (newcomer Onata Aprile), a young girl caught in-between her two self-involved parents, who use the girl as a bargaining tool in their selfish attempts to one-up each other. Even as it hits on the same emotional notes throughout its runtime, watching Maisie’s increasing understanding of her parents faults makes What Maisie Knew one of the more emotionally devastating films of the year.

Availability: Now available on Blu-ray, iTunes, and VOD.

The World’s End

Director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg & Nick Frost reunite for their third film, following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Where the comedy in earlier films was simply fun, though, the age of the cast members and the themes of growing up vs. holding onto one’s youth make The World’s End hit harder. Don’t worry, though; the fun and absurdity are still there, in spectacular fashion.

Availability: Now available on Blu-ray, iTunes, Redbox, and VOD.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Of all the Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio collaborations, The Wolf of Wall Street is by far the most absurd. Based on a memoir by Jordan Belfour, The Wolf of Wall Street follows a crooked banker’s debaucherous rise and fall in the 80s and 90s. And boy, does Scorsese show the debauchery – sex, drugs, obscene wealth; they’re all on display. But as much as the decadence is played for laughs, there’s also a chilling message about the ability for excess wealth to corrupt.

Availability: Playing in theaters now.

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Want More?

If you’re looking for more films to watch, here are some other films that just missed our list:

  • American Hustle
  • Before Midnight
  • Blue Jasmine
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • The Place Beyond the Pines
  • Mud
  • Rush
  • Short Term 12
  • Side Effects
  • Stoker
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