Wednesday, 25 December 2013 13:23 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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Greetings “ROGUE warriors.”

As the end of the year is fast approaching, it’s time to look back at the films of 2013 that contributed to another great year at the movies! 

We’ve seen important dramas based on true stories (12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips), offbeat comedies (Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska), unusual romantic comedies (Before Midnight, Her), new projects from legendary filmmakers (The Wolf of Wall Street, Blue Jasmine), impressive independent films (Short Term 12, Fruitvale Station), gritty crime dramas (The SweeneyOut of the FurnaceAmerican Hustle) groundbreaking 3D (Gravity, Pacific Rim), wonderful animation (Free Birds, Frozen) fascinating documentaries (Stories We Tell, This American Journey), fast speed entertainment (RushFast & Furious 6) ass kicking martial arts movies (Man of Tai Chi, Only God Forgives), Marvel superheroes (Iron Man 3The Wolverine, Thor: The Dark World), new installments of popular franchises (Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), remakes (Evil Dead, Carrie, Oldboy), prequels (Oz the Great and Powerful), and the triumphant return of an iconic hero … Superman (Man of Steel)!

The following is a look back at my ten favorite films of 2013. It’s important to note that at the time of this publication, I have seen almost every movie released in 2013 with the exception of Philomena, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, 47 Ronin, and Grudge Match. That being said, the list compiled below is based on the movies that I did see this year, and which of those were my favorites overall. I’m not necessarily saying that these are the ten best films of the year, but in my humble opinion, they are the ten that I enjoyed the most. 

However, honorable mention goes to Short Term 12, Dallas Buyers Club, Oldboy, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Stories We Tell, Man of Tai Chi, This American Journey, Pacific Rim, and A Place Beyond the Pines, all of which came very close to making the final cut.  

IAR’s Top Ten Films of 2013

10) Before Midnight

The third film in director Richard Linklater, and actors/writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply’s Before trilogy is certainly their crowning achievement. Following the events of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Before Midnight takes a look at the couple that many of us grew up with. I first saw Before Sunrise, the story of two twenty-something aged people meeting and falling in love, when I was in my early ‘20s. It’s sequel, Before Sunset, dealt with the couple reuniting in their early ‘30s, which I watched when I was around the same age. Now approaching my ‘40s, with Before Midnight I had the pleasure of watching a cinematic couple that I’ve practically grown up with now dealing with many of the same issues that I’m going through in my own life. Part of the appeal of the Before trilogy is that for many of us we have grown up with Jessie and Celine, and for those who haven’t, there is plenty in this film to relate to such as dealing with marriage, family, career, and raising kids. Director Linklater does an excellent job of letting the beautiful moments that he wrote with his two leads unfold before our eyes in an effortless way. Both Hawke and Deply fully realize the characters that audiences have followed for years, yet bring a maturity, wisdom and depth to them that can only be achieved with age. 

9) Her

If Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a romantic comedy … it would be Her. Writer and director Spike Jonze’s new film takes a look at modern relationships and how technology has changed the way we communicate with the opposite sex. The filmmaker creates a not-so futuristic Los Angeles that resembles our current one, but with more technology and faster public transport. Jonze’s futuristic vision also impacts men’s fashion, as everyone dresses more like Spike with high-waist pants and buttoned shirts. The film centers on an isolated man named Theodore, played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix. Heartbroken, Theodore is recovering from his divorce and soon falls in genuine love with his new advanced operating system “Samantha” (skillfully voiced by Scarlett Johansson). On the surface, a “boy meets iPhone” movie is a bit unusual, but the result is a romantic comedy more relatable to today’s audience then other recent films in the genre. 

8) Rush

To be honest, I have never been a huge fan of director Ron Howard. Until now, I thought his best film was the under appreciated Backdraft. But that all changed with Rush, a dazzling movie set in the ‘1970s and revolving around the world of Formula One racecar driving. Howard brilliantly captures the complex race sequences and brings energy and life to every scene. The film tells the true story of the rivalry between two remarkable drivers, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). Hemsworth’s performance is electrifying and shows that he has much more to offer the cinema than just playing Thor. While Bruhl’s role introduces him to a mainstream audience, and also achieves one of the best supporting performances of the year. 

7) Nebraska

While it may not be director Alexander Payne’s best film (his high bar was set with the one-two punch of Sideways and The Descendants), it is still one of the best films of the year. The black and white, comedy/drama about an elderly father and his grown son’s road trip struck a chord with me personally, as I’m sure it did with anyone who has a close relationship to one or both of their parents. I lost my beloved father earlier this year and the film was often extremely tough for me to watch, but at the same time, very touching, funny, and familiar. Payne mixes the right amount of humor and sentiment, as he always does. Veteran actor Bruce Dern gives the best performance of his illustrious career as Woody Grant, while actress June Squibb gives an equally impressive turn as his wife Kate. Surprisingly, comedian Will Forte is very solid as their son David, and the film also features standout appearances from Bob Odenkirk, and Stacey Keach

6) Iron Man 3

The best superhero movie of the year, period! Where many franchises loose steam by the third movie, Iron Man 3 did two things right. One, rather than making a direct sequel to the underwhelming Iron Man 2, they examined what made the character great in the first place and capitalized on how the he had grown in the aftermath of the events of The Avengers. Two, they hired Shane Black, a director/co-writer who brought his own unique style of filmmaking to the project. If you loved Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, then you’ll really LOVE Iron Man 3! In fact, the film felt more like a Shane Black movie that just happened to have Iron Man in it, than an Iron Man movie that Shane Black was hired to direct. From the lead character’s voice over narration, to its flashback storytelling, Christmas time theme, and buddy-cop movie comedic moments, this was a Shane Black film through and through. Robert Downey Jr. once again proves that only he can play Tony Stark on screen, and the actor brought more depth and honesty to the character than ever before. While some hardcore comic book fans were not amused by the direction in which Black and his co-writer Drew Pearce took Iron Man’s main rogue The Mandarin (both frighteningly and hilariously played by Sir Ben Kingsley), I can appreciate why it perfectly fit the tone of this film and threw a curveball to any comic book fans who thought they knew what to expect. Finally, the movie’s end credit scene served for a great laugh, as well as an unforgettable Marvel cameo. 

5) Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen’s 2005 movie Match Point led off a new chapter in the legendary director's career, with a series of films that are NOT set in New York. Since then almost all of his projects have been set in other cities including London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, and now San Francisco. While some flashbacks do take place in New York and the Hamptons, Blue Jasmines San Francisco setting breathes new life into the iconic director’s work. This recent period in Allen’s career has included some excellent films such as Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Midnight in Paris, but I believe Blue Jasmine capitalizes on what Allen does best: showcasing an exceptional actress in an eccentric role. Like Mia Farrow and Diane Keaton before her, Cate Blanchett gives the performance of her career in one of her absolute best roles. Playing a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown after her cheating and embezzling husband (Alec Baldwin) looses their fortune; Blanchett brings an uneasy grace to her character. Allen also has a knack for unusual casting choices and none can be more unusual than casting controversial comedian Andrew Dice Clay in a pivotal role. The result: a career transforming performance that not only deserves Oscar consideration, but also makes us look past Clay’s former dirty nursery rhyme reputation. 

4) The Wolf of Wall Street

One part Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, and two parts Goodfellas and Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street reminds us all why Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time! The legendary director is best known for his projects that center around corruption and organized crime in New York, so it only makes sense that eventually he would take on Wall Street. The result is a vibrant, electrifying, entertaining, and surprisingly hilarious film based on the memoir of the same name by Jordan Belfort. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a powerhouse performance as Belfort, and carries every scene he’s in, including a series of speeches that would even make Gordon Gekko envious. Jonah Hill is perfect as Belfort’s hapless sidekick, as is the rest of the film’s supporting cast including Matthew McConaughey (in a brief but important role), Jean Dujardin, Kyle Chandler, and Rob Reiner. Special credit goes to relative newcomer Margot Robbie who gives a stunning big screen debut as Belfort’s second wife Naomi. 

3) American Hustle

Speaking of Scorsese, director David O. Russell must have been channeling him a bit to deliver his latest film American Hustle, which is like a mash-up of Goodfellas, Casino, and The Color of Money. Russell successfully orchestrates the crime film genre with stunning success and creates a vibrant movie with one of the best soundtracks of the year. The film is a reunion of sorts, with Russell re-teaming with his Silver Linings Playbook cast (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro) and two of the stars of The Fighter (Christian Bale, and Amy Adams). The movie revolves around an ambitious FBI agent (Cooper) that recruits a con artist (Bale) and his girlfriend (Adams) to take down a crooked Politian (Jeremy Renner), only to have the con man’s unstable wife (Lawrence) jeopardize the operation. American Hustle offers all the twists and turns that you would expect from a film of this nature, and Russell executes them with accuracy. Bale gives another commanding performance playing the eccentric, overweight con artist, while Adams, Cooper and Renner are equally good in their roles. But it is Jennifer Lawrence who once again gives an Oscar-worthy performance in what would otherwise be a small and thankless role. Also, keep an eye out for De Niro in a cameo performance that only the two-time Academy Award-winner could play. 

2) The Sweeney

To be fair, technically The Sweeney was released in the UK in 2012, but since it didn’t open theatrically in the US until February of 2013, it qualifies for our list. The film is a big screen adaption of the classic British cop series of the same name that focuses on the Flying Squad, a branch of the metropolitan police known as The Sweeney. Updated for present day, writer/director Nick Love skillfully delivers one of the best British crime films in recent years. He beautifully frames London as a gorgeous metropolitan city with a fierce criminal underground. Ray Winstone gives an outstanding performance as the teams lead detective inspector Jack Regan, a cop who plays by his own rules and is willing to break a few of them in the name of justice. Regan is having an ongoing affair with one of the cops in his unit (Hayley Atwell), which becomes complicated when her estranged husband (Steven Mackintosh), who is also the head of internal affairs, begins investigating Regan’s squad. During the investigation, Regan puts his team and his own reputation on the line to go after his long-time adversary (Paul Anderson), who seems to have come out of retirement for one more bank robbery. Winstone is in top form playing a character that is very complicated, both hero and villain at the same time, similar to Michael Chiklis’ role on The Shield. He commands the screen with the strength of an angry pit-bull, while still showing the characters own vulnerabilities. Mackintosh is the perfect foil to Reagan, and Atwell is exquisite as the love interest caught between them. Rapper turned actor Ben Drew (Plan B) gives a very strong performance as Regan’s protégé and right-hand man Detective George Carter. And Homeland fans will be pleased to see the great Damian Lewis in a small but pivotal role as Regan’s boss, Chief Inspector Frank Haskins. Lewis is very controlled, never letting the audience know exactly who’s side he is own, yet at the same time always having Regan’s back. 

1) Inside Llewyn Davis

I love the Coen brothers but for me their films can be hit or miss. For every classic movie they have made like Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men, they have helmed artistic failures like The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Ladykillers, and A Serious Man. But the sibling directors have out done themselves with Inside Llewyn Davis, which is a true masterpiece of filmmaking and one of the best movies of their distinguished career. The story follows the title character, an early ‘60s folksinger remarkably played by Oscar Isaac in a career defining performance, as he stumbles through his life in New York’s West Village. The movie delivers everything you would expect from a Coen brothers outing, unique comedic beats and all, while still showcasing the maturity that the two filmmakers have gained over their prolific career. While Isaac’s performance is definitely the highlight, the film includes terrific supporting roles from Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Ethan Phillips, and Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham. Special credit also goes to the movie’s feline performer, who in his own unique way gave a remarkable performance. Of course no Coen brothers movie would be complete with out an appearance by John Goodman (who is at his best since playing Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski), and music arranged by T-Bone Burnett. In fact, while I would not categorize the film as a musical, it does include another terrific soundtrack and some of the best musical moments found in a movie this year. I truly hope Isaac earns an Academy-Award nomination this year for his role as Llewyn Davis, he certainly deserves it for not only a fantastic portrayal of this lost soul, but also for effortlessly performing the film’s moving musical sequences. I also think the film deserves nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and of course Best Picture. 

To watch IAR's Best Videos 2013, please click here

To read IAR's Best of 2013 review, please click here

To read IAR's Oscar Predictions 2014, please click here

From everyone here at IAR … have a safe and happy New Year and we'll see you back in 2014!

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