ByAlisha Grauso, writer at
Editor-at-large here at Movie Pilot. Nerd out with me on Twitter, comrades: @alishagrauso
Alisha Grauso

As 2013 draws to an end, the Moviepilot staff writers decided to jump on the year-end round-up train and share our favorite films of 2013.

Alisha Grauso


Hugh Jackman has had better days in 'Prisoners'

It could be argued that 2013 was a down year for film offerings, with so many highly-vaunted blockbusters crashing and burning in an epic pile-up of mediocrity, audience disinterest and overinflated predictions, leaving nothing in their collective wake but burning debris and pointing fingers attached to flummoxed studio executives. But Prisoners, from director Denis Villeneuve, was a quietly ambitious work sandwiched amongst the clanging bells-and-whistles of the end of the summer season.

They key to any good film is the acting, and the cast was more than up to the task: Each and every one of the characters were fascinating studies of contrasts: A calm, keep-it-together exterior that belied incredible internal turmoil and tension. This was a recurring theme of the film: Being able to function normally in society while hiding dark secrets and simmering rage within. Likewise, Roger Deakins' stunning cinematography captured the bleakness and desperation of the film, along with Johan Johannson's moody score.

While Prisoners may not have been 2013’s best film, for Villeneuve’s first attempt at an English language film, it exceeded all my expectations as the film that surprised me the most.

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Scott Pierce

12 Years a Slave

Was '12 Years a Slave' 2013's most powerful film?

A man is lured by the promise of something great. He is drugged and wakes up shackled. His previous life - one of privilege and freedom - is gone. He is tortured, physically and emotionally, again and again. This could be a sequel to an Eli Roth horror story of frat boys promised sex at a Czech hostel, but it’s not. It’s the painfully real story of Solomon Northrup, a free black man who takes a job as a fiddler from two untrustworthy men. As a result, he is sold into slavery in 1841, renamed Platt, and held captive for over a decade.

The true elegance comes from McQueen’s ability to capture pure emotions that stretch from the darkest depths of despair, from the slaves to the slave owners, to the initial moment of Solomon’s healing process. Even though I can’t imagine scars as deep as Solomon’s ever healing completely, there’s a sense of his place as an American hero through this film and how it’s reintroduced Northrup’s own 1853 memoir into the cultural consciousness after it was overshadowed by the likes of Uncle Tom’s Cabin that came out the year before. Northrup’s story - as it’s told in this film and the discovery of his abolitionist activism has been enlightening.

As enlightening is the gnawing annoyance that this film was made due to producer ‘s involvement. I’m thankful that his celebrity helped tell this story, but it also should have Hollywood staring in the mirror.

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Matt Carter

Pacific Rim

'Pacific Rim' Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: Jaeger vs. Kaiju

There was a point early on in ‘s robot vs. monsters smash-a-thon when Gipsey Danger - backed by a industrial rock soundtrack - emerges from the broiling ocean like Goya’s Colussus. The two pilots responsible for bestowing life into the hulking machine were moving with a balletic symmetry that only siblings and those that are drift compatible possess.

And then Gipsey Danger upper-cut a monster in the face.

Now, I know that Pacific Rim was not the best movie of 2013, but there’s something irresistible about watching robots and monsters going claw-to-fist and it is without doubt the most fun I’ve had watching a blockbuster since last year's The Avengers.

Pacific Rim was important because it re-energized the blockbuster as art form. Del Toro is an auteur who crafted a universe with an honesty and humor that is becoming increasingly rare these days. There was none of the miss-placed earnestness and ridiculous religious iconography that plagued Man of Steel or the cynicism and crassness that pours out of every Michael Bay movie. Pacific Rim was a return to the old-fashioned ideal of blockbuster as pure, cynical-free entertainment. Del Toro realizes the ridiculousness of the concept of robots fighting monsters but he invites the audience to share the joke. And because we’re part of this shared experience, we can forgive the occasional misstep and celebrate wildly when they get it right.

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Sarah Gibson

Captain Phillips

'Captain Phillips' went all serious business, seriously fast

Without meaning to sound too much like the hard-to-please film cynic that I actually am, I was expecting my theater outing to see Captain Phillips to be pretty…predictable. I anticipated that, in giving over the next 2 hours of my life to Paul Greengrass‘ real-life piracy drama, I would be up against another infuriatingly bad movie akin to the mess that was 2012’s real-life Bin Laden-ization, Zero Dark Thirty: a morally reprehensible piece of cinema which was unashamedly one-sided in showing the plight of America against the barbarian bad guys.

Tom Hanks‘ tangle with Somali pirates, however, was superb. The story, which centers on Captain Richard Phillips and the first American cargo ship to be attacked by pirates in two hundred years, was a topical, nail-biting dramatization of the 2009 hijacking with just the right balance of political commentary and theatrical gusto with some outstanding acting talent on board (not to mention the extraordinary cinematography of the ship and the lifeboat with a claustrophobic closeness that evolves into terror as the action progresses).

Throughout the movie I kept telling myself that I know what’s going to happen (and that includes an extremely strong drink afterwards!), but the movie tests us and then again we’re not sure. Like everything else in the flick, when the ending comes, the shock and relief feel real. For a film where you go in knowing how it ends, the intensity is pretty astonishing.

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Mark Newton


'Gravity': Someone should have probably run the tethers through quality control.

Usually I’m the kind of person who hates movies which overly rely on special effects and action scenes (yes, I'm looking at you, Michael Bay), however for Gravity, this reliance on spectacle and visuals just seems perfectly apt. The Earth is a constant backdrop to the action, and it looks absolutely beautiful, the main focal point of Gravity. It acts as a constant dichotomy to the cold, harsh, unforgiving nature of space. It looks warm and cosy, recognisable and safe, close but also extremely far away.

Fundamentally, it is this simple visual brilliance which elevates Gravity beyond the facile, soulless pyro-farts which are guffed out by Hollywood on a regular basis. It’s not something which is particularly clever, artistic or revolutionary, but even though you know you’re sitting in a movie theater, you still feel embraced by awe just as Loren Acton must have done — except you’ve also got popcorn and a massive jug of Fanta.

Take that experience and throw on a competent and functional story and what you get is a movie I’m rather proud to call my favorite of 2013.

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Eszter Simor

The Act of Killing

Joshua Oppenheimer: The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing is not only the best film of 2013, but also the most horrifying. It is a movie with overwhelming force; it’s shocking, provocative and unsettling. Yet it is not a horror, but a documentary: a film that follows the life of mass murderers. It is clear from the very first second that The Act Of Killing is not an ordinary documentary: in a surprisingly kitschy and surreal opening setting, colourfully dressed women dance forward from the mouth of a huge fish. It is not only a movie that documents its protagonists’ everyday lives, but with a wonderfully creative twist, it also documents their imaginations.

What is truly wonderful about the movie is that it not only exposes something alarming about the human nature (that most of us probably would even prefer not to know), but through its ‘film in a film’ method, it highlights the amazing power of cinema. The moving image can be used as a mirror in which every viewer can recognize themselves and dawn on shocking truths.

The Act of Killing not only authentically unfolds painful secrets in a nation’s history, but unveils the true function of art: it invites the viewers to think and to discuss. It is brutally thought-provoking and reveals the unbelievable power of cinema and that is why it is my most favourite film of 2013.

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Jancy Richardson-Dawes

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Katniss is ready to smoke the competition in 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'

For me, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was the best movie of the year. It wasn't the strongest year for film, and there were others I really enjoyed. Spring Breakers, Inside Llewyn Davis and Evil Dead were fantastic - in fact, horror had a better year than film in general - but Catching Fire was the most all-round fun, moving and exciting movie of the year.

Despite a few changes to the book and some bizarre moments, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was really set aflame by one singular force: Katniss Everdeen. Jennifer Lawrence‘s bold young woman stood for everything I love to see in a movie heroine, and strong women everywhere.

I felt that Catching Fire suffered a little because of all the exposition: it had a lot to explain/set up for Mockingjay. However, what it lost in tautness and pace, it gained in emotional depth. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just remembered Rue’s face and I have to go sob quietly and watch cute cat videos. Happy 2014!

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Abi Toll

A Field in England

'A Field in England': Weird, tripped-out, and wonderful

It was during Berlin Fantasy Film Festival 2013, that I watched the newest Ben Wheatley film A Field In England. The film stars Reece Shearsmith and Julian Barratt as soldiers who desert the clamour of the English Civil War. Shortly after, however, they are duly seized by a tyrannical alchemist; played by a bewitching Michael Smiley who forces them to search for treasure.

With expectations already firmly established upon entering the auditorium, following the macabre Kill List, Sightseers and Down Terrace- let's just say that soon enough, they were completely obliterated. What came next was 90 minutes of sublime black and white cinematography, decorous freeze-frames and a score which slipped into a gloriously tripped-out sonic montage; comfortably affirming Ben Wheatley‘s position among contemporary auteurs: Jim Jarmusch, Lars von Trier and Michael Haneke.

Be it for love or hate, A Field In England sees Wheatley join a canon of artists and writers who have historically taken inspiration from the sublimity of the English countryside, from the celebrated poet William Blake to the pioneering artworks of J.M.W Turner. Viewing A Field In England is a powerful sensory experience. You can almost feel the squelching mud beneath your boots, the sharp meadow grass scratching at your ankles and oh yes, the euphoric sense of discombobulation which all coalesce in a brilliant and immersive way; somehow providing an overwhelming sense of home.

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Jordan Leech

Blue Jasmine

Kate Blanchett in 'Blue Jasmine': Her eyes also shoot lasers

Woody Allen’s latest film, Blue Jasmine is my favourite film of 2013, and the reason centers mostly on Cate Blanchett and the performance of her character, Jasmine.

Simply put, her portrayal of Jasmine was stellar. Cate Blanchett wonderfully played a woman teetering on the brink of sanity. One moment, she is all smiles, fancy clothes, beautifully put together, and as charming as one would expect a rich Manhattan socialite to be. The next, her makeup is all askew, she has sweat marks, fumbling for xanax, gulping down vodka, staring off into space, and ultimately, speaking to herself as she lives in her memories. The contrast between both states, both physically and emotionally, bring very real tension and even shock to the viewer. We pull for her, but inside we know there are some serious flaws within, waiting to be released and unravel her attempts to reconstruct herself. This makes some scenes very difficult to watch.

Perhaps it is just difficult to watch someone be in such a state in their life, but I think it is Woody Allen‘s character and Blanchett’s performance that make her so sympathetic and inescapably likable. Her portrayal was that of a sensitive and fragile woman who for some reason had an aura of innocence around her. She does many unkind, and often simply pathetic things, but Jasmine somehow wins us over, or at least brings us to pity her.

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Tino Jochimsen

Inside Llewyn Davis

Oscar Issac strums a tune in 'Inside Llewyn Davis'

Inside Llewyn Davis is a biopic about the fictional opening act of Bob Dylan. It’s not a movie about Dylan, the man who succeeded in changing the face of folk music and molded it in his own, unique design, mind you. It’s a movie about someone who was unable to do just that. On the stage sits Llewyn Davis, as played by Oscar Isaac, who sings his heart out and will nevertheless be forgotten.

Isaac’s performance is pitch-perfect throughout the film, but during the full rendition of the song it becomes heartbreaking (I truly resent it when somebody has that many talents!). As with all the other songs performed in the movie Joel and Ethan Coen allow you to take the whole thing in. No cutting away, no montage: It’s just Llewyn Davis crooning his heart out.

When the titular singer ends his final performance with the words “That’s all I got,” that’s not meant strictly as a statement concerning the lack of further song.

What he got might not be enough to become Bob Dylan. But it sure suffices for rendering him one of the greatest characters in the Coen brother pantheon.

That’s an awful lot.

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Tom Cowie

This Is the End

All Hell (literally) breaks loose in 'This Is the End'

Simply put, This Is the End is one of the funniest movies of 2013. I left the theater laughing so hard that my sides felt ready to split. I laughed SO hard that my abdominal muscles received such a workout, that I must have resembled a Terminator era Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, this is a big deal for me as I’m a pretty steely movie watcher. The majority of comedies I watch, at most, garner a silent internal chuckle.

This is a testament to how genuinely hilarious This is the End is. Every scene involving Michael Cera is comedy gold. In fact, every celebrity cameo, of which there are many, works because the movie is so unusual and unexpected. When you see Channing Tatum in a gimp mask, its still funny but the atmosphere surrounding the movie makes it not so unbelievable. I also think that This is the End has the most dick jokes in it than any other film ever made. Tatum in a gimp mask aside, the way that This is the End can descend into hilarious absurdity and still retain its structure and narrative is a testament to how great this film is. Both making their directorial debuts, Rogen and Evan Goldberg direct the movie brilliantly as they both allow the horror and the comedy to mix without compromising the movie’s momentum.

Or it might be great just because of all the penis jokes.

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Karly Rayner

Spring Breakers

There was no shortage of bikinis and selfies in 'Spring Breakers'

When the lurid trailer for Spring Breakers first burnt itself into my retinas I dismissed the movie as a feature length Flo Rida video with more tits and Selena Gomez. While my initial assessment may have been correct, I totally underestimated my levels of enthusiasm for a 94 minute rap video.

Spring Breakers looks like the bastard fruit of La Chapelle, pervy uncle Terry and MTV’s collective loins. The whole film pulses with a vivid florescent glow and each shot is designed to ooze pure unadulterated sex into your dilated eyeballs. The sleazy, over-saturated look of this Harmony Korine masterpiece literally had me rubbing my thighs with glee whilst periodically shouting “This is so good!” and, I’m a straight female.

Spring Breakers might initially present itself as a sordid teen exploitation fest, but when you break through the incandescent candy crust, a searing examination of identity, gender and unstable personalities lies beneath the polished surface.

Read the full story here.

Agree with our choices? Think we're hitting the egg nog a little too much? What was your favorite? Let's hear it in the comments.


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