To clarify, this is my top ten today at this very moment. It’s going to change. Even as I wrote out the below list, I was dramatically shifting these worthy films up and down. For one thing I want — no, need — to see all of these again and again. Because the consensus this time is right on. 2013 was a fantastic year at the movies. Dozens delighted me (and I’ll shine a light on some of those at a later date) but these ten are the ones that I feel most confident will stand the test of time.
10. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
Sure, the last sequence is a tour de force and leaves you a wreck, but that’s only because the first 120 minutes are absorbing and tense almost beyond belief. There were a lot of riveting rides at the movies this year; Paul Greengrass’ was something special.
9. PAIN & GAIN
So much sweat, so much stupidity. Following so many hard-bodied meat-headed imbeciles shouldn’t be so much fun.
8. AMERICAN HUSTLE
I love these characters. And so clearly does David O. Russell, hitting on all cylinders once again. A true ensemble without a dud in the group. Come for the hair and the plunging necklines, stay for the scams and remember the indelible performances.
7. BEFORE MIDNIGHT
A memory film if there ever was one. I can’t think of another movie that so took advantage of our fondness and nostalgia for characters from so many years before. Love, loss, frustration, and most importantly, love again. It’s all there.
6. THIS IS THE END
The funniest movie of the year. By a mile. It could have turned into a self-indulgent in-joke — and maybe it still is to a degree — but it’s also consistently hilarious and ballsy in the best way a comedy can be.
5. 12 YEARS A SLAVE
If the goal of film is to transport you and expand your mind in some way, mission accomplished for the supremely talent filmmaker Steve McQueen, plunging the audience into the shoes of Solomon Northrup (played with dignity and grace by Chiwetel Ejiofor) as he endures a nightmarish existence. It may be easier to look away, but you’d be missing some of the finest moviemaking in years.
4. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
The Coen brothers might be the closest thing to a sure bet to making my top ten list but in all honesty the first time I saw their latest I was underwhelmed. Cut to a second viewing and repeated obsessive listening to a beautiful soundtrack, and I’m in love with it all. It just gets richer and richer.
It’s been a year filled with love stories of every conceivable stripe (a few are on this list) but leave it to Spike Jonze’s wholly unconventional one to resonate the most profoundly. Remarkable performances from Joaquin Phoenix and yes, Scarlett Johansson, break your heart even as you’re rooting for a love affair that can’t possibly work. Can it? Should it?
2. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Of course, the ultimate movie about excess would be too long for some, but I ate up this delicious black comedy, marveled at Leo’s bombastic performance and knew immediately that this would be a film I would come back to again and again.
An emotional and visceral experience unparalleled by anything else I encountered in a movie theater this year. You’re wrung out by the end and not sure where the tears came from. It’s not a theme park ride. It’s a contemplative triumph of technology, performance, music, and story. Everything a movie can be at its best. A clear classic.