The Best and Worst Movies of 2013


There were some good movies in 2013. There were also some bad movies. In short, 2013 was like a lot of years: it had good things and bad things. Here are the top good things, in my estimation, according to me, based on my opinion. This list is final and authoritative and objectively accurate beyond dispute.



1. “12 Years a Slave”
As harrowing as this account of slavery is, it’s so well-made that I was eager (maybe that’s not the right word) to watch it again. It has an undercurrent of hope running through it, too. This is exactly the sort of thing we mean when we talk about the arts reflecting, ennobling, and strengthening a culture, forcing us to reckon with the past in a way that few films have.


2. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Like so many of the Coen brothers’ films, this ambling tale of a folk singer trying to make it big in New York in 1961 is very good on the first viewing, excellent on the second. It’s sad, funny, slightly mystical, and enhanced by lead actor Oscar Isaac’s great musicianship as the title character learns what it means to be a struggling artist — and whether it’s worth all the trouble.


3. “Frances Ha”
Thanks to Greta Gerwig’s charming performance and Noah Baumbach’s assured direction, this could become the post-college-angst comedy of the ’10s. The reluctance to grow up; the feeling of betrayal as friends grow up ahead of you; the desire to live on irony and fun and being frustrated by the need to pay the bills: none of this is new in movies, of course. But Baumbach and Gerwig give it a graceful and poignantly funny new feel.


4. “Gravity”
No monsters or aliens in this sci-fi thriller — just Sandra Bullock and George Clooney struggling to survive in the vast, forbidding reaches of space. Director Alfonso Cuarón uses long, unbroken takes shot by a smoothly floating camera to eerily simulate the sensation of being adrift, with appropriate feelings of isolation and helplessness. Grading purely on technical craft alone, it’s easily the most impressive film of the year, and one of the few that demand to be seen on the biggest screen possible.


5. “Philomena”
Judi Dench searches for her long-lost son with the help of acerbic Steve Coogan. But this is no dim-witted “odd couple on a road trip” farce (though it is quite funny). Instead, it’s an endearing portrait of two approaches to life: the one where you forgive others for the harm they’ve done you, and the one where you hold onto your resentments. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to call your mom afterward.


6. “Short Term 12”
This tender, quiet film about a group home for at-risk teens is full of humanity and compassion — a soothing balm after a steady diet of raucous, bombastic fare. Brie Larson’s lead performance as a counselor whose life is almost as messed up as her kids’ lives are is wonderfully intimate and honest. Despite what sounds like bleak subject matter, the film is joyful and optimistic.


7. “All Is Lost”
Thousand-year-old Robert Redford leads this one-man show as an experienced yachtsman lost at sea. It’s simple, poetic, and gripping, almost dialogue-free, with the classic “man vs. nature” theme of an old adventure novel. Whether you see it as a metaphor for life or just a literal story of survival, it’s totally engrossing.


8. “NO”
This funny and satiric true story about Chilean political advertising in the late 1980s is surprisingly relevant to American politics in 2013. Using some of the actual TV ads from that era to add authenticity to his deliberately cheesy-’80s filming style, director Pablo Larraín proves that even local politics have universal applications. (If you’re Chilean, it probably resonates even more.)


9. “Stoker”
I was mesmerized by Park Chan-wook’s first English-language film, a stylish and macabre tale of a morbid teenage girl’s coming-of-age after the death of her father. Does “Stoker” have more style than substance? Almost certainly. But what style! You could turn the sound off and enjoy it purely on a visual level, what with the carefully composed shots, chilling images of violence, and demented Hitchcockian homages.


10. “Enough Said”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini are an unlikely pair in this sweet, funny romantic comedy that’s so good I don’t even want to besmirch it with the term “romantic comedy” (even though that’s what it is). The adorable lead performances more than compensate for a plot that has a hokey element to it.

You should also see these movies: “Blue Jasmine,” “Spring Breakers,” “About Time,” “Mud,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Her,” “The World’s End,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “The Attack,” “The History of Future Folk,” “Don Jon,” “Drinking Buddies,” “The Conjuring,” “At Any Price,” “Stories We Tell,” “Before Midnight,” “Captain Phillips”

I didn’t see these but am led to understand they are very good: “Leviathan,” “Drug War,” “Wadjda,” “Laurence Anyways,” “A Touch of Sin,” “The Great Beauty,” “Museum Hours,” “Computer Chess,” “The Hunt,” “Bastards”



1. “Grown Ups 2”
The next two films on this list are more incompetently made, but “Grown Ups 2” holds a special place in my bowels for being apathetic: by all appearances, Adam Sandler and his friends didn’t even try to make a good comedy.

2. “InAPPropriate Comedy”
Vince Offer the Sham-Wow guy obviously tried to make a good comedy; he just doesn’t know how to do it. Miserable.

3. “Argento’s Dracula”
The once-revered Italian horrormeister poops out a turd that anyone else would consider an embarrassment.

4. “Scary Movie 5”
Would you like to know the magic ingredient for spoofing movies? Imitate them, and add poop!

5. “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III”
Charlie Sheen basically plays himself. The mystery is why anyone thought this would be a selling point.

6. “Kick-Ass 2”
A repellant, distasteful sequel that has the gall to pretend it’s about the real-life consequences of violence. Escapist fantasy is fine, but don’t insult us by claiming to be realistic. (Being funny would help, too.)

7. “A Good Day to Die Hard”
The best “Die Hard” movie this year was called “White House Down.” The worst “Die Hard” movie was this brainless pile that should have gone straight to DVD.

8. “Beyond the Hills”
A punishing, interminable Romanian drama set at a convent, featuring dull dialogue and tedious pacing. I know that some people love this film, and more power to them. I hated it.

I didn’t see these but suspect they would have been contenders: “The Internship,” “The Smurfs 2,” “The Canyons,” “The Big Wedding,” “Battle of the Year,” “A Madea Christmas,” “The Host,” “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”



Shortest movie: “Solomon Grundy,” 75 minutes

Longest movie: “The Wolf of Wall Street,” 179 minutes

Shortest title: “42″

Longest title: “Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-in Movie”

Least enjoyable good movie: “12 Years a Slave”

Most enjoyable bad movie: “Getaway”

Movies in which a dog is killed: “The Hangover Part III,” “Sightseers,” “The Conjuring,” “Fruitvale Station,” “A Single Shot,” “We Are What We Are,” “A Haunted House” (We’re counting “Riddick,” too.)

Movies in which people wear face masks: “Pain & Gain,” “You’re Next,” “The Hangover Part III,” “The Purge,” “The East,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Only God Forgives,” “2 Guns,” “Passion,” “The Last Exorcism: Part II,” “Man of Tai Chi”

Movies in which a woman stabs her husband with a kitchen knife: “Side Effects,” “Safe Haven”

Movies in which the hero battles foes with a hammer: “Prisoners,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Oldboy”

Movies involving seafaring peril: “Kon-Tiki,” “A Hijacking,” “Captain Phillips,” “All is Lost,” “Leviathan,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Movies in which there’s some question of whether a young witch will turn out to be good or bad: “Beautiful Creatures,” “Oz the Great and Powerful,” “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”

Movies in which Alden Ehrenreich plays a high school student who gets romantic with a dark-haired, potentially lethal girl who’s the subject of rumors and gossip: “Beautiful Creatures,” “Stoker”

Movies in which a former Disney star puts a gun in a man’s mouth: Ryan Gosling in “The Place Beyond the Pines,” Vanessa Hudgens in “Spring Breakers”

Movies in which the president is held hostage and an enemy flag is placed atop the White House: “Olympus Has Fallen,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”

Movies in which a fictional U.S. president is a significant character: “Olympus Has Fallen,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” “White House Down,” “Iron Man 3″

Movies in which someone is bitten — or fears they will be bitten — by a snake: “Prince Avalanche,” “Mud,” “The Kings of Summer”

Movies featuring drug-fueled parties in gaudy Miami mansions: “Pain & Gain,” “Iron Man 3″

Movies in which young black men who sell weed for a living make plans to attend their mothers’ birthday parties: “Fruitvale Station,” “Gimme the Loot”

Movies with scenes set at Princeton University: “Admission,” “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”

Movies featuring comical references to waterboarding: “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” “Scary Movie 5,” “2 Guns,” “Kick-Ass 2″

Movies in which Air Force One is attacked while in flight: “Iron Man 3,” “White House Down”

Movies in which dangerous teenage girls play classical music on the piano: “Stoker,” “Byzantium”

Movies in which Saoirse Ronan is one of a pair of girls who kill people: “Violet & Daisy,” “Byzantium”

Movies in which Saoirse Ronan must live a life on the run: “The Host,” “How I Live Now,” “Byzantium”

Movies released on July 3 in which sharp-fanged, carnivorous rabbits appear: “The Lone Ranger,” “Despicable Me 2″

Movies in which people can see other people’s memories: “Pacific Rim,” “The Conjuring”

Spoof movies in which Lindsay Lohan plays herself and there’s a joke about her ankle monitor: “Scary Movie 5,” “InAPPropriate Comedy”

Coming-of-age comedies in which the protagonist’s mentor-like figure is an irresponsible man who manages (and lives at) a public swimming pool: “The Way Way Back,” “The To Do List”

Movies in which someone tries to extract information by playing Russian roulette with the gun aimed at the person’s groin: “The Heat,” “2 Guns”

Movies in which a father makes a joke to his teenage son about the son’s fondness for masturbating in the shower: “The Kings of Summer,” “Grown Ups 2″

Movies about involuntary road trips among strangers in which someone gets laughs by singing along with a song on the radio: “Identity Thief,” “We’re the Millers”

Movies in which Americans travel to Mexico and run afoul of crime bosses: “2 Guns,” “We’re the Millers,” “The Hangover Part III,” “The Counselor,” “Go for Sisters”

Movies with black characters named Marcus: “The Spectacular Now,” “Short Term 12,” “Kick-Ass 2,”

Movies in which fugitive men want to reunite with their lovers but must be careful because the cops are watching: “Mud,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”

Movies whose main characters are never identified by name: “All Is Lost,” “The Counselor,” “The Patience Stone”

Movies in which characters in space observe the Earth and remark on its beauty: “Gravity,” “Free Birds”

Movies in which a sextant is useful: “Escape Plan,” “All Is Lost”

Movies in which Garret Hedlund drives cross-country: “On the Road,” “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Biopics in which the protagonist, a gay poet, has an insane mother who is dragged kicking and screaming to the nuthouse: “Kill Your Darlings,” “Reaching for the Moon”

Movies in which sad things happen at Sea World: “Blackfish,” “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”

Coming-of-age comedies in which a promiscuous young woman takes up a lifeguard position: “The To Do List,” “The Lifeguard”

Movies in which Ryan Gosling reluctantly engages in criminal behavior: “Gangster Squad,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Only God Forgives”

Movies in which Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig play a couple: “Despicable Me 2,” “Anchorman 2″

Movies in which Bruce Willis plays a man who reluctantly returns to action: “A Good Day to Die Hard,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” “Red 2″

Movies that open with Michael Cera doing coke at a party: “This is the End,” “Crystal Fairy”

Movies in which Harrison Ford mentors a young man: “42,” “Paranoia,” “Ender’s Game”

Movies with sex scenes involving corn: “At Any Price,” “Bastards”

Movies in which Brad Pitt is the voice of reason: “World War Z,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Counselor”

Warm movies: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “Kings of Summer,” “The Heat,” “Out of the Furnace,” “Warm Bodies,” “Passion,” “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

Cold movies: “Frozen,” “The Iceman”

Pessimistic movies: “This is the End,” “All Is Lost,” “It’s a Disaster,” “The World’s End,” “No One Lives”

Killer movies: “Kill Your Darlings,” “Machete Kills,” “The Act of Killing,” “Killing Season,” “Simon Killer”

Movies that think pretty highly of their title characters: “Oz the Great and Powerful,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”

Manly movies: “Iron Man 3,” “Man of Steel,” “The Best Man Holiday,” “Delivery Man,” “Dead Man Down,” “The Iceman,” “Spark: A Burning Man Story,” “Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?,” “Man of Tai Chi,” “Dead Man’s Burden,” “A Perfect Man”

Womanly movies: “I’m in Love with a Church Girl,” “Girl Rising,” “Girl Most Likely,” “Mama,” “Mother of George,” “Go for Sisters”

Movies with uncomfortable scenes set around dinner tables: “Beautiful Creatures,” “Stoker,” “It’s a Disaster,” “The Big Wedding,” “Peeples,” “The East,” “The Purge,” “This is the End,” “The Heat,” “Killing Season,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “You’re Next,” “Enough Said,” “Don Jon,” “We Are What We Are,” “A.C.O.D.,” “Nebraska,” “The Best Man Holiday,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” “August: Osage County”

Miscellaneous data originally published at