The Best Movies of 2013 So Far


It’s been an OK movie year so far. I’ve given a number of titles 3.5 stars; just one movie earned 4 stars. Yet, when I look over this list, I can’t help but think most of these films miss out on my end-of-year top ten list. I’m just not over-the-moon about many movies this year (and I suspect the 2013 fall movie season is going to be outstanding, but more on that soon…)

It should be noted that this year’s crop of summer blockbusters has been terribly uninspiring. I think I actually ventured out into cinemas this summer, I don’t know, three or four times? And by all accounts, I haven’t missed much.

So what have I missed? A lot of quality independent stuff: Before Midnight, Stories We Tell, A Hijacking, Much Ado About Nothing, The Act of Killing, The Spectacular Now, The Bling Ring, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and more. I’m sure at least one or two of those would have cracked this list, but I like the ten films below quite a bit, so I won’t wax on any longer of what could have been. So with all that out of the way, please enjoy my favorite movies of 2013 so far:

10.) Fruitvale Station

What struck me most about Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut was how simply, but powerfully, the story of Oscar Grant III’s final hours is told. Rather that dive into the riots, the trial, the aftermath, we get to know who Grant was—for better and worse—and when he’s tragically gunned down, the anger you feel sears white hot. (Click here for my full Fruitvale Station review.)

9.) Reality

Matteo Garrone’s follow-up to Gommorah tells a story that begins affably enough before devolving into straight-up tragedy brought on by one man’s delusions of bright-lights-big-city grandeur. Anchored by one of the year’s best performances so far from convict-turned-actor Aniello Arena, I won’t shake Reality any time soon. (Click here for my full Reality review.)

8.) Europa Report

This found-footage sci-fi flick came out of nowhere and blew me out of my chair this summer. Its style is essential to its success, and coupled with its jumbled chronology, it helps create a truly mesmerizing mystery. (Click here for my full Europa Report review.)

7.) Monsters University

This film made me rethink the meaning of the word “original.” Is this delightful Pixar movie based on characters and concepts already familiar to us? Yes. Does that mean it’s any less imaginative? Less original? Absolutely not. (Click here for my full Monsters University review.)

6.) Behind the Candelabra

For his feature film swan song (*cough* we’ll see *cough*), director Steven Soderbergh has elected to tell a sordid tale about sex, drugs, plastic surgery, possible incest, and shattered dreams. Behind the Candelabra also happens to be a biopic chronicling the latter years of music legend Liberace and the year’s most frightening horror movie. (Click here for my full Behind the Candelabra review.)

5.) Side Effects

Oh, hey, it’s a Steven Soderbergh double feature. Side Effects stood out just a bit more than Candelabra for its super tight plotting. It’s a thriller that would make Hitchcock proud. (Click here for my full Side Effects review.)

4.) The Place Beyond the Pines

From a tight, twisty film like Side Effects, we jump to a sprawling, decades-spanning drama about fathers and sons. Ryan Gosling’s brooding performance is a highlight, and while the three-act structure reveals some issues as the film sails past the two-hour mark, Derek Cianfrance’s film is so ambitious and lovingly constructed that you can’t help but admire it. (Click here for my full The Place Beyond the Pines review.)

3.) Spring Breakers

Superficially, Harmony Korine’s latest is abhorrent and silly. Beneath the surface, it’s one of the best movies of the year. Spring Breakers is like a Terrence Malick film, but with more guns, bikinis, and neon Florida sunsets. (Click here for my full Spring Breakers review.)

2.) Frances Ha

In his best film to date, Noah Baumbach (with a big assist from star, cowriter, and off-screen girlfriend Greta Gerwig) romanticizes New York the same way Woody Allen (with a big assist from Diane Keaton) did 35 years ago. But it’s a very different side of New York—different places, a different culture, and an almost radically different tone. It’s a totally unique modern comedy that, at 90 minutes, flies by, and while it never gets too heavy, there’s a weight to the film and its characters’ lives that makes Frances Ha feel essential. I love this movie. (Click here for my full Frances Ha review.)

1.) Mud

The choice was an easy one. Frances Ha and a few others have a shot at end-of-year recognition from this writer, but Mud is the only lock. It’s a film about love in all its messy incarnations. Thematically precise and marvelously acted (Tye Sheridan’s remains my favorite performance of the year), it’s as satisfying a movie-watching experience as I’ve had in quite a while. (Click here for my full Mud review.)

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