The Best Movies Of 2013 (The Playlist Staff Top 10s)

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by The Playlist Staff
December 31, 2013 11:40 AM
52 Comments
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There are those, especially this time of year, who see the many lists and recaps and coverage of the year in movies, and ask: "How can you dare to rank art? How do you qualify one movie over another?" The bottom line is you can't, and we get that, but that doesn't make it any less fun. Distilling twelve months' worth of movie-watching in a numbered list forces one to reckon with what truly stuck out emotionally, creatively, intellectually, aesthetically and more, and come down to some hard choices on what films you'll forever stamp as the best of the best. And that means sometimes an R-rated comedy will rank higher than the latest from an arthouse auteur. And at the end of the day, it's that whole process that makes it fun, providing a window into an individual's preferences and tastes when it comes to the cinematic experience. That's really the point of a Top 10.

With that out of the way, please take a note that we're doing things a bit differently with our Top 10s this year. The hodgepodge team that we are, scattered around the world, The Playlist members rarely try and make a collective large group Best Movies of The Year list because, well, voting would be difficult and laborious to say the least, likely splitting allies, creating new enemies and grinding our offices to a halt. Plus we've been more than snowed under with our assaultive Best of 2013 coverage that we've barely had time to think, let alone write our individual top 10 lists.

But, as various Playlist staffers sit down with some egg nog and sort out their Top 10s, we've decided to make this our one-stop shopping destination to check those out. As they arrive, we will add them to this feature, so if you care enough, bookmark this link or whatever one does to highlight a piece of content in 2013 (plus we'll be flagging them up when each new list arrives; you'll know). Oliver LytteltonGabe Toro, Katie Walsh and Jessica Kiang have theirs in with more to come. As always share your thoughts in comments section, and see you in 2014!

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52 Comments

  • Kelly Macdough | January 8, 2014 5:01 PMReply

    Lol: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will indeed be the worst film of 2014. Spot on prophecy.

  • Paul | January 4, 2014 4:59 PMReply

    Note to The Playlist writers......"The Upstream Color" is a terrible movie. There simply is no defending it if you really have an interest in narrative cinema. However, if your interest is embracing pretentious dreck that you believe will either infuriate or perhaps intimidate the "Common Man", and if you equate being obtuse with actual intellect, then I suppose the high praise is inevitable. However, just as some of us know that "dying is easy:comedy is hard", few things are easier (and less accomplished) then throwing together the film equivalent of an unassembled jigsaw puzzle minus the box cover, as if the farther removed you are from any conventional forms of narrative (recognizable characters, meaningful dialouge, coherence) moves you farther up the "Deep Thoughts" chart. I thought that stuff stopped with undergrad English classes.

    Oh, the Coen Brothers' latest, while technically impeccable, has a giant empty space where its heart should be.

  • Nathna | January 1, 2014 2:54 AMReply

    Where the HELL is "The Place Beyond the Pines?" I thought you guys loved that movie.

  • Rick | December 31, 2013 12:35 PMReply

    Katie, are you from Massachusetts, cause I swear what you said you did during 12 Years a Slave definitely happened during my screening? LOL

  • Katie Walsh | January 1, 2014 9:20 AM

    Ha no, this was in LA.

  • Liam | December 31, 2013 12:27 PMReply

    Enough with the Upstream Color lovefest! It's pretentious, empty drivel that was pre-packaged to be hipster cool the same way a Jay Z album is pre-packaged to be mainstream hit. This is the work of a filmmaker - albeit a talented one - trying way too hard to be experimental, edgy and oh-so-ethereal. I heard that David Lynch, Terrence Malick and David Cronenberg were going to get together to make a parody film of their styles and try to pawn it off as genius. They can't now though, because Upstream Color already exists. But other than that I have no strong opinion about it.

  • Tyler | December 31, 2013 2:38 PM

    Watch it again. I didn't really "get" the film until my 2nd or 3rd viewing, and now its one of my most cherished films I own on dvd.

  • Liam | December 31, 2013 12:54 PM

    And I didn't mean to post that twice... or maybe it was intentional - a subtle commentary on the echoing effect of remakes and reimaginings on our desperate desire to tout blindly the merits of original works in the face of becoming obsolete in the mainstream? Hmmm... maybe I should make a minimalist film full of striking imagery to single-note synth music. I could be on Yhe Playlists' staff's Top 10 next year...

  • Liam | December 31, 2013 12:27 PMReply

    Enough with the Upstream Color lovefest! It's pretentious, empty drivel that was pre-packaged to be hipster cool the same way a Jay Z album is pre-packaged to be mainstream hit. This is the work of a filmmaker - albeit a talented one - trying way too hard to be experimental, edgy and oh-so-ethereal. I heard that David Lynch, Terrence Malick and David Cronenberg were going to get together to make a parody film of their styles and try to pawn it off as genius. They can't now though, because Upstream Color already exists. But other than that I have no strong opinion about it.

  • Joshua Polanski | January 1, 2014 7:02 AM

    I thought Upstream Color was a fascinating film. I think it was quiet and unassuming. I don't think I saw the pretention or pre-packagedness you speak of.

    I don't think it is a flawless picture, but I found it, quite refreshing and ambiguous. I very rarely like films of the style which you describe ("trying way too hard to be experimental"). I saw a bit of Lynch, but mostly Malick. However, although it looks like it was inspired by those type of film-makers, I still think it manages to plod along in it's own little world.

    I genuinely don't think Shane Carruth would've expected anyone to even see this small film, let alone have it appear in numerous Top 10 lists. I think films like Upstream Color and Spring Breakers have made quite a few lists of critics because they are quite infuriating to watch, yet simultaneously you can't look away.

  • B.R.S-G | December 31, 2013 2:43 PM

    Maybe you should stop talking and do it then. I think Goddard said the best way to review a movie is by making another movie. I loved "Primer" and can't wait to see "Upstream Color" I really liked the fact that "Inside LLewyn Davis", "The Wolf of wall street" and "Gravity" are in Jessica's list and I think is great that "The Act of Killing" is number one.
    I don't know if you guys ever read this comment since you hardly respond, however I wanted to say I'm always checking what's new on The Playlist and I love to read Jessica's reviews.

  • Abi | December 30, 2013 6:26 PMReply

    This list does not even begin to make sense...

  • Duhz | January 1, 2014 5:52 PM

    which one? There are four of them so far.

  • Danny | December 27, 2013 10:36 PMReply

    How people are not seeing the blatant misanthropy Inside Llewyn Davis has in it is beyond me. A modicum of research into Dave van Ronk would show that he wasn't like Llewyn Davis at all. So why use all the signifiers of Van Ronk such as his album? They are tarnishing a legacy. The are alienating not illuminating. The misanthropy is clear. Everybody has something that the Coens cue us to laugh at, to feel superior over. This movie is a shameful bubbling pot of cynical determinism and humanity hating. Screw the Coens and people promoting this claptrap.

  • Danny | January 2, 2014 2:06 AM

    Yeah of course I agree. Not exactly my point though. I'm not saying that a movie about a misanthrope is always bad. Taxi Driver has parallels in that Travis has a strong disdain for certain people but we get the very clear sense that we are seeing the world from his pov and that this isn't the view of the filmmakers. Inside Llewyn Davis nudges its audience to scoff at people who have some mannerism or believe in something the Coens deem worthy of mockery. They are putting down many people's very human hopes and aspirations without making it very clear that this is only Llewyn's pointofview.

  • Rick | December 31, 2013 12:39 PM

    I definitely see the misanthropy. Llewyn Davis was definitely like a pre-hipster (referring to the modern college radio type of hipster). I don't think a character piece of a misanthrope is automatically a bad movie.

  • DANNY | December 28, 2013 11:56 PM

    Woahhh "educated" reviews say something so I'll quickly scurry over to the other side of the fence where all the smart people who sop up bad Coen misanthropy are. Glad to be with the "informed" crowd, I was so delusional for thinking every human other than Llewyn is shown with some weird trait that the audience can condescend to. Guess that was just on me then. Thanks Phillip great to be with you on this side. The side that thinks that ending with "so there" after saying something to the effect of 'everyone thinks this dodo' is the Ultimate PWN. Cool crowd!

  • Philip | December 28, 2013 4:03 PM

    Wrong. The Coens have indicated multiple times that while Van Ronk's story provided a template, an introduction to the world of folk music in Greenwich Village in 1961, Llewyn Davis is not Dave van Ronk. And if you felt that the Coens wanted you to laugh at the characters and not feel any ounce of empathy, that's on you. That's a very general and uninformed way of reading any of their movies. There's subtext provided, practically spelled out that is suppose to let you understand why he acts the way he does. And if you look at the majority of educated reviews, you are on the opposite side of the fence. So there.

  • Nick | December 27, 2013 2:56 PMReply

    So is the United States ever going to get a chance to see the uncut version of Snowpiercer? Where does the issue stand at this point?

  • benutty | December 27, 2013 2:54 PMReply

    Is it noteworthy that Oliver tops both my Worst Film Critics of 2013 and Most Questionable Taste of 2013 lists?

  • B.R.S-G. | December 31, 2013 3:18 PM

    No it is not. At least I don't care if you're really doing a list like that or if it is just a bad joke. If you ("BENUTTY") want to show you don't have a "questionable" taste I dare you to show to us your "Best of 2013" list.

  • roxie | December 27, 2013 12:57 PMReply

    Catching Fire was atrocious and completely unentertaining ( I felt sorry for Philip Seymour Hoffman & Donald Sutherland .) , just like it's previous film. Jennifer Lawrence is still a mediocre actress that got very lucky . The poor girl cannot emote and deliver her lines properly .

  • Lyndsay | January 3, 2014 9:06 AM

    You people are idiots. "Catching Fire" was so much better than the first one. It actually stuck to the book. It was one of the best films I've seen, and I am eagerly awaiting the next one.

  • Abi | December 30, 2013 6:27 PM

    Catching Fire is a big joke.

  • oogle monster | December 27, 2013 12:43 PMReply

    THANK YOU for acknowledging that AMY ADAMS in HER is one of the best and most underrated performances of the year. She is INCREDIBLE. And she's equally stellar in AMERICAN HUSTLE. How is this woman not a 2 time Oscar winner by now?

  • Rosanna | December 26, 2013 4:22 PMReply

    How about the usual suspects? James Brolin, James Brolin, Brad Pitt, or maybe Kifer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon or Christopher Bale, Matthew McCaughnahey? NO Brad Cooper, Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Ben Stiller or Woody Harrelson!

  • RHCP | December 26, 2013 1:34 AMReply

    Will someone explain why "Spring Breakers" is #2 on this list? Or even on this list for that matter? One of the worst movies I've ever seen in my opinion

  • Luminous Carcass | December 22, 2013 11:44 PMReply

    Upstream Color was by far the most over-rated, piece-of-shit movie I've seen in years. I haven't seen anything try so hard to be compelling or thought-provoking since Dogville. Shouldn't really come as a surprise; you did throw Harmony Korine and Claire Denis in the mix as well. Opinions are opinions, but Upstream Color isn't iconoclastic. In time, the internet will be (even more) over-run with pretentious "films" by hipster, emotional children; involving water streams infused with dye and "nature" and "human emotions." Throw a droney-ambient soundtrack over it and you've got the next Upstream Color.

  • Tyler | December 31, 2013 2:40 PM

    Also, Dogville is great. (my favorite lars von trier film actually)

  • MDL | December 24, 2013 7:54 PM

    What movies have you made recently 'Luminous Carcass'? That's what I thought. None. Upstream Colour and these other movies and directors you mention don't try to be hip. The media perhaps makes them hip. But that is not the fault of the filmmakers. Filmmakers make movies. Everything else is opinion.

  • Daniel | December 21, 2013 11:01 PMReply

    Is there anyone else looking forward to " Think Like A Man Too", due next year?

  • No more trolls. | December 21, 2013 7:54 PMReply

    No more trolls in 2014.

  • Brad | December 21, 2013 1:14 PMReply

    People can be really stupid, (I'm sorry, I think is really low to insult on this comments but after reading this list and the comments here I got really mad) that's why I never read this comments and I hardly comment on anything myself, but if your focus is in just looking at small mistakes (where the killings happened in "The act of killing" or where "Blue Ruin" premiered, please) anyone can make instead of talking about the movies, you really need some perspective.
    I liked this list and appreciate the fact that "Spring Breakers", " Her" and "Inside Llewyn Davis" are in here since I think are some of the best movies of the year and they will be hardly nominated to any awards and I agree with what was said about "Saving Mr Banks", I just don't get all the buzz about a Disney movie that portrays how another Disney movie was done (I know there's more into it, but still)
    I want to thank The Playlist too because thanks to the writers I've been able to know about movies that because of the limited screenings otherwise I wouldn't know about like "Primer" from Shane Carruth, which by the way I can't wait to watch "Upstream Color" or films like "Killing List", "Holy Motors" or "Dogtooth" among several other films that I have been able to find since I came across The Playlist a year ago.
    I would like to know what do you think about the movie "The east" Gabe?. I think it is one of the best movies I've seen this year but not a lot of people has seen it and no one is talking about it at this time.
    Great List Gabe!!!! I'm a Playlist addict and I'm always looking forward to read your reviews.

  • Kyle | December 21, 2013 12:25 PMReply

    Gabe, you have good taste my friend. Only wondering where "Before Midnight" landed?

  • Loz in Transit | December 31, 2013 8:40 PM

    It seems 'Before Midnight' didn't get a mention of any kind. I'm half expecting an efusive apology that it was "accidentally omitted". Maybe I'm being completely biased.

  • Jon | December 21, 2013 12:05 PMReply

    So is "Like Someone in Love" ever going to be released on DVD?

  • @raptorjuice | December 20, 2013 10:25 PMReply

    i dont even do internet comments but these reviews really annoy me

  • @RAPTORJUICE | December 20, 2013 10:31 PM

    i am gonna watch upstream color rn, but im not gonna read ur review til after gabe. now i commented i feel invested and like i needto pay u somerespect

  • Tom | December 20, 2013 10:08 PMReply

    I've seen Taboor at the IFFR this year, and it was absolutely awful. Nothing Lynchian about it if you ask me.. So I don't know if you liked it or if you had high hopes for it, but it was weird in an obnoxious way. No atmosphere, cheap looking (I guess no one is to blame there..), and utterly boring. Which is unfortunate, because I thought that the premise was very promising too.

  • leopold | December 20, 2013 6:28 PMReply

    The Act of Killing [easily the best film of the year] is about the mass killings of communists at the end of Sukarno's reign in Indonesia in 1965/66 and not Cambodia as Gabe Toro suggests above. Perhaps you could amend the text as this inaccuracy takes away from your recommendation of a most significant film

  • Gabe Toro | December 20, 2013 11:31 PM

    Not sure how that ended up in there, we fixed that asap. Thanks though!

  • AE | December 20, 2013 4:49 PMReply

    At the very least 12 Years has provoked interesting discussion on race in the movies, this and David Thomson's review of the film speak some important truths. For what it's worth I just feel that there is still, in 2013, so much denial afloat in the culture about race, lately wrapped up in economics, that a movie, which is always a commercial project marketed to some kind of general audience, is just impossible; by definition denial works by avoidance. Even the historical distance of 12 Years isn't far enough for many who find reasons to deflect or bypass it. Unless we reach - and we likely won't - a situation where films are made simply for the need of them, nothing will change, via the movies at least, we live in hope that it will be socially where events move us forward.

  • Mark | December 20, 2013 4:14 PMReply

    Truly mindblowing that the director of Star Trek Into Darkness was hired to make the new Star Wars.

  • benutty | December 20, 2013 3:19 PMReply

    I really enjoy your comments on diversity. I was considering the other day the whole notion of this being a big year for "black films" and the value of what makes a film "black." It seems to be that the goal of the "black film" industry should be to get black actors into roles that aren't race-specific--and the only one I could think of that's had success recently is Beasts of the Southern Wild (which is one of my favorite films of the last 5 years). I feel like there isn't enough discussion about the fact that Quvenzhane and Dwight got recognition for performances that could have been played by white actors, but (regardless of director intent) were masterfully portrayed by black actors. Aside from that, if we look at black films that have been nominated for Oscars recently, a majority of them are films that consist of black characters that could only be portrayed by black actors (The Help, Precious, Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, Fruitvale Station). Save Denzel's character in Flight and reaching back to Viola in Doubt, Beasts of the Southern Wild is the only film that represents black actors and black film outside of what seems to be a typical box of "black actors can only fill roles meant for characters the must be black."

    I know there are plenty of films in recent years that fit outside of this box, but in terms of awards it seems that recognition of "black films" is still only going to the black story told through a racially bias lens. AND THIS IS FRUSTRATING ME!

    Anyway, thank you for your comments on it. I think it's discourse that should be happening with more frequency.

  • owdl114 | December 20, 2013 2:46 PMReply

    I'm sorry but I don't quite understand your criticism of the politics of 'Saving Mr Banks' (A film I rather quite liked). Do you mind explaining further?

  • Gabe Toro | December 20, 2013 11:33 PM

    Oh, wow, Alan, that changes everything!
    Thanks for the hits!

  • Alissa | December 20, 2013 6:51 PM

    Yeah, and you the troll of all trolls are Mr. Civil Maturity. That's a laugh.

  • Gabe Toro | December 20, 2013 2:59 PM

    It's a story about one of the world's richest and most powerful men instructing a creative woman how to re-interpret her own emotions while simultaneously making money off of her. You can have it.

  • Jim | December 20, 2013 2:34 PMReply

    "Blue Ruin" premiered at the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes and then screened at Locarno, before it "debuted" at Toronto.

  • Gabe Toro | December 20, 2013 2:48 PM

    Ah, thanks, my mistake. SOMEONE FIX.

  • Jeremy Wilson | December 20, 2013 2:32 PMReply

    Gabe Toro, a man after my own heart. Great list and nailed #1. I am dumbfounded that UPSTREAM COLOR isn't being hailed even more than it is. Maybe it was due to being released in the first half of the year and becoming a victim of getting lost (to a certain degree) of the crush of releases in the last third of the year. Carruth's second feature is such a leap forward for himself and for American independent cinema. Also, nice shout-outs for the Claire Denis' somehow critically underrated BASTARDS and Amy Seimetz's fantastic (and sticky) debut SUN DON'T SHINE.

  • Chad Opitz | December 20, 2013 2:05 PMReply

    Love what you have to say about "black" cinema and how it's only within very certain contexts that many audiences are even OK seeing black characters. It's very upsetting and obvious that this is going on and I wish more folks were cognizant of that and pushing back against it.

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