By TOH! | Thompson on Hollywood December 13, 2013 at 5:19PM
1. “A Touch of Sin”
2. “The Square”
3. “Blue Is the Warmest Color”
4. “American Hustle”
5. “The Armstrong Lie”
6. “Upstream Color”
7. “What Maisie Knew”
8. “Frances Ha”
9. “Mother of George”
10. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
1. 12 Years A Slave
3. Blue Is The Warmest Colour
4. All Is Lost
5. American Hustle
6. Frances Ha
9. Stories We Tell
1) "Gravity" (Alfonso Cuaron/US/Warner Bros)
A brilliant synthesis of craft and narrative, with a talented director not only presenting his vision but accumulating state of the art craft to make a breathtaking story, rediscovering the essence of cinema more than a century after the medium's inventors after Melies, the Lumiere brothers and Edison first created the art form. This opened just after the finale of "Breaking Bad" and more than answered the question of whether cinema still can rule the zeitgeist.
2) "Nebraska" (Alexander Payne/US/Paramount)
Working for the first time from someone else's script, Alexander Payne made his most visually stunning work, bringing to mind Bela Tarr's black and white studies of the terrain and people of his own Hungary. Anchored by a brilliant performance by Bruce Dern, this tight-wire act constantly risks losing balance until its unusually satisfying ending.
3) "A Touch of Sin" (Jia Zhang-ke/China/Kino Lorber)
Sadly now banned in its own country, the great Jia combines trenchant analysis of his own society with a mastery of multi-story narrative with this, both his least "arty" but still very personal work.
In a year of breathtaking visuals, Spike Jonze' precious man-loves-computer voice rom-com ranks with the best as an ethereal, almost unrecognizable downtown Los Angeles almost becomes an equal character as distinctive as the sets in the director's earlier "Being John Malkovich." One view only scratched the surface of the mean of this risky but rewarding work.
6) "The World's End" (Edgar Wright/UK/Focus)
The final film of Wright and company's Cornetto trilogy and the year's funniest comedy, this visually resplendent and assured work is let down only slightly by an ending not up to the rest of the film from rating even higher.
7) "Frances Ha" (Noah Baumbach/US/IFC)
Anchored by a risky, daring performance by co-writer Greta Gerwig. this low-budget NYC 20-something comedy risked alienating audiences with its too-quirky-to-be-believe lead character, but overcomes the pitfalls to ultimately become an endearing, incisive story.
8) "Before Midnight" (Richard Linklater/US/Sony Pictures Classics)
Another third film in a series, this time around the direction (with an amazing lengthy single-take early on and compelling character interaction shifting through the film with much varied visual design) was often uncomfortable to watch but never less than honest or compelling.
9) "The Wind Rises" (Miyazaki Hazao/Japan/Buena Vista)
The animation master's final work is a bit down from his best, but also is possibly his most personal as it becomes a national saga about how genius (in this case, in aviation) still needs to be recognized despite the uses made of it. Emotionally powerful but much more complicated than what the public expects from animated film.
10) "To the Wonder" (Terence Malick/US/Magnolia)
Unfairly overlooked after the backlash after "The Tree of Wonder"'s acclaim, this even more risk-taking film actually comes closer to the Malick vision earlier seen pre-"Tree," stripped down to a visual design that far more subtly portrays his themes of theology and family than in his previous work, while extending the experimental visual language in that film with much more assuredness and splendor.
In a more average year, any of these could have easily also been included: Stories We Tell, Captain Phillips, Blue Is the Warmest Color, The Great Beauty, In the House, Ernest and Celestine, Like Someone in Love, Tim's Vermeer, The Past