Joe Sanders’ Top Ten of 2013

| January 17, 2014

I was worried for months that putting together a top ten list for 2013 was going to be impossible.  All of the summer blockbusters were disappointing, and there wasn’t much worth watching until like, November.  Then, everything great came out at once, and it was impossible for me to see everything I wanted to.  2012 was a great year for film, and I would have never expected that 2013 would have so many great releases too, but while 2012 was unparalleled for great genre films, 2013 turned out a number of more important and profound films that comment on the world in such interesting ways.  Here are my 10 favorites:


#10. The World’s End

Directed by Edgar Wright

People seem to think that this is the final collaboration between Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg; the so called final chapter of the “blood and ice cream trilogy.”  I truly hope that is not the case, because Wright’s fantastic genre parodies have a way of making fun of these types of movies while simultaneously celebrating them.  The World’s End is an amalgamation of all of Wright’s work to date; a celebration of an already great career, and I look forward to his take on Ant Man.


#9. American Hustle

Directed by David O. Russell

This would probably be much higher on my list except I found the ending to be a little obvious.  Maybe it’s something that con artist movies just can’t avoid, and I do like the characters’ motivations in the end, but it falls a bit flat for me.  I did have a similar criticism of Silver Linings Playbook, so maybe this will grow on me after repeated viewings like that did.  Of course, I can’t knock the spectacular cast Russell has assembled for this, nor his talent to craft a fascinating narrative.


#8. Wrong

Directed by Quentin Dupieux

I was fortunate enough to see Quentin Dupieux’s fascinating first film Rubber on the big screen in Chicago, and I was completely blown away by the surreal elements, and twists on conventional horror movie tropes.  So, when Wrong came to Netflix this year, I jumped at the chance to check it out.  The surrealism is definitely much more chaotic in this film, and the rules of the world are often up for debate, but I found it to be very effective as an unusual avenue for some riotous comedy.


#7. What Maisie Knew

Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel

The story of two selfish parents’ divorce and struggles to move on with their lives is made completely original and fresh as its told through the eyes of their very young daughter.  The entire cast is amazing, but Onata Aprile does an impossibly good job of carrying the emotional weight of this drama, while the other more serious actors are forced to keep up.


#6. The Wolf of Wall Street

Directed by Martin Scorsese

It’s really nice to see Scorsese return to form after the very disappointing Hugo, and Shutter Island.  His dark comedic look at the juvenile greed of Wall Street is pitch perfect and a spectacle to behold.  I wasn’t going to originally include this on my list.  When I saw it the first time, I really enjoyed it but figured I’d never want to sit through the 3 hour film again.  After a few days however, I found myself really wanting to go back and revisit it, not daunted at all by the runtime.  On my second viewing, knowing what the film was building to and where the climax was ultimately going to fall, I found it to be even more enjoyable.  I don’t think this will be a movie I revisit often, but it’s a fine film, and some truly vintage Scorsese.


#5. About Time

Directed by Richard Curtis

You have to ignore everything you know about time travel and paradoxes when going into About Time.  It’s not that type of time travel movie.  Instead, it’s really about a relationship, and I love that it’s about a successful relationship instead of every other movie that feels the need to inject conflict and temptation into every on-screen marriage.  How could you not live happily ever after if you could simply go back in time and prevent every fight?  This film is about life and family and loss, and above all it is hilariously funny and deeply emotional the whole way through.  An impressive feat, but I expect nothing less of Richard Curtis.


#4. Inside Llewyn Davis

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

I can’t get over how versatile the Coen brothers are as writers and directors.  It’s difficult to compare any of their films to each other because they so rarely repeat themselves in terms of the types of stories they tell.  Inside Llewyn Davis is probably one of my favorites from them to date.  It capitalizes on techniques they’ve been polishing over the course of their last few movies, it has the folksy soundtrack reminiscent of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and while Llewyn is not a character you’re likely to be rooting for here, your basic human decency still wants him to figure his life out and maybe do something worthwhile.


#3. Don Jon

Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

You can find my glowing review of Don Jon on this site, and that goes into detail about the many reasons I loved this film, but just to summarize, I feel like this is one of the most important movie of the year.  Gordon-Levitt’s creation of Jon is a profound, consistently amusing, and sometimes disturbing look at our disconnected society.  Amazing performances all around, and Gordon-Levitt’s direction is flawless in that no element of this film (not one single shot) is wasted.


#2. Much Ado About Nothing

Directed by Joss Whedon

Last year, I was excited to see The Avengers do so well at the box office because I knew that it meant we were going to be moving into an age where writer/director Joss Whedon could finally get out from under the thumb of studio Nazis and really do whatever he wants.  Now, Much Ado About Nothing is not technically a result of The Avengers’ success.  Whedon shot it at his home with his friends while Avengers was in post-production.  However, I do believe that this film would not have reached an audience outside of Whedon fans if it weren’t for the superhero blockbuster.  I always forget how much I like the play Much Ado About Nothing.  As far as Shakespeare goes, it’s really out of character for the bard.  For one, it is definitely the darkest of his comedies; dealing with levels of sex and betrayal normally reserved for the tragedies, and yet capable of hysterical comedy throughout.  Whedon lends his creativity to the story as a director, creating a lot of physical comedy while the cast hits every emotional beat perfectly.


#1. Her

Directed by Spike Jonze

Much Ado About Nothing was #1 on my list until I got about 15 minutes into Her.  The remarkable first screenplay from Spike Jonze is beautiful, funny, sweet, and wonderfully complicated.  All of the praise the film is receiving is well deserved.  Joaquin Phoenix delivers a spellbinding and heartbreaking performance just a year after his phenomenal work in The Master.  His ability to create chemistry and depth with a disembodied Scarlett Johansson is completely amazing.  Not to mention Johansson’s ability to reciprocate passion and vivacity from a recording booth.  In a weird way, Her is the antithesis of Don Jon, making opposing statements about our reliance on technology overshadowing our reliance on other people.  Her’s take on this is a bit more optimistic and positive, making it weird to agree with both sides of this debate.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.

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