Kevin McCarthy’s Top 15 Films of 2013

2013 has been one of the most incredible years for cinema that I’ve seen in a long time. Out of the 138 films I watched in 2013, I gave four 5/5 ratings to films that will remain favorites of mine for years to come. It is such a joy, each day, to be able to do film reviews. I grew up loving films so much and it’s such an honor to be able to share my thoughts with you. I just want to thank you for following my crazy adventures. I hope you have a wonderful New Year and I’ll see you at the movies in 2014!

Here are my top 15 favorite films of 2013.

1) “Gravity” – A game-changing masterpiece that completely elevates the art form and a film that delivers on a technical and emotional level. The film deserves Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Special Effects and more. I can’t stand it when people tell me the story is too thin. We are dealing with a very short period of time in the character’s lives. Sandra Bullock delivers a brilliant, internally emotional, performance that easily invested me in the picture. There are many themes and metaphors throughout the film if you look deep enough. On the surface, yes, the visuals are amazing and the action is fantastic. I just found so much more to this film than the action. I love the idea of gravity being a metaphor for what pulls us home and keeps us going in life. From a visual stand-point, the film changes everything. If you watch the behind-the-scenes footage of the film to see exactly how it was made, you will be blown away. All of the breathing that Sandra Bullock did was done through acting. She would have to hyperventilate herself because she wasn’t moving as much as her character was in the movie. Cuaron did a lot with pre-visualization and having the environment move around her. I still have no idea how Cuaron was able to integrate human performances in to that 17-minute opening digital shot; so seamlessly. If you haven’t seen Cuaron’s “Children of Men” or “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, go rent those films right now. Also, if you can find “Gravity” in 3D IMAX, go out and see it immediately. I’ve seen the film five times!

2) “The Wolf of Wall Street” – Hands down, the best performance of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career. The fact that Leonardo DiCaprio has yet to win an Academy Award is beyond me. DiCaprio has proved himself, time and time again, to be one of the greatest actors of all time. His range is absolutely incredible and can be seen very vividly in “The Wolf Of Wall Street”. The film is three hours of ABSOLUTE INSANITY. Just prepare for a lot of R-Rated material. The film’s 3-hours went by so quickly. I wanted more! Keep in mind that Martin Scorsese didn’t win his first directing Oscar until “The Departed”, which was a remake of a film called “Infernal Affairs”. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” marks the 5th and best time that Scorsese and DiCaprio have worked together. I can’t wait to see this film again!

3) “Saving Mr. Banks” – I love movies about movies. As with last years’ “Hitchcock”, I love learning the stories behind the scenes. This film delivers beautiful performances from Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks and Colin Farrell. Tom Hanks was born to play Walt Disney! The mark of a great actor is when the celebrity can completely disappear in the character. Both Thompson and Hanks did that here. Of course, with any film based on a true story, the director will take artistic liberties in the telling of the story. If you are looking for 100% accuracy, you would have to watch a documentary of this time period. “Saving Mr. Banks” made me simultaneously cry like a little baby and put a gigantic smile on my face.

4) “Captain Phillips” – The combination of Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks is perfection. The documentary style of shooting with the shock and brilliance of Hanks’ performance is incredible to watch. The last five minutes of this film contain some of the most incredible acting I’ve ever seen. Tom Hanks completely owned this performance and director Paul Greengrass delivers a brilliant intensity. Even though we already know the ending to the story, the film keeps you on edge. That is a key component to great filmmaking. Ben Affleck did it with “Argo” and Kathryn Bigelow did it with “Zero Dark Thirty”.

5) “The Way Way Back” – A film so great that it makes you hate Steve Carrell. How is it possible to turn one of the most beloved actors in Hollywood in to one of the most despicable characters of 2013? The film is a beautiful coming of age story with a great balance between comedy and drama. Rent this film immediately! Like Leonardo DiCaprio, Sam Rockwell is one of the most underrated actors working in Hollywood today. He deserves a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for this film.

6) “Man of Steel” – Arguably the most divisive film of 2013. Snyder delivers an incredibly epic, mind-blowing, action-adventure with one of the best scores of 2013. Hans Zimmer’s music feels like a leading character as it carries us through the epic action and gorgeous effects. Henry Cavill is the perfect Superman and Clark Kent. Let’s not forget the incredible performance from Kevin Costner. Every time I watch the film, I always get teary eyed at the moment when Kevin Costner raises his hand right before his deaths sequence. I love the internal power of that moment. My biggest issue with this film was the product placement.

7) “Spring Breakers” – I would argue that this was one of the best SHOT films of 2013. Harmony Korine gorgeously blended colors, music, soundtrack and violence into a film that speaks a lot to our society. James Franco delivers his career best performance and is deserving of an Academy Award nomination. I know this film is an odd choice but it was an experience beyond belief. When you see the picture, pay attention to the incredible one-shot that Korine uses during the robbery sequence in the beginning. The car is driving around the robbery and it’s all done in one shot.

8) “Fruitvale Station” – Dear Academy Awards, please give Michael B. Jordan recognition at the show this year. I cried like a little baby at the end of this film. The performances are amazing and the story-telling is perfect. First-time director, Ryan Coogler, proves that story-telling is a director’s greatest tool.

9) “Her” – Spike Jonze has created a beautiful love story with an original idea. Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely incredible in the film. The fact that Scarlett Johansson was considered ineligible for the Golden Globes because she was doing a voice performance, is absolutely ridiculous. Voice acting and performance capture IS ACTING. What’s even crazier is that during the filming of the movie, Joaquin Phoenix was acting with actress Samantha Morton the entire time. It wasn’t until after Jonze finished shooting the film that he re-cast Morton’s part with Johansson. That proves even more that Johansson is deserving considering how natural the performance is.

10) “The Place Beyond The Pines” – One of the best acted films of 2013. A genius film about legacy that delivers beautiful performances from Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. The film deserves to be recognized by the Academy but the Oscar race is too heavy this season. The sequence with Bradley Cooper in the woods, towards the end of the film, is just insane to watch. I loved how director, Derek Cianfrance, decided to break the film up in to three VERY DISTINCT acts. The opening shot of the film with Ryan Gosling going to the motorcycle and driving in to the cage of death, is incredible to watch. The shot is a long tracking shot. See if you can notice where Gosling leaves the shot before the camera enters the cage.

11) “12 Years A Slave” – A beautifully shot, brilliantly acted and extremely well-told story that grabs and takes you in to the world of Solomon Northup; a free man who was abducted in to slavery for 12-years without being able to say goodbye to his family. Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is finally getting the recognition he deserves as he takes on one of the most incredible roles of all time. Ejiofor’s performance is very internal throughout the film yet I found myself connecting with everything he was thinking. One of my favorite shots of the year is when Ejiofor is one screen and looks right in to the camera. Normally, this would break the fourth wall for an audience but for me, I felt more connected with the character. Hans Zimmer delivers, yet another, brilliant score. This film would have made my top 10 if it wasn’t for the random Brad Pitt appearance. I understand that he produced the film but his appearance felt more financial than artistic. Dropping an actor that famous in to a film, 3/4’s of the way through, completely took me out of the movie. Other than that, the film is perfect. Steve McQueen’s long shots add to the film’s intensity and the realism. “12 Years A Slave” is one of the most important films I’ve ever seen.

12) “Nebraska” – Bruce Dern is absolutely phenomenal in this film directed by Alexander Payne in gorgeous black-and-white cinemascope. Will Forte proves that he’s much more than a comedic actor. The film has a very realistic and natural vibe. The story is engaging and all performances are incredible; especially June Squibb who steals many of the films’ scenes.

13) “Dallas Buyer’s Club” – Give Jared Leto the Academy Award RIGHT NOW. Leto is one of the most talented actors working today. While he does focus a bit more on his musical career, his acting is just spectacular. He should have been nominated for his role in Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream”. Matthew Mcconaughey is unrecognizable in the role where he lost close to 50 pounds. His character arc is outstanding and deserving of an Oscar nomination.

14) “Inside Llewyn Davis” – The Coen Brothers deliver again. I grew up on “Blood Simple”, “Fargo”, “The Big Lebowski”, “Miller’s Crossing” and “Raising Arizona”. Each of their films always have that Coen Bros. vibe but are always so different. The film is helped by it’s incredible live-singing and playing. Justin Timberlake proves yet again that he can do anything. Oscar Isaacs, who was incredible in “Drive”, delivers a fantastic internal performance that drives the entire film; no pun intended. 🙂

15) “Rush” – Ron Howard has created a film that is equally as intense off the race course as it is on. Howard tells the story of the epic rivalry between two formula one drivers in the 70’s. Daniel Bruhl (“Inglorious Basterds”) is deserving of an Oscar nomination for his spot-on performance. He and Chris Hemsworth deliver fantastic chemistry. The cinematography mixed with Hans Zimmer’s incredible score make the film worth seeing. I can’t believe how much Bruhl looked like Niki Lauda!