50 Best Movies of 2013
- 50. ‘We’re the Millers’
Why We Loved It: Sure, the premise is a bit on the forced side -- after losing his inventory, a small-time pot dealer (Jason Sudeikis) enlists a fake family so that he can more easily cross the border into Mexico and pick up a load of marijuana in order to repay his boss -- but the cast, as well as some seriously funny sight gags, make “We’re the Millers” the surprise comedy hit of 2013. While “SNL” alum Sudeikis does a respectable job as leading man, the movie is more about teamwork, with co-stars Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Kathryn Hahn, and Nick Offerman each getting their own laugh-out-loud moments. If anything, “We’re the Millers” is worth watching for the particularly hilarious, over-the-top (and dirty) performance from Hahn, whom we can’t wait to see in a lot more R-rated comedies. -- Tim Hayne
- 49. 'The Great Gatsby'
Why We Loved It: A bore or an overwhelming spectacle, an inventive re-imagining or an insult to the novel -- Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation was called each by critics and audiences alike. Yet regardless of whose team you’re on, it must be said that “The Great Gatsby” is a bold endeavor that succeeds in being what it purported to be: a Baz Luhrmann film. The movie is filled with dizzying, dazzling extravagance and a mesh of the modern and the classic. While it has its flaws, “Gatsby” still brings a daring new vision to our era of uninspired remakes and adaptations. -- Erin Whitney
- 48. 'Room 237'
Why We Loved It: The year's most bizarre documentary explores Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" and "what it really means," but not in any way you're expecting. Presenting several extensively researched (conspiracy) theories using nothing but film clips ranging from Kubrick's entire filmography to classic Westerns to '80s slashers, the film becomes a hypnotic display of evidence that will put you in a trance as you weigh all the possibilities. Was "The Shining" a metaphor for the massacre of Native Americans? Was it a confession that Kubrick helped NASA fake the moon landing? Everything you'll hear in "Room 237" will sound both outlandish and true, demonstrating that no two people see a movie the same way. -- Erick Larnick
- 47. 'Now You See Me'
Why We Loved It: While the reviews for this magical heist movie were not the best, it struck a nerve with audiences (it received an A- on CinemaScore), and we can understand why. In a summer filled with sequels and superhero epics, it was somewhat refreshing to have a movie with a unique script and premise thrown into the mix. And aside from Morgan Freeman (who, admit it, everyone enjoys watching on-screen), the movie featured one of our favorite underrated and often overlooked actors, Mark Ruffalo (sorry, Jesse Eisenberg). -- Laura Larson
- 46. '42'
Why We Loved It: Jackie Robinson's story is a compelling one, even for non-baseball fans. The movie appealed to the history-buff in us, and gave us a glimpse into the life and internal struggle of a man who stands for so many different things to so many different people. We loved being introduced to talented newcomer Chadwick Boseman (Robinson), whom we predict we'll be seeing a lot more of in the near future, and it was also refreshing to see Harrison Ford in a somewhat out-of-the-box role as MLB chairman Branch Rickey. -- Dana Taddeo
- 45. 'World War Z'
Wy We Loved It: Everyone was predicting "World War Z" to be an absolute disaster, what with the reshot ending and rumored fight between its director Marc Forester and star/producer Brad Pitt. Lucky for us, we were all wrong. Instead of a mess, we got a miracle -- a harrowing, relatively small-scale apocalypse film featuring a worldwide zombie attack. Sure, it wasn't like the book (the film was based on Max Brooks's novel), but it never was going to be. "World War Z" stood on its own, which is a testament to everyone involved -- Brad Pitt in particular, who helped drag this thing across the finish line. -- Alex Suskind
- 44. 'The Heat'
Why We Loved It: Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy paired up as tough and funny cops? We're sold! We've wanted to be BFFs with McCarthy ever since her Oscar-nominated turn in "Bridesmaids," and we've wanted to hang out with Bullock since, well, forever. Putting these two in a comedy together was a no-brainer. Though "The Heat" has its critics, the movie was filled with laugh-out-loud moments, and it was awesome to see a buddy-cop film feature two strong female leads for a change. -- Dana Taddeo
- 43. 'The Bling Ring'
Why We Loved It: Sofia Coppola does not force an opinion of her characters in “The Bling Ring,” she shows them for what they are: shallow, soulless, and apathetic. While this may make them, and the film itself, less compelling than your typical Hollywood fare, it offers a closer, more honest telling of a true story. Free of extol or harsh criticism, Coppola shows us the fame-obsessed culture we live in, revealing an underlying loneliness and desire for attention that flows through each of her films. Instead of satirizing a current culture like “Spring Breakers” or sympathizing with it like “Frances Ha,” “The Bling Ring” simply puts our times in front of the mirror. -- Erin Whitney
- 42. 'Warm Bodies'
Why We Loved It: With swoony vampires and werewolves running amok in Hollywood these days, it’s refreshing to see a shuffling, slouchy, undead teen -- especially one played by handsome British actor Nicholas Hoult -- fall for the girl instead. A genius riff on the massively popular zombie genre, as well as a nod to “Romeo and Juliet” and a commentary on our technology-obsessed culture, “Warm Bodies” succeeds as both a rom-com and a spoof, served up with a side of suspense. -- Laura Larson
- 41. 'Pain and Gain'
Why We Loved It: It's vintage Michael Bay, but more in line with the "Bad Boys" series than his bloated mega-budget spectacles like "Transformers" or "Pearl Harbor." Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson star as a trio of steroid-injecting gym rats and amateur criminals, whose kidnapping plot quickly escalates into a drug-fueled spectacle of torture, gun battles and twisted dark humor. You know what you're going to get with Bay at this point (id-driven alpha male escapism with a sexy music video style), but "P & G"'s secret weapon is Johnson, who pushes his charisma to new limits. -- Erin Whitney
- 40. ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’
Why We Loved It: Visually striking, well-acted, and hardly the big-budget comedy-drama you’d expect from any studio, “Mitty” is like a breath of unusually fresh Hollywood air. Ben Stiller directs and stars as the titular Walter Mitty, whose epic daydreams are his only escape from a self-imposed dull life. But when real-life adventure calls, Mitty breaks out from his humdrum life and finally experiences he’d only dreamed about. Stiller smartly cast comedy favorites Kristen Wiig and Kathryn Hahn, as well as Sean Penn and Hollywood legend Shirley MacLaine, putting talented meat on the bones of what could have been an “all flash-no substance” type of production. -- Tim Hayne
- 39. 'Side Effects'
Why We Loved It: Steven Soderbergh’s slick thriller hinges on something truly unexpected: Channing Tatum, the director’s current go-to man (“Magic Mike,” “Haywire”), doesn’t make it through the first hour. But that’s not why we enjoyed the film. More than making up for the untimely loss of those abs are brilliant performances from Rooney Mara and Jude Law -- Mara, as Tatum’s disturbed widow, and Law, her psychiatrist. One of the apparent side effects of the movie is an inability to glimpse the characters’ true intentions until the very end, which is a serious feat of intrigue in this age of transparent villains and too-obvious “twists.” -- Laura Larson
- 38. 'Blue Jasmine'
Why We Loved It: Fans of Cate Blanchett, rejoice! If you want to see the powerhouse actress in a role where she’s blubbering and dishevelled instead of secure and godlike, then this is your movie. Many critics are calling this Woody Allen’s best film in a long while, and we’re inclined to agree. Great performances and a fun premise make this a wonderful movie treat. -- Chris Jancelewicz
- 37. 'The Conjuring'
Why We Loved It: Like an ice cold drink after a desert trek, “The Conjuring” is that sweet find after a sour slate of horror films -- and it has surely been a bad drought lately. James Wan’s film doesn’t necessarily do anything wholly new, it just does everything right. Both an homage and a reworking of horror gimmicks, the film refrains from overindulging (as many do) and instead teases the audience with brief scares until the tension is so high it’s past its boiling point. While its creepy faces, unnerving noises, and disturbing tales are indeed scary, the most terrifying part of “The Conjuring” is the unrelenting anxiety it creates and leaves you with. -- Erin Whitney
- 36. 'Mud'
Why We Loved It: Matthew McConaughey's career renaissance continues with a lyrical Southern suspense about lost love, lost innocence, and a rickety old boat hanging in a tree. McConaughey is the titular Mud, a mysterious drifter hiding out on a coastal island and on the run from the law, who recruits two young boys in his quest to reunite with his long-lost love (played by Reese Witherspoon) then escape to freedom. With Mud being pursued by dangerous bounty hunters, the boys learn hard truths about heartache, sacrifice, and the pain that is felt with growing up. -- Eric Larnick
- 35. 'Pacific Rim'
Why We Loved It: Sure, it’s loud, but Guillermo del Toro’s Kaiju vs. Jaeger sci-fi epic is also a rollicking CGI spectacle featuring some seriously impressive acting, courtesy of Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, and an ass-kicking Rinko Kikuchi. As far as canceling the apocalypse goes, this movie is pure, unbridled, edge-of-your-seat entertainment. -- Laura Larson
- 34. 'Before Midnight'
Why We Loved It: It's hard to find a film that depicts the raw emotion of falling in love. However, Richard Linklater's "Before" trilogy has managed to do it three times. In the third and (possibly) final installment, we once again meet up with Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), now 18 years after the two first ran into each other on a train to Vienna. They're now married with kids and facing the same types of issues most middle-aged couples face. And that's what's so special about this movie and its predecessors: they're real, they're vulnerable, and they are unequivocally devoted to its two main characters, who you can't help but fall in love with yourself. -- Alex Suskind
- 33. 'Fast and Furious 6'
Why We Loved It: The sixth (!) installment of this unlikely hit franchise had everything we wanted: guns, explosions, Vin Diesel jumping over a highway, a kickass fight between two kickass ladies (Gina Carano and Michelle Rodriguez), a car taking down a plane, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The best thing about "Fast 6" though, was that it didn't take itself too seriously. This film knew exactly what it was -- a big, fun action-packed heist flick made for the masses. Plus, Diesel and the Rock teaming up for the movie's final fight sequence was the kind of stuff action film junkie dreams are made of. -- Alex Suskind
- 32. 'Lee Daniels' The Butler'
Whey We Loved It: Director Lee Daniels is no fan of subtlety. Even his Oscar-winning drama "Precious" had all the grace of an anvil being dropped from a very tall building. But with "The Butler," his account of a man (Forest Whitaker) who worked in the White House for a staggering amount of presidents, he was able to focus all of his gonzo inclinations into a supposedly straightforward biopic. The results were wildly unhinged and shifted tonally from one scene to the next. But in a weird way this felt more authentic than something that would have played it safe. There's an overstuffed charm to each and every moment in "The Butler," and with it an unexpected power. -- Drew Taylor
- 31. 'Star Trek Into Darkness'
Why We Loved It: A mile-a-minute roller-coaster ride, “Star Trek” is a summer blockbuster crafted for Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike. Don’t know who Khan is? Doesn’t matter. The movie still boasts countless action scenes and amazing special effects. Of particular resonance is the now-infamous “space jump” scene, which is about as heart-pounding as they come. -- Chris Jancelewicz
- 30. 'Monsters University'
Why We Loved It: It's easy to be skeptical of prequels, but Pixar successfully avoids any pitfalls by focusing on the friendship of Mike and Sully. Billy Crystal and John Goodman's scare pros are second only to Buzz and Woody when it comes to great cartoon duos, and this story exploring their origins as freshman rivals is packed to the brim with hilarious college humor, colorful creative design, and character-driven warmth that will bring a smile to your face. "Monsters U" is one of those rare movies that is magically crafted to rouse pure joy out of audiences, young and old. -- Eric Larnick
- 29. 'Spring Breakers'
Why We Loved It: “Spring Breakers” is not only commendable for its hilarious moments, its honest depiction of girl and party culture, and its bold cinematography and soundtrack. Harmony Korine’s film is ultimately brilliant for creating a discomfort in the audience, causing them to question their reactions as they revel in nostalgia, shake heads in disgust, or embrace it with laughter. “Spring Breakers” becomes whatever the audience allows it to be as Korine probes his viewers as much as he does his characters, reminding us that we can (and more importantly, should) laugh at our culture’s absurdities. -- Erin Whitney
- 28. 'This Is The End'
Why We Loved It: Every Apatow-ian mainstay, plus cameos by celebrities from Rihanna to Emma Watson? Obviously "This Is the End" would be on our best movies of the year list. It was awesome to watch the likes of James Franco, Jonah Hill, and Seth Rogen play exaggerated versions of themselves, especially because alternate universe Franco was obsessed with Rogen, which allowed for some of the movie's funniest moments. The comedy also marked the directorial debut of writing duo Rogen and Evan Goldberg, a team we think should step behind the camera more often. -- Dana Taddeo
- 27. 'Rush'
Why We Loved It: "Rush" was a fun, swift, excellently told drama about real-life Formula 1 racer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and his bitter professional rivalry with German racer Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). It also happened to be the least Ron Howard-y movie Ron Howard has ever made. The racing sequences, as photographed by regular Danny Boyle collaborator Anthony Dod Mantle and scored by Hans Zimmer, have a striking you-are-there immediacy, but it's the regular showdowns between Hemsworth and Bruhl that really get your heart racing. We love "Rush" even more than we normally would because of the way that it was almost universally ignored. Sometimes, even in F1 racing, it's good to root for the underdog. -- Drew Taylor
- 26. 'Man of Steel'
Why We Loved It: Rebooting a superhero franchise can be tricky. But rebooting one that is considered the godfather of superhero films? That is downright impossible. Unless, of course, you're Zack Snyder, who managed to pull off a spectacular retelling of Superman in this summer's "Man of Steel." The latest incarnation of Krypton's most famous story featured an all-star cast, with Henry Cavill as the titular hero, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Kevin Costner as John Kent, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane. In addition to the beautiful effects and explosive action sequences, the film featured our favorite villain of 2013 in General Zod (Michael Shannon). Seriously, Michael Shannon should play every villain.
- 25. 'Despicable Me 2'
Why We Loved It: Besides our favorite gibberish-talking creatures, the Minions, we loved seeing the softer, yet just as hilariously unenthusiastic side of former super-villain Gru (Steve Carell). Adding Kristen Wiig to the cast as Gru's partner in anti-crime didn't hurt "Despicable Me 2"'s appeal either. The movie also hit a nerve with families, specifically the non-traditional ones -- you'd be had-pressed to find a family more unusual than one made up of a reformed villain and his three adopted daughters -- and we can definitely appreciate that. -- Dana Taddeo
- 24. 'Nebraska'
Why We Loved It: No other movie released this year was quite like Alexander Payne's "Nebraska." It was quietly affecting but never sappy, gorgeous but never showy, and features finely tuned, naturalistic performances that never managed to draw attention to themselves or their method. Bruce Dern, giving perhaps the finest performance in a career that has spanned decades, plays an elderly man convinced that the cheesy flyer in his mailbox actually promises him $1 million. Will Forte is his son, who goes along with the ruse as an excuse to spend time with his father. Starkly shot in black-and-white, it has a kind of rough-hewn charm. Payne isn't condescending towards his small town characters; he knows that most of us are more like them then we'd ever care to admit. -- Drew Taylor
- 23. 'Fruitvale Station'
Why We Loved It: While this movie has a few clichés and flaws, you really want to see it for Michael B. Jordan’s performance. It’s not very often that a young actor possesses such undeniable charisma. He lights up the screen in every single scene he’s in (which is, thankfully, most of the movie), and the tragic ending is absolutely devastating. This is a poignant movie for racially contentious times. -- Chris Jancelewicz
- 22. 'After Tiller'
Why We Loved It: As the old saying goes, the personal is political. And in this year's most important documentary, that couldn't be any truer. "After Tiller" focuses on the four remaining late-term abortion doctors in the United States, following George Tiller's murder in 2009. The documentary works so well because it isn't an aggressive, in-your-face call to arms. Instead, it quietly unfolds like a workplace drama. Brilliantly directed by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, the film is matter-of-fact without ever being emotionally detached. By giving us a full picture of these doctors' lives and the services they provide, "After Tiller" manages to encourage thoughtful debate and not seething outrage. No matter what side of the pro-life/pro-choice line you fall on, "After Tiller" is essential viewing. -- Drew Taylor
- 21. 'Out of the Furnace'
Why We Loved It: We have to admit, it's a little hard to buy Christian Bale as a steelworker, but the Oscar winner is still utterly mesmerizing as a man looking for his spiraling-out-of-control brother (an also excellent Casey Affleck). The cast is to die for: Willem Dafoe, Sam Shepard, Forest Whitaker, and Zoe Saldana. But the real star of the film is Woody Harrelson, who burns through the screen as vicious drug dealer Harlan DeGroat. The film has echoes of "Winter's Bone" (and, obviously, "The Deer Hunter") but stands on its own as a haunting story of devotion and revenge. -- Sharon Knolle
- 20. ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’
Why We Loved It: This three-hour-long, Palme d'Or-winning coming-of-age saga about a young girl (Adèle Exarchopoulos, in arguably the finest performance of the entire year) and her tumultuous relationship with an older, blue-haired artist (Léa Seydoux), attracted an almost unheard of amount of controversy, ranging from its lengthy lesbian sex scenes to the young actresses combative relationship with director Abdellatif Kechiche (and everything in between). Still, watching the movie, all of that noise is drowned out by its singular, heartbreaking beauty. "Blue Is the Warmest Color" remains a profound, sexy, wholly identifiable relationship drama about the people that enter your life and change it forever. -- Drew Taylor
- 19. 'The Place Beyond the Pines'
Why We Loved It: Surprisingly raw and the kind of movie that goes in a totally different direction than you expected, “Place Beyond the Pines” is a fascinating multi-generational story about families beset by legacy and expectations. Spread across three separate-but-interacting plotlines, the format of this film is refreshingly original. But the what really cements it as our No. 2 flick is its all-star cast, which features Ryan Gosling as a a motorcycle-riding bank robber, Eva Mendes as a strong single mother, and Bradley Cooper as a young, conflicted police officer. -- Chris Jancelewicz
- 18. 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'
Why We Loved It: Unlike the first "Hobbit" outing, which covered about as much ground as Radagast did in his circular flight from the Orcs, this "Hobbit" really moves. Particularly in the unforgettable barrel chase sequence, which manages to be both funny and thrilling. All that worry about original character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) was needless as she proves to be both a bad-ass fighter and the heart of a story where everyone else is overcome with greed and power. And, at last the Dwarf fellowship makes it to the Lonely Mountain where the reveal of the glorious Smaug was well worth the wait. Bring on the fiery finale! -- Sharon Knolle
- 17. 'Prisoners'
Why We Loved It: For some reason, "Prisoners," a slick, scary mainstream thriller every bit as good as Jonathan Demme's "Silence of the Lambs," never got the attention it deserved. It's a shame, since in a year less chock full of outstanding features, it would have been an easy frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar. Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard play fathers whose children were mysteriously abducted and never returned. Jake Gyllenhaal is the strung out detective trying desperately to put the pieces together (and make those pieces stick). And Paul Dano is the young man who the fathers know did it, even if the police can't confirm it. "Prisoners" is occasionally grueling to watch, with prolonged sequences of explicit torture, but it's also galvanizing and, thanks to Roger Deakins's cinematography, absolutely amazing-looking. By the end of the movie, we weren't even sitting down, we were hovering a few inches above our seat. -- Drew Taylor
- 16. 'August: Osage County'
It’s impossible to sum up the star power in “August” in a brief caption, but we will say this: every single actor in this movie, from Meryl Streep to Julia Roberts to Chris Cooper to Benedict Cumberbatch, turns in a remarkable performance. Adapted from the popular, Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play, “August” is a close-up of a (very) dysfunctional family who gather to say goodbye to their father and husband. If you thought your family was strange, watch this group try to have dinner together. Let’s just say there were audible gasps from the audience. -- Chris Jancelewicz
- 15. 'Lone Survivor'
Why We Loved It: The past year has seen its share of harrowing, real-life stories but this telling of a four-man Navy SEAL team who are hopelessly outgunned by a Taliban village is one of the most powerfully riveting 2 hours you can spend in the theater. Mark Wahlberg stars as the only man to survive the brutal shootout, Marcus Luttrell, whose best-selling book became the basis for the film. The other three main actors -- Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster -- are also excellent and the action almost unbearably realistic. You'll walk out of the theater with a lump in your throat and looking to hug the nearest member of the armed forces. -- Sharon Knolle
- 14. 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
Why We Loved It: Last year's "The Hunger Games" was good fun, for sure, a witty, PG-13 rated riff on "Battle Royale." But the sequel was, unexpectedly, so much more. The universe was expanded, featuring more characters for our hero Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, killing it once again) to interact with, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman's morally nebulous game designer, and the games themselves were more thematically and visually complex, if once again hedged in by its restrictive PG-13 rating. (Show us the blood rain!) As directed by Francis Lawrence, the film had a newly placed emphasis on geographic clarity and sly subversion; this was a blockbuster studio movie about a young girl who leads a widespread social revolution, in part by killing other young people. That's pretty awesome. -- Drew Taylor
- 13. 'Captain Phillips'
Based on real-life events, “Captain Phillips” follows a seasoned cargo-ship captain (Tom Hanks) and his crew as the ship is hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Somalia. But make no mistake, the main crux of the film is the power struggle between the two leading men: Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, who’s making his feature-film debut. Both men are nominated for Golden Globes, which comes as no surprise. The tension and desperation on the high seas is an exercise in suspense. -- Chris Jancelewicz
- 12. ‘Labor Day’
Why We Loved It: Who knew baking a pie could be so sexually charged? That newly iconic scene (you’ll want Josh Brolin to bake you a pie, trust us) is just one reason to see Jason Reitman’s surprisingly steamy and suspenseful “Labor Day.” Based on the Joyce Maynard’s best-selling novel, the movie chronicles the three-day weekend when teenager Henry (Dylan Minette) and his divorced, depressive mother, Adele (Kate Winslet), are taken hostage by an escaped convict, played by a wonderfully unpredictable Brolin in one of the best performances of his career. Reitman expertly combines a coming-of-age tale with romance and suspense, creating a very satisfying, uniquely quiet thriller. In the end, “Labor Day” is a movie experience unlike anything we’ve seen in decades. -- Tim Hayne
- 11. ‘Philomena’
Why We Loved It: Steve Coogan stars in and co-wrote the screenplay for this based-on-a-true-story drama, which co-stars Oscar winner Judy Dench. “Philomena” is a genuinely heartwarming tale (and a very different movie for Coogan, an actor more known for his comedic and satirical roles) of an older Irish woman, who, for the past 50 years, has been keeping secret the fact that she was forced to give her son up for adoption. Five decades later, Philomena's daughter enlists a former BBC reporter named Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) to help find her child in America. Not only does the movie show a strikingly different side to Coogan, but the story’s remarkable parallel between two people searching for something they’ve lost -- and the unexpected friendship they form -- is enough to melt the heart of even the most hardened moviegoer. -- Tim Hayne
- 10. ‘Saving Mr. Banks’
Why We Loved It: Watching two of our favorite actors butt heads in the battle over Mary Poppins is some of the most fun we had at the movies this year. Emma Thompson, especially, is deliciously awful as the controlling P.L. Travers, who makes Disney and his team jump through hoops as she decides whether to grant them rights to her beloved character. The rest of the cast is charm itself and special mention must be made of Colin Farrell as Travers's loving but hopelessly irresponsible father, who both inspired and traumatized her. It might have a few spoonfuls of sugar more than necessary, but it all goes down in a most delightful way. -- Sharon Knolle
- 9. 'Dallas Buyers Club'
Why We Loved It: If Matthew McConaughey doesn't get and Oscar nomination for his turn as a rodeo cowboy with AIDS, there's no justice in the world. He famously lost 50 pounds to play real-life activist Ron Woodroof, and his gaunt appearance is shocking. The actor's charm continues to shine through but at last we get to see his full dramatic range in a role that requires him to be angry, tender, blustery, hopeless, and triumphant. Jared Leto as transgender Rayon, who becomes his unlikely business partner, is also magnificent. (But then we've known that since "Requiem for a Dream.") -- Sharon Knolle
- 8. 'Iron Man 3'
Why We Loved It: The Iron Man we saw in the first two films was cunning, brash, and brave -- the product of a billionaire playboy genius looking to do some good in the world. However, for the third installment, we saw a new version of Tony Stark's alter ego. This was a vulnerable Iron Man, one worried about the effects saving the planet was having on himself and his family. Brought to life by the always excellent Robert Downey Jr. -- who once again proved why he was born to play this role -- "Iron Man 3" ended up being a superhero movie for the ages, filled with the type of emotion normally reserved for more "serious" fare. Bonus points go to Ben Kingsley, who gave us one of the most interesting superhero villains we've ever seen in the Mandarin. It's rare that a superhero flick, let alone the third installment in a franchise, can surprise us. This one did. -- Alex Suskind
- 7. 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
Why We Loved It: This latest offering from the Coen Brothers isn't like anything else they've ever done: The shaggy dog story of an aspiring but luckless '60s folk singer looking for his big break -- and a friend's lost cat -- in Greenwich Village is atypically low-key for the quirky directing duo. The main attraction is Oscar Isaac as underdog Llewyn, whose singing is a revelation, and the fantastic T-Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack. Also great, John Goodman in a small part as a jazz musician who doesn't bother to conceal his contempt for Llewyn and folk music in general. -- Sharon Knolle
- 6. 'Frozen'
Why We Loved It: To paraphrase one of the movie's brilliant songs by Bobby and Kristen Lopez: for the first time in forever, Disney delivered a genuine animated classic. "Frozen" could have been released right after "The Little Mermaid" or "Beauty and the Beast," during the studio's unparalleled jag of animation excellence; it's that good. Based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Snow Queen," "Frozen" featured, for the first time, a pair of Disney princesses (played by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel), one of whom has cast her kingdom into a perpetual winter. "Frozen" eschews many tired fairy tale clichés, lacking any real antagonist and underwriting the typical scenarios with spiky humor and an earnest attempt at not-just-lip-service feminism (thanks largely to the involvement of screenwriter and co-director Jennifer Lee). Princesses Anna and Elsa are already being mentioned in the same breath as Ariel and Belle and for good reason, too. -- Drew Taylor
- 5. 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Why We Loved It: A profound, visionary, very nearly exhausting masterpiece from a filmmaker in his seventies, "Wolf of Wall Street" isn't just a testament to the filmmaking legacy of Martin Scorsese; it's a bold, riveting, of-the-moment movie all its own. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a Wall Street sleaze whose appetite -- for sex, money, power and drugs -- is never satiable. He's like the shark from "Jaws" in a $3,000 suit. Jonah Hill is his dweeby partner-in-crime and Kyle Chandler is the FBI agent on his tail, determined to bring him down but free of preachy baggage. Few movies in 2013 felt so breathlessly alive. It also might be the funniest, most shocking film of Scorsese's career. Now that's really saying something. -- Drew Taylor
- 4. 'American Hustle'
Why We Loved It: While David O'Russell's last two films were major Oscar winners, netting awards for Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Jennifer Lawrence, they were missing some of the fun and stylistic panache of his earlier work, like "Three Kings." Now, with "American Hustle," the fun is back as the cast discos its way through con after con in this delightfully twisty tale. Amy Adams was never better, Jennifer Lawrence is a hoot, and we can't get enough of heartthrobs Bale and Bradley Cooper, who manage to make even comb overs and perms look good. This is Russell's "Goodfellas," a real-life crime story that is also a delirious love story (or two). -- Sharon Knolle
- 3. 'Her'
Why We Loved It: "Her" took our anxieties about becoming too attached to our technological trinkets and magnified them tenfold. Joaquin Phoenix plays a man in a gently futuristic Los Angeles who gets a new artificially intelligent operating system named Samantha (voiced by a breathy Scarlet Johansson) and promptly falls in love with it. What follows is the year's most unexpected love story and also one of the most affecting. We all have relationships primarily built around technology, full of Skype chats, Facebook messages, and endless texts, but "Her" takes it one step further, by imagining a romance with someone without a physical body. Maybe the most surprising thing about "Her" is how writer/director Spike Jonze resisted the urge to condemn the technology (and our relationship with it). Instead, its depiction is warm, often reverent and, by the end, totally devastating. -- Drew Taylor
- 2. '12 Years a Slave'
Why We Loved It: Chiwetel Ejiofor is undeniably spectacular as Solomon Northup, a free man turned slave, in director Steve McQueen's finest feature to date. Arguably one of the most fearless depictions of American slavery, McQueen’s Oscar-contender doesn’t pull any punches, knocking the viewer into a grisly, disturbing world right from the start. Making the horror even more potent -- and, at times, unbearable -- is the realization that such atrocities took place less than two hundred years ago. Amidst all the hard-to-watch images, however, McQueen inserts beautiful vignettes that make the film even more haunting. -- Jonny Black
- 1. 'Gravity'
Why We Loved It: Critics and audiences were wowed by "Gravity"s stunning visuals, placing director Alfonso Cuarón on nearly ever "best of" list of this year. The dizzying plight of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a scientist on her first mission who's stranded in space after a disastrous accident takes out her entire crew, had audiences breathless as she fights to survive. Some took issue with the script and dialogue, but it's hard to fault Bullock's heart-wrenching performance. The much-loved actress completely anchors the film, which could have easily spun out like so much space debris. -- Sharon Knolle
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