Alec’s Top 15 Movies of 2013


As our unofficial two weeks of arbitrary best of 2013 lists comes to a close, it seemed fitting to cap the whole thing off with a couple of actual Best Of lists. Nick posted his picks earlier in the day, and now I’m doing mine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see (and I list a bunch that would likely have made this list quite a bit different than it is), but that’s just the way it is sometimes. There are just too many movies.

As with any list, the numbers you see below are somewhat arbitrary. The top ten is pretty solidified (I think), but the last five could have been switched with nearly any of the honorable mentions and I would have still been happy with it.

All told, I recommend nearly thirty films, and if you’ve missed any of them, you’ve done yourself a disservice. So check this out, tell me what films I might have missed (and not acknowledged missing), and then go see everything you’ve missed. It’s gonna be awesome.

Movie that makes me sad about the state of film criticism (because people loved it so much despite it being the worst thing ever): Leviathan

Movies I missed that would probably be on this list: FrozenThe Hunt, The Spectacular Now, Spring Breakers, The Place Beyond the Pines, Juvenile Offender, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): Tim’s VermeerBeyond the Hills, No, American Hustle, The Great Gatsby, The World’s End, The Act of Killing, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Now You See Me, Stoker, V/H/S/2, Zero Charisma, the first two hours of Man of Steel

This is the End

I’m not usually a fan of stoner comedies, but This is the End is freaking hilarious. That’s all there really is to it. The decision to have each actor play themselves was an inspired one that could have crashed and burned but instead turned into something great. I’d be interested to know if any of the tensions between Seth Rogen and co. are actually based in reality, but even if the whole thing is fictionalized it tells a pretty compelling human story amidst all of the chaos.

Also, it has the best ending to a movie ever. Bar none. Seriously.

Read our review here.

The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street is too long. You could argue that that’s kind of the point, that the excess of it is thematically linked to the narrative, but that doesn’t change the fact that a half hour could have been cut from it without much thought. But even at three hours, it’s still a wild ride that rarely drags (I checked my watch at the two hour mark and then not again until the credits rolled). Everything is as over the top as it could be while still feeling uncomfortably realistic. (Perhaps because it’s based, at least in part, on reality.) This is what people believe Wall Street is like and Wall Streeters are like, and your feelings about the New York elite going into the film are going to radically influence the way you feel coming out.

Read our review here.

You're Next

What makes You’re Next interesting is the fact that it’s not really a home invasion film (though detailing why would involve a pretty serious spoiler). I wouldn’t even call it a horror film. Instead, it’s basically an ultra-violent dark-comedy/thriller, and a great one at that. It is also extremely quotable and has one of the most badass protagonists (male or female) of any film in the past several years.

Read our review here.

Evil Dead

My Chemical Romance said it best:

So give them blood, blood, gallons of the stuff!
Give them all that they can drink and it will never be enough.
So give them blood, blood, blood.
Grab a glass because there’s going to be a flood!

Read our review here.

The Square

The sole documentary on this list, The Square is easily one of the most important films of last year. It details the 2011 demonstrations in Tahrir Square, which is significant enough, but it also documents the follow up demonstrations that took place last year. Those latter demonstrations, by the way, took place after the film had premiered at Sundance and won the Audience Award. Instead of letting the film stay as it was, the team went back to Egypt to make sure that the new story was being told. (And they did this all at great personal risk.) This is documentary filmmaking at its finest.

Read our review here.

Upstream Color

If any film’s placement on this list is abritary, it’s this one. I am exceedingly glad that I didn’t have to review Upstream Color, because I truly couldn’t score it. The blurb that I wrote is basically non-commital trash and ends with no score attached. It’s a film that defies description, and any number I could have given it would have been completely meaningless. Is it good? Probably. But what if it’s terrible? It may very well be. I couldn’t even give a 20 point range of where that score could be.

But the fact that Upstream Color exists says something wonderful about movies, about what they can do and the growth of a new, truly independent voice in filmmaking. I don’t understand Upstream Color, but I love that it’s real. And whatever number it may be, it deserves to be on this list.

Read our review here. Read Hubert’s in-depth analysis here, here, and here.

Captain Phillips

The trailers looked cool and everything, but I didn’t expect a whole lot from Captain Phillips. It wasn’t until the morning of the world premiere that I thought it might be worth seeing. I missed the press premiere, but those who went told me it was awesome. “Really?” I thought. “Guess I’ve gotta see it.” I was told to see it big, and I have to agree that the big screen definitely adds to the experience (although unlike #7 on this list, it’s not required). But even if you missed it in theaters, you definitely have to check it out. It. Is. Intense.

Plus, the (mostly improvised) final five minutes features some of the best acting of Tom Hanks’s entire career. (He deservedly beat out Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joaquin Phoenix in our NYFF awards.) The fact that he wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar is quite literally the worst thing to ever happen in the history of America. 

Read our review here.

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club is not really a great movie. It’s just a really good one, and would not by itself earn a spot on this list. But within that movie are two best-in-career performances from actors with some pretty-damn-good performances in their careers. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto disappear into their characters, and it’s freaking incredible. Seriously, two of the best performances of the past few years are on display here (suck it, Daniel Day Lewis), and they take something really good and just turn it into something else entirely. The physical transformation that McConaughey underwent is especially amazing (Leto did something physically similar for Requiem for a Dream, so it is less shocking, though no less impressive). This one hits hard.


Gravity is back in theaters this weekend. Go see it now or not at all. The movie is an audiovisual masterpiece but is good at best in any other category. Dialogue? Fine, but way too much of it. Performances? Fine, but too much talking got in the way. Overall narrative? Kinda dumb. But the spectacle of the whole thing is completely unmatched. When I say that it is the most technically accomplished film I’ve ever seen, I’m not kidding. There’s nothing like it in existence. And it single handedly justifies the existence of 3D filmmaking. It remains to be seen whether or not it will have any sort of lasting impact, but I can unequivocally say that it is a film that needs to be seen big. Without the size or the visual depth, its narrative seams go from mildly annoying to downright irritating. 

But oh my god does it look good.

Read our review here.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

No film invigorated me like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Walter Mitty made me want to go and do things. It made me want to travel and see the world. Hell, it made a friend of mine who had never had interest in traveling want to go travel. Where Gravity revels in digital spectacle, Walter Mitty celebrates the physical. Obviously, not everything that happens is real, but the Icelandic and Greenlandic vistas are beautiful in a way few other things are. It doesn’t hurt that the movie is just really gosh darn funny, but that’s not why it’s here. It’s here for its optimism, something sorely lacking in films these days. I loved it for that, for the belief that things can and will be okay, that people can be and do great things. Many films on this list are about humanity’s failings. Walter Mitty is about humanity’s successes.

Read our review here.


The film with the highest review score I’ve ever given is only number five on this list. Every film going forward is a film I will never forget. Every film from here on down is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. (It was a seriously good year.) At Flixist, a 95 changes the way you look at film. Wrong changed the way I look at film. After Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber, I didn’t really think that absurdism could be done in film form. I thought that perhaps it required the physical presence of the actors. I was wrong. (Ha!) Absurdism can be done. Wrong is essentially a perfect film, doing exactly what it set out to do, and I have exactly zero bad things to say about it. From beginning to end, it shocked and amazed me, and when the credits rolled something had changed. 

The next four films affected me in different ways, but all of them were extensions of what I knew cinema was capable of. Wrong was the only film I saw this year that truly broadened my horizons. And for that, it should be commended.

Read our review here.

Blue is the Warmest Color

My one rule of these lists is to stick to films that could potentially be nominated for an Oscar (my number four of last year was actually Amour). I do this in part because it keeps me from just putting together a list made exclusively of Korean films, but also because I like to believe that a country will put forth its best film to represent itself at the Oscars. Obviously, that doesn’t happen, and you need look no further than France’s snubbing of Blue is the Warmest Color to see that. (It’s not actually that simple, and their hands were tied by the Academy’s bullshit rules, but whatever.) I’m not going to let that stop me from singing Blue‘s praises.

I was thinking about Blue is the Warmest Color the other day, and I don’t mean just in passing. I mean really thinking about it. It’s been months since I saw it, but the emotions that that thing brought out in me are still there. I don’t do that very often. Blue hit me harder than any movie has in a long time, and I get chills thinking about the fight between Adèle and Emma. It’s such a powerful scene that I would remember it even if I developed amnesia. I wouldn’t be able to tell you who I was, where I was from, or why I would know this, but I’d be able to tell you that Blue is the Warmest Color is an incredible film.

Read our review here.


I almost missed Her. I am extremely glad I didn’t. A couple of weeks before the New York opening of the film, I was sitting in a classroom and the conversation for whatever reason turned to the film. Without even thinking about it (I wasn’t even really paying attention), I shouted, “Oh my god that movie is so good!” Fortunately, it wasn’t actually interrupting anything, but I then felt kind of weird telling everyone that no, it wasn’t out yet, and I saw it because I was at the world premiere at the New York Film Festival. (I did not mention that it was at the press screening that happened before the actual premiere.) But that is the sort of reaction the film got from me. It’s such a brilliant story that is about as relevant to our time as any modern love story could be. Its utopian near-future is beautifully portrayed, and everything feels real and possible.

The relationship between Theodore and Samantha is perfectly rendered, and even though Samantha has no physical form, I believed in the two of them and what they had. Absolutely wonderful.

Read our review here.

Before Midnight

I saw this one back in March and I was convinced right through September that it would be the best film I saw all year. I was wrong (obviously), but that does nothing to diminish what Linklater and co. have made here. The Before trilogy is undoubtedly the best trilogy cinema has ever produced. Before Sunrise is a thing of beauty and Before Sunset even more so. Each of these films took the idea of a feature-length conversation and made it into something incredible. So expectations were high for Before Midnight, and the team delivered on all counts. The scale of the film is so much grander, as the couple is married and seams in their relationship have begun to show. But the comfort that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have together is just kind of mind blowing. They are Jesse and Celeste. I saw the films essentially in sequence, and there isn’t a hiccup in any performance, despite the 18 year gap. It’s truly mesmerizing, and a basically perfect effort on all fronts.

Read our review here.

12 Years a Slave

It kinda had to be.

I knew from the second that it was announced that 12 Years a Slave would be amazing. Steve McQueen is easily one of the best directors working today, and Shame was my number 2 film of 2011. As the cast list grew and grew, there was no way that the film wasn’t going to blow everybody out of the water. And just when people thought that maybe the hype was too much… it came out.

And… wow.

Seriously, wow. From start to finish, 12 Years a Slave is a film that hurts. It is the anti-Walter Mitty. It is a stunning portrayal of humanity’s evils and even though Solomon Northrup was eventually freed, the reality that his story was not so unique is almost unbearable. Everybody knows slavery was bad, but it’s hard to comprehend just what it was like. 12 Years a Slave may still be a sanitization of that era, but it comes as close to a vicious, horrific portrayal as anything cinema has ever produced. It’s a film that everybody should see, and it was best film of 2013. 

Read our review here.