The 13 Best Movies of 2013

By Greg Tozian

A funny thing happened while the world was navel-gazing on social media and mobile devices and lamenting the death of the music industry and book publishing (even the quality of graphic novels are in a slump): movies are back.

The medium has now risen above the noise of endless sequels and seemingly obligatory quarterly reports by tired art house favorite directors, to surprise us with a rush of films that are actually worth seeing and re-seeing.

Sure there will forever be media hype about style-over-substance throw-away blockbusters, CG and 3D this and that, but there were actually some amazing films made last year.

The criteria by which I measure films are on silly things such as: the truths they reveal, the substance of their ideas, creativity, beauty, memorability, and honest emotional resonance (the power to move us without cheap tricks and saccharine). Some of them even attempted something new for a change.

Great movies should have artistic gravity, actually mean something, and be able to stand the test of time. When you want something more in the dark, try this list the of the best of 2013 (in the order of preference):

The_Great_Beauty

1. The Great Beauty (Italy) — a sprawling, parti-colored tribute to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Lost souls never looked so happy, sad and hopeful. A classic.

The-Machine-Which-Makes-Everything-Disappear-

2. The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear (Georgia, Documentary) — Living in the shadow of their Soviet past while enduring material and spiritual hardship, an unforgettable group of everyday Georgian people audition for a movie and find themselves confessing their fears and desires in a quietly devastating story of regret and hope.

This image released by the TriBeca Film Festival shows a scene from "Wadjda" , a film shot in Saudi Arabia, and the first Saudi film made by a female director. The film, by Haifaa al-Mansour, will be featured at the at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. (AP Photo/TriBeca Film Festival)

3. Wajda (Saudi Arabia) — Using the context of a little girl who has the brass to want her own bicycle in a repressive Middle Eastern society, Wajda is a heartfelt, perfectly paced glimpse into the daily struggles and dreams of a world Westerners rarely see.

4. Much Ado About Nothing (U.S.) — The idea of placing Shakespeare’s revered guy gets-loses-gets girl play among modern, wealthy Southern Californians sounds like an awful idea. It isn’t. It’s simply wonderful.

5. Blackfish (U.S., Documentary) — It restores one’s faith in the ability of filmmakers to be muckrakers. An excoriating indictment of Sea World’s treatment of their “entertaining” killer whales and the people who work with, and sometimes fall prey to them.

6. Dallas Buyer’s Club (U.S.) — The based-on-a-true-story genre gets a shot in the arm in this excellent tale of a cowboy who learned to love others and his own too-short life by turning self preservation into a fight for social justice.

7. The Place Beyond the Pines (U.S.) — A riveting drama that examines first one life, then another, moving from a well-meaning loser to an equally troubled winner, and pronouncing them both merely human.

8. American Hustle (U.S.) — You must tip your toupee to any film that can get the 1970’s so right as to look and sound as if it was made (extremely well) in that goofy, decade. Super script, directing, music and acting throughout.

9. What Maisie Knew (U.S.) — A modern-day-New-York bon-bon, sweet and tart in all the right places, based on a Henry James story about a stalwart little girl who ping-pongs between hedonistic parents.

10. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (U.S. Documentary) — Appropriately, you don’t have to like Big Star’s terrific music to appreciate this bracing look at a cult band whose talent and energy were no match for a bad marriage in a cut-throat business.

11. 12 Years a Slave (U.S.) — The tragedy of the African American experience in pre-Civil-War America, unvarnished and unrelenting. A bitter history lesson that every American should and heed.

13. Fruitvale Station (U.S.) — The tragedy of the African American experience in modern day Oakland (or, Anytown, USA). A straight-forward illustration that feature films can be still about topical problems.

14. Upstream Color (U.S.) — An oddly hypnotic love story that’s half film-school experiment, half-metaphysical science fiction. Yet it’s once more proof that film can lay bare life’s mysteries more directly than other art forms, while never coming close to explaining them.

See you all in 2014, at the movies.

Greg Tozian is the Chief Storyteller for Big Brand Stories.