Best of 2013: Our favourite movies of the year

It was an excellent year for films of all genres, so choosing only five favourites each was tricky -- that said, we really loved these titles. If you haven't seen them yet, we promise you they're worth it!

It was an excellent year for films of all genres, so choosing only five favourites each was tricky. We should mention that we haven’t yet been to see a number of the buzz-worthy titles that are just hitting cinemas now (among them American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, and Nebraska) — the films we chose are ones we were lucky enough to catch earlier in the year, and we have no reservations about recommending them to you. Many are still playing in theatres, so if you have a free afternoon or evening over the holidays, go see one of them!

Suzanne’s picks:

12 Years a Slave: An utterly devastating and stomach-churning movie-watching experience, 12 Years a Slave is an extraordinary film that should be seen by all. Director Steve McQueen holds nothing back in his cinematic rendering of the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in mid-1800s New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor is electrifying as Solomon, forced to endure 12 long years at the hands of plantation owners in Louisiana. A particularly vile one, Edwin Epps (brilliantly played by Michael Fassbender), quotes passages from the Bible that in his mind justify his actions. What I found particularly striking about McQueen’s film was the juxtaposition of beautiful imagery — close-ups of cotton plants, or a letter slowly burning to cinders — against the ugliest human behaviour imaginable.

Gravity: Hats off to director Alfonso Cuaron for creating the most vivid cinematic representation of space ever seen. I was in awe for the first 20 minutes, watching as two spacewalking astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) suddenly find themselves in a deadly debris field that destroys their shuttle and nearly kills them both. With connection to Mission Control cut off, they must figure out a way to get back to Earth on their own. Sandra Bullock is earning rave reviews for her performance and rightly so — in my mind it’s her strongest performance to date.

Prisoners: Speaking of career-best performances, Hugh Jackman turns in his in this gripping thriller about a father who’s driven to the brink of madness when his daughter and her best friend are kidnapped. Keller Dover (Jackman) is convinced that a loner (Paul Dano) whose RV was spotted in the neighbourhood on the eve of his child’s disappearance is responsible for the crime. When the police investigation led by Det. Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) goes cold, Keller takes matters into his own hands in a desperate effort to find the two girls. This is Quebec director Denis Villeneuve’s first big budget feature and it’s incredibly powerful and suspenseful. And while Jackman’s performance is the one everyone’s talking about, Gyllenhaal also turned in a remarkably layered portrayal as a driven policeman haunted by his own demons.

Captain Phillips: I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t overly keen to see Captain Phillips, which is why I was surprised at how engaged I was throughout it. Based on a true story, Tom Hanks stars as Captain Richard Phillips, a merchant mariner whose ship is taken over by Somali pirates. Director Paul Greengrass is an expert at building tension, and here that talent is best put to work in the scenes featuring Phillips and the Somali pirate captain Muse (Barkhad Abdi in a breakout performance). Even though you know how the story turns out, you’ll be glued to your seat to see how it happens.

The World’s End: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and director Edgar Wright team up for a third time (following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) for this hilarious film about five friends trying to relive an epic pub crawl from their teenage years. The friends quickly discover that their hometown isn’t quite what it used to be — in fact it’s been taken over by robots. Realizing this, they try to escape before they can be assimilated into the robot society themselves. Pegg and Frost’s comic chemistry is always a hoot to watch, and the supporting cast of Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine backs them up ably.


Suzie’s picks:

Star Trek: Into Darkness: As a Trekkie and a Benedict Cumberbatch fangirl, this movie was a no-brainer for me. I loved the 2009 reboot and its sequel definitely didn’t disappoint. Action movies that run over two hours usually bore me part of the way through, but I was completely engrossed in this amazing adventure with the Enterprise crew from start to finish. (And I don’t deny the arguments that the classic Khan character was white-washed by Cumberbatch’s casting, but he really did do an excellent job in the role.)

Much Ado About Nothing: Adapted from the original Shakespeare, this rom-com directed, produced, and adapted by Joss Whedon was also filmed entirely at his Santa Monica home over a period of 12 days. I’m a big Whedon fan and a Shakespeare admirer, so this was a match made in movie heaven for me, especially since the cast featured many actors from Whedon’s past works, including Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, and Alexis Denisof. Whedon and co. stayed very faithful to their source material (the most significant change being the modern-day setting), and Nathan Fillion was hilarious in the role of Dogberry.

The Hunger Games: Catching FireThis sequel to The Hunger Games captivated me in a way that really surprised me. While I’m a big fan of the book series, the first movie really didn’t live up to the hype for me, so I went into the second movie with fairly low expectations. In the end, I not only enjoyed the second movie more than first, but I also loved the second movie more than its book! The balance of action and drama was just right for me, and yet again, Jennifer Lawrence gave a flawless performance.

Gravity: I’m pretty sure I forgot to breathe while watching this movie. It truly was as intense as the reviews said it would be, and also stunningly beautiful. The space shots and the visuals of Earth from above were amazing to look at, and both Sandra Bullock and George Clooney gave fantastic performances in their roles. Yes, you’re going to feel incredibly stressed out while watching this movie, but trust me, it’s worth it in the end.

Can a Song Save Your Life?: This musical romantic drama debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, and will hopefully be getting a full release next year, as it was picked up for distribution by The Weinstein Company after its success at the festival. The light-hearted film follows Gretta (Keira Knightley) and Dan (Mark Ruffalo) as they both attempt to get their lives back on track after relationship and professional troubles, her as a singer-songwriter and him as a music producer. Written and directed by Once‘s John Carney, the movie is packed with sing-along-worthy original songs that will be stuck in your head for days. And yes, Knightley can actually sing!

What was your favourite movie of 2013? Share your picks in the comments below!

Image: Scene from Gravity courtesy Warner Bros., 2013

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Love this list! I would add American Hustle to the list, it’s definitely one of my favourites of the year! I’ve seen it twice already – highly recommended.

December 29, 2013 at 4:01 pm

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