The Best Films of 2013 -- Last year was so overstuffed with a wealth of memorable films that narrowing it down to your typical "top ten list" just didn’t seem adequate. So here are the 17 best reasons I had for going to the movies in 2013, while any of the top five could be considered the best film of the year.
Introverted and introspective, "Inside Llewyn Davis" shows filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen in a more melancholy mood than their ironic smirk usually allows. Poor Llewyn Davis might be the hapless victim of the Coen’s more sadistic tendencies, yet the film (and Oscar Isaac’s wonderfully tortured performance) resonates loudly with disillusionment precisely because of the film’s level of compassion.
On the other hand, "12 Years a Slave" is so emotionally raw and immediate that it sears into your brain like scorching hot barbed wire. Director Steve McQueen reaches a level of dramatic intensity that ensures the humiliating black scorch of slavery on America’s identity itself should never be forgotten.
Filmmaker Spike Jonze provides a sharp commentary on our modern day society’s obsession and reliance on technology and its dehumanizing effects in the futuristic "Her". The director turns potentially laughable material into a profound meditation on love and technology in an inspired combination of both.
Rather than indulging in the euphoric draw of your typical meet-cute romantic comedy, "Before Midnight" focuses on the hard part -- maintaining a relationship once that initial thrill has long worn off. Philosophically honest and emotionally profound, "Before Midnight" is a rom-com created by adults, and made for adults.
As the blockbuster of the year, "Gravity" features breathtaking cinematography, a relentlessly thrilling screenplay, a masterful sense of pace from director Alphonso Cuaron, and a career-defining performance from Sandra Bullock. An exhilarating and ultimately exhausting ride from start to finish.
Greta Gerwig is outstanding in "Frances Ha", Noah Baumbach’s character study that reveals the actress bravely willing to explore her character’s least attractive qualities. The movie exhibits a rare emotional honesty from both filmmaker and performer, resulting in a movie that resolutely rings true.
Serving as almost a parody of the urban con artist movie, director David O. Russell’s preference for character over plot makes "American Hustle" a uniquely appealing caper film. The stellar cast brings the film’s motley collection of memorable characters to life for one of the most entertaining pictures of the year.
Part biological horror movie, part eco-terrorist plot, part science fiction drama, and another part something else entirely, "Upstream Color" is beyond category. Like the movies of Terrence Malick, director Shane Caruthers’ follow-up to the heady "Primer" makes for an impressionistic experience and shows a level of filmmaking daring that is all too rare.
Filmmaking legend Martin Scorsese transposes gangster Henry Hill’s rise to power in "Goodfellas" (1990) to New York’s stockbroker world courtesy of Jordan Belfort’s autobiography in "The Wolf of Wall Street". This frequently hilarious descent into unchecked ambition and decadence makes for uncomfortably indulgent entertainment.
Revealing that even the most mundane life events are rich with dramatic potential, Alexander Payne delivers another slice-of-life satire with "Nebraska". Filming in black-and-white was an inspired option, as Payne’s sharp observations on the frequently ridiculous nature of human behavior are both universal and timeless.
A riveting central performance from Cate Blanchett turns a better than average Woody Allen movie into something transcendent in "Blue Jasmine". Writers say that beginnings are easy and endings are hard, but the knockout ending to Allen’s latest proves the filmmaker is a master of his craft.
James Franco proves almost unrecognizable in "Spring Breakers", a deft satire of pop culture from the always unpredictable Harmony Korine. Outrageous, controversial and relentlessly entertaining, the movie proves Korine is one of the most inspired filmmakers working today.
As experimental as mainstream filmmaking gets, "All Is Lost" deserves mention for its daring alone. A virtually dialogue-free movie pushes Robert Redford to new levels of expressiveness, while filmmaker J.C. Chandor manages to wring every ounce of drama and tension possible from a brilliantly minimal concept.
Making a documentary about yourself sounds like a recipe for interminable narcissistic self-indulgence, however Sarah Polley’s investigation into her own family history and personal identity shows all the earmarks of a masterful filmmaker in "Stories We Tell."
A fond tribute to Italian horror films of the 1970s, "Berberian Sound Studio" exploits the notion that what you don’t see is scarier than anything made explicit. Relying on a film’s soundtrack to engage your imagination, filmmaker Peter Strickland concocts something far more insidious in the process.
And finally, the filmmakers behind "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" deliver yet another comic tour-de-force that proves as silly as it is smart in "The Worlds’s End". Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg prove so brilliant at parodying the blockbuster formula that they easily blur the distinctions, with the only option to surrender to their hilarious antics.
Nathan Hurlbut is a free-lance filmmaker and a regular columnist for the Arts & Entertainment section.