Best movies of 2013

by on November 23, 2013 at 5:35 am in Film | Permalink

This has been an excellent year for movies, in fact I can’t remember a period so good.  Here is what I liked, noting that foreign films are classified by “what year did I have a chance to see them?” and not by their initial years of release, which are usually pre-2013.  Here goes, more or less in the order I saw them:

Amour, by Michael Haneke.

The Chilean movie NO, which is an account of how, even in the strangest of circumstances, democracies filter policy outcomes, as indeed autocracies do too (in different ways).

Spring Breakers

The Gatekeepers, I taught that one in Law and Literature class last year.

Room 237, an excellent mock on Straussians, through the medium of the fandom cult for Kubrick’s The Shining.

Oblivion

Stories We Tell

Before Midnight, completes the trilogy realistically, with charm and bite.

In a World…, “a subtle and entertaining movie with much economics in it, most of all the economics of superstars in the “voiceover” sector.”

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceacescu, “is mesmerizing, like watching one of the great silent films of the past, and the scenes where the Chinese communists praise the Romanian communists are some of the best ever filmed.”

Pieta, brutal Korean brutal tale involving money lenders and non-price compensation schemes.

Fill the Void

World War Z

In Another Country, Korean and French juxtaposed.

The Attack, possibly my favorite of the year, if I had to pick.  Lebanese and Israeli in its sources.

The Act of Killing, mostly set in Sumatra, brutal, has lots of social science.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, don’t tell Stevenson and Wolfers.  Directed by Werner Herzog.

Gravity

Captain Phillips — treat the two embedded stories as implicit commentary on each other.

12 Years a Slave

Hollywood redeemed itself with those last three, after what was otherwise a dismal year for mainstream releases.

I loved the documentary In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey, although perhaps it is for fans only.

The crop of Christmas movies isn’t even out yet.

Alexander Gabriel November 23, 2013 at 5:42 am

Come on. What about The World’s End.

Perfect for people concerned with global catastrophic risk.

JMC November 25, 2013 at 4:41 am

I was definitely going to mention the World’s End. Very funny and clever/silly.

vbbc November 28, 2013 at 7:46 pm

are you fuckin sick, that movie was super lame

Nick November 23, 2013 at 6:54 am

You mean 12 Years a Slave?

Simon November 23, 2013 at 7:02 am

No is a 2012 film, isn’t it? I saw it in theatres over a year ago.

Simon November 23, 2013 at 7:06 am

Oops I just read the first paragraph. Disregard that.

Anon. November 23, 2013 at 7:13 am

No Upstream Color? I thought it was the year’s best film. Carruth is the most interesting person in cinema right now.

I also want to mention Stoker, which had some amazing technical elements. The art direction, cinematography, and editing were astounding but were unfortunately let down by the writing.

ummm November 23, 2013 at 7:48 am

I wonder how artists will fare in our post average world?

Tyler Cowen November 23, 2013 at 8:24 am

They’ve been living in it for some while!

prior_approval November 23, 2013 at 11:11 am

Or not – Hollywood is probably the most unionized private industry that exists in the U.S. Unless one thinks that movies are the result of a director and a couple of stars, by themselves, of course. (And just for fun – do note that both the director and the stars of any major Hollywood production are union members – DGA and SAG-AFTRA, respectively.)

People tend to confuse the movie industry, which includes a vast number of people who, at best, receive a bit of credit at the end of a movie (and a lot more who don’t), with the dreams that industry sells. Including stardom as somehow representing the roughly 375,000 people that work for Hollywood (‘So, how many people are actually employed in the movie industry? Not that many. 374,000 in 2010 — and that includes both full and part time workers. And that’s really not much different from the 392,000 in 1998.’ – http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111212/02244817037/congressional-research-service-shows-hollywood-is-thriving.shtml )

Though if anybody can name the top .1% – or 375 people working in Hollywood – I’d be a bit surprised. Though not astonished – after all, there are people that can name all 9 Supreme Court Justices, all 50 states, 100 senators (plus 1), and even 435 representatives (give or take a vacancy or two).

mike November 23, 2013 at 11:37 am

It seems like your data supports his point but you’re too stupid and hellbent on being disagreeable to see it.

RM November 23, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Even longer in the slice called Bollywood. (Though being fair-skinned and having family connections also help over there).

jerry November 23, 2013 at 8:25 am

Gravity?????? Seriously

Ted Craig November 23, 2013 at 9:51 am

That bothers you more that Spring Breakers?

Nikki November 23, 2013 at 10:18 am

Has anybody ever been bothered by an excuse to ogle an abundance of 20-year-old bosoms? Let’s say jealousy doesn’t count.

JMC November 25, 2013 at 4:44 am

The Disney teen star all grown-up and bikini clad is just the hook. It’s actually pretty interesting…I mean, its not From Justin to Kelly we’re talking about (anybody get that one?)

Widmerpool November 23, 2013 at 8:32 am

Thank you for this.

Agree wholeheartedly on Spring Breakers. World War Z a disappointment.

I would add “The Past”, “Beyond the Hills”, “The Look of Love” and “What Maisie Knew.”

john personna November 23, 2013 at 8:37 am

I thought World War Z a poor story stringing together technically impressive but ultimately silly special effects.

(As a science note, nanotech and zombie movies ignore energy balance at their peril. Motion does not come for free.)

Yancey Ward November 23, 2013 at 12:20 pm

World War Z should have been an epic disaster movie beginning to end. The search for patient zero was poorly written and executed.

chuck martel November 23, 2013 at 8:35 am

Between eating, reading, watching movies and this blog Tyler must spend almost 5 minutes a day sleeping.

Mark Thorson November 23, 2013 at 11:04 am

My theory is he sleep-reads these books. He puts them under his pillow at night, then blogs about them when he wakes up the next morning.

Guest November 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm

I assume there are many bloggers but they all post under Tyler’s name. Like they do at Zero Hedge

Yogesh November 24, 2013 at 12:37 am
Boris November 23, 2013 at 10:01 am

Hmm… World War Z, Oblivion, Gravity?

Spring breakers becomes a bit of a chore to watch half way through, then when it’s over you realize the movie is something great.

My distaste for the first three owes to the inanity, and blandness of the dialogue, which as you watch makes for a distraction.

Does the fact that a movie references a set of beliefs make it worth seeing?

Nikki November 23, 2013 at 10:14 am

No love for The Hunt or did you see it last year?

A Definite Beta Guy November 23, 2013 at 10:19 am

Don’t understand the obsession with Oblivion. The visuals were fantastic, but it did not get any sort of rise out of me. Needed more Morgan Freeman.

I would put Man of Steel on that list, but I’m a Super-fan. *shrug*

“The Internship” was a fun take on the Under-Dog comedy for geeky guys like me that think Revenge of the Nerds is way outdated.

Claudia November 23, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Well, often I don’t think we all see the same movie. I went to see Oblivion after reading the Straussian review on MR: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2013/04/oblivion.html . When I got bored during movie, which had some slow spots, I could ponder these odd hypotheses and think who would come up with those ideas watching this movie? But we are all quirky viewers: the final scenes of Oblivion sold the movie for me. No spoilers but as someone from whom Top Gun was a formative movie and thus admires Tom Cruise ‘types’, I could not help but smile. Movies and other forms of entertainment art try to get us outside of ourselves, but only to a point. To each his own.

PS I totally agree with Man of Steel, glad I saw it in the theater.

dirk November 23, 2013 at 10:40 am

Wow. Except for the Herzog, haven’t seen any on this list but was under the impression it was a horrible year for movies. Couldn’t bring myself to go to a theater. In a World is the only one I wanted to see but missed. Maybe I’ll check out No and The Attack on netflix.

FredR November 23, 2013 at 11:19 am

“Hollywood redeemed itself with those last three”

Sheer nonsense; they were all bad. This is the least convincing Tyler list I’ve seen. Is there some Straussian point I’m not getting?

Ed November 23, 2013 at 11:31 am

I agree it was a good year for movies, and even the standard Hollywood blockbuster fare was better than usual.

On this list, I saw “Oblivion” and “World War Z.” I also saw “The World’s End” which is not on the list but which the first commentator suggested. I wound up seeing half a dozen other movies, including “Man of Steel”, but these three were the best of the group of movies I saw.

“The World’s End” is actually the best of the group I saw this year, the only one I”m tempted to drag other people to, but its hard to sell. Its basically a mid-life crisis movie with zombies. However that description doesn’t really do the movie justice.

“Oblivion” is a throwback to the long, slow moving, and high-concept sci fi of movies of the 1960s and 1970s -there are obvious borrowings from “Solaris”- with some concessions thrown in for modern audiences.

I think “World War Z” runs into the problem that if you read the book, the book is not better, and if you haven’t read the book you aren’t going to understand what the fuss is about. The book is very episodic and probably unfilmable, though it could be turned into an excellent TV series. The movie-makers made it work by making a movie set in the universe of the book, though without using any of the book’s plot or characters, plus the zombies are different. But it does actually work.

“Man of Steel” would be well done if it weren’t for some big plot holes.

Not on the list, “Admission” should have gotten more attention, but its a romantic comedy. The next installation of “The Hobbit” is coming out as a Christmas movie. To watch this in the right frame of mind, you have to understand that Peter Jackson is not filming “The Hobbit”, he is filming a prequel to the “Lord of the Rings” that incorporates some material from “The Hobbit”. I’m not sure why, if he was able to get funding for this, he didn’t just go ahead and tackle “The Silmarillion”. With this caveat, the first installation of “The Hobbit” was surprisingly good.

Keith November 23, 2013 at 11:52 am

I agree with your observations about the Hobbit which is why I didn’t like it. The Hobbit book is a fun adventure story. The first movie was so heavy. I think the director forgot what it is like to be the kid he once was.

Yancey Ward November 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Yes, the movie is greatly overwrought and serious. The direction and the writing fails to really understand the difference in tone between The Hobbit and the LotR books.

Yancey Ward November 23, 2013 at 12:29 pm

I have some of the same opinions about The Hobbit- why film this, especially in three installments, when there is far richer material available in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion and the subsequent posthumous publications.

However, I found Jackson’s movie dull (and I loved the book)- for me it was surprisingly bad, and I have no intention of watching the next two.

Ed November 23, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Again, Jackson isn’t really filming “The Hobbit”. He is filming the appendices to the Lord of the Rings, which he obviously loves -he incorporated alot of that material into the Lord of the Rings movies. I really liked the appendices too, but they never struck me as movie material.

The Silmarilion actually has lots of stuff that could be turned into watchable movies -the problem is sorting through it and getting it organized into a serviceable plot- so I really don’t get the obsession with filming the appendices. Jackson took alot of liberties with the book of “the Lord of the Rings” but the movies kept the same general tone as the book. With the Hobbit movies, he is much more faithful to the text but the tone is completely off.

Yancey Ward November 23, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I don’t think you could do justice to the The Silmarillion in less than four films, but I don’t think it necessarily hard to organize into a coherent series since the book itself has already done that with the various fragments Tolkien had left behind. The main problem would be fleshing the stories out with dialogue, since they are only narrated in very broad strokes in the book.

Norman Pfyster November 24, 2013 at 10:46 am

I thought the movie was horrible the first time around. Having recently seen the trailers for the new movie (elves! jumping around battling goblins! I think they managed to smuggle in a brief shot of Bilbo), I came to the same conclusion you did about prequel with a few lines from The Hobbit. So I tried watching it again this week in that frame of mind. It still sucked.

Yancey Ward November 23, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I still don’t understand the allure of Oblivion. Every single plot twist was blindingly obvious because they were borrowed from other films. Only the visuals were well done, but the rest was incredibly boring.

JMC November 25, 2013 at 4:48 am

Yes, its basically a mash-up of many other sic-fi films, with Tom Cruise doing what he does best–being Tom Cruise (doesn’t anybody else think he runs weird?). However, its visually stunning and there are a lot of kids out there who haven’t seen many older sic-fi flicks.

Adam J Calhoun (neuroecology) November 23, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Every list is personal, but I’m surprised not to see any of Upstream Color, Fruitvale Station, Frances Ha, or Drug War on there.

RV November 23, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Is there anyone who has seen Room 237 and can explain how it mocks Straussians? I certainly thought it was more of a documentary on the obsessiveness of fans than on the Shining, but I did not see what Tyler saw.

Eric Charles November 23, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Nice list except for Spring Breakers.

I’ll add:

-Sound City (documentary about famous movie studio)
-The Angel’s Share

Still looking forward to:

-Nebraska
-The Wolf of Wall Street
-American Hustle

Still need to catch up with:

-Enough Said
-Fruitville Station
-Philomena
-The Spectacular Now

Alexei November 23, 2013 at 1:45 pm

No mention of Pacific Rim?

WWZ was atrocious in my opinion, but perhaps because I read the book.

GU November 23, 2013 at 1:58 pm

“Blue is the Warmest Color” and “The Spectacular Now” were both very good.

Seppo November 23, 2013 at 6:30 pm

“Rush” was a surprisingly fine film, and Daniel Bruhl’s acting was superb. I suppose one has to be familiar with motor racing for the larger points to be apparent to the viewer.

Robert A. Levine November 24, 2013 at 2:50 am

If you have no memory of a period so good as this year you have no knowledge whatsoever of movies. Check out any year, any decade before 2000 and you’ll find a better period.

David N November 24, 2013 at 8:34 am

Surprised not to find “A Hijacking” on this list. I’d also add “Mud.”

JJ November 24, 2013 at 11:58 am

Yes, Tyler you need to watch this

JJ November 24, 2013 at 11:58 am

(A Hijacking)

Nikki November 24, 2013 at 8:48 am
vetr November 24, 2013 at 7:31 pm

A few years ago as a favor to friends who ran an independent video store I decided to rent out every American movie I could from 1936. Bottom line – no masterpieces, except for Men in Black by the Fine Brothers and Curlie (even John Ford had a bad year).Womens’ makeup was regularly terrible, men’s attempts at alpha charisma were regularly boring and ponderous and sad. Every movie, however, showed lots of hard work on the part of the entertainers, and even the worst, Anthony Adverse, had a few minutes of something close to real art. Back to the subject of this post, I would like to watch a broadcast television version of Spring Breakers, because I trust T. C.’s taste in underrated movies, but I doubt that it is still easy to find those edited versions of yore that cropped out the more loungelizardish and prurient moments from movies that were better than that. (as for 2013, I saw one movie from this year, Star Trek, the best, almost Shakespeareanly human, moment of which was Zoe Saldana being asked by the Chris Pine character, upon being informed that the Zoe/Spock relationship involved rockiness and disagreements – “what is that even like” = almost as good as the Jan Brady / Alice as truck driver initial moments from the Brady Bunch movie a decade or two ago

Lucia November 26, 2013 at 3:31 am

The Act of Killing is worthing to watch.

david s December 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm

1994 is worth remembering: Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, Shawshank Redemption were all big hits. The Lion King for kids. Hoop Dreams documentary was excellent. The Three Colors Trilogy. And not to mention Four Weddings and a Funeral, Natural Born Killers, The Professional, and Quiz Show. Not bad.

test December 6, 2013 at 9:26 pm

most poorly organized post i have ever seen, post some posters with movies you fuck.

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