The 50 Best Movies of 2013

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30. Much Ado About Nothing

Director: Joss Whedon
As with any well-executed production of a much beloved, older play (be it on stage or screen), Much Ado comes loaded with elegant solutions to the challenges of communicating with a contemporary audience in a non-contemporary (no matter how beautiful) language. A celebratory fist bump here, a shared look there—Whedon and his cast usually insert enough non-verbal cues into the proceedings that most viewers will be able to follow the action even when an understanding of the dialogue proves evasive. Virtually every actor in Much Ado About Nothing is a veteran of at least one of Whedon’s television or film projects, and for the most part, their efforts are not wasted in this particular labor of love. So much of the joy of Much Ado rests on the acerbic Benedick and Beatrice, and Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker perform their roles with the energy and charm. As the malapropism-prone Dogberry, Nathan Fillion’s performance is a marked improvement, not only in comparison to Michael Keaton’s “pre-death Beetlejuice” turn in Branagh’s film, but also in how effortlessly it updates the “bumbling constable” character so familiar to the audiences of Shakespeare’s time to its contemporary equivalent.—Michael Burgin (review here)

29. Fill the Void

Director: Rama Burshtein
As distinct as Fill the Void is in the culture it portrays, it’s all the more so in that these sorts of women’s movies are hardly made anymore. Director Rama Burshtein’s film holds on to the woman’s viewpoint inside of a man’s world. Men and women are separated, almost like in Edwardian England, where marriages are arranged by parents instead of potential newlyweds. And surprisingly, it does question the practice of such stringent social codes. One of Shira’s friends is a woman who has passed her years of childbearing without netting a husband. She is treated with sympathy by Shira, even if others glibly gossip about her. There are friendships, mother-daughter relationships, and even frenemies in the women’s circle. This is a very real, lived-in world.—Monica Castillo (review here)

28. The Great Beauty

Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Move over Gatsby, the best movie of 2013 about rich people’s problems was Paolo Sorrentino’s gorgeous The Great Beauty. A dapper gentleman (Toni Servillo), in the truest of director Federico Fellini’s traditions, strays from exorbitant party to outlandish party with a circle of friends while musing on life, Rome and love. But on his 65th birthday, he’s thrown off his groove and begins to wonder about the limited worldview and superficial party culture he’s a part of. While maintaining a sense of the absurd, the movie is artfully composed to encapsulate the opulent lifestyle of the rich and aimless. Beauty is both a loving tribute and spiritual continuation of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and manages to pull off both feats in style.—Monica Castillo

27. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Director: David Lowery
At the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, it must be said that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is not a movie; it’s a feeling. Director David Lowery took the rugged, Americana feel of a great western, the overwhelming sentimentality of a tragic romance, the thrill of a crime drama, and the sound and tempo of some kind of epic Southern odyssey, and he created a new feeling. That feeling is conveyed in the very title, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and it overwhelms Lowery’s fourth feature project in all of the right ways.—Shannon Houston (review here)

26. The Spectacular Now

Director: James Ponsoldt
Director James Ponsoldt has adapted Tim Tharp’s coming-of-age novel with heartfelt sincerity, but the movie lacks a cutting bite to push it past innocuous teenage drama to a truly deep portrait of adolescence. Shailene Woodley gives a performance of such fragility and power that the rest of the movie feels dull by comparison. Without her, scenes are routine. With her, there’s a hint of magic.—Jeremy Mathews (review here)

25. Room 237

Director: Rodney Ascher
There exists a rare species of obsessive moviegoer—the hyper-fan who focuses on one film, mentally and emotionally ingesting it dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. Along a certain parallel, there is also a serious breed of conspiracy theorist, compulsive in his or her beliefs, taking things far beyond just watching Doomsday Preppers for fun. Put these two types together, and you get Room 237, the confounding, eye-opening and often hilarious documentary about individuals whose over-wired brains are devoted to one cinematic masterpiece: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.—Norm Schrager (review here)

24. Concussion

Director: Stacie Passon
Stacie Passon makes a number of brave choices in her excellent debut film Concussion. First, she chooses to write a film where nearly all the characters are lesbians. Then (perhaps most strikingly) she chooses not to make the film about What It Means To Be A Lesbian, as such. Then she chooses to have her main character in every scene, and to cast a powerhouse actor, Robin Weigert, in that role. That gives her the advantage of having that powerhouse actor in her film of course, but it also means she has to step up her directing game to stand up to such a strong force. She does. Weigert’s performance is simply stunning, and so is the film. Passon has established herself as a director to keep a close eye on.—Michael Dunaway (review here)

23. American Hustle

Director: David O. Russell
American Hustle is insanely fun. I hate that word “fun,” but in this case it’s a great fit. The performances from the main players are universally hilarious, the sets and costumes are perfect, and the plot is tense enough to make you care. It’s also an interesting film, but only while you’re watching. Afterward, you realize that the narrative—very, very loosely based on the famous ABSCAM FBI sting of the ‘70s, an unfaithfulness the Russell owns up to at the start with the title card: “Some of these things actually happened”—was a little thin, a little unbelievable, but you didn’t care then, and you really don’t care now.—Shane Ryan (review here)

22. Enough Said

Director: Nicole Holofcener
At the heart of Enough Said are the stellar performances by a solid cast with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini leading the way. Gandolfini’s cooly confident performance as a man who knows exactly who he is (a big-bellied slob) and what he wants out of a relationship plays perfectly against a woman who builds defense mechanisms to protect herself—and her heart—from getting it wrong again the second time around. Holofcener’s characters are wonderfully imperfect, and Enough Said shows that, just as in real life, sometimes moms and dads don’t have all the answers.—Christine Ziemba (review here)

21. All is Lost

Director: J.C. Chandor
The parallels between Gravity and All Is Lost are obvious: A lone protagonist survives the destruction of her or his space shuttle/boat, loses all communication with Earth/land and must navigate solo through the vastness of space/the ocean to get back home. But in some ways, writer-director J.C. Chandor’s story about an old man and the sea is a bolder film, eschewing backstory, sentimentality and even dialogue in favor of a primal tale of survival.—Annlee Ellingson (review here)