2013 was a stellar year for film. From the gentle and warm The Lunchbox, to bigger sci-fi movies like Gravity, we’ve been hard-pressed to choose which film to see, let alone choose our favourites.
Story by Rumnique Nannar
Let’s preface this list of top films of 2013 by noting that it cannot contain the range of outstanding movies that were released in cinemas, festivals, VOD, television and other digital platforms this past year. A top 10 list is usually a hard scramble for critics to neatly tie up the year into a bow of films that moved and excited them.
In an effort to join in the fun, here is our list of blockbusters, Bollywood gems and new masterpieces from 2013 that we recommend you see, tout de suite!
1. 12 Years A Slave – Initially many critics were wary about Steve McQueen’s masterpiece, coding it as an uncomfortable watch because of the brutality and slow-burn tone. While many historical films about slavery and racism in the US can feel didactic and clumsy in their denouement, 12 Years A Slave utilizes McQueen’s characteristic detachment to involve the audience in Solomon Northup’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) life. The film is definitely isn’t easy to watch, but it takes the audience on a personal journey through Northup’s enslavement, his despair, and his overarching hope. Ejiofor delivers a sterling performance that never strikes a false note, along with the brilliant Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender. The film defiantly posits a much truer and less gratuitous version of the South than Django Unchained last year, and reveals a stark reminder of a not so far off past in American history.
2. The Lunchbox – Ritesh Batra’s film is constructed much like the tiffin dabba that connects Saajan (Irrfan Khan) and Ila (Nimrat Kaur), revealing layer after layer in this understated and sweet love story. Batra grounds his story in his two lead characters and their personal transformation after their adorable “meet-cute” by way of the tiffin and letters. Khan delivers yet another beautiful performance, where his eyes do much of the yearning. Kaur is definitely one of the best finds of the year, investing Ila with a touch of loss and burden at her husband’s infidelity. Batra uses space and framing to suggest how open and transformative the letters have become in Ila’s life, helping her move beyond her kitchen, and for Saajan, as he adapts to the hustle-bustle of the trains. The surprise package of the film has to be Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s lovely comic presence as Saajan’s trainee who also provides some support for the narrative.
3. Fruitvale Station – Ryan Coogler’s film conjured up comparisons to the Trayvon Martin case, with his exploration of the life of Oscar Grant, who was shot on New Year’s in 2009. The film explores the last 24 hours of Grant’s life, showcasing him as a dutiful father and a good friend, yet it does not shy away from his anger and wrong choices. While many critics highlighted that the movie made them weep for a lost life, the portrayal of Grant doesn’t intend to lionize him but focuses more on his wasted potential. Coogler was from the same neighbourhood as Grant and uses the space and familiarity in novel ways, whether its the foreboding train in the background or Grant’s drive to his former hangouts. Fruitvale Station marked the brilliant film debut of Michael B. Jordan, who went from side roles in Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, The Wire and All My Children, to a very wise and explosive actor in this gem.
4. American Hustle – Many of David O.Russell’s films have Scorsese quirks to them: intense characters, a De Niro appearance, and a zippy repartee between his actors. American Hustle brings that homage to perfect fruition in its retelling of the Abscam scandal, where FBI agents worked with a conman for a sting operation to nab congressmen and senators taking bribes. There’s a lot of killer rock ‘n roll tracks set to hilarious montages of the scheme, shouting characters talking over each other, and Bradley Cooper adorably sitting around in his curlers. The film has it’s heart in the right place, sympathizing with its crooks (Amy Adams and Christian Bale), while tackling the ineptitude of law-enforcement in the scheme. The film has a brilliant script that bubbles along with character depth, frenetic editing and enough room for all the actors to get the knack of their characters.
5. Nebraska – I’ll reiterate just how much I adored this droll and elegiac comedy featuring father and son (Bruce Dern and Will Forte) going on a trip to Nebraska to collect sweepstakes money and stopping in to see family along the way – all who want a piece of the pie. Dern is a deadpan dream in this role as Woody Grant, suffering from dementia and having his King Lear style unravel around his family. Bob Nelson’s script hits all the fine points, and he understands that all families have that awkwardness and kooky ability in trying to get to know each other after a long gap. The scene where Woody sits with his seven other brothers while his son tries to make small talk with monosyllabic answers is just hilarious. The film looks poised for Oscar season with Dern campaigning for his best actor slot, but here’s hoping the Academy will appreciate Forte and June Squibb as the lairy and cursing matriarch of the piece.
6. Wadjda – Haifaa Al Mansour’s grand debut as the first female director of the first Saudia Arabian movie filmed in the country is a major masterpiece for world cinema. It’s universal in its reach, with 10-year old Wadjda (Waad Mohammad) asserting her small independence by financing for a bike, but it features sly comments on the constraints of women in the country as well. Wadjda’s home life is in a precarious balance of sharing her father and playing with her friend Abdullah. It’s an amazing movie that showcases a world away from the stereotypical representations of the Arab world to focus on the minutiae of Wadjda’s struggles to get her bike against a patriarchal culture. Waad Mohammad is an absolute treasure, investing a wisdom and quiet focus to her plucky young character.
7. Shuddh Desi Romance – In one of the most unusual films out of Bollywood in 2013, Yashraj Films ventured to push the envelope a bit further with Shuddh Desi Romance, which tackles live-in relationships and female sexuality on a bigger scale than before. The film features Raghu, a feckless young man who ditches his bride (Vaani Kapoor) at the altar for the free-spirited Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra). I have to admit, I was infinitely more taken with the women in the film who assert their views on love and sexuality, as modern independent women who don’t really care what society thinks. Jaideep Sahni’s script definitely captured the pulse and attitudes of the younger crowd with aplomb and without any paternal judgement on it’s female characters. This film seemed like a great step forward in creating female characters in Bollywood who aren’t the Manic Pixie Dream Girls who need to help the hero grow from his man-child status!
8. Before Midnight – The third film in the Before Sunrise trilogy was one of the most perfect examinations of married life and its hangups of children, boring sex, and the recriminations of the past. Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater’s script is already nabbing nominations for best adapted screenplay, and it’s easy to see why as they don’t go for the happy married life in this sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Jesse and Celine are still their neurotic selves and squabble their night away from their children on their annual holiday in Greece. Brimming with humour and ferocity, Jesse and Celine have to reconcile their different versions of love and it’s overwhelming intensity. The movie is a fitting swansong to the trilogy, and we’re left hoping that Jesse and Celine will endlessly debate and make it through!
9. The Spectacular Now – Now you may be wondering, where did this teen movie come from? James Ponsoldt (Smashed) creates one of the best films about being a teenager and it’s foibles. The film follows party animal Sutter (Miles Teller, in a star-making performance) as he navigates his last year of high school, while maintaing a shaky drinking problem and falling for the nerdy Aimee (Shailene Woodley). The script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber never strikes a false note in its depiction of teenagers and their problems. Teller imbues such pathos and zest into Sutter, creating a complex and tragic portrait of wasted potential. The film manages to work its way into the canon of iconic teen dramas like The Breakfast Club and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, because we can all recognize a Sutter from our high school memories. That one kid who had all the potential and fun, but cut it short to stay grounded in the spectacular present.
10. The Wolf of Wall Street – I couldn’t help but grin when walking out of the cinema after seeing Martin Scorsese’s latest film. Many of older audience members were murmuring, “How shocking!” and the gem, “Why can’t that guy just make a nice movie, he’s our age!” Well Scorsese definitely won’t be making an On Golden Pond. Instead, he stages a Quaalude breakdown for Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Dicaprio gamely going for it all) and his friend Donny (Jonah Hill). Scorsese is already ruffling a few feathers with older and fuddy duddy Academy members who shouted at him and Dicaprio at a screening. The film faithfully recreates much of money-laundering and sleaze-ball excess of Belfort’s lifestyle as he becomes drunk on his own power with cocaine, money and women. Imagine the last half an hour of Goodfellas, and you’ve got the frenzied chaotic energy of this film, which is a searing look at the rise and fall of a man trying too hard for that hedonistic American Dream!
Read more of our Top 5 Lists and Memories of 2013:
Top 5 Pop Culture Moments That Made us Cringe in 2013
Top 5 Music Albums of 2013
Top 5 Indian Fashion Collections of 2013
Memories of 2013: Times of India Film Awards Red Carpet Gallery
Story By: Rumnique Nannar