Best Movies of 2013 - Featured

2013 was an idiosyncratic year at movie theaters. Yes, you had hopeful tales of love, but many films dealt with the economic downturn still reverberating throughout the country from the Great Recession. You saw more characters struggling to make ends meet, and economic anxiety was still a prevalent theme during this year. It’s a trend that would continue throughout the rest of the decade as more filmmakers tried to capture this new American reality.

This next list is part of an ongoing series to rank the best films of the 2010s. What do you think the best movies of 2013 are? Check out our list to see where your favorites landed.

Top Movies 2013

20. The Place Beyond the Pines

“I wasn't around my Dad and look at the f*ckin' way I turned out.”

While many films focused on love in 2013, The Place Beyond the Pines shows there was still very much anxiety several years detached from the recession. The film follows Luke, who discovers he has a son and robs banks to care for him. In particular, the film focuses on how the actions of Luke and a police officer impact their respective children. 

Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to Blue Valentine is just as devastating, but instead of focusing on the downfall of a single relationship, The Place Beyond the Pines focuses on the downfall of those born into poverty. The film is ultimately a parable, showing how those born in destitute situations are less likely to improve their circumstance. It’s a modern day tragedy that is horrifically relatable in America's current society.

2013 IN REVIEW

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

  • Awards: Was one of the Top 10 Independent Films for the National Board of Review, USA.
  • Tomatometer: 79%
  • Watch Now →

Best Films of 2013

19. Frances Ha

“I'm so embarrassed. I'm not a real person yet.”

Frances Ha combines traditional and modern aesthetics. It’s shot in black and white, but the titular character embodies a specific type of modern, young person trying to find her way in a big city. After her roommate moves out, Frances, played brilliantly by Greta Gerwig, moves from one living situation to the next, just trying to find her place. 

The dialogue is a stand-out, perfectly capturing the essence of a socially awkward 20-something who still has the mentality of a college student. As her roommate moves up in the world, Frances is caught in a state of stagnation, feeling as though she needs to rise as well, only to reach dead ends at every turn. Trust me. It’s not as bleak as it sounds, as there’s plenty of humor to be found in the way Frances interacts with virtually everyone she comes into contact with.

2013 IN REVIEW

FRANCES HA

  • Awards: Nominated for Best Feature and Best Editing at the Independent Spirit Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 92%
  • Watch Now →

Most Popular Movies 2013

18. Frozen

“The cold never bothered me anyway.”

You couldn’t escape “Let It Go” when Frozen was first released six years ago. You still can’t really get rid of it, but at least there’s enough distance to admit Frozen is one of the finest Disney offerings in recent memory. It embodies the best qualities of Disney classics while adding enough twists to push this specific genre of film in a positive direction.

Disney showing it can be a force to be reckoned with in the animation industry began with Tangled, but it was cemented with Frozen. The 2000s weren’t great for Disney in terms of its original films, but Frozen proved Disney could still do what it did best: tell heartfelt stories that adults can enjoy as much as children.

2013 IN REVIEW

FROZEN

  • Awards: Won Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 90%
  • Watch Now →

Good Movies 2013

17. Short Term 12

“Here we go.”

Short Term 12 sees two young idealists trying to help damaged kids at a foster care facility. These days, the film is perhaps best remembered for launching the careers of some of the finest young actors out there today, such as Brie Larson, LaKeith Stanfield, Rami Malek, and Stephanie Beatriz.

True to life, Short Term 12 is sometimes bleak and sometimes joyous. It shines a light on those trying to make the world just a little bit better and how the future is in the hands of the children sometimes left behind by society. The heart, humor, and empathy on display are outstanding, and for anyone wanting to understand today’s youth just a little bit better, this film still holds resonance.

2013 IN REVIEW

SHORT TERM 12

  • Awards: Brie Larson won Best Actress and Best Breakthrough Artist at the Austin Film Critics Association.
  • Tomatometer: 98%
  • Watch Now →

Best Movies of 2013

16. Mud

“She is like a dream you don't want to wake up from.”

When two boys find a man named Mud hiding out, they help him find the woman he loves as he helps them grow into men. It’s a truly unique coming-of-age story with plenty of Mark Twain influences to help it stand apart in the modern cinematic landscape. 

More than anything, Mud is a showcase for Matthew McConaughey’s strengths as an actor. Dallas Buyers Club may have came out the same year, but Mud offers a far more muted, but nonetheless inspired performance from McConaughey. Along with Beasts of the Southern Wild the previous year, Mud proves that the Southern Gothic tale is still very much alive and well.

2013 IN REVIEW

MUD

  • Awards: Won Grand Prix at the Belgian Film Critics Association.
  • Tomatometer: 97%
  • Watch Now →

What Were the Best Movies of 2013?

15. Blackfish

“There is no record of an orca doing any harm to a human in the wild.”

At times, Blackfish is more of a thriller than a documentary. It chronicles the lives of killer whales kept in captivity at SeaWorld and how those conditions have led to the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. It opened the world’s eyes to the reality of what the theme park has done to these majestic creatures. 

The best documentaries are those that can bring about tangible change. SeaWorld has announced it will phase out its killer whale shows, but the damage is already done. Many people will refuse to visit the parks again for how they’ve treated these whales over the years, and honestly, it’s tough to blame them. Blackfish opened America’s eyes, and there’s no going back.

2013 IN REVIEW

BLACKFISH

  • Awards: Won for Best Motion Picture - Documentary at the Satellite Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 98%
  • Watch Now →

The Top Movies 2013

14. You’re Next

“Our family's being targeted.”

No genre is perhaps filled with well-known tropes like horror. For fans of these films, it can be tough to enjoy new films when you know precisely how things will shake out. That’s what makes You’re Next so refreshing. It takes the home invasion film and completely turns it on its head, making for a gory but hilarious romp that retains its appeal upon multiple viewings. 

The humor never detracts from the thrills and tension. Instead, they work together to deliver one thrilling set piece after the other. It’s already a contemporary horror cult classic that gives you everything you could want, and it set the bar for home invasion stories going forward.

2013 IN REVIEW

YOU’RE NEXT

  • Awards: Won Best Film, Best Director, Best Horror Actress, and Best Screenplay at the Austin Fantastic Fest.
  • Tomatometer: 78%
  • Watch Now →

Movies to Watch 2013

13. Fruitvale Station

“You shot me. I got a daughter.”

Fruitvale Station is a difficult film to watch, but that only makes it all the more important to view. It chronicles the real-life story of Oscar Grant and the final 24 hours of his life before he was gunned down by police officers at a subway station. 

The writing, directing, and Michael B. Jordan’s performance portray Oscar Grant as a fully fleshed human being who had the world in front of him. There was so much more he could’ve done in life, and knowing how the story ends only makes the scenes leading up to it all the more devastating. Oscar Grant was neither saint nor sinner. He was just a person who deserved better. The film will shake you to your core and hopefully open your eyes to the injustices that continue throughout America.

2013 IN REVIEW

FRUITVALE STATION

  • Awards: Won Best Independent Film at the African-American Film Critics Association.
  • Tomatometer: 94%
  • Watch Now →

Recommended 2013 Movies

12. Before Midnight

“If you want love, then this is it. This is real life. It's not perfect but it's real.”

The Before trilogy takes place nine years between each installment. It’s an appropriate device as we see the evolution of a relationship as they go from young lovers to a more mature couple. Movies end with a happily ever after or a recognition the couple will not be together, but with Before Midnight, we receive the conclusion of a couple still managing to make things work. We see that relationships are a journey, not a destination. 

Before Midnight succeeds by making the films that come before it feels more fleshed out. It’s all been building toward this grand statement that there is no happily ever after, at least in the cinematic sense. Relationships evolve over time. You can’t just be frozen in that one perfect dance for the rest of your life. You move on, and hopefully, your partner can move with you.

2013 IN REVIEW

BEFORE MIDNIGHT

  • Awards: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy won the Best Screenwriter award at the AARP Annual Movies for Grownups Awards.
  • Tomatometer: 98%
  • Watch Now →

List of the Best Movies of 2013

11. The World’s End

“WTF, Gary. WTF.”

The World’s End is an apocalypse story like no other. Told through the eyes of an alcoholic hoping to have one more night of glory with his old friends, the story goes through their journey together as they slowly discover everyone in their old small town has been replaced with alien covers. It has all the madcap hilarity you expect in the same vein as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz

Much of the Cornetto trilogy focuses on needing to grow up. They focus on characters who are men who are still boys emotionally and how they deal with that in the context of genre films. The World’s End is perhaps the best exemplification of that while also being a story about addiction and how the town you grew up in can change. And that’s not even getting into the masterful cinematography work that’s worthy of Oscar recognition as anything nominated for the Academy Awards that year.

2013 IN REVIEW

THE WORLD’S END

  • Awards: Won Best British Film at the Empire Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 89%
  • Watch Now →

Top 10 Movies 2013

10. Inside Llewyn Davis

“If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it's a folk song.”

Inside Llewyn Davis follows a week in the life of a struggling folk artist who tries to get his big break in the backdrop of an unforgiving New York winter. It’s clearly a very personal Coen Brothers film considering that it’s about an artist’s tendency to value themselves based on the art they create. 

The soundtrack to the film is a revelation. Not since Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? have the Coen Brothers beautifully melded music with film. The film is darkly funny, and for artists, it may just hit a bit too close to home. But it’s an important reminder of the toll art can take on a person and hopefully, it can change the perspective of people who think being a musician, or artist of any kind, isn’t “real work.”

2013 IN REVIEW

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

  • Awards: Won Best Use of Music in a Film from the Boston Society of Film Critics. 
  • Tomatometer: 92%
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Best Movies of 2013, Ranked

9. The Wolf of Wall Street

“What kind of hooker takes credit cards?”

The Wolf of Wall Street was one of the most controversial films to come out of 2013. Many thought the film was a celebration of capitalistic excess rather than a condemnation of it. Upon reflection, it’s easy to see that Scorsese takes a far more subtle approach in critiquing this lifestyle with the film running for three hours and much of it in the form of montage. By the end, you’re exhausted, as you should be.

The true moral of the film comes in the very last scene as Jordan Belfort teaches a seminar on selling anything and everything. The camera pans over an audience who knows of Belfort’s past, and yet, they turn to him anyway. They know he’s a criminal. They know he’s wrong. But they still want the life he has. It’s a critique on the audience’s viewpoints the film and forces you to question what you truly value and look up to in life.

2013 IN REVIEW

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

  • Awards: Leonardo DiCaprio won for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. 
  • Tomatometer: 79%
  • Watch Now →

Ranking the Best Films of 2013

8. Blue Is the Warmest Colour

“But I have infinite tenderness for you. I always will. My whole life.”

Blue Is the Warmest Colour, unfortunately, became known as the “lesbian” movie of 2013, but at its core, it’s a film about first love anyone can relate to. It’s about that moment of finding someone you feel uncontrollable attraction toward and how for most people, that first person you give our everything toward will inevitably let you down. 

The greatest lesson to be learned from Blue Is the Warmest Colour is not that you shouldn’t worry about your first love because you will find someone else. Even though two people fall in love at a young age, the scars they leave on each other will persist. The film is a gorgeous portrayal of young love. It’s the kind of movie that shows you what’s possible when you forego traditional cinematic methods and storytelling conventions and merely focus on telling truths.

2013 IN REVIEW

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR

  • Awards: Won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
  • Tomatometer: 89%
  • Watch Now →

Excellent Movies 2013

7. Stoker

“We don't need to be friends. We're family.”

A man arrives at his brother’s funeral to comfort the grieving widow and daughter. Stoker takes its crazy premise and absolutely runs to the hills with it, delivering a satisfying character study as well as an engaging thriller that knows how to get under your skin.

Director Park Chan-wook, who also gave us Oldboy, knows how to craft a twisted web, leaving you guessing what’s going to happen next even up until the final minutes. Which is nothing to say of the novel editing and production design that makes the film stand apart from its contemporaries. It’s the closest you can get to a modern-day Hitchcock thriller. It will seduce you to the point where you’ll refuse to turn away.

2013 IN REVIEW

STOKER

  • Awards: Matthew Goode won Best Supporting Actor at the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 69%
  • Watch Now →

Ranking the Best Movies of 2013

6. Nebraska

“Don’t encourage this nonsense.”

Nebraska is the perfect film to encapsulate a post-Great Recession America. It follows Woody, an elderly man who believes he’s won a million dollars, and his son, David, who knows the letter his father received is just a mail scam. But that doesn’t stop Woody from going to great lengths and convincing everyone in his small town he’s about to be a millionaire. 

The film beautifully captures the essence of wanting to live in a time long gone but still believing in a better tomorrow. The film doesn’t pull any punches, but it’s not afraid to delight in Midwestern humor (the “how long was the drive” scene is a standout). It gets just to the edge of embracing sentimentality without ever feeling too optimistic. It gives you just enough hope while reminding you of the reality so many Americans have to live with.

2013 IN REVIEW

NEBRASKA

  • Awards: Won Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Release from the British Society of Cinematographers. 
  • Tomatometer: 91%
  • Watch Now →

Top 5 Best Movies of 2013

5. Spring Breakers

“Spring break forever, b*tches.”

Spring Breakers may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those willing to go along with the insanity, it’s a unique exploration into America’s youth. The plot really comes secondary to the emotions and mood evoked through various montages set to dubstep. It places you in a specific landscape within America, but simultaneously, the film remains detached enough to critique the said landscape. It is both a criticism and celebration of the American tradition of spring break, making for a disorienting, yet profound, experience. 

Not only is it a visual delight, but James Franco turns in the best performance of his career as the “gangsta” Alien. One thing’s for certain: this film is not a passive experience. It never fails to grasp your attention, and while it may seem meandering, it’s all about the forest to the trees.

2013 IN REVIEW

SPRING BREAKERS

  • Awards: James Franco won Best Supporting Actor at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and at the San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 67%
  • Watch Now →

Good Movies 2013 to Watch

4. Her

“I've never loved anyone the way I loved you.”

In another filmmaker’s hands, Her would’ve been a heavy-handed message about how people obsess over their phones. With Spike Jonze at the helm, Her becomes less of a finger-wagging message about relying too much on technology and instead becomes a reflection of how isolated technology has truly made us. 

Many critics focus on what Her had to say about the future. But it’s vital to look at what the film says about us today. We may not have awkward sex scenes with our phones, but we hide behind technology to excuse ourselves from experiencing real moments in the outside world. It’s only when we’re able to put the technology down we realize the beauty of the world around us, and Her portrays a gorgeous Los Angeles you want to pay attention to even as the protagonist consistently keeps his eyes on his phone.

2013 IN REVIEW

HER

  • Awards: Won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 94%
  • Watch Now →

StudioBinder’s Best Films of 2013

3. Prisoners

“Tell me what you’re drawing.”

Prisoners is the story of a young girl getting kidnapped and the lengths her father will go to in order to find her. Despite a simple premise, Prisoners carves out a niche away from films like Taken into pure art. It’s a film about determination, and the pacing keeps you glued to the seat despite a 153-minute runtime. After finishing the film, you’ll realize there was no scene that could’ve been done away with. Every scene is vital to understanding the grand maze set before you. 

As we see Keller descend more into depravity, stowing a suspect away to torture him, it begs us to question, “What would we do for our family?” While it’s a wily maze, it never seems unsolvable, like the answer is in front of you the entire time, but much like actual police work, it’s not enough for justice. Prisoners has rewards, but like the characters, you as the audience must work for them.

2013 IN REVIEW

PRISONERS

  • Awards: Won for Best Cast at the National Board of Review.
  • Tomatometer: 80%
  • Watch Now →

Reviewing the Most Popular Movies 2013

2. 12 Years a Slave

“I don't want to survive. I want to live.”

It is a shame that generally speaking, the only movies with predominantly black casts to receive recognition from the Academy have to deal with American slavery. However, few films tackle this subject in such a way as 12 Years a Slave. The film doesn’t spend its runtime lecturing the audience on why slavery is bad. It treats the viewer as intelligent enough to understand that on his or her own. Instead, the film portrays slavery in all of its horrors and how those horrors were commonplace at the time. 

12 Years a Slave is almost unbearable to watch at times. Instead of devolving into a textbook drama, the film has the tones of a taut thriller. Solomon Northrup never feels safe, so there are constant knots in your stomach as you await to see what happens next. It is, without a doubt, one of the most important movies to come out of the last 10 years. It should not solely be remembered as a Best Picture Oscar winner. It should be remembered as being the defining time capsule of slavery in our modern-day.

2013 IN REVIEW

12 YEARS A SLAVE

  • Awards: Won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards
  • Tomatometer: 95%
  • Watch Now →

The Best Movie of 2013

1. Gravity

“You've got to learn to let go.”

Gravity is a cinematic feat. The technological marvels on display truly transport you into the world of the film, regardless of how much it’s grounded in actual science. The sound design, CGI, and editing all come together to transport you into one of the most stressful and anxiety-inducing films of the last decade. Your eyes remain glued to the screen, never wanting to look away for fear of missing the next beat. 

But technology is just flair without a good story to back it up. And boy, does Gravity deliver on that front. An astronaut is caught in the orbit and has to get her way back to Earth all way carrying the weight of her daughter’s death. It’s a film about overcoming adversity in one of the greatest men vs. nature stories in recent memory. Gravity is the cinema at its finest.

2013 IN REVIEW

GRAVITY

  • Awards: Won Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards. 
  • Tomatometer: 96%
  • Watch Now →

Up Next

The Best Movies of 2014

2013 had fine dramas. In 2014, the best films of the year range from action flicks to artful horror films. Which movie do you think will top the list? Continue reading through our series to find out. 

Up Next: The Best Movies of 2014 →
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