10- The Act of Killing:
What if the Nazis won World War II and decided to re-enact the holocaust forty years later as a way of dealing with their demons? Equal parts bizarre and horrifying, The Act of Killing was the hardest two hours to sit through in 2013 while being essential viewing for absolutely everyone. The documentary follows with admirable objectivity a handful of leaders of the Indonesian death squad, who brutally murdered thousands of "communists" in 1965 with support from the Indonesian government, as they nonchalantly follow through each of the production processes of their re-enactment videos. It’s quite possibly the most demented making-of documentary you’ll ever see.
9- Benim Cocugum (My Child):
Director Can Candan’s touching documentary follows the emotional journeys of parents of LGBT children in Turkey as they come to terms with their children’s true identities in a culture that’s still very homophobic. Candan cleverly splits the film into two parts: The first half is an Errol Morris-style confessional, parents speak directly to the camera and tell their initially heartbreaking but eventually inspiring journeys through confusion, frustration and acceptance to the audience. The second half follows the parents as they prepare for the gay pride march in Taksim, Istanbul as they continue on their quest to educate the public about the LGBT community.
8- The World’s End:
Director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s "Cornetto Trilogy" comes to a rousing conclusion with this loose remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The genre-bending irreverence and manic energy from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are still there but this time comes with a kind of thematic maturity as Simon Pegg portrays a hopeless alcoholic living in the past, having to fend off alien robots who view the planet Earth in the same way his friends see him. After loads of more than welcome action set pieces as our drunken protagonists break through hordes of Lego-inspired evil robots, the finale turns into an absurd philosophical argument that would feel be right at home with Douglas Adams’ oeuvre.
7- Star Trek Into Darkness:
The much anticipated sequel to J.J. Abrams’ inspired Star Trek reboot couldn’t satisfy Trekkies and general audiences alike for completely opposing reasons. For a mild Star Trek fan like me, it was the perfect blend of old school Trek and modern blockbuster spectacle filmmaking. Abrams and his team found a way to remake the most iconic Trek film while staying true to the new series’ canon. The space jump sequence was the most thrilling set piece of the disappointing summer tent pole season.
I’m probably the only person in the world to favor Elysium to sci-fi wunderkind Neil Blomkamp’s previous effort District 9. A perfect blend of socially conscious hard science-fiction and grimy, gritty, violent and always creative cyberpunk action, Elysium was reminiscent of Paul Verhoeven during his 80s peak. Watching it two weeks before it opened, I predicted that it would become the biggest hit of the summer season and would spark some much deserved fanboy fervor. I was wrong in my prediction but perhaps time will validate me.
5- Fruitvale Station:
A spectacular first feature by young filmmaker Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station follows the last day of African-American Oakland, California resident Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan in a revelatory performance) leading up to the moment he was shot to death by BART police on New Year’s Eve in 2008. Coogler doesn’t race-bait by sensationalizing the devastating finale, nor does he sugarcoat Oscar’s circumstances that lead to this tragedy. Fruitvale Station is about how even the most innocent choices can have devastating consequences. The most heartbreaking scene in a film full of heartbreaking scenes is a quiet sequence where Oscar’s mother (Octavia Spencer, who should win an Oscar for this role instead of the one she got from the despicable The Help) recommends taking the train instead of the car.
4- The Wolf of Wall Street:
Martin Scorsese’s bastard third child to his ode to the American gangster after Goodfellas and Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street is just as spiritually charged as The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. The only difference is that instead of originating from a place of love and compassion, it pulsates with utter contempt and hatred for its vacuous, despicable, parasitic characters. Scorsese and his new DeNiro (Leonardo DiCaprio) meticulously turn hedonistic broker Jordan Belfort and his douchebag chums into the caricatures and freaks that they are. There’s even a scene where they recite the "Gooble gabble" line from Freaks, how many more clues do you need?
3- Before Midnight:
The team of Ethan Hawke, Julie Delphy and Richard Linklater has done the impossible and made us fall in love with two fictional characters three times in a row, for completely different reasons. While the modern rom-com and romance genres are becoming staler by the minute, we get a mature and beautiful take on middle-age relationships with coastal Greece as a backdrop. The epic fight scene that dominates the third act packs a punch and the ending somehow manages to be even more satisfying than Before Sunset’s.
A technical tour-de-force that grips you from minute one and never lets you go, Gravity reminded us that the movie theatre experience is still very much relevant in a time when video streaming on 9-inch tablets is sold as the future of entertainment. A streamlined survival story in space that offered just the right amount of thematic depth to pull itself out of feature-length theme park attraction territory, Gravity is the first film I can think of where a lot of anti-3D critics, me among them, actually recommended it to be experienced on IMAX 3D.
1- 12 Years a Slave:
Director Steve McQueen’s harrowing depiction of a free man who got kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south is a tough film to recommend, in that it makes the general movie going audience feel like they’ll be in for a heavy history lesson rather than an exceptionally well-made and intensely engaging masterpiece, which is what 12 Years a Slave is. If that doesn’t convince you, how about "Best film of the year"?