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My Top 10 Films of 2013:

I wasn’t really planning on posting a personal favourites list for 2013, but upon seeing the results of “Vote: Best of 2013” and how greatly they differed from my own, I felt it necessary to share with you all my favourite films from the past year. As for the results themselves, in which you all kindly contributed, they will be posted this Thursday, so keep an eye out for that. I’ll do my very best to keep this list short and sweet. You can find my full review for each film by clicking on the corresponding title, enjoy!

Honourable Mention:

The Place Beyond the Pines:

Earlier on, when this film was released, it was very much at the top of my list. However, as the year progressed and more highly-sought pictures caught my attention, Derek Cianfrance’s lovely epic just couldn’t hold on to a spot. That being said, I truly believe it has a significant amount of staying power and if any of the films listed ahead of it falter with time, “The Place Beyond the Pines” will surely make a jump into the top 10.

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10: 12 Years a Slave:

Directed by skyrocketing genius Steve McQueen, creator of “Hunger” and “Shame.” “12 Years a Slave” depicts the unbelievable story of Solomon Northup, a free black man abducted and sold into slavery, where he stayed for twelve long years. Featuring a plethora of staggering performances, a tremendous musical score, and stunning, yet disturbing visuals. This flick is sure to be apart of cinema’s canon for a good, long while

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9: The Hunt:

The only foreign film to make my top 10 is Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt.” About a man struggling against the simplistic destruction of a rumour, this film is, without question, one of the most disturbing on the list. Starring the magnificent Mads Mikkelsen, “The Hunt” is a lock for best foreign feature this award season, for me at least.

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8: All is Lost (review coming soon):

Having only become aware of this film in the recent months, its power and sheer brilliance knocked me off my feet. Following a man at sea who becomes shipwrecked and discombobulated, “All is Lost” is a magnificent triumph. Starring Robert Redford, and only him. What this film is able to achieve with limited cast, settings, and dialogue is miraculous.

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7: American Hustle:

My placing of this film may surprise a few as “American Hustle” will undoubtedly be in many cinephiles top 5 films of the year. There isn’t much fault in this flick, the performances are superlative, the direction unparalleled, and its soundtrack timeless. That being said, the film’s shaky story led to its positioning here at number seven.

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6: Gravity:

Up until about November, “Gravity” was very much in play to be in my top 5 films of the year. Unfortunately for Cuaron’s masterpiece however, a slew of infallible films came along and knocked it out of the top tier. Don’t be fooled though, this film is an unrivalled achievement and will be so for many years to come. The imagery, performances, and story are entrancing, not to mention the soothing musical score.

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5: Drinking Buddies:

Okay, here is my shocker, went off the board with this one. All kidding aside however, the truth is “Drinking Buddies” is a masterful character study and one of the most honest, authentic, heartbreaking films you will ever witness. Featuring fantastic performances from the entire cast, Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” managed to surprise everyone, me included, and force its way into my top 5.

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4: Inside Llewyn Davis:

Being a former musician, I can really sympathize with the lead in the Coen brothers masterpiece, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Tossing that aside, this film is still a towering experience and undoubtedly finds itself amongst the Coen brothers best. Featuring outstanding performances and the best soundtrack of the year, “Inside Llewyn Davis” makes the list without question.

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3: Her

For a little while there, I thought “Her” was going to be number 1 on my list. Carrying the most original story, a breathtaking script, and spectacular performances, Spike Jonze really outdid himself with this one. People will be talking about “Her” long after the film has ended, perhaps even after humankind has ended…

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2: Mud:

Jeff Nichols “Mud” is a modern-day fable. Conveying a harsh lesson about growing up and love, this impeccable tale starring Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan is my runner-up.

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1: The Wolf of Wall Street:

Scorsese and DiCaprio, enough said…no, not enough? How about Jonah Hill and stunner Margot Robbie? This flick is absolutely crazy in every sense. I didn’t hesitate for one-second putting “The Wolf of Wall Street” at the top of this list.

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TIFF 2013: Joe (2013)

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The “coming-of-age” sub-genre is one of the most thematically diverse and abundantly rewarding. Its films provoke vast emotional reactions, they make us laugh, allow us to remember what it was like to be young, and offer limitless insight into living, humanity, and love. Yet, despite all this positivity and relevance, these films remain on the periphery of mainstream cinema, but I digress. So far this year, two of the best films released, “Mud” and “The Way, Way Back,” fall into this category. And while at TIFF 2013, I was fortunate enough to catch another hidden coming-of-age gem, David Gordon Green’s “Joe.” Although it has yet to receive an official release, I’m more than content to deem “Joe” a sublime finale to what I’ve dubbed as 2013’s “coming-of-age” trilogy…”Mud” and “The Way Way Back” being the other two entries. While not as obviously strong structurally and story-wise, “Joe” rivals it’s brethren in nearly every other aspect.

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Now, If we dig a bit deeper, the “coming-of-age” sub-genre can be broken down into more specific tangents. For example “Joe,” much like its trilogy partners, fits into the “finding-yourself-a-mentor” class. In which the adolescent protagonist finds a rough, off-beat, anti-heroic kindred spirit to ease the very trying transition into adulthood. All three flicks have this plot point in common. Additionally, each protagonist, in one way or another, comes from a broken home. The list of commonalities goes on and on, but that’s besides the point. What I’m driving at is that although each film has some labelled similarities, each brings their own uniqueness to the fold and differ significantly. “The Way, Way Back” shares a lot of DNA with the romantic comedy, while “Mud” offers more of a veritable, serious, realistic gaze into the loss of innocence and growing up. “Joe” is much darker and focuses equal parts on the protagonist and anti-hero.

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Out of all three, I’d say that Green’s film is the one that most plays out like a movie, if that makes any sense? I mean, “coming-of-age” films arguably relate most to real life and are the most receptive to a connection with the audience. With “Joe,” it might be more difficult to relate due to its violent, depressing nature. I guess what I’m saying is that out of the three films released this year, while not overly cinematic as to hamper the film, “Joe” is the most dramatic and far-fetched, which I am not claiming to be a bad thing.

Its progression of events is nothing that you haven’t heard or seen before, but this is also not necessarily a bad thing. While none of the three films present any tactic or vantage point that hasn’t been utilized before. The “coming-of-age” sub-genre has a fairly basic list of criteria that needs to be met, so it’s all essentially been done before and this is no filmmakers fault. That being said, the story, characters, and circumstances are all subjected to change, which is what separates each film…but what sends the superior over the top is the investment of the personnel. And much like “The Way, Way Back” and “Mud,” “Joe” has a dedicated, veteran, youthful ensemble, both on and off screen.

Much like the other genre films released this year. David Gordon Green’s “Joe” is a highly-visual piece. Using the lovely states of Texas and California as a contrasting backdrop to the upsetting, violent elements of the film. Additionally, David Wingo, who composed the original score for “Joe,” compliments the immensity and atmosphere of the scenery impeccably. On occasion however, the sheer uncomfortableness, violence, and stomach-churning family drama is too much to handle, let alone subdue.

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Even though “Joe” is a return to form for director David Gordon Green. This dark, southern drama is as much a showcase for its three leads: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, and the late Gary Poulter. Sheridan continues to prove that he’s the next big thing with another heartfelt, courageous performance, much like that of his in “Mud.” Mark my words, if this boy continues making films of this caliber, there’s not doubt in my mind he will skyrocket to stardom. As for Cage, truthfully, he hasn’t been this stellar in a good long while. Parading around with his usual confidence and flair, Cage is funny, passionate, and ruthless. Yet, as impressive as Cage, Sheridan, and Green are, the incredible story and performance of Gary Poulter steals the show. Poulter, prior to being cast in the film was homeless. Initially intended to be cast in a supporting role, Poulter stunned Green and eventually landed a significant part. Sadly, he passed away shortly after the film wrapped and Green dedicated the film to his memory. Poulter’s portrayal alone is worth checking out this flick.

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Incredibly performed, visually mesmerizing, and presenting a story that’s hard to ignore. David Gordon Green’s “Joe” is an impressive outing for all involved.

Joe: 8.5 out of 10.

Mud (2012)

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A harrowing, instant classic that, without any doubt, blossoms into legend. Mud is a charming, captivating, irresistible coming-of-age yarn that transcends and disarms. Rich with dynamic visuals, a sweet, at times cunning script, and superlative performances from its entire cast. Mud is comprised upon an endless source of infallibility and revered assets. Filmed entirely in the state of Arkansas, rooted along the Mississippi River and its tangents. Mud’s locations are a breathtaking backdrop evoking a sense of wonder and serenity. Written and directed by up-and-comer Jeff Nichols who continues his rise to fame with this, his third full length feature. The only thing more reliant than the unsurpassable portrayals and unmatched scenery throughout Mud is Nichols sturdy, visionary direction. Despite some heavy, dark subject matter and clinging to innocence for effectiveness, Mud never loses its way.

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Ellis (Sheridan) is 14 years old and lives in a houseboat on the banks of a river in Arkansas with his mother Mary Lee (Paulson) and father Senior (McKinnon). One morning, after he sneaks out past his parents, Ellis meets up with his best friend Neckbone (Lofland), who is also 14 and lives with his uncle Galen (Shannon). The boys set out to an island on the Mississippi river where Neckbone has discovered a boat stuck high in a tree, believed to have been put there by an extreme flood. Soon after climbing the tree and into the boat, they discover footprints and fresh food. Upon returning to their boat, figuring it best to leave before the inhabitant returns, they are surprised to see a rugged man fishing. The stranger, who is soon revealed to be named Mud (McConaughey), asks the boys for food in exchange for the boat in the tree. As time passes, the three become close friends and begin to trust one another. This is when Mud and the boys enter into an agreement that will change their lives forever.

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Filled with the vibrancy and uncertainty of life and youth. Nichols honest take on the struggles of growing up is both refreshing and astoundingly accurate. Managing to convey the hardships and vulnerability that comes with being young and wide-eyed. Mud places the world at your feet, just to render you helpless when you reach out to grasp it. To accomplish this feat while simultaneously leaving the viewer content and without being overly sappy is stupefying. Yet, the theme most prominent and riveting in Mud deals with the emotion that leaves us confounded and in a daze, love. Stating that regardless of age, we always succumb to the idea of love and will always stumble over and sacrifice ourselves and one another for a taste of it. Mud is undeniably one of the best films of 2013 and will undoubtedly stand the test of time.

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With a plethora of symbolism, lyricism, and dynamism, it’s easy to get caught up in the ripples of Mud and lose sight of its heart…If you can keep track of each, individual storyline strand, Mud has so much more to behold. For instance, the forests and rivers ingeniously resemble the appeasing exteriors of Mud’s characters. And like these peaceful settings and docile people, there are unforeseen dangers that lie beyond them. Just a quick note on Mud’s tranquil soundtrack which is composed by David Wingo, who also wrote the score for Nichols 2011 hit, Take Shelter. Wingo’s ability to match Nichols ideals with music is unparalleled and I’m overjoyed that the two continue to work with one another.

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Even though Mud might not be as psychologically exhausting as Take Shelter or disconcertingly ferocious as Shotgun Stories, it is certainly just as visual and rewarding. Nichols continues to grow with each release and every single outing of his sheds a little more light into his bright, limitless future. The most reassuring and remarkable trait of Nichols films is that the newest chapter is stronger than the last. Nichols effortlessly and eloquently absorbs the natural and elemental beauty of Arkansas, the surrounding terrain, and vast skyline. There is no denying that Mud’s numerous, incredible performances and original script would be useless without Nichols keen, eccentric direction.

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Finding a pair of young, close-knitted, and talented leads is imperative to Mud’s success and Nichols found them in Jacob Lofland and Tye Sheridan. Mud again reunites Nichols with Michael Shannon, who stared in both of Nichols other films, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter. Now, even though his role is certainly smaller than the duo’s previous collaborations, Shannon is equally as effective. Also starring Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Reese Witherspoon, and Sam Shepard. Mud’s ensemble easily gives one of the best collective efforts of the year.

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It is quite astonishing when an actor, let alone an ensemble breaks through the screen, allowing the viewer to discard the notion that what they’re watching is just a film, Mud has this effect. McKinnon and Paulson’s portrayal of a couple who’s marriage is on the rocks reaches a new level of believability. As they fight against the closing inevitability and try, relentlessly to keep their son stable regardless of their current circumstance causes a profound euphoria of respect to rush over the viewer. As for Shepard, who’s role is somewhat typical, is able to surpass its regularity with an unusually strong, aching performance. Witherspoon, who garners very little screen time, makes terrific use of her limited role. To be honest, I had very limited respect for Witherspoon as an actress, but after Mud, it has grown substantially.

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However memorable and powerful the supporting casts performances may be. They are simply outdone by Mud’s three leads Jacob Lofland, Tye Sheridan, and Matthew McConaughey. As McConaughey’s stock continued to rise throughout 2011 with his roles in The Lincoln Lawyer and Bernie, it slowly became apparent that there was no stopping his rapid ascension. Following up another hit in Magic Mike with Mud, McConaughey seems to have finally found his muse. McConaughey is now gearing up for another high-profile role as he is set to star alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, ready for release late in 2013. There is now, no denying McConaughey’s brilliance as he recently signed on to tackle the lead in the magnificent Christopher Nolan’s next film Interstellar, which will also feature Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway. Thankfully, there seems to be no end in sight for the once discredited Matthew McConaughey.

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Lofland and Sheridan, who were ultimately hired because of their abilities on a boat, knowledge of the area, and the time it would save not having to teach these facets to two other young leads, undoubtedly earn their spots. With a combined age that doesn’t equal some of their co-stars time of acting experience, let alone years on this planet, Lofland and Sheridan prove they’re not intimidated by underestimation. Having performed in Terrence Malick’s, The Tree of Life, Sheridan continues on his path to a fortuitous career. As for Lofland, Mud is his first full length feature, but you wouldn’t know it from his calm and confident performance. Both flourish in this highly advantageous opportunity and look to have extremely bright futures.

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With its unyielding, heavenly toxic imagery, phenomenal performances, and spot-on portrayal of love, death, and youth. It may be a bit premature, but Mud has eked its way into my top 10 all time favourite films and I don’t see it falling out anytime soon. It is a must see for anyone, cinephile or not.

Mud: 9.5 out of 10.