This may be the earliest I've posted my top films of the year. That's because this year I voted in critic polls fairly early, including one for IndieWire and two for organizations I belong to, the Online Film Critics Society and the Southeastern Film Critics Association. That still doesn't mean I didn't fail to see some films that are probably worthy of consideration. But at this point my mind is jelly, and any other films coming my way might suffer from my condition. So onward and upward.
For your consideration, my top films of 2013, followed by the winners of the respective polls I voted in.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis, directors Joel and Ethan Coen - Review here. Not an easy film to love, but one that fully earns its plaudits with its story about an uncompromising artist who's timing for success is just a teensy bit off.
2. The Act of Killing, dir. Joshua Oppenheimer, co-dirs. Christine Cynn and Anonymous - This disturbing documentary catches up with the most feared Indonesian gangsters, asking them to reenact their most notorious massacres, committed against so-called communists in support of the military regime which had just taken over the government in the mid-1960s. One in particular seems haunted by his misdeeds. But don't feel too sorry for him. You never quite know if he's just playing to the camera or not. A harsh indictment of the corrupt criminals it purports to "rehabilitate" and the American gangster movies which inspired them.
3. Frozen, dirs. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee - Review here. A lustrous princess-themed fairy tale that recalls those of Disney's golden age while subverting all of their usual sexist tropes.
4. All is Lost, dir. J.C. Chandor - Review here. A quiet tribute to one of the New Hollywood's last, true, larger-than-life stars.
5. Side Effects, dir. Steven Soderbergh - Review here. A tricky drug industry exposé with a structure that perfectly protects its intriguing surprises and a perfect showcase for rising star Rooney Mara.
6. 12 Years a Slave, dir. Steve McQueen - Review here. A canny look at America's shameful secret history from the auteurial perspective of a black man who is both insider and outsider, British director Steve McQueen.
7. Spring Breakers, dir. Harmony Korine - Review here. Proof that Jean-Luc Godard was right; all you need for a movie really is a girl and a gun.
8. Her, dir. Spike Jonze - Review here. Joaquin Phoenix's heartfelt performance anchors a film that sums up our era of social disconnectedness in a way that can only be described as beautifully imperfect.
9. The Trials of Muhammad Ali, dir. Bill Siegel - As a fan of Ali, I was surprised to finally find a documentary which wasn't just another hagiography. Instead it recounts the story of Cassius Clay's discovery of the Black Muslim movement, his name change to Muhammad Ali, his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, all in the same explosive manner as it must have unfolded for an uncomfortable American public. The film possesses the immediacy of events as they happen, with little of the rationalization that usually comes years on with hindsight.
10. American Hustle, dir. David O. Russell - Review here. A Scorsese-lite con game that succeeds primarily because its ensemble of actors are led confidently by Amy Adams, whose performance raises everyone else's game considerably.
11. (tie) Berberian Sound Studio, director Peter Strickland and In a World..., director Lake Bell - Review of Berberian Sound Studio here and In a World... here. Two films about sound performers in cinema—one a creep-fest, the other outrageously funny—both intimate and well worth your time.
Honorable Mention: After Tiller, Blackfish, Blue Jasmine, The Croods, Cutie and the Boxer, Dallas Buyers Club, Dirty Wars, Gravity, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Nebraska, Passion, A Place at the Table, Rush, Saving Mr. Banks, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now, This is the End, The We and the I, The Wind Rises, The Wolf of Wall Street
Most Overrated: Blue is the Warmest Color, Mud
Most Underrated: The Canyons, The Lone Ranger
Best Unreleased Films of 2013: The Immigrant, Only Lovers Left Alive
Breakthrough Actor of the Year: Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Breakthrough Actress of the Year: Brie Larson (Don Jon, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now)
Winners are in red where my own vote coincides.
UPDATED: IndieWire 2013 Year-End Critics Poll:
Best Film: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave
Best Lead Performance: Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave
Best Supporting Performance: Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave
Best First Feature: Fruitvale Station
Best Screenplay: Before Midnight
Best Undistributed Film: Stray Dogs
Best Documentary: The Act of Killing
Best Ensemble: 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Score or Soundtrack: Inside Llewyn Davis
Best Cinematography: Gravity
My individual ballot (links to additional categories I voted for can be found if you scroll through the bottom)
The Online Film Critics Society:
Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Animated Feature: The Wind Rises
Best Film Not in the English Language: Blue Is the Warmest Color
Best Documentary: The Act of Killing
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity
Best Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Screenplay: Her
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
Best Editing: Gravity
Best Cinematography: Gravity
Best Sound Design and Best Visual Effects to Gravity
To Roger Ebert, for inspiring so many of our members
Top Ten films Without a U.S. Release:
Like Father, Like Son
Stranger By the Lake
We Are the Best!
Why Don't You Play in Hell?
The Southeastern Film Critics Association:
12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street
1.Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
2.Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
1.Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
2.Judi Dench, Philomena
Best Supporting Actor
1. Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
2. Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Best Supporting Actress
1. Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
2. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
1. American Hustle
2. 12 Years a Slave
1. Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
2. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Original Screenplay
1. Spike Jonze, Her
2. David O. Russell and Eric Singer, American Hustle
Best Adapted Screenplay
1. John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
2. Jeff Pope & Steve Coogan, Philomena
1. The Act of Killing
3. Muscle Shoals
Best Foreign Language Film
1. The Hunt
2. Blue is the Warmest Color
Best Animated Film
2. The Wind Rises
1. Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
2. Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave
The Gene Wyatt Award for the Film that Best Evokes the Spirit of the South
1. Jeff Nichols, Mud
2. Greg "Freddy" Cammalier, Muscle Shoals