Top 10 films of 2013

Our Reviewers Pick

You’ve heard/seen the Oscar nominees announced today. Now it is time for Third Way Café’s almost-as-famous round up of favorites—paying little heed to what “the academy” will vote on.

These reviewers pay heed to viewing films through an “Anabaptist values” lens. Favorite this and share on Facebook and Twitter or wherever you hang out.

Here, each in their inimitable style, not standardized in format, in the order our reviewers submitted them, are the Third Way Café Top 10 for 2013.

Vic Thiessen’s Top Ten Films of 2013

Counting down from 10

10. The East – This quirky suspense drama from Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling (who also stars) asks whether violence is the only way to challenge the corporate greed that is destroying our planet. Sarah is assigned by a high-level security firm to infiltrate a group of eco-terrorists, but the infiltration works both ways. Thoughtful study of relationships, community and violence.

9. The Company You Keep – Robert Redford directed and starred in this low-budget indie political thriller that ultimately asks why today’s young people aren’t protesting the outrageous corporatism and militarism that are destroying the planet (sound familiar?). This underrated film is also an understated, intelligent and engrossing tale of 70’s radicals in the 21 st century.

8. Blue Jasmine – Cate Blanchett delivers a stunning performance as the very blue Jasmine in Woody Allen’s 44th film. Rawer and deeper than most of Allen’s films, this intense character study may not be entirely realistic but it nevertheless comes with profound insights into questions of gender, class, wealth, privilege, self-worth and the meaning of life.

7. The Gatekeepers – Made in 2012 but only released in the spring of 2013, this Israeli documentary by Dror Moreh is a fascinating, depressing and terrifying film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with six former leaders of the Shin Bet sharing their thoughts (doubts) about the effectiveness of their attempts to control the conflict.

6. All is Lost – Robert Redford is magnificent as a man struggling to survive alone on the open seas after his boat strikes a container. J.C. Chandor’s film works both as pure adventure and as an endlessly compelling reflection on the adventure of life that speaks differently to each viewer.

5. 12 Years a Slave – This old-fashioned, harrowing historical drama by Steve McQueen is a masterpiece of filmmaking, with a perfect sense of pace, minimal sentimentality and flawless acting (especially Chiwotel Ejiofor as the man forced to be a slave in 19th century Louisiana).

4. Gravity – Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi thriller stars Sandra Bullock (in her best role ever) as an astronaut caught in orbit with a deadly cloud of satellite debris. A film about death, God and being human, it’s a profound and breathtaking work of cinematic art.

3. Mr. Nobody – That this 2010 gem, written and directed by Belgian filmmaker Jaco van Dormael, was not released in the U.S. until 2013 is a travesty. One of my all-time favorite films, Mr. Nobody stars Jared Leto (one of the greatest actors out there, who deserves an Academy Award this year for his role in Dallas Buyers Club) as Nemo Nobody, a man with the ability to see where each of life’s choices may lead. This combination sci-fi, romance and drama is gorgeous and profound.

2. Her – An amazing, wise and wonderful indie sci-fi romance, written and directed by Spike Jonze. Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as a man who falls in love with his computer operating system (voiced beautifully by Scarlett Johansson). Her scarily (and thoughtfully) predicts the future of relationships in our smartphone culture.

1. Before Midnight – The third (and best) in Richard Linklater’s ‘ Before ’ series, in which we catch up with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) every nine years as they discuss life and love in a beautiful European setting. This time things get heated. Thought-provoking, wise, beautiful and well-acted, this series is what filmmaking is all about.

Gordon Houser’s Top 10 Films of 2013

2013 brought us many excellent films. Some of these, particularly foreign films, have not become available to me yet and could not be included.

1. 12 Years a Slave. This powerful film tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who was abducted and sold into slavery in 1841. Its unflinching depiction of slavery is difficult but necessary to watch. It shows the horror and evil of this long-standing American practice.

2. Gravity. Viewers experience this extraordinary film as they watch. It follows two surviving astronauts from a damaged Space Shuttle as they try to make it back to Earth. The film combines wrenching suspense while exploring themes of meaning. Every aspect—writing, acting, cinematography—make this an outstanding film.

3. Her. This captivating film, set in the near future, is about a lonely writer who develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need. It raises profound philosophical questions about relationships and technology, about reality, love and death. The unique premise of a man falling in love with his operating system works wonderfully.

4. American Hustle. This fast-paced film is the story of a con man, Irving Rosenfeld, who with his seductive British partner, Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, who pushes them into a world of New Jersey powerbrokers and mafia. Based on a scandal from the 1970s, this film’s script is intelligent, funny and surprising, and the cast is superb.

5. All Is Lost. This is a gripping account of a sailor whose 39-foot yacht takes on water after a collision with a shipping container at sea. With his navigation equipment and radio disabled, the man sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. Despite his resourcefulness, he must face his mortality. Robert Redford gives a remarkable performance and helps viewers imagine their mortality.

6. Before Midnight. This is the third in a trilogy of films about a couple who meet on a train bound for Vienna in Before Sunrise (1995) and reunite in Paris in Before Sunset (2004). Here they are in Greece with their twin daughters. All three films consist mostly of dialogue yet engage us with their characters and the issues they address. Here they touch on the nature of marriage, the differences between men’s and women’s perspectives, parenting and work. Many couples will recognize their own struggles in this brilliant film.

7. Mud. This coming-of-age film is about two Arkansas teenagers who become friends with Mud, a fugitive trying to reunite with the woman he loves. It takes us into the lives of people who make their living off the river and shows the lessons of learning about love. This poignant film avoids clichés about Southern culture and shows a tender but realistic portrait of a father and a son.

8. Nebraska. This film tells of an aging, alcoholic father who travels from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a $1 million Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize. On the way, they stop at the father’s hometown, where stories from his past emerge. This black-and-white film uses dry humor and some nonactors to present an authentic view of the characters and an aptly measured resolution.

9. Stories We Tell. In this remarkable documentary, Canadian writer/director Sarah Polley is both filmmaker and detective as she investigates the secrets kept by a family of storytellers. Her mother died when she was 11, and she later learns that she is the child of an extramarital affair. The film explores the elusive nature of truth and memory as she searches for the identity of her biological father.

10. Philomena. This film follows a world-weary political journalist who picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades earlier after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent. This excellent film raises justice issues about Catholic institutions but also explores faith questions in an evenhanded manner.

Matthew Kauffman Smith’s Top 10 Films of 2013

I didn’t see 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, Her, or quite a few other movies making critics’ top 10 lists, so, this is clearly missing some key movies. Nonetheless, the following are 10 movies worth seeing, counting down.

10. Frozen. With daughters (ages 9 and 7) in the house, I see a fair amount of animated movies and this wasn’t a particularly strong year for the genre. Still, given how much my daughters liked a movie about two sisters – who don’t need a Prince Charming, thank you – is worth including.

9. Bridegroom. This documentary chronicles the six-year committed relationship of Shane and Tom. When Tom accidentally falls four stories, Shane is unable to visit his partner in the hospital because is he isn’t considered family. Tom’s family continues to cut off Shane in the aftermath as well, which led Shane to create a You Tube video, “It Could Be You” that went viral.

8. Stories We Tell. This documentary from actress/director Sarah Polley, follows the story – or various stories – of how she came to find out that the father she grew up with wasn’t her biological father. Polley uses fictionalized home movies to illustrate the stories of all key players, as well as peripheral ones as well.

7. Deceptive Practices: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay. Yet another documentary (side note: I love documentaries, but I don’t make it to the theater much, many of the new movies streaming on Netflix happen to be documentaries). This one pretty much reflects the title, as the movie recaps the career and influences of slight-of-hand magician Ricky Jay.

6. Blackfish. Have I mentioned I see a lot of documentaries? Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a killer whale who had a hand in killing three humans at water parks over the years and how Sea World turned a blind eye because if Tilikum’s value as a breeder. One interesting fact: There is no documentation of a killer whale ever harming a human in the wild.

5. Catching Fire. The second installment of the Hunger Games franchise, is superior than the first as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence reluctantly leads a revolution that plays out with non-stop suspense.

4. Gravity. This is the first movie I’ve ever seen in 3-Dthat I thought was worth the trouble of 3-D. Alfonzo Cuaron’s space odyssey is a mix of stunning visuals and suspenseful storytelling.

3. 20 Feet from Stardom. The last documentary on my list is one that is probably on here partially based on my love of music. But the story of the art of back-up singing is fascinating. Talking to some of the greatest back-up singers of all time – including a stirring moment where Darlene Love listens to her isolated background vocal on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” – the movie puts the unsung heroes in the forefront.

2. In a World. Is this better-made film than than Gravity? Not at all. But when I think about all of the movies I saw in 2013, this is the one (along with No. 1) that I want to watch again. While Lake Bell’s fictitious, funny and heartfelt look at the world of film voice over work isn’t a masterpiece, it is highly watchable. Again and again.

1. Star Trek Into Darkness. As I stated in my review, I have never been a huge science fiction fan. So, this number one pick is a surprise to me too. But J.J. Abrams has breathed new life, wit and complexity into what I always considered a pretty boring franchise.