The Best Movies of 2013? Already?!

If the calendar on the fridge isn't lying it means that a) I forgot to go to the dentists' and b) it's the middle of the year.

What a year for motion pictures so far! As we did last year, I've decided to pause and take a moment to count down the 10 best movies of 2013 that have hit movie theaters. It'll be fun to compare this list come late December, after I've seen things like 'Gravity' and 'The Wolf of Wall Street' and 'Thor: The Dark World.' (Yes, I have a soft spot for Thor, what do you want from me?) I also know that some festival films I've already seen, such as the Coen Brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis' and Jim Jarmusch's 'Only Lovers Left Alive' are a lock for this list once they hit theaters.

But, for now it's mid-summer, and if you feel as though some good movies may have slipped you by, here are ten great ones, each of which I love for very different reasons. They're the Best Movies of 2013 (so far).

  • 10

    'Iron Man 3'

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    Ol' Shellhead's newest film is a curious creature. It's an 'Iron Man' sequel, an 'Avengers' sequel, an 'Avengers' victory lap and, most importantly, a playful bop on the nose to those who only want their superhero flicks to stick to the serious script. Once the much ballyhooed Mandarin reversal is revealed, 'Iron Man 3' becomes a delightful breeze - a special effects driven buddy cop picture between Tony Stark and Rhodey and earns its spot on our Best Movies of 2013 list. Even with the sensational Air Force One rescue, this movie does feel a tad slight, but it may end up the superhero flick that's just impossible to turn off when you stumble upon it on basic cable. And, yes, that's a compliment.

  • 9

    'The Place Beyond the Pines'

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    It may sound like a backhanded compliment, but I swear it isn't – 'The Place Beyond the Pines' feels like an adaptation of a book they made you read in high school. It it big and rich and, if this makes any sense, thorough. The symbolism may seem obvious – a wad of cash as birthright, dangerous action in a cemetery, ice cream cones as sweet memory – but somehow it comes together. It's also the most Ryan Gosling performance of Ryan Gosling's career, and the upstate New York locations add to the mid-Century largess.

    The Weinstein Co.
  • 8

    'Spring Breakers'

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    It took us a minute to determine if we should, or could, take this movie seriously, let alone include it on a list of the best movies of 2013. But, time and reflection have proven that, yes, Harmony Korine's neon thongs are indeed a valid response – perhaps the only response – to the overbearing blingification of current American youth culture. While the repetitive dialogue and unusual shooting style make for more of a collage than traditional narrative, the creepy, visceral effect is unmistakable. This is a holiday into hell, but funny, and a very impressive comment about gender exploitation, wasted youth and broken dreams.

  • 7


    It's okay if you never heard of this movie. That's what lists like this are all about. This Australian-produced German language film looks at a seldom discussed casualty of war; the children of those on the losing side. The titular character Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) must lead her siblings through the wasteland of Germany's black forest on their way to Grandmother's House, and if that sounds like a fable, that's because it is, only this one is set during the horror of World War II. Simultaneously beautiful and harrowing, this is a gorgeously shot and moving coming-of-age tale with the backdrop of the 20th Century's darkest moment.

    Music Box Films
  • 6

    'Before Midnight'

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    There's talking and there's communicating. This third and best chapter in the Linklater/Delpy/Hawke 'Before' series picks up with our two wandering souls finally together...but still at a little bit of a distance. They share children, but are not married, and a long stretch in Europe is starting to eat away at Hawke's Jesse, whose son lives with his offscreen mother. With mortality making itself known and long suppressed grievances unable to contain themselves, Celine and Jesse are at a crossroads. Man, this sounds heavy. It even sounds boring! How did this possibly make a list of the Best Movies of 2013?

    Yet, 'Before Midnight' manages to stay entertaining, I swear. With so much at stake this has all the energy of a thriller, and there isn't one false note in the slowly paced, but never dull dialogue.

    Sony Pictures Classics
  • 5


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    The most perverted film of the year has precious little nudity. Park Chan-Wook's spin on American Gothic is an exercise of intense fetishism. Nicole Kidman is a waxwork figure, positioned into an ever-increasing prurient tableaux, as is the nubile Mia Wasikowska. This is a film out of time – a fever dream of mixed-up horror and psychosexual tropes that ends with all the rage and splatter one would expect. Every shot is gorgeous, every scene is fraught with tension. The really hip kids and drag queens will be dressing like 'Stoker' characters in time - and that surely means something.

    Fox Searchlight
  • 4

    'Room 237'

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    Madness and obsession have always been a favorite topic for artists, and 'Room 237' is a brave and new way of bathing in crazy soup. With Stanley Kubrick's film version of 'The Shining' as a focal point, 'Room 237' lets a swirl of narrators draw you in to their state of mind with complex, cockamamie interpretations – some of which (shockingly, frustratingly) make a little bit of sense. Others do not, but never is this film about mockery. 'Room 237' shows the seldom discussed dangerous side of art, wherein damaged people create their own transformative meaning.

    IFC Films
  • 3

    'Upstream Color'

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    I love cinematic technique that stretches the boundaries of conventional storytelling. I also love whacked-out science fiction about junk like mind-control worms in pigs. Put the two together and, of course, I'm gonna put this movie on my list of the best movies of 2013!

    This intentionally divisive film makes little effort to kowtow to anyone's notion of what it should be, and, the fact of the matter is that the largest chunk of screentime could be called a relationship drama. Nevertheless, this heavy (and wonderfully shot, edited and scored) picture is oozing with style and the rewards are there for those who work at it. Interpretations vary (and I have my own) but those who reject this film as being weird-for-weird's sake just don't get it, man, and probably never will.

  • 2

    'Man of Steel'

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    The last of son of Krypton finally gets a modern movie a humanoid alien of his stature deserves. Respectful, serious, steeped in lore and iconic imagery. . .but also wholly kick-ass. The final 40 minutes are unparalleled action (and could probably earn this movie a spot on the Best Movies of 2013 list on its own), but you'll feel the weight of each slug because the movie takes the time to tell a story. Superman is our modern Olympian deity - and as important a symbol as Uncle Sam or Santa Claus. There's no one under the yellow sun who doesn't know this story, but by some miracle Zack Snyder's film makes it feel fresh. Also: Russell Crowe as Jor-El is teh awesomez!

    Warner Bros.
  • 1

    'Frances Ha'

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    No matter how much I love superheroes, the fact is that I will always be, in my heart, an unsure twenty-something girl trying to make her way through the big city. While some misinformed folks may shrug off 'Frances Ha' as a black-and-white version of 'Girls,' Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig have collaborated to make a lasting and important film about the folly and heartbreak of youth. No, you do not need to be a broke Brooklynite to understand this character - you simply need to have some unfocused desires and the willingness to recognize your own insecurities in someone else. This is an articulate, poignant and extremely funny film with absolute universal appeal and it deserves the top spot on this list of the Best Movies of 2013. Embrace this picture as you would life.

    IFC Films