As we draw closer to the end of awards season it's time to take a look back at the movies from five years ago to see through hindsight to see what holds up. What has gone stale, what needed a second realization of greatness, and what holds up from 2013? Was it a good year for movies or a bit of a snooze? There are so many questions and I'll probably not bother to get around to all of it, but I will supply a top 20 here and a top everything over on Letterboxd. Here are the actual Academy Award nominees and winners from the 2014 Oscars for reference. Instead of deciding between lead and supporting actors and actresses I have awarded two outstanding actors and two outstanding actresses as well as a best ensemble casting. Grab your best friend/body guard to fight terrorists in the White House (yup, it was the year of White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen) it's time for the 2013 Five Year Hindsight Awards!
1. 12 Years A Slave
This was the Oscar Winning Best Picture of the year and I totally snoozed on it. Apparently the story is that a good chunk of the people who voted it to be best picture didn't see it because they had heard it was a brutal movie, but had heard it was great and still voted for it. I was blow away to see this and it got me into watching everything else from director Steve McQueen and being really impressed by everything he has done.
Hindsights: Best Picture, Best Director Steve McQueen, Best Actress Lupita Nyong'o (tie)
This was mostly buried when it was released because Harvey Weinstein wanted to seize more control over the American cut of the movie. It was released in a few theaters and on demand simultaneously to comply with the distribution contract as director Bong Joon-Ho was able to maintain his own cut. It has become a cult hit in the years after its release, but five years ago it was pretty much an unknown movie. Snowpiercer builds a rediculous postapocolyptic future that somehow makes sense. It's dark, it's funny, it builds a world that makes just enough sense to distract from the ridiculousness of it all.
This is almost a guilty pleasure film. It feels like it should be a mindless rom-com or a "Rachel McAdams falls in love with a time traveler romance" movie, but it's so thoughtful that it is a legitimate sci-fi movie in it's own right and great movie about relationships as well. I'm a sucker for About Time because it works for so many different stages of life while playing with the wish-fulfillment idea of being able to change the past.
4. Ender's Game
I nearly avoided this when it came out. I was not in a mood for Harrison Ford growling to space kids. I also didn't want to deal with the ugliness for the author of the books. This movie, directed by a former child soldier who fought for a cause he didn't believe in, tells a similar story with excellent special effects to boot. This has one of the best moral twists since Fight Club that forces the viewer to reassess what they were rooting the movie to do.
Hindsights: Best Visual Effects and Stunts (tie)
5. Jodorowsky's Dune
This is the most creatively inspiring movies of the year even though it's about a movie that was stifled from being made. It's hardly as jarring as an actual Jodorowsky movie, although it does capture his eye for great cinematography to give the sense of what his Dune would have looked like.
Hindsights: Best Documentary
6. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers' follow-up to True Grit gives a fresh look at the folk scene in New York in the 1950's. Immortal greatness is just off of the edges of the frame as we follow a complicated character as he watches his career's last gasps... It's another kind of telling of The Odyssey with a very different tone than O Brother Where Art Thou and perhaps even better. Thread is the folk music that transports our Odysseus-es.
Hindsights: Best Writing, Best Actor Oscar Isaac
7. Only Lovers Left Alive
This really was a year of great directors making great movies that were under-seen. Jim Jarmusch had already re-invented Westerns and Samurai movies with Dead Man and Ghost Dog before tackling vampires here. It's slow and atmospheric, but it's the only look at vampires that made any logical sense to me and it looks great doing it.
Tilda Swinton also had a wild role in The Zero Theorem.
Hindsights: Best Actress Tilda Swinton (tie), Best Music
This fan favorite from film fanatics from Spike Jonze almost earned Scarlett Johansson an Oscar nomination if they allowed voice-over performances for acting. I had been hesitant to watch this for years due to the creepiness factor of a love story of a man and a computer, but the science fiction and world building are so strong that the story of the AI growing in strength and the relationship's sincerity minimizes the pathetic nature.
9. Fruitvale Station
This is more than just a tribute to a young man's last day alive, it seems to have been one of the very first clarion calls to action in the issue of police shootings of young black men. It's almost as much a very relevant news item on its own as it is a great piece of art. It's very fitting that Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan went on to make the afrofuturistic Black Panther together a few years later.
Alfonso Cuaron took the skills of the final sequences of Children of Men to a feature length space thriller with Sandra Bullock. It's almost as impressive to see how the effects were created through the invention of video boxes for Bullock to react to as it is to see the spectacular feature film.
Hindsights: Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Stunts (tie), Best Actress Sandra Bullock (tie)
11. Iron Man 3
Iron Man is at his best when he loses his suit and has to rely on the real superpower of his inventive mind. It's a smaller story that deals with the psychological after effects of the first Avengers movie and is so subtle to set up future Iron Man appearances through a single shot of a screwdriver.
Denis Villeneuve came onto my radar from his bigger films, Sicario and Arrival, but I have come to find that his earlier movies aren't to be shrugged off even if they didn't gain as much acclaim in their times. Prisoners might be the darkest of his movies, it's one of the darkest movies I've seen. Characters struggle with the brutality of loss and revenge and redemption is just out of reach. It's a well crafted story with great acting.
Hindsights: Best Actor Jake Gyllenhaal
13. Before Midnight
I'm finding that Linkletter's career has been incredibly consistent with well made movies. He has a type. That type is that he loves conversation and the stories that can come from two people talking. Sometimes that means there isn't a plot that comes from it. This is the third in the Before trilogy about an international couple who talks while on walks. This installment shows more of the struggle of personalities in a relationship and the pressures of logistics as their lives have become more complicated. Those complications are no match for their egos that come to a head in Greece.
Ron Howard's take on Mid-70's European auto racers brings color to the era and an exhilarating look at the machines they drive. Rush and In the Heart of the Sea made me a big fan of Howard's creativity with artistic action from his films in the 2010's. I was glad that Solo was more like those two movies than the Dan Brown movies in terms of stylization.
15. The Wolverine
Before Logan, Old Sideburns took a trip to Japan. This movie gives us a glimpse of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in an incredibly understated shot (well, before the shock wave came and it went all action movie. Still, not a bad action moment). This has such a refreshing tone to take a light touch to an action film on location in Japan that seems to have a sense of classic samurai movies from Japan.
16. All Is Lost
Robert Redford is not the best sailor. This is a bit of a companion piece to Gravity where the main character is alone and going through a series problems to be solved in a life or death situation. In this case, no one knows he's there or that he's having a problem at all. In the end, Redford and Bullock are last seen with wet feet.
17. Dallas Buyers Club
McConaughey is so good that it makes up for the rest of us having to deal with Jared Leto. It really is quite a good movie and deserves to be in the top twenty, It just isn't near the conversation for my top movies of 2013.
18. Behind The Candelabra
Soderbergh takes such a gaudy and strange subject matter and makes it so captivating. It's impressive that we get so much from the characters who are working underneath so much makeup and facial prosthetics.
19. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
This movie almost seems miscast with Ben Stiller and the soundtrack is almost out of place, but it all comes together so seemlessly and full of joy. It's a beautifully shot movie and celebrates imagination with exciting vignettes.
20. The Great Beauty
The spiritual grandchild to La Dolce Vita, this colorful look at a character who has been coasting for years past their prime. It is as encapsulating to the viewer as it is confusing at times. At least we get a little international flare to the top 20.
Hindsights: Best Foreign Language Film
Honorable Mentions: Frozen and The Counselor
For as much as Frozen may have come out of nowhere before wearing out popular culture, it still is a well made animated movie with songs that are fairly fun. At least enough time has passed that the soundtrack is no longer omnipresent. The Counselor is a Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy collaboration where the two dive into as much darkness as they can muster. Michael Fassbender's character is surrounded by animated psychopaths played by Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz as he tries to separate his vague but menacing duties from the innocent love of Penelope Cruz.
Hindsights: Best Animated Film for Frozen, Best Ensemble Cast for The Counselor.
This was a pretty great year for movies and for great directors. There are movies I liked from Soderbergh (Side Effects), Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street), Terry Gillium (The Zero Theorem), Edgar Wright (The World's End), Sophia Coppola (The Bling Ring) and Ridley Scott (The Counselor) that I enjoy that fill out a good chunk of the movies from 21 to 30. The movies that I kind of liked at the time that haven't aged well for me are Elysium (it's not the worst, but it got harder to get through on repeat viewing), American Hustle (I think I liked David O. Russell for about 11 months before never really wanting to see anything from him again), and Star Trek Into Darkness which is the least interesting of the new Treks and has some creepy 9/11 truther undertones. Olympus Has Fallen ran away with being the worst movie that I saw from 2013 as I kind of liked White House Down. The movies that I liked a little more after these years that I didn't expect (that didn't crack the top 20) are This Is The End, 42, World War Z, The Desolation of Smaug and Oblivion.