BW/DR Staff Picks: The Best Films of 2013


illustration by Madeline Perman

As we come to the end of one of the very best years for movies in recent memory, I decided to reach out to Bright Wall/Dark Room staff writers and contributors, and ask them what their favorite film(s) of the year were. Below is a compilation of their collective answers. (Keep in mind, though, that since none of us are official critics, and very few of us live in Los Angeles or New York—where Oscar-caliber films open early for award consideration—most of us have yet to see the year-end films that many critics are currently gushing about, like HerThe Wolf of Wall StreetInside Llewyn DavisAmerican Hustle, etc.) Nonetheless, here’s what we came up with…

Elisabeth Geier’s Top Films of 2013

  1. Before Midnight
  2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  3. Frances Ha
  4. Jurassic Park 3D theatrical re-release

(Elisabeth’s Least Favorite Film of 2013 and Possibly Ever: The Bling Ring)

Andy Sturdevant

For years, I despaired about the fact that every dumb movie set in the 1970s or early 1980s looked like the Beastie Boys’ video for “Sabotage.” Why couldn’t someone shoot a period piece set in that time period that actually looked right, I wondered. Moreover, instead of gussing up a crappy digitally shot movie with fake Laszlo Kovacs flourishes, why doesn’t someone just use antique technology from that period to tell a story about that time? Well, Andrew Bujalski answered both my prayers. Computer Chess looks right and feels right, to the point where it’s almost like watching found footage. And it’s a nice bit of understated but still pretty hard-edged science fiction in a year with a lot of big-budget stabs at hard-edged science fiction.

And speaking of found footage and getting it right, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’sFrances Ha is another one that feels like a perfect artifact from a certain part of the present. Just when I think I’d be perfectly happy to never see another film with young people set in New York City for the rest of my life, this one comes along and gets the nuances of being a post-collegiate in a big city so dead-on I forget all the other ones I’ve seen. What a score, too.

Taylor K. Long

(so far, and in alphabetical order)

  • Before Midnight
  • Behind the Candelabra
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Heat
  • Insidious 2
  • Room 237
  • Stoker
  • Upstream Color
  • The Wolverine

Gray Hendryx

12 Years a Slave There are too many things about this horrifying, beautiful, tremendous film that I can name to describe its near perfection, but one is its deft examination of how the cruelty of well-meaning, “good” slave owners, as exemplified by the plantation owner played by Benedict Cumberbatch, can be deeper and more insidious than the outright evil of those who are openly hostile. The road to hell Simon Northrup walks is paved with the good intentions of privileged whites who don’t see their own complicity in oppression.

Erika Schmidt

  • Stories We Tell
  • Jurassic Park 3D
  • Before Midnight
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Fruitvale Station

Hillary Weston

  1. Upstream Color. Not just a film, but an experience. Having seen it so many times now, I often find myself simply listening to it and allowing Shane Carruth’s world to swallow me up completely. For all its confounding scientific beauty, there’s something so simple and sensory at its core that speaks to me without any need for articulation.
  2. The Great Beauty
  3. Before Midnight
  4. Blue Jasmine
  5. Spring Breakers
  6. Laurence Anyways
  7. Something in the Air
  8. Stories We Tell
  9. Frances Ha
  10. Much Ado About Nothing

Chris Fraser

  1. Iron Man 3
  2. Captain Phillips
  3. The World’s End
  4. Gravity
  5. Wreck-It Ralph

Fran Hoepfner

Short Term 12. I’ve maybe never used the term “tour de force” before now, but it’s the only phrase that comes to mind when I think about Brie Larson’s performance. Such weight and beauty in such a small film.

Sophia Foster-Dimino:

Upstream Color – A lovely film full of beautiful drifting impressions… a complex and haunting meditation on personal agency and identity.

Gravity – So upsetting and so skillfully done. I cared for the camera work much more than the dialogue – I wish the filmmakers didn’t feel as if they had to shoehorn in the uplifting bits – but I still really loved it.

Katie West

Every year I keep a list of every single movie I watch. In 2012 I watched 119 movies. This year I’ve only watched 42. I’m not sure what happened–did movies get worse? Did I lose my interest in them? Did I just get too busy?

I put an asterisk beside each movie I see that I think is extraordinary. In 2012 there were seven movies with an asterisk. This year there are five. Which, I guess when you look at the numbers isn’t all that bad. I’m not sure what’s happening. Anyway, three of the five movies came out in 2013. Those are Stoker (because Chan-wook Park owns me), Pacific Rim(because Rinko Kikuchi and Idris Elba), and Fast & Furious 6 (I have always loved these movies. I offer no apologies. Watching Vin Diesel do a flying head butt into bad dudes is worth my money any day. And watching The Rock and Vin Diesel look at each other and realize they have to team up and fight together, and everyone in the theatre starts cheering, and then everyone starts chanting “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss” Well that was just me, but still! And Paul Walker, giving me that pure California surfer boy smile. Kills me. And GINA CARANO? Whom I have nominated several times for the President of Everything Everywhere. And Michelle Rodriguez, back from the dead?! And then on top of all that perfection they throw fast, beautiful, sexy cars and a PLANE CHASE? This movie was amazing).

Chris Cantoni

Gravity – Utterly absorbing from start to finish, a roller coaster ride still filled to the brim with human emotion.

Short Term 12 – The most emotionally raw and beautiful film of the year. Honest storytelling at its best.

Catching Fire – Collins’ second novel is where the Hunger Games trilogy starts to shine, and the second movie is no different. It combines the humor and excitement of the first movie while bringing the hefty weight of the districts’ fight against tyranny.

Lauren Cierzan

In A World… Helmed by director, writer and actress Lake Bell and propelled by a impeccable cast, In A World… isn’t afraid to be both whip-smart and sweet, a feminist film that speaks volumes without taking itself too seriously. Highlights include Bell’s impersonations, Fred Melamed’s ungodly ego/body hair and a script that managed to simultaneously win Sundance’s highest screenwriting honor and pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors.

Sam Donsky

  1. The Counselor
  2. Side Effects
  3. The Great Gatsby
  4. The Wolverine
  5. Before Midnight
  6. The Last Stand
  7. The Bling Ring
  8. To the Wonder
  9. The Heat
  10. Frances Ha

Bebe Ballroom

A Ryan Gosling Sandwich:

  1. The Place Beyond the Pines
  2. Prisoners
  3. Only God Forgives

Andrew Root

  1. The World’s End
  2. This Is The End
  3. The last ten minutes of Captain Phillips

Chad Perman

  1. Before Midnight
  2. Blue Jasmine
  3. Gravity
  4. Stories We Tell
  5. The Great Gatsby
  6. Upstream Color
  7. Frances Ha
  8. This is the End
  9. The Place Beyond the Pines
  10. The Heat

Madeline (my daughter, age 6)

  1. Frozen
  2. The Croods
  3. Turbo (tie)
  4. Monsters University (tie)

Elliott (my son, age 4)


And that’s it, another year of movies—and writing about movies, life, and everything else—is in the books. Happy Holidays to you and yours, and we’ll see you in January!