Way Too Indie’s Best Films of 2013

By @DJansick
Way Too Indie’s Best Films of 2013

Apparently 2013 was a good year to have the number twelve in your movie title (12 Years a Slave and Short Term 12) as well as an abstract meaning of the word color (Blue Is the Warmest Color and Upstream Color). And speaking of color, a couple highly praised films (Frances Ha and Nebraska) were shot only in black-and-white. While some films void of color such as Escape From Tomorrow and Computer Chess did not make our list, a film set in the black void of space did (Gravity). It was especially a good year for Matthew McConaughey and Brie Larson as each of them are in multiple films on our list.

Eight members of our staff voted on their favorite films of the year by submitting their own ranked list—those individual lists were mathematically converted into the list you see below. Before you dive into the results it is important to note that we were unable to see three potential list-changers before our voting deadline (Her, American Hustle, and The Wolf of Wall Street).

Way Too Indie’s Best Films of 2013

#25  Wadjda

Wadjda movie

Veiling undercurrents of politics and gender inequality with the simple tale of a smart girl who wants a bike is nothing short of genius – particularly when the story is done with so much gumption. Wadjda, both the first film to be shot in Saudi Arabia as well as the first to be directed by a Saudi woman, may not be infallible, but it is a sharp commentary that pierces to the heart of things just as well as its eponymous protagonist pierces our own hearts with her quirky, rebellious ways. It’s hard not to be inspired by her, and she’s bound to be a fantastic role model for young children everywhere, reminding us in small yet tenderly humorous ways how ridiculous prescribed gender identities can be. As WTI’s very own Bernard Boo points out in his review of the film, the male characters in this film are secondary, which is such a fantastic way for first-time director Haifaa Al-Mansour to give her female characters a prominent voice. Wadjda is not just a commendable debut; it’s an inspiring and charismatic journey. [Pavi]
Wadjda Review | Watch Trailer

#24  All is Lost

All is Lost movie

Emerging director JC Chandor’s debut, Margin Call, was a wordy chamber piece featuring an all-star cast, but for his second effort, All is Lost, he takes a refreshingly approach, shrinking his cast to a sole lead (the legendary Robert Redford) and giving him a mere three lines of dialog. Redford and Chandor’s tale of a lone man at sea is a textbook on visual and auditory harmony, with the sights and sounds of the swirling elements pounding Redford’s boat transporting us to another place entirely (an astonishing cinematic feat only matched this year by Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity). We’re given virtually zero background about Redford’s character, but by the end of the film, we learn volumes about his mental, physical, and spiritual resilience. Is his fight for survival an exhibition of courage, or is it all for naught? [Bernard]
All is Lost Review | Watch Trailer

#23  About Time

About Time movie

I was so full of optimism and adoration for Richard Curtis when I left the cinema after seeing About Time. He was able to once again capture the hearts of all wishful thinkers and hopeless romantics, including myself. A really lovely tale staring two great leads that you fall in love with almost immediately, however, as Ananda states in her review, anyone more concerned with space-time continuums or time travel paradoxes should just bypass this film, as it really is just another Richard Curtis movie and thus all sense of reality should be left at the door.

But it is another great British classic to go alongside Bridget Jones, Love Actually and Notting Hill – you know those select few films that you’re never sure it’s okay to admit loving, but everyone really wants to. Well I’m singing it loud and proud, I thoroughly enjoyed About Time as much as any film I have seen this year and I can’t wait for its purchase release so that I can re-watch it over and over again. [Amy]
About Time Review | Watch Trailer

#22  Drinking Buddies

Drinking Buddies indie movie

Considering Drinking Buddies had roughly ten times the amount of budget that director Joe Swanberg had for previous films, many thought this to be his crossover into the Hollywood system. And in some ways it is true. But considering the budget was only half a million dollars (well under most films you see nowadays), it really puts in perspective where Swanberg came from. For the first time in his career Swanberg is able to afford household names (Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston) to star in his film. Drinking Buddies explores the dangers of getting too romantically involved with your close friends by utilizing familiar and relatable situations. Through the use of improvised dialog the film comes across as natural feeling as a film can be. The best moments of Drinking Buddies are when emotional tension is displayed without dialog because the characters are so well established that we know exactly what they are thinking. [Dustin]
Drinking Buddies Review | Watch Trailer

#21  The World’s End

The World's End movie

The final film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy and by far the best. The World’s End is a highly entertaining science fiction/comedy hybrid that constantly fires on all cylinders. Simon Pegg leads a fantastic cast with the likes of Rosamund Pike, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Pierce Brosnan. Pegg, who has never been better, is Gary; an alcoholic who still holds on to memories of him and his mates trying to finish off the world’s toughest pub crawl. They try again 20 years later only this time find themselves in the midst of a colossal fight with intergalactic androids. The film is typical Wright, but as The World’s End barrels along to its conclusion, it starts to unravel a lot of layers that were not present at the beginning. What starts out as a high flying comedy soon turns into unexpected drama about alcoholism. Wright and his compatriots blaze a wonderful yarn about a group of men trying to reconnect with their youth and at the same time Wright constructs a meaningful film about poor souls who fall prey to the bottomless pits of despair. The World’s End is high class entertainment. [Blake]
Watch Trailer

#20  A Hijacking

A Hijacking movie

Known to most people as that other film about Somalian pirates that came out this year (both of which were covered here), A Hijacking is one of many terrific dramas to make its way out of Denmark in the last several years. A corporate executive (Søren Malling), who starts the film giddy about successfully negotiating a sale, faces a tougher battle when one of his company’s ships is taken over by pirates. Malling’s character and a chef on the overtaken ship (Pilou Asbæk) are the film’s main focus, and as both men are trapped (one psychologically with guilt and a bruised ego, the other physically) we see them slowly crack under the pressure. Director Tobias Lindholm knows how to pile on the tension too: Negotiation scenes are filmed from Malling’s end, making them unbearably tense when things go awry, and the film’s biggest shocks come from its casual way of letting the audience see the passing of time. Captain Phillips may get all the fame this year, but A Hijacking gets the glory. [CJ]
Watch Trailer

#19  Mud

Mud indie movie

Mud was one of my Sundance London spotlight films; I had never seen McConaughey in such a sincere role. A story based upon one man’s pursuit to survive after being crushed by the undefeatable higher powers of the world. Mud (Matthew McConaughey) banishes himself to a deserted island surrounded on all sides by the Mississippi Rivers so that he will not be imprisoned for the crime he has been accused of committing in defence of the woman he loves. Two adventurous boys stumble upon Mud and once captured by the thrill of their secret mission to help him, do everything in their power to fight for what they believe to be right, freeing a man of the burdens that he carries and to find the woman he loves. [Amy]
Mud Review | Watch Trailer

#18  Stoker

Stoker movie

Arriving the same year American Spike Lee would remake his seminal Oldboy, Park Chan Wook’s highly anticipated first English-language feature proved a kind of poetic statement of call-and-response to the tendency for North American cinema to re-make excellent films not just more linguistically palatable, but better while they’re at it.

Stoker stood in the face of this logic, bringing Park’s every lurid aesthetic chop together with richly stylized performances to deliver one of the year’s most disturbing, incessantly watchable, so-bad-it’s-brilliant American pictures. Matthew Goode is like a porcelain mask bound to crack and cut, his Uncle Charlie sharing a fascinating, not-so-deftly suggestive relationship with Mia Wasikowska’s elliptical India that’s at Stoker‘s brittle core. But it’s the boldness of violence – both physical and psychological – and consistency of vision that elevates the picture: at this rate, Park could direct the phone book and it’d be among the most considerately art-designed films of the year. [Jansen]
Stoker Review | Watch Trailer

#17  Side Effects

Side Effects movie

Who knew that Steven Soderbergh’s supposedly final theatrical feature would turn out to be his one of his most entertaining? Beginning with a stressed out wife (Rooney Mara) unable to handle her white-collar criminal husband (Channing Tatum) returning home after serving his sentence, she starts seeing a therapist (Jude Law) who prescribes her a new drug that apparently cures Mara of all her troubles. That is, until she winds up murdering her husband without any recollection of performing the act. The film’s first half is an unsettling look at the way prescription meds can alter one’s body, but it’s Soderbergh’s (and Scott Z. Burns’ terrific screenplay’s) distinct shift in the second half that elevates the film to something more than basic genre fare. Some people may be upset at the film’s blatant manipulation, but it makes a chilling impact. Just how much do we know about what we put in our bodies, and what it can make us capable of? Side Effects‘ second half makes us question everything we’ve seen beforehand, all while indulging in elements from 70s paranoia and 80s/90s psychosexual thrillers. The fact that Soderbergh can weave all these things together seamlessly speaks to his talents, and we can only hope that he’ll reconsider his early retirement from filmmaking. [CJ]
Side Effects Review | Watch Trailer

#16  Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station movie

Following slain 22-year-old Bay Area resident Oscar Grant’s last day on earth, docu-drama Fruitvale Station is a resounding debut feature from young director Ryan Coogler, who’s as prone to take Hollywood by storm as his star, Michael B. Jordan. Coogler’s script pushes forward forcefully and cuts deeply, and along with Jordan’s breakout performance as Grant it helps to remind us of the humanity at stake in headline-grabbing travesties of this nature. [Bernard]
Fruitvale Station Review | Watch Trailer

#15  Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club movie

Matthew McConaughey’s towering turn as HIV-positive Texas tough-guy and alternative drug entrepreneur Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club has earned the once oft-shirtless Hollywood hunk much deserved universal praise. But standing right alongside him, towering perhaps even taller, is Jared Leto, whose eerily lived-in portrayal of gregarious transsexual Rayon is one of the most entertaining and charming actor transformations of the year. The script is solid, as are the supporting players, directing (by Jean-Marc Vallée), and visuals, but the dual career-defining performances by the male leads propel Dallas Buyers Club up to the #15 slot on our list. [Bernard]
Dallas Buyers Club Review | Watch Trailer

#14  Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers indie

I went back and forth many times on whether or not to place Harmony Korine’s visual and aural sensation of a film as the #1 on my personal list before eventually settling for the #2 slot. Korine’s Spring Breakers perfectly captures and presents the ethos of American youth. I realize most kids are not gun toting, sex zealots like the heroines presented here, the mentality of “I’m gonna get mine at any cost,” reverberates incessantly throughout the film. Spring Breakers is a visual wonderland. Korine uses every trick in the book to fully illustrate the colorful scenery of the Floridian debauchery-soaked landscape. His brilliant visuals are backed by a maniacal score by dubstep master Skrillex and electro wizard Cliff Martinez. Even though the film may be tough to watch at times, there’s no denying the magnetic power Korine holds over you. Spring Breakers is dazzling. [Blake]
Spring Breakers Review | Watch Trailer

#13  The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty movie

Immediately after watching Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty I had a sudden urge to go visit a city that I have not considered before. This is due to the dazzling imagery of the landscapes, architecture, and culture of a modern-day Rome that is contained within this appropriately titled film. Every frame in the film feels like it could be made into a painting, then showcased in an art museum, and be admired by the very same people that are portrayed in the film. The film is ultimately about a man who has trouble finding true beauty in his elegant lifestyle even though beauty is all around him. Sorrentino certainly finds this great beauty while making a statement about the current Italian culture. [Dustin]
The Great Beauty Review | Watch Trailer

#12  The Place Beyond The Pines

The Place Beyond The Pines movie

Because The Place Beyond The Pines came out so early in the year (March) it is easy for the film slip under the radar for end of the year lists. Fortunately, Derek Cianfrance’s film has stuck with me the entire year due to the amazing cinematography (one of the best opening sequences of the year) that pairs perfectly with the unsettling score of the film. This is a classic three act story that is best experienced going into it without knowing much about it—which the trailer brilliantly abides by not giving away too much details. The acting performances from Ryan Gosling and Brady Cooper are simply stunning. If I had to vote for 2013’s Most Forgotten About Film, The Place Beyond The Pines would be at the top. [Dustin]
The Place Beyond The Pines Review | Watch Trailer

#11  The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now indie movie

As much about coming of age as it is about love in its many forms, The Spectacular Now is a sweet yet poignant tale that tips its hat to the American high school drama whilst thoroughly surpassing it in the best way. Our expectations of the genre are as humbled as popular high-school kid Sutter is when he meets Aimee, the quiet nerdy girl he’s never noticed before. Sutter has a “live in the now” philosophy, but Aimee’s arrival in his life switches everything up, forcing them both to confront their deepest issues. Director James Ponsoldt gives us all of the teen awkwardness and curiosity with none (or at least very little) of the melodrama, and Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are spectacular leads; though the film is primarily about Sutter, Woodley steals the show with her quiet love and concern that manifest themselves so plainly in her every expression. This film feels familiar and yet so much more complicated than anything we know, all at the same time. [Pavi]
The Spectacular Now Review | Watch Trailer

#10  Upstream Color

Upstream Color indie

How to recommend a film that will undoubtedly leave you scratching your head and utterly perplexed? Perhaps by saying, never have you enjoyed being confused in so lovely a fashion. Upstream Color, the second of Shane Carruth’s bewildering directorial feats, is about two people who find each other after going through traumatic experiences where their minds were manipulated and now they are missing memories and much of their bank accounts. It’s a film full of beautiful scenery and strange happenings. It’s about many things: falling in love, finding and creating identity, solving a mystery, exacting revenge, and all sorts of other weird things one could only start to fathom upon repeat viewings. However you interpret it, there’s no denying Upstream Color is truly intriguing to watch. [Ananda]
Upstream Color Review | Watch Trailer

#9  The Hunt

The Hunt movie

Mads Mikkelsen is at his best as a teacher who is wrongly accused of molesting a young girl at his school. The Hunt is undoubtedly hard to watch at times as family and close friends turn their back on him, all while Thomas Vinterberg’s direction ratchets up the intensity with each passing minute. Everything about the film is top notch and the supporting actors are great; but the film is owned by Mikkelsen (Best Actor Winner at Cannes) who is onscreen for nearly every second. Sure, its melodrama, but Vinterberg and company are more than up for the challenge; and they succeed with flying colors. [Blake]
The Hunt Review | Watch Trailer

#8  The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing documentary

No other film this year touches Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing when it comes to the amount of jaw-dropping, shake your head in disbelief moments. Whether it’s former generals happily describing how they strangled innocent people with razor wire, government officials openly extorting business owners, a talk show audience applauding war crimes, or the sight of one of these generals dry heaving as he comes to understand what he did, The Act of Killing has no shortage of completely surreal and unbelievable moments. And I haven’t even described the re-enactments of the Indonesian military coup that the film uses as its starting point, all of which accentuate the stomach-churning feeling that goes on throughout Oppenheimer’s film. But what really makes The Act of Killing such a landmark documentary is the way Oppenheimer turns the footage around on viewers. Does Indonesia’s explicit endorsement of these actions somehow make them better or worse than the way Americans (or more generally people in the first world) implicitly endorse similarly oppressive and reprehensible behaviour? What makes The Act of Killing such a sickening film to watch is the realization that, as bone-chilling and incomprehensible this world is, it isn’t too far off from ours. [CJ]
The Act of Killing Review | Watch Trailer

#7  Nebraska

Nebraska indie movie

I grew up spending several weeks a year in my grandparent’s Midwestern town of 300 people. A town where the local bar was the only hangout and where many a conversation among neighbors revolved around the cars they drove and the farming equipment they operated. Alexander Payne (a fellow Midwesterner and Nebraska native) might as well have been writing about that town, tapping into the subtle humor found in the mundane of Midwestern life portrayed in Nebraska. I could go on and on about Bruce Dern’s performance as an old man duped into believing a marketing scheme is actually promising him a million dollars if he travels back to his native Nebraska to claim it, but the truth is his son, played with affable sincerity by Will Forte, provides a vantage point that is easy to relate to. A son coming to understand, or at least accept, the motivations that fuel his father forward and make up the man he has become in old age. Shot in beautiful black and white, which only adds to the lost-in-time feel of a small town, the film is quiet and hilarious, not to mention deeply touching. [Ananda]
Nebraska Review | Watch Trailer

#6  Short Term 12

Short Term 12 indie

A film that centers around a foster care facility, Short Term 12 could have been a clichéd attempt at manipulating our emotions with contrived characters and scenes. Instead, thanks to heartfelt direction from Destin Cretton as well as spectacular performances from the cast, it is exactly the opposite – a touching, genuine film that quietly leaves its mark in our hearts. Brie Larson gives the performance of her career, and possibly of the year, as Grace, a young woman who supervises at the facility, and is much loved by the children there. When a new arrival means she begins to confront her own past, and the traumas that lie within it, we’re drawn even further into her world, sympathizing with her emotions as though they touch us in our very flesh. The supporting cast are no less captivating, coming together to create a beautifully crafted film that confronts us with the reality of many lives. [Pavi]
Short Term 12 Review | Watch Trailer

#5  Blue Is the Warmest Color

Blue Is the Warmest Color indie

Controversy has surrounded Blue Is The Warmest Color ever since the film premiered Cannes and won the grand Palm d’Or prize. Early on the debate was if the powerful ten minute lesbian sex scene was too graphic, too long, or just simply too taboo. However as time passed the lead actresses admitted to feeling mistreated during the filmmaking process (especially in the sex scenes) which sparked a whole new round of controversy. But with all this attention on the film, perhaps it proves that sometimes bad press is good press.

Putting aside all of the buzz surrounding the film, what you need to know is that Blue Is the Warmest Color is first and foremost about self-discovery and the intimate passion of love. The acting performances from the two female leads (Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux) are so effective that their love for each other is never in question. However, the film does not sugar cost the reality of love when it displays the tragedy of heartbreak. Blue Is the Warmest Color worth seeking out regardless of your stance on the film’s subject matter. This is masterful filmmaking and among the best cinema has to offer this year. [Dustin]
Blue Is the Warmest Color Review | Watch Trailer

#4  12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave movie

One advantage to press screenings, sometimes, is there’s not yet much hype or disdain for a film. I had no idea going in the effect 12 Years a Slave would have on me. I knew director Steve McQueen was known for his effectiveness with serious subject matter, but am ashamed to admit I had never actually gotten around to watching one of his films. And now I worry that all the hype will actually deter some people from seeing the film, because when does one ever get in the mood to watch a film I personally described as “sobering and immensely difficult to watch”? But this film is in the Top 5 for good reason. Amazing performances and gripping imagery aside, 12 Years a Slave is storytelling at its most powerful. And partly what makes it so powerful is because it’s a true story. Every American should be made to watch this film, because each of us have exactly what this character/man of history, Solomon Northup, had, lost, and then regained: freedom. And McQueen’s cinematic reminder of just how invaluable a thing like that is, will always be timely. [Ananda]
12 Years a Slave Review | Watch Trailer

#3  Before Midnight

Before Midnight indie

The third in Richard Linklater’s unprecedented touristic walk-n-talk romance series, Before Midnight checks in on Celine and Jesse 9 years after Before Sunset and 18 years after Before Sunrise. The couple’s once fresh, vigorous attraction to one another has begun to sour a bit as mounting mid-life stresses strip their romance bare, but Delpy and Hawke’s unparalleled chemistry is as crackling as ever. The progressively contentious (and riveting) interactions between the now-jaded lovers bring a raw intensity not found in the film’s predecessors, and as the stinging reality begins to emerge that the yappy soul mates may have reached the end of lovers’ lane, a profound feeling of desperation rocks their world, and ours. This is the first time we’re seeing these precious-to-many characters get their hands dirty, and not only is this the best film in the series, it’s damn near close to perfection. [Bernard]
Before Midnight Review | Watch Trailer

#2  Frances Ha

Frances Ha indie

What can I say about Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha? The film is totally original and rare gem unlike anything I have ever seen before. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt so connected to a character as I did with Frances (wonderfully played by Greta Gerwig); she is the embodiment of every emotion and defeat we go through. Yet, instead of actually being defeated she rises and she fights—never letting the wavering flame of hope burn out, and that is what I found humbling, encouraging, and powerful. The script found in Frances Ha was flawless and brilliant; it was stylistic in every sense of the word. Frances Ha has my sincerest recommendation and is completely worthy of its high rank on our list. I challenge you to watch the film and not fall in love with Frances. [Amy]
Frances Ha Review | Watch Trailer

#1  Gravity

Gravity movie

Our film of the year is a fitting champion in form, tone, and technique within such a banner year for the art precisely because it worked counter to so many worrying trends pervading in the industry as of late. A muscular 90 minute story in a sea of 2 1/2 hour-plus 3D action epics released every year, perhaps the highest praise we can offer Gravity is that it can (and often does) work without words. Is storytelling through visuals not cinema at its most romantic? Does that not emphatically harken back to movies at their most alluring and pure?

Gravity is a feat of virtuoso visuals and its excellent use of 3D technology goes without saying; it’s been said everywhere. But what most impressed me is Alfonso Cuaron’s unsentimental, almost ruthlessly direct narrative: you-are-there at tis most cathartically palpable, and relentlessly potent. This is space. and these are the turmoils of space. and here are two characters that can help you relate: even if you didn’t buy into the higher allegorical ambitions of Gravity, that much of the story, at least, touches everybody. And that is a thrilling thing for cinema. [Jansen]
Gravity Review | Watch Trailer

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