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The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2013

Written by on January 2, 2014 

For our final year-end feature, we’re providing a cumulative look at our favorite films of 2013 here at The Film Stage. Over the last few days a variety of contributors have published their personal top 10 lists, resulting in over 75 films being mentioned, and we’ve pared it down to an even 50. To calculate the list we gave 10 points to everyone’s #1 pick, 9 points to their #2 pick, and so forth, with a half a point going to honorable mentions — in the case of a tie, the film that placed higher on a respective list was given the nod. So, without further ado, check out our last rundown of 2013 below, our complete year-end coverage here, and return in the coming weeks as we look towards 2014.

Contributors (click each name for their top 10 list): Raffi Asdourian, Nathan BartlebaughForrest Cardamenis, John Fink, Bill Graham, Danny King, Dan Mecca, Nick Newman, Jordan RaupChristopher Schobert, and Ethan Vestby.

50. The Past (Asghar Farhadi)

Should we forget the past in order to better our future? This existential question is at the core of The PastAsghar Farhadi‘s follow-up film to the Oscar-winning Iranian film A Separation. Strikingly similar in tone, The Past deals with a trio of characters all groping with personal problems that interconnect in sometimes unpredictable ways. This unfolding drama plays out like a soap opera in terms of the details resting inside each character’s relationship and personal dilemma, yet the material is elevated by Farhadi’s carefully nuanced direction, allowing performances to take center stage. The end result is an effective examination of how past lives can sometimes dictate future selves. – Raffi A.

49. The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola)

Arriving after her most abstract work, SomewhereSofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is a darkly comedic send-up of reality TV and the culture of Twitter (which creates the illusion you can be BFFs with Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan). Starring Emma Watson as the ringleader’s co-hort and Leslie Mann as her mom (who eggs them on with “vision boards”), The Bling Ring perfectly captures (to a literal extent, figuring in the late Harris Savides‘ gorgeous, final work) an American subculture gone too far. – John F.

48. Blancanieves (Pablo Berger)

Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves may be a silent film in form and function, but the delivery method is more than a fashionable gimmick. Berger adorns his bewitching black and white fairy tale with the kind of alluring, direct poetry that cinematic descendants Luis Buñuel and Jean Cocteau specialized in and the result is a fantasy masterpiece as transporting as their best. Spain may take over for enchanted English forests, Snow White has become a matador, her stepmother a withering dominatrix, and the dwarves diminutive circus bullfighters but the mystery and magic of the original tale is magnified here in a true feast for the senses. If you’ve tired of contrived big-budget wonder, seek out Blancanieves and watch it cast its formidable spell. – Nathan B.

47. At Any Price (Ramin Bahrani)

After floating around the 2012-2013 festival circuit, this Sony Classics release should have made director Ramin Bahrani a household name, but At Any Price remains a remarkable American indie that sadly failed to find an audience. Starring Zac Efron as a free spirited racecar driver who rejects his family business, an agriculture supply and farm in crisis, Dennis Quaid plays the patriarch of the family, squeezed under investigation for his seed practices. Co-starring Kim Dickens, Heather Graham and Clancy Brown, At Any Price is a family drama-thriller that offers up a fascinating and entertaining look at modern agriculture. – John F.

46. The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance)

Here is an epic American crime drama, one that takes a narrow-eyed look at class, and how the circumstances of our birth dictate the rest of our lives. It’s boldly told, ambitiously plotted, and often verges on collapse. But Derek Cianfrance and his cast keep it together. Ryan Gosling has never been better as a motorcycle daredevil turned bank robber, Bradley Cooper is nicely flawed as the beat cop who finds himself on Gosling’s tale, and Eva Mendes gives her best performance as the woman who gave birth to Gosling’s child, but knows he’s on the road to nowhere. Few films this year matched this one’s verve and ambition. – Christopher S.

45. The Counselor (Ridley Scott)

One of the most entertaining movies of the year, Ridley Scott’s collaboration with writer Cormac McCarthy marks a brave, creative and ambitious Hollywood film featuring some of the strangest turns from some of the most well-known faces in the game. McCarthy’s script is as cold and cynical as they come. It’s also one of the funniest movies of the year, the kind of comedy that’ll loop in hell. – Dan M.

44. Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan)

Having not seen any of Xavier Dolan‘s previous work, I wasn’t sure the best starting point would be his third film, a three-hour drama that was little-seen in the United States. However, I’m glad I snuck it before the end of the year, as Laurence Anyways proved to be one of my favorite films of the year. Tracking the ten-year relationship between Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud) and Fred Belair (Suzanne Clément), Dolan’s film explodes with passion and color, perhaps the best ode to French New Wave in recent cinema. – Jordan R.

43. The World’s End (Edgar Wright)

What initially presents itself as a (slightly) dark comedy about bar-hopping evolves, scene by scene, into something satisfyingly ambitious and devastating. It’s an even greater accomplishment when taken in proper context: while sticking the landing on a trilogy initiated by Shaun of the Dead and continued with Hot Fuzz — very possibly the 21st century’s two great comedies — is no easy task, to simply rest on one’s earned laurels has proved as common an option for cappers. Full credit must be paid, then, to director / co-writer Edgar Wright and co-writer / star Simon Pegg for concluding with bared hearts, subverting what we’d expect of their science fiction turn by using homage as a direct means of addressing a deeply, terribly sad tale of addictions, personal failures, and the scars of lives only half-lived. Featuring extended bar fights with extraterrestrial robots, mind. – Nick N.

42. Drug War (Johnnie To)

This rock-hard procedural hits you in the mouth and leaves you bleeding for the duration of its runtime. Flashes of To’s comedy work can be glimpsed here and there (the HaHa character, for instance), but the powerhouse intensity is the dominant force. The cocaine/ice-bath sequence can stand toe-to-toe with any of the year’s other most immaculate set-pieces, while the climactic shootout is a peerless orchestration of sound, space, clarity, and cinematic balance. Even better than this film is the realization that I’ve still got, oh, over 40 other Johnnie To films left to see. – Danny K.

41. Borgman (Alex van Warmerdam)

The less you know about Borgman, the better. All that matters is that it’s Dutch, it was the most bizarre film to play in the main competition of Cannes this year and it’s coming out next year courtesy of Drafthouse Films. Oh, and it’s a devilishly good time for fans of black comedy shenanigans. If any of that sounds at all intriguing, then definitely seek this film out and you’ll be sure to be both bewildered and delighted. All that’s left to say is: Gotta go Borgman. – Raffi A.

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