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This is over a year late– the time for my 2014 list has already come and gone– but I am finally posting my list of the best films of 2013. This year’s list is short, partly because of the incredibly long delay, and partly because it was a so-so year for film. Having said that, I fully stand behind these 6 films, and recommend each of them highly. At the time of writing, it has been a long time since I first saw several of these films, so I apologize if the descriptions are briefer than usual…

(6) 12 Years a Slave

Based on a real life story, 12 Years a Slave is a brutal expose of America’s history with slavery, and is particularly apt when considered in contrast to the (tongue-in-cheek) post-racial world that many profess exists today.

(5) Dallas Buyers Club

Undoubtedly the year’s best acting performances come from this film; the Oscars got this one right, with both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto winning for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.

(4) Inside Llewyn Davis

This is the Coen Brothers’ tribute to the 1960’s folk revival scene, a combination of director(s) and theme which might just be the most perfect fit possible. Beautiful music together with a compelling character study (which also doubles as a sub-cultural analogue), makes Inside Llewyn Davis one of the softest spoken and most overlooked Coen bros. movies in a long time.

(3) Her

It’s been almost 2 years since I saw this film, so I feel entirely inadequate at articulating the many-layered ways that this film has import at this time. But if I had to pin down this film’s grandest philosophical achievement (though this is hardly its only one), it’s in how it shows where the real limits of love and intimacy lie. Those limits lie not in the possibility of our virtual connections, if you will. But rather, they lie in our embodied ones.

(2) Mud

A coming of age thriller with equal parts grit and magic, “Mud” might most simply be described as a cross between “The Goonies” and “Stand By Me”. I think it deserves to be on the same cinematic mantle, for sure. “Mud” is also wholly unique, though– a genuine American classic in its own right. It’s unfortunate that this film continues to slide under the radar. It’s the movie that officially put Jeff Nichols on my shortlist of favorite writer-directors (though I think his “Take Shelter”, from 2011, may have been a superior film, “Mud” is absolutely lathered in more heart). This is the must-see surprise of 2013.

(1) Gravity

Simply the best all-around film of the year, the aptly-titled “Gravity” is a space-age thriller that puts the awe of life in focus from the grandest of perspectives: Earth’s orbit. Putting some of the physics errors aside for the sake of cinematic appeal, it’s impossible not to walk away from this film without feeling inspired to live. The triumph of its main character in the end is personal as much as physical. Awe-inspiring, tear-jerking, breathtaking, exhilarating, heart-lifting… “Gravity” is the whole package.

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