It's not difficult for a romantic comedy to crack my Top 10 as long as it's good. I love a good romantic comedy, but there are so few good ones that when one does comes along I cherish it. I've said before that I'm a big fan of Paul Rudd; I also enjoy Tina Fey in most things. Admission is a fine example of their doing what they do best while paying attention to one of my favorite themes: letting other people into your life. It probably wouldn't make my list of Top 10 romantic comedies of all time (there's an idea for a post), but it was the best of the genre this year and that's why it sneaks into 2013's Top 10 for me.
9. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Not anywhere near the first movie Ben Stiller's directed, but it's arguably the most beautiful and imaginatively shot. And it's all about another of my favorite themes recently: abandoning safety for adventure. The stuff shot in Iceland is gorgeous and Sean Penn is wonderful and perfect in his small, but important role.
Had Stiller and Kristen Wiig's acting been on the same level as the rest of the film, it would have probably would have cracked my Top 5. They don't do a bad job by any definition, but I also didn't connect with either of them the way I wanted to. I've become a cry baby at a lot of movies lately, but not this one and I think it's the fault of the two leads.
8. Iron Man 3
It took me a second viewing to appreciate Iron Man 3. The first time, I thought it was funny and entertaining, but that it didn't have enough superheroics for a superhero movie. In other words, not enough Iron Man for a movie called Iron Man. But of course that's entirely it's point. Tony Stark doesn't need the armor to be Iron Man. The suit isn't the hero and the person inside isn't interchangeable. Not only is that a valid theme for the Iron Man series, it's a message I actually needed to hear. I wouldn't want all Iron Man films to be like this one, but it's a bold move that makes an intelligent movie and I'm really glad it exists.
7. Zero Dark Thirty
I tend to think of this as a 2012 movie (as did the Oscars), but it wasn't officially, widely released until 2013. It may suffer a little from my having seen it so long ago and not remembering its impact, so perhaps it should be higher on my list. It wasn't perfect, but it was very effective and harrowing and I liked the point it made so powerfully at the end, even if it was a bit on the nose.
6. The Kings of Summer
A fantastic coming-of-age story with some of my favorite TV comedians (especially Nick Offerman, Megan Mullaly, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Tony Hale) in supporting roles. The stars of course are the three, young men in the title roles as a trio of friends who run away from home for a summer to hang out in a handmade cabin in the woods. Though the film never loses its sense of humor, I love that the boys' disappearance and their parents' worry are played rather straight. It's all about the relationships - between them, their folks, and girls they like - and those are all honest and real. But also extremely funny.
If I were just judging these movies based on my experience in the theater, Gravity would be number one. I told as many people as would listen that they should see this in 3D and on as a big a screen as possible. I'm normally not an advocate for 3D, but this was a unique experience. The movie is also a fine thriller, but I don't know how interested I am in seeing it again at home. If it didn't look and feel so amazing in the theater, I probably would've ranked Gravity a lot lower (though still in my Top 20).
4. Thor: The Dark World
Steve Murray nicely sums up my thoughts on Thor: The Dark World in the article he wrote for the National Post about how Thor is the new Superman. "Thor smiles; naturally, even. The new Superman smiles with sad eyes, like it’s a bone thrown to the audience to let them know that this isn’t just a flying Batman. Thor battles the bad guys with a sense of fun, even though, and here’s the interesting part, he’s a warrior who surely kills people." There's more to it than that and Murray explains it really well. You should read the whole article; it's short.
Basically though, Thor: The Dark World is the fun superhero movie I wanted all year. Iron Man 3 went more serious than it's predecessors (though not totally serious) and it worked. Man of Steel went way serious and it didn't work. Dark World didn't go serious at all, though it does have some lovely moments of gravity, especially with Loki, whom I'm astonished not to be tired of yet. It was exactly what I needed.
3. Side Effects
The word "Hitchcockian" gets thrown around entirely too easily, but it applies to Side Effects. Steven Soderbergh has created a compelling mystery/thriller about a character who's in the wrong place at the wrong time and tries to get out of the deadly situation that results. Soderbergh is extremely versatile and I wouldn't change that about him, but I also wouldn't mind if he made some more movies like this one.
2. The Spectacular Now
A wonderful coming-of-age movie about a high school student who's on a dark path without realizing it. My favorite thing about it is that it didn't hit me over the head with the direction of this kid's life, but let me figure it out along with him and then hold my breath while I waited to see if he could change it.
I also love that while there's a girl involved in his journey, she's not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl sent from the writer's brain to fix the dude. She's a normal girl; a real person who's not very popular, but also not super nerdy. That's how the film handles its high school characters in general. They're all people, not cliquey stereotypes. That means that Aimee (Shailene Woodley, who was almost Mary Jane in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and now I'm sorry she isn't) can influence the main character Sutter, but she's not responsible for his salvation.
1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I was trying to avoid giving the standard disclaimer about how this list is my own favorites and not an objective ranking of the best movies of the year, but seeing Catching Fire ahead of so many other wonderful movies makes me think I should.
It's not that I naturally feel defensive about Catching Fire, but that even though it's mostly loved, I've heard criticism that it doesn't stand up all that well by itself for people who haven't read the books. I've also heard from people who haven't read the books and loved Catching Fire, but I think the first criticism is valid. In fact, I found myself welling up at least twice during the film not because of what I was seeing, but because of what it reminded me that I'd read. In other words, because I already knew why people were doing what they were doing, it made their actions more emotionally powerful to me than if I had been experiencing them on the screen for the first time.
So, I have no idea how to rate this movie as someone who doesn't already know the story, but as someone who does, it was exciting and touching and it powerfully communicated the theme suggested by its title. It combined genre action and humanity in a way that no other movie did for me this year, and that's why it's at the top of my list.