- Gravity: With the visuals of an IMAX space movie and the action of the best blockbusters, Gravity was a stunning achievement from director Alfonso Cuaron. 7 years in the making, Cuaron had to create all kinds of new technology to create one of the most realistic feeling space thrillers ever made. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are both fantastic as well, especially Bullock, who has to go solo for most of the film. If you didn’t see it in 3D in theaters, you definitely missed out but it’s a must see in any format.
- Pacific Rim: The most fun I had at the theater this year was Guillermo Del Toro’s tribute to giant monsters with the Kaiju vs Jaeger slugfest that was Pacific Rim. The story is not the most compelling but it’s balanced out by a fully fleshed out world, awesome fight scenes and actors like Idris Elba and Ron Perlman devouring scenery as characters named Stacker Pentacost and Hannibal Chau, respectively. It’s a movie for action/sci fi nerds by a huge action/sci fi nerd.
- Thor: The Dark World: Iron Man 3 came out to kick off the summer of 2013 but as the summer went on, it lost it’s luster little by little and felt a little disappointing as the first follow up to Avengers. Then Thor 2 came out and blew away everything else Marvel did this year. It’s jam packed full of equal parts humor and action and smartly doesn’t do anything to arbitrarily de-power Thor. The end action sequence alone is one of the most creative and fun sequences of the year, borrowing liberally from Portal for a battle through London and beyond. It also realizes that Thor/Loki is the best pairing in the Marvel Cinematic U and focuses the movie on them.
- The Wolf of Wall Street: If you combined the entire Hangover trilogy, you might get a movie as hilarious and depraved as The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the true story of stock broker Jordan Belfort’s massively illegal, but highly lucrative, firm that operated in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Leonardo DiCaprio is absolutely amazing as Belfort, equally parts charming and horrible, and fully commits himself to whatever insanity is occuring. It’s kind of insane that this is Martin Scorsese’s follow up to the kind of boring, family friendly Hugo.
- Man of Steel: One of the most polarizing movies of the year, it seemed like you either loved Zack Snyder’s take on Superman or hated it. I definitely fall on the love side of things, as it was one of the biggest and best blockbusters of the summer. Henry Cavill steps into the shoes of Clark Kent and does a pretty great job but Michael Shannon steals the show as General Zod. There’s been a bunch of ridiculous bitching about the end action sequence but it’s exactly what I was expecting when, essentially, two gods are battling each other to the death in a major city. If DC can keep this up for their future movies, I’m definitely excited for the future of the DC cinematic U.
- Captain Phillips: October was easily the most intense month of the year for movies as Gravity and Captain Phillips came out back to back and both were the kind of intense where you have to remind yourself to breathe. Tom Hanks is amazing as the title character and the movie follows the real life hostage situation that occurred in 2009 by Somali pirates. Paul Greengrass uses his signature style to put you right into the situation with Hanks and it also does a great job of not picking sides, fleshing out both Phillips and the leader of the pirates.
- This is the End/The World’s End: It was impossible to choose which apocalyptic comedy was better so both This is the End and The World’s End make it on my list. This is the End is the more over the top of the two, following exaggerated versions of James Franco, Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, etc and features probably one of the funnest scenes of the year in the porno mag debate between Franco and Danny McBride. The World’s End on the other hand adds to the solid core of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for the conclusion to the Cornetto Trilogy with an epic pub crawl that ends up with a group of friends battling evil doppelganger robots. It’s more low key British humor but just as hilarious as it’s American counterpart.
- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Despite ending on a cliffhanger, The Desolation of Smaug is a fun second chapter in the new trilogy from Peter Jackson. Adding in new characters and old favorites, like Legolas, the movie expands to include the elves of Mirkwood and the humans of Laketown with fun action sequences in between, like an amazing chase down a river in barrels. The title character though, is the reason to see the movie as it’s another amazing CG creation from WETA, on par or surpassing Gollum and King Kong and Benedict Cumberbatch perfectly captures the arrogant, predatory nature of the dragon.
- American Hustle: This was much higher on my list until I saw the Wolf of Wall Street, which made this movie feel kind of slow and subtle in comparison. It’s still an excellent movie though with fantastic as always acting from the likes of Christian Bale (completely changing his appearance again), Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence as the FBI’s ABSCAM sting operation is put in place in the late 70’s to catch corrupt politicians.
- Only God Forgives: It’s definitely style over substance but the latest from Nicolas Winding Refn is so stylish, it’s worth watching just for that. Although Ryan Gosling is top billed, the real star is Vithaya Pansringarm as Chang, a samurai Thai cop dispensing his own brand of justice and then cleansing his soul with karaoke. It has some brutal violence and disturbing sexual overtones and it’s definitely not for everyone, but if you know what to expect from watching other Winding Refn films, it’s definitely worth watching Only God Forgives.
Honorable Mentions: Evil Dead, The Place Beyond the Pines, Frozen, Fast 6, Anchorman 2, 2 Guns, Olympus Has Fallen, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Iceman
Biggest Surprises: Now You See Me (for being a dumb but fun heist movie), World War Z (for not being a complete disaster)