As we get ready to welcome the sense of wonder and excitement that a new year of cinema brings, I wanted to reflect on the films of 2013 that left the biggest mark on me. As with any film list, narrowing down the choices was tough. This is especially true in a year that featured so many wonderful films. All of the films in the shortlist section could have easily made my top ten. Keeping that in mind, here are my favourite films of 2013:

Under the Skin 2

10. Under the Skin
This film divided audiences at TIFF and will most likely do the same when it gets released in theatres. Wonderful and perplexing all at the same time, this film has kept me under its hypnotic spell. I would not be surprised to see Under the Skin, as well as another science fiction film on this list, becomes a cult classic.

The Broken Circle Breakdown

9. The Broken Circle Breakdown
The simple tale about a couple dealing with the death of a child grabbed me more than I expected it would. It is not a flashy film, but effective nonetheless. The more I think about this film, the more it becomes apparent that it celebrates life and love just as much as it explores pain and loss.


8. Gravity
It seems every few years we get a film that manages to offer both grand spectacle and an enthralling cinematic experience. Gravity offered all of that in a tension filled 91 minutes.

before midnight 2

7. Before Midnight
While I have enjoyed the previous films in the Before series, this is the first one that I truly identified with. The youthful romantic fantasy has been replaced with an honest examination of love, aging and an appreciation of the here and now. It is simply the film that speaks to my current state in life.


6. Mud
Mud is a wonderful exploration of the male psyche in regards to relationships and love. Jeff Nichols delivered another sensational film filled with exceptional performances and assured execution. The film is further proof that the Matthew McCounaughey renaissance is one of the most exciting things to follow right now.

StoriesWeTell 2

5. Stories We Tell
It was a fantastic year for documentaries and Sarah Polley’s look at narrative and family was amongst the best of them. Polley analyzes how we share stories, and who has the right to them, in a unique and thrilling way. It is a film that offers new things to discover with each viewing. Though the film technically opened in Canada last fall, its inclusion on this list is due to the fact that I only caught up with it theatrically this past January as part of TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten series.


4. The Act of Killing
Rarely has the medium of film been used in such a captivating way to expose not only the corruption of a region, but the pure evil that exists within some men. The film serves both as our window into the heart of darkness and as an enabler for those who revel in the despicable deeds they have committed. Equally mesmerizing and disturbing, Joshua Oppenheimer pushes the boundaries of documentary filmmaking in an unbelievable way.

Upstream Color 2

3. Upstream Color
For the better part of the year this held the number one spot for me. Shane Carruth’s film is not an easy one to decipher, but attempting to unlock all of its mysteries is what makes the experience so enjoyable. I have seen the film three times and will no doubt be visiting it over and over again.


2. Her
The perfect blend of humour and melancholy, Spike Jonze’s latest film is both an engaging romance and a unique commentary on our obsession with technology. The film looks at human connection, or lack thereof, in a way that makes it seem extremely plausible for mankind to fall in love with things like operating systems. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, her voice at least, prove to be one of the onscreen couples for the ages.

12 Years

1. 12 Years a Slave
There have been only a couple of films in the last few years that hit me as hard as 12 Years a Slave. It was an emotionally draining experience and I mean that in the best possible way. Filled with stunning performances and a haunting atmosphere, Steve McQueen captures both the social dynamics and the overall slave experience in a truly devastating manner. Steeped in misery, it is not a film that one easily forgets.

The Shortlist: Inside Llewyn Davis, Captain Phillips, The Battery, 12 O’Clock Boys, The Wolf of Wall Street, Blancanieves, Frances Ha, The Dirties, Side Effects The Amazing Catfish, R100, Much Ado About Nothing, Mystery Road, Prisoners, Fast & Furious 6, Valentine Road, Bombay Talkies, Nebraska


  1. I haven’t seen them all, but I agree with most of your selections. Some will make my Top Ten. Others won’t, but they’ll be close.

    The only one that doesn’t even approach my list is Before Midnight. I do not like that movie. 🙂

  2. Of those I have only seen Gravity. Some haven’t even opened where I am yet. I’ve had Before Midnight sitting on my coffee table for months and haven’t gotten around to watch it. The same with Upstream Color in my Netflix Instant queue. I haven’t even heard of The Broken Circle Breakdown or The Act of Killing.

    1. You should definitely give Upstream Color and Before Midnight a spin. As for the Act of Killing and The Broken Circle Breakdown, they have not received a lot of mainstream press but are still worthy of a look.

  3. That’s an excellent list though there’s a lot there that I haven’t seen but it is in my watchlist as I’m going to unveil my “unofficial” list tomorrow.

  4. Nice list! I hope that I can go back and view some of those as 2014 rolls in.
    Nice to see that you hold Her up there! I’m postponing my list until I see Her, hopefully this week!

  5. Real nice work there Courtney. I am just getting my own presentation together, but need to tweek it further. I continue to believe that both STORIES WE TELL and UPSTREAM COLOR and am no fan of THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN. But I am of course in the minority with those.

    My own list at present:

    1. 12 Year A Slave
    2. Short Term 12
    3. Her
    4. La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty)
    5. Blue is the Warmest Color
    6. The Past
    7. Wadjda
    8. Nebraska
    9. To the Wonder
    10. Mud
    Frances Ha
    The Hunt (TIE)


    Fruitvale Station
    My Brother the Devil (U.K.)
    Beyond the Hills (Romania)
    Hannah Arendt (France/Germany)
    The Act of Killing (Indonesia)
    Kiss the Water
    All is Lost
    Saving Mr. Banks
    American Hustle
    Lootera (India)
    Lawrence Always (France)
    A Touch of Sin (China)
    Inside Llewyn Davis
    Star Trek: Into Darkness
    August: Osage County
    A Highjacking (Sweden)

    I am also no fan of the Linklater ‘Before’ films, but again I stand almost alone. Ha! Another overated film is THE BUTLER, methinks.

    Great site, I will add it to my own blogroll today!

    Great that we have the same Number 1!!!

    1. From your top ten I still need to see Wadjda, Short Term 12, The Great Beauty, The Past and The Hunt. I have heard great things about all of those titles and plan to catch up with them in 2014.

    1. I look forward to seeing what the nine other films on your list will be. It is always fascinating to see how diverse everyone’s taste is when it comes to film.

  6. I’ve seen The Act of Killing appear on a number of top 10 lists for 2013 so it definitely intrigues me. Looking forward to seeing a film with this type of content is probably the wrong thing to say, but I’m eager to experience it for myself. Good to see Before Midnight make the list, it was on my “films to look forward to in 2013” top 10.

    Similarly, 12 Years A Slave is on my list to see, as is Mud.

  7. Great picks here CS! Love seeing Upstream ranked so high (that was my fave of the year), and I am reminded yet again that I need to see Broken Circle Breakdown ASAP. That one sounds really interesting.

    1. Any other year Upstream would have taken number one on the list. It just so happen that Her and 12 Years a Slave bullied their way past Upstream in the final months. Regardless of the ranking, it was a wonderful year for cinema.

Comments are closed.