It may be a little early to tell – since time is the only critic who really matters – but I'm reasonably confident that, looking back on it now, 2013 was the best year for cinema in over a decade. Not since 1999 have so many striking, progressive, imaginative, meaningful and just plain entertaining movies been released within a single calendar year. Comparatively speaking, last year was kind of crap. Any of the films of my picks for the best films of 2013 would have been a serious contender for the top ten last year, and any of the films in my top five this year would have bested my pick for 2012's best film, Zero Dark Thirty. Still a damned good movie, Zero Dark Thirty, but the sheer volume of excellent filmmaking in 2013 overwhelms any year in recent memory.
As such – and partly because my top ten best films of 2013 were published early on IndieWire – I have decided to balloon my list up to 20 noteworthy motion pictures this year. Even then a few very strong films like The Conjuring, Frances Ha, Frozen, Go for Sisters, Kiss of the Damned and Warm Bodies couldn't quite make the cut. And as always I feel it's my duty to report that I still haven't seen a handful of acclaimed movies this year that might very well change my opinions when I finally get around to them in the coming weeks, films like The Act of Killing, All is Lost, Fruitvale Station and Short Term 12.
I would like to say before we begin looking at my picks for the best films of 2013 that although there are some special effects-driven blockbusters on my list, a few science-fiction movies and straight-up comedies, this year really has been a landmark for emotionally honest motion pictures about modern relationships, spurring what I hope will be a wave of new films that ignore the hackneyed fluff of romantic comedies and melodramas and approach something real, human and – for a change – relatable. Over half the films on my picks for The 20 Best Films of 2013 center themselves on a romance or profound intimate connection between two or more people, and explore that aspect of humanity in a way that feels natural, meaningful, and that spoke very directly to my own experience as a human being repeatedly seeking connections with my family, friends and loved ones.
We've come a long way as an artistic medium when so many movies can shake off the decades of phoniness that turned even the best films about romance, friendship and family into shiny testaments to falsehood, and I applaud every filmmaker on the following list who achieved greatness by striving for more.
Without further ado, here they are, my picks for The 20 Best Films of 2013.