10. Captain Philips
This is Tom Hanks giving another brilliant performance in an Academy Award-worthy movie that relies on the perfectly paced escalation of tension. Director Paul Greengrass reworks techniques from the Bourne trilogy and Green Zone to create a thriller that feels familiar, while cutting out the negative nuances of his previous work.
The film industry currently seems obsessed with the feeling of tension. The Hurt Locker and Gravity are two notable examples. Captain Phillips is able to balance tension with a good degree of character development, which adds emphasis to the consequences of the characters’ actions.
Captain Philips also plays on common themes and ideas, such as the exploration of what common men can do in extraordinary situations. It involves traits that are both reflective of Greengrass’s prior works and the modern movie industry as a whole. It is incredibly engaging and explains everything in detail. What could very easily have been a typical popcorn flick is instead elevated to a feat of modern filmmaking.
– Shane Madill
9. Despicable Me 2
People entering creative professions must hold on to that wondrous childhood idea that they can do anything. Although artists are generally cynical, melancholy pricks, a delusional sense of optimism is a pre-requisite for success; if you don’t think you can write a passable novel, neither will the jaded publisher who’ll toss your precious manuscript into the trash. On that note, Despicable Me 2 is a movie that can restore the zest for life you’d thought you’d left behind when you entered high school. Simply put, the animated sequel to 2010’s wildly popular Despicable Me (duh) is a work that defies a label like “children’s movie.” Although entertaining for the younger generation, it can also be seen as a wake-up call for many of us to get our angsty heads out of our asses and stop moping about. Do you think the guys who made up Gru and his delightful entourage of minions were as self-serious as Hemingway? Answer: No. Cinco Paul, one half of the writing team behind the film, takes hot baths to loosen his creative muscles in his office. Find a way to watch it if you haven’t already. You’ll be skipping to school for days.
– Tomi Milos
8. Dirty Wars
The documentary Dirty Wars, narrated by the war reporter Jeremy Scahill, deserves to be on this list because of the film’s scary, and real, scenarios.
While Scahill is stationed in Afghanistan, he hears about a night raid that happened in a NATO “denied area.” Still, he decides to investigate and learns that one Afghan policeman and three women have been killed by what the family describes as “American Taliban.”
Back in the US, Scahill presents the family’s case to Congress with a bleak result. Neither the US Government, nor NATO wishes to investigate the case further; instead they are trying to cover it up. Regardless of this subterfuge, the family’s story leaks and NATO is forced to make a semi-public apology. But Scahill cannot let go of the story, and finds out that the night raids have multiplied. He counts 1,700 within a short period of time, both in declared and undeclared war zones. An elite force, JSOC, which has the full support of the White House, executes the night raids.
Dirty Wars confirms the unspoken reality that the War on Terror is a self-fulfilling prophecy and it echoes fictional films and series, such as 24 and the Bourne trilogy, with a frightening result.
– Lene Trunjer Petersen
Mud is a film you experience with your nose as much as with your eyes and ears. Director Jeff Nichols renders the Arkansas Delta so vividly that you can smell the fish in paper bags, the snake-ridden pools of swamp water, and the sweat that glues a fugitive’s shirt to his tattooed back.
The shirt belongs to Mud (Matthew McConaughey), who is hiding out on a small island in the Mississippi River when a pair of young boys discovers him.
Back to the shirt. It has a wolf’s eye sewn on the sleeve, which Mud believes offers him supernatural protection, just like the crosses in his boot heels. Mud talks constantly about such otherworldly signs and symbols using rich, shamanistic language that fits exquisitely with McConaughey’s hypnotic drawl. “There are fierce powers in the world,” he cautions the boys, “Good, evil, poor luck, best luck.”
The mysterious outlaw immediately entrances 14-year old Ellis (Tye Sheridan), but the boy’s companion, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), remains skeptical. Initially, it seems that Neckbone will merely be a crude sidekick, but he is slowly revealed to be, in some ways, the wisest and most resourceful character of all. He confounds any stereotype about slow-fitted country folk.
In Mud, Nichols creates one of the most atmospheric places that appeared onscreen in 2013, and he populates this landscape with people who are just as finely textured.
– Cooper Long
6. The Act of Killing
When the first atomic bomb was tested, Robert J. Oppenheimer stated that, “[a] few people laughed. Few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line of the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
And Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, which recounts the US-funded and Indonesian-supported 1965 killings of those labeled as communists and ethnic Chinese, mirrors this shuttering fear of human potential as a machine of death. By placing those who committed the murders in charge of their own creative display and development, death becomes more than just a life ending. In between the sprawling beauty of Indonesia, there is pageantry of smiling madness, a display of armed killers who think nothing of strangling children or large-scale massacres. They laugh. They smile. And they killed doing both.
Yet by experiencing their murders again, not as murderers but as spectators, the movie becomes less of a shock and more of a social experiment in personal guilt. As the characters put on the show, there is no longer an act. There is only the act – the reality that they have killed, maimed, and that they have taken more than just a life. They have taken an entire existence with its idiosyncrasies, worries, and personal responsibilities. There, underneath the tension of a wire, was a father, a son, a lover and a friend.
And this affects them. In staging death, the seemingly atrocious thugs experience death again by becoming it, by giving it a name, a face, an entire creative development.
– Kacper Niburski