Hard times: Metro’s best films of 2013 (spoiler: Terrence Malick won)

Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck star in the best movie of 2013, Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder." Credit: Magnolia Pictures
Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck star in the best movie of 2013, Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder.”
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Times are tough — and in real life, too. At the movies, everything is bleak. 2013 told us love is hard (“Before Midnight,” “Blue is the Warmest Color,” “To the Wonder,” “Her”), aging is hard (“The World’s End”) and we’re all going to die, possibly horrifically (“The Counselor”). Between birth and death, you fight to survive, fending off failure (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), disease (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and inhumane institutions (“12 Years a Slave”).

You may struggle alone, in space (“Gravity”), at sea (“All is Lost”) or at an abandoned hospital besieged by Katrina (“Hours,” with a rather good Paul Walker). If you partied (as in “Spring Breakers,” “The Bling Ring” and “The Wolf Wall Street”), you did it hard and at the expense of others.

There was happiness, too, or at least pretty pictures. There was the usual rash of interchangeable comic book and YA movies, made to be hoovered up by everyone at once then quickly forgotten. (Quick: Who were the baddies of “Thor: The Dark World?”) But it was heartening to see the masses flock to “Gravity,” which offered a legitimately new way of looking at movies, albeit one borrowed in part from the avant-garde. Thanks to digital, the “camera” was freed, and thus created in the viewer the loss of control felt by its sparse, flailing cast.

Some imagery was even older: “Computer Chess” and “No” both used decades-old video to create a look outdated and imperfect, ugly and beautiful. And sometimes the pictures were simply flat-out gorgeous, as in the dim light and radiant colors caught from a Nigerian enclave in Brooklyn by “Mother of George” cinematographer Bradford Young.

The films of 2013 were real downers, but also excellent cinema. Ye gods, it was a year where there were at least 30 better titles than a keyed-up Martin Scorsese picture in “Goodfellas” mode. If 2014 is happier, that may be a bad thing. 

1. “To the Wonder”
Having tackled life, the universe and everything with “The Tree of Life,” director Terrence Malick settled for a more personalized love story. That doesn’t mean it was less heavy. A couple’s breakup is diced into a reflection on memory, some of it real, some of it possibly imagined. Malick’s camerawork plays like dance, and not just because Olga Kurylenko spends debatably too much time twirling.

2. “The World’s End”
One of the funniest films of the year is also one of the bleakest, arguing that not only can’t you recreate the hedonistic glories of your youth, but maturity isn’t much better. Simon Pegg’s pathetic middle ager, still rocking a ink dye job and a Sisters of Mercy tee, discovers there’s a ridiculous reason everyone from his small home town seems zombified. And instead of giving in, he (drunkenly) puts up his fists.

3. “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Not every artist makes it. The Coens’ latest — either emotionally gutting or darkly hilarious, depending on how you stare at it — follows a musician (Oscar Isaac), as uncompromising as he is unpleasant, who doesn’t. We watch as the world abandons him, but keeps him alive just enough to mess with him.

4. “The Counselor”
Everyone hated this talky Cormac McCarthy thriller without realizing it’s a reductio ad absurdum of the novelist’s bleak-o-rama worldview. After getting involved in a drug deal, our heroes (Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and reliably funny-haired Javier Bardem) realize too late and too little that they’re in comically over their head. The only response, as multiple characters lose their heads, is to laugh.

5. ‘Something in the Air’
French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (“Carlos”) reflects on his misspent youth, with a floppy-haired artist (Clement Metayer) flirting with radical politics without realizing he’s only in it for the girls. Every dumb thought you had in your 20s lies in this quietly devastating time capsule, as do some killer ’70s songs.

6. ‘Her’
Is it really that weird for a grown man (Joaquin Phoenix) to be in love with his new, personalized and self-aware operating system? Especially if she’s voiced by a never more relaxed and flirtatious Scarlett Johansson? Spike Jonze’s latest dares to normalize computer love, in turn asking what constitutes love in the first place.

7. ‘No’
We can all agree that genocidal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was a monster, but does doing the right thing always mean doing the right thing? Shot entirely on ’80s video, this rollicking comedy follows the real-life movement to oust Pinochet, which succeeded in part because they hired an ad whiz (Gael Garcia Bernal). Like “Lincoln,” it argues that, to get things done, the good guys have to be as slimy as the bad.

8. ‘Computer Chess’
It’s tempting to reduce the year’s strangest movie — a midnight movie mindf— waiting to happen — to a simple tale about technology overtaking humanity at a titular conference in the ’70s or ’80s (it’s never clear). But just let weird be weird. Like “No,” Andrew Bujalski’s latest has old video, plus insane camerawork, creepy swingers and lots of cats.

9. ‘Before Midnight’
If Celine and Jesse — Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawk’s meet-cute hotties of “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” — fight, is there any hope for any of us? Now with kids, our lovers get a rare “date night” to themselves, and proceed to waste it, because that’s how relationships go when it’s possible you weren’t meant to be together.

10. ‘Sightseers’
Another one funny about love, Ben Wheatley’s comedy follows a couple (Alice Lowe and Steve Oram) as they go on a nice caravan holiday about rural England who belatedly realize they have something in common: they love to murder people for minor slights or just because. Ah, amour.

In a slightly weaker year, these would have occupied spots in the Top 10, and happily so:

11. “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty”
12. “Spring Breakers”
13. “The Great Beauty”
14. “Gravity”
15. “Leviathan”
16. “Drug War”
17. “Upstream Color”
18. “The Act of Killing”
19. “Like Someone in Love”
20. “Frances Ha”
21. “Post Tenebras Lux”
22. “Berberian Sound Studio”
23. “Blue is the Warmest Color”
24. “Mother of George”
25. “At Berkeley”
26. “Bastards”
27. “The Crystal Fairy”
28. “Beyond the Hills”
29. “All is Lost”
30. “The Wolf of Wall Street”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

National

Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.

National

Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

Movies

Shia LaBeouf disorderly conduct case pushed to September

A judge on Thursday adjourned until September the disorderly conduct and harassment case against actor Shia LaBeouf, who was charged with disturbing a Broadway theater…

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

NBA

NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…

NFL

Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.