In the most potent and provocative year at the multiplex in recent memory, 2013 stretches the boundaries of film. Here's the top 10.
It's fitting to end this list on a musical note as the Coen brothers take on the folk-music scene in early-1960s New York. Shot through with melancholy and acerbic wit, this bruised beauty of a movie concerns the journey of musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac, exceptional) from unknown to more unknown. Artistic integrity is a bitch. But Llewyn won't follow the crowd. Neither will the Coens. Neither will the other filmmakers on this page. Rock on.
Think of Blanche Dubois married to Bernie Madoff, and you might have some idea of what Woody Allen is up to in one of his strongest films in years. Cate Blanchett, blending dazzle and desperation, is hands-down the actress of the year.
As a delusional old man who thinks he's won a million bucks, Bruce Dern crowns his career. And Will Forte as his son and June Squibb as his wife deserve the highest praise. Directed with piercing wit and perception by Alexander Payne, from a resonant script by Bob Nelson, Nebraska grows in impact the more you think about it.
In telling the story of Capt. Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), whose cargo ship was boarded by Somali pirates in 2009, director Paul Greengrass doesn't stop at gripping docudrama. With Hanks digging deep into the origins of an everyman's courage, the film raises the bar on action thrillers.
Only that scrappy virtuoso David O. Russell could morph a film about the Abscam political scandals of the late 1970s into a rollicking, emotionally raw human drama. Russell regulars – Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper from Silver Linings Playbook – help him turn the toxic mess of life on the edge into an exhilarating gift.
Director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) creates movies that help us see the world in startlingly funny and touching new ways. And in Her, set in the near future, Theodore (a sublime, soulful Joaquin Phoenix) falls hard for his computer operating system (voiced with humor, heat and heart by Scarlett Johansson) and makes us believe it. This is personal filmmaking at its glorious, groundbreaking peak.
Nothing happens as two lovers, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), continue to climb the Mount Everest of their relationship. In this story's third part, after 1995's Before Sunrise and 2004's Before Sunset, director Richard Linklater and pitch-perfect co-writers Hawke and Delpy create the defining love story of a generation.
This three-hour bolt of polarizing brilliance from Martin Scorsese, with a killer script by The Sopranos' Terence Winter, details the true tale of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio flares like a five-alarm fire in full blaze), who lived hoggishly high on securities fraud in the 1990s. Jordan and his co-scumbags (Jonah Hill crushes it as his wingman) numb moral qualms with coke, 'ludes and hookers. Scorsese's high-wire act of bravura filmmaking is a lethally hilarious take on white-collar crime. No one dies, but Wall Street victims will scream bloody murder.
The thrill of pure cinema finds enthralling expression in Alfonso Cuarón's intimate epic about being lost in space. As a rookie astronaut, Sandra Bullock shatters your nerves and does herself and the movie proud. Cuarón, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and visual-effects wizard Tim Webber are visionary trailblazers
The best movie ever made about slavery is also the best movie of the year. No prettified classroom study for director Steve McQueen, a visual artist and visceral provocateur of the first rank. He rubs our noses in the horrific true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in New York in 1841 until he becomes enslaved in the Deep South. Ejiofor, his eyes pools of torment, is an acting giant. This is one for the time capsule.