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We talk about movies a lot, and every year there’s the inevitable conversation where someone complains about how the business has run out of ideas. You know the complaints: some curmudgeon talks about the overabundance of remakes and sequels, noting how the dumbest properties now get a movie deal. Whenever this conversation happens, we think, “If you’re whining about the state of movies, obviously you’re not paying attention enough.” This year has been terrific for film buffs: there were ambitious art-films, heartfelt comedies, searing thrillers, and form-defying documentaries. The breadth and quality of the year’s movies is, well, overwhelming.

In a year like this, it’s difficult to pick a conclusive list of the best films, so the BYT film team got scientific. All our movie writers – Jeff Spross, Toni Tileva, Svetlana Legetic, Alan Zilberman, Kaylee Dugan Alan Pyke, Ross Bonaime, and Catherine McCarthy – submitted their top thirteen movies of 2013, which were then tallied and ranked. So, without further ado, here are our top thirteen movies of 2013, complete with a silly (but still relevant) superlative and our concluding thoughts.

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When I tell people there’s only four or five lines of dialogue in All Is Lost, and then go on to insist it’s the best movie of the year, they look at me funny. Perhaps it would help if I added that one of the lines includes what my friend Matt Cohen called “the most well-earned ‘fuck’ in the history of cinema.” But really, the silence is part of the film’s strengths. The themes in All Is Lost – the confrontation with mortality, the distant possibility of salvation and grace in the face of an indifferent universe – are so big that trying to squeeze them into dialogue would run the overwhelming risk of cheapening things. Instead, it’s all sublimated into the physical, step-by-step, logistical efforts of Robert Redford’s unnamed character to salvage his boat and then his life on the open ocean. By the time he discovers his supply of fresh water is gone, thanks to a storm and the random oversight of a second valve in the container, the obscenity he reacts with is the most human and understandable thing in the world. As with all of life, ideas Redford’s character cooks up seem good and perfectly defensible in the moment, yet sometimes they work and sometimes they go horribly awry, with no discernible greater logic. It’s an equal mix of the crude, the humiliating, the existential, and the desperate. And it’s actually a pretty good summation of the concurrent tragedy and absurdity of the human condition that a well-placed and drawn-out “Fuck!” is the best and most soul-stirring response to it. – Jeff Spross
  • 12. Best movie to make covert ops terribly unsexy: Dirty Wars

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Jeremy Scahill, a veteran war journalist and the national security correspondent for The Nation, shines a light on the shadowy outfit known as JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command, better known as the people who killed Osama bin Laden in this especially timely and weighty documentary, with the recent controversy over the drone program. JSOC, in place for decades, was created to essentially function outside the purview of any legal or military rule, but Dirty Wars makes a strong and shocking case for it reaching the apogee of its power during Obama’s terms, enjoying a level of impunity unheard of before, targeting assumed terrorists, launching drone attacks, and killing innocent civilians in countries with which the US is not even officially militarily engaged. Having chanced upon the very concept of JSOC in 2010, Scahill is stunned to see it come defiantly into the spotlight, taking credit for bin Laden’s capture, and turning its previously-camera-shy commanders into heroes. Ultimately, Dirty Wars, as the title indicates is about global war being waged in the name of national security by an organization with almost no accountability, except to the President, and one prone to night raids and “kill lists” without regard to nationality or legality. This was the case with American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who were both killed by drones. Dirty Wars is the grotesque flipside of Zero Dark Thirty: piles of bodies do nothing to make this kind of warfare seem just and blow the concept of “collateral damage” to smithereens. –Toni Tileva
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There’s a turning point in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, once Selena Gomez’s character leaves her girlfriends to return to a simpler life, one free of armed robbery. James Franco’s Clyde and his Bonnies gather around the baby grand that hangs out on his dock overlooking Tampa Bay. Clad in My Little Pony ski masks and clutching assault rifles, the girls drape themselves over the piano and ask their new leader to play them “something sweet.” “Miss Britney Spears…one of the greatest singers of all time,” begins Franco’s Alien, “And an angel if there ever was one on this earth.” Their voices rise in unison before fading into the original track and into the group’s most violent endeavor yet. Britney’s pleas to be noticed mingle with slow motion pistol whipping, as if this brand new life path is merely a dream without greater repercussions. I saw this film twice in theaters; both times, the audience erupted into laughter. Korine’s at his best when his films juxtapose the absurd against the pedestrian. It’s glittery, it’s grotesque: It’s Britney, bitch. – Catherine McCarthy

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James Wan is no stranger to the horror genre. With films like Saw, Dead Silence, and Insidious all under his belt, his latest scary movie, The Conjuring, was sure to be a success. The movie follows noted paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) on the most frightening case of their career. When Roger and Carolyn Perron and their family move into a very old home on Rhode Island, things begin to go very wrong, very quickly. The family dog dies the first night and one of their daughters complains that someone keeps pulling her leg while she’s asleep. One of the most terrifying scenes, however, involves an ill fated game of Hide N Clap, a mix of Hide N Seek and Marco Polo that the Perron girls seem to always be playing. Besides all of its excellent scares, The Conjuring does an impeccable job of recreating that old school horror movie vibe, while still containing some of Wan’s signature style. – Kaylee Dugan

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Sutter Keely and Aimee Finicky are terrible for each other. He’s a barely-functioning alcoholic who’s on the rebound after his girlfriend dumped him for drinking too much. She’s inexperienced and innocent, the sort of young woman who would rather fall into bad habits than maintain her values. What’s utterly heartbreaking about The Spectacular Now, the dramedy directed by James Ponsoldt, is that it forces to see why inexperience lets these two high-school students to fall in love. Neither one is ever on the same page, really: Sutter lets Aimee fall for him, hard, while he self-medicates with booze to hide a deep sense of self-loathing. Then they find themselves in each other’s lives, and they are not quite equipped to handle the responsibility. But The Spectacular Nowis not a downer: Sutter and Aimee are funny, for one thing, and while they’re terrible for each other, it’s plain to see they’ll become thoughtful, good-hearted adults. The Spectacular Now is about the bumps along the way, and how real romance cannot happen until real heartbreak happens first. – Alan Zilberman

  • 8. Best argument over  where you can and cannot ejaculate in James Franco’s house: This Is The End

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This past summer really disappointed me in terms of the gigantic blockbusters. But amongst all the superheroes, Brad Pitt running away from zombies and Minions so obnoxious they make me want to blow my brains out, came This Is the End, the self-referencial end-of-the-world action comedy filled with Apatow favorites that saved the summer for me. Now granted, not only do I love almost every actor and cameo that appears throughout the film, and I have been looking forward to it since the original short, Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, that inspired it. And yes, I did proclaim this to be possibly my favorite film of all time years before it was even shot (Didn’t actually make that, but favorite film of the year? For sure.) This is the End was just hands down the most fun I’ve had in a movie this year. I never knew just how much I wanted to see Jonah Hill’s exorcism or Channing Tatum as Danny McBride’s bukkake mope. My expectations for This is the End were unreachably high, yet the final product is one of the most enjoyable films I may have ever seen. – Ross Bonaime

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Anwar Congo and his friends have always loved the movies, from black and white gangster flicks to technicolor westerns, and everything in between. In fact, as kids they controlled the movie ticket black market in their hometown of Medan, Indonesia. In 1965, when the government was overthrown by the military, Anwar and his friends were recruited by the army to form death squads. Together, they killed more than “one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year.” Since then, Anwar and his friends have been considered national heroes and have even formed a very popular right-wing paramilitary organization. Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing explores their stories, but it isn’t your average documentary. It manages to combine heart wrenching interviews with strange, almost felliniesque, dance numbers and fictional reenactments. All of the fiction scenes were directed, written, and acted by Anwar and his group of friends, and, trust me, watching them in a crowded theater is the single worst thing you can do. It’s the kind of movie everyone reacts differently, and my reaction was to become enraged whenever people in the audience would laugh at their murder/rape jokes. I love a good murder joke, but not when it comes from someone who has single handedly murdered hundreds of people. Despite that, it’s still simultaneously the best and most uncomfortable documentary I’ve ever seen. – Kaylee Dugan
  • 6. Best alternative to prozac: Frances Ha‘s “Dancing in the Streets” moment
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There are few things that bring me more joy than a good musical montage in a movie. It has all the adrenaline effect of watching world class sports but without the pesky score keeping or worrying involved. This is why Greta Gerwig is one of my favorite young actresses working right now: the girl knows her way around a good musical montage. After desperately attempting to star a dance craze in Damsels in Distress, she went and co-created a film for herself in which she is a sort-of-professional dancer.  Now, she’s not a very good dancer, but that’s the whole point. The point of Frances dancing is the childlike joy and lack of worry it results in, even as her world slowly but surely crumbles. And, it shows in no moment more than when she RUN/STUMBLE/DANCES through the streets of New York City to David Bowie’s “Modern Love.” Mick Jagger is not there, but the spirit of his and Bowie’s ridiculous “Dancing in the Streets” clip oozes through it. And Noah Baumbach being the person that directed it, it is also odd, charming, more-than-a-touch-awkward and endlessly revisitable. Much like Frances (Greta) herself. – Svetlana Legetic
  • 5. Worst movie to watch drunk//Most likely to induce motion sickness: Gravity
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Tumbling through space along with Sandra Bullock in the earlygoing of Gravity is the kind of thing that the MPAA oughta warn folks about. On IMAX 3D, Alfonso Cuarón’s high-orbit thriller is so immersive and enveloping that anyone with even the slightest tendency toward motion sickness might need to convert a popcorn bucket into an air sickness bag. At root it’s the clockwork mechanics of the astronauts’ run-ins with debris clouds and distant airlocks — enough to put anyone on edge on any screen — that give Gravity its glow. The luster dims a bit thanks to some dubious screenwriting in the last third, and it’s by no means the best overall film of the year. But as a transporting experience and a kinetic adrenaline ride, Gravity was best in class. – Alan Pyke
  • 4. Best anti-ingenue: Mia Wasikowska’s India Stoker in Stoker
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The ultimate takedown of the omnipresent Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Mia Wasikowska’s India Stoker gives us a horror heroine for the modern age. The original screenplay for Stoker, the writing debut of Prison Break actor’s Wentworth Miller, owes heavily to Hitchcock. But it’s the Southern Gothic roots–the stench of decay of magnolias, money and morals–that puts this film at the top of the year’s offerings. In the hands of Old Boy director Park Chan-wook, Stoker keeps the viewer guessing as to what cruel twist of fate will next befall India. As she emerges from a lifelong cocoon of coddling, the film weaves a story befitting Capote, Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor. India must grapple with the sudden death of a parent, a cold yet dominating mother, familial revelations and sexual violence. Nicole Kidman’s icy waif is no match for the searing menace of Matthew Goode’s interloping uncle, but it’s Wasikowska’s portrayal of India that burrows into the mind. She embodies the nature versus nurture debate, learning violence as she unearths a natural predilection for it she had all along. – Catherine McCarthy
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First of all, if you have not seen IN A WORLD, you need to see it and you need to see it now. The writer/directorial debut of Lake Bell about a competitive, hilariously dead-serious world of movie trailer voice-over business is funny, smart, heartbreaking, and never not on point. And even though it has a limitless amount of strong suits we could talk about here, it is the sprawling, ragtag cast of bit characters (all with amazing names, and more amazing one liners) that are are unforgettable. From (Bentzen Ball Curator and BYT Bff) Tig Notaro and Nick Offerman as the recording studio techs to Stephanie Allynne as the ditzy receptionist to Ken Marino’s smarmy, swarthy voice-over lothario to Alexandra Holden’s child bride to an insane stacking of cameos at the end, this is the movie you have to see every second of because you may miss one of the funniest mini-performances of the year by simply deciding to go refill your soda at the wrong moment. In fact, if there is justice in the world, it is exactly this kind of magic that should make this film live ON AND ON in your home entertainment pile. So, go see it/buy it/tell everyone about it. Don’t fuck it up. – Svetlana Legetic
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Right around the start of Before Midnight’s third act, Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Celine are in the early throes of love-making when one of them says the wrong thing, and the moment devolves into the all-out, no-holds-barred emotional grudge match that takes up the rest of the film. As a result, Delpy is half-naked when the fight starts, and the audience is treated to several uncomfortable minutes of both individuals ripping open one another’s old emotional wounds while Delpy’s bosom just sits there nonchalantly in the bottom portion of the frame. Director Richard Linklater sticks with the medium and wide shots and long pans he’s used until that point, and makes no effort to film or edit around her nakedness. The tension is palpable between the desire to cover up in circumstances that are suddenly so ill-suited to nudity, and the desire to keep the momentum of the battle going and not sacrifice any concentration to niceties. It’s both squirm-inducing and subtly insightful. Anyone who’s been in an extended relationship knows that sex is, ironically, one of the times a couple is most likely to kick off a fight, precisely because the emotional vulnerability is so high. The observation is characteristic of Before Midnight, which abandons the youthful romance of Before Sunrise and the unfulfilled early-30s idealism of Before Sunset to finally give us a relationship that is lived in rather than merely hoped for. It’s one of the uglier, more perceptive, more unvarnished, and ultimately more humane portraits of romantic entanglements in all their humiliating foibles and mundanities to come along in a while. – Jeff Spross
  • 1. Best in real life example of deus ex machina: Brad Pitt as a Canadian abolitionist, 12 Years a Slave

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Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is a towering achievement because, with an unflinching gaze, it revisits the ugliest part of American history. McQueen is exactly the right director for this material: in Hunger and Shame, his steady camera would examine the physical realities of genuine suffering until, somehow, it become transcendently human. The same deliberate attention is there for 12 Years a Slave, the true story of how Solomon Northop finds himself in bondage, and it’s all the more heartbreaking because of actor Chiwitel Ejiofor’s natural empathy. There’s an early scene where Solomon struggles to breathe while there’s a noose around his neck, and the masterstroke is the utter indifference of the white men and women in the background (the slaves could not intervene for fear of reprisals). But Solomon does not end his life in servitude, and that’s entirely thanks to Bass (Brad Pitt), the Canadian abolitionist who breaks the law to help him. At first, Brad Pitt seems like the wrong choice for this role: he’s an A-lister who sticks out like a sore thumb in a movie populated by character actors. Thinking about again, he’s the right choice precisely because he stands outs. Solomon would never be free without the dumb luck of Bass’ charity, and his story is not the way stories about slavery end. Messianic and kind of weird, Brad Pitt’s friendly face is a jarring reminder that Solomon could have lived as Platt until his death – Alan Zilberman

That’s it, you guys. It’s been a great year for the movies.

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