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Under the Radar’s Top 20 Films of 2013

Jan 02, 2014
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2013 was another great year for film, particularly for science fiction (Gravity, Her, Pacific Rim), and intensive character portraits (Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, Frances Ha, Blue Jasmine.)

To put together this list, our film contributors submitted their personal Top 10s (with the option to extend it to a Top 20) and our final rankings were calculated from those ballots. We present Under the Radar’s Top 20 Films of 2013 below.


Dir. Shane Carruth

Upstream Color

\“Art shouldn\‘t offer answers, only questions,\” filmmaker Michael Haneke stated in a recent interview. Not exactly a surprising declaration from a provocateur of his stature, but it is an imperative that modern cinema largely lacks. Shane Carruth, however, is the embodiment of Haneke\‘s edict. His first film, 2004\‘s Primer, was a Byzantine tangle of time travel schemas, replete with attendant ethical quandaries. In his newest film, Upstream Color, little is explicated, and its final third takes place without dialogue, yet it\‘s barely noticeable. Ultimately, in the sweet rush of emotion it inspires, the film suggests that the only questions even worth asking are the ones without answers. [Read John Everhart’s full, original review.]


Dir. Alfonso Cuaron


The most visually stunning movie of the year, Gravity represents a giant leap in filmmaking and boasts some of the best use of 3D on screen ever. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney truly own their roles as astronauts trapped above Earth, and they prove amiable and endearing companions with which to take in the heart pounding dangers, intrigues, and (at times) dizzying beauty of space. [By Zach Hollwedel]


Dir. David Lowery

Ain\'t Them Bodies Saints

The beauty of writer-director David Lowery\‘s 70s-set Western love story is not just in the incredible cinematography—the numerous scenes shot against dusty Texan landscapes during the magic hour have earned it justifiable Malick comparisons—but in the way the film holds back information, blindsiding you with tiny revelations. This works because the cast and filmmaker know their characters\’ story and feelings so well; much more so than the audience is ever made privy to. Ain\‘t Them Bodies Saints doesn\‘t give away all of the answers, and never needs to. [Read Austin Trunick’s full, original review.]


Dir. Alexander Payne


Though Nebraska is set in what Hollywood might call a flyover state, director Alexander Payne isn’t so dismissive. The Omaha native has made a career observing America’s uncelebrated … Here, Payne stocks a not-so-glamorous small town with equally plain characters, and yet they are offered more depth, dignity, and affection than in any of his prior work. [Read Shawn Hazelett’s full, original review.]


Dir. Noah Baumbach

Frances Ha

Gerwig co-wrote the film with Baumbach and stars as the delightfully unassuming yet hopeful title character, the kind of person that could be the voice of her generation without even trying to be; a less egomaniacal version of Lena Dunham … there\‘s a sparkle in the eyes that coincides perfectly with her genuine optimism and kindness, making Frances Ha one of those delightfully rare portraits so true in its vision that it\‘s difficult not to rally behind. [Read John Oursler’s full, original review.]


Dir. Woody Allen

Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen\‘s latest is mostly dour, its few laughs often coming from discomfort and uneasiness rather than humor … [Cate] Blanchett is impressive as a woman constantly teetering on the edge of collapse; there\‘s a perpetual sense something tragic simmers beneath her constructed façade … Blue Jasmine\‘s show-stealing performance comes from Bobby Cannavale ... The actor—who plays Ginger\‘s smitten boyfriend—shows a terrifying explosive, yet heartbreakingly fragile side lies underneath his imposing exterior; few supporting characters this year have felt so fully-fleshed, and Cannavale does it with such little screentime. [Read Austin Trunick’s full, original review.]


Dir. Spike Jonze


[Her] is one of the year’s most adult science fiction features. It plays with one heady concept—what makes someone human?—and approaches it in a manner thoroughly unique in film. It moves at a leisurely pace—though never lulling—allowing the actors and creative editing to carry it. Much praise has already been heaped on Scarlett Johansson’s unseen performance as the voice of the OS; even more impressive is Phoenix, who fills his role with equal passion in many scenes where he’s appearing onscreen alone. Her explores fantastical ideas in ways we wish more films would: cerebrally, maturely, and non-reliant on action. [By Austin Trunick]


Dir. Steve McQueen

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave is bound receive comparisons to 2012’s Django Unchained, if only because of timing and subject matter. The comparisons should end there. While Django viewed slavery through a safe lens of cartoon violence and smart-ass dialogue, 12 Years a Slave grabs the audience by the neck, dragging it through the mosquito-infested swamps of America’s greatest mistake. [Read Shawn Hazelett’s full, original review.]


Dir. David O. Russell

American Hustle

Bold and insanely clever, David O’Russell’s sneaky-good ode to caper films is fast-moving and continuously surprising, highlighted by a cast of petty—though not incapable—characters who mask their delusions with comb-overs and garb leftover from Saturday Night Fever. Electric performances all around, though no one has more fun than Bradley Cooper. [By Shawn Hazelett]


Dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen

Inside Llewyn Davis

Those familiar with Bob Dylan’s timeline know that the Minnesota singer/songwriter moved to New York at the beginning of 1961 and was performing in Greenwich Village by February of that year. Writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen, also Minnesota natives, recreate this fascinating time and place in folk music’s history for their parallel story of the fictional Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a cantankerous, struggling New York folk singer with a beard and a Welsh first name. [Read Chris Tinkham’s full, original review.]


Dir. Paul Greengrass

Captain Phillips


Dir. Cate Shortland



Dirs. Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

This Is The End


Dir. Thomas Vinterberg

The Hunt


Dir. Maggie Carey

The To Do List


Dir. J.C. Chandor

All Is Lost


Dir. Guillermo Del Toro

Pacific Rim


Dir. Richard Linklater

Before Midnight


Dir. Edgar Wright

The World\'s End


Dir. Ryan Coogler

Fruitvale Station


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