It was clear that 2013 stood a strong chance of being an exceptionally good year for films -- especially American films -- by the time the Cannes Film Festival wrapped up in late May. For the first time I could remember, I liked all the U.S. features in the main competition: Inside Llewyn Davis, Behind the Candelabra, Nebraska, The Immigrant and Only Lovers Left Alive. Out of competition or in special slots were All Is Lost, The Great Gatsby and Seduced and Abandoned.
PHOTOS: Todd McCarthy's 10 Best Films of 2013
And this came on the heels of a Sundance that had yielded Before Midnight, Fruitvale Station, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Kill Your Darlings, In A World..., The Spectacular Now and Upstream Color, along with a raft of strong documentaries.
A couple of these were destined for HBO and two others won't be released until next year, but the two festivals provided an accurate barometer for the fine year it ended up being. As the diverse winners from the early critics groups and the eyebrow-raising guild and Golden Globe nominations suggest, there aren't one or two absolutely dominant films this year but, rather, a spreading of the wealth, even an embarrassment of riches resulting in some “snubs” no matter what. How often can we say that?
In some years it's a struggle to come up with even ten films I can enthusiastically stand behind. This year, the top ten are very close in quality, with at least fifteen more I find nearly as strong. And they are nearly all American. Usually my list is closer to 50/50 U.S. and foreign but, for whatever reason, international directors en masse didn't deliver as strongly this year.
On the evidence, then, I would suggest that reports of the demise, or serious illness, of the American cinema to be greatly exaggerated. More or less in order of preference, here are my favorites for 2013.
(These films represented more highlights of a very good year: The Great Beauty, Fill the Void, Ginger & Rosa, Stories We Tell, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Enough Said, 12 Years A Slave, The Invisible Woman, Before Midnight, All Is Lost, Prisoners, The Spectacular Now, Captain Phillips, Blue Jasmine, Kill Your Darlings, In A World....)