The best films of 2013 – so far

It's been a stirling six months for cinema – here's a rundown of our favourite releases of the year so far

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Half of 2013 is already behind us – and so are half of its movies. It's been a bumper year so far, meaning assembling our required viewing list was no easy task. Reckon we've missed a classic-in-the-making? Put us right in the comments box below.

  • 1. Behind the Candelabra

    Director
    Steven Soderbergh

    Cast
    Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd

    Why we loved it
    The performances of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as way-over-the-top pianist Liberace and his callow younger lover Scott Thorson more than matched the excitement at the news of those actors being cast in these roles. And director Steven Soderbergh does a thrilling job of mixing the film’s serious study of a difficult relationship with just enough comic, kitschy moments.

    Most memorable scene
    When Liberace and his boyfriend go under the knife for plastic surgery we see a blade cutting into their skin. Coupled with the presence of Rob Lowe’s tight-faced surgeon, it’s all at once hilarious, grotesque and discomforting.

    If you liked that, keep an eye out for...
    ‘The Fifth Estate’ (in cinemas Jan 1 2014). It won’t be as camp, but we’re hoping that Benedict Cumberbatch playing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will be as eye-catching as Michael Douglas playing Liberace.

    Read the Time Out review of 'Behind the Candelabra', available on DVD in autumn 2013.

    1. Behind the Candelabra
  • 2. Bullhead

    Director
    Michael R Roskam

    Cast
    Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, Jeanne Dandoy

    Why we loved it
    This one came completely out of nowhere. Who would have thought a gruff drama about shady goings-on in the Belgian beef industry could be so gripping and tragic? It’s largely down to star Matthias Schoenaerts, whose turn as the steroid-crazed, emotionally and physically brutalised anti-hero Jacky is perhaps the year’s most striking performance.

    Most memorable scene
    A flashback sequence – in which we find out what made poor Jacky such a mess – will stick in the memory forever.

    If you liked that, keep an eye out for...
    The Selfish Giant’ (in cinemas Nov 15). Everyone sat up and took notice of Clio Barnard’s debut, ‘The Arbor’. She’s back with a low-key tale of two boys and a ferocious scrap dealer.

    Read the Time Out review of 'Bullhead', available on DVD and online now.

    2. Bullhead
  • 3. Cloud Atlas

    Directors
    The Wachowski Brothers and Tom Tykwer

    Cast
    Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving

    Why we loved it
    It may have flopped at the box office and bemused more than a few critics, but this vast, eye-scorching, magnificently absurd adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel enthralled us from start to finish. We’re willing to overlook a few silly accents and dodgy haircuts when a film is this ambitious, entertaining and immaculately constructed.

    Most memorable scene
    Far too many to mention, but the ‘Matrix’-style futuristic chase scene was pretty stunning.

    If you liked that, keep an eye out for...
    Elysium’ (in cinemas Aug 23). More epic, effects-heavy science fiction with smarts and a social conscience.

    Read the Time Out review of 'Cloud Atlas', available on DVD and online now.

    3. Cloud Atlas
  • 4. Django Unchained

    Director
    Quentin Tarantino

    Cast
    Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio

    Why we loved it
    ‘Django Unchained’ signalled the return of Quentin Tarantino from the self-indulgence of his last few movies, back to a more crowd-pleasing style. This spaghetti western may run a bulky two-and-a-half hours, but every minute is crammed with style, humour and action.

    Most memorable scene
    Hard to call, but the Ku Klux Klan attack is a definite highlight.

    If you liked that, keep an eye out for...
    Heaven’s Gate’ (in cinemas Aug 2). A welcome reissue of Michael Cimino’s epic, sprawling Western fable.

    Read the Time Out review of 'Django Unchained', available on DVD and online now.

    4. Django Unchained
  • 5. I Wish

    Director
    Hirokazu Kore-eda

    Cast
    Oshiro Maeda, Koki Maeda, Jo Odagiri

    Why we loved it
    In a word, charm. This tale of two sparky young Japanese brothers separated by distance and divorce simply drips with sweetness, wit and insight. That’s thanks to the light touch of Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda and the brilliant casting of two real-life pint-sized stand-up comic brothers in the lead roles.

    Most memorable scene
    The inspiring climax, as the two kids and their ragtag band of friends run away from home to see the new bullet train in action.

    If you liked that, keep an eye out for...
    What Maisie Knew’ (in cinemas Aug 23). Another look at how kids handle divorce, this time set in NYC and starring Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan. It’s an adaptation of a Henry James novel.

    Read the Time Out review of 'I Wish', available on DVD and online now.

    5. I Wish
  • 6. Lincoln

    Director
    Steven Spielberg

    Cast
    Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones

    Why we loved it
    Because it wasn’t a drab history lesson or a starry-eyed slice of Spielbergian hero-worship, but a frank, unflashy and at times very funny political drama. Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance was justifiably rewarded with an Oscar, but he’s surrounded by talented players, from Sally Field’s crumbling wife to Tommy Lee Jones’s hard-headed political animal.

    Most memorable scene
    Jones pulls off his periwig and hops into bed with his beloved black mistress – it’s integration in action.

    If you liked that, keep an eye out for...
    Diana’ (in cinemas Sep 20). She may not have freed slaves, but this is another portrait of a figure who changed the world around her.

    Read the Time Out review of 'Lincoln', available on DVD and online now.

    6. Lincoln
  • 7. Our Children

    Director
    Joachim Lafosse

    Cast
    Tahar Rahim, Émilie Dequenne, Niels Arestrup

    Why we loved it
    It’s tough viewing, but this Belgian drama based on a true tale of a young woman who murdered her five children in 2007 is horribly compelling from start to finish. What’s so clever is how director and co-writer Joachim Lafosse makes such a convincing case for the social and psychological reasons for being driven to commit such a terrible act.

    Most memorable scene
    Inevitably, we wonder from the start how exactly the film will treat the killings at its heart (a circular plot lets us know they’re coming). When they come, it’s deeply sad, yet never played for shock value.

    If you liked that, keep an eye out for...
    Blue Is the Warmest Colour’ (in cinemas 15 Nov 2013). This French drama captures in minute, exciting detail the rush of being in love for the first time. It tells of a schoolgirl falling for a slightly older woman, and it won the Palme d’Or in Cannes this May.

    Read the Time Out review of 'Our Children', available on DVD from Sep 9 2013.

    7. Our Children
  • 8. The Place Beyond the Pines

    Director
    Derek Cianfrance

    Cast
    Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes

    Why we loved it
    Ryan Gosling stunt-riding a dirt bike was certainly the selling point. But there’s more to ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ than tattoos, blades and great hair. This is a magnificently meaty, old school US indie film, full of insight into father-son relationships – and as blue collar as one of Bruce Springsteen’s dad’s old work shirts.

    Most memorable scene
    The opening scene of Gosling, shirt off and playing with a flick knife, provoked whimpers from women (and let’s face it, men with Gos crushes) in the audience.

    If you liked that, keep an eye out for...
    ‘Don Jon’ (in cinemas Nov 15). Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, a comedy about a man addicted to sex and porn.

    Read the Time Out review of 'The Place Beyond the Pines', available on DVD from Aug 5 2013.

    8. The Place Beyond the Pines
  • 9. Made of Stone

    Director
    Shane Meadows

    Cast
    The Stone Roses

    Why we loved it
    This Is England’ director Shane Meadows applied the same warmth, insight and passion he puts into his fiction films to this documentary portrait of Manchester’s most beloved musical sons. The result is more than just a tour doc, it’s also a celebration of fan worship in all its forms. And the music is, of course, incredible.

    Most memorable scene
    The opening shot is gorgeous, but the real highlight might be those old interviews with an impossibly young and cocky Ian Brown and John Squire.

    If you liked that, keep an eye out for...
    Springsteen & I’ (in cinemas Jul 19) – Bruce fans from all over the world explain why the Boss’s music has made such an impact on their lives.

    Read the Time Out review of 'The Stone Roses: Made of Stone', available on DVD from Oct 23 2013.

    9. Made of Stone
  • 10. Zero Dark Thirty

    Director
    Kathryn Bigelow

    Cast
    Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong

    Why we loved it
    Kathryn Bigelow's lean, mean, no-frills procedural of the decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden is a knock-out punch of a movie. It’s written with insider access and is thrillingly authentic. The controversy surrounding its portrayal of torture kept it out of the awards spotlight, but it’s 2013’s best action movie so far.

    Most memorable scene
    The white-knuckle endgame, as a team of Navy Seals raid a suburban house in Pakistan looking for their man.

    If you liked this, keep an eye out for...
    Rush’ (in cinemas Sep 13). Not an action movie exactly. But we’re intrigued to see what Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan have done with the story of the rivalry between Formula 1 drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt during the 1976 race season. Expect a smart Oscar-buzzy movie.

    Read the Time Out review of 'Zero Dark Thirty', available on DVD and online now.

    10. Zero Dark Thirty

1. Behind the Candelabra

Director
Steven Soderbergh

Cast
Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd

Why we loved it
The performances of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as way-over-the-top pianist Liberace and his callow younger lover Scott Thorson more than matched the excitement at the news of those actors being cast in these roles. And director Steven Soderbergh does a thrilling job of mixing the film’s serious study of a difficult relationship with just enough comic, kitschy moments.

Most memorable scene
When Liberace and his boyfriend go under the knife for plastic surgery we see a blade cutting into their skin. Coupled with the presence of Rob Lowe’s tight-faced surgeon, it’s all at once hilarious, grotesque and discomforting.

If you liked that, keep an eye out for...
‘The Fifth Estate’ (in cinemas Jan 1 2014). It won’t be as camp, but we’re hoping that Benedict Cumberbatch playing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will be as eye-catching as Michael Douglas playing Liberace.

Read the Time Out review of 'Behind the Candelabra', available on DVD in autumn 2013.

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Users say

5 comments
Charley
Charley

Oh I am so glad Cloud Atlas was mentioned! I heard some very shocking things about it, which I felt were unfair. I though it was brilliant. I loved the complexity and connection between characters/actors. Thoroughly underrated in my opinion.

Nikki
Nikki

No Stoker? One of the most original and beautifully-filmed movies I've seen in a while.

critique
critique

I can`t agree that it`s been a "stirling" (sic), "bumper" year at the cinema thus far. That Star Trek and Man Of Steel rank alongside Zero Dark Thirty as the most complete films I`ve viewed this year doesn`t reflect well on smaller scale movies. I`ll check out Bullhead and I Wish (neither of which made it to my city) on dvd.

JJ
JJ

I think you mean "sterling" rather than "stirling" six months!

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