History is written by the winners. Or, in the case of the world of film in the year 2013, the winners are selected by online writers, winnowed down to a reasonable, list-friendly number and presented with honorary titles that don't mean anything but are given with the utmost respect and care.
This is not a typical best-of list. These aren't official awards of any kind. Rather, these are 10 people, companies and, uh, subjects that dominated the year in film. These are the individual entities that smell like a dozen roses and a briefcase full of cash going into 2014. These are are the folks who won 2013.
James Franco: The Wild Card
In a weird way, every year tends to be the year of James Franco. Hollywood's weirdest actor spent 2013 doing what he does best: taking on seemingly every role offered to him, whether good, bad or impossibly weird, and coming out the other end smiling. Although his truly bizarre work as Alien in Spring Breakers will go down as one of his most iconic performances, this is also the year that he played an '80s-esque action movie villain in Homefront, led one of the year's biggest blockbusters with Oz the Great and Powerful, injected life into Lovelace as Hugh Hefner, hilarious skewered his public image in This Is the End and directed (and appeared in) the flawed but fascinating As I Lay Dying and Child of God. That's far from a perfect year, but it sure is a crazy and totally admirable year.
Disney: Owners of Your Childhood
Disney owns Marvel. Disney owns Star Wars. Disney owns Indiana Jones. Disney owns Pixar. As one of the world's biggest entertainment companies, Disney tends to have everything the way it wants it (because it'll crush anyone who stands in its way), but you can't help but admire its tenacity. This is a company that isn't just focused on turning out high-quality films in its classic mold like the spectacular Frozen, this is a company that wants to own everything that's important to you and sell it back to you with a new coat of paint. If the results are always as surprising and fun as Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, who are we to argue, really? A company as massively successful as Disney tends to be a winner every year, but 2013 was a big one... yes, even with The Lone Ranger.
Drafthouse Films: Owners of Your New Favorite Movies
While Disney has found success in purchasing and repurposing your childhood, Drafthouse Films (an arm of the beloved Alamo Drafthouse theater chain) has been busy quietly accumulating all of your future favorite movies. The year 2013 was an excellent one for the company, with a varied selection of releases that included I Declare War, A Band Called Death, Pieta, Wrong, Graceland and the astonishing The Act of Killing. However, it really earned this spot with its 2014 lineup. Some of the best films that will be released in 2014 were bought at 2013 festivals by Drafthouse Films and its upcoming slate is as strong as anyone in the business. If you like movies, prepare to see and love Why Don't You Play in Hell, Cheap Thrills, R100, The Congress and Nothing Bad Can Happen. At the moment, they own many of the best films of 2014 and the year isn't even here yet!
The Documentary Format: Moving Forward and Evolving
Every year, we tend to hear the same thing: "Why is everything a sequel or a remake? Where are all of the original and exciting movies? Where is the truly challenging cinema that's pushing the medium in exciting directions?" If you still ask those questions, you haven't been keeping up with your documentary films. The year 2013 feels like a landmark one for the nonfiction format, with more important, entertaining, chilling and boundary-pushing films than you can possibly count. The Act of Killing. Blackfish. Leviathan. Let the Fire Burn. Stories We Tell. At Berkeley. 20 Feet from Stardom. Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? Narco Cultura. The Crash Reel. The list goes on and on. That right there is an embarassment of riches.
Chiwetel Ejiofor: The Breakout Actor
For a decade, Chiwetel Ejiofor was one of the most quietly powerful actors in the business, bringing charm and passion to supporting roles in Love Actually, Kinky Boots, Children of Men, Serenity and Inside Man. However, it was 2013 that saw him break out with a performance that isn't just one of the best of the year, but a genuine all timer. In Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, Ejifor takes difficult material and gives it a raw, passionate edge, providing all of the necessary humanity in a film otherwise filled with depravity and sorrow. We don't know if he'll take home an Oscar for his work (a nomination is guaranteed), but this is the kind of work you don't measure in trophies. This is the kind of performance that film fans put in the pantheon and discuss for years to come. And like that, Chiwetel Ejiofor is no longer a seemingly well-kept secret powerhouse -- he's a very public powerhouse.
James Wan: The Horror Maestro
When he signed on to direct Fast & Furious 7, James Wan said that he planned to leave the horror genre behind for a little while... but we don't believe him. Or maybe we just don't want to believe him. Although he got his start with the first Saw film, Wan has spent the past decade transforming himself into a modern master of horror, but 2013 was the year that confirmed his status as one of the genre's most important figures. The massively successful Insidious: Chapter 2 took plenty of brave, truly insane chances, taking what could have been a copy-and-paste sequel and creating something truly memorable. Even more important is The Conjuring, which was one of the biggest hits of the year and one of the best horror movies in decades. It's easy to imagine studios coming to him with a blank check to return to the horror genre and we don't blame them: we want him back, too.
Matthew McConaughey: The Comeback Kid
After spending far too many years falling into an abyss of failed blockbusters and paper-thin Hollywood action-hero roles, Matthew McConaughey has spent the past few years rebuilding himself into one of the most surprising and exciting actors in the business. If there was any lingering doubt that he's one of the best actors working today, 2013 officially erased it. How many other actors could take on a scene stealing role in Martin Scorsese picture (The Wolf of Wall Street), gracefully provide low-key support to a young lead in a small indie film (Mud) and transform a potentially by-the-numbers biopic part into heartbreaking and harrowing work (Dallas Buyers Club)? Hell, it's time to stop talking about McConaughey's comeback -- he's arrived and he's here to stay.
Jennifer Lawrence: The Universe's Sweetheart
Jennifer Lawrence is living the dream. Earlier this year, she took home an Oscar for Best Actress. Then she starred in the second chapter of a massively successful blockbuster franchise that rests entirely on her shoulders. Then she appeared in American Hustle alongside some of the biggest movie stars in the world and started generating buzz for another Oscar. Oh, and he's 24 years old. And the Internet loves her. And all of this before she returns as Mystique in the new X-Men movie and as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 next year. We'd ask Ms. Lawrence to slow down and take a break, but she doesn't even seem to be breaking a sweat.
Amy Adams: Little Ms. Consistent
Name another high-profile actor who has been as good as long as Amy Adams. There are a few. Now, name those who have showcased her truly shocking range. The number dwindles. Ever since breaking out with Junebug and Enchanted, Adams has jumped from genre to genre and type to type, refusing to let herself get typecast and surprising us with every performance. The year 2013 saw her truly run the gamut. It's hard to believe that the same woman could take on the role of the tough reporter Lois Lane in Man of Steel and the sweet, grounded Amy in Her and the manipulative sex goddess Syndey Prosser in American Hustle. There are only a handful of actors and actresses in the world who have showcased Adams' level of skill and range, but unlike so many of her peers, she does it without breaking a sweat. She's an effortlessly great talent. We'll say it: she's the closed thing we have to Meryl Streep 2.0.
Sandra Bullock: The Hollywood Pro
You don't work as long in Hollywood as long as Sandra Bullock without taking your fair share of stumbles. Like many actresses, Bullock's star has risen and fallen over the years, but 2013 saw the remarkable happen: she rose to higher heights than she ever has before. First, she ditched her sweet, family-friendly persona to go blue alongside Melissa McCarthy in The Heat and was rewarded with the biggest film of her career. Then she landed the coveted lead role in Gravity (beating out a murderer's role of talented women) and become the incredible human center of the year's most astonishing blockbuster, which then became the biggest film of her career. It takes someone really special to anchor two films as different as The Heat and Gravity, but if anyone has earned an audience's trust, it's Bullock. As she enters her third decade in the movies, it feels like she's just getting started.
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