List-making is something of a fool's venture, especially in a cinematic year as rich and vibrant as 2013, which saw a host of memorable movies that could easily place high on anyone's top 10. It's not so easy to objectively rank high-quality works of art. But I've given it a go. The films included here span subjects, genres, budgets and locations; they're joined together only by a shared excellence.
10. 'Cutie and the Boxer'
This documentary about Brooklyn-dwelling Japanese artist Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko intimately portrays the sacrifices, struggles and joys of marriage. In a larger sense, it's also about what makes New York great, unpacking an extraordinary life story out of two people who'd just seem like ordinary pedestrians if you saw them on the street. (Credit: Handout)
9. '12 Years a Slave'
Steve McQueen's depiction of freeman Solomon Northup's 12 years in bondage is the most brutal and uncompromising movie ever made about slavery, with the horror enhanced by a patient camera that forces you to digest the sheer evil on display without looking away. (Credit: Handout)
8. 'Fruitvale Station'
This portrait of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, who was shot by transit police in Oakland, Calif., in 2009, is an extraordinary work of biographical reclamation, with an expert performance from Michael B. Jordan that reveals Oscar's whole story in small moments and subtle detail. (Credit: Handout)
7. 'Frances Ha'
Watching this expressive, black-and-white love affair to New York from Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig is a bit like looking in the mirror. Every person reading this will recognize some component of protagonist Frances' experience as she turns 27, takes stock of her life couch-hopping across the boroughs and starts to face the idea that her dreams of becoming a professional dancer might never come true. (Credit: Handout)
6. 'Fill the Void'
This powerfully contained Israeli drama is set among the ultra-Orthodox community, unfolding almost entirely within a small Tel Aviv apartment. But like all great movies, the experiences it evokes are universal. The main character grapples with a struggle between her family's wish that she marry the husband of her late sister and her own hopes for the future. (Credit: Handout)
5. 'Short Term 12'
The year's most unexpected surprise, this small movie about teens in a foster care facility and the young adults who care for them features a breathtaking, Oscar-worthy performance from Brie Larson and a profound understanding of the ways the wreckage of past traumas can be felt in the present. (Credit: Handout)
The year's best survival story is an edge-of-your-seat existential ride set in space, filled with astounding visual compositions, but it's also something more: the story of a woman grappling with the emotional peril that's such a fundamental part of everyday existence. (Credit: Warner Bros/MCT)
Spike Jonze's futuristic film about a man's romance with an advanced computer operating system offers a profound philosophical inquiry into what love really means. It also features the best performance of the year, courtesy of Joaquin Phoenix, who taps into an unforeseen reservoir of vulnerability. (Credit: Handout)
2. 'The Act of Killing'
Documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer interviews some of the main perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s under the guise of helping them turn their story into a movie, in this devastating metatextual portrait of the intersection between collective memory and entertainment. (Credit: Handout)
1. 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
The best movie of the year is also one of the best movies ever made about the perils of maintaining your integrity in a world that demands compromise and sacrifice. This story of a folk singer struggling to resist the forces of commercialism and the dark recesses of his own sad spirit in a cold, gray Greenwich Village circa 1961 is simultaneously filled with the Coen Brothers' characteristically dark comic touches and deep empathy for the title character's wounded soul. (Credit: Handout)