Hello, readers and fellow movie goers! It’s been a long year and even a longer break since I wrote on the good ol’ movie blog. This time we’re coming at you with our picks for the Top 20 films of 2013. Would love to hear your thoughts, rants, or opinions about anything included, or even anything we forgot. Hope you enjoy!
Honorable Mentions (11-20)
20. Side-Effects– According to Steven Soderbergh, this is the last feature length film he will ever direct. Let’s hope that isn’t the case because the man has a distinct style and flair completely his own. ‘Side-Effects’ is no exception, as a modern master takes us through a world of controlled substances, depression, insanity, and betrayal. Like other great thrillers, this one keeps you constantly guessing, wondering who is the real victim in the tale. All in all, solid film. Pick it up at your RedBox.
19. Blackfish– Snubbed snubbed snubbed snubbed snubbed by the Academy. This amazing documentary about the skeletons in Seaworld’s closet, specifically the treatment of orcas in captivity. It is shocking to see the lengths that Seaworld will go to protect the business that makes millions. It’s always about the money. Now on Netflix, I encourage you to check it out.
18. Room 237– This one was a surprise for me. Netflix convinced me to watch it, and for movie dorks like myself, it was intriguing to say the least. ‘Room 237’ is a documentary feature about the various meanings and messages behind Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining.’ Ranging from ancient greek myth, to the Holocaust, all the way to claiming that Kubrick was the one that faked the Apollo 11 moon landing, each theory becomes more outrageous than the rest, but there seems to be subtle truth found in the absurd.
17. Star Trek: Into Darkness– JJ Abrams delivers another haymaker punch of a movie with ‘Into Darkness.’ Part of me wanted to go total fanboy, put this at #1 and shout “KHAAAAAAAAAAN” on top of my roof, but my better angels suppressed those lesser demons. Look, if you want the coolest, most exciting action film of the year, it’s this one. Easily the best movie of the summer, and Abrams looks to me like the perfect man to take over ‘Star Wars.’ Just make sure they don’t suck.
16. The Wolf of Wall Street– Wanted soooooooooooo badly for this movie to be incredible, and at moments, it is. At a few brief periods of time, it’s the best thing I saw all year. Scorsese is a master. DiCaprio is amazing. Jonah Hill? Hysterical. Margot Robbie? A revelation. However, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,” I’m sorry to say it, is just too much. This thing makes ‘Django Unchained’ look like ‘Frozen.’ After the fourth on-screen orgy, is it okay to say that I’ve had enough? Did we need to see Belfort getting a lit candle in the anus? Forgive the imagery, dear readers, but its important to remember these things before we name it one of the best of the year. Cut out Jonah Hill masturbating, smoking a crack-pipe, just 50 F—s, one orgy, spare me the scene of comparing prostitutes and the Leo/Hill combo double-teaming a co-worker, and this would’ve been in my Top 5. Thought about giving it a pass, but no dice. If you have qualms with me about this, let me know. The Academy apparently loved it, so if you did as well, you’re in solid company.
15. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire– Get used to it people. I love the Girl on Fire, so does the rest of the world, and she’s not going anywhere, except to District 13 that is. We rejoin Katniss after the last “Hunger Games” as a champion living in a superficial reality created by herself and arena mate Peeta. There are rumblings to revolt in the air, but Katniss is not half as concerned about that when she is called back into the ring for the Quarter Quell. Gotta love these movies, they’re just so damn entertaining, and you get more Donald Sutherland and a dash of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Even better than the first, perfect set-up for what is sure to be a disappointing third installment. You heard it here first; the curse of the trilogies’ third installment be upon this one.
14. Mud– I was graced by this film from my local RedBox, months after it had hit and ran out of the theaters. There’s no doubt about it; 2013 was the year of the McConaughey. Arguably delivering a performance even better than Dallas Buyers’ Club, Matt practically bleeds off the screen in ‘Mud’, giving us a mysterious wheeler-dealer with love in his heart. A modern retelling of Huckleberry Finn, what makes this one so special is not only McConaughey and Witherspoon, who are wonderful in their own right, but it’s also the performances of the two young boys of the story (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland). The film is about so much; trust, hope, innocence, unrequited love, and the relationship of father and son (I’m a sucker for the latter.)
13. Rush– Talk about a shot of adrenaline the rib cage, ‘Rush’ delivers on everything that it promised. Exciting, compelling, emotional, well-acted, and well-executed. Daniel Bruhl is nothing short of masterful, giving us his most complex performance to date, and Chris Hemsworth is incredibly entertaining, giving us his first bearable performance to date (nice, bro.) The Academy sorely snubbed this film in several categories (especially for Bruhl in Supporting Actor), but we still get to enjoy the best film Ron Howard has made since ‘Frost/Nixon’, that is, until we get the ‘Arrested Development’ movie.
12. Before Midnight– It’s difficult to make a film that so perfectly creates a picture of reality, especially when that subject is love and marriage. Too often we receive these romanticized honeymooners, caught in a daze of compassion that waters down all sense of dysfunction and heartache that comes with love. For a third time, Linklater disposes of these love story stereotypes by reintroducing us to Jesse and Celine years down the road after their original encounter. The message this movie sends is clear; love is beautiful, but it is also hard work. It’s about making decisions to be committed rather than just “falling in.” How great is that?
11. The Conjuring– Easily the most pleasant surprise of 2013, ‘The Conjuring’ takes pages out of the books of horror greats like Friedkin, Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Craven. What I wholeheartedly expected to be another pandering gore fest centered around demonic possession (thank you, ‘Paranormal’ for driving that once terrifying concept into the ground,) ends up being a master’s class in suspense. Director James Wan seems to understand what few directors do: The scariest thing on the screen is what is unseen, and the tension is everything. Barely misses the top 10, but it will go down as one of the best horror films of the decade.
Top 10 of 2013
10. The Place Beyond the Pines– Seeing this early in the year was a game-changer for 2013. I usually wait until October to expect something to be really great. Of course there will always be exciting summer flicks, but usually there is nothing that carries the emotion and drama I’ve come to respond to. Then I see ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’? In April? What? Surely an omen of good things to come in 2013, this film goes to the very heart of childhood circumstance, how the sins of the father fall upon the son, and what it takes to forgive. Starring Bradley Cooper (who also had a great year) and the beautifully mumbling Ryan Gosling, this is a film that I would guess not many have seen, so I will choose not to spoil it any further. RedBox, please.
9. Frozen– Disney is back with its best film since The Lion King! Yes, I stole that from a commercial, but this time I tend to agree. ‘Frozen’ is wonderfully animated, carefully scored, and is better than any musical you’re going to see on Broadway. Where the film really succeeds is in abandoning cliches that a woman must be saved by a man rather than allowing women to save one another. It is funny, but the humor does not overshadow the beauty on screen. How many different ways can these guys animate ice? The answer is about 1000, as the visuals stun, transporting us back to a time of childhood wonder when snowflakes are the closest thing to magic. The original music is unmatched by any animated film of the past 15 years. If you’re on the fence about seeing it, Spotify the soundtrack, which topped iTunes Charts for a few weeks. I saw ‘Frozen’ three times, one of those was just to listen to the music again, and another was to share it with my family who didn’t quite believe my enthusiasm. If you have kids, you gotta take ’em to see it, and I promise you will enjoy it just as much as they do.
8. Inside Llewyn Davis– The life of a musician is not all it’s cracked up to be. If you have yet to break through the show-business wall, it’s a life of hitchhiking, couch jumping, jealous friendship, moments of hope followed by moments of heartbreak. ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ shows us that life, and it does exactly what the title claims. It takes us inside the life of a struggling folk singer in 1960s New York, and although he carries beautiful songs in his repertoire, songs that nearly bring the audience to tears, at every turn there is someone with the keys saying , “I don’t see any money in this.” The film ends on a philosophical note, showing us that making it is more about luck than it is about talent, and why so many artists are forced to give up the dream. Oscar Isaac is breathtaking as Llewyn; a performance of subtle emotion. Easily the biggest omission by the Academy this year, plagued by a crowded lineup in the awards season releases. This is my favorite Coen brothers film since ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’, maybe even since ‘Fargo,’ and they will receive almost no recognition for it. It feels as though they themselves are Llewyn with the talent in their gig bag, but no one heard the song.
7. Dallas Buyers’ Club– Talk about actors that will make your jaw drop, and the movie is carried by them. McConaughey is thriving in disease, angry, bigoted, but strong as the bull he rides. ‘Dallas Buyers’ Club’ is a chapter out of the 1980s AIDS crisis, the story of a homophobic rodeo gambler who is diagnosed with HIV. Through seeking alternative treatment out of Mexico, Ron Woodruff starts providing treatment for others suffering from the disease (for a fee of course), mostly men of the gay community. I know, it sounds like high-end Oscar bait, bought and paid for, but what I loved so much about ‘Dallas Buyers’ Club’ is how it says ‘to hell with’ all the painted up and glittered treatments of reality and sticks to the hard truths. They keep Woodruff abrasive and disgusting, they don’t act like Rayon (played by an incredible Jared Leto) will go out in a blaze of glory. The film-makers understand what many don’t about AIDS; it’s ugly and horrific, as debilitating as any plague. This film hits us where it hurts, and it should. So glad it is receiving the recognition it deserves and I’m excited to watch both Leto and McConaghey take home gold this awards season.
6. Nebraska– From this moment on in the list, all of the films are some of best I’ve ever seen. That is not meant to be hyperbole, on the contrary, it is as sincere as I can be, only hoping to give the proper respect to each of these works. ‘Nebraska’ is a perfect example of this. Probably any other year, this would be #1 on the list. I was born and raised in Lincoln, currently where I reside, so it was a such a joy for me to witness a fellow Nebraskan in Alexander Payne create such a perfect snap shot of Midwestern family and our inexplicable devotion to one another. ‘Nebraska’ follows Woody (Bruce Dern) and David (Will Forte) Grant, an elderly father and his middle aged son, as they travel to Lincoln to collect a Publisher’s-Clearance-House-like sweepstakes prize, a million dollar amount that everyone but Woody realizes is fictional. Most of the film takes place in small Hawthorne, Nebraska, where David learns more about his brooding father than ever before. The end result is powerful, and maybe because I saw this with my father, it strikes a chord for sons everywhere. Shot in gorgeous black and white, Nebraska is Payne’s greatest achievement to date, directing the best performance of the year out of Bruce Dern. If you are a son with any sort of relationship with your father, take him to see this film. It could be therapeutic.
5. Captain Phillips– I will make the statement that Paul Greengrass is the best director of action films that I have ever seen, and in ‘Captain Phillips’, he wowed me with his discipline by orchestrating the events of the Somalian pirate hijacking of Maersk Alabama so effortlessly. And, as my fellow film fanatic cousin Kent puts it, there’s nothing better than watching “Hanks being Hanks.” His portrayal of Phillips is heartbreaking to witness, as this man pleads over and over again to his captors to just give up, to put down their weapons, because he’s seen this story and he already knows the ending. I expected to be thrilled by ‘Captain Phillips’ (which I was), but I what I didn’t expect what stays with me the most; I was deeply moved. The final fifteen minutes is a powerhouse of emotion, from its shocking climax to the tear-jerking epilogue. Although Hanks is the star in the screen, Greengrass is the master behind the lens, and a few decisions he made ring out the loudest to me. The first is the decision to cast Somalian actors as his band of pirates. This was a subtle, but brave decision to pursue a truthful interpretation, and without that decision we would have never been able to shudder with amazement at Barkhad Abdi as the desperate Muse. Another Greengrass decision that may go unnoticed was his choice to cast an actual Navy EMT to act opposite of Hanks in the film’s conclusion. I’m telling all who have yet to see it that this movie oozes authenticity because of decisions like this, and it continues to wow thinking about ‘Captain Phillips.’
4. American Hustle– The first time I watched ‘American Hustle’, I thought it was a great piece of work with great acting, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it. It seemed messy at moments, difficult to pin down the story, with an uncomfortable amount of emotion flying around the screen. But there’s sneaky thing about this one, that is, it stays with you, at least it did with me. I couldn’t forget Bradley Cooper’s giddy celebration with the other FBI agents, or Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn justify putting metal in the “science oven.” The style of it all is intoxicating, and it is visceral in its execution, making me laugh and cry in alternating cycles for two full hours. When I walked in a second time, I went by myself, wanting to soak it up like a sponge. It blew me away, and I’ll tell you why. Maybe I am reading too much into the themes of ‘Hustle,’ but like the con-men of the story, this is a movie that happens “from the feet up.” It leaves nothing to chance, and it is constantly trying to pull one over on you. Amy Adams character Sydney is the best testament to this. The entire time this thing is playing out, you have no clue where her loyalties lie. Had she been broken? Can she still really love Irving? Is she looking out for anyone but herself? In the end you realize she had you fooled all along. I find this to be true of all the lead characters. Rosalyn, who seems completely out of control, is the most powerful person in the room at all times, and it is actually Richie, the apparent leader of the operation, who has no control of what’s happening. Irving can fool everyone into believing what they want to believe, except the women he loves; they see right through it. Talking with a friend who also loves movies and who had also seen ‘Hustle’, he told me that the weakest thing about this movie was O. Russell’s direction. At first, I could agree, but now I’m starting to think otherwise. ‘American Hustle’ actually might be best directed film of the year, or perhaps I’m just being conned. Perhaps the reason I think this film is so great is because I’m just believing what I want to believe. Either way, it’s fun to be fooled.
3. 12 Years A Slave – Everyone, meet your Best Picture winner. Accept it. Embrace it. There’s nothing you can do about it. I knew from the moment the credits rolled back in November. This story of Solomon Northup being kidnapped and sold into slavery for 12 years is the most emotional film-going experience I’ve had since seeing ‘Schindler’s List’ when I was in high school, but I’m not going to say what others have said, that this is the ‘Schindler’s List’ of slavery, because this film is one-hundred percent it’s own work of art all its own. If not the best film of the year, which it very well may be, it is certainly the most important. It is the story of slavery told by a black filmmaker through amazing black performers. I must say, I will probably never watch it again, but scenes from this film will stay with me forever. Scenes like Solomon hanging from a tree with just enough footing to stay alive, or our hero being forced to punish his friend Patsy at the whipping post. It’s one of those that I recommend with hesitation, knowing the ride you are in store for. But see it. Please see it.
2. Gravity– Imagine holding your breath for 90 minutes. Now imagine doing it floating in the black night of space, alone in the expanse. Do you feel the fear? The desperation of Earth seeming so close to your fingertips, yet impossibly far away? ‘Gravity’ is as close as I ever hope to be to that experience, but how incredible it is! From the first jaw-dropping, no cuts, close to 15 minute shot of the Explorer crew working on the Hubble telescope until the dramatic re-entry into our atmosphere, this film is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Bullock is fearless as Dr. Ryan Stone and Cuaron reveals himself as one of the greatest film makers working today. In scale, there are moments of beauty that can only be likened to Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, but in total craftsmanship, it is incomparable to anything in modern memory. I walked out of it saying “Best Film of the Year.” Yes, I did speak too soon, but I wasn’t too far off, and for a film to merit that kind of reaction from so many, you know it has the chops.
1. Her– This is Spike Jonze’s masterpiece. A parable of the times we are soon to live in, a philosophical discussion of what it really means to be human, and a love story with more depth and power than I’ve ever seen, ‘Her’ is the finest and most brilliant film of 2013. The story of a not-too-distant future where Theodore Twombly meets and falls in love with Samantha. They connect, develop relationship, and eventually are head over heels for each other. Theodore makes Samantha laugh and Theodore loves the way the world looks through Samantha’s eyes. Here’s the catch; Samantha is Theodore’s computer, an Operating System of artificial intelligence that learns as it grows. Her written purpose is to meet all of Theodore’s needs, which becomes a task of love more than factory function, and the newly divorced Theodore struggles with what is real and what isn’t, finding that perhaps learning to love again is stranger than talking to a voice in your phone. The script is perfect, as are Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams (who had a fantastic year of her own), and Scarlett Johansson who voices the endearing AI Samantha. This is one of those movies that may not win a thing, but it’s so good that I could honestly care less. Watching ‘Her’ on its own is better than any statue. Resisting spoilers, I recommend it higher than any movie in theaters now. Go see ‘Her’ before it disappears into those spaces between the words.