Top Ten Films of 2013
It’s the same every year. You put out a list of the 10 films that were the most important to you, people look at it, say “where is this, this, and this”, we all realize that there were more than just 10 films that defined any given year and then everyone gets drunk on New Years eve and we start looking at a new year ahead come January 1. 2013 was particularly strong, even movies that didn’t have the best of scripts were landmark in regard to their visuals (“Gravity”), their ambition (“Prisoners”, “The Butler”), and desire to break from conventional plotting (“Spring Breakers”). For those that are wondering, yes “Man of Steel” was kind of a dissapointment but an entertaining dissapointment nontheless. There were those that complained that animation might be dead this year, yet we did have “Frozen” and we did have what I think is still the funniest cartoon to come around in quite a while in “Despicable Me 2”. Of course there were just some other near-flawless films (“Blue is the Warmest Color”, “Captain Phillips”, “Her”) that just narrowly missed out on the list as well. But now on to the big winners (at least according to the brain trust of me, myself and I). Have a great New Year everyone!
10. Philomena- About a true-life woman, confined to a nunnery at a young age, made to give up her son because of the church’s intolerant view of unwed mothers. Judi Dench plays her as an older woman on a quest for answers to try and find where her son ended up. It’s a touching, funny heartbreaker of a performance that never hits a false note and the movie is one of the best I’ve ever seen about faith and keeping religion’s basic principles of love and forgiveness even when the church has done wrong. Steve Coogan, who also wrote the film, also does impressive dramatic work here as her biggest supporter on her quest and biggest foil in regards to her faith.
9. This is the End- About every other movie on my worst list was a comedy (anti-comedy?) so I’m glad there was at least one good enough to stick on my best. This was a really clever end-of-the-world/Hollywood inside-joke but what made it work so terrifically is that Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson (all of which have starred with each other in several other films) seem to know what makes each other funny and have undeniable chemistry together. Also credit to Michael Cera; his “transformation” here is the funniest thing I’ve seen all year.
8. 12 Years a Slave- This was an ugly, uncomfortable film and I mean that in the best of ways possible. It’s hard to imagine a list that doesn’t feature Steve McQueen’s slavery film, mostly because it sears into your brain what a horrid, demoralizing, soul-crushing, and disgusting period in American history this really was. And at the forefront, Chiwetel Ejiofor is another Oscar front-runner, playing this proud man summoning up all the will he has to survive.
7. American Hustle- A movie that is overwhelmingly jam-packed, but in the best way possible. There is a reason why this is the only movie this year to so far boast 4 acting nominees at the Golden Globes. Every character is written with nuance and complexity and David O. Russell's ("Silver Linings Playbook") work with actors continues to draw nothing but fascinating and compelling results. Not to mention there is one hell of a plot here where everyone is playing everyone else, everyone wants a piece of the American dream, and everyone seems to be losing themselves in the process. It’s the kind of period-film Scorsese would make (takes place during Abscam in the 70’s), and it brings to mind the classic filmmaker’s best work.
6. The Wolf of Wallstreet- Maybe the most divisive movie to hit theaters this year, this is still a fast-paced (and for a three hour movie that’s quite an achievement), funny, and horrifying look at the near-sociopathy some have to succeed in business and makes the idea of living the American dream look absolutely disturbing. Does it show all the people who got screwed over by Jordan Belfort? No. Does it have to? I don’t think so. Scorsese is doing a period piece, not some moral shaming, but nobody is going to come out of this movie feeling like Belfort is some kind of idol either. And speaking of, Leonardo DiCaprio is sleazy perfection here, capturing Belfort’s easy way with words, his dangerous ability to inspire, and the all-out lunacy of his life. Jonah Hill is also excellent.
5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire- The second film on the list starring Jennifer Lawrence (she must be doing well!), and she along with director Francis Lawrence (no relation) deserves all the credit for making one of the best blockbusters I can recall in recent memory. The plot is getting hotter and hotter as we draw to the inevitable conclusion and Katniss’ torment and strength is becoming more and more compelling. A vast improvement over the first film, “Catching Fire” does a great job of setting up “Mockingjay”, which will be split into two, presumably, awesome movies.
4. Dallas Buyers Club- Mathew McConaughey and Jared Leto should both be leaders in the Oscar race right now, not just for losing all that weight to play AIDS patients, but for giving some of the most honest and devastating portrayals of the disease since Tom Hanks in "Philadelphia." At its heart "Club" is a tragic, moving, and funny testament to the human will to survive and grow from our mistakes.
3. Before Midnight- There are shockingly few movie romances nowadays where couples actually talk about anything. This, the third in the series started by Richard Linklater in 1995 with “Before Sunrise”, is all about talking and one of the best studies of how a relationship grows with age and the factors that could derail it completely. If you’re in a relationship, you’ll see a lot of yourself here. If you’re not, you’ll also have a lot to think about. Touching, funny, and at times even riveting, “Before Midnight” is every reason why fans of this series keep hoping this is not the last time we’ll see the characters of Jesse and Celine.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis- Oscar Isaac gives a star-making performance in another funny, masterful Coen Brothers film, this one about the drive and agony of having a dream amid a society that is primarily concerned with commercialism. Credit a great, eccentric supporting cast and another outstanding job by music supervisor T-Bone Burnett in getting this all to come together as well as it does.
1. Disconnect- The internet can be a dangerous place, that’s not news. What distinguishes “Murderball” director Henry Alex Rubin’s first feature film effort is that he draws back the curtain on cyber bullying, identity theft, and internet prostitution; revealing a society that has become passive in its dealings with emotional issues, or even personal conversation between family, and an internet that has become somehow both a place to feel secure but also volatile in that its hard to predict just how, and in what ways, people are going to deal with their issues. Featuring great performances from Jason Bateman, Frank Grillo, and Jonah Bobo, this is a surprising, powerful piece of work that leaves us to think long and hard about the virtues of the internet, but also why it seems like such an angry, crazy place. Coming out in March and never really lifting off for various reasons, this movie deserved way better than what it got.