The ‘Best’ of 2013: The Year In Review

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before midnight FROZEN gravity her poster inside llewyn davis    the conjuring WALTER MITTYNEBRASKA POSTER out of the furnaceTHE HUNT POSTER

This is late, but in my defense, I did speak of this before the New Year arrived- except it was on the podcast I’m a part of (I Hate Critics, check it out on iTunes, this ends the shameless plug), and I hadn’t seen a number of 2013 releases by that time.  The issue, of course, is that most award-worthy films are released late in the year, or early the following year.  If you’re not a professional critic, it’s hard to actually see enough quality films to warrant a top 10.  However, I technically saw over 10 quality movies, so I should have a Top 10 in theory.  I’ve also included films I saw in 2014 that were 2013 releases.  Missing from this list are likely favorites “American Hustle”, “Short Term 12”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Dallas Buyer’s Club”, “Philomena”, “Blue Jasmine”, and other possibly good films that I just didn’t get to see.

Until the time comes (if it does) that I can see all the eligible films, this type of yearly review will have to do.  As I think of these films, I realize I need to have more access to movies in 2014 to have a broader base for selection.  One thing’s for sure: I saw more movies in 2013 than any other year, and I love it more than ever before.  I thank all of you for your support over the past 8 months, and I look forward to discussing what movies I watch in the future.

Without further ado, the top 10 movies (that I saw) of 2013:

10. “The Conjuring”  What a welcome surprise this film was.  A well-marketed, slickly made horror film that actually kept me tense the entire film.  Not having any prior knowledge of the Warrens likely helped, as I went in to the film with a clean slate.  “The Conjuring” is genuinely frightening at times, while never sliding into the “this is silly” territory.  I mention this because nothing sincerely scares me in movies anymore, but this one had me tense from the beginning with the huge title and intense opening scene.

9. “Frozen”- Not since the early 1990’s has Disney (ignore the Pixar films) released a film with such heart and bold animation (with respect to “The Princess and the Frog”).  On top of that, it’s funny in all of the appropriate moments, and creates a new memorable sidekick character in Olaf.  The best part though?  The two female leads resolve the story by relying on each other, and not a brawny male to save them.  It’s a bold step, albeit a late one.

8. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”- As I stated in my review of this film, some that see this will interpret it cynically.  After all, the product placement is heavy-handed I just happen to believe that Ben Stiller and crew did their best to make solid creative choices to appease both those that paid the bills for this film and those that saw it.  The film itself is well-made, and provides an endearing portrait of a man who spaces out- not because he’s spacey, but because he’s been hard-wired to do the safe, uneventful thing.  It may sound corny, but once Walter Mitty discovers how to live, he finally begins his life.  With an excellent soundtrack, and a subtle tone, “Mitty” resonated with me.

7. “Nebraska”- Alexander Payne, director of the masterpiece “The Descendants” as well as “Sideways” and “Election”, gives us another oddball comedy with this film.  It’s deliberate, but subtle and funny, and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious.  The payoff is well worth the wait, as we discover the real soul of the film and of the leads.  This film features Oscar-worthy performances from both Bruce Dern and June Squibb as an elder couple who are both more than their initial appearances suggest.

6. “Out Of The Furnace”-  A tragedy in almost every sense, director Scott Cooper’s Appalachia-set film is equal parts moving and heartbreaking.  It’s a movie about redemption, revenge, hard work, brotherhood, relationships, society, and masculinity as defined in our time, all rolled into a bravura man-opera.  The performances are all top-notch, especially Casey Affleck as a veteran who can’t find his way, and Woody Harrelson (dare I say it) as an absolute psychopath.

5. “The Hunt”- Despite the international release of this Danish film in 2012, it didn’t see daylight in the U.S. until 2013, and thus is nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 2013 Academy Awards.  It’s already taken home the top prizes in Denmark, and with good reason.  Mads Mikkelsen is magnificent as a man who’s wrongly accused of pedophilia.  He has to drum up the willpower to fight back a community that has not only painted him guilty, but earnestly tries to kill his spirit in the process.  Powerful, maddening, and cringe-worthy, “The Hunt” deserved mention in the Best Picture category at the Oscars.

4. “Inside Llewyn Davis”- The Coen brothers struck gold again, this time with a soulful yet frustrating character study about a folk musician in 1960’s New York that can’t manage to stop metaphorically tripping over his own feet.  There’s excellent, rich, quirky music throughout, quotable lines aplenty, and excellent performances abound, especially by Oscar Issac as Llewyn.  How the Academy skipped over this for at least a Best Picture nod is beyond me.

3. “Gravity”- I’ll go ahead and nominate this as the film I’m most likely to watch multiple times from this list.  Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi/action success story is, quite simply, more than a film- it’s an experience.  Next month it will be available for purchase, and it will be interesting to see how the experience changes once it’s on the small screen.  It can’t possibly generate the same feeling, but the film itself is nonetheless still powerful in how humble it presents humanity against the vastness of space and time.

2. “Before Midnight”- This one completely took me by surprise, as the original, “Before Sunrise” bored me at age 16, and I rented but never got around to the sequel “Before Sunset”.  Every once in a while, though, listening to a movie critic’s advice can benefit you, as it did for me with the third film.  Regardless of the assumed quality of the others, this is brilliant.  Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (who both helped write the script) are excellent in depicting a couple who has reached a crossroad in their relationship.  This movie treats love as a real, tangible thing that is shaped by experiences, hurt by wrongs, and gains strength over time.  Director Richard Linklater loves these characters, as it shows on-screen.  Not only is the romance in this film more believable than most love stories, but by proxy the fates of Jesse and Celine are more interesting, and we have more vested in them.  It’s a crying shame that this wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, but the nomination for Best Screenplay is a minor victory.

1. “Her”- Spike Jonze’s masterpiece of the human condition is the best film of the year.  The interesting angle of being set in the near future, combined with the brilliant writing, heart and humor to make the most complete film I saw.  It’s daring enough to pose risqué questions to the audience, and then seems to reveal the answers in touching, creative ways.  It may be creepy to some, but it’s clear that we all need a connection, and how we get it seems to be changing over time.  It’s a remarkable piece of filmmaking, one I hope everyone gets a chance to see.

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