Each year I devote one post towards reflecting on the past year in movies. I’m a major cinephile by night — which sounds pretty dirty if you don’t know what cinephile means — and while I like to watch movies of all genres, eras and languages, I especially make a point to watch all of the newly released films that come out, particularly during awards season.
I took me a while, but I finally believe I’ve seen everything that 2013 had to offer, and per tradition — I’ve done this in 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 — I am going to present to you my top 12 films of the year. If you haven’t seen a movie I list, needn’t worry, because I will not spoil anything for you.
And just as a backdrop for you all, here is a list of the 2013 Oscar nominations. The ceremony will take place on March 2, and will be hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.
Let’s get to it.
12) Saving Mr. Banks:
Saving Mr. Banks is a Disney movie about … Disney. So you already knew to expect a fairly biased interpretation of the entertainment juggernaut, and Walt Disney himself, who is portrayed spectacularly by Tom Hanks. However, the best performance of the film belongs to Emma Thompson, who plays Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. The movie is about the interactions between Disney and Barrie as they are adapting Marry Poppins into a movie, and amazingly, the film creatively juggles three storylines into one — a glimpse back into Travers’ childhood in Australia, the making of Mary Poppins at Walt Disney Studios, and Marry Poppins itself. The movie really does capture the true spirit of a classic Disney movie, making you feel warm and fuzzy while possibly becoming choked up at some points. There’s also a nice supporting performance from Colin Ferrell involved, and Thompson’s omission from the Oscar nominations was startling. Overall, it’s an example of great storytelling and worth the watch.
11) Frances Ha:
“Frances Who?” is what you’re all probably saying. Filmmaker Noah Baumbach has been making brilliant films for two decades now, including 1995’s Kicking and Screaming, 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, and 2010’s Greenberg. 2013’s Frances Ha is another addition to that esteemed list. It’s a fairly simple — and often told — story of a girl (Greta Gerwig) several years out of college trying to make her way in New York City. But though she’s struggling, the story never becomes gloomy, cynical or self-destructive. If anything, it almost glorifies the idea of being single, jobless and piss broke in contemporary Manhattan. Gerwig, who co-starred in Greenberg and actually co-wrote Frances Ha with Baumbach, is brilliant, and is one of the best actresses in Hollywood no one knows about. The film is in black and white, drawing stark resemblance to a Woody Allen film, and there’s a scene about midway through of a closeup shot of Gerwig as she drunkenly describes what her idea of a perfect relationship is that might be my favorite minute of any movie this year.
If there is ever a year where an animated movie doesn’t make this list, then that’ll be extremely disappointing, because the world needs animated movies. When done correctly, they instill feel-g00d chemicals into our brains that — at least temporarily — restore our childlike wonder of humanity. And Frozen does just that. Josh Gad is by far the funniest part of the movie as the voice of Olaf the snowman, and this is probably the best animated movie that had its own original music in a long, long time. Like all Disney movies, it’s full of clichés, princesses and sorcery, and you know how it will end before it begins. Even so, you won’t be able to stop yourself from smiling for hours after seeing it.
9) Captain Phillips:
Like Argo like last year, there are just some real-life stories that were just made to be on the big screen. Captain Phillips retells the kidnapping of Captain Richard Phillips in 2009 by Somali pirates, the first hijacking of an American cargo ship in more than 200 years. That’s pretty damn exciting as is and requires no further dramatization. As Phillips, Tom Hanks easily, easily, gives his best performance in years, and his snub from this year’s Oscar nominations actually made me angry. But anyway, the film moves at a breathtaking pace directed by Paul Greengrass of Bourne Ultimatum and Flight 93 fame, and the last 30 minutes will keep you on the edge of your seat. The film is also propelled by a strong supporting cast of actual Somalians who play the hijackers, highlighted by Barkhad Abdi, who received an Oscar nomination in what was the first film of his life.
8) 12 Years a Slave:
It’s amazing how low this movie is on this list considering how good it is. But I thought long and hard about it, and I really wanted to make this list a combination of quality and overall enjoyment, and it’s really hard to genuinely enjoy 12 Years a Slave considering its subject matter. It’s the true story of Solomon Northrup, a free black man who is sold into slavery. The movie has all of the bad things you’d expect — torture, racism, the ‘N’ word, etc. So that’s what make sit difficult to digest, but nonetheless, it’s an important piece of history for us to remember and never forget. The cast is brilliant, carried by Oscar-nominated Chiwitel Ejiofor, Lupito Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender. It’ll be egregious if Nyong’o doesn’t win come March 2, and Ejiofor is definitely a strong contender, although I think the award will go elsewhere. But he is certainly deserving if he does pull off the victory, and 12 Years a Slave is my prediction for Best Picture.
Again, this is another brilliant movie that is somehow not in the top 5, which speaks volumes about how strong this year’s fold was. Her is your typical Spike Jonze film, although the premise seems fairly simple — a guy who falls in love with his computer operating system (it takes place in the “not too distant future”) — is at times hilarious, but in the end, when you really think about its themes and message, it’s a wildly depressing film. At the end of the day, the film makes you think about your individual existence in the grand scheme of the world, which is obviously next to nothing, and that what prevents it from being higher on this list. Sometimes, I’d rather watch movies with talking snowmen than think about such things. But Joaquin Phoenix delivers his usual spectacular performance, Scarlett Johansson lends her sultry voice to his operating system Samantha, and without a doubt, Her is going to be a classic for years to come.
6) Inside Llewyn Davis:
Now this Coen brothers’ movie is probably going to divide some people, but for me, it had many elements that appealed to me greatly. It takes place in 1960s Manhattan, as fictional folk singer Llewyn Davis, portrayed splendidly by Oscar Isaac, is unsuccessfully trying to make his mark in the music industry. But the problem is he can’t get out of his own way, and really ends up worsening the life of everyone he comes in contact with. It sounds depressing, but it’s really not. Like Frances Ha, he’s just trying to establish his identity in New York City — albeit during a different time period — and there’s something about that sense of finding oneself that always intrigues me in movies, whether the character ultimately does or not. Plus, there’s folk music throughout the entire movie, which is all I ever needed as it’s my favorite musical genre. Oscar Isaac does his own singing and this is certainly going to be his breakout role.
Here we go. Top 5 time. I credited Saving Mr. Banks for its brilliant storytelling, but it was one-upped in that regard by Philomena. And like Captain Phillips, it’s inspired by true events that are of the so-unbelievable-this-needs-to-be-made-into-a-movie mold. But it’s certainly not an action film, but a drama, full of mystery, suspense and humor in the form of an English journalist helping an Irish woman reunite with her long lost son. That sounds like a lot, especially for a 98 minute film, but it really is a perfectly flowing movie that was co-written by one of the movie’s co-stars, Steve Coogan, who really is a massively underrated actor. It’s a movie that will catch you by surprise, and will impact you emotionally, leaving you thinking about it long after the credits roll. Judi Dench is her normal great self as well.
I present to you the only movie I saw in theaters this year. Besides Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Don’t judge me. But Gravity needed to be seen in theaters because its visuals are truly groundbreaking. Most of you have seen it, or know all about it, but it takes place in outer space, when astronauts played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are thrown into a pickle as their spacecraft is destroyed by a meteor show, leaving them fighting for survival in the most inconvenient of places. The movie puts you right there next to them, with impeccable use of 3D, and probably the best usage of it since 2009’s Avatar. The script leaves a lot to be desired, but it doesn’t matter, because the cinematography is stunning and more than makes up for it. It’s almost like a 90-minute panic attack, and you really come to care for the characters’ fate as the movie progresses. Gravity should easily take home all of the technical awards during the Oscars.
3) Dallas Buyers Club:
These last three movies could have been easily interchangeable. Dallas Buyers Club is a really serious movie about a man who finds loopholes in the system to deliver medicine to AIDS patients during the height of the disease’s epidemic in the mid-1980s. I say it’s a serious film because it doesn’t even really try to blend any comedic moments in. The subject matter is too serious for that. But Matthew McConaughey — who’s already won the Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild Award — delivers the performance of a lifetime here, and without a doubt has established himself as one of the best working actors today. The man’s come a really, really long way since his Wedding Planner days. Amazingly, his performance is matched by cross-dressing Jared Leto in a supporting role, and is as much a shoe-in to win an Oscar as anybody this year. It’s just a brilliant movie in so many facets, and really exposes the downfalls in our medical system during the AIDS epidemic. This one will stay with you for a while.
Director Alexander Payne has already made his mark on my year-end Top 12 lists: The Descendants was #1 on my 2011 list, which in hindsight, may have been a mistake considering how good The Artist was. But the point is, the man is an underrated and brilliant filmmaker who also made another gem in 2004 with Sideways. Nebraska is a film that takes us to the midwestern United States, revolving around a delusional, booze-addled old man portrayed by Bruce Dern who believes a sweepstakes mailing scam has earned him one million dollars, even though everyone around him tries to convince him otherwise. His son, SNL alum Will Forte, humors him and decided to take him on a trip from Montana to Nebraska to claim his “prize.” Along the way, they get sidetracked, and run into a conglomeration of equally quirky old friends and family members. The film takes on an extremely melancholy tone, and shows us the ways of life of people in a part in the U.S. that is seldom depicted in movies. Bruce Dern, I believe, should win the Oscar. I just don’t believe he will, unfortunately. But it’s a brilliant story that is really just about a family’s love for another, and June Squibb definitely deserves some recognition for her lively performance as well.
1) The Wolf of Wall Street:
If you told me a few months ago that this would be my #1 movie, I would not have believed you. Because there was just too much hype, and that usually deters me. but when the movie was released on Christmas, I was surprised by how much negativity there was in its reception by the masses. “Too long” and “too raunchy” were among the complaints, and my expectations were lowered because of it. And it was just enough to make me love it. The length (three hours) was not an issue for me — in fact, it was so entertaining that it zoomed by. I thought it contained just the right amount of raunchiness, and it just moves at such an energetic pace. Watching this movie almost has the same effect as if you downed 10 Red Bulls. Leonardo Dicaprio gives his best performance this side of The Aviator, and though he has a chance of winning the Oscar, I’d be very surprised if he did. Jonah Hill was better in this than he was in Moneyball, and the film also gives us Margot Robbie, which is just a great thing for everybody. This will be remembered as Scorsese’s post-2000 masterpiece, and there is one 15-20 minute scene involving Quaaludes that will be remembered as one of the hilarious scenes in film history.
And there you go. the prestigious top 12. To date, none of the previous winners — Avatar, The Social Network, The Descendants and Life of Pi have received the Best Picture Award. We will see if the Wolf of Wall Street changes that.
But, as usual, I’ll also provide you with insight on some other enjoyable films from 2013, albeit in lesser words.
On the outside looking in:
Blue Jasmine: The Woody Allen product was helmed by Cate Blanchett, who almost definitely will win an Oscar this year. It’s a dialogue-driven film with a whole ensemble of quirky characters, but honestly, it’s worth seeing for Blanchett alone.
Enough Said: I really wanted this movie to make my top 12, but there just wasn’t enough space. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini are absolutely brilliant in this film, and have great chemistry. It’s surprisingly funny, but also somber, with a lot of that sadness stemming from knowing what Gandolfini’s fate will be after he finished filming it. But it’s definitely the best romantic movie of the year.
American Hustle: This is easily the most overrated film of the year. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t good. With a cast of Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale, it can’t not be good. But it’s a fast-paced movie with a lot going on. It’s a little tough to keep up with at times, and by the end, it makes you wonder if it was all worth it. Still worth seeing for the great performances alone. It’s also a dark horse for Best Picture at the Oscars.
All is Lost: Two words: Robert Redford. The guy is a legend, and he is this sole character of this survivor tale — think Gravity at sea — and speaks only a couple of lines of dialogue throughout the film. But it’s captivating, meticulous and it’s just great watching Robert Redford do what he does best.
Short Term 12: This movie is almost the complete opposite of American Hustle. A no-name cast (led by Brie Larson and Jon Gallagher Jr.) who work at a foster care facility for teenagers. It’s a very emotional movie at times but brilliantly acted with rich, real characters who will maintain your interest.
Other solid features from 2013 that you should see:
– Rush: Ron Howard’s retelling of the rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s. This is as fast-paced a movie as there was this year, and the film is carried by the performance of Daniel Bruhl as Lauda. He was a pretty hard snub in the Oscar nominations as well.
– The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: The second of The Hobbit trilogy, this will again be a joyful experience for all those who love Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson certainly takes some liberties with the story, but he had to in order to keep a few-hundred page book entertaining across three movies, helped largely by the return of Legolas, played by Orlando Bloom, and a new elf, portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, who only emphasized my once-hidden secret that elves are freaking hot.
– Lee Daniels’ The Butler: Based on a true story, The Butler is about an African-American man who served as a White House butler across eight presidencies. It’s interesting to see what actors were chosen to play our former commanders in chief — Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, to name a few — but the movie is carried by Forrest Whitaker, who delivers an incredible performance. Definitely worth the watch.
– The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: The second installment of the Hunger Games series is probably better than the first. Casting Jennifer Lawrence as Kitness Everdeen really could not have worked out better, and I thought this movie did a better job than the first portraying the fictional world from the books. And I think it will resonate for those who haven’t read the books too.
Blue is the Warmest Color: This French film is rated NC-17, mainly because it’s sex scenes border on pornography. But beyond that, it’s a great character study and we got one of the best performances of the year by Adele Exarchopoulos, who unfortunately — along with the movie — was disregarded by the Oscars because of the film’s graphic nature. It’s a long one though, at 179 minutes.
Out of the Furnace: This I believe is one of the more underrated movies of the year. It’s completely unoriginal — a story about a guy looking to avenge his brother’s disappearance, but it’s shot splendidly by director Scott Cooper (of Crazy Heart fame), and carried by an incredible cast of Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana and Forrest Whitaker.
Prisoners: This is another mystery/suspense film that delves into familiar territory: child kidnappings followed by a massive police investigation. But it’s an interesting look at how parents who are victims of such heinous crimes react to such an incident, and is also comprises strong acting by Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Melissa Leo. It stands out though because of its direction by Denis Villeneuve, who gained acclaim for his 2010 French film, Incendies.
Lone Survivor: This movie works because it’s based on a true story. A remarkable true story. But — and viewers can ascertain this based solely on the title — there is no happy ending. It’s a movie that’s supposed to be all “America, hell yeah!” but, again, it’s a pretty incredible sequence of events and even more incredible that it actually happened.
About Time: I have to include a chick flick every year. I just have to. This one is about a young man (Domnhall Neeson) who learns that, at the age of 21, the men in his family can travel back in time. It’s a cute, romantic film that has genuinely funny moments. It’s definitely sappy and will make women cry. But it also presents us with hot chicks like Rachel McAdams and Margot Robbie.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: I recall reading this short story in either middle school or high school, and thinking that it would make for a great movie. Ben Stiller wrote the script, directs it and stars in it, and he does a pretty decent job. It’s a movie that obviously takes some liberties with realism, but I think it does its job in inspiring its viewers to feel the need to go on more adventures in life. Because we could all use a little adventure, amirite??
And that’s all, folks. It really was an extremely strong year for movies, and now we can all look forward to what 2014 has to bring in cinema, and I’ll be back to do this all over again next year.