Finally, it took me a while to catch up but I've now seen enough movies from 2013 to post my own top ten of last year. Luckily, I was able to do this before the Oscars next week, so here it is- my top ten films of 2013:
1) Gravity- Dir. Alfonso Cuaron
Without a doubt, Gravity was the best cinematic experience of 2013, a roller coaster ride in a theater that transported you up in space only to make Earth feel like an alien planet when you finally come back down. Sandra Bullock gave her best performance ever as a female action hero trying to get back home and survive, not for anyone else, but for herself alone. And director Cuaron cemented himself as a master of visual effects and atmosphere, giving the movie a meditative quality even in the face of non-stop, almost unbearable tension.
2) Inside Llewyn Davis- Joel and Ethan Coen
The Coen Brothers ode to folk music and the Grenwich Village scene of the 1960's also transported you to another time and place, evoking the smoke filled coffee houses and shadowed lighting of a time gone by, maybe even one that never existed. This was a dreamlike, lyrical movie about a guy who didn't make it big. With so many movies about success and heroes, this one celebrates the poetry of failure, and sees much beauty in it.
3) Captain Phillips- Paul Greengrass
Another tense story of survival, one that was ripped from the headlines and showed us in real time the story of Captain Richard Phillips, who was kidnapped and held hostage by Somali pirates in 2009. Greengrass films in his trademark shakicam style that elevates the tension and constant, heartpounding suspense, making for a terrific thriller that placed us in the midst of the action. Also a movie that made significant points about how U.S. power dwarfs the desperation of third world societies, and the hopelessness faced by many held hostage by their own environments.
4) Before Midnight- Richard Linklater
The third in the Before Sunrise trilogy, that now sees longtime lovers Jesse and Celine entering their forties and grappling with real life issues like raising kids, dealing with exes, struggling with difficult jobs, and in the middle of all that trying to maintain the relationship that once showed us two people seemingly made for each other in a fairy tale light. The fairy tale no longer exists, replaced by the realities of every day life, which gives the movie a poignancy and deeper meaning than the other films, even if the depressing nature of life is laid out fully for all to see.
5) Blue is the Warmest Color- Abdellatif Kechiche
A coming of age story about a young girl discovering what she wants in life, and who she wants to love. An incredibly intimate and personal filmmaking style distinguishes this film from others like it, as the young Adele's life is expressed in the barest, most raw manner possible. The performances by Adele Exarchopoulos in the lead role and Lea Seydoux as the woman she falls in love with are extraordinary and bring us into these character's lives in such a way that we feel fully present in all of their immediate emotions. A beautiful, emotionally powerful movie.
6) Nebraska- Dir. Alexander Payne
Alexander Payne's portrait of a desolate American landscape encapsulates one old man's life in a single road trip to Lincoln, Nebraska. Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant as a cuckold who continues to delude himself as the sun sets on his life and his alertness is starting to go, but he's looking for his dignity on the way out, and his son (Will Forte) is helping him to find it. It's a deeply moving, profound look at one life trying to gain some meaning among the ruins of wasted years gone by and mistakes that can't be taken back, but it's also funny and sad at the same time, as life usually is.
7) The Act of Killing- Joshua Oppenheimer
This experimental documentary was the movie that left the biggest impact on me this year, leaving me with an unsettling feeling I simply couldn't shake for days. Oppenheimer made a film that revisited the atrocities the Indonesian government committed against its own people in the 1960's, but from the point of view of the winners, the hired assassins and officials who are now in their 70's and still protected by the state. Seeing the men who committed these crimes look back on and re-enact what they did is surreal, haunting and deeply, deeply disturbing as you are forced ponder the horrific complexities of evil and human nature.
8) American Hustle- David O. Russell
A modern day screwball comedy that took a true life event (the ABSCAM scandal in the 1970's) and spun it through a vortex, delivering characters that are con artists and manipulators, struggling to find their way through an insanely convoluted plot, while interacting with each other through various disguises and cons on top of cons. Performances in this one were unforgettable down the line, with Christian Bale and Amy Adams at the center of it, as two grifters in love. A fun, devious, delightful con from beginning to end.
9) Fruitvale Station- Ryan Coogler
A powerful docudrama that relays the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a young African-American man who was killed by a police officer in the early morning hours of New Year's Day, 2009. Michael B. Jordan gave a breakthrough performance as Oscar, who was a troubled but good-hearted kid with a family and friends who loved him, someone who didn't deserve to be the victim of a senseless crime like this, and the impact of the incident is hauntingly reflected again in the recent killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. A terrific debut from 26-year old Coogler, who fashioned a meaningful drama about what life is like for young black men in today's America.
10) Short Term 12- Destin Daniel Cretton
Another debut independent film from a new director, this one about a young woman who works in a foster care facility for troubled teens. Brie Larsen gave one of the best performances of the year as twentysomething Grace, herself a past victim of abuse, as she struggles to help the kids and cope with her own life. Despite the bleak material this movie is heartwarming and optimistic, a film that gives you hope for the future and recognized passion for a generation that values the good it can do in the face of traumatic human experiences.
Honorable Mentions: 12 Years a Slave, Stories We Tell, Frances Ha, This is the End, 20 Feet From Stardom, Blackfish, Blue Jasmine, Ernest & Celestine, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her