Whew. Talk to anybody who’s spent more than a minute in theaters and they’ll tell you the same. 2013 may have stunk for music, but it was great for movies. With a strong mix of emotional dramas, subtle comedy and fascinating characters, there was literally something for everybody. Prepare to debate, good readers. It’s time for Pantheon Magazine’s Top 10 Flicks of 2013.
10 – Dallas Buyers Club
It’s a strange year when a six time Academy Award nominee barely squeaks on the list, but them’s the breaks when the year is this good. Jared Leto emotionally and physically commits as Rayon, Matthew McConaughey’s reluctant partner in the drug running business. Director Jean-Marc Vallee gives the actors plenty of room to do great work, even if the cinematography and overall structure is a bit formulaic. While the final third delves into a slightly cheesy “drug companies are bad” theme, Dallas Buyers Club is a satisfying and well-made picture.
9 – Mud
The better half of this year’s Matthew McConaughey double feature, Mud was the first great movie of 2013. Playing a shifty yet well intentioned drifter, McConaughey’s Oscar buzz should be focused here, not movie number ten. Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) directs a dynamite cast, including the incredible young acting duo of Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland. The setting of river bound Arkansas is quiet yet electric, providing solid ground for the good work to happen. An under the radar but quality Netflix watch.
8 – Gravity
Amazing how a perfect ten experience gets relegated to number eight, but that’s where Alfonso Cuaron’s outer space opus landed on the list. Easily the best blockbuster of the summer, the story of two astronauts adrift in a series of head rocking meteor showers was intense and jaw dropping. Despite a bare bones story, Cuaron managed to wring simplistic yet strong character development from Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. A film deserving of a 3D IMAX viewing and a must see for fans of silently intense space adventures.
7 – The Hunt
Featuring a tour de force performance from Casino Royale villain Thomas Vinterberg, this Danish import shocked critics with its jarring depiction of a man trapped between a child’s accusations and the honest truth. Intense, frank and perfectly acted, The Hunt is by far my favorite foreign film of the year and should be a front runner for the Oscar of the same name.
6 – Inside Lleywn Davis
Folk music runs near and dear to my heart, so this brutally funny story of a down and out busker was almost guaranteed to make this list. Despite a downright depressing character arc, Lleywn soars on the back of its wondrous soundtrack and solid work from the ensemble cast. Oscar Issac in particular is a revelation as the honey-voiced drifter. The Coen Brothers rarely disappoint and refuse to do so again in this somber yet hilarious feature.
5 – Nebraska
Dry, remorseful humor was a theme this year and Nebraska is no exception. Shot in beautiful, expressive black and white, the sixth film from director Alexander Payne captures an old man’s unrelenting journey for personal relevance. Bruce Dern is stunning as an elderly lottery winner hell bent on road tripping to collect his winnings and Will Forte shines as his patient son and co-rambler. Like the Bruce Springsteen album of the same name, Nebraska paints a stark yet poignant picture of a simple man’s journey to write his own requiem.
4 – Upstream Color
A surprise favorite of mine, this carefully made art film is a melody of captivating images and intriguing story. Staring and directed by first timer Shane Carruth, Upstream is the tense story of a young woman, her unfortunate run in with an evil stranger and a creepy pig farmer. It also features a brain bending central theme of rebuilding broken lives and interpersonal connections. It’s well acted, beautifully shot and masterfully crafted. One of those movies you watch, get confounded by and think about for days after. More than worth the contemplation.
3 – 12 Years a Slave
Having already snared a slew of awards, the first studio piece from indie darling Steve McQueen is poised to reel in even more. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s plays Solomon Northup, a free black man tricked into slavery by unscrupulous circus owners. Ejiofor is electric and Oscar worthy as the embattled musician but the ensemble cast lifts 12 Years to new heights. Paul Dano impresses as a bitterly racist carpenter and Michael Fassbender is exceptional as a brutal overseer. However, it’s the brilliant Lupita Nyong’o who steals the show. Playing the object of Fassbender’s wonton desire, Nyong’o burns up the screen with intensity and anguish. Rarely is despair so beautifully depicted. Add to mix a near perfect script with a dash of stylish direction and you have a slam dunk of biopic filmmaking.
2 – American Hustle
If somebody snuck into director David O’Russel’s home and broke into his basement, they would probably see a strange contraption. Wires, tubes and multi colored meters all leading down to a computer console with a green screen and one, giant button. A button that would read, “Oscar Nomination”. Yes, friends. The director of The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook simply makes Academy Award winners.
Add American Hustle to the list. Everything The Counselor wanted to be but wasn’t, this smart, sexy and expertly crafted story of small time crooks going for one more score fires on all cylinders. Christian Bale soars as a comb-over wearing huckster, Amy Adams turns in her best performance of the year and Bradley Cooper once again proves he’s not just the hot guy from The Hangover. Add to the mix another homerun performance from Jennifer Lawrence and you have an electric, entertaining and engaging look into the trials and tribulations of everyday swindlers.
Captain Phillips – Tom Hanks gives a good first 120 minutes and a fantastic final ten in this gripping aquatic thriller from director Tom Greengrass.
Place Beyond the Pines – Derek Cianfrance’s second feature doesn’t quite reach the heights of Blue Valentine, but Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling punch through the drama with some of the strongest performances of early 2013.
The World’s End – I always save some love for the funniest flick of the year and The World’s End wins the prize. The final piece in Edgar Wright’s comedy trilogy is a raucous and surprisingly nuanced pub crawl through a tiny English town.
The Angel’s Share – While technically a 2012 release, this wryly funny tale of a group of low level criminals and their quest for the perfect pour was seen theatrically this year, so it makes my list. A bit of a cheat, but I had to do it.
1 – Her
When sifting through the aftermath of a year spent staring at a flickering screen, it’s hard to put things in perspective. After all, art looks different as it ages. The feature you swooned for in March often looses luster by December. As a result, making the last movie of the year your favorite always smacks of laziness. In a world where the critical is criticized to death, it’s never a good idea to give critic killers more ammunition.
When I walked out the theater after my screening of Spike Jonze’s latest masterpiece, I knew I was doomed. The heartrending story of a digital romance between a shy writer and his ever learning computer was pure magic. Her had to be my number one of the year and no amount of mental fiddling would steer it from its place.
As I wrote in my original review, everything in Her fits together. As Theodore Twombly, Phoenix pulls passion literally out thin air to emotionally gel with his Scarlett Johansson voiced cell phone. His job as a letter writer for creatively challenged clients melds with his desire to cohabitate. Even his ex-wife, played by the subtle but lovely Rooney Mara, slides perfectly into the overall theme of love, loss and the search for someone more.
In an ever expanding world of instant connectivity, Her celebrates the most basic of human connections in an unconventional setting. Full of humor, insight and profound beauty, on screen and within the actors, Spike Jonze hasn’t just made the best film of his career. He has crafted the most memorable film of the entire year. Timing of my screening be damned.
Did a favorite of your miss the cut? Sound off in the comments below! Remember, discussion is good for the soul!
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jersey born, New York based and Austin bound, Bill Tucker is a writer of short fiction, film reviews and articles across a variety of media. He currently writes bi-monthly reviews for Pantheon Magazine and his micro fiction story, K, was recently accepted for publication in Solarcide’s flash fiction compilation, Flash Me. When not writing, he works as an IT Trainer for a fashion software company. Check out more of his work atwww.thesurrealityproject.com.