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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Top 10 of 2013

Rounding out my year in review, here (finally) are my picks for the top 10 of last year.

2013 was a really terrific year for movies, which made coming up with a 10-best list extremely difficult. There were a range of movies that entertained and moved me, and another day (or on a second watch) some of them might have cracked my top 10.  Pop in any of my runners-up in spots 8-10, and I'd be just as happy with my list.

Here are my #16-25, in alphabetical order. They are all well worth checking out: The amazing Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine; Tense docudrama Captain Phillips; Mumblecore comedy Drinking Buddies; Heartbreaking true-life drama Fruitvale Station; Fresh and funny urban indie Gimme the Loot; Cambodian experimental documentary The Missing Picture; Contemplative art movie Museum Hours; Stylish thriller Side Effects; Heartfelt high school drama The Spectacular Now; and the Egyptian documentary The Square.

Runners-Up: In most other years, these 5 would have had an easy spot on a top 10 list.

20 Feet From Stardom:
This Oscar winner for Best Documentary is probably the most crowd-pleasing movie I saw this year. It follows the stories of the (mostly) forgotten back-up singers of the past and present, showing us their immense talent and artistry.  You'll never listen to the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter the same way again!

The Act of Killing:
Watching this experimental documentary, its hard to believe that the events are really taking place. Director Joshua Oppenheimer gets Indonesian generals, who carried out a genocide in the 1960s, to recreate their atrocities as a movie. An intense, disturbing, and completely fascinating look at how evil deeds are (or aren't) dealt with. The final scene is unforgettable.

The Great Beauty:
This Italian film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and for good reason. The setting and cinematography are gorgeous (Great Beauty indeed), it's funny and entertaining, and it's also filled through with a sense of melancholy and loss.

While I have quibbles with small parts of Her, it's a movie I've thought about a lot, and feel may creep up my list upon more viewings. Writer/director Spike Jonze creates an amazingly believable world where our love for technology has taken the next step. Funny and thought-provoking, with great performances by Joaquin Phoneix, Amy Adams, and the voice of Scarlett Johannson.

Short Term 12:
Probably my number 11, and it kills me to leave this off the list. This drama about a young couple working at a youth treatment facility has so much heart and goodness in it, without ever feeling soft. Lead Brie Larson gives a passionate and committed performance, and I hope it leads to great things for her.

Now, on to the 10 that made it through!

10. Blue is the Warmest Color.
To get the most notorious part of the movie out of the way: Yes, the sex scenes are overly long and probably exploitative of the two lead actresses.   But.... they take up only a very small part of this 3-hour opus, which focuses on young Adele (Adele Exarchopolous) coming of age and discovering herself as a person.  Marketed as a love story, the movie is also concerned with class differences in modern France, finding meaning in life and work, and the ways in which we move successfully from being a teenager to becoming an adult.  Exarchopolous gives one of the very best performances of the year, and I've thought about her character and her journey many many times since seeing this movie.

9. Before Midnight.
Every 9 years since 1995, director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have come together to create a document of a changing relationship between an American man and a French woman.  If you haven't seen the first two (Before Sunrise and Before Midnight), please see them before checking this out!  While I don't love this chapter to quite the same degree as the other two (I miss some of the intellectual back-and-forth of their earlier conversations, while this one focuses more solely on the relationship), this is a great addition to the triology. The three show us the cracks that have developed in the central relationship as we question if their love can survive.  I can't wait for the next one....

8. Mud.
An old-fashioned movie in the very best sense. With great respect and little romanticizing, director Jeff Nichols sets this movie on the Mississippi Delta in Arkansas, where the lives of its inhabitants are changing forever. Young Tye Sheridan plays a young teen who finds an outlaw (Matthew McConaughey) on the river and does a lot of growing as he learns about the adult ways. With echoes of American literature (especially Huck Finn), this is a great story.

7. Enough Said.
Three years ago, Director Nicole Holofcener made my list with Please Give, and here she is again. She's a true talent, writing and directing prickly, funny, humane movies about people and their relationships. Enough Said is her most heartfelt movie yet, and she chronicles a middle-aged single mom riddled with doubts as she embarks on a relationship with a divorced dad. The casting of TV starts Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini was absolutely perfect.

6. Stories We Tell.
The best documentary of the year (in a year of great ones), is this very personal story by young director Sarah Polley. The movie is an inventive and far-reaching look into a secret from her family's past. In the process, Polley also raises essential questions about truth, storytelling, love, and what truly makes a family.

5. Nebraska. 
Having spent many a summer in rural Kansas with my grandparents, I quickly connected to this movie and its small town setting and characters. The amazing Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an alcoholic old man searching for some final success. With a light touch, director Payne shows how our past shapes us. Loved it.

4. Frances Ha.
This movie is so light, airy, and pleasurable, I almost don't want to damn it with my high praise. It's simply about a charming but sometimes clueless young woman (Greta Gerwig) finding a life for herself in modern New York. The black and white is gorgeous and Gerwig is beyond charming.  It's also the rare modern movie more interested in a young woman's friends and life than in her relationship with men.

3. Gravity.
Just stunning. Other directors would have used the budget and technology to make a sci-fi spectacle of battles and a cast of hundreds, but none of that for the amazing Alfonso Cuaron. What I remember most from Gravity is astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), floating in space and gazing at the beautiful Earth. Some found its story a tad trite, but I was deeply moved by its portrayal of a wounded person making the choice to fight for survival.

2. 12 Years a Slave.
Essential, breathtaking, stunning moviemaking from director Steve McQueen. I love so much about this movie, from the script to the performances to the cinematography to the score. What I remember most is its intense focus on Soloman Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his story, never flinching at the brutality and never giving us cheap uplift. One of the very best movies of the new millennium. I'm sure it will live as a testament for years to come. (Can't I make a tie for number 1?)

1. Inside Llewyn Davis.
When I walked out of this movie, I simply said "That was perfect." The more I think about it, I've become convinced it's my favorite Coen Brothers movie. Like many movies on my list, it walks a delicate line between humor and pathos, and in this movie the character of Llewyn is someone to both admire and criticize. This is a tough-eyed look at the life of an artist and the struggle to stay artistically pure, all filmed in beautiful washed-out cinematography and featuring one of the best soundtracks ever. I've heard there are some that actually hated this movie.  If you're one of them, it's probably best not to tell me...

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