Well folks, we’ve only got 5 more days left in 2013 and the year in film was pretty strong, in my opinion. Maybe the strongest year in cinema in the past 10 years. That’s not just including “good” films that’s including box office numbers as well. Hollywood did particularly well taking money to the bank. Disney, among other studios, took home over $3 BILLION dollars in 2013. Talk about breaking the bank.
Here are my top 10 films from the year that was two-thousand and thirteen.
Normally a Pixar animated feature is reserved for a place amongst the best animated films of the year, however, this year Disney Animation took the top prize in that category. Frozen is a wonderfully animated and beautifully scripted feature about the bond between two sisters and how true love can conquer all, just not in the way we’ve come to know it. Frozen may have one of the best soundtracks to any Disney feature we’ve seen in the past 30 years. That might be a bigger accomplishment than a Disney film being on this list.
9) The Spectacular Now
The modern age romance film has been redefined in 2013. The Spectacular Now redefined it. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are such an odd pairing – he’s not particularly good looking and she’s quite gorgeous – and have such great chemistry that the pairing works on all levels. The Notebook was probably the last romance film to redefine the genre, but that film played into the love-bird stereotypes (scruffy boy falls for uppity girl, uppity girl can’t be with scruffy guy, scruffy guy loses uppity girl, etc, etc). The Spectacular Now goes against the stereotypes of bad boy gets any girl he wants and we’re all the better for it. It’s a great film that needs to be seen.
Prisoners lost its steam somewhere back in October, frankly because it came out too early. It took the Argo route of release dates and became forgotten about due to other great films being released in the same time window. However, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great film, because it was. Hugh Jackman completely steals the show as a father grief stricken over his abducted daughter that he turns to torturing her accused abductor. It’s Jackman’s complexity of the character that makes the movie really that good. Sure, Jake Gyllenhaal is pretty good in it too and there are a bunch of big name actors giving their best, but it’s Jackman that you’re paying money to see. He’s going to miss out on an Oscar nomination but he’s the main reason Prisoners is even on this list.
7) Fruitvale Station
Heartbreaking, yet mesmerizing, Fruitvale Station is the sad true tale of Oscar Grant – played brilliantly by Michael B. Jordan – a young black man who was tragically murdered by the Oakland Police Department on New Years Eve 2008. The film, which clues you in to Oscar’s fate from the very first scene of the film, tells the story of what type of person Oscar was. He was a carefree soul with a big heart. An on-again-off-again girlfriend and daughter occupy most of Oscar’s time while he’s trying to turn his life around but as is depicted he gets pulled into his former life of crime along the way. While Jordan’s portrayal of Grant is truly great, it’s Octavia Spencer’s performance as Grant’s mother that truly makes your heart break. Spencer plays the role with such love and sadness for what Grant is becoming and what he’s become, the best scene of the film comes when she’s waiting in the hospital waiting room with Oscar’s friends for the doctor. If that lump in your throat isn’t as big as a grapefruit, check your pulse.
2012 was supposed to be the year of Matthew McConaughey, but 2013 came and had something to say about how good McConaughey’s year has been. Mud is simply fantastic as a story about two boys who discover a fugitive hiding out on a small island at the base of a river in Arkansas. The boys make a pact with Mud to help him stay hidden from the law and help him try to re-establish a relationship with a former lover. While watching the film you constantly get the feeling that McConaughey is just using the boys to get what he wants, but your faith in the character is rewarded by the end of the film. It’s like watching an odd fairy tale where Mud is the character that looks after the child through their misadventures.
5) Saving Mr. Banks
“Based on a true story” of a Disney transaction, brought to you by the Walt Disney Company? One would think that you’d be in for a disaster of a film. However, when that particular film stars Tom Hanks as the Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers – better known as a the author of the classic tale of Mary Poppins – you’re film is going to be pretty damn good. Saving Mr. Banks is a largely embellished story of Walt Disney trying to convince Travers to sell his company the film rights to her beloved tale. The film explores the tribulations and relationship that Disney tries to establish with Travers, and while Hanks is convincingly believable as Disney, it’s Thompson that really shines here. Allegedly Travers hated the final product of Mary Poppins (the Walt Disney production) and felt that way until the day she died. Meanwhile, this is another Disney film we’re talking about and it’s meant to be a feel good story – so it is.
4) Captain Phillips
Tom Hanks back-to-back, this time he’s the Captain of a large shipping vessel that’s besieged by Somali pirates – another “based on a true story” tale. This time, it’s Hanks that completely loses himself in the role. He’s both stern as a Captain but approachable as a co-worker trying to do his job. It’s when his ship is commandeered that Hanks really turns on the acting juices and the dialogue and emotion that is seen on his face when he’s held captive on a life boat for a couple of days. Hanks has received as much critical acclaim as one can get for his portrayal of Richard Phillips, and it will likely pay off with an Oscar nomination.
Spike Jonze’s Her is complex, beautiful, sad, and true all at the same time. The film examines society’s obsession with technology and applies it to one man’s life as he discovers and falls in love with the voice of a computer. And when I say “falls in love” with the voice of a computer, I mean he loves his computer but is stimulated by her voice (Scarlett Johansson). Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as Theodore – a loner type who’s introvertive lifestyle allows him to establish a relationship with a piece of tech. Jonze doesn’t always make great movies, but when they come along they’re especially great.
There were a ton of films in 2013 that focused on a singular actor and particular perils they come in to along their particular journey. Alphonso Cuaron’s Gravity is the best of them all. His story about an astronaut who is stranded in space and has to rely on her faith in what she knows was real, is truly what makes the film magical. Not to mention Sandra Bullock’s performance and the cinematography and the unreal CGI and the score…it’s all so perfect. If there is one film you see to really magnify the whole movie-going “experience”, it’s certainly Gravity.
1) 12 Years A Slave
American cinema isn’t yet particularly comfortable with depiction of slavery and the graphic nature of what it represented, however Steve McQueen’s take on a tale of a slave who is freed but is later re-sold into slavery is heartbreaking and endearing. While McQueen’s film and John Ridley’s script are real stars in the film, it’s journeymen-actor Chiwetel Ejiofor who stakes his claim as the best actor in 2013. Ejiofor’s performance in 12 Years A Slave is just great, his character’s sense of taking his freedom for granted is seen in just about every scene in the movie. McQueen could very well take home Best Director, Best Picture and every other award in 2013.