Oscar’s Favorite Films of 2013
The year 2013 is now gone, but it has not yet been forgotten in the world of film. The Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild recently unveiled its 2013 winners in their respective awards, but the granddaddy of them all (The Academy Awards) is still more than a month away, which gives audiences plenty of time to catch up and enjoy what the year had to offer. To make it easier you “catcher-uppers,” here’s a list of my favorite films of 2013.
20. Fruitvale Station
A heart-wrenching drama forgotten by most but not all critics, Fruitvale Station was a stellar debut from writer/director Ryan Coogler. The 2013 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize winner was an intimate view of the final day in the life of Oscar Grant III, a young man shot by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer on New Year’s Day four years ago. Michael B. Jordan shines in the film along Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer. The film carries a subtle emotion that overloads in the final devastating act.
19. This Is the End
Seth Rogen and James Franco created comedy gold in Pineapple Express, but when teamed up with friends Danny McBride, Jonah Hill and Jay Baruchel, it’s comedy…diamond? I don’t know what comes after gold, but This Is the End transcended comedy with each actor portraying exaggerated versions themselves to deliver a self-deprecating, gut-busting, raunchy parody. It’s one of the funniest films in recent memory thanks to the talent involved and the comedic actors’ abilities to improvise on a wildly loose script penned by Evan Goldberg and Rogen.
18. Iron Man 3
Just when you may be all superhero’d out, Shane Black is there to rejuvenate the tiring genre with a fresh take on the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. After the mess that was Iron Man 2, Black rights the ship in the third film by adding his branded humor to go with a darker, more serious take on the hero. We all know how awesome the Iron Man suits are, but who is Tony Stark? Does the man make the suit, or does the suit make the man? While they are simple questions, they were never explored in any of the other films featuring the superhero, though Whedon did flirt with the idea. Black analyzes the human side of Stark, and Robert Downey, Jr. delivers his best performance as the heroic genius struggling to cope with the events from The Avengers. A solid script and stellar performances from Downey, Jr. and Ben Kingsley make for an exciting beginning to the second phase of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.
17. Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen’s still got it. After the misstep that was To Rome With Love, he comes back with Blue Jasmine, which very resembles the play A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s a well-written script (not surprising), but it’s Cate Blanchett’s performance that lifts Blue Jasmine among the top of Allen’s filmography. It’s a remarkable character study of a woman losing her mind as she loses her class status, peppered with Allen’s humor, of course.
16. Pacific Rim
Guillermo Del Toro managed to deliver in one film what Michael Bay has failed to do in three Transformers movies: Awesome, CGI fun with brains and a heart. Del Toro showcases his visionary talent while giving us a [long] glimpse into his childhood memories, those that included Godzilla and monsters created by visual effects genius Ray Harryhausen. Pacific Rim isn’t a labor of love for Del Toro as was Pan’s Labyrinth, but one of nostalgia, which is sure spark the imagination of many.
15. All Is Lost
Writer and director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) delivers another winner in All Is Lost. The director does his part to set up his star, and Robert Redford doesn’t disappoint. The 77-year-old actors delivers the best performance of his career by carrying a film using only his acting chops. With little dialogue, Redford captures your attention with expressions that carry more weight than any words could.
14. Before Midnight
The romantic drama trilogy is finally set with Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, and it ends on a high note. Like its predecessors, Before Midnight is a well-written film with excellent dialogue on long-term relationships, marriage and love. It’s as honest as Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and it surely is to be remembered as one of the great trilogies in film.
It’s been five years since Ron Howard directed a winner, but he finally found one in Rush. Set in 1970 Europe when Formula One racing was at its peak, Rush focuses on the great rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl shine in this entertaining drama as the rivaling drivers, and Howard’s sleek direction and storytelling manages to capture the thrill of the sport as well as the heart.
12. Short Term 12
It is merely a coincidence Short Term 12 is my 12th favorite movie of the year, but it’s a good enough film to have made several critics’ Top 10 lists. It’s a touching, witty film about a young woman named Grace (an amazing performance from Brie Larson) supervising a foster care facility. When a troubled, gifted teenage girl Jayden enters the facility, Grace is drawn to her. In the process of helping Jayden deal with her problems, Grace is forced to deal with her own past. It is a remarkable drama that has so many layers. Just when you think you’ve figured out Grace and the foster kids, writer and director Destin Daniel Cretton takes you to another direction, one that, at times, can be dark, but meaningful.
11.The World’s End
What better way to end the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy than with the end of the world? Unlike Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End isn’t just an homage to a specific genre. It’s about a unlikable, hedonistic junkie who struggles in the adult world and often reminisces of his younger years when he felt invincible. He convinces his high school mates to visit their hometown and finish a 12-pub crawl they failed to complete in their glory days. And all of that takes place in a town invaded by robots. It sounds a little more mature than Wright’s previous work, but that’s because it is. But maturity doesn’t replace the laughter; it only enhances the experience. The great humor is still there thanks to the chemistry between Martin Freeman, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine, but Wright’s direction and Simon Pegg’s performance and penmanship make The World’s End the perfect ending to a great trilogy.
10. The Way Way Back
I’m a sucker for coming-of-age tales, and The Way Way Back is one that stayed with me since its summer release. Academy Award-winning writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants) perfectly capture the awkwardness of teenage youth, especially that which includes divorced parents. The cast, which includes Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Alison Janney, Rob Corddry and Liam James, is great, but it was Sam Rockwell that stole the show. His performance as the smart-mouthed, immature thirty-something-year-old with the heart of gold is as funny as it is touching. The fine script and cast should be enough to draw you in, but Rockwell’s performance and chemistry with James is what makes the film so memorable.
9. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Peter Jackson took us back to Middle Earth last year in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but something was a bit off. The first film was flawed and was slow to introduce the characters, but it only built up The Desolation of Smaug. The second entry is the true return to the Middle Earth . Jackson finally restores the awe one felt from watching the Battle of Helm’s Deep in thanks to stellar action sequences, which are among the best in The Lord of the Ring series, and the thrilling, unforgettable first meeting with Smaug. It unfortunately ends with a cliffhanger, but that, along with narrative issues, is forgiven thanks to the entertainment value.
8. Captain Phillips
Paul Greengrass is known for his shaky camera movements, but there is good reason for it in Captain Phillips. It is damn tense, you can’t help but have some nervous shakes while watching the action thriller. Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi each turned in a powerful performances. The climax of the film should have been enough to give a nod to Hanks, but the Academy, unfortunately, kept him out of the race for Best Actor. The film, however, did earn a well-deserved Best Picture nod.
7. Inside Llewyn Davis
Joel and Ethan Coen may not take any big awards this year, but it’s a winner in my heart because of its great direction and standout music. The brothers’ tale of a struggling musician in the 1960s New York folk scene is as depressing as it is witty, and Oscar Issac delivers a knockout performance as he manages to make an unforgiving character somewhat sympathetic. You can never go wrong with a Coen Brothers film that includes John Goodman.
What hasn’t been said about Her? Audiences and critics have given all the praise possible to Spike Jonze’s creative love story. The script is one of the most original in recent memory, and it is the kind of film that will provoke thought as well as creep you out. A man falling in love with an operating system sounds somewhat disturbing, but Joaquin Phoenix delivers a soulful, yet painful performance that makes it genuine, which is why it makes audiences think. Jonze creates such a realistic future that it almost feels like it’s here, or damn close to it.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese is back to give us the Jabba the Hutt of movies. The Wolf of Wall Street is a film of greed and excess with more than enough money, drugs and sex captured by the legendary director with a satirical eye. Leonard DiCaprio turns in the performance of a lifetime as Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street stockbroker who finds a way to get rich quick via a pump and dump scam. His over-the-top performance is, at times, comical, and the scenes including drugs and sex (which is almost of all of them) may be too much for some, but that was the point. It is a cautionary, alarming tale of greed that should not be missed.
4. American Hustle
Director and co-writer David O. Russell gives us his best impersonation of Scorsese in his latest film. With a narrator and stellar ensemble cast, American Hustle has all the makings of paying homage to films such as Casino and Goodfellas, but Russell only teases it. The film opens a la Scorsese but eventually finds its own voice and personality. American Hustle is has its flaws, but Russell gets the best of his actors (especially Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence) and integrates plenty of humor to make it one of the best films of the year.
Alexander Payne can do no wrong. The talented director continues to be at the top of his game following the success of The Descendants. Nebraska is a bittersweet tale of father-son road trip, one many low’s and a few high’s. Payne is one of the directors at capturing those moments that define lives. While they can be sad, as was the case with Woody (a brilliant performance from Bruce Dern), Payne always gives us enough humor (from June Squibb and Will Forte) to paint a glimmer of hope, the possibility of redemption. Nebraska is a range of emotions, but it’s worth the trip.
Gravity isn’t only a movie; it’s an experience. Most films are purely entertainment, while others are purely art. Director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón finds that balance in his film. It is pure cinema with gripping, tense scenes that leave you breathless, but it also his wonderful visuals that paint a picture larger than outer space. It’s a thrilling story of survival as well as a beautiful tale about the depths of the human heart.
1. 12 Years a Slave
The topic of slavery is one that has been touched upon in many films and television programs over the last century. Writers, directors and actors have educated audiences about the horrors of slavery, but Steve McQueen wasn’t looking to deliver another history lesson in 12 Years a Slave. Rather, the London-born director wanted viewers to feel it, and boy did it hurt. 12 Years a Slave is a harrowing, nightmarish portrait of a dark period for humanity that stays with you long after the first viewing thanks to stellar direction, performances and writing. The old adage of a picture is worth a thousand words makes 12 Years a Slave worth trillions, but McQueen’s brutal look into America’s dark, savage past will leave audiences speechless with the director’s unflinching visuals and directorial style.
It was difficult to limit myself to only 20 movies. Films that earned honorable mentions and are recommended for viewing include: Dallas Buyers Club, Philomena, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Drinking Buddies, Stoker, World War Z, The Conjuring, Side Effects, 42 and Prisoners.
Image via WTOP