Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Top 10 Best Films Seen in 2013

This post contains the list of my Top 10 films that I saw in 2013. Last year my favorite film was A Separation. This year it was very hard to decide between the very best film of the year, with the two contenders being very different from each other but each very powerful in their own way.

Anyway, here is my Top 10 list of best films seen in 2013
  1. 12 Years A Slave. This was the best film I saw all year. Although it is a difficult movie to sit through, and despite the fact it is a cinematic rendering of a terrifying and terrible historical period, 12 Years A Slave has a lot to say to contemporary audiences. Unlike last year's Lincoln, which was another one of Steven Spielberg's forays into historicized verisimilitude in pursuit of racial reconciliation, I never felt like I was completing a dutiful chore by experiencing Steve McQueen's version of Solomon Northrup's stranger-than-fiction life story. A free black man who gets kidnapped and manages to endure and then escape any Black person's worst nightmare is the source material for a work that you would think would mostly resonate with predominantly black audiences, but from the rapturous critical responses and significant Academy Award recognition (Nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress). I hope that it wins as many awards as it can but regardless of what happens on Sunday March 2nd, the value of 12 Years A Slave is not measured by the number of Oscars it wins but by the number of people who are impacted by the film now and in the future.
  2. Gravity. Although I did not end up ranking Gravity as the best film of the year I would not be upset if the Academy disagrees with me and recognizes it for  the technological tour de force that it is. Structured around a gripping performance by Sandra Bullock, the central mission of the film is director Alfonso Cuaron's desire to make the experience of watching the film to be a truly immersive experience. This is an especially effective and ambitious goal because the film is set in space and only the voices of four individual actors (and live faces of two) are ever seen on screen. I saw the film in 3-D but it is my understanding that even watching the film in other formats the strength of the film to suck you in and make you believe that you are also in space along with Bullock as her character encounters an unfortunate sequence of harrowing events which literally set my pulse racing.
  3. Prisoners. The most suspenseful moments I spent in the theater in 2013 were watching this film from Denis Villeneuve, who made my favorite film of 2011, Incendies. The cast is incredible, with memorable performances by Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis, Terence Howard and Paul Dano. The story is about the the kidnapping of two little girls (Jackman and Bello, and Howard and Davis play the parents) investigated by police detective Gyllenhaal with Dano as a strange guy who is the prime suspect in the kids' disappearance. Prisoners explores how far decent "regular" folks will go when faced with extraordinary circumstances as Jackman's character begins to unravel under the pressure of the diminishing chances of survival of his beloved daughter as time elapses and the desire to do something, even the unthinkable, in order to see his child alive again.
  4. American Hustle / Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Even though these two movies were released in two consecutive years they are linked together in my mind because they are made by the same director (David O. Russell) and feature some of the most noteworthy performances stars of both years. In fact, both movies star some of the same people: Jennifer Lawrence (who won her Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook and who is nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her work in American Hustle) and Bradley Cooper (who was nominated for Best Actor for Silver Linings Playbook and for Best Supporting Actor for American Hustle). Russell has a richly deserved reputation as an actor's director, since in his last two movies actors received Oscar nominations in all four of the acting categories. Of the two films, I think that American Hustle is superior, and this is primarily due to the presence of Christian Bale and Amy Adams as well as a more compelling storyline, which is a comedic depiction of the infamous AbScam scandal of the 1970s. The film is both richly entertaining and quite suspenseful, as Bale and Adams inhabit their characters with such vivacity that the audience becomes quite invested in what happens to them,
  5. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)This was Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up film after her Oscar-winning turn in The Hurt Locker about the search for Osama bin Laden which made Jessica Chastain an above-the-line movie star. This would have been near the top of my list of best films for 2012 but I didn't see the film until January. It's quite extraordinary that Bigelow is able to make such a suspenseful, engaging film about a story in which we already know the ending. 
  6. Dallas Buyers ClubThis film was a pleasant surprise, centered around two astonishing, transformative performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.  The powerful story is a clear-eyed depiction of some of the darkest days of the AIDS crisis when people had to be creative to get access to potential life-saving drugs against the wishes of a heartless government bureaucracy. Jennifer Garner (Mrs. Ben Affleck) has a key role as a doctor who abandons the establishment for the good of her patients. Both Leto and McConaughey give revelatory performances and one and perhaps two of them may receive Oscars for their work.
  7. Fruitvale Station. This film is a heartbreaking depiction of the last few days of the life of Oscar Grant, who was fatally shot in the  back by a BART officer while he was face down in the early hours of 2009. Grant is portrayed powerfully by Michael B. Jordan and the film is effective at humanizing a story that could have easily become an unwatchable hagiography but instead  is as compelling and horrifying as a slow-motion car crash.
  8. Star Trek Into Darkness. My favorite action film of the year was this entry into the Star Trek franchise directed by J.J. Abrams and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain. There's an exciting twist to this movie which fans of the earlier Star Trek films willl greatly enjoy. There's great chemistry between Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine as Kirk and Scott and Simon Pegg basically steals the movie as Scotty.
  9. Her. This film features one of the most creative screenplays of recent memory, another Spike Jonze joint. The story is about  a man played by Joaquin Phoenix who falls in love with an operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson in a near-future time where this event is not remarkable. In addition to the very original screenplay, the production design and vision of Los Angeles are also remarkable. 
  10. Lee Daniels' The Butler. Although some people dismissed this film as "the Black Forrest Gump" due to the travelogue version of history it depicts of great moments of the civil rights era, it features compelling performances from Oprah and Forrest Whitaker. Additionally, there are amazing cameos from  a dizzying array of actors portraying real historical figures.
2013 was an even better year for movies than 2012. I hope that 2014 turns out to be just as good!

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