Friday, January 3, 2014

The Top Ten Films of 2013

Here we are.

One of my favorite things to do is make my annual top ten list of the best films of the year.  This is my first year of doing it on my blog, so I am super excited (I had made top ten lists starting in 1998, so technically this is my 16th year).  Sometimes people look at my lists like I'm nuts, because I include things other people haven't.  I pick the movies that stuck with me the most this year.  It was particularly hard to whittle it down this year, so if you missed yesterday's honorable mention list, you can check it out here.  Let's get to it.

10. This is the End

This is the End makes me laugh just thinking about it.  I sit with my co-workers at lunch sometimes, and we can bounce quotes from the movie back and forth.  From the self-deprecating humor, to the go for broke cast to the heavenly Backstreet Boys dance sequence at the film's finale, This is the End is the summer comedy experience we've been waiting for  This movie knows what's it's doing.

9. The Conjuring

In a time when shaky cam horror is king, a ghost story like The Conjuring is very welcome.  A struggling family moves into a large farmhouse only to become terrorized by an evil spirit in the house.  Doesn't sound original?  The story may sound very (and overly) familiar, but it's director James Wan's execution of it all that makes the hair on the back of your head stand up.  The time period also helps too.  Instead of setting the film in the present, the spooky story takes place in the early 1970's when the events that inspired the film took place.  

8. Saving Mr. Banks

I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of Mary Poppins.  I can almost hear everyone screaming at me from their respective homes.  I was anxious to see Saving Mr. Banks because I love stories about classic movies.  Oh, and Emma Thompson.  Emma Thompson.  Emma.  Thompson.  As author P. L. Travers, Thompson takes on a character that would have become intolerable in the hands of a weaker actress.  Travers doesn't want to compromise on the book she created in her head, and I would watch an entire series of movies that was just her and Tom Hanks making decisions about movies.  

7. The Way Way Back

I couldn't even begin to count how many family trips I took in the backseat of our family station wagon.  

The Way Way Back is an endearing coming of age story.  Liam James plays Duncan, a shy introvert on vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell).  Trent's comments and attitude toward Duncan only make him quieter, and it doesn't help that his mother doesn't say a word.  When Duncan starts hanging out at the local Water Wizz, he begins a friendship with the entire staff, especially the manboy manager played by Sam Rockwell.  

Way Way is touching and sweet, and it features a great performance from Rockwell.  It feels so much like summer and new possibilities.

6. Blackfish

I guarantee that Blackfish, a damning documentary about the capture and behavior of captive orca whales, will rile something inside you. 

Captured in 1983, bull orca whale Tilikum has been linked to the death of three individuals.  Dawn Brancheau, Tilikum's trainer at SeaWorld, was killed during a live show.  When you learn about the conditions that these gorgeous animals live in and when you hear how they are kept, you will get angry.  There is a heartbreaking sequence in the film when a mother's baby is taken from her, and you hear how she cries for days.  It is one of the most powerful documentaries I've ever seen.

5. Frozen

This can't be a surprise to anyone.

Disney's Frozen should have came out years ago.  A gorgeously animated adventure, Frozen tells the tale of two sisters and the powerful bond between these two very different women.  It's a shame that Disney isn't allowing them to be front and center in the advertising.  

4. Gravity

When Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity ended, I didn't realize how tightly I was holding onto my armrest.

A visceral theatrical experience, Gravity tells the simple story of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and how she much fight for survival in the grand, open space landscape.  The movie is successful for two reasons.  It is a simple story.  Written by Cuaron and his son Jonas, Gravity's mission is to get Stone back to Earth.  Secondly, it is anchored by Bullock's powerful, physical performance.  If Bullock hadn't won an Oscar in 2009, she might have won this year.  You've never seen her like this before.  She's so vulnerable but strong.  What a knockout.  

3. Before Midnight

The Before movies need to go on forever, because they might be the most honest look at the evolution of a relationship committed to film.  The first two films are romantic and magical, but this is where reality sets in.  Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have created such lush, beautiful characters--such real people--that they feel like they communicate the fears and anxieties we all have about relationships.  But, at the same time, they make it immediate and intimate.  Delpy is especially luminous in this.

2. Blue Jasmine

There is something to fantastically angry and pent up about Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.  I felt like I was really hanging on to this screenplay about a socialite's (Cate Blanchett) fall from grace after a Madoff-esque scandal.  Blanchett's Jasmine moves in with her sister Ginger (a fan-tas-tic Sally Hawkins) and you can feel her itching in her clothes.  You can smell the sweat.  The way Jasmine carries her extravagant purse hypnotized me.  Blanchett's performance it out of this world (I think this is my favorite performance of the year); Jasmine talks and talks and talks and talks, but she never says anything.  The movie does, though.  It changes the perception I have of some people and forces me to instinctively wonder about their history and how they got that way.

1. 12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave haunts me.  Nothing is glossed over in this film.  The true story of Solomon Northup isn't glossed over or prettied up like so many mentions of American slavery in cinematic history.  It's ugly and violent.  It blisters all over.  

The three central performances are all stellar.  Chiwetel Ejiofor, as Solomon, gives the performance of a lifetime as a free man tricked into slavery.  Michael Fassbender's sadistic slave owner spews scripture and doles out violent punishments.  He is always invading the space of everyone he's around.  Lupita Nyong'o, as Fassbender's prized slave, will rip your heart out.

This is important filmmaking, and McQueen has delivered the most horrific film of the year.

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