10. American Hustle
David O. Russell brings back most of his acting favorites for one heck of a movie about a con-team who works with the FBI to bring down a number of politicians and mobsters in the ’70s. It’s a whole lot of fun with an ensemble that is second to none. What I enjoyed the most about American Hustle is how the film keeps you guessing around every corner. The plot weaves in-and-out, but never in a way that will leave you scratching your head. And you can just tell that most of these actors had the time of their lives being completely outrageous following the fun script. That just made it that much more fun to watch.
I foresee a lot of awards in its future, and while it’s somewhat worthy, I feel that the film substituted true substance for style. That’s why it found its way at the bottom of my list rather than at the top. But in a year full of great movies, American Hustle is definitely one of them.
One of the most underrated films of the year goes to Ron Howard’s racing bio-pic about the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Formula One competition. The film did a great job balancing Hunt and Lauda’s life and their passion for racing. Usually in films about rivals, the movie will nudge one character as the one you should root for, but not Rush. It’s a roller-coaster ride between Hunt and Lauda and I found my allegiance often swaying back-and-forth. This is what makes the film special.
Rush doesn’t shy away from exploiting their flaws either, and they both have plenty. Who do you root for towards the end? The handsome, playboy with pure talent but who doesn’t take the game seriously, or the douche-bag who has sacrificed and worked his whole life to perfect his cars and racing strategies? This isn’t your regular sports film. It’s much better.
8. Captain Phillips
I just noticed that my 10 through 8 picks are all movies based on true stories. Anyway, Captain Phillips is one firecracker of a film. Paul Greengrass is a master of suspense and it sure doesn’t hurt having Tom Hanks in the middle of all the action. What starts off as just a pirate hi-jacking of a U.S. container ship turns into an international spectacle with the whole world watching.
The actors who portray the Somalis give a ruthless quality to the pirates, especially Barkhad Abdi. But all through the journey you’re alongside Tom Hanks, putting yourself in his shoes and wondering how long can he survive. With a number of movies this year about survival, Captain Phillips is one of the best.
I’ve always been a fan of Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) and here he continues to explore the landscape of family dramas. The Grant family is a classic Payne product. Woody is losing it and truly believes he won a million dollars in a magazine sweepstakes while his son, David, reluctantly agrees to drive him to collect his winnings. Nebraska is funny, heart-felt, and like all Payne films a bit depressing.
Nebraska is an intimate look on the foundation of family, not just the Grants, but all families. While the film has its hilarious moments, specifically the scene where the sons attempt to steal back their father’s old air compressor, it’s careful enough not to make a mockery of the elderly. The father-and-son story-line drives Nebraska from the beginning and with Payne’s direction and the acting of Bruce Dern, June Squibb, and Will Forte, they all deliver an outstanding movie.
Matthew McConaughey has had a very impressive year, there’s no denying it. While his performance in Dallas Buyers Club is more noteworthy, Mud is the superior film. Tye Sheridon shines at the main character, a teenager named Ellis, who with his best friend Neckbone discover a mysterious fugitive living on an island in the Mississippi. The movie starts out simple, but pulls back layer-by-layer as the situation becomes more complicated. Every main character is fully developed and even the side characters offer a great deal to the background of the plot.
Enough can’t be said about this small, independent drama and how love is seen through the young mind of Ellis. There is also a lot of focus on the Southern rural setting the film takes place in, which provides Mud with a rich world these characters live in. And the ending is one of the most suspenseful sequences of all 2013. Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) is becoming a true talent among the group of writer/directors. Look out for him to break out in the near future.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese packs a punch in his new, lengthy satire full of chaos, debauchery, and offensive material. But boy, it was sure a fun ride! And has Leonardo DiCaprio ever been so good before? His performance as the out-of-control Jordan Belfort takes the rags-to-riches story to a whole new level.
In addition to DiCaprio, you have Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, and others providing their outbursts in small doses, but as a whole the overall performance of this ensemble is excellent. One thing that I didn’t anticipate from The Wolf of Wall Street was how legitimately funny it was. It’s impossible not to be mesmerized by the circus the movie creates, and you’re never bored during the three hours because everything is in constant motion. Sure, The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t for everyone, but it sure was for me.
4. 12 Years a Slave
This is the most powerful film of the year and on that merit alone it places as my fourth favorite film of 2013. It’s not an easy film to watch, but for those who can stomach the violent scenes you will be rewarded by a top-class film not just of 2013, but in movie history.
Then why isn’t this my top film of the year? Well, the same reason why it’s hard for me to admit that I love Million Dollar Baby and Amour, because it’s challenging and depressing. Without a doubt it’s a great film and on those grounds alone it would arguably be my top pick, but I can’t say it’s my favorite film of the year. 12 Years a Slave will put you through pain and agony while watching, but it’s bold and deserves much credit where it’s due. Steve McQueen doesn’t hold back with what many have said is the most realistic portrayal of slavery ever shown.
What shoots out as most memorable for me (aside from the gruesome whipping scene) was how McQueen tested your patience with extended scenes. Many directors would have cut a scene much shorter, and in your mind you expect certain moments to end, but instead they keep going on. The additional seconds seem like minutes, and it certainly boosts the intensity level and rounds it out with even more weight. 12 Years a Slave is a daring, taxing movie that is one of the most important non-documentary films in the decade.
It’s such a simple title, but it’s one complex movie. Her is Spike Jonze’s latest and certainly one that will linger in your heart and on your mind because it’s that good. The movie asks questions that will make you wonder exactly where you stand in the world of relationships and human intimacy. The twist in this slightly-futuristic world is how Theodore falls in love with his operating system. How can this be?
But as you watch the film, you don’t doubt the closeness the two have nor do you doubt that the feelings really do exist between Theodore and Samantha. Instead, you’re worried like a parent is for their child about someone getting hurt. We can’t understand the programming of Samantha and it’s even more frustrating listening to how she can’t understand it either. It’s a quirky film, but it has mainstream power with great acting and a unique premise.
Joaquin Phoenix gives another great performance as Theodore, a man struggling through life after a divorce. He’s a kind, soft man, someone who is easy to sympathize with. After watching Her, you’ll re-evaluate your life, where you stand with your friends, families, significant other, and compare them with Theodore and Samantha.
2. Before Midnight
This is the third installment of the Before series by Richard Linklater, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. After the cliffhanger from Before Sunset, all the questions are immediately answered. And just like the previous two films, Before Midnight is dialogue-heavy as Celine and Jesse spend some time in Greece with family and friends.
It’s refreshing that movies like these can still be made. The budget is low but the characters are as rich as any in the past decade. What Before Midnight does that the first two of the trilogy hasn’t was include more characters than just the two of them. The scene with everyone eating lunch is a great one that encapsulates the whole idea of these movies within a scene. Everyone has their own story to tell and has their own opinion about life and love. It all pours out during that scene and it’s incredibly intriguing.
The words that are spoken in Before Midnight are honest and heart-felt. There are many times when you forget your watching a movie because it feels like a home video. This is only possible when the acting is great and the direction is flawless. After the movie ends it still left me wanting more. One of the greatest feats for this trilogy is how the conversations change through the different stages of their lives. I really hope there’s a fourth movie in the works.
My favorite movie of the year was also my most anticipated movie of the year. I love Alfonso Cuaron and when the buzz started forming around a movie set in space that has mind-blowing visuals and effects, I was sold. I saw the movie in my IMAX theater in 3-D and it most definitely didn’t disappoint. It’s rare for films to truly make me wonder how it was done, but Gravity provided me with plenty of head-scratching scenes.
In addition to it being a visual masterpiece, the acting was well done by Sandra Bullock, the story contained a lot of emotion and heart with a story about survival, and the pacing was exceptional. When I say Gravity is the movie experience of the century, I mean it. And how many movies can you think of that MUST be seen in IMAX 3-D to fully experience it? Gravity is number one on that list.
Sure, there are scientific errors that have been pointed out all over the Internet, but is that really the point? It’s the same thing when there are arguments that a “based on a true story” film is inaccurate. These are movies that are purely meant to entertain, and there isn’t another movie that I enjoyed more this year than Gravity.