Top 10 films of 2013
1. "12 Years a Slave"
4. “The Wolf of Wall Street”
6. “Dallas Buyers Club"
7. “Inside Llewyn Davis"
9. “Don Jon”
10. “The Counselor”
If you go
“Nebraska,” rated R
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 110 minutes
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb and Stacy Keach
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.
If you go
“12 Years a Slave,” rated R
Rating: 4 out of 4 stars
Running time: 134 minutes
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and Benedict Cumberbatch
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.
It’s that time again — the time to look back on the past year in cinema and assess what constituted the very best of the film world. As always, it’s an unpleasant job to narrow down what makes the short list, and not even the late Roger Ebert had the resources to screen every single movie.
Anyway, here are my thoughts on the best of 2013, counting down from No. 10.
10. "The Counselor” — A lawyer (Michael Fassbender) gets involved in an international drug trade through a shady associate (Javier Bardem), expecting it to be like any other business deal. However, he finds his world turned upside down when things don’t go as planned.
The screenplay by novelist Cormac McCarthy leaves much up to the imagination, and director Ridley Scott fills in the pieces from there, creating a deeply layered, jarring crime drama that leaves its audience shaken by the starkness portrayed. The entire cast does well, but none more so than Cameron Diaz as Bardem’s ruthless girlfriend, whose closing monologue may be one of the scariest statements ever made in such a serene manner.
And leave it to McCarthy to top his own killing method from “No Country for Old Men.”
9. “Don Jon” — Suave, confident ladies man Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been with a multitude of women in his time, but none of them can quite compare to his one true love: Internet pornography. Meeting a gorgeous girl named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) may change his outlook, but only if he can tear himself away from something that’s become much more than just a habit.
What starts out as a crude examination of a narcissist for whom the derogatory term “Guido” would be a step up progresses into a remarkably insightful and witty statement about maturity, male identity and relational expectations, providing Gordon-Levitt a superb debut as the actor/writer/director triple threat.
Plus, Tony Danza as his fiery, foul-mouthed father? Fuhgeddaboudit!
8. “Philomena” — After getting the ax from his job as a British government adviser, a former journalist (Steve Coogan) returns to writing when he is approached by an elderly woman (Judi Dench) who has spent decades holding onto a secret about a son she was forced to give up for adoption. Their search for him takes the two to the United States, where some of the information they find is more jarring than either of them thought.
Dench gives a wonderful showing as the chipper, talkative and sometimes exhausting eponymous lady who never lets her past at an Irish convent — where she had her child ripped away from her as a teenager — shake her faith in God. The story is based on Martin Sixsmith’s account of the real-life Philomena Lee and the history of forced adoptions of children of fallen women through the Catholic Church that still was alive and well even throughout the 20th century.
7. “Inside Llewyn Davis” — 1960s Greenwich Village folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) can’t seem to catch a break — he’s got no permanent place to sleep, a record that isn’t selling and a paramour (Carey Mulligan) who may be carrying his child and doesn’t intend to keep it. With few options and even fewer friends, his only choice is to put all his effort into finding a new record label in Chicago, providing he can survive the trip.
The Coen brothers give us a fine picaresque hero in Llewyn Davis, an example of how limitless musical talent means nothing when you just can’t function in the real world, or at least not after your singing partner has jumped off a bridge. The soundtrack, which includes collaboration from T-Bone Burnett and Justin Timberlake, brings the filmmakers back to the kind of material we saw from them in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” without being the slightest bit repetitive.
After all, have any of their other movies had a housecat that just can’t seem to get lost?
6. “Dallas Buyers Club” — In 1985, Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) learns he is one of the many people across the country who is HIV positive, a diagnosis he refuses to accept since he is not homosexual. When his symptoms become too severe to ignore, Ron gets his hands on AZT only to experience side effects, ultimately deciding it would be better to seek out medications proven to work but not available thanks to being unapproved by the Food and Drug Administration.
And, as he scours the globe for such treatments, he finds himself helping the same people he always treated like dirt.
It’s getting tougher and tougher to be a McConaug-hater, and it’s hard to believe the man who starred in garbage like “Failure to Launch” and “Sahara” only could make this tale of folks stricken with AIDS even better, following great performances in “Mud” and “Killer Joe.” Jared Leto is equally superior as Rayon, a transgender individual who shares the disease and soon becomes Ron’s right-hand man in getting around red tape.
Er, sorry, right-hand woman ...
5. “Nebraska” — Woody Grant’s (Bruce Dern) family has had it with him. After years of being affected by his drinking, now they have to contend with the old man’s new fixation — a piece of junk mail he thinks entitles him to a $1 million prize if he can get from Montana to the sweepstakes office in Lincoln, Neb., even if it means he has to walk there.
Although he knows it’s a scam, Woody’s son David (Will Forte) agrees to drive his dad if for no other reason than a little quality time, but a detour in their old hometown makes the situation more complicated.
The monochromatic cinematography efficiently frames this portrait of people who have little to look forward to in life and are quick to jump on any shred of hope they can find, no matter how unlikely it is or how many old debts are involved. Dern is in great form as the man who’s always in a fog, as are Forte as his unflinchingly loyal boy and Bob Odenkirk as David’s more skeptical brother.
June Squibb, however, beats them all as Woody’s motor-mouth spouse, Kate, whose diatribes about how long she’s suffered as the wife of an idiot stay humorous even when everything else gets serious.
4. “The Wolf of Wall Street” — After getting into the stock market world at the worst possible time, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) finds success with a small-time business that he is able to expand into an empire known as Stratton Oakmont. The more triumphant he becomes, the more his excessive appetite for the finer things grows, a trait that leaves him susceptible to investigations into his company’s activities.
DiCaprio’s Belfort has the greed of Gordon Gekko, the fearlessness of Tony Montana and the boyish ability of Ferris Bueller to get himself out of trouble and address the camera directly in Martin Scorsese’s unbelievable biopic based on Belfort’s own autobiography of his time in business during the '80s and '90s, which also was the basis for the movie “Boiler Room.”
The only thing more obscene than the language is the type of shenanigans he and his chums get into as they celebrate their crazy amounts of cash, be it dwarf-tossing, stripper stampedes or popping hard-to-find Quaaludes.
“The Great Gatsby” may have been DiCaprio’s first movie of the year to tackle the pursuit of the American Dream, but we all know which one is better. You don’t have to like these people — in fact, you shouldn’t — but you can’t help but be hypnotized by them.
3. “Her” — In the near future, technology is more a part of everyday life than ever before, so much so that computer operating systems are completely attuned to their users. In the case of lonely Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), the artificial personality (voice of Scarlett Johansson) becomes more than just a helpful source for information, becoming a friend and eventually a lover.
A notion that sounds ridiculous is given an earnest treatment by writer/director Spike Jonze, showing us that a romantic relationship is no less real just because one person doesn’t have a body. Phoenix is remarkably sensitive and funny, while Johansson’s Samantha proves Siri may be Miss Right Now, but Miss Right is yet to come.
2. “Gravity” — The life of a scientist (Sandra Bullock) hangs in the balance when, during a space mission, she and a seasoned astronaut (George Clooney) are left stranded after their shuttle is destroyed. With only limited oxygen, the two must find an alternate way to return to Earth.
Bullock and Clooney are great, but it’s the work behind the camera that’s the most masterful, with Alfonso Cuarón reaching new levels of amazement from a visual standpoint. Perfection may be an overstatement, yet with the journey so seamlessly edited as people float around desperately trying to grasp onto something, anything, the viewing experience is better than any other thriller this year.
1. “12 Years a Slave” — In 1841, free black man Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is captured and put into slavery in the South. Experiencing horrors he’s never seen before, he must keep his wits about him if he expects to survive.
Based on the true story of Northup, this staggering but ultimately uplifting piece with a grand ensemble cast stands in severe contrast to last year’s “Django Unchained” as its hero is repeatedly beaten, humiliated and altogether dehumanized. While it would be easy to say it’s worse for him because he’s known freedom, the truth is no one ever deserves any part of slavery.
And, even compared to lusty plantation heads, their jealous wives and vicious overseers, the nicest slave owner still is a slave owner. Between this, “The Butler,” “Fruitvale Station” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” it has not been a favorable year for the portrayal of white people.
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.