Film in 2013 was all over the place. There was good, bad, terrible, outstanding, surprising and disappointing. As noted here before, film reviewing — any kind of reviewing, for that matter — is a highly subjective enterprise and readers of reviews should always bear that in mind.
For example, when I see a movie filmed in New York City, my love of the city may spill over into the review. One of the facets of The Wolf of Wall Street that I enjoyed most was the setting of much of the film in the most beautiful parts of my native Long Island. But, it’s also a very good movie and the three hours running time goes by quickly.
This year was a very mixed bag in film. My best list, in alphabetical order (except for the above-noted The Wolf of Wall Street sis:
12 Years A Slave — like American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club and The Ice Man — is based on a true story and it’s a horrifying one. As the wrongly enslaved Solomon Northup, Chiwetel Ejiofor is very powerful screen presence. This is one of those rare films that has already attained the status of “classic” and it will be around for a long time, as it deserves to be.
20 Feet From Stardom is a wonderfully told documentary about backup singers who work with Springsteen, Jagger and Midler. The music’s great and the stories absorbing.
American Hustle features virtuoso performances (Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Matthew MacConaughey, Amy Adams, an unbilled Robert DeNiro and others) in a wonderful film beautifully directed by David O. Russell.
Frozen is, hands down, the best animated movie of 2013. Another winner for Disney.
Fruitvale Station is another true story. This is a heartbreaker about 22 year-old Oscar Grant, a black man in Oakland who sets out to celebrate New Year’s Eve 2009 and never returns. Director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B . Jordan have made the most moving film in many a year.
Gravity is the film everyone’s talking about. The special effects are, indeed, terrific, as is the cinematography. But, on the whole, the movie left me cold. There is no human story in it. Not a big Sandra Bullock fan, I couldn’t buy into it. But it looks sooooooo gorgeous that it is worth a look.
Her, Spike Jonze’s story of a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his computer operating system is consistently inventive. It’s refreshing and fun and Phoenix is a revelation. The voice of the OS is that of Scarlett Johannson and is is an attractive, enticing one. Her is the most original film of the year. It will open soon in Las Vegas.
Inside Llewyn Davis is the latest from the Coen Brothers and it is terrific. Harkening back to the folksie scene in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in the early 60’s, the movie is chock-a-block full of wonderful music and a terrific performance by Oscar Isaac. The song “Please Mr. Kennedy” sung by Isaac, Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver, is a sure winner.
In Nebraska Bruce Dern, at age 77, gives the performance of his career (clearly, there were a lot of those in 2013). Alexander Payne managed to make a quiet film with an outstanding cast that holds the viewer’s attention like a first-rate mystery. It is unforgettable.
Most of the best performances were in the best films. But, in compiling such a list, one cannot forget Tom Hankss in the title role of Captain Phillips or Michael Shannon’s chilling, masterful turn as the mob hit man, The Ice Man. Sadly, the awards gods will — as they did last year with John Hawkes’ turn as the quadriplegic in The Sessions — likely overlook Shannon because it’s such an unpleasant subject. Robert Redford as the lone man on a boat that’s adrift in All Is Lost made an unusual plight so human that one can only call his performance a tour-de-force. It was magnificent.