As the year winds down and after almost 12 months and close to 300 movies, the time has arrived to look back and countdown the Top 10 Films of 2013.
As I’ve stated previously, here on this site or on my weekly radio show, Keeping It Reel with FilmGordon, the cinematic calendar is divided into four distinct seasons, the dregs of Spring, the Summer blockbusters, the serious season of Fall and the awards contenders of Holiday season.
There were so many films that I thought merited consideration that I could have created a Top 25 list and left some of my favorites off. Before we countdown this year’s top films, let’s look at some of the worthy films that didn’t make the cut.
Mud, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, Trance, Much Ado About Nothing, The Way, Way Back, Wadjda, Prisoners, The Dallas Buyers Club, Enough Said, Mother of George, The Book Thief, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Past, Her, The Butterfly’s Dream, Before Midnight, Let the Fire Burn, The Hunt, The Wind Rises, The Great Beauty, The Broken Circle Breakdown and The Wolf of Wall Street.
The Top 10
10. The Bullet Vanishes
In a year stacked with foreign-language films and with the much-heralded martial arts film, The Grandmaster as a potential Oscar nominee, it was this smaller film that made a stronger impact. This murder-mystery that paired a Sherlock Holmes-esque detective with a Doc Holliday-esque partner to solve a case of supposed curse and a mysterious invisible bullet was a well-executed story that featured Asian mysticism, tremendous special effects and wonderful storytelling. Saw this film at a fest and the print broke a dozen times and either had to be restarted or backed-up to the end point. Not one person left the theater, not one – true story and tells you all you need to know about this little-known gem!!!
9. The Spectacular Now
One of the year’s biggest surprises was this story of a high-school functioning alcoholic who is immersed in short-term gratification while the world passes him by in this brilliant film that handled in the wrong hands would just be a standard high-school comedy. But James Ponsoldt’s film, he gives us a true examination of a struggling teen coming to grips with his destructive behavior and how it impacts everyone around him. Led by a strong cast, which included Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson, the film succeeds while not talking down to the audience!!!
8. The Place Beyond the Pines
Three years after Ryan Gosling teamed with writer/director Derek Cianfrance for Blue Valentine, the two raised their games significantly with this beautiful and tender multi-layered story father/son tale about a motorcycle-stunt-driver-turned-bank robber (Gosling) who is pursued by a tenacious police officer (Bradley Cooper) after he tries to secure money for his young son’s care. While audiences were expecting another drive, Cianfrance’s script boldly stood on its own with its unconventional story structure. An amazing story, expertly structured that is a wonderful showcase for both of its lead actors, plus solid work by the sultry Eva Mendes as well.
7. Blue is the Warmest Color
Director and co-writer, Abdellatif Kechiche’s controversial film about a decade-long love affair between a high-school girl and her college female lover is a fascinating examination of self-discovery. The shows the evolution of Adèle and Emma’s relationship, spotlighted by three explicit sex scenes, which generated much of the controversy because of Kechiche’s extended, luring nature and wandering eye. Despite both Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux’s objections with Kechiche’s direction, the two turn in an impressive, nuanced and tender performance.
6. Free Angela and All Political Prisoners
One of the year’s strongest documentary was Shola Lynch’s searing examination of the rise and false prosecution of activist Angela Davis in Free Angela and All Political Prisoners. Presented in first-person point of view from Davis herself, the film focuses on her rise as a professor at UCLA in the late 1960s and her affiliation with members of the Black Panther Party. It is those affiliations that the government would use to accuse Davis of conspiring with Panther members to murder a federal judge, among other charges. Lynch’s story has amazing behind-the-scene footage, as well as reflections from other key principles who live through the harrowing ordeal. An absolutely riveting film!
5. 20 Feet From Stardom
Back in 2002, we discovered the session players, The Funk Brothers, who played on hundreds of hit records at Hitsville in the revealing story, Standing in the Shadow of Motown. Morgan Neville turns his attention to the singers who toil in the shadows of animosity in this outstanding documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. Chock full of major recording stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and others, Stardom focuses it’s gaze on Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Darlene Love and other lesser-known talents such as Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill and Claudia Lennear. The doc features plenty of interesting little tidbits but none more riveting than Clayton recalling how a strenuous late-night vocals with Jagger on Gimme Shelter resulted in her suffering a miscarriage. Neville successfully shows that 20 feet is not just the distance from singing background to lead but also a huge emotional decision as well!
4. American Hustle
What do you get when you mix an accomplished Hollywood director with a decorated cast and a great screenplay based on an event that many people hardly remember? Surprisingly, a tremendous film. The story of a couple of cons, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who get ensnared in larger scheme by an over-eager FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), while Rosenfeld tries to keep his neglected and irresponsible wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) from blowing the whole deal. Russell, who hit a home run with his previous film, The Fighter, produces another entertainment film backed by a bevy of outstanding performances, most notably from Lawrence, Adams and Cooper. While The Wolf of Wall Street is the showery of the two films, Russell channels Martin Scorsese’s style effectively to produce one of the year’s best films!
3. Fruitvale Station
Beginning with its award-winning turns at both Sundance and the Cannes Film Festivals, this debut film from Ryan Coogler hit theaters with extremely-high expectations – and exceeded them. The story of the final day of Oscar Grant’s life paints him as not a saint nor a thug but a young man slowly figuring out how to get his life back together and simply runs out of time. Michael B. Jordan is radiant as Grant, effortly capturing his highs and lows. Both Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer provide solid support as his girlfriend and mother. The utter and senseless randomness of Grant’s demise repeatedly brought tears to my eyes, another testament to Coogler’s storytelling and visual style. While its early release date coupled with a glut of quality holiday films may keep it on the edge of the awards periphery, make no mistake that this film has earned its place as one of the years bests.
2. Short Term 12
It seems every year there is a little gem nestled among the bevy of high-profile and over-hyped releases. Who would have predicted that this small story of a staff of workers managing a group of misunderstood kids in the foster care system would generate such strong response. Anchored by Brie Larson along with strong performances from Emma Roberts and Keith Stanfield, writer/director Destin Cretton’s amazing film displays yet again that the key to making an effective film has little to do with exorbitantly high budgets or A-list talent. Short Term 12 successfully captures and conveys a series of emotions without getting preachy or being judgmental. Case in point, Robert’s story of the Octopus and the Shark or Stanfeld’s intimate autobiographical rap about his harsh upbringing, brilliantly illustrate the film’s point. At the center of it all is Larson, who gives a transparent and understated performance that holds it all together!!!
1. 12 Years A Slave
Once a generation a film comes along that so strong, impactful and powerful that it defines its genre. Director Steve McQueen has created such a masterwork with the story of a free man, Solomon Northup’s abduction, with results in him being sold into slavery and must keep his head down, while maintaining hope to see his family again in the year’s best film. Everything about this film works from John Ridley’s brilliant script, Hans Zimmer’s atmospheric score, McQueen’s uncompromising and unflinching direction and some of the year’s most notable performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has scored with roles in smaller hits like Kinky Boots, Dirty Pretty Things and later in Inside Man, solidifies his credentials as an A-lister with a nuanced take as the audiences eyes witnessing the brutal atrocities of slavery. We feel his pain in scenes where he only communicates with the audience from his big, expressive eyes as he tries to maintain a shred of dignity and stay alive hoping to see his family again. As the hateful slave owner Epps, Michael Fassbender is also extraordinary conveying senseless rage and a sense of twisted ownership as he oversees his “property,” that only lives because of his selfish whims. As the tortured former mistress-turned-field slave, Patsey, Lupita Nyong’o is a revelation who suffers the brunt of the film’s misfortune and is truly transcendence as a woman who was once highly favored but must live out her life as the object of suffering from all around her. To see 12 Years A Slave is not to enjoy it but simply to experience it as it surpasses the much-heralded mini-series, Roots as absolutely the closest experience one can have to slavery without the actual reality and is the African-American Schindler’s List!!!