Monday, December 30, 2013

Pwaters' Top Ten of 2013!

2013, 2014, 20-whatever, it's another year, another top ten list.  Again, keep in mind, I haven't seen EVERY movie that was released this year, this is a personal "favorite" list that should not be held on a sacred pedestal, and I do this for my own enjoyment, not to make you happy with my choices.  If anything, what I want most is to expose any lowlife reading this blog post to a movie or movies they may have overlooked.  Based on a five-second mental calculation I'd say I saw roughly 80 films that came out this year, so I'm hardly a true source of authority.  But if you're interested, here you go:

10.  Prisoners
(Dir. Denis Villeneuve)

This thriller, photographed by the legendary Roger Deakins, is a spellbinding edge of your seat-er examining how far we'll go for truth and/or vengeance.  Sporting fantastic performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, the film gives us different perspectives on the mystery surrounding two kidnapped little girls, and for once I couldn't predict where the film was headed (though once the ultimate reveal happened, I smacked my head in a "how-did-I-not-see-that?" fashion).  A great, violent thriller that asks a lot of its audience in the best ways possible.

9.  What Maisie Knew
(Dir. Scott McGehee & David Siegel)

Told from the point of view of 7-year-old Maisie, I thought this movie was a great example of perspective in film.  The little girl was so natural in the role you'd think you were watching a documentary and not a narrative film - and both Julianne Moore playing her strung-out mother and Steve Coogan as her promiscuous father were fantastic.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for these kinds of things, but my heartstrings were pulled every which way during this intimate look at a dysfunctional family.

8.  Nebraska
(Dir. Alexander Payne)

Holding small town American life under a microscope, Nebraska is a tragic and funny tale of a broken, simple man that just wants his "million dollars" waiting for him in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Bruce Dern gives a late career-best performance as Woody Grant, and Will Forte, playing his son, shows he has some acting chops outside of SNL.  And June Sqiubb, who I'd never seen or heard of before, was hilarious as Woody's wife.  This leisurely-paced, black and white tragi-comedy is as slice of life as you can get.

7.  The Wolf of Wall Street
(Dir. Martin Scorsese)

Even later in his career, Scorsese can still deliver the goods with more vitality than any number of younger directors.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a Goodfellas for the modern day - only in the place of gangsters are stock brokers.  Leonardo DiCaprio's mesmerizing, intense performance as Jordan Belfort holds the entire film together, and this 3-hour excursion into the rise and fall of his empire of debauchery is a quick-paced, wild ride.

6.  Behind the Candelabra
(Dir. Steven Soderbergh)

OK, first off, I debated whether or not to include this film at all because it's an HBO TV movie and not theatrically-released, but it wouldn't feel right to leave Steven Soderbergh's amazing Liberace biopic off the list.  Michael Douglas does a fantastic job of simulating the in-the-closet piano virtuoso, but it's Matt Damon, playing Scott Thorson, a country boy whose life is turned upside down after starting a relationship with Liberace that makes this such a strong film.  A totally transformative performance from both actors, told with a style only Soderbergh could create, and a story that sucked me into this world I didn't really know anything about, Behind the Candelabra is a gold-encrusted look at the destructiveness of showbiz relationships (and Rob Lowe's brief screen time as a plastic surgeon is hilarious).

5.  The Spectacular Now
(Dir. James Ponsoldt)

The Spectacular Now is one of the best coming-of-age films this year (of which there were many).  With a script from (500) Days of Summer scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the film is an authentic look at young love that manages to stand out in a crowded genre.  Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are totally convincing, and Kyle Chandler, in his brief against-type role as a deadbeat dad, steals the show with a brilliantly unsympathetic performance.  I usually don't fall for these types of movies, but the script and acting was so well-handled, along with delicate direction from Ponsoldt, that I was totally captivated.

4.  12 Years a Slave
(Dir. Steve McQueen)

Steve McQueen's brutal, unflinching portrait of a free man forced into slavery is hard to watch, but essential viewing.  We've seen movies about the subject before, but never has a film come close to the "in there" intimate view of the injustice and horrors man has betstowed upon others in this dark period of American history.  Chitwetel Ejiofor gives a soulful central performance, and the big name laundry list of supporting cast members are great as well.  Certain shots in this movie will stay in my mind for a long time.  A "beautiful" film (though the subject matter is ugly), and one of the most important of the year.

3.  Mud
(Dir. Jeff Nichols)

Matthew McConaughey has had one crazy career revival.  Seriously, he went from Kate Hudson throwaway romantic comedies to becoming probably one of the best actors working right now.  Although the year-end awards season is giving him accolades for Dallas Buyers Club, I think Mud is the better film, and just further proves the potential of director Jeff Nichols.  This Southern drama is yet another coming-of-age film (and the young Tye Sheridan gives a fantastic performance), but at the heart of it is a mystery man named Mud, living in a boat lodged in a tree.  This is a fantastic story about love, family, and loyalty that had me at 'Hello.'

2.  Philomena
(Dir. Stephen Frears)

There is no better "team" this year than Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in Philomena.  The two play off each other brilliantly, and the film is both funny and heartbreaking, while never overbearing in either category.  The beautiful Irish landscapes, the wonderful score by Alexandre Desplat, the tight script by Coogan and Jeff Pope, and the rich layers of the story that are unfolded as we journey with the pair to find Philomena's long-lost son is fully enrapturing.  I can't recommend this film enough!

1.  The Place Beyond the Pines
(Dir. Derek Cianfrance)

I debated whether or not to put The Place Beyond the Pines as my #1 movie this year, but I've been championing it for a while now, and I just think it's an incredible piece of filmmaking.  Ryan Gosling plays a motorcycle stunt-driver who learns he has a kid, and to provide for his son he decides to rob some banks.  To say any more would delve into spoilers, as this film features a Psycho-level twist early on that changes everything.  How Cianfrance plays with narrative structure is jarring at first but then you slowly realize the genius of it.  For whatever reason I really connected with its themes of family and patriarchy (seemingly a running theme in my list), and the film features the best opening shot of a film this year, rivaling that of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil.

Honorable Mentions:
GRAVITY - Gorgeous and the best technical achievement in film this year; a thrilling (but simply-plotted) feast for the eyes and senses.

SHORT TERM 12 - Another heartstring-puller about a foster home; Brie Larson gives a fantastic performance that I believe solidifies her inevitable Hollywood trajectory.

FRUITVALE STATION - A timely piece that shows the ever-present and inescapable racism embedded in our society; great supporting role from Octavia Spencer.

BLUE JASMINE - Woody Allen's best in years with fantastic performances from Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, and surprisingly, Andrew Dice Clay.

THE WAY WAY BACK - A quirky film with a relatable and fun script and solid performances from Steve Carrell, Sam Rockwell, and Allison Janney.

BLACKFISH - This film alone convinced me never to go to Seaworld again.

MAN OF STEEL and IRON MAN 3 - "Haters gonna hate," but these two superhero flicks were both fantastic summer blockbusters.

And the following are some "top ten" movies that I missed this year: Inside Llewyn Davis, Before Midnight, The Act of Killing, The Hunt, Wadjda, Tim's Vermeer, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Kill Your Darlings, A Hijacking, To the Wonder, The Grandmaster, August: Osage County, From Up on Poppy Hill, The Wind Rises, A Touch of Sin

That about covers it - thanks again for reading my blog! I only hope 2014 brings just as much movie magic into all our hearts, souls, and loins as this year did. Hopefully soon after the Academy Awards nominees are revealed I'll post my predictions.  I look forward to another butt-numbing year of Talkies!

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