Indicative of the 2013 movie year, I found myself struggling to get to yes on a final list that reluctantly omitted several superb films. While very good writing is the heart of very good films, the actors were up to the task in 2013. For Academy members to choose between Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench and Amy Adams for Best Actress is ludicrous given that each delivered truly memorable performances. Selecting a Best Actor among the nominees will be equally difficult.
My top film of 2013 has it all, a heart wrenching true story, a terrific script by Steve Coogan and an unforgettable performance by Judi Dench in the title role of “Philomena”.
1. “Philomena “– The back-story of Philomena Lee, a real Irish woman who’s 3-year old child from a 1950’s teenage pregnancy was taken, against her will and sold for adoption by a Catholic convent to an American family, was revealed through an association, years later, with a
BBC journalist who is helping to locate her now adult son in the U.S. It has plenty of drama, epiphanies for both characters and an unexpected closure. I just enjoy watching Judi Dench act and Steve Coogan was a good match with his script as well as on-screen.
2. “The Great Beauty” – Admittedly, it will take a few more viewings for me to understand this film enough to semi-intelligently discuss it. However, like a fine wine, I know it is going to be extraordinary once that happens. Meanwhile, Paolo Sorrentino’s film reveals a man, near his 65th birthday, that is dealing with the
recent understanding that his effort to lead a narcissistic, uncomplicated life, void of close relationships, may have been a mistake. Jep, played by Toni Servillo, takes us on his inner journey, with many surrealistic, metaphorically wrought images all set within a wonderful postcard called Rome. I can’t wait to watch it again.
3. “Nebraska” – Alexander Payne has become one of today’s most reliable writer/directors, with films like “The Descendents” and “Sideways,” creating real characters that, from time to time, have crossed our paths. We meet Woody (Bruce Dern) and Kate (June Squibb) Grant and their odd family and friends as Woody and his youngest son journey from Montana to Nebraska to collect a bogus fortune. Shot in black and white, this is a story of a man growing old with regrets, moving through a torturous past toward some simple legacy.
4. “American Hustle” – David O. Kelley continues as one of the best directors of this time with an enjoyably convoluted story that is centered on the
reluctant partnership of a con man and the FBI in taking down members of the New Jersey mafia. Aside from an intense script, the superb ensemble cast including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner made the film exceptional.
5. “Dallas Buyers Club” – Matthew MCConaughey’s portrayal of real life character Ron Woodruff who, seeking experimental Mexican drugs for his own AIDS virus, began smuggling them into Texas and distributing to local patients under the name, Dallas Buyers Club, is worthy of an Academy Award. In addition to his drastic weight loss, the character fit McConaughhey’s style of sarcasm and wit perfectly. This film wasn’t always fun to watch, but the performances, including that of Jared Leto were compelling throughout. This is the year that Matthew needs to get Oscar tickets for his parents.
6. “Blue Jasmine” – Although the Bernie Madoff theme is over used, once again Woody Allen creates another modern script, attracts fine veteran actors and allows them to develop their character. Cate Blanchett is brilliant in the title role as a woman
having difficulty separating fantasy from reality as well as her complicity in a “riches to rags” situation. Sally Hawkins earned her Oscar nomination while Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Caravale were outstanding in another clean drama/comedic effort from one of the best filmmakers of any time.
7. “In A World” – Inspired from the age of Don LaFountaine and other men in Hollywood who made careers from their voices, recording radio film promotions, the creatively odd comedy, “In A World”, is about a woman rising in a male dominated craft, fueled by the fact that one of its threatened patriarchs is her father, played by
veteran actor, Fred Melamed. Lake Bell wrote, directed and delightfully starred in this small indie film that takes you out of your comfort zone and unveils a narrative set within a diminishing Hollywood community.
8. “Her “– My first impression of “Her” was that it was new and different. It focuses on a man who develops a relationship with an intelligent computer operating system (IOS) in a film written perfectly for the talent of Joaquin Phoenix. Uncomfortable with normal human attachments, Theodore begins to fall in love with his IOS at a time when he is deciding whether to sign his divorce papers. Of course, if “IOS”
relationships take off, there will certainly be high demand for the Scarlett Johansson app. I also appreciated the subtle detail in depicting a futuristic Los Angeles.
9. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” – I heard comments like “over the top” and Leonardo joked when the Golden Globe classified the film, not inaccurately, as a comedy. As he ages, Martin Scorese just wants to have fun. Here, he takes a true story of gross corruption and indulgence and magnifies it beyond comprehension. For
Dicaprio and Jona Hill, this film had to be a total blast to make. The “delayed qualude country club” scene will instantly become classic and this film achieved the goal of any comedy; it made me laugh out loud.
10. “Captain Phillips/The Past” – Coping to a cop-out, my reluctance to exclude either of these thoroughly converse films from my list led to them sharing this spot. Most audiences knew the story of Captain Phillips before
the film started, but director Paul Greengrass takes us into the middle of the struggle and allows the audience to feel fear, rage and compassion, mostly in the confines of a very small, crowded vessel. The story of Barkhad Abdi, a Minneapolis cab driver cast in the role of a Somailian pirate who now has a reserved seat at the Oscars is as intriguing as the one that omits Tom Hanks from the list of nominees. If I ever need to be rescued from danger, my preference would be the Navy Seals.
Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi follows up his superb, “A Separation”, with a complex film of how past
relationships can reveal new issues as a husband (Tahar Rahim) returns from Iran to Paris to finalize a divorce with his soon to be ex-wife (Berenice Bejo). The plot is pealed away, layer by layer as we begin to understand the characters and the core of their behavior. Like a good novel, I await Farhadi’s next film.
Honorable Mention: Fruitvale Station, Starbuck, 12 Years A Slave, Blackfish, Saving Mr. Banks, Populaire, The Hunt
Best Short Film/Live Action: “Aquel No Era Yo” (That Wasn’t Me)
Best Short Film/Animated: “Mr. Hublot”