Survival in space, the trouble with teens, a disastrous family gathering, Somali pirates, Robert Redford vs. the World, Midwestern sweepstakes blues, Sarah Polley's family album, horrific Danish accusations, Woody Allen rides a streetcar, and the pit wants what it wants. Brian Orndorf takes a look at the Best Films of 2013.
Please check out the Blu-ray.com community picks here.
A story of life inside a tumultuous foster care facility for troubled youth, "Short Term 12" elected to lead with the strength of its characters, each one of them precisely detailed by writer/director Destin Cretton, who found such aching humanity in the midst of behavioral anarchy. It was a beautiful film, rich with feeling and sharply observed, isolating a profoundly knotted environment as one of compassionate care and aching routine, while exposing the reservoir of pain motivating its besieged main character in engrossing increments, reaching a powerful finale. Star Brie Larson showed her stuff in major way here, providing the feature with an abyssal soul and a clenched fist, articulating the picture's strength and refreshing tenderness. There was immense heart to "Short Term 12," but also a sense of immersion and feeling that was brilliantly realized.
"Captain Phillips" collected all the box office returns and headlines, yet the Danish production, "A Hijacking," was by far the better film. Eschewing a tone of heroism to portray a Somali takeover as a harrowing ordeal of controlled chaos, the feature elected a procedural approach that highlighted the daily business of communication and negotiation, with a basic act of piracy taking months to resolve, leaving both sides of the situation frayed and desperate. Tobias Lindholm's film was an absolutely gut-wrenching, highly emotional viewing experience, yet the coldly clinical steps of conflict resolution, and their inevitable explosions of frustration, were gripping, finding an exceptional balance between basic instinct and corporate rehearsal. "Captain Phillips" was fine, but "A Hijacking" was outstanding in its realism and wrenching with its dire resolution.
Alexander Payne has spent most of his career telling stories about the Midwest. With "Nebraska," he quested to impart pieces of its soul. Shot in black and white and paced leisurely, the feature dripped with character and understanding, appreciating the beguiling eccentricity and weathered routine of the region while telling an acidic story of a snowballing misunderstanding. Leads Bruce Dern and Will Forte managed to articulate frustration with minimal flail, but the supporting cast truly stole the movie, watching June Squibb bring exceptional life to the effort, elevating Payne's work with her awesomely wily ways. Layered with atmosphere, bitingly funny, and extraordinarily lived-in, "Nebraska" continued Payne's path as one of the most consistent, perceptive filmmakers around.
The set-up is simple: A kindergarten employee (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is accused of inappropriate behavior with friend's daughter, with the ensuing investigation tearing his life apart. It's a distressing starting point for a devastating drama that explored the dismantling of a vacillating life, with Mikkelsen's articulation of paranoia and frustration miraculous in its sensitivity and internalized dissolve. The tension summoned here by director Thomas Vinterberg carried through absorbing depictions of mob mentality and the ease of condemnation. Even more impressive, "The Hunt" avoided the obvious ending, electing to satisfy with an appropriate resolution yet remain in the shadows, making the threatening ambiance of the feature difficult to shake after viewing.
Actress Sarah Polley decided to make a documentary about herself, or more accurately, about her relationship with her parents. Dissecting their time together, Polley discovered a wealth of secrets that amazed her, turning her film into an investigative piece that revealed more about her guardians and their unusual history and interplay than she was prepared to learn. Although it appeared too personal, too inside to connect with, "Stories We Tell" seized a mood of discovery and memory that was riveting to watch develop, creating the finest mystery of the year, sold with a blend of endearing photographic evidence and creatively designed dramatic recreation.
Much was written about "Gravity" this year, and the hype was entirely deserved. A sensational achievement in visual effects and screen suspense, director Alfonso Cuaron took audiences high above Earth to explore desperate minutes of survival in a most inhospitable environment. The illusion of space was utterly convincing, with fluid movement and a spare score by Steven Price contributing to feelings of awe, panic, and suffocation as Cuaron weaved around stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, the latter contributing the most impressive performance of her career. "Gravity" wowed. It was cinematic electricity that stunned for a tightly cut 90 minutes, displaying unreal invention and total screen immersion, goosed greatly by a genuinely thrilling IMAX 3D presentation.
After taking a creative dip last year with "To Rome with Love," Woody Allen returned with this "A Streetcar Named Desire" riff, directing star Cate Blanchett to one of the finest performances of her already bejeweled filmography. A traditional blend of neurotic comedy and relatable heartache, "Blue Jasmine" was at its best observing persistently itchy behavior and crushed ambition, developing a troubling story concerning the gradual unraveling of a woman facing the destruction of a perfect life she's preserved in her rattled, booze-soaked mind. With pinpoint psychological accuracy, textured San Francisco locations, and a wonderful supporting cast (including, pause for effect, Andrew Dice Clay -- all that "Ford Fairlane" fandom has finally paid off), the picture reinforced Allen's distinctive cinematic spin and impressive creative longevity.
Robert Redford on a sinking boat for two hours, with no dialogue and mere hints of backstory to work with. Who knew this would be a riveting motion picture? Guided by impressively physical, meditative work from the acting legend (his finest performance in ages), "All is Lost" turned a disastrous scenario into a sensational study of survival and mortality, pushing through a gamut of emotions as an average man battled misfortune, the elements, and his swarming doubts during a week-long stint floating helplessly in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Masterfully constructed by writer/director J.C. Chandor, "All is Lost" embroidered storytelling simplicity with gut-wrenching internalization (and one exquisitely positioned F-word), making the audience feel the escalating dangers facing the character and his gradually weakening resolve to combat the inevitable.
August: Osage County
"August: Osage County" wasn't an easy film to watch, with bitterness oozing out of every pore. However, the rage contained within developed a hypnotic quality, especially in the care of writer Tracy Letts, who adapted his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play for the screen. The movie was a hurricane of dysfunction, studying a family's breakdown during a post-funeral gathering, with characters openly loathing one another, wielding secrets as weapons as they attempt to maintain a shred of civility, failing every step of the way. Meryl Streep steamrolled through the picture in the best possible way, snarling and physically deteriorating in a deliciously broad performance. Julia Roberts has never shown this type of confident before, leaning into her role with unseen ferocity. The rest of the considerable ensemble was equally invested in the fascinating idiosyncrasies and numerous meltdowns of the script, creating a suffocating, toxic environment that generated nuclear warfare for drama. It's only a shame there isn't a 4D version of the feature, where seats swivel to avoid screen punches, cigarette smoke is piped into the theater, and the audience is occasionally spritzed with cheap liquor.
"Jug Face" was a modest effort, yet its unnerving vibe of dread was a most impressive achievement in a genre that's content to beat tired trends into the ground. A slice of backwoods ghoulishness featuring a cult, a clairvoyant potter, and the macabre interests of a pit, "Jug Face" found its footing through simplicity, leading with desperate characters and a menacing tone of fate. Writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle managed a sense of originality to the tale while preserving a disturbing atmosphere of merciless rituals and thwarted escape attempts. It was a small production, absent overt jolts and glossy visual effects, but it was scary and credibly grim -- a rare accomplishment in horror these days.
"Jug Face"... really? And "A Hijacking" was not better than "Captain Phillips" - I'll never really forgive Orndorf for his "Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skulls" review on DVDTalk.com- it had my hopes up really high for what was ultimately one of the worst Summer Blockbusters ever made.
It is really nice to see a list with no explosion saturated, absurd story and runaway CGI excesses. As good as these may be though, they would appear to be decidedly of the downer type. Do any of these have any light or happy moments or, god forbid, endings?
Wow. I havent even heard of some of these. Cant believe 12 Years a Slave or The Wolf of Wall St is not there or Before Midnight. While I did really enjoy The Lords of Salem I am very surprised it was an honorable mention
"Best films" is all a matter of opinion. Like best food, music or art, it's all in the eye, ear or mind of the beholder.
On a side note, in the 'All Is Lost' description, I'm baffled as to how anyone could find an f-word "exquisitely placed" ? That's like a well placed pile of poo.
@Nathanp. Gravity is the only film worth watching on this list. Everything else in his top picks is over-rated, self-indulgent trash. All he needs to add is Before Midnight and the hipsterdom will be complete.
I can understand why 12 years a slave wasn't included in this list.
I found it highly patronizing to me as a 40 yr old.
I didn't need to see a series of scenes highlighting the abuse that black slaves suffered in the USA to highlight the appalling past. I was fully aware of it and didn't find the story neither shocking, new or surprising.
I'm also fully aware that for younger generations this film could be seen as important. (given the standard of education in schools these days). For that, the movie serves a purpose, i guess.
To the rest of us... It's just another little reminder of disgusting, recent behaviour.
Let's also remember that this is Hollywoods take on it. A much, much more subtle view on events of the time.
The actual full truth would be too much for us to view!
Catching Fire, Gravity, Before Midnight, and All is Lost are my favourites out of what I have seen so far. I agree with Richie74 for the most part on 12 Years a Slave. What more can you say about the subject matter besides slavery: evil, freedom: good?
I doth protest! None of the films on this list contains people wearing capes, girls kissing, or Julianna Hough! Therefore I will have to deem this list, as the say in the vernacular of the internerd, a Fail! This post concludeth!
The Hunt was such a tremendous movie.The most disturbing part is the realization how easily this could happen to any one.I loved the fact they didn't Hollywood it up and stayed true to the path of the story.A must see for everyone.
I consider myself a movie fan,but this list is full o the Oscar bait snooezefests that most people don't see. Gravity is probably the only one that has been seen/heard about the most. Not even mentioning Wolf Of Wallstreet? Insane. I've seen several movies this year that I enjoyed. Pain And Gain,The Way Way Back,Prisoners,just to name a few. Now I know why I haven't watched The Oscars in years!
Well, since everybody is giving their opinions on 2013's best, here are mine LOL:
Captain Phillips - best movie I've watched in a very long time.
Gravity - Pretty good, never really cared for Sandra Bullock until this movie. CGI fest, but action was superb
Rush - Also pretty good, but Helmsworth needs to make more "grown-up" movies to be taken seriously as an actor
I'm dying to watch "12 Years A Slave" but have a feeling that one will be THE movie of 2013.
My honorable mention- 'The Conjuring'. That movie really surprised me and a lot of people as well.