Friday, January 31, 2014

2013 Top 10

I was gonna begin by saying that I think we can all agree that 2013 was an incredible year for movies, but I've recently seen a few people who think otherwise. However, I have reason to believe that these are people who simply don't go to new movies much, if at all, anymore. If that's true, that would be a shame, because there was a lotta good stuff to see this year. As usual, I didn't get to see everything, so this list, like all my Top 10 lists, is far from definitive. Make of that what you will.

10. Fruitvale Station. On the night before the Oscar nominations were announced, I tweeted a half-joking/half-serious prediction that this would get a Best Picture nomination, even though the odds were long in its favor. The more that I think about it now, though, the more I wish it really had. The important thing to remember about Fruitvale Station is that it shows Oscar Grant as a regular guy - one who did some bad things in his brief life and struggled to make up for them - and by doing so, director Ryan Coogler put a recognizable, relatable face on a young black man who was one more victim of police brutality. Maybe now we can work a little harder at preventing it from happening again. Maybe.

9. All is Lost. Gravity was awesome, and it almost made this list (it's probably eleventh), but the more I thought about the other one-person-stranded-in-a-hostile-environment-alone movie from last year, the more I realized how much more daring an approach it was, in a sense. Director JC Chandor and star Robert Redford bring structure to what looks like a chaotic environment without the benefit of computer-generated trickery (independent of quality; we all agree that Gravity's FX were dynamite), and by leaving Redford's character a blank slate and his backstory opaque, we can interpret All is Lost however we want. That approach took guts, and it's a shame that the film itself didn't get more recognition. I think history will look upon this movie much more kindly.

8. Mud. I was hard on Dallas Buyers Club, but I should make clear that I thought Matthew McConaughey was excellent in it. Still, I liked this movie much more. Once again, Jeff Nichols paints a vivid portrait of small town life, and combines it with a touching coming-of-age story that, while it may not have the blood and thunder of his previous film, Take Shelter, is equally engaging and well-crafted. Nichols has become a director whom I'll follow just about anywhere now. He makes the kind of movies I wanna see more of, and I hope he's got a lot more in store.

7. Stories We Tell. If my immediate family had as unusual a history as Sarah Polley's, I don't see any way how I could talk about it in public (without turning it into fiction, anyway). Not only does she address it in her film Stories We Tell, though, she takes a unique and creative approach to telling this particular story. She combines first-person accounts with re-enactments; she uses her father, a central figure in the tale, to narrate the film; and she shows herself in the recording studio with him, going through multiple takes. It's as if she were implying that how the story is told is as important as who tells it, and indeed, the question of who should tell this particular story is a significant theme. It's a fascinating and lively approach to filmmaking, and it's one more example of how Polley has evolved into a fine director.

6. Enough Said. I almost didn't see this one! Maybe I was succumbing to the questionable belief that romantic comedies are just plain no good anymore, but for whatever reason, despite the good reviews I was seeing on Enough Said, I was in no hurry to see it. Can't explain it. Some movies look appealing to me on first blush, some don't. Finally, I had some open space in my film schedule and I figured, what the heck, and that may have been the smartest film-related decision I made all year. Nicole Holofcener made this mid-life romance feel so genuine, from the (fat) man's perspective as much as the woman's, and kept it witty without being condescending or insulting.

5. American Hustle. Seeing a lot of backlash against this one lately, especially since it got nominated for Best Picture. Don't understand it, and I've tried to. I thoroughly enjoyed American Hustle - the humor, the acting, the story. Once again, David O. Russell hit a home run with both critics and audiences. Should it win Best Picture? Well, obviously, there are four other movies that I think were better in 2013, but ultimately the Oscars are not about "best" anyway. I play the game, like many other film bloggers, but whether it wins or not won't change my life one iota. (And I hope I'll remember that fact this year!)

4. Her. I like to think of movies like Her as sci-fi for people who aren't into sci-fi. That's not meant to be a pejorative, either. If Spike Jonze's post-modern romance sparked an interest in artificial intelligence for some people, for example, it could lead to them trying out the novels of Isaac Asimov. It's possible! Regardless, though, I enjoyed the movie for the way it holds up a mirror to our present-day relationship with technology, how we fetishize it, to an extent, and where it could take us.

3. Behind the Candelabra. This is the first time a TV movie has made my top ten. I don't have premium cable, which means no HBO, but if you'll recall, I got to see Steven Soderbergh's biopic when it screened at the Film Society of Lincoln Center last summer. Now, I realize that Michael Douglas' Golden Globe acceptance speech was not received well in some quarters, but I still can't deny how blown away I was by his performance as Liberace, and indeed, by the movie as a whole, something I did not expect to happen. I found it deeply moving, and I emphasized with Douglas and Matt Damon's strange relationship. Anything else is purely peripheral.

2. 12 Years a Slave. What more can be said about this movie that hasn't already been said? Steve McQueen, a director who has never been afraid to push his storytelling skills to the outer limits, went beyond them this time, and in so doing, forced a nation to reexamine its difficult and shameful history of slavery and racism, like few films have done. We may never be able to find a permanent end to racial prejudice in America, and if so, that would be a tragedy. But if we don't at least find a way to talk about it, to confront our past and get all our feelings about it out in the open, then we're never gonna get anywhere, and a movie like this is a giant leap forward in that direction.

1. Mother of George. If you've been following this blog for long enough, you know that I had promoted this movie just about all year long, even before I knew anything about it, even before it played Sundance, for one simple reason: I believe in Andrew Dosunmu. His previous film, Restless City, convinced me that he had the goods, and I gambled that his follow-up, Mother of George, would not be a letdown. Far from it, in fact. In a year in which all of the black-themed films which received major media attention were historical accounts, in one form or another, here was a contemporary, present-day story, that depicts a unique and thriving foreign culture ensconced deep within the urban environment of New York City, and presents a compelling contrast between old-world and new-world values within the context of family and gender. It's visually splendid, the acting is marvelous, and the story makes you think long after the end credits roll. I urge you, one more time, to seek out this movie. I promise you that you will not regret it.


2011 top 10
2012 top 10

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