Steve's 10 Favorite Movies of 2013
Note: None of the movies pictured above made my top 10. In fact, I'm not even sure what that cat-faced one is. You've seen the best, now see the rest! Actually, these are also the best; team captain Andrew Johnson couldn't wait and posted his top 10 of 2013 on Monday, but I felt Wednesday was more appropriate. Only God (and page views) can judge us now.
I've done five of these before – 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 – but never on In Reel Deep. But seeing that this is my new cinematic home, I felt it most appropriate to share in the splendor of ranking a bunch of shit you paid to recently view.
I can't match Andrew's 112 (he's insane) but I also took in a ton of films this year. And these are the ones I enjoyed the most. Define 'enjoy' however you see fit; if you disagree, write your own damn list. I'll probably read it.
It's difficult to put something like 12 Years a Slave on a list of "favorites." As Andrew has noted elsewhere, it's not designed to entertain so much as make you weep like a baby. But that is an even more engaging experience, and one I'm constantly looking for in a movie theatre. You wouldn't take your friends to see 12 Years before a Saturday night on the town, but there is forever a place for art with the ability to provoke such visceral reactions. In the hands of director Steve McQueen, one of the best at recognizing the power of silence, Chiwetel Ejiofor's crushing journey becomes that much more haunting. I hope that, before the Oscars roll around, any Academy members previously intimidated by the drama take some time to enjoy one of the year's finest.
I'm not the biggest Woody Allen fan (just saw Crimes and Misdemeanors a few weeks ago, for example) but something about Blue Jasmine stuck with me. It's probably all thanks to Cate Blanchett; a quick glance through the Golden Globe nominees reveals a handful of excellent female performances that still don't hold a candle to Blanchett's painfully uptight, utterly hopeless cuckold. Not to mention Sally Hawkins forgoing her British stylings to nail her slightly more downtrodden (but far more optimistic) sister. Add in some Andrew Dice Clay (who gets the big theme-unveiling monologue near the end), Bobby Cannavale (who was born to play the nogoodnik Italian boyfriend) and Louis C.K. (who probably never thought he'd play a conniving adulterer) and you've got a handful of great actors and actresses adding depth to a smart, simple story of love and greed.
The best Tom Hanks performance since The Terminal (disclaimer: I may be the world's biggest Terminal fan) and also one of the most unexpected. Sometimes you act against type and this happens; other times it leads to a gritty, understated showing from one of Hollywood's most likable guys. To be fair, though, the acting that really stood out is the work of Barkhad Abdi and company as the Somali pirates who hijack Phillips' cargo ship. Any unknown would've contributed to the film's realistic feel, but Abdi brings some desperate humanity to a role that's refreshingly lacking the traditional homicidal mania we've come to expect. For a "white guy versus brown guys" movie, Captain Phillips spends a decent amount of time examining why the Somalis are so goddamn hopeless. Not saying that Paul Greengrass deserves the Ed Block Courage Award or anything, but it's something. It also doesn't hurt when Paul F. Tompkins does a dynamite impersonation of you.
In my eyes, Noah Baumbach will never match The Squid and the Whale. Nothing will top Jeff Daniels saying, "Did you get that it was her cunt?" Everything else should stop trying. But I really enjoyed Frances Ha for different reasons; in an era when Girls dominates a good deal of the pop culture conversation (despite very few people actually watching) putting together a movie about a 20-something white girl in New York trying to make her way in the world and having it stand out is impressive in its own right. Baumbach has never been about glorifying his protagonists; Greta Gerwig's Frances quietly irritates a bevy of friends and well-wishers whilst waiting for the world to hand her something pretty on a silver platter. Yet it's not that satisfying to watch her tumble into life ass-backwards; there's a sweetness to her that becomes even more apparent when she tosses aside expectations and plays the cards life has dealt her. It's also the first of two movies on this list to feature Adam Driver. God, that kid is everywhere.
Also known as Michael B. Jordan's coming-out party. As a proud Friday Night Lights fan, I've been familiar with Mr. Jordan's skills for quite a while. But the man once known as Vince Howard is now a bona fide movie star, thanks to this harrowing look at the final day in the life of Oscar Grant. Ryan Coogler may have taken the occasional artistic liberty with the story, but as a young black man who wrote and directed a movie about a young black man being shot, he's probably been nitpicked a lot more than most. It's a movie, not a documentary, and a very effective one at that. I'm a sucker for the occasional unhappy ending; unfortunately, there's not always enough justice in the world, something Fruitvale makes very clear.
Perfectly summed up by this Jason Woliner tweet, Gravity is the highest-grossing entry on my list ($255 million in the United States alone) and by far the most grandiose. Suffering a bit from an early release and the inevitable backlash that follows wild outlandish praise, I like to think of every bit of slightly overblown congratulations sent Alfonso Cuarón's way as payback for the vast, empty void that accompanied his transcendent Children of Men. Vulture counted 26 tense moments; to me the most terrifying was when a space station is silently being obliterated by debris while Sandy Bullock's Dr. Ryan Stone is loudly panting in fear only a few feet away. For some reason, I think it would be more reassuring to hear the explosions behind you. I'd much prefer to get crushed to death by something I know is coming.
In the near future, everyone wears high-waisted pants. Joaquin Phoenix goes from The Master, where he portrayed a sex-obsessed maniac, to Her's Theodore Twombly, a mustachioed middle-aged man who laughs goofily and falls in love with a disembodied voice. He's not quite Daniel Day-Lewis, but he's as close as our generation is gonna get. Her is all about Theodore, but it also delves nice and deep into the complexities that would accompany a relationship with an operating system. How would you take her on dates? Would she be able to meet your friends? What happens when you get in a fight? I was impressed at how seriously Her took itself, and how well it answered such potentially silly questions. I don't think it's for everyone – if my father wanted to see it, I'd offer him $20 to reconsider – and it doesn't quite match (or aspire to) the controlled insanity of Being John Malkovich or Adaptation, but Spike Jonze has taken what could've easily been a punchline and made it something much, much more.
An authority no less than this website's Andrew Johnson declared Inside Llewyn Davis to be his most favorite film of 2013. I can't go that far, but the latest opus from the Brothers Coen has indeed stuck with me. The scene where Llewyn performs "The Death of Queen Jane" for F. Murray Abraham is one of the best of the year, perhaps topped only by Leo DiCaprio and Kyle Chandler aggressively jawing on a yacht in the soon-to-be-mentioned Wolf of Wall Street. Llewyn Davis ends up raising a ton of questions – What does the cat mean? Is the last scene also the first scene? – that probably aren't too relevant. As my friend Rob Turbovsky likes to say, the universe randomly chooses people to crush under its heel, and the Coens seem to find that very amusing. The titular character here certainly spends some time under the world's heel; it's just that, unlike A Serious Man, his struggles aren't played for many laughs. And at the end of the day, sometimes a cat is just a cat.
The Matthew McConaughey train to respectability rolls on, even if its ultimate push for Oscar turned out to be a bit of a flop. But that's all water under the bridge thanks to Mud, the third feature from a brilliant young director named Jeff Nichols, and one that features McConaughey in a supporting role as the title character. This is something the former rom-com star seems increasingly OK with; Bernie, Killer Joe, Magic Mike and the very-soon-to-be-mentioned Wolf of Wall Street all showcase a McConaughey who nails his scenes and then steps aside. And it's reinvigorated his career; he's become one of the most trusted names in the business. In Mud he takes another backseat of sorts to Ellis, a young man played by Tye Sheridan who meets Mud at a rocky time in both their lives life. Sheridan deftly handles the heavy lifting; McConaughey pops in to make the magic happen. They're quite the combo.
I've written a good deal on this one already...and now I'll write some more. Although some people felt it was a little exhausting (and I do think Marty could've found at least 20 minutes to chop), I found it to be a very intriguing character study of the kind of people attracted to a life of uncompromising abundance. And, of course, how low they'd sink when left relatively unchecked by society. Because humans are greedy by nature, and most Americans act like being born in this country is a free ticket to eventual wealth and fame; the combination can be inherently dangerous. By not doling out justice to his reprehensible protagonists, Scorsese reminds us that we're all complicit in allowing that sort of lifestyle to continue.
It's not as good as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, but The World's End is a more-than-adequate end to the Cornetto Trilogy. Unexpectedly, Thor: The Dark World ended up being my favorite blockbuster of the year (narrowly edging out Pacific Rim a relatively sad year for summer movies). I haven't seen The Act of Killing or At Berkeley yet so Blackfish wins my best documentary of the year award by "default." Now that it's playing constantly on CNN, I can't tell you how many texts I've gotten about SeaWorld being awful. I already loved Lake Bell and Rob Corddry, but In A World somehow convinced me to love Demetri Martin as well. Finally, Room 237 was a remarkable mix of brilliance and bullshit. If you're a fan of The Shining, conspiracy theories and/or utterly insane human beings, give it a watch.