The 8 Ball 1.28.14: The Top 8 Films of 2013
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 01.28.2014
From Gravity and The Wolf of Wall Street to American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 films of 2013!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Films of 2013
Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the conclusion of 2013's Year in Review at 8 Ball headquarters! We conclude our look at the best films of the year this week, zooming in on the top eight films to have come out over the past year. There was some great discussion that led off of last week's part of the list and I imagine we'll get the same this week around so without further ado, let's get to it!
Caveat: The only real caveat for this list is that there were a scant few movies that I did not have the opportunity to see that could have made this list such as Anchorman: The Legend Continues, Lone Survivor, August: Osage County and From Up on Poppy Hill, as well as some documentaries like The Act of Killing. I am fairly confident otherwise that I saw most of the films which had a good shot of making this list.
Just Missing The Cut
Blue is the Warmest Color
Much Ado About Nothing
Thor: The Dark World
The First Eight
16. Dallas Buyers Club
15. The Conjuring
14. The Wolverine
13. The World's End
12. Pacific Rim
11. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
10. Star Trek Into Darkness
Ron Howard and Peter Morgan are a potent film-making team. They first collaborated on the powerful verbal and mental duel between Richard Nixon and David Frost in Frost/Nixon, which was my favorite film of 2008. Their second collaboration is very similar, as they tackle the duel between Formula 1 race car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Rush. The film may not offer anything we've never seen before, but it takes those familiar elements and shines them up to be the absolute best that they can be. The foremost of the film's strengths fall on the performances of the two leads. Chris Hemsworth has proven in past roles that he has charisma, presence and skill, but in Rush he comes off like a truly excellent dramatic actor. Hemsworth plays Hunt, a role that could have come off as the clichéd party boy, in a much more realistic and multi-layered fashion. Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda turns in a performance that is truly stunning; he has shown his talent before but here he truly makes the role--and indeed, the film--his own. The supporting performances are all fine and Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Christian McKay and Stephen Mangan acquit themselves well but they fade into the background when compared to the two leads.
Ron Howard applies his always-excellent attention to period detail well with Rush; the film looks and feels like a 1970s film. Peter Morgan's script goes through the numbers but does them well, and takes pains to note the dynamic between Hunt and Lauda as one of enemies who could easily be friends. A scene in which Hunt beats the tar out of a reporter who asks Lauda an insensitive question is a highlight of this. The racing scenes are done well and the end-of-film montage, incorporating real footage of the racers, fits seamlessly in to where you might not even notice they aren't the actors if you aren't paying attention. It's another win for this writing/directing duo and a fantastic racing biopic.
Gravity is an endurance trial of a movie. I don't mean that in a bad way (obviously; this is my best of list after all). What I mean is that Alfonso Cuaron's tale of a space mission gone wrong is 90 minutes of sheer tension rolled into one package. Cuaron is a director who has been building his reputation for quite some time, whether with small independent films like Y Tu Mamá También, big franchises such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or exceptional genre fare like Children of Men. 2013 is the year that he went from cinephile darling to household name, thanks to Gravity.
On the surface, this tale of a novice astronaut caught in the mid-orbit destruction of her space shuttle and forced to fend for herself seems to be a simple white-knuckle "man vs. nature" style film, but Cuaron makes the film much more than that. The script by Cuarón and his son Jonás focuses not on the disaster, but on the indomitable spirit to survive displayed by Sandra Bullock's Dr. Stone. The movie handles several philosophical themes as well; there is always a bit of spirituality in these kinds of survivalist movies but Cuaron achieves the often-difficult task of presenting these themes without making them seem preachy or in your face. He gets fantastic performances from his two actors as well; George Clooney handles the assured veteran Kowalski quite well but of course this is Bullock's movie and she shines in a way you've never seen before. Yes, she showed she had exceptional skill in The Blind Side but this is a far more impressive performance. The weight of a very serious science fiction thriller is on her, and she carries the burden with ease. There has been much made about the film's "cinematography" merits considering it is shot in green screen, but however you slice it the film is absolutely breath-taking in terms of its visuals. Cuaron has some great films to his name, but this may just be his best yet.
#6: American Hustle
David O. Russell has come a long way since the period of his career where he was shouting obscenities at Lily Tomlin and George Clooney was threatening to beat him down. With films like The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook Russell has established himself within the upper echelon of Hollywood and American Hustle is right in line with those films. This fictionalized adaptation of the ABSCAM FBI operation which used questionable tactics to uncover corrupt government officials stands with the best of Russell's work. Hustle is, first and foremost, an actor's film. Russell has always lent himself well to great performances and Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner all have every opportunity to shine. Bale undergoes another of his legendary body transformations to play the lead role of con artist-turned-stingman Irving Rosenfeld; he is able to play on his appearance with a lot of gusto and delivers top notch work. He also establishes exceptional chemistry with both Adams and Lawrence and both actresses turn in great work; Adams is less flashy than Lawrence's but both are equally impressive. Supporting work includes great turns from Robert De Niro, Louis C.K., Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Rohm and Jack Huston.
If the film's plot doesn't quite hold up to the acting, this is no major fault of the script's. Russell has said that he is interested in characters over plot and the story sketches out all involved personas quite nicely. The story is very good as well; it is a bit conventional perhaps but it plays out very entertainingly. Production aspects set the film very believably within its era while Linus Sandgren's cinematography is fine. Danny Elfman provides the score but the film is dominated by great popular music choices from the era. American Hustle is definitely one of the best of the year and a great look at a pivotal moment (for better or worse) in America's justice system.
#5: Captain Phillips
Every year there are one or two well-regarded films based on true stories that become the topic of controversy because of changes that were made from what actually occurred. This year Captain Phillips was the one that really fit that bill. Many people have come out criticizing the film for making a hero out of Richard Phillips, who may or may not have been particularly heroic. To those people I say the same thing I always say: if I want to know the facts of the story, I will read about it or watch a documentary. No one should be basing their facts off of a narrative feature film. So with that argument against the film out of the way, I am comfortable saying that Captain Phillips is the thriller of the year.
Paul Greengrass is a director who has earned a very high regard from filmgoers. Sure, we can crack jokes about his reliance on handheld cameras and the amount of shaking that go on in his movies. But he knows how to take a real-life (or realistic) situation and craft an engrossing, emotionally-involving film around it. He does that here and pulls a typically-stellar performance from Tom Hanks as the titular character. Hanks has had a bit of a rough go the last few years, with audiences rejecting Larry Crowne, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and (however unfairly) Cloud Atlas. But here he is right back on top with a fantastic turn as the captain of the hijacked Maersk Alabama. It helps that he has an exceptional actor to play off of in Barkhad Abdi, who portrays the leader of the Somali pirate group. The scenes between Hanks and Abdi are truly electric and elevate the film, while Greengrass uses his consummate skill to great effect to make the Maersk a set piece where danger could come out at any moment, either for the pirates or the crew. The final few minutes is really stunning work and everything leading up to that just sets the stage for the emotional payoff, making this one hell of a white-knuckle film to watch.
#4: The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese is, it is almost needless to say, one of the finest directors of the modern era. Nearly every film he's made has been a masterpiece, from his early successes like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull to his most recent efforts like Hugo and Shutter Island. And yet his latest, The Wolf of Wall Street, may just be his crowning achievement. That's quite a statement, I know; how do you put a film up against the likes of Goodfellas or The Color of Money and say that it matches up with them? It's no easy feat, but Scorsese makes it look that way with an over-the-top and wickedly funny film which charts the rise and fall of Wall Street huckster Jordan Belfort.
Leonardo DiCaprio has long built his way into being one of Hollywood's most well-regarded actors, and his work as Jordan Belfort is his best to date. Many said that his other role in 2013, Gatsby, was the role he was born to play but I would argue that he is even more in his skin as Belfort. DiCaprio truly embodies the wealth and grandeur of this financial heavyweight along with the slimy con man aspects, delivering the harder than it looks feat of full film narration with ease. He is also down for the comedy; the scene in which Belfort tries to get to his Lamborghini while high on Quaaludes is truly sublime physical comedy, on the level of anything the masters of the genre have ever been able to come up with. The supporting cast is all excellent, including Jonah Hill as the wild right-hand man and Margot Robbie as Belfort's wife. This is a long film and full of Scorsese's quintessential excesses but it never feels as long as it is. Some have criticized the film for glamorizing the lifestyle these boiler room barons lived, but I saw no glamorization at all considering what happens to them in the end and the way you can clearly see their downward spiral. It is Scorsese's best comedy to date and, as I said, quite possibly one of his best films period.
There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the message of Her, Spike Jonze's latest film. Many people have commented about how cynical the film is and how it is a statement about how emotionally disconnected we are due to today's technology, that a person could fall in love with a program. Now, call me what you like, but that wasn't how I saw this film at all. Rather, I consider the film a much more profound statement about the complexity and power of love, that it can transcend the idea of physical contact. It's the ideal set-up for showing that you can love someone for their mind and personality because after all, does it matter if someone has a heartbeat or are the result of coding if they are as complete of a personality and intellect as you and I? Now, it is true that Joaquin Phoenix's Theodore is a rather sad and lonely individual before he connects with Samantha, but I don't believe Jones was trying to say that it is an extension of his sadness that makes him fall in love.
Jones took the fairly standard tropes of a romantic dramedy--right down to the infamous Manic Pixie Dream Girl--and makes his film brilliant by tweaking the world just a bit to put things in a new perspective. Samantha is completely able to subvert the MPDG trope because she is almost literally a dream girl, and she is much more fleshed out than your cookie cutter wish-fulfillment girl. (This doesn't stop her from being that trope, just an example of where that trope actually works and doesn't make the character less important than the man.) Jones is saying a lot here about identity, love, relationships (both romantic and otherwise) and yes, technology. The script is brilliant, always staying just outside the lines of the usual rom-dram fare while following the boundary meticulously. Like many Spike Jonze films, it's just a little bit off...and that little bit makes it exceptional. Jonze's color palette is extraordinary here; it is pastel and almost clinically washed out but you can feel the colors just wanting to burst out, much like Samantha wants to burst out of being artificial into something more. Phoenix and Johansson give two of the best performances in their respective fields this year and it is practically criminal that they weren't nominated for Academy Awards. Amy Adams and Rooney Mara are quite good as well. To be honest, I had reservations going into this film, because I wasn't a big fan of Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are. But this was a masterful film which is truly the filmmaker's best and easily most relevant film to date.
#2: Before Midnight
When I first saw Richard Linklater's Before Sunset in 1995, I didn't even remotely gather the thought that it might ever become the first film of a trilogy. Don't get me wrong, I fell in love with the film--with Ethan Hawke's eye-opening performance as Jesse, Julie Delpy's fantastic work as Celine and Linklater's skill in putting it all together--but it seemed like a film that didn't ever need a sequel. In fact, I told a friend who said he wanted to see one, "No, it's better the way it is now. It ends just perfectly." Well, as we have learned in the past eighteen years it was not better sticking as a single film, because each one has managed to improve upon the previous. Before Sunset revisited the characters nine years after that fateful day they spent on a train and allowed them to catch up with each other and reconnect. The third film, Before Midnight, continues to mature as its characters do and we now have Jesse and Celine married with children and dealing within.
These films aren't for everybody, it is worth mentioning. My parents, for example, saw the first and said "Nothing ever happens in it!" And there is some truth to that; these are what you would call "dialogue-heavy, plot-light movies. But man, what dialogue it is. Midnight is the same in that respect, with the sole change being that as the years have gone on Delpy and Hawke have grown every more comfortable with each other and it shows in their performances. Jesse and Celine are characters we have grown up with and come to love, and seeing them with a family and still tackling those difficult relationship matters is like the true charting of an eighteen year relationship. The script from Hawke, Delpy and Linklater is exceptional, supporting performances are all strong and Linklater does his usual fantastic work behind the camera. The movie is beautifully, the shots capturing the essence of life. This is a perfect place for the franchise to end if that is to be the case, but like many people I certainly wouldn't be disappointed if we got another in 2022.
#1: 12 Years A Slave
Steve McQueen has long been a film-maker who has been loved by critics and cinephiles, but who hasn't found a wide mainstream audience. As great as his resume is, most people still confuse him with the King of Cool from Bullitt and The Getaway or remember him primarily as the guy who directed the film in which Michael Fassbender showed how well-endowed he was. McQueen is a director of consummate skill and it appears he has finally broken out with this adaptation of Solomon Northup's account of his kidnapping and period of slavery. McQueen takes John Ridley's exceptional script and invests it with all of the drama you might expect, but also a lot of heart. As much as we are subjected to the brutality and indignities that Northup endured, we also see his indomitable spirit as embodied in the exceptional acting of Chiwetel Ejiofor. There isn't one aspect of this film that isn't exceptional whether you look at the gorgeous cinematography of Sean Bobbitt, the emotive and moving score by Hans Zimmer or the performances by everyone in the cast. Ejiofor finally gets the chance to truly push himself to the brilliance that fans of his have seen for years while the work by Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson and Adepero Oduye are true revelations. And the A-list cast is fantastic as well.
12 Years a Slave is an exhausting movie, but not out of frustration. There are some movies that emotionally drain you because they heap inequity upon inequity at the viewers until they can't take anymore. There are others that fire off so many saccharine "inspirational" moments that you just reject them because of how obviously forced it is. McQueen avoids both of these traps and instead gives us a movie which holds nothing back but never goes gratuitous in either direction. And that makes it the best film of the 2013 in my mind, without question.
Disguise of the Episode
Current Series/Season:Season One (2001 - 2002) Episodes Watched: 13 Last Serial Completed:The Box (Part 2) - Sydney and Jack find themselves in the ironic position of having to save SD-6 as former agent McKenas Cole tortures Sloane in order to obtain a mysterious item stored inside the SD-6 vault, while Will finds new leads into his story about the organization. Episodes Remaining: 92
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.