I say ‘best’ because I don’t pretend to be an expert. The Gods of Film did not bestow on me some great sight that gives me special authority to truly decide what is ‘great’. And, until Grandmaster Yoda himself descend from the heavens and personally bestows onto me such power, I will remain humble and open to other ideas and opinions.
Also note, I have not seen all of the movies of twenty-thirteen. This list is based on my experiences and what I have seen this year. In depth thoughts on each of these films will come soon.
Honorable Mentions: American Hustle and Gravity
To be perfectly honest, I hated Gravity. We were thrown into an absolute mess before having any chance to get to know any of the characters – Sandra Bullock’s character especially. While my enjoyment of a film does not always hinge on my ability to connect with a character, in this instance it was so important because, without it, I lost my willing suspension of disbelief. Everything seemed farfetched – we focused on the spectacle when we should have focused on the character. That’s what made movies like Apollo 13 and Inception so brilliant – we didn’t lose the characters to the spectacle. That being said: visually speaking, Gravity is absolutely brilliant. This is definitely not Alfonso Cuaron at his best – but his ability to make a film look to amazing, to put us in the scene and really show us space – that’s an amazing feat. For that reason, this film deserves just about all of the technical Oscars it is definitely going to win. This is the film of the effects department and the technical team, and I appreciate it for that, if nothing else.
I wasn’t nearly as disappointed with American Hustle as a was with Gravity – I know that I don’t really get into David O’Russell movies, and that’s okay. I thought I would like it more than I did, but I was entirely underwhelmed. I will watch it again at some point and see if it’s better the second time but, in general, I’m not a fan. That being said: The performances in this film were great, and the ensemble work was brilliant. Every actor onscreen had such great chemistry with the other actors, I could really believe their story and I could really start to get into it. It was definitely a good movie, extremely popular with the acting community, especially. And I have to give it props for having one of my favorite opening statements in film history – ‘Some of this actually happened’.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
This movie was completely hilarious. Brilliantly acted and, as expected from Mr. Scorsese, brilliantly directed. I came away from this movie with one thought on mind mind – ‘That was a really good movie’. What the movie does, is it brings you a sort of connection with DiCaprio’s character – Jordan Belfort – from the start. He’s poor, he’s just looking to become rich, he has morals and does not do drugs. About thirty minutes in, he’s done a complete 180 and you’re with him every step of the way. This movie is completely ridiculous, and most of this stuff actually happened. It’s hard for me to really explain how good of a film this is. Like most Scorsese films, it simply causes me to wave my hands around in the air making strange noises in a futile attempt to explain. Everything just comes together in a way where I lack the capacity to really pick out and discuss the individual elements – as a film, it was wonderful. That being said: This movie was originally second on my list, but got bumped down as I watched more and more movies – I even prompted my resident Movie Guru to take it down a couple of notches. While this film is brilliant and enjoyable, a lot of the things that make it so great is the shock of what your seeing, the shock that someone could be so completely ridiculous. It’s portrayed in a way that is so shocking, it might lose a lot of it’s value for some people the second time through. Overall, though, it was a great movie.
4. August: Osage County
I want to take a moment to appreciate this poster; it essentially sums up the movie, depicting the longest and arguably best scene in the movie. There are many things I love about this movie. One of my favorite things to see in a film is honesty – and this movie is starkly honest. The script was great, penned by the the original author of the play. The cinematography was great, the acting was brilliant, and the story was amazing. What some people dislike about this movie is actually what I really like about it: the honesty, the almost slap-in-the-face anger and sadness. These people are unhappy. This movie is so emotionally dark, watching it, you will root for the incestuous relationship to work out. Even the ending, while everyone technically escapes from the things that are destroying them, it presents the honest melancholy of such an escape. I really loved this movie – as much as you can love a movie like this. Every scene is brilliant. It’s criminal this didn’t get a best picture nod. Great movie, completely underrated in my humble opinion. Note that while this does not seem as excited as my comments for number five, a movie with this type of content is nearly impossible to explain in a couple hundred words in a blog post. I highly recommend viewing this film for yourself.
This, ladies and gentleman, is great scifi. It’s the movie that bumped August down to number four. I was very prepared to like this movie when I first sat down to watch it, but I wasn’t prepared for exactly how much I would love it. This is easily my favorite film of the year, but as for actual ‘best’, it’s a solid number three. The script was the best original of the year – I hung on every word and every scene. And within every scene there was that stark honesty I am so, so fond of. The cinematography was absolutely brilliant – perhaps the best of the year. Even the editing – the way he cut in the little scenes without dialogue just to show you the true emotion behind this man. The performances were brilliant. The concept of this movie was absolutely brilliant. A friend told me, before I watched it, ‘I want this to win best picture. It doesn’t deserve it, but I want it’. I took his word for it, and moved on. But then I actually watched it, and I am now in that exact boat. I don’t think this should win best picture, but I want it so bad. I’ve never been in that boat before. You can see the main character falling in love with his AI as they build a true relationship (and no one really cares or judges him for it), you see him pulling out of his depression with her love, and when she disappears at one point, you’re at the edge of your seat. Because the AI, Samantha, is a person – grappling with her new found ‘humanity’. There are a million metaphors and it’s just perfect. Go watch it – you’ll understand a new found capacity to love a film completely, and the seeming contradiction of this film being a ‘solid number three’.
2. Dallas Buyers Club
This was definitely one of my favorite movies of the year. But, I really think it was also one of the best. Because it was brilliant. The cinematography was brilliant, the direction was brilliant, the characters were brilliant – their development was even better. Again, this movie was very honest. Not honest in a way that is unsettling, but honest to the point of subtlety – subtle pain, subtle connections. Even though this movie, the characters especially, were pretty far from subtle. Matthew McConaughey gave a truly brilliant performance – he’s going to win the Oscar. And even though I still maintain he was second best, I will not be upset when he wins. Rather, I accept and appreciate it. Jared Leto is also going to win the Oscar – rightly so, because he was brilliant. Many, many things make me love and appreciate this movie. For one, we’ve done an AIDS-centered movie without the main character being black or gay. In so many movies it’s ‘other people can get aids too’, but we don’t really see it. And it wasn’t all doom and gloom – they wanted to live, and that’s what they did. One of the major things that made me love this movie so much was the huge character growth. McConaughey’s character, Ron Woodroof, was a piece of shit at the start of the movie. But the end, he’s so human – calling his development a 180 or 360 or what have you would be completely inadequate. But these changes happened over time, he didn’t suddenly see the light. Then, of course, there was Jared Leto’s character: Rayon. Trust me when I say that rayon was perfect, and then go watch the movie and see for yourself. Because Rayon was perfect. Ron and Rayon initially meet in the hospital in a very funny scene, and months later enter into a business deal that forms an extremely unlikely friendship. Like, really unlikely.
Their scenes are some of the most heartbreaking and heartwarming scenes I’ve seen on screen. Because they really do become actual best friends – the best friend either one has ever had. It’s beautiful, man. I love this movie, and I don’t think this bit in a blog post really does it justice. Go and see it for yourself.
1. 12 Years a Slave
If you’ve made it this far, you know I love an honest film. And this move is…well I don’t know if I can properly describe it. For me, it’s easily the best film of 2013. There is no competition. This film is truly brilliant. I cannot stress that enough. The cinematography was brilliant – they had one camera and 35 days to shoot and they produced something completely brilliant. The script – brilliant, and it’s going to win the Oscar. Michael Fassbender gives a brilliant performance, but all praises belong to Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Eljiofor. Lupita Nyong’o was simply amazing in this film. She’s going to with the Oscar, and I am going to be very happy about it. She gave the superior performance in her category – easily one of the best of the year. And Chiwetel Eljiofor was absolutely incredible in his portrayal of Solomon Northrup. I connected with him as I got to see his family, his life, and as it was all taken from him in the course of one night. As he was dehumanized and broken each and every day – right alongside Nyong’o’s character, who was broken from the start. This film is the chief portrayal of American slavery. Everyone knew it was bad, that slaves were whipped, that they were not considered human. But they never tell us how bad, they never go into the extent of the pain of the actual slaves. So often in movies, the slaves become one massive, faceless character. They are slaves, they are suffering. This film offered an actual perspective into the inhumanity of the whole thing. They are human, and they are dying. This film is tough to watch – people were leaving the theater, even I had a it of an emotional collapse after watching this movie. Nothing has moved me quite so deeply, and I don’t think anything will again.
I’d like to leave you with a short scene from 12 Years: One of my favorite scenes in this movie brilliantly displays what I like to call the birth of soul music – as someone without hope allows himself, for the first time, to feel that hope, to consider that he may get out of this, that he may see his family again, that hope is the only thing that will keep him alive until his does. And it’s all on his face.