I try to respect the work that goes into every film because lots of work go into even the bad films (sometimes more work goes into the bad films). It’s usually a collection of small things that make greatness. Opinions vary on what is great and why. People just think differently and I try to respect that (It is a burden to always be right so I try not to judge others harshly).
As usual your opinions are passionate and thoughtful so I must rise to the challenge. This has been a great year for films but none are perfect. I like to say some films are perfect but that’s never really true (Gone With the Wind could definitely use some major revisions like getting rid of all the racism and Blade Runner has been retooled so many times I feel I have to own five copies). The films on my list are all good for different reasons and they almost all made the list because they are so different from each other. I often think that great films are about truth but often films about lies are just as important.
Many films this year were built on lies (Stories We Tell, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street and well, just about everything). The lies we tell others and ourselves is one of the biggest truths we all share.
Let me start with my honorable mentions: The Wolf of Wall Street, All is Lost, Before Midnight, Love Is All You Need, Stories We Tell, We Steal Secrets, Philomena, The Place Beyond the Pines, Out of the Furnace, Only God Forgives, August: Osage County, The Way Way Back, The Spectacular Now, The To Do List, Prince Avalanche, Upstream Color, Short Term 12, Saving Mr. Banks, The Wind Rises, Frances Ha, The Act of Killing, Spring Breakers. That’s 22 and I have another 11 in my top ten. 11 + 22 = 33 and I could have added more but 33 is a nice number.
Here is my top ten starting with 10.
•Prisoners- We see so many films about extreme situations that are produced just for our entertainment that it is a shock to see a genre film constructed with some many layers and themes combined with such skill. It brims with real meaning about life and death
•Enough Said- We’ve seen a number of films this year that deal with middle aged romance and the compromises that are required (Before Midnight, Love Is All You Need). They all deal with the awkwardness and weakness in life. It’s nice to see an unassuming comedy full of such wisdom and grace. Julia-Louis Dreyfuss gives a tightrope performance that is edgy and appealing and full of nerve and nerves. I’ll give it to the big guy too, the Late James Gadolfini ,for giving a beautiful bookend to his career.
•Captain Phillips- It is an exercise in direction perfection with it’s immediacy and honesty, dealing with a real life hero. The situation is so grounded and so relevant in showing us an imperfect world as a seamless part of it’s story telling. It can be enjoyed and treasured on many levels.
•Nebraska and Inside Llewyn Davis- Two films that are joined by similar intents. Alexander Payne and The Coen Brothers are film makers who can do very little wrong and they do what they do by doing it their way. They are so good at what they do they go farther than others would dare. Both have challenged themselves this year with very sad and depressing situations and their ability to wrest as much humor as possible from them. They are both virtuoso efforts but must be approached with a mind ready to meet them on their level.
•Mud- Classic story telling. If I compare it to Hucklberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird, I suppose I would raise eyebrows but that’s what Mud achieves. It is a story about two boys who learn some deep truths during some very trying times. And I can’t get the chipped tooth of Matthew McConaughey’s out of my head.
•12 Years a Slave- This an extreme film that thrives on contrasts. The biggest contrast is watching a gentle and educated soul being forced to act in a beastly and inhuman way by monsters who are unable to see themselves for what they are. Slavery still exists today in many forms and the evil that perpetrates it still absolves itself.
•Gravity- That this isn’t the best film of the year is because it tells a simple story. If you say a whole movie is about two people floating around space people give you funny looks (much like saying All Is Lost is all about one old man trying to fix his boat in the ocean) but Gravity is a once in a lifetime experience. There are people who would pay a billion dollars for the experience and all you have to do is buy a movie ticket.
•Dallas Buyers Club- A brilliant true life story. A roller coaster ride of emotions. Performances that are off the chart amazing. Both McConaughey and Jared Leto deserve to win twice, their performances are that good. (It’s a slight possibility McConaughey will win twice this year because he has had such a career resurgence.)
•Her- A stand alone achievement. A simple marvel of thought and creativity. Fearless, sweet, heartbreaking, visionary, charming, gorgeous, unusual, spectacular, thought provoking, chilling, beautiful, adventurous, funny, sad…. I’ll stop before I run out of adjectives.
•American Hustle- It’s my favorite film of the year because it swept me away. It is rare to see a film so effortlessly throw you forward and leave you breathless at the end. It has such unstoppable sly momentum that you want get right back on the ride when it’s over. Like many great films it makes you think it’s about one thing but hides it’s true intentions. But the true charm is how that well known manipulator David O. Russell manipulates all his actors into a frenzy as they are all caught up in a web of lies.
Here’s to you 2013.