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My 'top 10' movies of 2013

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I’ve seen A LOT of movies this year. In fact, my count at says I’ve done nearly 70 (plus my articles over at That’s probably waaaay too many movies, but, somehow, I fit the craziness into my schedule (with a little help from Starbucks). Although I might find myself writing at all hours of the day or night on all matter of electronic devices (including my iPhone), the reviews always find their way into your Facebook feed by the film’s release date. Not all the movies I’ve seen have been a blast (I’m looking at you, ‘The Counselor’), but there’s generally always something exhilarating about going to the movies.

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As we reach the end of 2013, let’s take a look back at my ‘Top 10’ movies. The rules of the ‘Top 10’ club are as follows:

1. Do not talk about the ‘Top 10.’ (Wait, no, that’s the first rule of ‘Fight Club.’ Let’s start again). Ok, #1. The film had to have been formally released in 2013. That means that, although ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ did not debut until January of this year in San Antonio (when I reviewed it), I’m not including it this year.

2. I must have reviewed the movie. (Well, this is ‘sort of’ true. I saw ‘Gravity’ in my 'off' time, but I loved it too much to not include it).

3. The movie, as a whole, may not be completely perfect, but it must have some element that makes it worth seeing again. (That is to say, if I’d rather not see it again, it’s not on the list.)

Top 10 Movies:

10. ‘The Spectacular Now’

What I said: ‘The Spectacular Now’ is an intriguing, coming-of-age story with a ‘realistic’ feel. The film details the unfolding relationship of two high school seniors, each struggling with their own emotional wounds, who, unexpectedly, happen upon each other. The most captivating element of ‘The Spectacular Now’ is its seeming creation of tender teen reality. Miles Teller (who vaguely resembles an unusual mix of John Cusack and Elvis Presley) and Shailene Woodley are skilled in their performances, making the film feel like a slice of modern teen-dom, that, warts and all, includes broken/blended families, alcoholism, and inelegant intimacies.

9. ‘The Way, Way Back’

What I said: Triple-threat directors/writers/actors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon (recent co-Oscar winners for ‘The Descendants’ screenplay) have crafted an endearing mix of comedy and drama in the new film ‘The Way, Way Back,’ adding an engaging, and familiar, retro vibe. Of note, Sam Rockwell, a chameleon of an actor, entirely inhabits the cool, smart, free-spirited, best-buddy Bill Murray archetype, and elevates the film from charming to truly entertaining.

8. 'Saving Mr. Banks'

What I said: Disney’s ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is a very sentimental look at an idealized version of Walt Disney and his personal quest to obtain the film rights to ‘Mary Poppins’ from its author. Emma Thompson’s performance is truly the heart and soul of the film. She seems to fully inhabit author Travers in body and voice, engrossing the audience with her fish-out-of-water role.

7. 'World War Z'

What I said: ‘World War Z’ is a surprisingly effective, not dumbed-down, edge-of-the seat summer movie spectacular that maintains its momentum to almost the very end. As Gerry, Brad Pitt is very believable as the extremely dedicated family man as well as the calculated, observant information gatherer. Director Marc Forster keeps the intensity ratcheted throughout, and without the typical sizable gore or gruesomeness of a zombie movie (much of it occurs off-camera), the audience can still feel the visceral terror of the undead plague.

6. 'Dallas Buyers Club'

What I said: ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is an intriguing, based-on-a-true-story account of the frontline battles in the 1980s to obtain and distribute medication for the management of HIV. Although the real-life elements of ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ are compelling, it is the film’s performances that enhance the film above its paint-by-the-numbers, against-the-system elements.

5. 'Captain Phillips'

What I said: Captain Phillips’ is a gripping and intense film that details the real-life events that took place over six days in 2009 when Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama sought to avoid, but was eventually taken captive by, a gang of Somali Pirates. Hanks gives his emotional entirety to his performance as Captain Phillips, flaunting the full extent of his dramatic acting chops in way not fully seen since ‘Cast Away’ in 2000. His performance is likely a shoo-in for an Oscar nod for Best Actor.

4. 'Enough Said'

What I said: ‘Enough Said’ is a rare gem of a mid-life, second-chance-at-love romantic comedy where the leads seem to intimately show their funny, quirky, and relatable natures. As such, ‘Enough Said’s’ characters are instantly understandable by being far from perfect. Of special note, is James Gandolfini’s heart-on-his sleeve, sweet, generous performance, in a portrayal very different from the Mafia boss for which he was most famous. In sum, ‘Enough Said’s’ two lead characters can be self-defeating, distancing themselves from the companionship they so desperately really want. But, it is these messy qualities that allow the audience to feel invested in their on-screen relationship.

3. 'Frozen'

What I said: Disney’s makes good on on its powerhouse history of musical animation and triumphantly brings ‘Frozen,’ a film of ‘Beauty and the Beast’-caliber, to the silver screen. The first half of the film is amazingly flawless, drawing audiences in with its gorgeously rendered but weighty tale of two loving sisters who are kept apart. Deep themes of abandonment and denial of one’s true character are handled with gentle, but intoxicating aplomb, fascinating adults yet allowing young children not to be fully taxed by the multi-layered emotional plot and its painful meaning. The film does slow a bit during the latter half of its 108-minute running time, but brings an interesting girl-power twist to its resolution.

2. 'Nebraska'

What I said: Director Alexander Payne’s new film, ‘Nebraska,’ brings back his tapestry approach to on-screen interactions, weaving poignant relationships with deft splashes of comedy. ‘Nebraska’ masquerades, superficially, as a small film but, in reality, the film is a gem filled with big-time talent that subtlety reaffirms the bonds of family. Bruce Dern is really the key to the film’s success. An intriguing and, yet, somewhat subdued performance, Dern, in slumped shoulders and a shuffling gate, draws in the viewers to his pursuit of fortune and his resolute attempt at some kind of redemption for himself (and, ultimately, his family).

1. 'Gravity'

What I (would have) said: ‘Gravity’ is a wonderment and a spectacular achievement in filmmaking by Alfonso Cuarón. Intense, powerful, and beautiful, ‘Gravity’ is entirely captivating. Sandra Bullock’s largely one-woman performance and the film’s powerful themes of perseverance and rebirth reverberate with me, even now. See ‘Gravity’ to be as close to space as you have ever been.

Hope you have enjoyed this year’s reviews, and that, just maybe, a few may prompt you to see a film you might have missed. See you in 2014!


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