Here are the top ten films of what turned out to be a very good year for movies. As always comments are greatly appreciated.
10. The Forgotten Kingdom
This gem reached only a small audience at film festivals this year, a fact that I hope can be remedied. A young man living in Johannesburg returns to his ancestral home of Lesotho to bury his father and embarks on a hero's journey in the classic sense. It is a film both entertaining and deeply moving. Read my original review here.
Matthew McConaughey gave not one, but two career best performances in 2013. His role in Dallas Buyers Club will most likely win him the Oscar, but his lesser seen portrayal of an escaped convict hiding out in the backwoods of Arkansas trying to find his lost love is equally moving. Read my original review here.
8. Saving Mr. Banks
The story of how Mary Poppins became a beloved cinematic classic is less about Walt Disney and more about P.L. Travers, the author whose icy and prickly demeanor concealed a deeply unhappy soul. Emma Thompson gives an amazing performance as Travers, and Tom Hanks embodies the spirit of Disney even without the physical resemblance. Read my original review here.
Director Alexander Payne has a way of revealing the extraordinary in seemingly ordinary characters. Bruce Dern portrays Woody, a crotchety old man who embarks on a cross country odyssey to claim his supposed winnings from a sweepstakes announcement. His son, played by Will Forte, accompanies him, and the resulting film contains more truth and humor than most movies could ever hope to convey.
6. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese's epic tale of swindling stock broker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is like Wall Street on speed; its detractors accuse it of glorifying the amoral lifestyle of Belfort and his compatriots, but it is so gloriously over the top that it is obvious that Scorsese feels nothing but contempt for these characters. That only makes the train wreck that much more entertaining. Read my original review here.
In the near future, soon to be divorced Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his computer's new operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. In any hands but those of writer/director Spike Jonze this quirky premise might be offputting, but the result is one of the sweetest romances in years.
4. About Time
Richard Curtis' story of a family whose male members can travel in time seems, at first, to be an entertaining but standard romantic comedy, but by the end has delved into themes regarding love, the relationship between a father and son, and the fragile and fleeting nature of life. It is funny, beautifully sad and ultimately uplifting. Read my original review here.
3. American Hustle
David O. Russell perfectly captures the excess and style of the 1970's in his epic loosely based on the Abscam case that brought down a number of corrupt politicians. It is a wildly entertaining movie, with incredible performances from Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, all of whom are nominated for Oscars. It's a film that actually deserves serious comparisons to Martin Scorsese's best work. Read my original review here.
2. 12 Years a Slave
In most years this would easily be in the number one spot. Steve McQueen's searing film is based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a free black man in 1840's New York who was kidnapped and enslaved for more than a decade. No film has ever captured the raw, inhumane evil of slavery, and I can't imagine one doing so as effectively as this one did. In a film filled with great performances, Michael Fassbender as a sadistic plantation owner and Lupita Nyong'o as a long suffering slave stand out. Read my original review here.
Alfonso Cuaron's space epic is a technical marvel. What elevates it above the level of pure spectacle is the performance of Sandra Bullock as an astronaut who, after a catastrophic accident, finds herself lost in the vastness of space. Her struggle to survive is as life affirming as any story of recent memory. 2013 was a year of great films, but this one stands so far above the others that it is not just the best film of the year, it is one of the best movies ever made. Read my original review here.
This column is dedicated to my father, who had great taste in movies despite his insistence that The Godfather is overrated.