With the 2014 Oscars waiting to be awarded later tonight, it’s once again time to reflect on the films of the previous year (especially now that the average moviegoer has had the time to catch up on Academy Awards hopefuls). While 2013 may have been a year of great performances, many of the movies themselves were lacking overall. However, the following motion pictures were the cream of the (admittedly weak) crop, and deserve to be recognized.
In this melancholy and extremely topical romance, a window to the not-to-distant future is opened and through it the audience plays voyeur to the life of a downhearted personal letter writer. Joaquin Phoenix gives an expertly understated performance in that role, as does his love interest/operating system Scarlett Johansson (who never actually appears onscreen). Spike Jonze pulled double-duty directing and writing “Her,” with his bitingly realistic dialogue standing out as the highlight of the film.
Shot in a brief twelve day period during the post-production of Joss Whedon’s blockbusting “The Avengers,” “Much Ado About Nothing” proved that Whedon can deliver a micro-budget Shakespeare film that stands out as one of the best adaptations of the Bard’s work in recent memory. Filled to the brim with Whedonverse alums (including Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, and Nathan Fillion) and shot in Whedon’s own home, “Much Ado About Nothing” was clearly an intimate endeavor, and charm and wit to spare.
Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a career-best performance as the tragic Solomon Northrup, a free man captured and sold into slavery in the antebellum American South. Though the trappings of the story may be familiar, they provide an excellent platform for the actors to shine, as Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch both turn in top-notch portrayals in addition to Ejiofor’s star-making turn.
After an underwhelming first installment, expectations weren’t high for this YA follow-up. However, with a new director at the helm and a lead actress fresh off a Best Actress win, “Catching Fire” was reenergized with top-level acting and visual style in spades. Top that off with a gripping screenplay that balances emotion and excitement and throw in some great special effects, and the result is one of best surprises of 2013.
If this film consisted of nothing but the “Let It Go” sequence, it still may have found its way onto this list. In addition to providing the best Disney tune since the ‘90s, “Frozen” also delivers one of the most complex Disney characters to date in Queen Elsa, masterfully brought to life by actress Idina Menzel and the magicians at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Featuring a convention-bucking script, a couple of exciting plot twists, and a the best CGI in Hollywood this side of Pixar, “Frozen” has brought Disney Animation back to the forefront of the industry.
Honorable Mentions: Gravity, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Wolf of Wall Street