As previously noted, 2013 was a marvelous year for movies. If you didn’t see a great film this year, you just weren’t trying. It was so good, in fact, that I felt bad about how many movies I wasn’t able to mention in my top ten. So as an extra bonus, here are the next best ten movies from the past year, many of which you can find on Netflix or in theaters right now.
And don’t worry; I won’t do a Next Next Best Ten Movies of 2013 (though with "Stoker," "Nebraska" and many others still not getting a much deserved mention, I totally could).
It was a real toss-up between putting this or "The Wolf of Wall Street" in the ten spot on my big list. I do love me some "Wolf of Wall Street" (Leo during the lemmons scene alone is worth the price of admission), but "Side Effects" is possibly the best Alfred Hitchcock movie the master himself didn’t make.
Steven Soderbergh’s final feature film ( … suuuuure) is a sumptuously filmed, cleverly pieced together medical murder mystery about mind games that plays a few of its own in the process. "Side Effects" may simply be a pure genre film, but it’s also a pure unpredictable thrill to watch.
"The Great Beauty"
Paolo Sorrentino’s "The Great Beauty" was one of the final Milwaukee Film members screening selections in 2013. It was also one of the best. Sorrentino’s film is a fascinating flurry of contradictions. It’s a tribute to Rome and also a criticism. It’s deeply personal and yet universal.
Sorrentino captures all of these opposites with some truly captivating scenes and images that still clearly project in my memory. An intoxicatingly grotesque party that’s both compelling and repulsive in its shrill garishness (mixed with a quiet moment, a dancer locked in a silent cage, performing for an audience of … somebody? Maybe?). A young girl screaming and crying, pushed by her parents into throwing paint onto a blank canvas in front of a crowd of uncaring socialites … and then the violent mess turns into an utterly beautiful mural.
My mind keeps going back to "The Great Beauty," and that’s an obvious sign that it’s one of 2013’s best (as well as one of its most aptly titled).
In the battle of the high-seas piracy battle movies, Tobias Lindholm’s Danish export "A Hijacking" – a 2013 Milwaukee Film Festival alum – reigns supreme. It doesn’t have anywhere near the level of action as "Captain Phillips" (and it’s not like "Captain Phillips" was "Rambo"), but it’s somehow even more intense, showing the slow emotional deterioration of everyone involved in a hijacking situation. And, also like its American brethren, the final minutes are an absolute heart-wrenching killer.
Sadly forgotten in the annual maelstrom of flashier, end-of-the-year Oscar releases was Jeff Nichols’ "Mud," his low-key but captivating follow-up to 2011’s brilliant "Take Shelter." Michael Shannon predictably commanded that deeply grounded Americana family drama, but here he takes a backseat (a surprisingly far backseat, playing a very minor character) to Tye Sheridan and a mid-renaissance Matthew McConaughey. They’re both terrific in a gritty, honest, heartbreaking and heartwarming coming-of-age story for both parties.
Losing James Gandolfini this past year was a tremendous loss. He was quietly one of our best actors, and what a fitting final performance in "Enough Said," revealing that gentle giant side that always crept under the surface of his more famous, grittier and meaner roles. He and Julia Louis-Dreyfus make for a wonderful, easily charming romantic duo, and even when the story dips into rom-com material, there’s always a ton of emotional truth and charm to their performances. It’s an effortlessly buoyant glance at finding unlikely new love at an older age.
It’s odd to feel like you’re watching a classic while you’re watching it for the first time. Yet that was the sensation I had watching "Frozen." Disney’s icy animated hit features perfect voice acting, memorable songs, beautiful animation and the whole range of emotions, from laugh-filled glee to surprisingly heartfelt sadness and everything in between.
"The Act of Killing"
Very few movies stare evil straight in the face. Even fewer get evil to talk back to them. But that’s exactly what "The Act of Killing" did, taking the audience inside the horrific mind of Indonesian war criminal/political gangster Anwar Congo and letting him describe (and most notoriously, reenact) his horrible crimes. There’s an incredible amount of truth in Joshua Oppenheimer’s fascinating, sometimes hallucinatory documentary, about the banality of evil and the power of cinema – for good and for bad.
"Blue Is the Warmest Color"
Yep. The one with all of the graphic lesbian sex. Underneath all of that controversy and the feud between the director and his two stars, however, is a brilliantly acted and powerfully felt coming-of-age story about growing up, discovery, first loves lost and the emotional imprint it all leaves when they go. Yes, the sex scenes (which are a bit on the gratuitous side) are raw, but the emotions involved are even more so.
I really enjoyed "American Hustle." Yeah, it was a mess, but it was a glorious mess, one filled with electric performances, energetic direction and an intriguing story that, while all over the place, was fittingly so. I know "watchable" isn’t exactly the kind of critic blurb that ends up on DVD covers and posters, but David O. Russell’s crazily kinetic look into some of the sleaziest professional liars – on both sides of the law – the ’70s and ’80s had to offer is one of the most contagiously watchable movies of the year.
I can tell right now: When the Oscars end sometime around midnight on March 2, I’m going to hate "American Hustle." Not by its own fault, of course; it’s just what the Oscars do. It’s going to win praise and countless awards (besides "12 Years a Slave," it’s probably the favorite for Best Picture) over movies I find incredibly more deserving, and that will forever slant everything I think about it, no matter how much I desperately want it not to. Call it "’The Artist’ Syndrome."
So yeah, I’m going to enjoy applauding "American Hustle" while I can.
I knew somebody once who told me they could never get past seeing Tom Hanks on screen. No matter the character, they could only see Tom Hanks. I think even that friend would have to agree that Hanks absolutely disappears into the title role of "Captain Phillips." Director Paul Greengrass is a master of tense, gritty action, and though it sags a bit in the middle, Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, his equally impressive co-star, keep their intensely human battle between captains afloat. Plus, there might not be a more devastating ending this year than Hanks’ Phillips, alive but utterly shaken to the core by his experience.
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