You will probably notice a pattern with my picks as we continue to go through this exercise. I’m looking for films that have staying power. I have as much fun as the next guy in the moment, munching popcorn to an action flick, but if you ask me for details a month or two down the road I will give you a blank stare. I love movies that impact you and leave you thinking and feeling something more than entertained.
With that criteria in mind, 2013 was a solid year for cinema with unique and captivating stories like Nebraska, Captain Phillips, Prisoners, Dallas Buyers Club, Snowpiercer, and Inside Llewyn Davis. All of those could be considered honorable mentions to my top 3 of the year.
3rd – Gravity
Directed by Alfonzo Cuaron (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and shot by his frequent collaborator, the great Emmanuel Lubezki, this film is dizzyingly beautiful. I regret that I did not get the opportunity to experience it on a larger screen. The only thing that keeps it from the top for me is Sandra Bullock’s somewhat wooden performance. I love her in lighter comedic roles, but I think this needed a Charlize Theron or Natalie Portman to sell the terrifying ordeal.
Cuaron tells the harrowing story of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), an engineer on her first Shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) taking his last flight before retiring. On a routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The Shuttle is destroyed, and we find ourselves with Stone and Kowalsky spiraling out into the blackness of space. As they lose contact with earth so do we. Fear turns to panic and every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. We are left with a deafening silence as we wonder if there is any hope for rescue.
2nd – 12 Years a Slave
Director Steve McQueen tells us the extraordinary true story of Solomon Northup. A free man skilled and renowned on the violin who was tricked and beaten and sold into slavery where he languished for 12 years under a series of oppressive hands.
This story is remarkable, but no more so than your average historical drama. The best part of this film, which won the Best Picture Oscar for 2013, is the cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor lit up the screen with his passion as he sought to truly live and not just survive. Michael Fassbender is a villain you can deeply hate. Add in Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o who won an Oscar for her supporting performance in her first feature length role and you can see that this ensemble cast is stacked with rich talent.
This is a hard movie to watch. It is not the type that you just pop in for enjoyment like you might Gravity. This film will punch you in the gut. But the judge of a movie’s greatness is not always it’s rewatchability. From the first viewing I could tell you that this was a masterpiece and is deserving of all of the adulation it receives.
1st – Her
There is usually that one movie every year that comes along and just blows you away with a unique story or twist. In 2013, it was Her. Director Spike Jonze is one of the finest filmmakers of our generation, surprising us with this type of out-of-the-blue story before (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation). He loves to take simple narratives and infuse them with discussions of human emotion and resilience.
The story is based on a simple premise, a man falls in love with an operating system, a computer program of a woman. It easily sparks a discussion of love and the frailty of human emotion. Joaquin Phoenix is wonderful as a man wrestling with this deep emotion towards an object. He leads a brilliant cast of characters (Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt). But the performance that makes the film transcendent is Scarlett Johansson’s vocal work as Samantha. I could listen to her read the phone book.
Something about her voice is robotic enough that we can’t forget what she really is but it also is warm and rough enough that it develops this character that we can’t help but come to love ourselves. If it weren’t for Johansson and Jonze’s sharp script, “Her” would have been just another indie romance with a quirk. Glady, the stars aligned and gave us this moving piece on the nature and beauty of love.
So, did I pick the right film? Do you think I’m crazy because I didn’t include your favorite? Let me know by sounding off in the comments below.