I Am DB

February 22, 2014

The Year in Movies: 2013

Filed under: Movies — DB @ 5:00 pm
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2013 might go down as a great year for movies, but that wouldn’t be an entirely fair or accurate statement. Yes, there were a lot of excellent films, but most of them were released in the last third of the year. Before that, the bright spots were few. So can we really call it a great year for movies if most of the year offered little in the way of greatness? I suppose I’m arguing semantics. That, or scholars will debate this for eons to come.

I saw 100 movies that were released in 2013. In November, there was an eight day stretch during which, I kid you not, I saw 10 movies (two of those being earlier-in-the-year releases I was catching up with on DVD). Sure, that would never have been possible if I weren’t unemployed, and I would gladly relinquish that claim for a steady paycheck. But lemonade from lemons and all that, right? My friend Ryan said to me during that week, “You’re crazy. You’re a crazy person.” Yeah, well…four of those screenings were possible because Ryan is in the Writers Guild and brought me as his guest, so he’s totally an enabler in this situation; the guy who gives you a drink while driving you to rehab.

I mention the number because I know from past experience that some of you wonder how I see as many movies per year as I do. But while those among you will think seeing 100 movies during the year is unbelievable (and a sign of multiple social problems), it barely scratches the surface of what’s out there. As New York Times critic A.O. Scott pointed out when covering his favorites of the year, his newspaper reviewed 900 movies in 2013. Granted, he and his colleagues watch and write about movies for a living. But those of you who can’t imagine how I got around to 100 should realize what a small percentage that really is. There were some that I wanted to see but missed. There were many, many more that I had zero interest in seeing. And there were countless more that I probably had no awareness of whatsoever. Many movies only open in a few cities or less, and/or only play briefly. They aren’t accompanied by weeks of commercials, trailers and print publicity. They quietly arrive on DVD with the same lack of fanfare that accompanied their theatrical release. Or they go straight to DVD altogether (which is not necessarily the stigma it once was).

I’m not sure what any of this matters, but it was on my mind. Since I lack the assistance of an editor, this is what happens. I ramble. The point of this post is to cover my favorite movies from the year gone by. As always, I rank the top few, then run down the rest alphabetically. Strangely, despite there being a number of movies on my list this year, there wasn’t one that clearly rose to the top for me as a single favorite. A few came close, but none gave me that obvious “this is the one” feeling I got in past years for movies like The Departed, Precious and Inception. So instead, what follows are an alphabetical Top Five, followed by the rest as I’d usually do. And as always, there are many more that I would happily and enthusiastically recommend to people. Movies that I enjoyed, admired, that contained some of my favorite moments or scenes of the year, but that for one reason or another didn’t completely come together or linger in my mind as a whole. Inevitably, there will be movies I later regret not putting on my list. Or I’ll see something again down the line, and find it makes more of an impact on me than it did initially. And there may even be some that, with a little distance, I wouldn’t have included. These things happen every year. But at this moment in time, reflecting on the year that was, these are the movies that stuck.

Top Five

GRAVITY
From Gone With the Wind to Titanic, Lawrence of Arabia to The Lord of the Rings, there will always be movies that are best when seen on the big screen, but we accept that in order to enjoy them beyond their initial release, we’ll have to settle for a TV and hope that we have a set big enough to still do the movie some sort of justice. Unfortunately, I’m not sure any screen small enough to fit in a house can do justice to the astonishing experience of Gravity. Alfonso Cuarón’s stunning film, over four years in the making, follows Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a scientist whose first mission in space is compromised when her shuttle is destroyed and she is stranded above Earth with veteran astronaut Mike Kowalski (George Clooney).

There may not be a lot of plot at work here, but that doesn’t mean this should be mistaken for a hollow spectacle that indulges in breathtaking visuals but skimps on any sort of substance. Gravity doesn’t need to go deep to carry weight. The story is simple but primal, and the motivation is clear: survival. Such elemental stakes are enough to propel the drama, and Cuarón goes further than anyone before him in placing the audience in the vastness of space. Over a riveting 90 minutes, we’re right there in the void with Stone and Kowalski, held spellbound as our hearts pound and pray that the duo can somehow survive their seemingly impossible circumstances. Emmanuel Lubezki’s immaculately choreographed cinematography blends seamlessly with the groundbreaking visual effects, while Bullock’s understated, quietly powerful performance renders palpable Stone’s accelerated evolution from terror to resignation to determination. She provides the emotional anchor that makes the movie more than just a thrill ride. Firing on all cylinders, Gravity is dazzling cinema, and all the more special because its like just doesn’t come around very often.

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HER

Spike Jonze’s fourth film is easily the year’s most original, and perhaps its most beautiful as well. Set in a near-future Los Angeles, it casts Joaquin Phoenix as the acutely sensitive, gentle-hearted Theodore Twombly, a writer so emotionally reeling from his divorce that he can’t bring himself to sign the papers finalizing it a year after the separation. On a whim, he purchases an operating system to help organize his life. The omniscient artificial intelligence calls herself Samantha, and quickly bonds with Theodore, helping him overcome his hurt, becoming a friend…and then becoming something more.

When I first heard this premise, I wasn’t sure how it could sustain a feature length film, let alone maintain any dramatic credibility. Quite sufficiently on both counts, as it turns out. The relationship between Theodore and Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson in a radiant performance) is as lovely and complex as any the movies have given us. This is the first film Jonze has written, but like all of his previous work as a director — Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are — it explores the rocky terrains of love and loneliness with aching, penetrating honesty. If that sounds like a bit of a downer, make no mistake, the movie is also full of joy and laugh-out-loud moments. Jonze’s fertile imagination presents a vision of the future that seems a completely logical extension for many of our current technologies, from Apple’s Siri to Nintendo’s Wii, as well as our technology’s influence on our growing disconnect from real human interaction. The entire visual fabric of the film, from sets to costumes to camerawork, form a cohesive vision that is colorful, sun-dappled and sharp as crystal. It’s a nice deviation from the more common depictions of a future — distant or not — that is cold and antiseptic. Jonze augments the world we’re familiar with to create one in which the existence of a character like Samantha and a relationship like the one she and Theodore share don’t seem so strange. With the groundwork laid, it takes actors of considerable skill and emotional openness for us to buy into the premise, so credit Phoenix and Johansson for transcending quirkiness or gimmickry and instead making the movie take flight as a rich and worthy love story. Their bond is so real and intimate that some moments are almost uncomfortable to watch; they feel too personal and private. Both actors are out on a limb in Her; Phoenix risking whether audiences will buy him running through the streets and laughing with a lover who exists in a handheld device, and Johansson trusting that people will connect with and be moved by a lead character who exists solely as a voice. But they’re in safe hands with Spike Jonze. And yet again, so are we.

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MUD
The term “coming-of-age” gets used a lot; there are some other movies on this list that fit the bill. But there are few films that, for me, have embodied that description as quintessentially as Mud, the third feature from writer/director Jeff Nichols (whose sophomore movie Take Shelter I cited in 2011). Matthew McConaughey is terrific as the title character, but the movie belongs to its teenage star Tye Sheridan. He plays Ellis, an outwardly tough, inwardly sensitive Arkansas kid living on a river and making daily trips out to an abandoned island with his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland, also impressive), where they’ve located a washed-up boat to restore. That plan is complicated when they meet Mud, a fugitive hiding out on the island until he can reconnect with his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Ellis takes an immediate liking to Mud — particularly his devotion to his girl — and soon the boys are helping him execute his escape, which includes getting messages to Juniper, who’s staying at a hotel in town. There is a thriller component to the film, as some unsavory figures descend on the area in search of Mud, but first and foremost the movie is a beautifully etched story of Ellis, a good kid with naïve notions of romance, whose experience not only with Mud but with his parents’ faltering marriage, exposes him to the world’s hard truths.

Yet the movie is far from bleak or hopeless. Through Ellis, it explores decency, kindness and notions of love where similar films might bury such sentiments beneath a “cruel world” pessimism. It also values characters that other movies might condescend to or paint as caricatures. The inhabitants of this lower-income, Southern milieu are not rednecks. They’re rich and complicated, and are matched by performers who embody them with respect and nuance. It’s great to see Witherspoon doing this kind of character work again instead of paint-by-numbers studio comedies, and McConaughey continues to captivate as his career turnaround unfolds. Mud is a charming but enigmatic character, who is seen differently by Ellis than he is by Juniper, and differently still by an older man from his past (Sam Shepard) whose help Ellis seeks. That makes for a variety of conflicting viewpoints, but McConaughey’s portrayal captures them all. There’s nice supporting work from Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson as Ellis’ parents, Michael Shannon as Neckbone’s uncle, and Paul Sparks as a dangerous man on Mud’s trail. (Boardwalk Empire fans will recognize Sparks as goofball bootlegger Mickey Doyle, and will likely be impressed by this very un-Doyle-like performance.) But it all boils down to the outstanding Sheridan. So natural, so honest, so relatable, he pulls off the complexity of Ellis’ story with heartpiercing authenticity. It’s rare to see a teenage character this full, and even rarer to see an actor who can capture the necessary depth and subtlety to do it justice. But Sheridan has the goods. He gives one of the year’s best performances and establishes himself as an actor to follow.

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PRISONERS

Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal lead a strong ensemble in this dark, intense story about the disappearance of two girls in suburban Pennsylvania. Jackman is the father of one of the missing kids, who becomes fixated on the guilt of a suspect (Paul Dano) who the police ultimately rule out. Gyllenhaal is the committed detective leading the case, backed by a perfect record but flustered as the days pass and the girls’ whereabouts continue to elude him. At two and a half hours, the movie is long, and as it goes on, you’re aware that it’s long. But it never feels overlong, never becomes boring or feels unnecessarily stretched. The circumstances continue to grip as the investigation grows more puzzling and the excellent script by Aaron Guzikowski takes some daring turns. I don’t want to even hint at what revelations do or do not ultimately come, but I’ll try to tiptoe around it by saying that even at moments when the plot drifts into what we recognize as conventional territory for a mystery like this one, the thematic continuity justifies and elevates what might seem like Perry Mason moments in a movie with less on its mind. Prisoners is the kind of story that poses moral questions about how we would handle ourselves in the same situation, and asks us whether or not we can condone behavior that troubles us at the same time that we might find it justifiable. There are no easy outs, and even if you’re feeling optimistic when the bold ending arrives, you can’t deny that whatever happens to these characters after the credits roll, their challenges are not resolved.

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SHORT TERM 12

Most people have probably never heard of this movie, which is a shame, because it deserves a Transformers-size audience. It takes place at a foster care facility for at-risk youth, and focuses on Grace (Brie Larson), the facility’s supervisor who must tend to the varied emotional needs of a range of kids, delicately balancing her role of disciplinarian with being a friend who is sympathetic to their troubles. She’s aided by an equally committed staff that includes her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.), and as the couple deal with the daily ups and downs that go with such a challenging job, they contend with personal developments that unfold over the course of roughly one week. Among their charges are Marcus (Keith Stanfield) a fragile, budding musician about to turn 18 and age out of the program, and Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), an aloof new arrival to whom Grace feels a connection.

The premise might not seem inviting to people who want their movies to be pure escapism, but the result is so accessible that it’s hard to imagine anyone not falling in love with it. Much of the credit for that goes to Larson and Gallagher, who create such a genuine bond together that they feel not like characters you’re just meeting, but like your friends. In fact, perhaps not since The Station Agent have I seen a movie that I so badly didn’t want to end because I just wanted to spend as much more time as possible with the characters.

That’s not to say that they, or the movie, are all happy-go-lucky. With subject matter like this, there are some hard moments. Even just the implication of what some of these people have gone through will make your heart hurt. There’s a scene in which Marcus sits with Mason and performs a rap he’s written that addresses his mother, and although it is brief and fairly quiet, it’s as much of a showstopper as a more traditional centerpiece number that a character in a musical might sing (I mentioned it last month in both my Oscar nomination predictions and reactions as a song that should have been nominated by the Academy). But the movie doesn’t wallow in the ugly circumstances of the characters’ pasts. It’s more interested in the hope for their futures. And over the course of the film, we learn how for Grace and Mason, this is not just a job, but a highly personal mission. Grace, in fact, may not be much more functional than many of the kids she’s supervising, but her commitment to them is passionate.

Short Term 12 was written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, expanded from his short film of the same name, and inspired by his experiences working at a similar facility. As such, it is steeped in the authenticity that confirms you’re in the hands of a storyteller who knows and understands the world he’s depicting. I can’t recommend this movie highly enough. There is hardship, but there is also such warmth, humor, love and kindness on display that I don’t know how anybody could watch and not be touched by the purity of it. Everyone in the cast is superb, but Larson has the most complex role, and she is outstanding at shifting between the multitude of emotional microclimates that Grace experiences from moment to moment. I’m offering a rare money-back guarantee on Short Term 12. If you don’t like it, I really don’t know what to do with you.

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The Rest:

12 YEARS A SLAVE
Steve McQueen, the uncompromising director of Hunger and Shame, depicts the horrors of slavery culture in a film that is all the more powerful and engaging for being based on a true, first-hand account. 12 Years a Slave is adapted from the memoir of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man in New York, married with two young children. An accomplished violinist, Solomon’s nightmare begins when he accepts an offer from two artists to perform in Washington D.C. After a night of friendly drinking, he wakes up in chains, having been drugged and sold by his companions. He is transported to Louisiana and purchased by a man who is as kind a master as can be hoped for under the circumstances. But eventually he is sold to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a brutal owner as devoted to alcohol as he is to the word of God. Most of Solomon’s time in bondage is spent on the Epps cotton plantation, where his fellow slaves include a young woman named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), on whom Epps has a warped fixation that results in her brutal victimization not only by him, but his viciously resentful wife (Sarah Paulson).

I haven’t seen every movie about slavery, so I can’t make any claims as to this being the most accurate or searing depiction of its evils, but surely 12 Years a Slave is among the most immersive and accurate ever presented in mainstream film. McQueen often holds his camera in unflinching long takes that you may feel the need to turn away from, but you won’t be able to avert your eyes for long. The events compel you to watch, and the filmmaking commands your attention. This could not have been comfortable material for any of the actors, but they acquit themselves fully. In Solomon, Ejiofor finally has the high-profile leading role that he has long deserved, and he makes the most of the opportunity. He has always been an actor whose intelligence burns through the screen, and that quality serves him here as Solomon quickly learns how to navigate captivity…and learns that his intellect isn’t always an asset. Ejiofor’s natural grace allows him to believably wear Solomon’s stoicism as protective armor, and when that armor cracks, the actor will have you weeping right along with the character. Epps, meanwhile, is a truly wretched figure whom Fassbender makes just as frightening when he’s in a fiery rage as when he’s quietly threatening. Paulson’s screentime is limited, but she makes every second count with a finely-calibrated performance that is chilling in its matter-of-fact force. And Nyong’o plays Patsey with a child’s penchant for escapism, but of course there is no escaping the brutality to which she is subjected by both Master and Mistress Epps, which makes her moments of despair all the more poignant and crushing. Patsey endures horror after horror, and yet Nyong’o glows in the darkness.

This is one of those movies that many people feel they need to work up the nerve to see, or won’t see until they’re in the right mood. Or won’t see at all. Don’t be one of those people. You’ll never be “in the mood” to watch a movie that stares slavery in the eye. Instead, believe the hype and just know that after you’ve seen it, you’ll be glad that you did. Not because its subject matter is important, but because like any great movie, it will stay with you. And if you find it upsetting at times, well….good. It’s strong stuff, in every way.

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ALL IS LOST

Robert Redford is a man alone at sea, with no volleyball or Bengal tiger to keep him company when his sailboat is damaged in a crash and he has to fight for survival. Writer/director J.C. Chandor’s unexpected follow-up to the talky, ensemble film Margin Call features no one but Redford, and the actor barely speaks. Instead, he must hold our attention through his silent actions and increasingly desperate efforts to overcome the adversity of the vast, solitary ocean. The movie makes for an interesting companion piece with Gravity. Its setting is less wondrous, but the isolation of the sea offers its own beauty and its own challenges, and Redford’s unnamed protagonist endures a series of intense, gripping events over several days as he battles not only the elements, but the ticking of time. It’s refreshing to see a filmmaker like Chandor undertake such a narratively risky project, and to see a veteran actor like Redford rise to the varied and uncommon demands the film asks of its leading man. This kind of daring filmmaking deserves to be seen and rewarded.

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AMERICAN HUSTLE

If not quite the barnstorming work of brilliance that so many critics would have you believe, the latest from David O. Russell is still a damn fun movie with hugely entertaining performances. At the center of the story is Christian Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld, a married con man who takes a mistress and a business partner in Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), bilking desperate investors out of their money. The buck stops when they’re caught in an FBI sting by wildly ambitious agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who offers them the chance to get off the hook by assisting him in a larger sting operation to take down corrupt politicians, beginning with Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), the beloved mayor of Camden, New Jersey. Polito is an ironic target since he is actually a decent, straightshooting guy with genuine motives of helping his constituents, a fact which weighs heavily on Irving as DiMaso’s operation continues to grow more complex. Irving’s role in the con, as well as his relationship with Sydney, is complicated by his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence), a loose cannon and complete mess who plows ahead in everything she does with little thought or concern for consequences.

Without taking away from anybody in the excellent cast, which also includes Louis C.K., Alessandro Nivola and Elisabeth Röhm, the standouts for me were Bale and Cooper. Always an enormously committed actor, it’s a treat to see Bale apply that level of dedication to a more comedic performance. Not that he plays Irving for comedy, but the situation is often so absurd, and Irving himself is such a vivid character, that Bale is just a thrill to watch. In a lesser actor’s hands, Irving could have been overplayed. Not so with Bale. And Cooper, who really came into his own under Russell’s direction with last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, brings a manic energy to Richie that differs from his work in that previous film, replacing that character’s craziness with a burning lust for glory and, as he sees it, justice. Renner does good work too, but if he makes less of an impression than his co-stars, it’s not a mark against him, but the result of his character being one of the few who is largely straightforward and devoid of eccentricities.

Comparisons have been made to GoodFellas, and that may true in tone (to a degree), but not in quality. So despite what so many critics seem to be hyping, don’t expect a masterpiece of that caliber. American Hustle certainly does owe a debt to GoodFellas and Casino, but the movie would be more accurately described as Scorsese-lite. That’s not intended as a knock, but just as a resetting of expectations. Among the shortcomings are occasionally wobbly script issues (particularly around the sequence involving an FBI agent posing as a sheik), and final payoffs that don’t quite meet the expectations promised by the increasingly twisty plot. But the movie’s many pleasures win the day, and David O. Russell once again demonstrates a thrilling directorial energy and a gift for helping actors shine.

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AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Stories of dysfunctional families are a gift that keep on giving, and August: Osage County arrives with the most impressive pedigree the sub-genre has seen recently. Based on a play that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, five Tony awards (including Best Play) and several other honors in 2008, and boasting one of the year’s strongest gathering of actors, the film version lives up to its potential. I suppose the material can be classified as dark comedy, but it’s not all laughs…and sometimes what’s humorous and what’s heavy are barely distinguishable. The troubled family at the center of this hurricane is the Weston clan of Oklahoma, presided over by Beverly (Sam Shepard), an alcoholic, once-famous poet, and Violet (Meryl Streep), who pops all manner of pills and continues to smoke despite suffering from cancer. Violet’s blunt “truth-telling” and vicious jabs at her loved ones set the tone for the reunion that occurs when Beverly goes missing, prompting the family to gather from near and far. Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson play the couple’s children, while Ewan McGregor and Abigail Breslin are Roberts’ husband and daughter, and Dermot Mulroney is Lewis’ fiancée. Margo Martindale plays Streep’s sister, with Chris Cooper as her laid back husband and Benedict Cumberbatch as their son. It’s hard not to shower praise on every member of this glimmering cast (which also includes Frozen River‘s Misty Upham), though my personal Best in Show would have to go to Cooper, who gets a handful of standout moments, both funny and touching.

The play was adapted for the screen by its writer Tracy Letts, and his material is packed with excellent, virulent dialogue as well as plot turns that will elicit gasps. If I have a disappointment with the film, it’s that the two hour running time is at least an hour shorter than the play, meaning we’re losing out on material that would enrich the drama that much more. While every character gets their moments to shine, you’re still left with the sense that some of them are not explored as fully as in the play, and I wish that Letts and director John Wells felt they could indulge the story instead of truncating it. I came away suspecting that the play offered more material for the characters played by Breslin and Lewis, and maybe Cumberbatch and Upham. I certainly wanted more of those characters. I wanted more of them all, really. These are not all pleasant people, but there is pleasure in watching them.

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BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Most sequels are unnecessary rehashes of their predecessor, attempting to cash in on its success and replicate its formula. But every now and again, a logical sequel born out of character exploration comes along. Such was the case with 2004′s Before Sunset, in which Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprised their roles as Jesse and Celine from 1995′s Before Sunrise, answering the question of what happened after the two strangers on a train fell in love over the course of a day in Vienna and then parted ways. Like the first film, Before Sunset ended on an ambiguous note. Did Jesse leave Paris and catch his plane back to America, or did he stay with Celine? Another nine years have passed, and Hawke, Delpy and their director/co-screenwriter Richard Linklater have reunited again to give us a glimpse into the lives of these once young, now middle-aged lovers.

Jesse and Celine are now living in Paris with twin daughters. But the reality of being together leaves no room for romanticizing what might be, so Midnight strikes a more bittersweet tone than its romantic, wistful predecessors by depicting the honest complications of staying together and raising a family. Jesse struggles with his absence from the life of his now-teenage son back in the United States who he rarely gets to see. Celine contends with career frustration and how motherhood has changed her. Taking place at the end of a summer vacation in Greece, this new chapter is a natural evolution for the characters, who prove they can still hold our attention in long, dialogue-driven scenes that find them voicing concerns that are even more universal than in the prior movies. Unlike before, their flaws are magnified, to each other and to us, and because their interactions are now prone to turning contentious, we find ourselves choosing sides at many points, and those sides are likely to flip back and forth. As with the two earlier installments, this one ends with a hint of what’s next, but no concrete answers. Will we pick up with Jesse and Celine in another nine years? Before Midnight leaves me hoping so.

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CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Hmm…Tom Hanks in a true story about a guy in an enclosed vehicle far away from the rest of the world, unexpectedly confronted with a life or death situation that unfolds with extreme tension despite the fact that we know the  outcome. Sound familiar? The vessel in this case — a cargo ship called the Maersk Alabama, traveling in the Indian Ocean — isn’t quite as isolated as the shuttle of the Apollo program, but the ordeal is just as harrowing, and the execution of the film just as skillful. Hanks plays the ship’s captain Richard Phillips, who attempts to protect the crew when four Somali pirates seeking a big payday manage to board the vessel. Phillips is eventually taken hostage in one of the Alabama’s lifeboats, and over the next few days, as the U.S. Navy closes in, the situation on the claustrophobic boat unravels.

With The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93 under his belt, director Paul Greengrass is an expert at depicting high-stakes drama from multiple points of view with a realistic approach. He puts us with the people in the thick of the danger, as well as with the people working to resolve it, often in military or government control rooms where radars are monitored, detailed information is gathered and risky decisions are made. Once again, Greengrass orchestrates it all with deft command, delivering an experience that is both clinical and, especially toward the end, highly emotional. Hanks does sturdy work as the prickly, regular-guy Phillips, and the four Somali actors playing his captors, none of whom had ever acted before, are excellent. That’s especially true of Barkhad Abdi as the group’s leader Muse, the smartest and most level-headed among them, increasingly aware that he and his companions are doomed, but too desperate and too proud to relent. The movie has the empathy not to treat the Somalis as alien villains, but as young men from an economically depressed region who are pressured by their elders to seize these cargo ships from the west and demand cash ransoms that will improve life for their communities. Even before they board the Maersk, there is friction among the quartet, and their prolonged episode with Phillips only causes more. This attention to the Somalis’ circumstances is an important component of the script by Billy Ray, which might have been neglected in a more action-minded approach to the story. Instead, we get a three-dimensional experience and a captivating central relationship between Muse and Phillips.

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DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

Matthew McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a good ol’ boy electrician who likes to drink, screw, snort cocaine and gamble. When an accident on the job sends him to the hospital, doctors discover that he’s HIV positive. The year is 1985, and AIDS is still largely thought to be a gay disease, leaving the homophobic Woodroof to dismiss the diagnosis and the doctors’ warning that he has 30 days to live. But he is quickly forced to accept the news, and begins taking AZT, which seems to hasten the decline of his health. Upon visiting an American doctor working in Mexico, he learns that AZT does more harm than good, but a regimen of drugs not available in the U.S. improves his health significantly, extending his life well beyond the 30 day prognosis. Thus begins a new business venture to bring these non-FDA approved medications into the States and make a buck selling them to fellow HIV patients. Enter Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender drug addict who Ron reluctantly takes on as a partner in order to establish the largely gay client base he needs. Waging battle with the government and local doctors — initially including Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) — Ron devotes himself to importing and providing drugs that allow himself and others to live with AIDS.

Prior to the film’s arrival, it was known as the movie for which McConaughey dropped nearly 40 pounds. That might have been the most it was ever known for if it didn’t deliver. But there’s more to Dallas Buyers Club than the headline-friendly story of McConauhgey’s (and Leto’s) weight loss. The performances delivered by the actors go way beyond just their physical commitment, as they breathe vivid life into characters who never fail to captivate. They are backed by understated work from a strong supporting cast that, in addition to Garner, includes Denis O’Hare, Michael O’Neill, Steve Zahn, Griffin Dunne, Dallas Roberts and Kevin Rankin. The movie’s smart, unsentimental direction by Jean-Marc Vallée lets the underdog story and the devoted performers shine, avoiding easy sentiment. One of the things I appreciated about the movie is its avoidance of any heavy-handed softening of Ron’s homophobia. Instead of having a telegraphed epiphany constructed to provide the audience with a manipulative, emotional beat, Ron’s move toward tolerance happens quietly and naturally through his business partnership with Rayon and exposure to his clients. In addition, he doesn’t necessarily become a better person due to being humbled by disease. He wasn’t such a great guy before his diagnosis, and although he can be charming — mostly illustrated in his developing friendship with Eve — he can also be acerbic and biting, and those qualities don’t suddenly melt away because he’s facing death. He does grow, but the growth is believable. Dallas Buyers Club is one of those movies — and there are many of them — that manages to be crowd-pleasing and uplifting even when dealing with downbeat subjects. There’s a great story here, and it could have been mishandled. Fortunately, it was done just right.

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DON JON

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut as a writer and director was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises, an original take on the most formulaic of genres: the romantic comedy. Gordon-Levitt’s movie is sort of an anti-romantic comedy, in which he appealingly plays the title character, a church-going, family-loving, weight-lifting lothario who can get women into his bed with near-magical ease. His problem is that none of the sex fulfills him as much as watching porn, which allows him to escape in a way that nothing in the real world can. Then he meets Barbara Sugerman (an excellent Scarlett Johansson), who has no intention of being bedded without making Jon put in the time and apply the full court press. She wants their friends to meet, she wants their families to meet, and she definitely does not want him getting off in front of the laptop. Yet she has her escape too. Just as Jon’s proclivity for porn has established unrealistic expectations for his relationships, she has an unhealthy fixation on romantic comedies, and her outlook is governed by the rom-com rulebook. Meanwhile, Barbara isn’t the only person that causes Jon to rethink his lifestyle. While attending a night class, he meets the awkwardly direct Esther (a lovely turn by Julianne Moore). Initially put off by her frank approach, he eventually warms to her and finds her friendship to be eye-opening.

Gordon-Levitt has been acting since childhood, and his years of experience on the set (as well as the opportunities, surely, to work with filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Rian Johnson and Spike Lee) has taught him well. He exhibits command as a director, and has written a smart, original script that slyly examines the conventions by which the media conditions each gender’s expectations of the other. His own likability and earnestness as an actor help keep the somewhat douchey Jon from becoming too much of a pinhead, and he draws terrific performances from his cast, which includes Glenne Headley and Tony Danza as his parents.

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THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
The second installment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings prequel trilogy unfolds with an urgency that wasn’t found in the first chapter, which saw hobbit Bilbo Baggins, wizard Gandalf and a company of 13 dwarfs beginning their quest to retake a dwarf kingdom inside the distant Lonely Mountain, which has long been occupied by the fearsome dragon Smaug. As this film begins, the mountain is no longer so distant, and time is of the essence, supplying the narrative momentum that the first film lacked (though I was less bothered by its more meandering nature than so many others). This leg of the group’s journey brings them into contact with a new group of elves, ruled by the haughty King Thranduil (Lee Pace), who turned his back on the dwarfs of the Lonely Mountain two generations earlier. They also encounter a weary river trader called Bard (Luke Evans), who lives in the ruined town not far from the mountain, and fears that their quest will incur the wrath of Smaug. If Bilbo takes more of a backseat during the adventure than seems to befit a movie called The Hobbit, he is not without his moments in the spotlight. That is particularly true of the movie’s final third, which finds him entering Smaug’s lair alone in the hopes of going undetected by the beast as he tries to recover a precious jewel that will help the dwarfs reclaim their kingdom.

While still not matching the gravitas of the first trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug more often feels evocative of its predecessors than last year’s An Unexpected Journey, perhaps because the stakes feel higher now that the dwarfs’ goal is within reach. The subplot involving Gandalf’s solo trip to a decrepit, supposedly abandoned castle furthers this connection, and continues the last movie’s similar effort to weave in the encroaching return to power of Sauron. Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage are once again terrific as, respectively, Gandalf, Bilbo and dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield. Standout performances also come from Lee Pace as Thranduil, who has a darker streak than any elf we’ve previously met; Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a decent and fierce elven warrior who serves Thranduil alongside his son, our old friend Legolas (Orlando Bloom); and Luke Evans as the conflicted Bard. The movie’s most anticipated new character is of course Smaug himself, wondrously realized by the visual effects artists of Weta Digital and the motion capture performance of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Jackson once again stages some rollicking fun action scenes, including one with the dwarfs escaping captivity by riding wine barrels down a raging river while orcs attack from all sides. Set pieces like this one stretch the limits of believability to their extreme (much more so than anything in the LOTR trilogy), but they’re so much fun, the choreography so delirious and inventive, and the evisceration of orcs so savagely satisfying that it’s easy to roll with. More so than any of Jackson’s previous Tolkien adaptations, this one ends with a true cliffhanger, leaving us with the familiar-by-now frustration of a year’s wait to happily continue the adventure.

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INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

The Brothers Coen have always marched to the beat of their own drum. With Inside Llewyn Davis, that drum beat has been replaced by a guitar strum, but their singular voice remains vital as ever. Their latest is a thinly plotted, character driven story of a folk singer in 1960′s New York who just can’t catch a break. Llewyn is a gifted, soulful performer, and so must be the actor who plays him. Cue the outstanding Oscar Isaac, whose musical bona fides combine with the acting prowess that has made him a standout supporting player in movies like Drive and The Bourne Legacy. It was only a matter of time before he graduated to leading man, and this film provides a rich showcase for his talents. The picaresque story unfolds over the course of a week, as Llewyn scrapes by for money, a place to sleep, and a chance to make his mark on a music scene that can’t find a place for him. While his luck never seems to catch, he doesn’t do himself any favors either. He’s impatient, stubborn, rash, unfiltered…he could be an easy character to dislike. But prickly as he is, we root for him because he has genuine talent and believes in his art, and because Isaac taps into a sort of decency underneath the rough edges.

As he drifts to and fro like a rolling stone, we meet his musician friends Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan), who do what they can to help him despite Jean’s unbridled anger at his irresponsible behavior, which may have left her pregnant after a one-night fling. Mulligan is hilarious, glaring contemptuous daggers and cutting Llewyn down to size with every bitter word. We also accompany him on a lengthy interlude to Chicago, traveling in a car with a monosyllabic driver (Garrett Hedlund) and a pompous jazz musician (John Goodman, sensational) who, when he isn’t asleep with his mouth comically agape, won’t shut the hell up.

The Coens’ frequent collaborator T Bone Burnett has assembled an impressive soundtrack of folk tunes, and the Coens allow songs to be performed in full, which not only highlights the talents of the cast, but serves the story by immersing us in Llewyn’s world. The movie looks as good as it sounds, with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel standing in for the brothers’ longtime cameraman Roger Deakins, who was tied up shooting Skyfall. Delbonnel brings a distinct palette to all of his films, which include Amelie and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. There’s a quality to his work — it’s not quite desaturated, but it’s a little blown out, just enough to lend a ghostly pallor befitting the story of an artist haunted by the encroaching reality of failure. His lighting enhances the movie’s wintery milieu, as well as working nicely in tandem with Mary Zophres’ costumes and Jess Gonchor’s production design.

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NEBRASKA

The latest from director Alexander Payne finds him back in About Schmidt territory, telling a simple story with simple filmmaking about simple people. Not that Payne has ever made a fussy or complicated film, but Nebraska is his most stripped down effort yet, shot in stark black and white and trusting that plot can take a backseat to behavior and relationships. Veteran character actor Bruce Dern gets a rare and welcome moment as star playing Woody Grant, an elderly man who believes he’s won a million dollars through the Publisher’s Clearinghouse-like sweepstakes notification he receives in the mail. Determined to collect his winnings despite efforts by his wife and adult sons to convince him that he hasn’t really won anything, he repeatedly tries to walk from his home in Montana to the company’s office in Nebraska. His son David (Will Forte) finally decides to drive him so he can discover the truth, and on the way they stop in his hometown and reconnect with family members and an old business partner, all of whom think they have a piece of the money coming to them. It doesn’t sound like enough to sustain a nearly two hour movie, but expect to be surprised and delighted by the results.

Dern doesn’t necessarily say much during the movie — his lines tend to be brief and to the point — but his eyes say plenty, and there are occasions when those eyes suggest that he’s not entirely the doddering, absent-minded old man he appears. On the contrary, he shows us that Woody remembers quite a bit about the past; probably more than he’d care to. For him, this journey is fueled by regrets and by a life of goals unfulfilled. Forte, meanwhile, makes an impressive transition from the exaggerated comedic characters he’s best known for on Saturday Night Live to the more dramatic demands of a film like this. The movie doesn’t challenge him with an especially difficult role, but he does nice work as a man hoping for one last shot at connecting with a father who, like many men of Woody’s generation and Midwestern upbringing, was never particularly open. The movie’s highlight may be the hilarious, scene-stealing performance of June Squibb as Woody’s wife Kate, who in contrast to her husband, barely seems to have a thought that she doesn’t say aloud, no matter how insulting to the living or dead. Payne has worked with Squibb before; she had a small role as Jack Nicholson’s wife in About Schmidt. Here, she’s a much bigger presence, and Payne lets her fly. She’s a bawdy riot.

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THE SPECTACULAR NOW

Last year, The Perks of Being A Wallflower attempted to recapture the spirit of the John Hughes teen classics, and here’s a movie that would make for a nice double-bill, though this one would more accurately be described (and has been by many) as a cousin to Say Anything. Miles Teller (who sounds uncannily like Jonah Hill, for what it’s worth), plays the chronically extroverted, chronically drinking high school senior Sutter Keely, who lives for the moment, with zero regard for his future. A chance encounter with Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), a pretty, unassuming classmate not previously on his radar, leads to a relationship which opens doors Sutter is unprepared to walk through. His motives with Aimee are questionable, and complicated by lingering feelings for his ex (Brie Larson), from whom he recently split. But there’s no confusion for Aimee. She’s nervously excited by Sutter’s attention and falls hard for him, plunging into the relationship so quickly that she can’t see how he might not be good for her.

Avoiding contrivances, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber — the duo behind (500) Days of Summer — and director James Ponsoldt offer a compelling drama about two teens on the verge of a new phase in their lives, each coming to terms with how they feel about each other while also dealing with loving but damaged families. Woodley, who played George Clooney’s headstrong daughter in The Descendants, plays a different kind of girl here, but embodies her with just as much emotional honesty and appeal. Teller has the charisma of Vince Vaughn, but without the  hard edge, and he never overshoots the truth of Sutter’s surfacing insecurity and pain. The two actors, who won a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Acting at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, are excellent together, and they’re aided by a lovely supporting cast that, in addition to Larson, includes the always welcome Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bob Odenkirk, Kyle Chandler and Andre Royo (a.k.a. The Wire‘s Bubbles, whose appearance caused me to let loose an audible exclamation of joy).

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SPRING BREAKERS

The latest from director Harmony Korine — his most mainstream project to date, yet still bearing his avant garde stamp — follows four coeds feeling bored and trapped in their normal lives, seeking something more, convinced that spring break in Florida holds the key to their happiness. Unable to afford the trip, Candy, Brit and Cotty (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine) rob a restaurant to come up with the cash. They collect their friend Faith (Selena Gomez) — whose strong sense of religion stands in contrast to their wilder tendencies — and the quartet head for St. Petersburg, where the party scene initially seems to offer all they were craving. Until they get arrested in a drug raid. At their arraignment, they catch the interest of a local rapper and self-described “hustler” calling himself Alien (James Franco), who bails them out. Faith is suspicious of Alien’s intentions, but the other three are easily seduced by his charm and money, both of which he has in spades.

Spring Breakers showcases plenty of the bacchanalian behavior you’d expect from a movie about hot college kids cutting loose. Kegs and bongs abound, as do tits and ass. But there’s more going on here. The movie is a rumination on consumerism, self-delusion and the shallow side of youth culture. Candy, Brit and Cotty talk themselves into committing a dangerous robbery by pretending its a video game. Brit has a black squirt gun that she’s constantly shooting into her mouth, as if enacting a small gesture of badass gangstadom. The girls are lost in the wildnerness, but they’re not in an out-of-control spiral. They’re aware that they’re lost, and especially for Candy and Brit, Alien’s hedonistic world of big guns and big money is where they want desperately to find themselves.

What really captures my attention about the movie is the style Korine brings to it. I have to steal a reference from a friend, because he perfectly encapsulated the movie’s sensibility: Spring Breakers feels like a Terrence Malick movie. It’s a tone poem in which plot and traditional narrative are emphasized much less than mood and atmosphere, and to which Korine then adds a fever dream beauty all his own. There’s a hallucinogenic quality that is achieved through the brilliant cinematography and editing by Benoît Debie and Douglas Crise, respectively. Debie and costume designer Heidi Bivens douse the movie in bright colors that pop off the screen like bubblegum and illuminate the night scenes like neon. Crise then enhances these dreamy visuals with elliptical editing, artfully slicing scenes into fragments and using the pieces to move us forward and backward through short spans of time, with voiceover often serving as the compass that keeps us going in the right direction. Indeed, it’s a distinctly Malickesque approach, applied here to the unlikeliest of subject matter.

The movie can’t be discussed without briefly mentioning Franco as Alien, an outstanding creation that ranks among the year’s best performances. The actor gets under Alien’s skin and somehow presents him as both a legitimate gangster and a parody of one, making completely believable a character that could so easily have been a caricature. Alien is no joke, but he’ll definitely have you laughing, especially in the memorable scene that finds him showing off his bedroom to Brit and Candy, constantly repeating the phrase, “Look at my shit!” as he points out individual items to be admired, from his nun-chucks to his dark tanning oil. Priceless.

Spring Breakers will not be to everyone’s taste, existing at a strange intersection of teen exploitation flick and art house abstraction. But those who give it a shot can expect an intoxicating movie that boasts one of the year’s most vibrant directorial visions.

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THIS IS THE END

Put Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, James Franco and Danny McBride in a room together, and hilarity is a guarantee. So no surprise that one of the funniest movies of the year finds these six actors playing themselves, barricaded in Franco’s house while something that looks an awful lot like the biblical end of days (with the possible exception of dogs and cats living together) consumes the world outside. “Playing themselves” isn’t totally accurate, since really each actor is playing an exaggerated — and not always flattering — version of himself, with certain interpersonal dynamics that are not at all true to life. Franco, McBride, and Hill in particular all seem to relish playing with their public image, as does Michael Cera, who appears early on. The tension of waiting out the apocalypse in a contained space would be challenging enough, but throw in all the drama that exists within the group, and the stage is set for an endless series of comedic arguments and anxieties.

The movie marks the directorial debut for Rogan and his creative partner Evan Goldberg (they also wrote it, incorporating some great shout-outs to their earlier collaborations Superbad and Pineapple Express), and the duo ensure that each member of the company gets their chance to shine. And if not everybody makes it out alive by the end, well, they meet their maker in satisfyingly comic ways. In This is the End, celebrity is skewered (and some are actually skewered), but mass death and destruction has never been so funny.

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THE WAY WAY BACK

Perhaps because I can relate to a kid who’s not cut from the mold, there was a lot for me to enjoy in this very funny movie about an awkward, gloomy 14 year-old named Duncan, played by Liam James. (Game of Thrones fans: is it me, or does this guy look like a young Theon Greyjoy?) Duncan’s divorced mother Pam (Toni Collette) is dating Trent (Steve Carell), but Duncan thinks Trent is a jerk, and could not be less enthused about spending the summer at his beach house. His misery abates when he finds an unexpected oasis in the local water park, and an adult he can actually respect in Owen (Sam Rockwell), an amiable slacker who supposedly runs the place, but spends most of his time fooling around, avoiding work and firing off rapid sarcasm so dry that Duncan can’t even recognize it for humor. Under Owen’s influence, he begins to come out of his shell and find his confidence, which he’ll need as things at home grow increasingly unpleasant. There are a lot of solid laughs throughout this well-cast movie, but it also achieves an underlying melancholy that comes not just from Duncan’s despair, but through Collette’s portrayal of a woman whose desire for companionship clouds her good sense. Allison Janney gets big laughs as Trent’s extroverted neighbor, and AnnaSophia Robb hits some nice notes as her daughter who befriends Duncan. But the heart of the movie is Duncan’s relationship with Owen, who Rockwell embodies with all the scene-stealing charm he always delivers so effortlessly. This one will leave you smiling.

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WHAT MAISIE KNEW
Adapted from an 1897 novel by Henry James and updated to a contemporary setting, What Maisie Knew centers on a 6 year-old girl whose self-involved parents — rock musician Susanna (Julianne Moore) and art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan) — bitterly divorce and then fail to balance shared custody with their professional obligations. Her care often falls to her kind nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham), who marries Beale after his split from Susanna, or to Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), a bartender friend of Susanna’s who she marries so that he can help with Maisie. As if the custody struggle between Susanna and Beale doesn’t create enough negativity for Maisie to experience, the addition of Margo and Lincoln into the equation often makes things even more complicated despite their good intentions. Lincoln initially seems ill equipped to handle a child, but quickly proves to be a loving and devoted caretaker, and it’s when Maisie is with him or Margo that she experiences childhood as she should. Her parents may love her, but have no idea how to engage with her. Even to the more affectionate Susanna, Maisie is more a prop, a vessel, than a child. It’s Margo and Lincoln who understand how to relate to her and seem most concerned for her welfare.

If you question how Margo could see the problems between Susanna and Beale and then marry him, you won’t get an answer. Nor will you get much insight into Susanna and Lincoln’s relationship prior to their marriage. The story puts the audience in Maisie’s shoes, and we are privy to events only to the extent that she is. The movie exists in fragments, little pieces of Maisie’s life that add up to show us how she is affected by the turmoil of the adult world around her. Maisie is played by Onata Aprile, an utterly enchanting little girl so adorable, natural and sweet that I’m pretty sure I felt my biological clock ticking. Just as Mud rests squarely on the shoulders of Tye Sheridan, so too does What Maisie Knew rely on the strength of its young star. The movie has stayed with me because Aprile is unforgettable, and because watching Maisie with Margot and Lincoln (Vanderham and Skarsgard are both wonderful) as they become better parents to her than her biological ones offers satisfaction that maybe there’s hope this girl won’t be screwed up by her circumstances. Maisie is surprisingly self-reliant and confident for her age, traits she surely developed out of necessity from living with her petty, inattentive parents. Aprile radiates authenticity, such that your heart will break for every time she becomes the casualty of adult failures. But it will also swell during pretty much every moment she’s onscreen.

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THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
If you haven’t seen the trailers or paid much attention to the commercials, you might expect a Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration about the rise and fall of a Wall Street hotshot to be a drama in the vein of previous collaborations like The Departed and The Aviator. But The Wolf of Wall Street is, by and large, a comedy. Not all comedies are the same of course, and this is not Judd Apatow territory (despite the excellent presence of Jonah Hill). Instead, DiCaprio, Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter (an Emmy-winning writer on The Sopranos and the creator of Boardwalk Empire) give the GoodFellas/Casino treatment to the financial industry, turning a sharply satirical eye to the story of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker in 1980’s New York who figured out a way to get obscenely rich by selling stock in worthless, rinky-dink companies to high-rolling investors who took a dive while he collected huge commissions. Jordan and his cohorts, chief among them Hill’s putzy Donnie Azoff, are engaged in all manner of illegality, but as far as they’re concerned, the money they reap outweighs the risks they take. Jordan learns early, from a Wall Street mentor played by Matthew McConaughey, that cocaine is the key to survival in the high-pressure world of stockbrokers, and that white powder is just the gateway to so much drug abuse it’s a wonder Jordan lived to see 30. (There’s an extended sequence late in the movie that will forever keep company with the adrenaline needle scene from Pulp Fiction and the Rahad Jackson scene from Boogie Nights as an absolute classic of drug-related intensity, insanity and hilarity.)

DiCaprio gives a performance so fun and ferociously committed that he almost distracts you from what an enormous asshole Jordan is. He talks at one point about deserving his wealth more than “regular” people because he’s better at spending it, and you realize that his sense of entitlement, and this disdain for blue collar workers, let alone the poor, is truly how many of the super-rich “one-percenters” see the world. And yet here we are, laughing at his antics and enjoying the ride (well, not all of us; given the controversy the film has generated, there are obviously many people who aren’t amused). But those of us who enjoy the movie might feel a little guilty, which Winter has said is exactly the intention. Our entertainment comes at a price: complicity. Hopefully not too much, though; hopefully, we’re smart enough and decent enough to see the movie not as an endorsement of Jordan’s lifestyle, but as a cautionary tale. My smiles and laughter were expressions of disbelief at the brazen hedonism exhibited by the characters, and of appreciation for Winter’s words and Scorsese’s filmmaking. So I disagree with those who have criticized the movie for glorifying the behavior of Jordan and his colleagues, but I also think it could have spent a little less time on celebration and a little more on condemnation.

The movie is three hours long, and often so manic that it seems to be hopped up on the same drugs that its characters ingest by the ton. Along with orchestrating the craziness, Scorsese draws good performances from a large cast that includes Kyle Chandler, Margot Robbie, Jon Bernthal, Joanna Lumley, Jean Dujardin, Kenneth Choi and P.J. Byrne. It’s great to see that at age 71, Scorsese is still making movies that pulse with this much energy and humor, and that he can still connect with audiences viscerally enough for his work to become a cultural lightning rod.

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As usual, I like to celebrate the best of the year in film by proposing nominations for some Oscar categories that don’t exist…give or take the number of nominees an actual Oscar category would have.

BEST POSTER



(Larger versions: Blackfish; Escape From Tomorrow; Gravity; Hell Baby; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; Lee Daniels’ The Butler; Nebraska; The Wolverine; You’re Next)

BEST CASTING
Blue Jasmine – Juliet Taylor
Inside Llewyn Davis – Ellen Chenoweth
Mud – Francine Maisler
Nebraska – John Jackson
Spring Breakers – Laray Mayfield

BEST ENSEMBLE
12 Years a Slave; American Hustle; August: Osage County; Out of the Furnace; Prisoners; This is the End; The Way Way Back

BEST BODY OF WORK
Benedict Cumberbatch (12 Years a Slave, August: Osage County, The Fifth Estate, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Star Trek into Darkness)
Ben Foster (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Kill Your Darlings, Lone Survivor)
Rooney Mara (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Her, Side Effects)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, The Wolf of Wall Street)
Sam Shepard (August: Osage County, Mud, Out of the Furnace)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A NEWCOMER…THAT DIDN’T GET AN OSCAR NOMINATION
Chadwick Boseman – 42
Elizabeth Debicki – The Great Gatsby
Jacob Lofland – Mud
Tye Sheridan – Mud
Nat Wolff – Admission; Stuck in Love

BEST TRAILER
Gravity; Inside Llewyn Davis; Machete Kills; The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST SONG SOUNDTRACK
American Hustle; Inside Llewyn Davis; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; The Wolf of Wall Street; The World’s End

BEST OPENING CREDITS
Crystal Fairy; The Fifth Estate; Monsters University; Oz the Great and Powerful; World War Z

BEST CLOSING CREDITS
A.C.O.D.; August: Osage County; Epic; Gangster Squad; Saving Mr. Banks; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
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At the end of every year, you can find a slew of videos on YouTube that pay tribute to the movies of the previous 12 months through an extended, comprehensive clip montage. I always enjoy them, and like to include some in this annual post. I usually use at least two, because inevitably one might not feature certain movies at all, or only for a split second. I like all the bases to be covered, and between these three, 2013 is pretty well represented.


(Click here for list of movies)
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10 Comments »

  1. I have bookmarked this page for when I want to watch a good movie. Great list as usual, I’ll forgive you including another rings movie over Arnold and Stallone kicking ass in escape plan.

    Comment by ggears — February 22, 2014 @ 9:24 pm | Reply

    • Let me take advantage of your forgiving mood by warning you now that Expendables 3 is unlikely to show up on next year’s list.

      Comment by DB — February 22, 2014 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  2. So what were the movies that you had zero interest in seeing? :)

    Comment by Shirley H — February 23, 2014 @ 9:27 pm | Reply

    • Well, let’s see…almost anything horror/slasher – Evil Dead, The Last Exorcism Part II (think about that title for a moment), Texas Chainsaw 3D, You’re Next. Or dumb, loud action movies like G.I. Joe: Retaliation, White House Down, A Good Day to Die Hard (how low a once mighty series has fallen). And stuff that just looked bad – Jack the Giant Slayer, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Call, 47 Ronin…the list goes on.

      Comment by DB — February 23, 2014 @ 11:40 pm | Reply

      • I watched all of those! just kidding. actually i did watch 2.5 of those movies, 1.5 of them mostly in fast forward. How can you even stand being around me? :)
        P.S. I still highly recommend The Vampire Diaries. Clearly, i know quality when I see it!

        Comment by Shirley H — February 24, 2014 @ 11:23 pm | Reply

        • I also left off a few Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies. Didn’t want to offend Grantland!

          Comment by DB — February 25, 2014 @ 12:28 am | Reply

  3. Per usual, your post resulted in additions to my to-watch list . . . did you see World’s End? If so, what did you think?

    Comment by May — February 23, 2014 @ 10:09 pm | Reply

    • I did see World’s End. Liked it, though not as much as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz (or Paul, for that matter, even though that had a different director). But I also have a feeling that I’ll grow more fond of it over time, once I inevitably see it again. You really can’t go wrong with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. They’re one of the great duos of our time.

      Comment by DB — February 23, 2014 @ 11:44 pm | Reply

  4. Awesome job, David. Always a pleasure to read your tomes :) I agree about the best soundtrack category especially for American Hustle. Who knew that this year I would get the treat of a brand-spanking-new Jeff Lynne tune?

    Comment by maestro122 — February 24, 2014 @ 1:28 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Gordon. Glad you enjoyed. If you’ve been on your usual February frenzy to see all the Oscar nominated movies, then you must have caught many of these by now, if you hadn’t already.

      Comment by DB — February 25, 2014 @ 12:25 am | Reply


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