The first half of 2013 was not a stellar year for movies. Aside from Woody Allen’s splendidly dark BLUE JASMINE, little was memorable. Even less, award worthy. But in the last few months, the films that have emerged are incredibly impressive and going to make for a compelling awards season.
The New York Film Critics chime in with their “Best of 2013” list already on December 2. I will have not seen all the films I need to see then to make such judgments myself. But I can tell you now that there is a lot to be thankful for at the movies. And what better time to laud them than Thanksgiving Day?
|Sandra Bullock in GRAVITY|
For my money, it’s the film of the year. This simple story about an astronaut (Sandra Bullock) struggling to survive when she’s lost in space affected me like no other this year. Apparently, it’s done the same to others as it’s gotten a 97 out of 100 rating at Rotten Tomatoes (http://bit.ly/WV06), and has made almost 250 million at the box office so far. Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron’s dissertation on loneliness moved me to both tears and exhilaration. And his technical achievement is unmatched this year. Tell me you don’t believe you are in space the entire time, IMAX screen or not. And you know where else you are the whole time? On the edge of your seat.
|Matthew McConaughey in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.|
The actor who has impressed me the most this year is McConaughey. While he’s always been a likable romantic lead and a good actor, in the last few years he’s challenged himself with risky roles far outside the traditional comfort zone of his ‘good ol’ boy’ image. He gave a tough supporting performance in MUD this year, and in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, he gives one of the best performances of 2013. It is nothing less than amazing. He dropped some 40 pounds to play AIDS-inflicted Ron Woodruff, but more importantly, McConaughey digs deep into the psyche of the character he’s playing. He plays the man as frightened, furious, and reluctantly courageous as Woodruff fights to not only try to beat the deadly disease but also to curb his own worst macho and bigoted redneck impulses.
|Vera Farmiga in THE CONJURING|
Just when I feared the horror genre was being overrun with lame sequels, insipid remakes and scripts that favored gore over character, along comes James Wan’s complex and disturbing thriller THE CONJURING. The story, based on real-life 1970’s paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), was a crackling thriller that earned all of its scares honestly and earnestly. It’s not only the best horror movie of the year; it’s one of the best films of the year.
|The various posters for Lars von Trier's film NYMPHOMANIAC|
THE POSTERS FOR NYMPHOMANIAC
Lars von Trier always can be counted on to be provocative and controversial. Personally, I think he’s much more than that, one of our more distinctive and smart voices working in cinema today. His latest, about sex, promises more of all of that. And the posters are certainly this year’s most breakthrough expressions on the broadsheet canvas in some time.
ALL IS LOST
Can a movie with only one actor in it be an utterly compelling big screen experience? If it’s a film by J. C. Chandor and stars Robert Redford in a career-capping performance of unerring grace and skill, it sure can!
|Adele Exarchopoulos in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR|
I don’t know if this young French actress of only 20 will be the next Catherine Deneuve or Juliette Binoche, but right now, this year, she gave what I consider to be the performance of 2013. Her lead in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR wrung me out. She is laid bare on the screen in Abdellatif Kechiche’s brutally honest film about the course of a relationship. Not only was Exarchopoulos asked to do the most intimate sex scenes I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture, but she bared her soul too. Every raw emotion was there throughout, from her ecstasy to her distress to her depression. Her nose ran, her cheeks burned, and she was often a hot mess, but it is an utterly moving portrayal of a young woman trying to find her place in the world and I’m still obsessing over Exarchopolous’ achievement a month after seeing it.
I’ve said it before, that he’s our nation’s best living filmmaker (http://bit.ly/10Hzz3i), and Woody continues to amaze with this year’s BLUE JASMINE. The story of a rich woman losing everything, including her own sense of worth, is a searing work from the 77-year-old, and it’s one of the year’s best films.
THE BUTLER and 12 YEARS A SLAVE have garnered great reviews and big audiences this year. White audiences too. So has FRUITVALE STATION. That’s great, considering all are complex films that don’t blanch from showing white discrimination and their persecution of blacks. Perhaps America is recognizing such stories are compelling, need to be told, and shouldn’t be ignored. And even more wonderfully, diverse audiences are lining up for light fluff like BEST MAN HOLIDAY too. A good story is a good story. And no matter the race, creed or sex of the cast, more often than not, human experiences are relatable to all.
|Bruce Dern in NEBRASKA|
THE BEST ACTOR RACE THIS YEAR
Look at this list of possible nominees for male lead of 2013: Bruce Dern, Chiwetol Ejiofar, Tom Hanks, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Redford, Forest Whitaker, Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar Isaac, Miles Teller, Hugh Jackman…My God, maybe Oscar's Best Actor category should be pushed to allow 10 instead of five...or even 20!
|Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron|
Speaking of Oscars, Mr. Cuaron, I believe the Best Director one will be yours come March 2, and very possibly the one for Best Picture too.
Well, those are just 10 things I’m thrilled with this year. How about you? Share your thoughts here and let’s keep this dialogue going, shall we?