By Ray Manukay
This year was a fantastic year for quality films. Especially near the end of the year when a high number of critically acclaimed films were released…at the same time. I held off posting this list until I could see at least a majority of them. But we are well into 2014 and it seems inappropriate to hold off the list any longer. So I just want to divulge that I have not seen the award season favorites Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, August Osage County and Blue is the Warmest Color. I have no doubt that I’ll see them eventually and it may affect this list. In any event, I’ll keep the reader posted through our social media channels if I do decide to re-evaluate my picks.
Honorable Mention: (In no particular Order:)
Dallas Buyers Club
All is Lost
Out of the Furnace
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Great Gatsby
The Lone Ranger
Here are my Favorite Films of 2013!
directed by CHAN-WOOK PARK
The film Stoker is not for everyone. In fact, for traditional audiences it is often almost unbearable to watch.
The truth is as unsavory and disturbing as the events in Stoker appear to be, the film is absolutely riveting and mesmerizing. It’s this conflict that drives the enjoyment of Stoker. Often times film critics almost tripped over themselves trying to describe the film, calling Stoker “disturbingly good” or a film of “savage beauty“. I prefer a more straight forward description: One of the year’s best.
# 9: Mud
directed by JEFF NICHOLS
This humble coming-of-age drama benefits from impressive performances from Tye Sheridan, Matthew McConaughy and an outstanding ensemble cast. But the real strength of Mud is the steady hand of writer and director Jeff Nichols. In lesser hands, the film could have easily turned formulaic. But Jeff Nichols manages to keep the proceedings truthful and earnest. Mud brilliantly captures the complexities, disappointments and optimism of romantic relationships. What’s unique about the film is that Mud covers this ground without being a traditional romance. In fact several genres are used to explore the core theme of true love. It is an impressive feat and solidifies Jeff Nichols place as one of the most exciting, emerging voices in film today.
directed by ALFONSO CUARON
There is not much more praise I can add to the kudos that Gravity has already received. At its heart the movie is a simple survival film. But Gravity is much more when one factors in the technical achievements and visual effects of the film. Some of the effects are almost mind boggling and defy description. When it is all said and done Gravity is simply the best action film of the year.
#7:The Place Beyond the Pines
directed by DEREK CIANFRANCE
Exploring the relationships between fathers and sons was a popular theme this year, and as the reader will soon see, is well represented on this list. The Place Beyond the Pines explores the age old story of when the sins of the father trickles down to the son. At the center of the film is the outstanding performances by Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. It’s unfortunate that the film was released early in the year. It’s clear that short-sighted awards season voters overlooked the film. The Place Beyond the Pines is unapologetically dramatic bordering on operatic and will be recognized in the future for being one of the Underrated gems of 2013.
directed by SPIKE JONZE
Putting aside the selling point for the film Her of a man falling in love with his computer’s operating system, the theme of the film is really quite simple.
Relationships and love are complicated.
Not to mention challenging, absurd, selfish, romantic, comforting, disconcerting …even insane.
Spike Jonze’s Her touches on all those points and does so brilliantly. After initially almost mocking the idea of a man falling in love with an inanimate object Her forces the audience to look at themselves and examine their own relationships. Her explores the absurdities, the benefits, the pain and joys of being in love. After awhile the idea of falling in love with a computer, doesn’t seem so crazy after all. In fact it might be even more sane and less complicated than falling in love with an actual person.
#5: 12 Years a Slave
directed by STEVE MCQUEEN
To call 12 Years a Slave a difficult film is an understatement. As much as I agree with all the kudos that the film has received for being important, powerful, educational, dramatic and ultimately inspiring, I also have to give merit to the criticisms towards the film for being exploitative, morbid, inappropriately beautiful and desensitizing.
In short, my feelings for 12 Years a Slave are complex.
On the one hand 12 Years a Slave is a powerful piece of cinema, featuring amazing performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o, but on the other hand it’s not a movie that I would want to watch as entertainment multiple times.
It’s painful and disturbing to watch.
Which… is the point of 12 Years a Slave. As much as we wish that it did, the wounds caused by slavery, have not completely healed. Its effects are still felt today. As painful as it is to endure, 12 Years a Slave is a film that needs to be seen. (Much like Schindler’s List or another strong social commentary drama from this year Fruitvale Station). 12 Years a Slave creates conversation and provokes thought. Which is what a great film aspires to.
#4: The Spectacular Now
directed by JAMES PONSOLDT
It wasn’t too long ago that coming-of-age films were considered a cheap off-shoot of the raunchy sex comedy genre. The cynical idea of youth being wasted on the youth no doubt contributed to Hollywood’s lack of genuine and accurate coming of age films. But as we all know, there is so much more than the discovery of sex that goes into our formative years and The Spectacular Now is an example of a perfect coming of age film. Despite some of the heavy themes such as alcoholism, responsibility, death and yes…sex, none of it comes off as preachy or exploitative. In fact, there is so much that is great in The Spectacular Now that I find it difficult to string together worthy enough adjectives to describe the movie.
The best thing that I can come up with is the idea of catching lightning in a bottle.
The film is full of little moments that do this. Some of the moments left me breathless with how accurate and sincere they came across. One of the themes in the film is the idea of the effects on a young man living in a home without a father figure. That is just one of the subtle themes in the film. There are tons of them. The ideas almost creep up on the viewer as they watch. The moments are so truthful that we never feel preached to or force fed. They just happen and are absorbed just like in real life. A confrontation near the end of the movie between a mother, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and his son played by Miles Teller is arguably one of the most moving, painful and ultimately inspiring moments in the year of film. It is the result of the perfect blend of strong acting, excellent writing and honest direction. A brilliant captured moment for everyone to see.
The Spectacular Now is simply put… spectacular.
#3: About Time
I know this is not a traditional best-of-the-year pick by many. But this under-rated gem was one of the most enjoyable and touching films I’ve seen in recent memory. About Time was marketed as a romantic comedy, but that’s only one aspect of the film, and a minor one at that. Comparisons have been made to the cult classic Groundhog Day which is slightly accurate, but not really fair. About Time is not as cynical or comedic.
In fact, it’s not even as romantic.
About Time is more of an unabashedly life affirming film. A humble call to cherish our loved ones and to not sweat the small stuff in life. Without creeping too much into spoiler territory, the time travel aspect featured in the film is not so much a gimmick or device, but more of an analogy on how to deal with life’s unavoidable bumps.
About time also shares some themes with The Place Beyond the Pines and The Spectacular Now which were also featured on this list.
The exploration of the father and son relationship.
If The Place Beyond the Pines is about the sins of the father, and The Spectacular Now is about the challenges of a young man growing up without a father figure, About Time explores the strengths and benefits of having a loving and ideal father.
I admit, the father/son relationship in this film is a bit too perfect. There is a bit of a fairy tale aspect at play here. One glance at this list and the reader will see that cynicism, and harsh reality is well represented. So forgive me if I crave a bit of fairy tale in my entertainment now and then. Don’t we need a little of that in our life and in our entertainment? God knows I do. That is what About Time provides.
Above all, About Time is an enjoyable, breezy and inspiring film and worthy of being called one of the year’s best.
#2: The Act of Killing
directed by JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER
There are plenty of jaw dropping and shocking truth bombs in this unique and groundbreaking documentary. But it would be inaccurate to characterize this film as a simple shock-fest or history exploration documentary. The Act of Killing is also about the power of film and art. Both positively and negatively.
Director Joshua Oppenheimer and the makers of this film use the subject’s love of entertainment and media to subtly both shed a light on the little known mass political murders which occurred in 1965 in North Sumatra and also slowly uncover the vulnerabilities and humanity of the film’s main subject, a gangster named Anwar Congo. A man that one can justifiably be called a monster.
It is an awe-inspiring balancing act.
On the surface, we are seeing how crime films and the media possibly influenced and inspired these “gangsters” to commit some of these atrocities. On the other hand, we see the effects on the subjects when they re-enact the monstrous events of their past. The performances acts as a sense memory for Anwar Congo and it unexpectedly awakens feelings of pain, loss and regret. That’s just one small sample of one of the levels in this amazing film.
The Act of Killing also works as a traditional documentary, subtly inspiring a call for action against a corrupt government and system. It also touches on how we as a society are all in some ways responsible for creating and encouraging an environment like this.
And my favorite film of 2013 is…
#1: The Wolf of Wall Street
directed by MARTIN SCORSESE
Let’s just get this out of the way. I don’t condone the type of wild and outrageous behavior depicted in The Wolf of Wall Street.
In fact, I find it deeply disgusting and infuriating.
Just like I find the killings in a film like Goodfellas disturbing or the excessive, reckless drug use in Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas reckless and irresponsible.
My admiration of The Wolf of Wall Street and those previously mentioned films is not an endorsement of those kinds of life choices.
But that kind of consumer driven mentality exists and The Wolf of Wall Street powerfully illustrates the practice of that. The fact that it has provoked such a strong reaction from some people speaks to the power of this film.
I don’t think The Wolf of Wall Street glorify’s the greed is good lifestyle.
Yes. The film is wrapped in the guise of a comedy. But who says comedies can’t be thought provoking, painfully truthful or disturbing? In fact, that is the best kind of comedy.
Critics of The Wolf of Wall Street also point to the so-called happy ending. But is it really a happy ending or a painfully truthful indictment on how our American society rewards people like this?
To me it illustrates how we are all in some way responsible for creating and supporting people like this. That’s at least my interpretation. I’m not definitively proclaiming another artist theme for for their piece. That’s not for me to say. But if this is indeed the case, which I suspect it is, isn’t that a worthy message to send to audiences in these financially driven times?
Again, I don’t want to speak for the filmmakers. But let’s give arguably the greatest story teller and dramatic visionary of our time, some credit and agree there may be some truth to this argument. Especially when the alternative viewpoint is greed at all costs is good.
Sure. This opens up another can of worms to consider. Is it really an effective message if it may be confusing to some of the audience. That argument can be made. But personally I find the best kind of art is the one that isn’t so overt with it’s intentions, but more subtle, and thought provoking. But that’s a personal preference. I have no problem with people who prefer the opposite. This is debatable, and I don’t wish to engage in that discussion here.
But putting aside the moral complications of The Wolf of Wall Street, the film itself is a fantastic piece of entertainment. It is filled with exciting performances, riveting story, drama, suspense, and laugh-out-loud comedic moments.
The Wolf of Wall Street is an enjoyable showcase of skills from arguably the greatest director and one of our most talented performers living today.
That is why the film is my favorite of 2013.