15. Captain Phillips (2013) – A completely different type of hostage story from A Hijacking (2012). The shooting starts early and the amount of negotiations is held to a minimum. From start to finish, Tom Hanks delivers a grand performance. Never once do you feel as though it is Tom Hanks. The film also succeeded in giving the pirates a story that wasn’t too heavy handed, but gave them enough motivation for us believe why they put their lives on the line to take seige on a multimillion dollar ship.
For the most part it felt like a ‘true-story blockbuster’ up until Uncle Sam stood up, started thumping his chest and the Navy Seals were sent in. The scenes as the US military establishment took over the negotiations, there was a feel of America’s military propaganda beginning to take over. The shift is transparent, when the negotiations move from Captain Phillips to the Navy and then to the White House. Thankfully, we had enough vested in the captors and the hostage that we quickly overlook this detraction. At the very end when Captain Phillips is being observed, it is the scene of frigidly cold treatment received by medical professionals contrasted by the raw emotional warmth of Hanks’ performance that makes this film one of the best of the year.
14. It’s a Disaster (2012) – Of all the world-apocalypse gatherings in 2013 (including The World’s End (2013) and This is the End (2013)), It’s a Disaster was the most original and witty. Every week a group of four couples come together for a weekly Sunday brunch. As we are introduced to each couple, we see that they each have their own quirks and role within the group, but it is evident that this routine is starting to feel more like a weekly Armageddon.
Before long the group realizes that the world is coming to an end. As poisonous gasses begin to creep into the house, the couple’s interactions explode on screen. The straight-laced science schoolteacher goes all Breaking-Bad in the medicine cabinet and creates her own Ecstasy. DANCE PARTY! While another couple turns to its swinger tactics to try and swing its way into the afterlife. Ultimately, each couple have their own way of dealing with their demise. Some people fight and some people detach, it is Glen (David Cross) who maintains his focus and becomes the most reliable person at the brunch.
I lost count how many times the world was supposed to end in 2012 and 2013, but It’s A Disaster was the best and most original take on the rapture.
13. Drinking Buddies (2013) – A late entry to the year-end list, director Joe Sawnberg’s Drinking Buddies stars Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde as two workers for a large microbrewery who have a relationship in which they might be considered ‘working spouses’. They are both in separate serious relationships, but at work, are pretty exclusive. They joke, they drink, it’s everything included in a happy relationship except being physical.
The first act is trying to make Olivia Wilde be less of the bombshell she is by portraying her chugging beer, riding bikes, playing football, etc. The film takes some dark turns from its bubbly persona and before long both couples have broken up, leaving what one would assume, the possibility for the two to start dating. It’s a quality movie for the simple fact that it isn’t your normal rom-com. The relationship never fully resembles the formulaic romance and plot seen within the genre. There are palpable feelings between the characters that push the story forward. Sometimes you like where the relationship between Johnson and Wilde is headed, but the majority of Drinking Buddies’ footing exists without exaggerated plots twists and maintains a real-life relationship. This little (dare-I-say) rom-com requires a dark amber ale and good watch.
12. Blue Jasmine (2013) – Even when Woody Allen tries to give the west coast (San Francisco) some love, he fails by including too many east coasters in the plot. Louis C.K., Alec Baldwin, and a slew of side characters resembling meatheads straight from the Jersey Shore chew up the scenery. Yet at the end of the day it was the women who carried this nervous breakdown to the finish line.
The foundation of the story is cemented with the unstable material of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett). A long way from her marriage to a wealthy investment banker and being a well-regarded socialite from New York City, Jasmine now crashes on her younger sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) couch. Jasmine has made her Vera Wang bed, and now she must lie in it. Perhaps giving the greatest performance of 2013, Blanchett certainly gave it her all. I also feel concern for her liver after all the self medication she took.
11. The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012) – Felix Van Groeningen’s film, The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012), is a well-crafted story about a Flanders bluegrass singer Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and his tattoo-covered lover Elise (Veerle Baetens) and how their relationship is challenged by the direst of circumstances. Expertly edited between differing times in the couple’s relationship, Van Groeningen has created an uplifting and heart-wrenching experience.
The beginning of TBCB opens in a Ghent hospital with the couple’s circle being broken, while they are receiving horrible news about their daughter, Maybelle. The story then cuts back to when the circle was first connected: the first time when they realized their love for one another. For the first hour, the film continuously cuts back and forth between the past (as the couple falls in love), the present (as their little girl grows more sick), and the future (circumstances they deal with afterwards). Several of these segments are then interlaced by musical performances by Didier, Elise, and Didier’s bluegrass band.
The story weakens by the third act, but the musical performances coupled by the first hour make TBCB an emotional experience that transcends itself from merely being just another cancer film.
10. To The Wonder (2012) – Even with one of the worst castings of an actor in recent memory, this film still cracks into my top ten simply due to Terrance Malick’s ability to emulate emotion through his scenery and images. The majority of Malick’s films have settled themselves as personal favorites including Thin Red Line (1998), The Tree of Life (2011), and The New World (2005). Yet I admit this to be my least favorite from his portfolio. For me it’s simple to place the blame – Ben Affleck. (I would recommend that Affleck continue to direct himself as the hero in all of his movies and please stay out of films that require someone with true talent to show emotion.) I would say that Affleck ruined one of the best performances of the year by Olga Kurylenko.
The brightest spot of this film was Kurylenko. Every look and every motion seems legitimate and genuine. Every frame belongs to her. Just as Jessica Chastain soared in The Tree of Life, Kurylenko matches the spirit of the film and takes it to a higher level.
9. Side Effects (2013) – Steven Soderbergh’s swan song revealed a conspiracy within the drug industry that stretches from the depressed user all the way to the Pharmaceutical CEO. The film is an expertly crafted and paranoid thriller that, upon first glance, feels like a slow-paced drama of a depressed young woman (Rooney Mara) with her psychiatrist (Jude Law). Then, with the turn of a knife, the film reveals itself as new and original. We then begin to wonder whether her actions are caused by side effects or deliberate actions. The pace is perfect as it slowly reveals its characters true colors and just as soon as you think you’ve determined the final motives, an entire new layer is unfolded. Smart, wicked, and engaging are only a few words worthy of Side Effects.
8. The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) – A traveling carnival motorcyclist, Luke (Ryan Gosling), makes an annual trip with his outfit through the city of Schenectady. There he has a relationship with Romina (Eva Mendes). Within seconds the story jumps forward to the next encounter and then the next, with approximately one year between each. On one trip, Ryan comes to find out that he fathered Romina’s child from a previous trip. On impulse, Luke quits his job and attempts to become involved in his one-year-old son’s life. The only issue is that, between the annual encounters with Luke, Romina has found a stable boyfriend, Kofi (Mahershala Ali), who provides security and stability.
The Place Beyond the Pines is an unconventional coming of age story expertly split into three segments. Each decade is given a segment to show fatherhood and how one’s legacy has affected the next generation. From the first hair-raising stunt to the lonely ending, it is difficult to look away from this generation bending masterpiece.
7. Mr. Nobody (2009) – A Belgian film that has been collecting dust on some bastard’s shelf while everyone’s lawyers tried to figure out its distribution rights. Mr. Nobody is an ambitious, thought-provoking science fiction tale about choices, time, and everything in between. Perhaps the second most frustratingly smart film this year (see my number #1), we find Jared Leto play 118 year-old Nemo in the year 2092 suffering from dementia. He is the last living mortal whose actual decisions leave a lasting impression on his remaining time on Earth. Yet as the story is told through his confused perspective, we begin to wonder whether his recollection of the past is caused by his squishy brain or his lack of choices. Is it possible that he actually had three different wives – three different lives – all at the same time? Could it be possible he made one choice, but lived his life as if he made the other?
If you were a fan of The Butterfly Effect (2004), then this is the sci-fi indulgence for you. If you hated The Butterfly Effect because of Ashton Kutcher, then you may still love Mr. Nobody despite the fact that Jared Leto’s hair is equally annoying. Either way, I applaud the film for its boldness and originality from start to finish.
6. Gravity (2013) – Sometimes the positives so outweigh the negatives, those negatives are completely nullified. There is no doubt Gravity will take your breath away. I’m fully aware that there was hardly any character arch or likability in the Sandra Bullock character. I’m also fully aware that George Clooney aced his part acting like a likeable George Clooney. Who the hell cares when you’re seeing what you are witnessing. The sounds (or lack there of), the claustrophobia, the lack of air – the audience experiences every one of these aspects during the film. I’ve discussed Gravity with several people who simply shrug their shoulders, thinking it was only an okay way to spend 90 minutes. Yet their shoulders were still tense from the night before witnessing the second best survival film of the year (see number five on this list).
My take is that there simply are no gimmicks in the narrative. There is no love story, no flashbacks, not even any frames with Houston in it. It’s only two people drifting in space doing everything they can to muster the courage to survive. The film set out to take you to a place you’ve never been before, and it achieved its goal. I recommend you sit back, and let Gravity cast you adrift.