Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Top Ten Films of 2013


Gravity movie

Gravity is the best film of the year, the film takes hold of you from the moment the film starts, and never lets you go.  This is a story about human perseverance, and is representative of everything a great film should be.

"Alfonso Cuaron's work as both the director and editor on this film enhance the emotionally raw, and suspenseful nature of this film, which defies the odds.The technical aspects of this film, make many other films out there look like child's play.

While Gravity is mostly about the visual effects, there is something to be said about the performances, especially Bullock.  While I have never doubted Ms. Bullock's comedic timing, and she has proved her dramatic chops, in Crash, not in her Academy Award winning performance in The Blind Side, I did not expect this from her.  Bullock is great in this role and she helps sell the loneliness of the experience, the panic, the urgency, she makes you gasp for air as she does, because the film takes your breath away.

Gravity is a special film, and is one of the most awe inspiring film experiences I ever.  The film has both a visual and emotional impact that will have a lasting impact on audiences, and film auteurs for years to come."


"There is brilliance in the work from director/writer Spike Jonez, which not only highlights the difficulty of recovering from a meaningful relationship, while also commenting on the way people use technology as a means to cope with anything.  Jonez is masterful at creating films, which on paper seem  out of this world, but are grounded in the recesses of emotional experiences, like Being John Malkovich, and Where the Wild Things Are.  Her is meant to live within the future of Los Angeles where the style feels like a blend 60s clothing, and modern office layouts.  K. K. Barrett's production design sets the stage so well making you feel as though you do and don't know time and place, adding to the mystique of the film.

Jonez is brilliant at building the syntax to connect these bridges; he sets up this great romance between Theodore and Samantha, makes you root for their relationship like any other film.  On the other hand Jonez also conveys the message that in today's society humans fear the rejection from others so much we are willing to cling to machines, in this case an OS named Samantha.  Like with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this film has you question the value in an OS.  In Mind you question erasing a past relationship in this you wonder "would I get an OS to get over someone?"

3-12 Years a Slave 

"No film has captured the American slavery as well as 12 Years a Slave.  Roots may be one of the few things that does a solid job (up until now) because it was in a mini-series format, but Solomon Northup's book, with which this is based on, allows one of the darkest chapters in American history to be fully explored on every level.

While some have detracted McQueen's "art-house visuals" I have always embraced them and feel as though he extends them within this, mixing the traditional narrative of Solomon's story.  McQueen's structure with his direction works even better within this film because of the superb connection with diary-like format of John Ridley's script.  Ridley and McQueen work hard to make you feel as though everything we see, and hear comes from vantage point of Solomon.  These two men are the first black men to direct and write a film about the experience of slavery.  

Together all the people behind the scenes create the perfect window into the evil world of slavery.  Sean Bobbit's brilliant cinematography can not be ignored; he has worked with McQueen on Shame, and Hunger.  This man knows how to create the perfect shot, within Shame there was the sequence where Michael Fassbender was running through New York City, and in this film its the sequence of shots where Solomon is almost hung from a tree.  These series camera of shots from 12 Years haunt me.  Joe Walker's editing cuts just the like whip within each lashing, there is this precise movement showing every pain.  These two men like McQueen, and Ridley are the creative minds who made this an incredibly real experience."

4-Inside Llewyn Davis

"Llewyn is not only defined by the music, but by the brilliant Oscar Isaac, who gives one of the best performances of the year.  The Coens stressed the authenticity of the music, and that the full versions of songs be sung by every actor in the film.  Isaac carries the film, its performance as an actor and a musician, which must carry the film, and does so flawlessly.  Not only did Oscar Isaac create a deeply layered character through his acting, but his singing and music brought me to tears, especially his last performance.  Llewyn Davis is a complicated character, he won't be trained monkey at a dinner party, music is his work, the folk music is a part of his soul, and Isaac captures every layered moment.

The Coen Brothers came of age during this era, and their passion for the music sets the stage for everything you see in Llewyn Davis.  They created an aura of the early arrivals to this genre, in 1961 Greenwich Vilage.  Their passions combined with beautifully shot cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel tell the story of a man trying to find his footing through his passion."

5-The Wolf of Wall Street 

"Leonardo DiCaprio pulls off another "Gatsby-like" role with Jordan, but within this film the material is much stronger, and the range of his performance is so damn convincing.  Jordan could and maybe should be described as a terrible person, but like the real life person many were drawn into his world, and you feel the same way about DiCaprio's performance.  DiCaprio speechifies, he has the command of his stock troops, or even when he's lying to the people he "loves" there is something so raw, and brutal about this performance."

"Martin Scorsese pushes the limits; he tells a darker, braver story about a group of guys who con the pants off Wall Street.  Using Winter's brilliant script Scorsese's tale blends humor to show just how ridiculous the world of white collar crime has become, and some of the earliest stories from people stealing from the poor and keeping for themselves.  Scorsese does not clean up the story, he shines a bright spot light on just how nasty these men were, and that even in the end the they still try to sell themselves and other people their bull shit.  In the hands of a lesser team this could have gone badly, but with Scorsese and Leo they pull off another great work of art."

6-The Act of Killing

After months this film still haunts me.  Joshua Oppenheimer delves into the past lives of former Indonesian death squad killers.  Oppenheimer gets these men to re-create their killings set to their favorite films.  As the film starts these men gladly, and with great excitement take part in this project, but as the film pushes on you see a prolonged sense of false pride in different men's faces.

These are not well organized men, but a group of thugs who set forth and kill numerous people based on ethnicity.  The reasoning is unfathomable because of the diverse array of people who live in this part of the world.  Yet these men idealized the American gangster, the US version of the death squad, like Scarface, and Al Capone.  These men believed it was their duty to take part in these killings, reenact them, and be like their favorite gangster in film.

At the end of the day Oppenheimer, did not do this film, he worked with Anonymous too, lots of people name Anonymous.  The message of the film, along with this concept that people from make-up to directors were not able to stand up and show that this was a piece of their own work.  Even as I type this, the message of this film, and what these men represent is sits on my chest, and that's why this film resonates.

7-Before Midnight 

"While the script is impeccable, Linklater's direction is proof that he is one of the most underrated American directors.  Linklater creates the most intimate scenes, pushing you into this couples world so well; he knows how to create the moments blending humor and darkness.  Linklater envelopes the emotion and plants you firm into the world of these two, and while it should feel obtrusive you get sucked into their lives, namely because you feel like you know these people from the prior films, and maybe even in real life.

Many people know the slacker Jesse, that typical American adult who no matter what acts like a teenage boy, but yet has this romantic at the core.  Hawke is fantastic in this film; he has grown into Jesse well.   What I like about Hawke's portrayal of Jesse is that he never changes, because as jesse he knows he has to cling to what he knows in order to remain comfortable.  Hawke knows this and tackles his wit and romantic with such ease. Delpy knocks it out of the park, but in a different way.  Celine is no longer the cool French girl, but now the insecure mother who feels as though she is losing her ideals she once had.  Delpy is fantastic and incredibly vulnerable, and gives birth to the evolution of Celine.  Hawke along with Delpy have co-written this films once again, proving they know these characters maybe even better than they know themselves, and you feel as though these characters are ingrained within their being, they are both that good."

8-Fruitvale Station 

"This study of young Oscar could not be possible, without the brilliant performance from from Michael B. Jordan.  Jordan is such a natural in this role; he embodies every aspect of young Osc (nickname), all the way down to his smile.  Jordan played the young drug dealer Wallace in the television series The Wire, and based on an interview at Sundance, Coogler stated that the role was tailor made for Jordan.  Jordan conveys the balance between have that dark edge, and being that love able guy brilliantly. Jordan conveys this best while his mother Wanda visits him in prison.  You can't help but feel the depth in this moment.

One of the most tragic things about the story within this film is that Oscar died almost exactly on his mother's birthday.  Octavia Spencer has shed even the minute comedic shades of her role in The Help, and past acting experiences to channel the depth and love of Wanda.  Wanda is a loving mother who wants to do the best for her son; she wants him to succeed, which is the general tone of this film.  

Station is about a young flawed man, who you want to see succeed; he tries hard throughout this film film, to be the best he can be for his mother, girlfriend, and daughter, but he never gets the opportunity, which is one of the greatest aspects of this tragedy.  Fruitvale Station is a raw emotional journey that provides an broad perspective on a young man with prospects who never got to live to meet his potential."


"Payne's direction with this film, and Woody's story is some of the precise film making I have ever seen. Payne direction captures each wobbly sign, to the light flickering on the sign at the local tavern.  Payne worked with cinematographer Phedon Pappamichael, capturing some of the best black and white cinematography I have seen.  While I am almost always critical of modern black and white cinematography there is something haunting about the way Nebraska's landscape is captured.  Payne has worked with Pappamichael on two other films Sideways, and The Descendants.  This films cinematography proves these two are a dynamic duo with visuals.  

Payne is collaborating with screen writer Bob Nelson, for the first time, but the script feels like Payne's most personal film in years.  The story of father and sons, husband and wife, and family as everyone grows old, moves away, and reaches a different point in their life.  The film has some of the funniest moments in any of his films, the one liners about the town, and family gossip from wife and mother Kate Grant (Squibb), had me in stitches.  Kate is the funny one; she has put up with her husband for a long time, but she also loves and cares for him.  Squibb is brilliant in this role.

There should be no surprise that Payne has gotten strong performances from his ensemble.Payne hits every emotional mark with his actors, capturing the silent brilliance, letting the actor tell the story through actions rather than just through words.  Payne gets great work from his actors, and while Squibb is a true standout, Forte and Dern are a great duo."

10-Captain Phillips 

"Greengrass is an excellent director, and his work on this film is proof he crafts some of the most intensely wrought, and well directed films within the 2000s.  Greengrass knows how to amp the action, but to create some fantastic performances from both stars like Hanks and Matt Damon, but also with people who have never acted before.

Hanks is the obvious standout; he is fantastic as he fights for his crew, stands up for himself and blends even mild comedic moments within this intense situation.  Hanks has not been nominated for an Oscar in 13 years for Cast Away, the last few moments of this film are proof this man is a fantastic actor, and sells the heartbreak, and may even make you shed a tear or two namely because he leaves you just as breathless.

The person many will walk away talking about is Abdi, who plays Muse; he has no previous credits to his name, but this Somali actor is a scene stealer.  While Muse attempts to gain respect from the other hijackers, there is a glimpse in his performance of pure conflict, should this be happening, do I believe in this, but he sells this performance strongly, look out for this man and his strong performance within this film."

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