From “Iron Man 3″ to “Prisoners,” from “Frozen” to “The Wolf of Wall Street,” from “Saving Mr. Banks” to “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” it was a solid year for movies.
So much so that none of those titles made the list of my 13 favorite films of 2013.
13. “Spring Breakers.” There was something invigorating about the utter insanity of “Spring Breakers,” especially James Franco’s performance as a thug who delivers one of the most memorable monologues of the year. Look at all his s—!
12. “This Is the End.” The same could be said of “This Is the End.” In a year filled with apocalyptic doomsday movies, kudos to Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and all their celebrity friends for sending up the genre, and themselves. And for once we’re not the least bit uncertain about the gender of a giant monster.
11. “Dallas Buyers Club.” Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner were all brilliant in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Once you get past McConaughey’s disturbing weight loss, you’re drawn in by his amazing work as an HIV-positive bigot who becomes one of the most unlikely heroes in the fight against AIDS.
10. “The Counselor.” I’m still getting angry emails from movie fans saying I steered them wrong by sending them to “The Counselor,” Ridley Scott’s violent, sexy, complex thriller. I still think it was some badass piece of work, with great performances from Michael Fassbender and Javier Bardem, among others.
9. “12 Years a Slave” seems to be emerging as a Best Picture favorite. And indeed it’s a powerful work, with the invaluable Chiwetel Ejiofor giving the performance of his career. At times it takes a real act of will to not look away from the screen, but of course, that’s the point. Like so many of this year’s best films, “12 Years a Slave” gets its framework from true events. Watching this film, we bear witness to the worst shame of American history — but we also feel privileged to experience the journey of a man of great resilience and heart.
8. “All Is Lost.” Hard to believe the legendary Robert Redford has been nominated for Best Actor only once in his career. Don’t be surprised if Redford gets a second nomination for his amazing, nearly dialogue-free work in “All Is Lost.” This is a gripping survival tale. Even though we know very little about the unnamed man doing everything he can to stay alive after his boat starts to sink, we’re immediately immersed in his struggle and we have the feeling that if he DOES make it, he’s going to mend some family fences and drink in every precious ounce of breath.
7. “Nebraska.” Another career-crowning performance from another five-decade icon. This is Alexander Payne’s latest insightful, thought-provoking and maybe for some folks painfully accurate examination of effed-up families. Bruce Dern gets perhaps the best role of his career and knocks it out of the park. Filmed in magnificent black-and-white, “Nebraska” is haunting, beautiful, wickedly funny and unforgettable.
6. “Captain Phillips.” Tom Hanks reminds us of how HE became a film icon with his great performance in “Captain Phillips.” Another tale of survival, another movie based on a true story. There’s not an ounce of movie star preening in Hanks’ portrayal of a smart, tough, stubborn, heroic character.
5. “The Spectacular Now.” Let’s please not forget this late summer treasure. As a story of young love and all the complications it brings, this is on a par with “Say Anything” and some of John Hughes’ best films.
4. “Gravity.” Probably the most visually engrossing film of the year was “Gravity,” and once again we’re talking about Oscar winners trying to survive against all odds. George Clooney is perfectly cast as a grizzled astronaut on his last mission, and Sandra Bullock does better work here than she did in her Oscar-winning role in “The Blind Side.”
3. “Mud.” This one gets my vote for the most overlooked great film of the year. Writer-director Jeff Nichols creates a new American classic — a modern Mark Twain tale. What a year for Matthew McConaughey, who reminds us of why he was once touted as the next Paul Newman. He’s brilliant as the title character, a hopeless dreamer in love with Reese Witherspoon’s Juniper. Tye Sheridan gives one of the most natural performances I’ve seen from a young actor in a long while.
2. “Out of the Furnace.” The locales and the circumstances are quite different in “Mud” and “Out of the Furnace,” but there are some core similarities. This is another intense, sometimes violent, riveting story of the family ties that bind, and the consequences of one fatal misstep. Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck and Forest Whitaker headline one of the best ensemble casts of the year.
1. “American Hustle.” Easy choice. Halfway through “American Hustle,” I was already convinced I was watching the best movie of the year. Director David O. Russell and his “Silver Linings Playbook” stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence team up with Christian Bale (and what a year HE had), Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams and Louis C.K. in this pitch-perfect period piece. And, oh yeah, Robert De Niro in the best 10 minutes of acting he’s done since I don’t know when. I loved every single scene in this film.