It was a year that started poorly and then
stumbled even more during a disappointing summer, lowlighted by the mind-numbing blur that was the last 30 minutes of "Man of Steel." Yet, 2013 ended up being a fairly good year at the movies, thanks in large part to films that pushed barriers, dared to be different and wowed us at times when we expected anything but.
Here are the 10 best films of 2013:
Movies often offer escapist entertainment, but that doesn't mean we don't want them to feel honest. One of the best things about Ron Howard's film was the mutual, bitter hatred that fueled Formula One drivers Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, aka Thor) during their 1976 season. Highlighted by an Oscar-worthy performance from Bruhl, Howard's film never sugarcoats the fact that these two guys want to beat each other up more than they want to win for themselves.
9. FRUITVALE STATION
Based on a true story, the film follows an early-20s African-American named Oscar Grant during the last day of his life on New Year's Eve in Oakland in 2008. After multiple arrests in the years prior, Oscar vows to be a better father, son and boyfriend, but a late-night altercation with Bay Area police officers ends with him being unjustly killed. It's a sad but very well acted story, with an especially strong performance by Michael B. Jordan as Oscar. I daresay it's socially relevant as well.
Disney Animation ("Tangled") has done it again with this gorgeously animated musical. It's a simple story of innocent sister Anna chasing her cursed sister Elsa into the mountains after Elsa freezes their kingdom in ice. The songs, highlighted by Idina Menzel's rousing rendition of Elsa's "Let It Go," are all showstoppers, and the story is funny and sweet in all the right ways.
7. SPRING BREAKERS
Coming-of-age stories tend to conclude with a teenager figuring out who he or she is and finishing the film with a bright, satisfying smile. "Spring Breakers" has those elements, but it also dares to suggest that sometimes finding oneself leads to answers society won't like. Add to this revelation various teenage debaucheries, graphic nudity and an Oscar-worthy James Franco as a rapper/gangster, and you have the most daring film of the year.
Writer-director Spike Jonze's ("Adaptation") latest meta-existential project stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a loner in futuristic Los Angeles. His life takes an intriguing turn when he falls in love with his computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and believes they have a real relationship. Do they? One of the best things about the film is that it prompts us to wonder what the future holds for relationships, what qualifies as a real relationship, and if a physical presence is needed for someone to be truly special to you. One of the smartest and most thoughtful films you'll see, it's in limited release now and expands nationwide Jan. 10.
5. THE SPECTACULAR NOW
Only rarely do teen coming-of-age stories feel this authentic, genuine and true. Shailene Woodley's Aimee is pretty but doesn't know it, a high school outcast with a bright future. Miles Teller's Sutton is the popular guy everyone likes, but he's headed nowhere. They date, but reality hits and yields some surprising and not-so-surprising revelations. Any movie that so faithfully and earnestly recalls the angst of teenage emotion is a must-see, and this film did it better than any in recent memory.
4. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
It's stunning how director J.J. Abrams is taking the original "Star Trek" canon and incorporating it into his new vision for the franchise. Yes, it was ridiculous to try to keep the identity of the villain a secret for so long, but the anticipation for the film itself was well worth the wait, as this was easily the best film of the summer. For the great visuals, action and story, J.J. Abrams, I salute you.
It might lack a deep emotional story, but this work of art is the most technically ambitious and stunningly gorgeous film I've seen in a long, long time. With its breathtaking visuals of Sandra Bullock's and George Clooney's astronaut characters floating adrift in outer space, director Alfonso Cuaron has rightfully asserted himself as a legit Oscar contender. If you haven't seen this yet, do so ASAP in 3-D on the biggest screen possible. Your eyes will thank you.
2. AMERICAN HUSTLE
You know those movies that are so much fun, you want more of everything they have to offer? This is one of them. Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, director David O. Russell's ("Silver Linings Playbook") latest is a perfectly written, acted and directed period piece of the late '70s that oozes style (such as it was) and charisma. It's funny, suspenseful and charming, the type of story that movie lovers crave and don't get nearly enough of.
1. 12 YEARS A SLAVE
The incredible emotional impact of "12 Years
A Slave" is unlike any felt since "Schindler's List" (1993). Slavery in the United States has never before been this exposed, this despicable in terms of the harsh brutality that many African-Americans endured. The story follows Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free Northerner, as he's kidnapped and sold into slavery. Director Steve McQueen gets great performances out of every member of his cast,
and the result is a film that will leave you infuriated at the injustice that was once commonplace in the country we call home.