Selections by Paul Stathakis | March 1, 2014

A year of intense determination. A year of scams. A year of bravery. A year of slavery. A year of racial prejudice. A year of arguing in the name of love. A year of youth misunderstood. A year of apocalyptic proportions. A year of fantasy. A year of a father, a son, and their special journey. A year that would not be complete without ten special films. Without further due, the ten best films of 2013.

1. Prisoners: No other film was as gripping and thrilling from start to finish as “Prisoners.” It features riveting performances by Hugh Jackman (the best of his career), Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, and Melissa Leo. The mood and the pace are carefully controlled under the brilliant direction of Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve.

2. American Hustle: The playful performances, the costumes, the soundtrack. There’s a great deal to admire in “American Hustle.” Christian Bale again manages to drastically alter his appearance like he did in “The Machinist” and “The Fighter.” In this role, he is heavier and has a very noticeable comb over. Bale uses every second of his screen time to prove why he is one of the greatest actors of his generation. Jennifer Lawrence is equally amusing as Bale’s unpredictable wife. She offers comedic relief. Then there’s Amy Adams whose performance is one of the sexiest we’ve seen in a long time. Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner are also pitch-perfect and they continue to morph into terrific actors. Louis C.K. also proves that he can be incredibly funny in a film as well. Just when I thought big ensembles of this nature meant failure and character overload, along comes “American Hustle” to surprise me. 

3. Captain Phillips: The entire film is exciting. That it’s based on a true story makes it even more pulsating. Tom Hanks as Captain Richard Phillips reminds us just what he’s capable of as a fine dramatic actor. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi amazes in his first ever acting role. The last ten minutes are emotionally-charged and feature some of the best acting we’ve ever seen from Hanks. 

4. 12 Years A Slave: This is a hard film to watch and necessarily so. Slavery hasn’t been portrayed with such brutal and painful honesty since Richard Fleischer’s “Mandingo” (1975). An exceptional performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor who will likely and, rightfully so, win the Oscar for Best Actor this year. This film never lets the drama slip away. The closing minutes are just as poignant as the 120 that precede them. Powerful images. Powerful film. 

5. Lee Daniels’ The Butler: This is one of the year’s most feel-good films that also happens to be based on a true story. Forrest Whitaker in the role of White House butler Cecil Gaines was terribly overlooked this year. This film transports us right into the Oval Office and down the corridors of the White House. Truly feels like a behind-the-scenes experience through different presidencies (played by fine actors) and tumultuous historical periods like the Civil Rights era. Both heart-warming and dramatic at once, “The Butler” is a film not to be missed even if it’s message of segregation may seem redundant to some. Another thing to note is Oprah Winfrey who is simply perfect as Whitaker’s enduring wife. 

6. Before Midnight: The film that completes Richard Linklater’s “love trilogy.” It started with “Before Sunrise” (1994), continued with “Before Sunset” (2004), and now it comes to an end with “Before Midnight” (2013), a film that finds Celine and Jesse married with children. When they first met on a train in “Before Sunrise,” they knew they’d find each other again. Their love intensified in “Before Sunset” and now, nine years later it gets challenged in “Before Midnight.” The first two films were about the couple trying to learn what it is that attracts them to one another. “Before Midnight” is about them having to remember each of those points. If that is philosophical enough, we have Greece as the backdrop to this conclusion. The years have been good to Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy whose conversations are still interesting. Spending some time again with them is like visiting with old friends. 

7. The Spectacular Now: One of the most important American films to address issues faced by today’s youth. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley share great on-screen chemistry. This is not just another romantic teen comedy. This is a film that speaks to youths and adults. It examines the upheavals that come with passing through adolescence. It’s a time of change, a time to make mistakes, to learn, to assume responsibility, to grow as an individual, to confront inner demons, to heal relationships, and to make life-changing decisions. “The Spectacular Now” covers all those grounds and more. It’s absolutely delightful. See this movie. 

8. This is the End: One of the most creative and original films of the year. Ideas this zany and ridiculously good could only be born out of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldman, the writing duo responsible for “Pineapple Express.” Is this a comedy for everyone? Probably not. But for those who admire this circle of friends/actors (think of them as a modern-day Brat Pack), will appreciate the hilarity and the insanity of it all. It’s goofy, spoofy, unapologetic, sometimes gross, over-the-top, and it’s on this list because no other comedy in 2013 was remotely this witty, risky, and inventive.  

9. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty : To quote Empire Magazine, “[It’s] a beautiful reminder of the movies’ power to transport you to a better place.” Indeed, it also reminds us just how powerful and beautiful films can be. It’s yet another example of a film that breaks through conventions to take risks. It not only stars Ben Stiller but was also directed by him. Kristen Wigg plays opposite Stiller as the office girl he can’t seem to get out of his mind while Shirley MacLaine stars as his mother. Sean Penn makes a cameo appearance as a passionate but strange photographer. The film may take a few minutes to get started but be sure to stick with it for once “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” finally does lift off, it takes us on a remarkable and rewarding journey. I loved it.

10. Nebraska: Director Alexander Payne was born in the state of Nebraska and that alone is an indicative of how personal this film is. It’s a very mellow film, from its nuanced performances to its black and white color scheme. It takes us back to a time where films were simple but moving. Bruce Dern is every bit as terrific as Will Forte and June Squibb. It’s impossible not to notice the glimmer in Dern’s tired eyes. “Nebraska” is a film that deserves great praise for its simplicity, calm pace, and realistic performances. Like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” its’ plot is centred on a journey that, as ridiculous as it may seem, has a deeper meaning behind it. In the case of “Nebraska”, it’s not about the money as much as it is about being older, remaining hopeful, and seeking adventure.