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.