Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Final Cut Finale: 2013 Edition

It's all about the finish. After a so-so first eleven months of 2013, December finished with a flourish, proving to be quite fruitful in filling out my list of the finest films of the year. Four of my top 10 arrived late in the game; three of the top five. While documentaries were excluded, had they been included, Dave Grohl's sensational Sound City would be featured below. Away we go...

10. Spring Breakers – No film this year was more now than Harmony Korine's hypnotically-atmospheric ode to girls gone gonzo, featuring an insane performance from James Franco as the cornrow-wearing, dollar sign-tatted, Z28 t-top-driving, drug-dealing rapper, Alien. While some will dismiss it as shallower than a puddle, I suggest that's precisely the point Korine was trying to make about his soulless subjects.

9. Her – Spike Jonze's scintillating study in the sterility of our increasingly-cocooned, technology-hallowed lives sees Joaquin Phoenix falling not for a fellow human but rather his computer's Scarlet Johannsen-voiced, adaptively-intelligent operating system. Think the long-forgotten Electric Dreams with a tad more emotional resonance, captured by Jonze's visionary left-of-center lens.

8. Fruitvale Station – Following his memorable role as a superpower-infused teen in 2012's surprisingly-strong Chronicle, Michael B. Jordan bestowed sheer humanity upon Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old gunned down by Oakland transit cops in the wee hours of New Year's Day 2009. Organically-directed by first-timer Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station is – much like the movie two spots lower on my list – a reminder that less is often more.

7. Captain Phillips – Keeping suspense surging in a story we all know the outcome to isn't the easiest task for a filmmaker, but leave it to Paul Greengrass to deliver once again. The United 93 helmer put forth another screw-tightening thriller, painting his bad guys as more than just machine gun-toting thugs. After a string of losers – Larry Crowne, Cloud Atlas – Tom Hanks nailed his performance as the hijacked captain just trying to return home to his humdrum Vermont life.

6. Saving Mr. Banks – Hanks' second entry on my list is the kind of cloying concoction I typically detest, but in the hands of Hanks – serving up a smoother-than-silk performance as Walt Disney – and Emma Thompson – spectacular as the frigid woman who brought Mary Poppins to literary life – there was no resisting its eminently-elegant charms.

5. Short Term 12 – Best known as Jonah Hill's jailbait sweetie in the 2012 remake of 21 Jump Street, Brie Larson turned in one of the year's most-piercing performances as the no-holds-barred momma-bear counselor at a state-run joint for emotionally-disturbed teens. Under the steady-yet-shaky hand of another virginal director, Destin Cretton, Short Term 12 is one of those sneaky little films that that stays with you long after the credits roll. 

4. American Hustle – More than making up for his absurdly-overrated Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell's "some of this actually happened" '70s-set crime caper is a case study in expertly-assembled moviemaking — my pick for best directing this year. Yes, there are a few too many Bee Gees and Donna Summer musical montages, but with Russell's celestial cast – Christian Bale's toupe-topped swindler and Jennifer Lawrence's sassy-mouthed sexpot are unforgettable – American Hustle entrances.

3. 12 Years a Slave – Redefining fierce, Steve McQueen's tough-to-watch tale of a free man-made-slave was packed with exceptional performances, none more effective than Michael Fassbender's turn as a ruthlessly-violent plantation owner who revels in terrorizing – brutalizing – his indentured help. When the target of his abuse – an extraordinary Lupita Nyong'o – begs to be killed rather than continue to face her incessant torture, good luck keeping your heart from shattering.

2. Before Midnight – The gloriously-acted, mesmerizingly-conversational conclusion to the Before Sunrise trilogy had me convinced Richard Linklater had broken into my house and taped the discussions had within its walls. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy come off as real-life partners in a movie for anyone confronting the unremitting complications of coupledom and our attempts to preserve some semblance of self within its construction — AKA everyone.

1. The Wolf of Wall Street – The last shall be first. Dropping anchor at the eleventh hour after a marathon editing session, Martin Scorsese's blithely-bawdy expose on the outlandish excesses of the late '80s is without reservation the finest - most electrifyingly-entertaining - film of 2013. Leonardo DiCaprio crushes it as Jordan Belfort, a pill-popping, coke-snorting, stock market tycoon who took bathing in debauchery to mega-obscene levels. With supercharged assists from Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey (his damn-near-maniacal, lay-of-the-land speech is a shot of pure adrenaline), The Wolf of Wall Street is crude as all get out — and stratospherically riotous as a result. How synaptically-engrossing is it? I didn't do something I typically do in all two-hour-plus screenings: run to the restroom — there's nary a superfluous moment in Scorsese's three-hour runtime. Now if that's not award-worthy, I don't know what is.

Next five: Blue JasmineNebraska, PrisonersEnough Said, Rush Gravity

Rest of the Bests

Best director:  David O. Russell (American Hustle)

Best actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Second-best actor: Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

Best supporting actor: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)

Second-best supporting actor (3-way tie): 
Daniel Brühl (Rush), James Franco (Spring Breakers), Jake Gyllenhal (Prisoners)

Best actress (tie): Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)

Best supporting actress: Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)

Second-best supporting actress (tie): Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), June Squibb (Nebraska)

Best ensemble cast (5-way tie): 12 Years a Slave, American HustleAugust: Osage CountySaving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall Street

Best 1-2-3 punch by an actor: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers ClubMudThe Wolf of Wall Street)

Best use of limited screen time: Matthew McConaughey (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Best cinematography (tie): Prisoners, The Great Gatsby

Best visual effects (2-way tie): Gravity, Pacific Rim 

Most eye-popping sequence: Jaeger slices Kaiju in two with supersized sword (Pacific Rim)

Best original screenplay: American Hustle

Best adapted screenplay (tie): The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave

Best score: Only God Forgives (Cliff Martinez)

Best song (tie): "Here It Comes" (Trance), "Please Mr. Kennedy" (Inside Llewyn Davis)

Best use of a song within a film: Dwight Twilley Band "Looking for the Magic" (You're Next)

Best comedy (tie): Don JonEnough Said

Best performance in a comedy: Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said)

Best performance in a bad film: Sharlto Copley (Elysium)

Best animated film: The Croods

Best documentary: Sound City

Best foreign language film (tie): The Hunt, The Past

Best film you didn't see: Short Term 12

Second-best film you didn't see: Rush

Best horror film: Mama

Best film that would have reeked if it had a different director: 
Spring Breakers 

Best first half but not second half: The Place Beyond the Pines

Best 3D: The Great Gatsby

Best film that got largely trashed by critics: The Great Gatsby

Most surprisingly-entertaining film of 2013: Warm Bodies

Best film I swore would stink: You're Next