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JASON'S BEST: The Ten Best Films of 2013 (Return to Jason's Best Main Page)


THE TEN BEST FILMS OF 2013


Click Above to Listen to Jason's BlogTalkRadio Show
Discussing 2013 Movies And His Choices For The Year's Best Films
as well as Garney Johnson's and Jamey Duvall's, originally broadcast January 20, 2014

1) HER
I so did not expect that this would end up becoming my easy choice as the best film of the year. When you hear the premise, you probably laugh. A man who falls in love with his computer's operating system. But this beautiful masterpiece is SO much more than that, and when its evocative final shot faded out, I knew I had just seen not only the year's best movie, but one of the best movies of recent times. Writer-director Spike Jonze has made a film about our potential future which has so much to say about the nature of relationships, the complexity of relationships, our need for attention, the prospects of artificial intelligence, and more, and he did it all through one of the best screenplays in recent years and a beautifully shot vision of the future that looks more like our future than almost any other film that ever tried to project a vision of the future. In the film, Joaquin Phoenix plays the uniquely named Theodore Twombly, a man whose day job is to compose beautifully written cards for people in other relationships. His own relationship life is a mess however, as he is in the process of getting divorced from Catherine, played by Rooney Mara. One day, he purchases a whole new artificially intelligent operating system, voiced so wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson (she really deserved an Oscar nomination for her voice performance). And yes, slowly but surely, they develop a relationship. Spike Jonze and Joaquin Phoenix had to strike just the right balance to make this work, and they did it beautifully, allowing us to laugh when we should, but then more importantly, really see the potential for how this could happen. As it goes along, the film has so much to say about the nature of relationships, but also gives us one of the most unique looks at artificial intelligence we've ever seen as well. In so many movies where the future of artificial intelligence shows us such horrible destruction happening, it's interesting to see what ends up happening to these beings of artificial intelligence as they grow and mature, and what that ends up doing to the human race. At one point, when Theodore is walking around the city, talking to his operating system, we see him pass by others on the street, almost all of them engrossed in their own little worlds, talking to their own operating systems. Does that sound remotely similar to today? Walk around today and see a whole lot of people on their phones, oblivious to the outside world. That sequence sent chills down my spine, as I realized we're really not that far from this vision of the future. So while the film has a lot to say about relationships and how the need for connection is so huge, it also has much to say about the very nature of love, and of love's acceptance. This should also resonate deeply. In one sequence, Theodore and his OS go on a picnic with another couple, and as they talk to one another, the other couple treats the OS (named Samantha) and her relationship with Theodore with respect, and they have a normal discussion like any two couples might have together when hanging out. I loved that this film showed a future where relationships of all kinds are accepted, something we continue to struggle with in our day and age. Samantha says at one point, "The heart is not a box that gets filled up; it expands as you love more". That line more than any other really hit me and made me think more deeply, and made me realize how true that statement really is. I can't say enough about this film, and how many thoughts and discussions it inspires. Something that truly great cinema should do. Spike Jonze was recently quoted as saying, about filmmaking, that "it's kind of the best job in the world. I love making things, but with movies, because of both the length and time you are working on them, you're able to keep percolating on the themes or ideas of the film. It's like this group daydream that everyone is getting to work with these incredible artists and actors and designers, building these sets and making your own world. When do you get to make your own world? It's pretty incredible." Spike Jonze indeed made his own world in this film, but in doing so, reflected our own world (and our potential future) in a way that we've rarely ever seen.

FAVORITE MOMENT: The closing sequence with Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams sitting together on a roof overlooking the city

2) BEFORE MIDNIGHT
You would think with the number of romantic comedies and dramatic love stories that have been the subject of movies over the years that I could say that the true realities of love and relationships have been presented so perfectly in movies. But unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. In fact, there are very FEW movies that actually present relationships and love honestly, with all the difficulties, complexities, and relationships that are not easily defined. Thankfully, we have not one but a trilogy of films which perfectly captured love and relationships more uniquely than any single film very ever can achieve. It's the most popular trilogy that most people have probably never heard of. Back in 1995, director Richard Linklater brought us "Before Sunrise", showing a young Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy meeting by chance one day and slowly falling in love. It still remains one of the most beautiful films ever made about falling in love and love's possibilities. It's most unique aspect however was that the film was entirely conversation, nothing more than the two of them walking and talking ... and falling in love. 9 years later, they reunited for "Before Sunset", where the two meet up again, reflecting on the chance they had at love before, but now their lives are much more complicated. And then in 2013, they delivered the most powerful film of the trilogy, this one. Now married with two kids and still dealing with complications from Ethan Hawke's divorce, this film is a masterfully written exercise in what REAL love looks like, what it's like for people who've known each other for so many years ... and the truth is, it isn't always pretty. Utilizing the same concept as the first two movies, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy navigate this film through one revealing conversation after another, culminating in a hotel room argument that is truly rare for how honest it is. I don't think I've ever seen an argument between a married couple on screen which is as honest and real as this one was. And it gave me one of the best quotes I have to remember, when Ethan Hawke's exasperated Jesse calls Julie Delpy's Celine "The Mayor of Crazytown." This scene goes on for nearly a half hour of the movie's running time, and it's so raw and so real, you truly believe these two have been married for a long time, and are each wrestling with their own visions of the future and of each other, and those innocent beginnings that started when the two first fell in love. In a year of films which had some of the most powerful film endings ever, this one certainly ranked up there as well. And I smiled for the beauty of a film series that has given us a truly rare treat in literate filmmaking that truly tries to capture something meaningful. But I also felt a little sadness ... you get the sense that this will be the last time we'll check in with Jesse and Celine, and I'm going to miss them. But for the vision of love that Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and Richard Linklater provided, I will be forever grateful. Do me a favor, if you have never even heard of these films, please see them today, I guarantee you won't regret it.

FAVORITE MOMENT: After the brilliantly written and acted hotel room argument, the beautiful ending scene of the two at an outdoor table

3) GRAVITY
There's not very many movies that can be described as a complete immersive experience, a movie that so totally surrounds and envelops you that you actually feel, I mean literally, FEEL like you're actually in the movie, experiencing what the characters are going through in a very palpable way. 3D theme park rides certainly give us some of that experience, but to also have a strong story and performance at the core of the movie to actually make you care deeply for what happens is what makes this film a truly remarkable experience that seems even above what moviegoing usually is. Seeing this in 3D Imax was an absolute must, but it's not the sole reason it was a successful film. As an example, one could only watch the clip of the debris first hitting the shuttle and Sandra Bullock spinning off into space on a computer screen on YouTube and still feel an amazing amount of tension. It's also due to the powerful musical score by Steven Price, which tells the story on its own even. Just listen to some of the music on its own and feel the amazing tension of the film come to life in another completely unique way. Combine that with some of the most technologically advanced filmmaking and sound work ever accomplished in a film, and you have an absolute masterwork. As soon as I finished seeing the film, my first thought was how in the hell did they make that film. Director Alfonso Cuaron should deservedly win Best Director this year for corralling all of these elements of filmmaking, revolutionizing new technologies, and presenting one of the most stunning survival pieces ever presented on screen. With so much technical wizardry on display, Cuaron thankfully didn't sacrifice on what makes us care in the first place, the powerful survival tale that begins when astronauts George Clooney and Sandra Bullock encounter rapid fire space debris, causing them to have to fight for their lives in the empty darkness of space. Sandra Bullock is an absolute revelation in this film, and it's a shame it can't be another year where her performance would deservedly this time win the Oscar. There are so many moments of sheer quiet and beauty in this film, mostly due to Bullock's performance. When she finally is able to find her way to a space station where she can finally escape her spacesuit and just breathe for a few seconds, the script describes it this way: She's like "a fly in amber, surrendering to the poetry of the planets, rotating slowly in the cabin's womb." As we discover more about her character and become so engrossed in her survival, we see how this film is also about rebirth, acceptance, and ultimately triumph. Another beautiful scene is the moment when she thinks there's no more hope, and in a desperate attempt to find someone on the radio to call for help, she only finds an Inuit fisherman stationed on a remote fjord in Greenland. In a moment of beautiful and haunting simplicity, they communicate from two very different remote areas, two human beings connecting through two very different expanses of loneliness. I am still astonished and still in wonder of the experience of this film, and I'll probably always wonder how so much of this marvel was achieved, but it's great to see that there are still experiences like this one that absolutely tell us that the magic of the movies is still alive and well.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Sandra Bullock getting inside the airlock, removing her spacesuit for the first time, curling up into a fetal position

4) SHORT TERM 12
Shortly after I saw this beautiful independent film at the 2013 South Dakota Film Festival, I posted this on Facebook: "There are some movies that are life affirming. There are some movies that very quietly but very profoundly change you. There are movies which are absolute must-sees. "Short Term 12" is all of these movies. Wow." And it's absolutely true. We need more movies like these. Writer-Director Destin Cretton delivered a truly remarkable film experience, telling the story of a young group of 20-somethings who are the staff supervising and helping troubled youths at a residential treatment facility. Brie Larson gave an Oscar worthy performance as Grace, who helps run the facility with her long term boyfriend, played so wonderfully by John Gallagher, Jr. (who I so want to see in even more roles). Instead of the usual film that would just focus on the troubled kids, this film is much more realistic and mature by showing that Grace, Mason, and the other supervisors have life difficulties all their own, and Grace's in particular is stunning to watch, as we witness her own struggle to wrestle with the demons of her past. It makes her connection with the kids even more emotional and moving, and the individuals playing the younger kids are all so real and so heartbreaking. Keith Stanfield's performance as Marcus for example is a revelation. I wish we lived with a Hollywood where life affirming and honest movies like this were more the norm and not the exception, where audiences would turn out in droves for films of true substance instead of the next mindless superhero blockbuster. A film like this can help us learn what can truly reach people, how compassion and understanding can make a world of difference in so many people's troubled lives. Cretton also maintains such a perfect balance of drama and comedy, it's never heavy handed or hopelessly dreary, there are so many moments that make you laugh, make you smile, and ultimately, feel more hopeful than almost any other film in 2013. A truly accomplished masterpiece that should be on everyone's must see list.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Brie Larson helping smash up the car of Jayden's abusive father

5) AMERICAN HUSTLE
It had been one of my most anticipated movies of the year when I first heard about it, and it absolutely delivered. David O. Russell continued to prove what an incredible director of actors he is, and you can see it by his films getting Oscar nominations for actors in all 4 acting categories two years in a row! And this film was an even greater example of Russell's skill as a director that he took a period story centered around a true event (the Abscam scandals of the 1970's) and made the film more about the characters than the plot. And what an incredible array of characters this was! Christian Bale plays a con man, along with his cray cray wife (to quote a friend of mine's term) Jennifer Lawrence, and his partner in crime and mistress, Amy Adams. When FBI agent Bradley Cooper becomes aware of their cons, he enlists them in the ever growing Abscam scandal, attempting to nail many higher level politicians involved in bribery schemes. But as I said, the plot is incidental, because really this is much more than a period film, much more than the standard con movie. It's a love story, so endlessly fascinating to watch Christian Bale and Amy Adams, how their relationship works, and they both give performances of exceptional depth (in fact, this is the best performance I've seen Amy Adams ever give!) I could go see this movie again and again just to watch Bale's facial expressions, which reveal so much of what his character is constantly thinking, and especially to see Adams's incredibly powerful sexuality, confidence, and fiery energy. Russell surrounds these magnetic characters with one of the best music soundtracks in years, incredible attention to period detail (how this film didn't get a Makeup and Hairstyling nomination is BEYOND me), and an incredibly sharp and exhilarating screenplay which continued to surprise at its every turn. My friend Garney Johnson perhaps said it best, as he and I were responding to the many criticisms against this film, most of which said it was overrated since it's a regular con film. He said that perhaps its greatest con is that it makes you think it's a con film when it's really a love story. Try watching the film again with that mindset, and tell me you don't see one of the truly great films of the year.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Christian Bale's wife Jennifer Lawrence confronting his mistress Amy Adams

6) THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
It was so amazing to see Martin Scorsese, who I would argue is our greatest and most consistent living film director, returning to the frantic energy of some of his greatest films with this controversial film which clearly divided people. While it's not as great a film as "Goodfellas", it's energy and narrative style are very similar, allowing us to be immersed in a much different world of criminals than the usual mob films which Scorsese has produced classic after classic on. This time, Scorsese tells the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who built up a Wall Street firm by bilking people out of money on worthless penny stocks, and continued an unending ride to further and further wealth until the feds ultimately caught up with him. The arguments that Scorsese glorified Wall Street fat cats are completely off base. Scorsese actually values a viewer's intelligence, and we didn't need him passing some kind of moral judgment on these characters for us, when we can clearly see that on our own. One only has to watch the film to see how these characters lose their grip on reality, and in a lot of ways, Scorsese is showing us the truth, which maybe is what makes people so uncomfortable. People taking advantage of other people to effectively make themselves richer ... that's happened since the beginning of time, and is certainly happening today with one Wall Street executive after another. So by witnessing all the excesses they allowed themselves, we are simply witnessing the truth. If people truly believe that Scorsese endorses the actions of these characters, then you clearly don't know Scorsese. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers his greatest performance ever in this film, he's never been so vibrantly alive and so totally complete as Belfort ... trust me, you've never seen DiCaprio quite like this, I'm truly glad he got the Oscar nomination. Another wonderful supporting cast and that incredible directorial energy of Scorsese's make its 3 hour running time fly by. True, Jordan Belfort never really seems sorry for what he did, more just sorry that he got caught. But unfortunately, there's a whole lot more like him still doing the exact same thing today, and as a chronicle of what these people do, Scorsese achieves his goal. You would hardly know that there was a 71 year old director behind this film. Plus we get all new classic Scorsese moments to add to one of the most impressive list of quality films that has ever been in the history of cinema ... DiCaprio and Jonah Hill strung out on Quaaludes for one. A masterful achievement.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill's crazy night overdosing on Quaaludes

7) 12 YEARS A SLAVE
For my top 7 movies, there's virtually little that separates them and made ranking them SO very hard this year. They are all singular achievements that in any other year would most likely be my number one choice. But rankings had to be made, so #7 is where this stunningly powerful film finds its place for me. Watching this film reminded me very much of the experience of watching "Schindler's List", and director Steve McQueen I believe has made a film that stands up to those lofty heights, illuminating the truths of slavery in the movies much in the same way that Schindler's List illuminated the Holocaust for so many. It's a history we all know, but a lot of people probably never know this particular story, the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was tricked and kidnapped into slavery. Through his eyes, we get an incredibly moving and tearfully tragic look at the true evils of slavery, and it's all due to the first rate performances by every single cast member, particularly Chiwetel Ejiofor, who can reveal so much just in his facial expressions and his soulful eyes. Michael Fassbender is great as always, portraying a slave owner whose evil reaches much different depths than expected. Lupita Nyong'o is a tour de force revelation, and there's not enough awards to give to her for the indelible impression she ends up leaving on you, her fierce determination and strength under such utter cruelty indeed a sight to behold. And everyone from Sarah Paulson to Paul Giamatti to Benedict Cumberbatch and more create one of the truly masterful ensembles of the year. And the film's success is also due to the masterful direction by Steve McQueen, whose greatest gift may be to know when to stay on a shot instead of cutting. One of the most powerful scenes of the year was the excruciating sequence when Solomon is strung up in a noose after he defied Paul Dano's sadistic character, and is left to hang there where he can just barely reach the ground with his tiptoes. And the camera simply stays on this struggle for survival, as we see Solomon taking little steps to keep himself alive while others simply walk around carrying out their duties. So many scenes of epic power that yes, are incredibly difficult to watch, but are so very important for everyone to experience. It may not be a film that I'll find myself wanting to watch again, but the film should be seen by everyone. I have the privilege of knowing someone who was very instrumental in bringing this powerful film to light, and was able to interview her about the film earlier this year. It makes me so very proud for her as well as someone on the non-creative side who worked very hard to make sure this film saw the light of day. Makes me wish there was an Oscar for the business people who negotiate the deals that make the movies happen in the first place, because I have no idea how they do it ... and when movies of such power and vision and importance are brought into being in today's age of mindless superhero blockbusters, people like my friend Christa Claire Zofcin absolutely deserve an Oscar!

MOST POWERFUL MOMENT: Haunting single take shot of Solomon Northup trying to keep himself alive while strung up in a noose by adjusting on his tiptoes

8) CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
Director Paul Greengrass did another remarkable job of taking a real life event (he also directed one of the greatest and most powerful movies ever made, United 93) and bringing it to life with an incredible amount of skill, realism, and a high amount of tension. Tom Hanks delivered another outstanding performance playing the real life Captain Phillips, whose ship was overtaken by Somali pirates, and then endured a battle for survival when he was taken hostage in a rescue boat, eventually saved by the might of the U.S. military. What made this film stand so far above what a typical interpretation might have done is how Greengrass managed to portray such a stunning divide between the world of the Somali pirates and the U.S. They're not just cardboard villains, but we actually see how different the two worlds are, and why this kind of piracy which has occurred so much takes place. Barkhad Abdi (who played the leader of the group of pirates) became one of those overnight success stories, someone picked from obscurity who stood right alongside one of the most honored and respected actors of all time, and matched him beat for beat. And then to show the power of his performance even more, he ended up being the one nominated for an Oscar when Hanks was snubbed. In a year of powerful film endings, I will NEVER forget the final five minutes of this film, when Hanks delivers a performance of so much raw honest truth, it literally brought me to tears. Having just endured a situation where he felt death was imminent, we truly see the shock that overcomes a lot of people in situations like that. I don't know HOW Tom Hanks reached that place so honestly and powerfully, but it clearly demonstrates yet again what an incredibly accomplished actor he is. While the film has been criticized lately for not fully portraying accurately what actually happened, I think there's enough of the truth there to get an honest portrait of two disparate worlds colliding, and wondering if those two worlds will ever truly understand the other.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Tom Hanks's remarkably moving medical checkup in shock after the ordeal he survives that concludes the film

9) AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS
I give young director David Lowery credit for not only aiming to try to make a film worthy of a Terrence Malick kind of meditation, but for achieving it better than Malick did last year (still trying to forget the disappointment that "To The Wonder" was). First, I can't say enough about the incredibly evocative 1970's Texas atmosphere that Lowery brought so vividly to life, becoming its own character. As the film begins, two outlaw lovers (played so wonderfully by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck) are cornered, and when Affleck's character Bob is taken away to prison, Ruth (Mara) remains behind to wait for his eventual return. When he escapes from prison, it becomes a fascinating struggle for the viewer to watch as he tries to make his way back to Ruth so they can go off and be together, but it deals very realistically with the difficulties of his return and what they mean for Ruth and their new child. I loved one of the reviews of this film that said it "has the dreadful fatalism of a folk song and the spiritual undertow of Tolstoy." It is the performances in particular also, especially the always great Mara, that absolutely drew me in to this story. Heartbreaking and moving, it's so great to see filmmakers like Lowery making films of great substance.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Ending scene when Casey Affleck sees Rooney Mara and his daughter

10) FRUITVALE STATION
It was based on an incredibly tragic true story, and we see it right away as the movie begins with the actual cell phone footage that went viral on the internet, as it ended up capturing the shooting death of Oscar Grant on New Year's Eve 2008 by police at the Fruitvale BART station in San Francisco. It was a horrible act of violence that shouldn't have happened. From there, the film focuses on that final 24 hour period of Oscar Grant's life, as we see all the little moments and ultimately the decisions that will lead him to that tragic moment as 2009 dawns. Instead of making Oscar Grant a saint, director Ryan Coogler pays him the compliment of presenting him as a complete individual. We see his flaws, we see his troubles, we see his harder side (especially when his own mother, played brilliantly by Octavia Spencer, ends up facing his hostility). He was definitely a man who was struggling at the moment of his death, struggling to find his place in the world, struggle to make things right for his daughter, and because we get such a realistic portrait of the man, it makes the tragedy all the more difficult to accept. Because truly, Oscar Grant could be any of us, but we know that sadly, this is another example of racism still happening in our society. Michael B. Jordan gives an extraordinary performance in the title role, continually testing our loyalties as viewers when we're always so apt to empathize with the characters in movies. In a year which saw a lot of truly great honest portrayals, this was one of the most powerful. A profoundly powerful film experience.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Oscar Grant's Mom (Octavia Spencer) defiantly leaving him in prison when he confronts her

And the next ten:

11) NEBRASKA
Director Alexander Payne delivered again, creating another masterpiece on the meaning of life framed by another loving ode to a very unique place. In this instance, he made the brilliant choice to film the movie in black and white, creating a mood through imagery which makes the story even more evocative and oddly, more touching. As the film starts, we see Woody Grant (played by Bruce Dern in his wonderfully deserved Oscar nominated performance) wandering the highway, who tells the cop that stops him that he's walking from Montana to Nebraska to collect "my million dollars" that he's sure he's won because a mailing told him so. As those around him realize he won't give up in his quest, one of his sons (played by Will Forte) agrees to drive him to Nebraska, and the film becomes a wonderful road movie filled with such wonderful Midwestern characters and situations that only Alexander Payne could have portrayed so comically and so endearingly. June Squibb is an absolute riot as Woody's incredibly honest wife (I'll never be able to think of graveyard visits to loved ones quite the same anymore). The movie doesn't take a single wrong step, up to the final shots, which were some of the most richly deserved emotional sequences of any film in 2013. From Election to About Schmidt to Sideways to The Descendants and now Nebraska, Alexander Payne has not taken one wrong step, and continues to direct some of the most endearingly and comically tragic character pieces ever.

12) BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
One of the most heartbreakingly honest films about love that I've ever seen, a three hour film that was so completely engrossing, but yet it still seemed to only scratch the surface of its love story. First loves are something that never leave us, and while a lot of other films have tried to capture that, none have done so quite as powerfully and true as this film did. Adele Exarchopoulos gives an absolutely riveting and revelatory performance as a high school junior who eventually catches the eye of the blue haired Emma, and their resulting relationship so beautifully and tragically captured that exuberance of first love that we all remember feeling, followed by the heartbreak, which felt like the complete end of the world. Very few films have captured that range of emotion quite like this one does. Much has been discussed about the extended sex scene between these two, but just like the emotions on display in this film, the scene is so very necessary for the honesty it also portrays. As it portrays their love story, the film also tackles issues of class and social hierachy, but its power lies in the complete transparency of emotion in the sexual awakening that is a truly rare gift of cinema.

13) DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
There are some movies which deserve to be seen simply on the importance of their subject matter ... unfortunately, sometimes they suffer from over-"preachiness" or poor acting or direction, but thankfully, that was not the case with this film. In fact, it's the incredibly strong performances that really elevate this film even beyond the screenplay. Matthew McConaughey has been winning raves and awards, and rightly so, for his remarkable performance. Not only for his physical transformation (which is truly astonishing, you will not recognize him in this performance) but also for the depth of his performance. For several people like myself who grew so disappointed and tired of him wasting such obvious talent in one disappointing infantile comedy after another, it's been so refreshing to see him getting challenging roles like he has, and deliver as powerfully as he did. McConaughey plays Ron Woodruff, an actual man who contracted AIDS in the mid 1980's when the disease was still being discovered and approved treatments were not to be found in the United States. Imagine if you were dying of a disease, and found out that experimental drugs were not being approved by some other "officials" in the United States, and by just traveling across the border to Mexico, you could possibly find the drugs that could save your life. I think it's pretty obvious what we'd do. But Woodruff took it one step further, deciding to help others by setting up the Dallas Buyers Club, a membership based service that would then provide drugs for free (the membership fee thereby making him skirt the laws of selling illegal drugs). It's an important issue to be raised and discussed, and through Woodruff's struggle in this film, we truly get an up close and personal look at the decisions around experimental drugs and medical treatment in general. An unexpected surprise in seeing this film was the performance by Jared Leto as Rayon, a fellow AIDS patient and transsexual, who ends up forging an unexpected alliance with Ron. Leto's portrayal is clearly one of the best performances of the year, so deeply moving and so full of truth, he's also deservedly winning every award in sight for this performance. It's a brave role for both of them, and all I gotta say about McConaughey is that I hope he continues on this ride and use that talent to give us even greater and greater performances.

14) BLUE JASMINE
There's a good reason that Cate Blanchett became such an early frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar. She gives a truly remarkable performance in Woody Allen's newest film, a profound and poignant depiction of womanhood. Allen's challenge in making this film is to make us empathize and understand this woman, who begins the film in a life of wealth and privilege, and when she quickly loses it all, to find her way into a new life, and whether she'll survive that journey into life's new circumstances. Every thing she faces becomes a huge tragedy to her, and Blanchett was the perfect actress to portray so many of the emotions of a woman completely coming apart at the seams. As usual for a Woody Allen film, she is surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast of characters, including Oscar nominated Sally Hawkins as the perky and fun Ginger, Michael Stuhlbarg as the creepiest dentist you'll ever meet, Peter Sarsgaard as a potential new love, Bobby Cannavale, and a surprisingly touching performance by Andrew Dice Clay. Woody Allen has always managed to bring so many remarkably in depth portrayals of women to the screen, and Blanchett's certainly ranks up there with the best of Allen's creations. It's fascinating to watch this character for both how she perceives herself to be, and how she wills that perception over who she actually is, and how that can lead to utter madness.

15) PRISONERS
There are some movies that are so disturbingly powerful that you're glad you saw them, but doubt you'll ever watch them again. This was one of those remarkable movies. As a parent, it's your worst nightmare, someone abducting your child. That is what happens to two young girls towards the beginning of this film. Instead of following a traditional formula, this film actually ends up presenting a lot of uncomfortable truths and interesting questions that truly make you think what you would do in the same situation. All evidence seems to be pointing to one man (played incredibly creepily by Paul Dano) but when the police can't find enough evidence to keep him in custody, Hugh Jackman (in a remarkably dark and harrowing performance) decides to take justice into his own hands, kidnapping the man and torturing him in unspeakable ways to try to find out where his daughter is. It makes you ponder, what if he got the wrong man? What would we do in the same situation? I love that this film remained so grounded in that kind of reality, and even though it got a little too "out there" with some of its third act, it still left a powerful impression, and its originality and incredibly solid performances made it one of the year's best films.

16) STORIES WE TELL
I admit that I didn't see very many documentaries in 2013, but of the ones I did, this one was by far the best, and it's a shame that this film was not nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar. Sarah Polley ended up creating a remarkable film when she decided to start interviewing family members about her deceased mother. Having just recently finished filming a documentary myself, I so love how you start out thinking you're filming one thing, and then the film becomes something else entirely, something only truly possible in the art of documentary filmmaking. What Polley ended up making instead was a powerful look into the uncomfortable truths covered in years of secrets that exist in so many families. I was amazed at the level of candidness and honesty on display by so many of Polley's family members, and the way it's able to show how so often the stories and fabrications made up by family members with the best of intentions make us yearn for discovering the truth. I loved how Polley let these revelations reveal so many more levels and shades and nuances of her family and her mother. There's a lot that resonates with so many of us in this one family's story, showing that life is messy and much more complicated than our "stories" try to make it out to be. And I wonder if we just accepted the messiness and the complications, if we wouldn't be better off. It's a truly remarkable film.

17) THIS IS THE END
Strange, I think I had the most laughs at the movies in 2013 at a movie about the end of the world. But it's true. There are some movies that you can clearly tell how much fun the actors must have had in making it, but sometimes, they leave out the entertainment value, but not so with this film. First, the general idea of having actors like James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride all playing versions of themselves who end up facing the end of the world one night sets up a number of hilarious ideas, including playing off general ideas about each actor, and plus we get a hilarious Michael Cera moment. And in also remembering to still tell a story, it actually takes the arrival of the apocalypse very seriously, which makes the comedy even more hilarious. One scene after another just continued to work, and in the oddest way, the same movie that has a hilarious argument over where and how to pleasure oneself in the house also contains a strangely uplifting message as well. Great, great fun.

18) ENOUGH SAID
I had really been hoping that James Galdofini would have received a posthumous Oscar nomination for this truly wonderful film, a reminder of what an incredible talent we recently lost. Nicole Holofcener's little seen film was an absolute delight from start to finish, and actually made me like Julia Louis-Dreyfuss for the first time (haha, sorry, have never been able to stand her before). It's a simple yet heartwarming romantic drama bringing recent divorcee Dreyfuss together with a possible and unexpected new love, played wonderfully by Galdofini. There's a great deal of honest comedy in the film too, and much like so many of the best films this past year, it was just the honesty and realness of the film and what it had to say about the nature of love that made this film work so well. If you wanted to feel good at the movies in 2013, this one was certainly it.

19) ALL IS LOST
I always love when filmmakers try bold experiments that end up succeeding. Here, director J.C. Chandor went from the dialogue-filled "Margin Call" to this powerful film where hardly a word of dialogue is spoken the entire film, and there's only one character who isn't even named. When stripped down to the basics of just a story of one man's fight for survival in the middle of the Indian Ocean, it's amazing how riveting of a film resulted. We know nothing of this man's past, but became so invested in his fight for survival, and I think so much of that success is because it's the familiar face of a much older Robert Redford, who gives one of his greatest performances ever. It's a truly moving experiment and a stunning piece of work.

20) SAVING MR. BANKS
"How often do you get a chance to go to DisneyLand with Walt Disney?" is one of the funniest lines in this film, and also makes me think of "how often do we get a movie with Walt Disney as an actual character?" Sure, several people are complaining that the film doesn't give us a truly in-depth portrait of Walt Disney the man, but then it's not supposed to. This is really Emma Thompson's film, and she's an absolute delight in her performance as author P.L. Travers, the woman who tries to survive the adaptation process of her book "Mary Poppins" when Walt Disney wants to turn it into one of their productions. From a standpoint of a film study looking at the process of adaptation, I felt it was extremely successful at letting us see the behind the scenes of a classic Hollywood production, and the give and take that creativity amongst a team requires. But it's also a very moving story unraveling why Travers is so beholden to the story in her book, and when we see the slowly unfolding back story of her relationship with her alcoholic father (played very effectively by Colin Farrell), we slowly see and understand why this rather abrasive woman is the way she is. It was one of the more emotional endings of the year for me, the moment when Travers is invited to the premiere of "Mary Poppins" and the release of emotion her character experiences for all the difficulties of her past. Made very much in the old Hollywood style, I thought it was a pure delight ... and surprisingly moving as well.

Honorable Mentions:
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Spectacular Now
Frances Ha
Spring Breakers
Out of the Furnace
Lee Daniels's The Butler
The Bling Ring
Now You See Me
The Great Gatsby
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire