by Hiko Mitsuzuka
In a year full of royal babies, upsetting trials (George Zimmerman), WTF celebrity deaths (Cory, Paul, et al), and viral sensations (enough with the Harlem Shake), there was plenty to talk about. 2013 didn't fail to supply the goods. For every Buzzfeed list celebrating the nuanced facial gestures of pop artists, there was an inspiring, faith-restoring clip on Upworthy. And for every 12 Years a Slave, there was a Lone Ranger (or After Earth)...
1. Before Midnight - The art of conversation is rarely exhibited in cinema, especially in a soundbite culture that has whittled down dialogue to 140 characters or less. Richard Linklater's third entry in his Jesse-and-Celine saga revels in those intimate moments of lengthy chatter, refuses to romanticize anything about the trappings of relationships between men and women, and dares to voyeuristically place the audience in a marriage that is far from perfect.
2. The Spectacular Now - A "teen" movie without the gloss, without the pretense, without the obnoxious pop soundtrack. Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller shine as a pair of high school seniors who form an unlikely relationship in Small Town, USA, and the result is an intimate and resonant drama of John Hughesian proportions.
3. Philomena - Six words: Judi Dench can do no wrong.
4. Prisoners - It's dark, Domestic Drama crossed with brutal Revenge Flick, but what director Denis Villeneuve, writer Aaron Guzikowski, and the brilliant cast (headed by a fierce Hugh Jackman) ultimately do is hold a mirror up to an American culture seeped in violence and simmering rage. What's fascinatingly disturbing is the film's subtle way of telling its audience that anyone -- anyone -- is capable of evil.
5. Gravity - A stunning technical achievement from the man behind Children of Men (a top 10 fave from 2006), this immersive space thriller is a tale of survival that hooks you at the first frame.
6. The World's End - Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's exhilaratingly entertaining pub crawl uses a sci-fi trope like an alien invasion to wryly comment on friendship, nostalgia, the state of the world, and the absolutely frightening process of getting older.
7. August: Osage County - Meryl Streep, in a role that will undoubtedly earn her an umpteenth Oscar nod, is the morose centerpiece in this ensemble drama that takes family dysfunction to darkly comedic new heights. Witness Julia Roberts unleash a rage unlike any character she's ever played. See a devastatingly vulnerable Benedict Cumberbatch fall in forbidden love. And marvel at Margo Martindale's broken soul of a sister.
8. The Place Beyond the Pines - A meditation on the relationships between fathers and sons and the legacies they leave behind, Derek Cianfrance's drama is cut into three powerful acts, set over a 15-year timespan, that respectively showcase three magnetic performances from Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and relative newcomer Emory Cohen.
9. Blue Jasmine - Cate Blanchett commands the screen as a woman of privilege who loses her cushy life (thanks to her Bernie Madoff-esque husband, played by Alec Baldwin) and gradually starts to lose her mind. Jasmine is a character desperate to cling on to what she once had, and watching her fall apart is at times funny, heartbreaking, and beautifully tragic.
10. American Hustle - Admission: Part of the thrill of this rollicking crime drama is seeing its A-list talent dress up in late 70s garb and act like the crazily greedy figures they're portraying. It's a period piece that feels very now, populated with people who do bad things for semi-good, understandable reasons. Sure, it's blatant Oscar bait -- and it doesn't give a shit.
FOUR HONORABLE MENTIONS:
You're Next (A fabulously frightful family slasher film)
Disconnect (Crash with chat rooms and identity theft)
Trance (An art heist film by way of Danny Boyle channeling Christopher Nolan)
Star Trek Into Darkness (Popcorn perfection).