I don’t know why I spend so much time anguishing over my Top 10 movies of the year which last year was expanded to Top 20 and this year reaches the almost unneccessary level of a Top 25. I am not a film critic. I do not pretend to be a film critic. There are choices on this list that you won’t likely find on other lists, mostly because I have my own way of looking at these things.
I thought 2013 was an excellent year with probably 7-8 movies I could have ranked No. 1 and at least 20 I could have listed in my top 10. So while trying to compile this list, I thought of 3 things in determining where these films should be ranked. 1. How much did I think about it when it was over? 2. How badly did I want to see it again? 3. How quickly did I want to tell friends to go see this movie?
OK, I’ve got a lot of rankings to run through here, so let’s get started.
1. AMERICAN HUSTLE — Was director David O. Russell paying respects to Martin Scorsese or just copying all his trademark techniques — lot of zooming in on characters, occasional freeze frames, great soundtrack? Doesn’t really matter to me. Russell has had his own great run of top 10 films lately (“The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook”) so I pretty much feel he can do what he wants. I just thought Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper were all great here, in particular Bale who lets others (notably Jennifer Lawrence) do the scene-stealing here. And I guess I knew Amy Adams could look like that? But I never really though about Amy Adams looking like that. There was nothing I didn’t love about this movie.
2. IN A WORLD — Up until two weeks ago, I thought this terrific film by Lake Bell was going to be my No. 1 pick. It has two of the funniest moments I saw in movies all year (“What’s wrong with the blue towels?”). The title refers to all those movie trailers you have seen through the years (“In a world where….”), and with the death of the man who had cornered the market on that industry, everyone is competing to be the new “In a world” guy — including Lake Bell against her own father. It’s kind of odd that I ranked it this high and picked “Bernie” No. 1 last year because I don’t like most movie comedies. This is not standard comedy material, just great stuff.
3. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB — Matthew McConaughey is on an amazing roll — “Bernie,” “Killer Joe,” “Mud,” a small but great part in “Wolf of Wall Street” plus the upcoming HBO series “True Detective.” Somewhere in the midst of all this in the last two years (sorry I left off “Magic Mike”) he found time to lose 40 pounds and shoot this film (in New Orleans, not here) about a very heterosexual man diagnosed with AIDS in the ’80s. Jared Leto is probably going to win a series of Best Supporting Actor awards for his transgender character who eventually moves McConaughey’s angry young man into a more tolerant position.
4. GRAVITY — For a second viewing, I took my 87-year-old father. It was Willis’ first 3-D experience and I knew he would love all those incredible shots of Earth from above. I feel like giving this film a special award for being one of the few this year that isn’t 20 minutes too long or even more which brings us to…
5. WOLF OF WALL STREET — The latest Scorsese is all about excess in every conceivable way. Lots of money, lots of nudity, lost of cocaine to the point that when Leo rips open his own couch to find another cocaine stash in the film, it has zero impact. We’ve seen it. We get it. These people are unlikable and way out of control. And at 2 hours, 59 minutes, this is far more than any of us ever need to know about Jordan Belfort or any other corrupt real-estate types. Now having said that, it’s Scorsese, so it’s film-making brilliance throughout and there are scenes I would love to watch again and again. My favorite is DiCaprio (Belfort) on his yacht talking pleasantly to the FBI agent investigating him. When the conversation becomes something other than pleasant, it’s an amazingly powerful moment given that no one is so much as raising a fist. But, hey, Leo, you don’t mess with Coach Taylor of Friday Night Lights TV fame. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, buddy.
6. THE ATTACK — It’s hard — I mean really hard — to make a film about a Palestinian suicide-bomber in Israel that finds a way to show both sides of the equation. To paraphrase as best I can remember what one character tells another near the end of the film, “We can talk for a thousand years and we’re never going to hear each other.” A terrific and intelligent look at an impossible situation.
7. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS – ”Look at me. Look at me…I’m the captain now.” The first 90 minutes of this film has it competing for the very top spot on the list. By the end, when what appears to be the entire U.S. Navy shows up — even if that’s a fairly factual account of what happened — it takes too long and leaves you remembering those initial scenes when you were amazed at what the Somalian pirates were trying to pull off.
8. MUD — McConaughey again? Damn right, but there’s a lot more to this film than his puzzling island-bound character. You have to love the two kids, one of whom had never acted and just won an audition in Arkansas based in part on his ability to handle a boat.
9. FRUITVALE STATION — I really liked this account of what happened on New Year’s Eve in the East Bay a few years back, and it was only after the movie I learned I had been watching Wallace from “The Wire” in the lead role. I thought he looked familiar with those puffy cheeks but I didn’t know.
10. ENOUGH SAID — On the other hand, like everyone else, when I went to see this movie, I knew it was the last I’d see of the great James Gandolfini. That can’t help but have an impact on how you feel about a film. But not only is he great — very un-Tony Soprano like — so is Julia-Louie Dreyfus who is on a great roll herself with the success of one of my favorite shows, “Veep.”
11. THE HUNT — What happens when you’re wrongly accused of something truly awful? Do you ever get over it? Will people let you?
12. SIDE EFFECTS — Allegedly the last full-length film Stephen Soderbergh is directing. I’m a sucker for anything Rooney Mara is in and for “I didn’t see that coming” moments because, frankly, I never see them coming.
13. 12 YEARS A SLAVE – I know this is much higher on critics’ lists and it’s not as if I didn’t think it was outstanding. But I always feel that overdoing a thing works against a director’s best interests, even if we’re talking about slavery and mistreatment. Two or three shots of someone getting whipped do the trick. Eighteen shots of it diminish the impact for me. But there are some great performances here even if Brad Pitt riding to the rescue is a little much.
14. THE CONJURING — I don’t usually go see anything that falls into the “good scary” movie category because, to be honest, they scare me. I think my son Ben and I were both a little nervous as we settled into the Inwood balcony for this one. But I’ll watch anything that has Ron Livingston (“Band of Brothers,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Office Space” and apparently “Sex in the City”). First hour was good. And scary. Last hour was an Exorcist take-off but still very much worth seeing.
15. NEBRASKA — In the battle of “This Movie Is Going To Be Slow and Viewers Are Okay With It”, this film gets the nod over “Inside Llewyn Davis.” I remember seeing Bruce Dern on stage here almost 40 years ago at a Texas Film Festival showing of “Smile” and I haven’t seen a heck of a lot of Dern in between. He’s really good here and so is Jenna’s boyfriend from “30 Rock.” Not much happens. It’s in black and white. And that’s OK. It’s real.
16. THE WAY WAY BACK — Better than I expected. Steve Carell as someone you don’t like takes some getting used to.
17. PARKLAND – A story on the fringe of the big story here on Nov. 22, 1963. Lots of familiar faces popping in and out — loved, yes, Ron Livingston again as the beleaguered FBI agent James Hosty who didn’t follow up on an Oswald lead.
18. LORE — What happens when you see a torn photo and that appears to be your father…in a Nazi uniform?
19. DON JON — I would say this film gets a lot of things right about porn, but, hey, I don’t even know what that is. So I’m just guessing.
20. BLUE JASMINE — Kate Blanchett’s pretty interesting and it’s fun to see Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale), but this isn’t the quality of Late Era Woody that “Midnight in Paris,” ”Match Point” or “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” are.
21. ALL IS LOST – I realize this is a great, nearly soundless one-man performance from Robert Redford but about 15 minutes in, all I could think of was: “Man, I hate sailboats.”
22. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS — Yeah, I’m still buying in because Zachary Quinto gets a young Spock about as right as someone could get it.
23. 42 — Nothing really new about Jackie Robinson here. Interesting to see that the kid from “Sling Blade” is now old enough to play Pee Wee Reese.
24. PLACE BEYOND THE PINES — SPOILER ALERT: This movie has been out almost a year, don’t read the next two sentences if you are still waiting to go see it. I liked the first movie a lot. I just didn’t know there were going to be three. I mean, really, when Ryan Gosling hit the pavement, didn’t you think “That can’t be it!” ?
25. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS — I read a very interesting article about the cat in this movie in The Atlantic the day after I saw it. I didn’t get any of that. Maybe if I had, I would have been less inclined to look at my watch. The Coen Brothers make some of the best films in modern cinema, but for me, this is “A Serious Man with a Guitar.”