Preston Barta / Film Critic
2013 was a tremendous year for film. While the year had a rough start, with a few exceptions such as "Warm Bodies" and "Side Effects," it seems as though every weekend since October movie studios have offered filmgoers treat after treat. Narrowing down this list to the expected 10 films was a difficult task, but without further ado, here is the North Texas Daily's top 10 films of 2013.
10. "THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE"
Last year, the first "Hunger Games" movie had to overcome all the silly "next 'Twilight'" tags, which it accomplished with style. The next installment, "Catching Fire," takes it to the next level, nearly landing in "Dark Knight" territory. Incoming director Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend," 2007) widened the focus and spent most of his time running outside of the infamous Games arena, uncovering the world of Panem and exploring how important Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence in another dynamite performance) has become to her districts. The result was one of the best and most exciting films of the year. More of this, please.
9. "AMERICAN HUSTLE"
"American Hustle" is being called the 2013 revival of classic Scorsese gangster pics, like "Goodfellas" (1990) and "Casino" (1995), but minus the gangsters-- for the most part. It has plot twists, a jamming soundtrack, conniving characters, backstabbings and so on, but yet, it's new. It's fresh and hot out of the oven, baked with a comical script and first-rate performances from Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
8. "BEFORE MIDNIGHT"
For over 20 years now, writer-director Richard Linklater ("Before Sunrise," 1995), his co-writers and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply have dazzled us with their wits and charm. They have given filmgoers the chance to peek into three key moments in the lives of Jesse and Celine, as they discuss life, love and their future together. Through the engaging non-stop dialogue we've come to expect from Linklater's thoughtful and unique trilogy complete with stunning scenery, audiences are reminded that relationships are difficult and take work, but they are also a gift.
Director Alexander Payne ("The Descendants," 2011) is one of the best dramatists working in Hollywood right now, simply because he makes films about realistic people in realistic situations. In his tender black-and-white comedy, a lonely son (an excellent Will Forte) takes his aging and alcoholic father (Bruce Dern) on a doomed car trip from Montana to Nebraska to collect his million dollar winnings from a magazine distributor. The story is simple, but it's delightful thanks to Dern's Oscar-worthy performance and Payne's skilled direction.
6. "THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES"
Ryan Gosling and writer-director Derek Cianfrance, previously seen in 2010's "Blue Valentine," join forces once again in this electric, multi-generational tale of fathers and sons. It's a shame that "The Place Beyond the Pines" came out so early in the year rather than later, when new releases garner awards and attention, because it's a near-flawless character study that mixes elements of crime, teen angst and fate.
5. "SHORT TERM 12"
Here's a film that most have probably never heard of-- only making a little over a million at the box office-- but it deserves all your attention. Destin Cretton's harrowing drama follows Grace, played by Brie Larson in the kind of explosive performance that awards are made for, as a supervising staff member who navigates the troubled waters of her world in and out of a foster care facility. Acting, writing, story structure and directing don't get much better than "Short Term 12."
Aside from its towering technical achievements in the visual and sound department, "Gravity" is a great piece of storytelling that serves as a benchmark in cinema history. Sandra Bullock has never been better as a medical engineer that is adrift in space after an accident leaves her shuttle crippled. Visual talent Alfonso Cuar n ("Children of Men," 2006), who just may walk away with a golden statue for Best Director next year, and his filmmaking team achieve the impossible by making "Gravity" one of the purest examples of extremely tense cinema done right.
On paper, it is almost impossible to believe that watching Joaquin Phoenix fall in love with his computer, voiced by the sultry Scarlett Johansson, would make for one of the best, most poignant and strangely realistic experiences of the year, but that's the beauty of Spike Jonze's "Her." It's an insightful film that provides a unique and frightening look at where the future might be heading in a technology-obsessed world.
2. "12 YEARS A SLAVE"
Based on the incredible and true story of one man's fight for survival and freedom, "12 Years a Slave" is an exhausting but effective depiction of plantation life. Steve McQueen ("Shame," 2011) makes this film so riveting that even when you want to look away, especially scenes that showcase the beatings and tortures that slaves endured, you cannot take your eyes off the screen. It's a stunning and unforgettable experience that claws at your heartstrings. Do not be surprised if it walks away with Best Picture.
1. "THE WOLF OF WALL STREET"
Marking his fifth and best collaboration with legendary director Martin Scorsese ("The Departed," 2006), Leonardo DiCaprio provides the most potent jolt of pure cinema you'll see this year with "The Wolf of Wall Street." This adaptation of Jordan Belfort's memoir of unlimited greed and debauchery in the financial world of the late '80s and early '90s is not only the most side-splitting and quotable movie of 2013, it's the year's finest film. While it may run a little long (nearly 3 hours), every single moment is a creative stroke of genius. At 71, Scorsese still has one of the deepest bags of tricks of any filmmaker in the business. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is the craziest damn thing he's ever done and it's movie perfection.
Honorable Mentions: "Mud," "The Spectacular Now," "Prisoners," "The Way, Way Back," "Rush," "August: Osage County," "The Conjuring," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Fruitvale Station" and "Spring Breakers."
Best Documentary: "Blackfish" and "The Act of Killing."
Best Foreign Film: "The Attack" and "Blue is the Warmest Color."
Best Animated Feature: "Frozen" and "Monsters University."
Worst of the Year: "The Counselor," "Only God Fogrives," "Oldboy," "Texas Chainsaw 3D" and "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"