Sunday, February 16, 2014

Top Films of 2013

2013: The year I never expected to bring such powerful and imposing films from beginning to end.  I started off the year strong by attending the Sundance Film Festival and now almost a year later I’m reeling since I won't be attending again. Yet, I've FINALLY whittled down 2013 (and early 2014) to my favorite 10+5 & have included after each entry how many times I have seen the film:

1.     Short Term 12: I think my real reason for seeing this movie besides Brie Larson bringing a powerful performance was because a friend was dying to see it. So I went and immediately fell in love. The first scene intriguingly pulls you in while the music, pacing, cinematography, real acting and story grasp you for the remainder. One of the most emotionally moving films this year that was highly underrated (I’m still writing in Brie to win Best Actress at the Oscars…). (1)

2.     Gravity: This film began building an immense amount of anticipation from the first teaser released in May. After that I forbid myself from watching any trailer or TV spot, and boy did it pay off. I was entranced from the moment the lights dimmed in the movie theatre. There is no one aspect that makes Gravity one of the best this year: it was a true collaboration between newly designed special effects, the actors, editor, cinematographer, composer, and countless others. (3)
You can read my earlier review about the film here.

3.     The Spectacular Now: At first I was skeptical about seeing another film about high school love. Granted, this was back at Sundance when all I knew about the film was a two-line description and the main cast and crew. This was also before Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller blew up, so forgive me. When I finally saw it in early fall, I had realized that a heavy-high school partier (definitely not me) was still capable of caring for others. I identified with some of Sutter’s fears and traits while I initially considered myself more like the down-to-earth Aimee. Films like this illustrate that small-budget independent pieces can still pack a savory punch! (1)
                   Read my earlier review here!

4.     Before Midnight: My friend and I marathoned (thank you Netflix for making this a verb) the first two Before films the night before we saw Midnight. The dialogue between Celine and Jesse starts off with a bang in Sunrise but gets more and more intense throughout the series. The locations of these films are a perfect backdrop against this maturing relationship: the ancient and rocky, yet preserved and breathtaking Grecian waterfront.  (2)

5.     Her: This masterpiece would have been higher if not for the raunchy, vulgar sex scenes that detract from the later depth of the film. Theodore and Samantha develop one of the deepest and truest relationships of the year that show audiences the possibilities, emotions, and paths of true love.  (2)

6.     12 Years A Slave: This is another film that began building anticipation early on, especially as rave reviews and standing ovations at festivals began pouring in. (1)
Read my full review here

7.     Blue is the Warmest Color: one of the most-buzzed and controversial films this year. I was nervous even as the film began, but after three hours, I felt transformed and motivated just like Adele. My preconceptions of the ‘three-hour lesbian movie’ were violently changed into ‘true love story everyone needs to see and experience.’ Masterfully directed, Blue boils down to a love story between two people, detailing life’s intimacies, troubles, and happiness. Adele’s perspective allows the audience to experience love naively at first, but by the end can feel how heavy her heart has become due to years of discovering love.  Exarchopoulos and Seydoux give outstanding performances and are well worth not only a 3 hour film, but their respective Cannes Palme d’Ors. (1, but the bluray is pre-ordered!)

8.     Frances Ha: a minimalist look at one of New York’s quirkiest and most frustrating artists-to-be. While I don’t fully back all of Baumbach’s films, once this hit came to Netflix, I was ecstatic to watch. The opening scene will hook you with its wit, quick editing, and relaxed nature between BFFs Sophie and Frances. Gerwig plays the most interesting character of the year and shows that a performance takes an entire film to understand. I know this sounds vague, but early-Frances does not equate with Paris-Frances who doesn’t equate with 15 other Frances-types throughout the film. Multiple viewings are sure to entrance you with a highly stylized yet stripped and alternative (not quite hipster) look at life in the Big Apple. (1.5)

9.     The Wolf of Wall Street: Hands down one of the funniest movies of the year.  Yes, also one of the most vulgar, raunchiest, craziest things I’ve seen in years. While Leonardo Dicaprio may be snubbed since many were unamused by Scorsese’s unorthodox and raucous parade, his performance was outstanding and surely unmatched by any actor this year (in terms of emotional range). (2)

10. About Time: Because emotions. I cannot wait for this to come out on DVD so I can watch it every month, bawl, and realize how important it is to live every day with no regrets and as if it were my last. I’m not big on romcoms, but this film focuses on the father-son dynamic with a supplementary love story (Mary, played by McAdams, isn’t even introduced until 20+ minutes into the film). Despite its fantasy nature, the film reveals the true meaning behind family and love. (2)

Honorable Mention:
11. Philomena: Another underrated hit that shocked me by its depth and range. Coogan’s screenplays always delight (see The Trip) while Dench’s performance gives power back to the 80+ Club. I loved how the duo was a well-rounded dialogue between atheism vs. Catholicism. Even though the film has a slant against nuns selling children, I feel that the discussion always highlights both sides of the conversation. (1)

12. Inside Llewyn Davis: A typical Coen Brothers ending will give you enough reason to see it a second time! While the film definitely leads you to believe of the more depressing scenario, it is still up to the audiences’ decision to figure out how the circle is being completed. Oscar Isaac’s vocals are magnificent: he’ll teach you that ‘life ain’t worth living without the one you love.’ (1)

13. Dallas Buyers Club: While I had expected a hearty film, I was not fully expecting such a well-made film with deep messages that hit home. Strong performances that have gained so much award buzz frame this powerful story of a man sentenced with 30 days left to live after being diagnosed with AIDS. He (McConaughey) becomes a hero for the suffering by learning about and gathering the most effective medications for other AIDS patients. Even the most masculine of Southern cowboys shatters homophobia to build a wholesome relationship with Rayon (Leto), an HIV-positive transgender woman. (1)

14. August: Osage County: I was surprised by how much I loved this movie as well. I’m not certain if the theatrical adaptation made this screenplay so strong, but it certainly makes for a tour-de-force with such an A-list cast. An unsettling suicide brings this family back together, only to open more sores in each member. All of the ends are tied up nicely, but only after Julia Roberts (and Meryl Streep, for that matter) gives one of the most powerful performances of her career (I wouldn’t want to be her child who doesn’t eat his vegetables).  (1)

15. The Kings of Summer (Toy’s House): Not only was I in this summer hit, but it was filmed in my hometown, Cleveland, OH, too! I had the pleasure of seeing it premiere at Sundance last January and hear from the director and some of the cast and crew. Wit, imagination, a playful yet colorful art direction, and a hilarious cast (Nick Offerman, Megan Mullaly, Alison Brie, and Moises Arias to name a few) round out this successful comedy. Think Superbad meets The Breakfast Club or a 2013 rendition of Stand By Me. (2)

My newest smoothie addition: kale!

The You-Won't-Know-It-Has-Veggies smoothie
1 cup frozen (and smashed) kale
1 cup fresh spinach
1/2 banana
1/2 cup pineapple
1-2 cups strawberries (fresh or frozen, or both)