25. The Silence (Odar)
Synopsis: 13-year-old Sinikka vanishes on a hot summer night. Her bicycle is found in the exact place where a girl was killed 23 years ago. The dramatic present forces those involved in the original case to face their past.
I’m not a sicko or anything, but I admit that I have a weird affinity for murder stories. They both disgust and fascinate me. What stood out about The Silence was that it did not follow the typical pattern and was written so that I was more interested in the psychology behind both the murderers and the detectives than I was I was about the killing itself.
24. Stories We Tell (Polley)
Synopsis: A film that excavates layers of myth and memory to find the elusive truth at the core of a family of storytellers.
I wouldn’t recommend Stories We Tell to just anyone. It’s incredibly slow moving and, at times, seems to be leading nowhere, but it’s all about the big picture. I had to think about what I had just watched and then slowly put all the pieces together in my mind, then weigh them against what my own moral values and opinions. In the end, it made me ponder how we perceive things…How you and I can look at the same piece of art and experience two entirely different things. I wonder how many times I’ve been Harry Gulkin – convinced that something is 100% real, but does not exist to anyone but me. And, if I have been, if I really want to know it’s all a farce.
23. Fruitvale Station (Coogler)
Synopsis: The purportedly true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.
As a fan of The Wire, I was really excited to see Michael B. Jordan in a leading role and he did not disappoint. However, I found the movie itself to be pretty manipulative. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Oscar Grant was likely not as clean cut as the film would have us believe. I get that the full truth wouldn’t exactly make the best movie, so I went with it… until the dog scene.There was zero reason to include that scene other than to manipulate the audience. That really irked me. It still irks me. Had the movie been more truthful, I would’ve enjoyed it more. It’s a story worth telling honestly. Injustice is injustice. Filmmakers do a disservice by trying to make it a bigger transgression than it was.
22. Saving Mr. Banks (Hancock)
Synopsis: Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen.
Saving Mr. Banks was… well, exactly what you would think it would be. Mostly enjoyable, but not profound in any kind of way and ultimately forgettable. I heard a few people say that they hated the flashbacks, which I can see although they didn’t bother me. With Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell and Emma Thompson, the acting was customarily solid. Plus, it left a theater full of moms and grandmas sniffling, so mission accomplished on that.
21. Prisoners (Villeneuve)
Synopsis: When Keller Dover’s daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?
Abduction movies are a dime a dozen, but Prisoners holds it’s own in a sea of paint-by-numbers stories. Each character’s motives and actions can be rationally tracked, although many force you to bend your moral compass. If the filmmakers had taken a little less time torturing and a little more time giving some sort of insight into Loki’s background, this may have easily moved into the top 15.
20. Blue Jasmine (Allen)
Synopsis: A New York socialite, deeply troubled and in denial, arrives in San Francisco to impose upon her sister. She looks a million, but isn’t bringing money, peace, or love.
Woody Allen movies are hit and miss with me. There. I said it.
I walked into Blue Jasmine, as I do all Allen’s movies, unsure of what to expect. What I got was one of the best female performances I’ve seen in years. Cate Blanchett is outstanding as she perfectly executes the role of a woman so obsessed with living a fairy tale lie that the only person she can actually fool is herself. Almost.
19. This is the End (Goldberg, Rogan)
Synopsis: While attending a party at James Franco’s house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.
It’s ludicrous and juvenile. It’s also one of the funniest comedies to come out in the past decade. Oddly, Michael Cera might’ve been the best part.
18. Don Jon (Gordon-Levitt)
Synopsis: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has reached a point that I trust him enough to see any movie he’s in regardless of whether or not it looks interesting to me. The only time he has completely disappointed me was Premium Rush. (What a disaster!) With Don Jon touted as JGL’s baby (he directed, wrote and starred in the movie) and the previews appearing to be interesting enough, my expectations were pretty high. Plus, Tony Danza. Ultimately I wished it was better. It’s #18 for the year, so that’s not to say it sucked, but I never really connected with anyone and the outcome was far-fetched.
17. American Hustle (Russell)
Synopsis: A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive British partner, Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso. DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.
Right away I’m sure I’m going to get crap for this placement, but here’s the deal – I don’t think I “got” American Hustle. It a good enough movie – well acted and written, entertaining, all that jazz – but I didn’t think it was funny. Like, I didn’t think it was funny at all. I even saw it twice because it’s being regarded as a comedic drama. Nothing. Not one laugh. It went right over my head. I like David O. Russell’s work and completely understood the humor in I Heart Huckabees and Silver Linings Playbook, but AH? Nope.
16. Dallas Buyers Club (Vallee)
Synopsis: In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.
You probably haven’t seen Dallas Buyers Club, but I’m guessing that since we’re gearing up for the Oscars, you’ve heard of it. The fact that it’s based on a true story about government drug regulations, the LGBT community and AIDS, if someone just threw out a halfway coherent script, the movie would’ve done well. And they did. I thought the story was told in a compelling enough way, although I found myself wishing I could connect more with Woodroof. But where the writers really exceeded was with Jared Leto’s character of Rayon. If I didn’t have a heart of stone when it comes to crying at movies, he would’ve broken me down. And credit where credit’s due – Matthew McConaughey was outstanding, I just wish he would’ve had a little more to work with.
15. Nebraska (Payne)
Synopsis: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.
Unlike the shoe-in of Dallas Buyers Club, it’s blowing my mind that Nebraska has received so much recognition – not because it’s a bad movie by any means, but because nothing in particular about it stands out, just as the filmmakers intended. It’s filled with subtle reality that anyone who was raised in a mid-western town can relate to; the awkward silences and uncomfortable conversations. The screencap I chose takes place during a conversation about a car that someone use to have, but no longer has and it’s understated brilliance. Of course, Bruce Dern’s performance must be noted, as well as the less-praised performance of June Squibb.
14. The Act of Killing (Oppenheimer)
Synopsis: A documentary that challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.
The Act of Killing, as the name might imply, is not for the faint of heart. It’s not particularly visually graphic, but it is difficult to watch. It’s also profoundly interesting. Viewers witness how years of sanctioned killing affects the killers. As is the case with all of us when we do some sort of morally wrong deed, some are able to reason away the guilt while others feel as though they’re quite literally haunted. Compounded with the social status these men have achieved for their carnage and the culture that surrounds them, you can find logic in their crimes – a deeply sick and twisted logic.
13. August: Osage County (Wells)
Synopsis: A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.
Since I’ve already confessed that I’m not a huge Woody Allen fan, I guess I’ll get this off my chest as well – I don’t care for Meryl Streep. It’s not that I think she’s a bad actress, just an overrated actress… or so I think until I see movies like August: Osage County. She stole the scene every time she was on the screen. I was mesmerized by her. The rest of the film felt authentic as well, seamlessly entwining comedic elements to very intense situations. Oh yeah, and it is both filmed and based in Oklahoma. Bonus points!
12. The Wolf of Wall Street (Scorsese)
Synopsis: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.
Despite being near the top of my must see movies for 2013, it was weeks before I made it to the theater to see The Wolf of Wall Street. By then, I had been asked by several people if I liked it with few of them offering their opinion of whether they themselves enjoyed the movie. The followup was always a comment like, “Just be prepared for three hours of a coked out Leo and lots of nudity.” Okay. But is that good or bad? If you ask me, it was pretty darn good. Jordan Belfort’s story is about living to excess and you’ve gotta give him credit, he didn’t half-a** it. That said, I don’t think this is a movie that I’ll be re-watching, but it certainly was a fun ride while it lasted.
11. Mud (Nichols)
Synopsis: Two young boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the vigilantes that are on his trail and to reunite him with his true love.
Yep. Matthew McConaughey clinches his third movie in my top 25. However, Mud may be his best performance in a stellar year for our naked bongo playing friend. I like to think I’m a fairly astute movie watcher, but I had a difficult time figuring out Mud. Is he dangerous or crazy? Is he kind and honest? Is he just a man in the wrong place at the wrong time? It’s a compelling story.