My Top 11 (or so) Films for 2013

Top 10 lists are never easy – so let’s do a top 11. The tendency is to forget about films from earlier in the year and then how do you compare an obscure foreign film to something like 12 Years a Slave.  But I hope I can get some Comments going so let me give it a try.  I’ll go from 11 down to 1 – with some variations. They are simply the films that moved me. I invite your comments.

11. Short Term 12 – This was one of those films that played about 2 weeks in Washington. Brie Larson gives a breakout performance – after playing an ex in the underrated The Spectacular Now. The film portrayed a foster care facility with depth and feeling; the actors who played the kids were amazing. Rent it.

10. Saving Mr. Banks – Got snubbed by Oscar but I loved Emma Thompson in Much Ado About Nothing, Sense and Sensibility and now this. And Tom Hanks makes a great Walt Disney. The scenes with Emma and the two songwriters are very well-done – and the fact that they are based on actual tapes makes it all the better.

9. Inside Llewyn Davis – How do the Coen Brothers come up with these?  Finding Oscar Isaac was the key, I think. He’s sort of handsome, sort of likeable, sort of talented but not amazing so we kind of root for him but don’t get too upset when he encounters his troubles. I’m a folkie at heart so I loved the music. And the subplot with the cat is quite funny.

8. Blue Jasmine. I got to see Cate Blanchett perform here in Uncle Vanya and then speak in an interview. As beautiful and genuine as she is, you almost forget that in one of Woody Allen’s best films (amid his late-career resurgence).  A great supporting cast gives this film life – Louis CK is becoming a real actor – and Allen’s take on Streetcar is a clever one.

7. Mud/Dallas Buyers Club – I’m grouping these because it really was the year of Matthew McConaughey. His performance in Dallas was superlative – and it came on the heels of Bernie, The Lincoln Lawyer and now a really fun cameo in Wolf of Wall Street.  I really liked Mud. Could anyone else have played the role Sam Shepard did?

6. Blue is the Warmest Color – This was an amazing film – lesbian love scene or not. For three hours we follow Adele through heartbreaks, happiness, family, pasta, wine, a job she loved and yes, sex. Why do the French always look like they’re having more fun than us?  Because they are!  (I’ve been there a lot.) And atill at the end – a scene at an art gallery opening (perfect for me) – I was ready for more.

5. Wadjda – This is a perfect film. Haifaa Al-Mansour is the first female Arab director to come out with a film, an what a debut!  The fact that it revolves around a bicycle is the tipping point for me. The last scene – I won’t give it away – but I loved it. Never over the top, never trying to milk emotions, Wadjda just tells a beautiful story with emotions that would feel right in any culture.

4. 20 Feet From Stardom/Stories We Tell – I’m grouping these because I’m running out of numbers and they are both documentaries. Both rip at your heart in creative, underplaying ways. Sarah Polley, who I was lucky enough to interview a few years ago, has become one of the most original filmmakers around today.  The film was more special because I knew her father from the great Canadian TV show, Slings and Arrows.  20 Feet focuses on back-up singers, and you get to feel their triumphs and letdowns through highlights and interviews with the likes of Springsteen and Mick Jagger. I will call Jagger’s line about one of the backup singers – “she was ‘hawt'” – as one of the best film moments of the year. Trust me.

3. In a World – Who knew Lake Bell was all this?  She wrote, directed and starred in this very funny, very touching portrait of a woman trying to break into the male-dominated world of voice-overs. The scenes are humorous, moving, well-crafted and extremely well-acted. (Loved Eva Longoria as herself.) Comedy is tough which is why you don’t see many good ones. This is a good one.

2. Fruitvale Station – I just feel like this one touched me the most. And you knew what was going to happen! I can’t wait to see what writer/director Ryan Coogler does next. It just gets you thinking beyond the headlines – every life is so precious and Michael B. Jordan makes us care so much about this one. I never recall NOT wanting to see a movie end like I did here. Why can’t we change endings?  Octavia Spencer is amazing once again.

1. The Past – I think I actually liked this film even more than Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning film A Separation a couple years ago. The film works on so many levels – relationships, the effect on kids, immigration – and the acting is impeccable, If you think Berenice Bejo was just a bystander in The Artist, you’ll be amazed at what she does here. The characters here are likeable but by no means perfect which makes it feel believable. The little boy is amazing. Still playing in DC.

Here are my next 10:

Oscar front-runners American Hustle (great acting), Gravity (Sandra Bullock is wonderful), and 12 Years a Slave (amazing story); Her (original) , Nebraska (beautiful midwest tableau), Keeper of Lost Causes (really fun Danish film in the Dragon Tattoo tradition), Frances Ha (Greta Gerwig finally finds her groove),  Child’s Pose (brilliant Romanian film), Before Midnight (I LOVE this trilogy – just thought this one still didn’t rival the original) and Muscle Shoals (LOTS of fun; Keith Richards is worth the price of admission).

And here are films that I haven’t gotten to see yet that might have made my list: Broken Circle Breakdownn and The Hunt (we will get to see these at National Geographic when they show the Oscar-nominated foreign films), Caesar Must Die, The Counselor, Prisoners, Mother of George (played a week in Washington!).

Happy movie-ing!

About Ronn Levine

Ronn blogged before the term existed - as the arts editor and pro basketball writer (The Court Jester) for the Rutgers Daily Targum. I reviewed the original Dreamgirls and interviewed the lead, Sheryl Lee Ralph, who was from Rutgers. From there I went to The Washington Post covering duckpin bowling, preseason football, tennis and a baseball oldtimers game with Joe Dimaggio. Next I collected a couple Super Bowl rings with the Washington Redskins, wrote for radio, wrote cover stories for the Post's Weekend section (started ushering after my story on it), covered diversity in the newspaper world and then started going to film festivals and conducting interviews - Sarah Polley, Julie Delpy and Kristin Scott-Thomas among others. Now I blog daily for the Software & Information Industry Association and run The ArtHouse Meetiup.

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