2013 was a particularly exciting year for women’s performances. Unfortunately, the list of best films does not pay tribute to all of the great work done by actresses. So, in addition to those cited therein, please consider these powerhouses: Lupita Nyong’o, the most honest and affecting character in 12 Years a Slave (And shame on her billing—way below the white male stars!); Shailene Woodley, whose performance in The Spectacular Now was refreshingly realistic and vulnerable; Greta Gerwig, who truly seemed indistinguishable from the title character in Frances Ha; and the brave duo of Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux who bared their souls as fully as their bodies in Blue Is the Warmest Color, which would be coldly unendurable without them.
Best of 2013
Curiously, some feel that this technological marvel lacks gravity, but as meditation on existentialism and transcendence, it pitched us into the void with both visceral and cerebral impact. As a 21st century wayfarer, the ever-impressive Sandra Bullock journeyed from Beckettian angst to Buddhist acceptance. And visually, the film, or experience, instilled a sense of childlike awe seldom felt since its grandsire, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
2. Blue Jasmine
Leave it to Woody Allen to find heart and humor in this morality tale about a woman’s fall from the ranks of the privileged one percent. And leave it to Cate Blanchett, at her most brilliant, to make us empathize with her modern Blanche DuBois—even as she melted into madness with nuance and horror in a single close up.
3. What Masie Knew
The intelligent updating of Henry James’ novella with a pitch perfect cast, including luminous Joanna Vanderham, engendered more suspense than most of the year’s thrillers as we prayed Masie, beautifully played by Onata Aprile, would know best. Storytelling that felt entirely organic and unpredictable.
4. The Grandmaster
Were it only for Zhang Ziyi’s one glance in midair, were it only for her physical grace and silent conveyance of restrained emotion, this film would be a must. Wong Kar-Wai defeated expectations as he transformed a supposed martial arts film into a love story that is an original masterpiece.
5. Captain Philips
Had Paul Greengrass directed 12 Years a Slave instead of this compassionate and frightening exercise in extended trauma, it might have been on this list. Better than he has ever been, Tom Hanks rivets throughout, but it is his unforgettable final minutes of ferocious honesty portraying post-traumatic stress that left me in tears.
6. Before Midnight
The third in the series of films featuring a searing Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke as lovers talking in real time, this installment found them middle aged and descending into embittered, lacerating attacks on each other. Throughout, however, the hints of their powerful love compelled us to watch and hope against the odds for the staying power of that most complex emotion. The extended takes were among the year’s most special effects.
7. In a World . . .
In a world of stupid slapstick and cookie cutter comic characters, writer/director/star, Lake Bell, created a unique and lovable presence as a struggling voice-over artist, while also allowing us what appeared to be a truthful glimpse into the hilarious and rarified world of these unseen artists.
A compelling documentary that left audiences horrified, outraged and in tears as it detailed the inhumanity of our species as it brutalizes other thinking and feeling creatures for entertainment and money. After this, one can never look at Orcas, or such prisons as Sea World, in the same light.
9. The Heat
No one is more surprised than I that this is on my list. But it was the one comedy to cause regular and explosive laughter. Sandra Bullock, always one of our best comic actors, displayed perfect timing as she ran into her opposite and equal force in Melissa McCarthy, who humanized what could have been a stock character.
10. Prisoners and The Wolverine
Hugh Jackman starred in both, and he was supported in both by actors who were equally vivid and cinematography that created marvelously sustained moods and complete environments. Prisoners reinvented the revenge genre in harrowing manner. And The Wolverine succeeded where today’s superfluous superhero films fail—it created characters of depth and knew how to frame action sequences in a human manner.
Worst of 2013
1. Oz: The Great and Powerful
Horribly fake settings, an uncharismatic wizard, and not a rainbow in sight. By comparison, 1939 classic looks far more realistic and is much more believable.
2. Spring Breakers
The latest pretentious soft core porn to masquerade as social critique from Harmony Korine, who would have been regarded as a smut peddler in less pretentious times. Like most porn, it is tedious.
3. Man of Steel
More destruction was caused by the insipid hero than the villains as he leveled miles of a city in a grudge match wherein thousands of lives had to have been lost, but not one was shown to suffer or die. Boring, repetitive, and sanitized, despite the supposedly dark vision and toned-down tights.
4. The Great Gatsby
ADD-driven, gargantuan beyond Gatsby’s dreams and means, over the top, and further despoiled with Jay-Z’s moronically anachronistic hip-hop to drive us out of the time period and reality. Try the unfortunately maligned Redford version with its incredible soundtrack featuring the likes of such unknowns as Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern.
5. All Is Lost
Watching durable Robert Redford attempt to keep his leaking boat afloat was about as involving as watching a plumber stoically go about his craft. Maybe less. Try his Gatsby to see Redford at his most effectively restrained.