My Favorite Films of 2013
'Tis the season when movie critics must choose their picks for the Top Ten Films of the year. My 2013 list ends up being quite eclectic -- a sci-fi thriller, a foreign language romance, a biopic, an animated musical, a Western, a comedy, 2 fantasies and 2 documentaries. This is the first time I’ve included more than one documentary, but they are both superb and designed to make viewers aware of problems that need urgent attention. The rest earned a place on my list by being so entertaining that I want to see them over and over again. Below are my selections in order of preference.
GRAVITY. Because of its stunning combination of technical magic and strong emotional pull, I was bowled over by this thrilling space adventure! In fact, while viewing the film, I felt like I was actually floating in space and suffering through the terrible mishaps faced by the two astronauts played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. And I wasn’t even watching it in 3-D!
SAVING MR. BANKS. This movie ranks as the most captivating one of the year for me. Emma Thompson is perfectly cast as P.L. Travers, the cantankerous author of those wonderful Mary Poppins stories, who tried to resist Walt Disney’s efforts to bring her heroine to life on the big screen. And Tom Hanks as Disney adds to the film’s charm -- as do the scenes where the author reacts to having the movie be a musical – and with cartoon characters, which she thinks would be dreadful.
THE BREAKDOWN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN. Bluegrass music never sounded as good to me as it does in this heartbreaking romantic melodrama from Belgium. Performances by Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens as the lovers who share a passion for each other as well as for American music are first rate, and it’s one of the few films I’ve seen where switching back and forth in time seems to make perfect sense.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE. Almost as exciting as the first part of this popular film trilogy, the second offering boasts the remarkable Jennifer Lawrence still in top form as Katniss. It also looks great – and the costumes, especially a gorgeous white wedding gown, should be recognized at this year’s Academy Awards presentation. The ending left me VERY eager to see the third and final Hunger Games movie.
FROZEN. As the world’s most avid movie musical fan, I always like to include a current musical on my “Best Films” of the year list. Although the pickins’ were lean during 2013, Frozen came along during December and made me a happy camper indeed. Disney released this ingenuous adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Snow Queen,” and it’s a gem. The screen absolutely comes alive because of the film’s splendid animation, great music and outstanding voice talent (Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel).
LION ARK. This remarkable documentary is the feel-good movie of the year for me. It shows how Animal Defenders International (ADI) rescued 25 abused African lions and transported them from Bolivia to a Wild Life Sanctuary in Colorado. No talking heads, folks. This unusual documentary follows a group of courageous folks dedicated to accomplishing an almost impossible mission. And it’s more suspenseful than many a thriller released during 2013.
A PLACE AT THE TABLE. Another documentary? You bet. This one is an eye-opener about the problem of hunger in the United States of America. Jeff Bridges helps call attention to this important issue, but the real stars of the film are the people struggling to give their children enough to eat each day. Shame on us! Hunger here was almost non-existent back in the 1970s as the result of social programs that have now been eliminated or cut. But today too many children are suffering from malnutrition and the other problems that go along with it. This disturbing film should be a wake-up call for America to begin solving its serious hunger problem again.
THE LONE RANGER. Please don’t hate me for enjoying this hilarious Western so much, but it’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies in years! The horse Silver fascinated me every time he came on camera. And those many exciting train sequences really made me sit up and take notice. Then there’s Johnny Depp -- bizarrely decked out as a new version of Tonto -- whose facial expressions when watching his sidekick do stupid things are nothing short of priceless. Plus, just thinking about Armie Hammer’s amusing portrayal of the Lone Ranger as Tonto’s sidekick instead of vice-versa still starts me laughing. I realize the movie flopped at the box office, but I found it great fun “retuning to the days of yesteryear -- when out of the past comes a fiery horse, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi Yo, Silver, away!’”
THE HEAT. What a treat to see Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy go all out to entertain us in a female-buddy cop movie! The laughs are non-stop in this comic romp about two very different -- but both over-zealous -- officers of the law trying to work together on the same case. Bullock and McCarthy come across as a highly entertaining team here, so I hope a sequel is in the works.
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. Imagine my surprise at feeling some of the same thrills while watching this terrific prequel as I do every time I see The Wizard of Oz. Much of the credit goes to a tiny, exquisite China doll character (voiced by Joey King) and to James Franco’s projection of deep emotion in his scenes with her. I also love the film’s glorious, colorful visuals and fascinating 3D special effects that enhance the story’s fantasy elements.
HONORABLE MENTION: The films above faced stiff competition from the following 2013 offerings (in no particular order): 12 Years a Slave, Prisoners, 42, Blood, The Colony, Despicable Me 2, Enough Said, Frozen Ground, The Hunt, Last Vegas, Muscle Shoals, Touchy Feely, and The Way, Way Back.