Top 15 Films of 2013 – Allen’s Picks
12: Short Term 12
Destin Cretton’s story of foster care is a direct and raw meditation of broken lives trying to rebuild. Brie Larson (who’s had a very good year in her own right) stars as Grace, a staff member of a small foster care facility. Along with her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), Grace tries to navigate through the many personalities within the facility, while also dealing with her own inner troubles. Few films this year were as intimate, real, or heartbreaking as this one. Each person – whether a staff member or a kid – bears weight and importance. The lives are depicted with pain and confusion, and with hesitancy of hoping tomorrow will be a better day. It asks us to look outside our comfort zones, and understand the troubles people face are not always through their own choices but through the circumstances they’ve been placed in.
11: Captain Phillips
The 2009 hijacking of the American cargo ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates is well documented. The world watched as Captain Richard Phillips was taken as the sole hostage by the pirates onto a lifeboat, just as the U.S. Navy approached. While we know what transpired, it doesn’t hinder the fact that director Paul Greengrass has crafted one of the most tense and suspenseful thrillers of the year. His usual camerawork adds a heightened level of anxiety, like a documentary caught in the middle of the conflict. We know what’s about to happen, but we remain at the edge of our seats as the plot slowly amps to a fever pitch. Tom Hanks is in fine form; inhabiting the character of Phillips not as a hero, but as a simple man only trying to survive the unfathomable situation he’s been put in. Barkhad Abdi is also a surprise as Muse, the leader of the pirates. Muse is a complicated character – it’s difficult to portray him realistically without ever asking for our sympathy, and Abdi accomplishes just that. In terms of craft, no other film this year felt as taut as this one.
Joel and Ethan Coen have been two of the most unique and distinguishable storytellers we’ve seen. A Coen Brother’s Film stands apart from the rest in nearly every possible way. Their latest is the tale of a struggling folk singer trying to make it in a time where his brand of music – while passionate and soulful – does not have the kind of commercial appeal desired by the mainstream. How does one maintain their artistic integrity when they constantly find themselves sleeping on other people’s couches, and have to watch as less talented musicians climb the ladder? That is on the mind of Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac. Isaac gives a strong performance as the titular character. While Llewyn may at times be abrasive to those closest to him, it only hides the hurt lying deep within. As the plot unfolds, we peel back the layers to find the root of his troubles. Filled with great music and solid supporting performances, this is the study of a character pushed to the brink of his own identity. Also, I’ve never seen a performance by a cat as good as the one here.
David O. Russell has been on quite the winning streak lately. American Hustle tackles themes of greed, ambition, deceit, and love, and does so through hilarity and dysfunction. It’s strange how some of the characters are able to accomplish anything, since they are constantly bickering and plotting against each other. Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Amy Adams form the unlikeliest of trios, brought together to take down corrupt politicians in 1970s New Jersey. But as the need to take down bigger targets escalates, so too does the threat building around them. It’s clear David O. Russell is not interested in the con game being played, but in the characters that weave through it. This is an “actor’s picture,” where the effectiveness of the performances outweighs the intricacies of the plot. Everyone delivers here, including Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner in supporting roles. With big hair, flashy clothes, and a lot of laughs, this is film entertainment at its finest.