It’s become a New Year’s tradition: I show you my Top 10 list (see last Sunday’s Style section)and then you show me yours while we’re waiting for the flickers to start up again in earnest next week. (Early word - no betting please - is that Inside Llewyn Davis, August: Osage County and Lone Survivor will all open next week in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas. But early word has been wrong before.)
So we present the first of (probably) two columns dedicated to alternative lists of the best of 2013. In an effort to embarrass stragglers, these are presented in roughly the order in which they arrived. Enjoy.
JOE RIDDLE: Features copy desk chief, amateur film historian, valuable resource
Here are my Top 10 in no particular order:
American Hustle had the best original screenplay for 2013. Love those hairdos!
Gravity was visually splendid storytelling.
Blue Jasmine was an excellent re-telling of A Streetcar Named Desire. Way to go, Woody!
The Hunt was the best foreign film I saw, or have seen, in many years. Devastating.
The Book Thief was a different slice of WWII history and Geoffrey Rush was delightful.
The Spectacular Now showed the shattering effects of alcoholism on a family.
This Is the End was gross, violent and funny as hell. Gimme a blue light, somebody!
I’m not a fan of sequels (the Godfather films notwithstanding) but Despicable Me 2 was a hoot. Long live the minions.
Pacific Rim was big and noisy with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek.
RED 2 was sublime nonsense with top-notch actors having a ball.
And I have to add a No. 11: Mud, as I thought it came out in 2012. But I was wrong. Who knew Matthew McConaughey could act?!
My list would have been different had I seen more films and anything after American Hustle.
SAM BLAIR: Armchair critic, beloved retired Central High School college counselor Sam’s Baker’s Dozen Best
1 . 12 Years a Slave - Like last year’s Lincoln, it’s unmissable; Chiwetel Ejiofor is mesmerizing as a free man sold into slavery.
2 . American Hustle - Disco-era scammers romp in Sopranos-land, and “some of it actually happened.” Jennifer Lawrence is a memorable bimbo.
3 . Mud - The year’s top unrewarded film, as was its writer/director Jeff Nichols’ Bernie. McConaughey’s opening line “Helluva thang, ain’t it? A boat ’n a tree?” makes me smile.
4 . Captain Phillips - This year’s Argo; suspenseful, well-acted depiction of a true event. Hanks has a great final scene.
5 . Philomena - Judi Dench in an understated Oscar-worthy portrayal of an Irish mother on a quest. Gently funny, infuriating, wrenching and true.
6 . Wadja - Delightful and thoughtful Saudi Arabian film. A bright 10-year-old longs for a bike; problem is, she’s a girl.
7 . August: Osage County - A Midwestern Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The director has leached much of the humor from the play, but Streep is monstrously good.
8 . Inside Llewyn Davis - If newcomer Oscar Isaac has more than one deadpan expression, a star may be born in this vignette of early ’60s folk musicians.
9 . Nebraska - Another leisurely Alexander Payne road trip across his home state. About Schmidt went east to west; now a laconic Bruce Dern travels west to east.
10 . Her - A soulful Joaquin Phoenix fails at human interaction, falls for the husky voice of his ‘‘personal operating system.’’ Careful what you wish for.
11 . The Way Way Back - Netflix this poignant, funny coming of age story, a summer highlight. Toni Collette is especially fine as the single mother of a 14-year-old boy.
12a. Gravity - Dazzling CGI visuals get an A; the ludicrous script (Sandra Bullock piloting space capsules using Russian and Chinese manuals), a D.
12b. Saving Mr. Banks - Emma Thompson as rude and bitter P.L. Travers battles Disney (Tom Hanks) over the rights to her Mary Poppins.
Honorable Mention: Dallas Buyers Club, The Wind Rises, Short Term 12 (a Little Rock Film Festival discovery), Fruitvale Station, Enough Said, The Butler, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Before Midnight.
Documentaries: Bridegroom, 20 Feet From Stardom, and Blackfish.
BLAKE RUTHERFORD: Vice president of The McLarty Companies and founder of Movies in the Park
1 . 12 Years a Slave; 2. Blue Is the Warmest Color; 3. Inside Llewyn Davis; 4. Frances Ha; 5. Before Midnight; 6. Fruitvale Station; 7. The Hunt; 8. The Wolf of Wall Street; 9. Mud; 10. Nebraska.
Honorable mentions: All Is Lost, American Hustle, The Bling Ring, Blue Jasmine, Blue Caprice, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Drinking Buddies, Enough Said, The Grandmaster, Gravity, The Great Beauty, The Great Gatsby, The Place Beyond the Pines, Prisoners, Spring Breakers, What Maisie Knew, and World War Z.
I wish I’d seen: Her
KAREN MARTIN: MovieStyle founding editor, Home Movies columnist
My top 10 movies (in no particular order):
Her - What could be better than sweet, romantic and creepy? Joaquin Phoenix is perfectly cast.
Inside Llewyn Davis - The Coen brothers’ latest music-based tale is made even better with a brief, brilliant appearance by Adam Driver.
Mud - It’s too long and it should have ended about three scenes earlier, but it’s still terrific thanks to Matthew McConaughey and the Arkansas setting.
Short Term 12 - Realistic movies about 20-somethings don’t have to be miserable.
The Hunt - Only the Danes could come up with a drama that would make Mads Mikkelsen a victim. Spoiler alert: There’s a dog in the story, and you know what happens to dogs in dramas.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete - Hey, not everybody in New York lives on the Upper West Side and drinks $20 cocktails. Here’s proof.
The Wind Rises - Hayao Miyazaki says this is his last film. What a loss to the animation community.
Nebraska - Fans of Bruce Dern from way back (all those 1960s Westerns) will love him as Woody Grant, a curmudgeonly old coot who won’t take no for an answer. June Squibb holds her own as you can’t-bully-me Mrs. Grant.
The Spectacular Now - Beautifully written and performed, this film explains a lot about the attitudes of Generation Z.
American Hustle - This fascinating super-caper starts out well, then gets even better when Jennifer Lawrence shows up.
LEVI AGEE: Narrative features programmer for the Little Rock Film Festival, occasional Screengems columnist, also does motion graphics for Stone Ward Advertising
(In no particular order) Gravity, Prisoners, Short Term 12, Stories We Tell, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Wolf of Wall Street, Mud, Place Beyond the Pines, These Birds Walk
And while he hasn’t seen Spike Jonze’s Her yet: “I can guarantee it’ll be my favorite of the year.”
DAN LYBARGER: Freelance writer and critic from Kansas City, frequent MovieStyle contributor
It’s an encouraging sign that I had trouble pruning down a list of 10 worthy movies for this year. Each year provides me with plenty of junk to condemn, but this batch was especially hard to hate.
- 12 Years a Slave - Best Painful Reminder: Like Julian Schnabel before him, British artist Steve McQueen manages to make movies that are not only intriguing to look at but that feature troubling if engrossing insights and terrific performances. Fellow Brit Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free man who was kidnapped and sold into bondage anchors the film firmly. McQueen regular Michael Fassbender’s over-the top but scary performance as a sadistic plantation owner serves as a chilly reminder that the system corrupted all it touched, especially those who believed that owning another human being was a divine right.
- The Act of Killing - Best “Hey, Kids Let’s Put on a Show” Movie: Gangster Anwar Congo spent the 1960s and ’70s torturing and killing suspected Communists in Indonesia, even if the threat was negligible. The Act of Killing gets him and his compatriots to make bizarre, sometimes darkly hilarious accounts of his transgressions. My favorite is the one where the people he murdered thank him for sending them to heaven.
- No - Best Use of Advertising: Imagine if Don Draper tried to sell something essential and good instead of cigarettes and malfunctioning Jaguars on Mad Men, and you get an impression of what this celebration of the fall of Augusto Pinochet’s rule in Chile is like. There’s even added entertainment because director Pablo Larraín includes the actual commercials that sold Chileans on dictatorship and democracy. Chileans sure love their mimes.
- A Hijacking - Best Pirate Movie You Didn’t See: This Danish movie about tense negotiations between Somali pirates and a European shipping firm doesn’t have Tom Hanks like Captain Philips, but it’s consistently suspenseful and realistic.
- The Wolf of Wall Street - Best Scorsese movie made by Scorsese: Yes, it plays like a white-collar version of Good-Fellas, but are stock swindler Jordan Belfort and gangster Henry Hill that different? As Woody Guthrie said, Belfort may have used a fountain pen instead of a six-gun, but his crimes still have consequences. Scorsese again asks what enables a fellow like Belfort to prosper, and he amuses with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill demonstrating that Quaaludes and fighting don’t mix.
- American Hustle - Best Scorsese movie not made by Scorsese: Much of the delight of David O. Russell’s latest is that it plays the audience the way the characters outwit each other. You have to watch the movie closely. It’s easy to get lost in Christian Bale’s labyrinthine comb-over.
- Gravity - Best Solo Peril Movie Starring a Woman: It’s strangely fitting that a director who hates 3-D movies makes one that expertly immerses viewers into its protagonist’s scary predicament. Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) proves that filmmakers don’t need three hours to tell a great story, and Sandra Bullock demonstrates that she may have been given the Oscar for the wrong movie.
- All Is Lost - Best Solo Peril Movie Starring a Man: J.C. Chandor can make gripping movies about subjects that don’t sound terribly nail-biting. With Margin Call, he made stock manipulation seem scarier than a horror film, and with All Is Lost, he makes Robert Redford stuck in the middle of the Indian Ocean a remarkably absorbing experience. Redford deserves an Oscar nomination for uttering the most powerful F-bomb in screen history.
- Like Someone in Love - Best Movie with Hookers not titled The Wolf of Wall Street: Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is making some of the best movies of his career outside his native country. His tale of a friendship between an aging college professor and a frustrated prostitute is set in Japan but feels universal.
- Rush - Best Auto Racing Movie Since Talladega Nights: This recounting of the rivalry between racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda is a thoughtful character study that also features awesome car crashes. It’s a sign of Ron Howard’s maturity that he handles storytelling and mayhem with equal finesse.
JONATHAN NETTLES: Film critic for KTHV-TV, Channel 11, three-time household champion of such games as checkers, Connect 4, and Monopoly. He also does an incredible impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
August: Osage County - Meryl Streep is amazing as the pill-popping, truth-telling matriarch of the very dysfunctional Weston family. I connected with Osage County on a personal level - there’s a certain degree of dysfunction in my family.
Gravity - The ground breaker of 2013. I have never been on the edge of my seat like this in a movie theater. Director Alfonso Cuaron not only delivered a tight, tense film but he was also innovative in the way he brought it to the screen. Cuaron spent years working with visual-effect artists trying to perfect the look of this film and waiting for the technology to come along so this film would be possible. If you did not see this in the theater, you missed half of the experience of this film.
American Hustle - Competing for my favorite film of the year, David O. Russell gives us a funny yet serious look at a con gone wrong. Amy Adams and Christian Bale are con artists who get in over their head. Bradley Cooper is an FBI agent who gets in over his head. Jennifer Lawrence seems to be the only one who knows what she’s doing but has no clue what’s going on. It’s just a great movie.
Captain Phillips - Is there anything that Tom Hanks cannot pull off? This movie is intense from the moment the Somali pirates board the Maersk Alabama. The surprise performance of the year comes from Barkhad Abdi as leader of the pirates.
12 Years a Slave - Chewitel Ejiofor is captivating as Solomon Northup, a free man who was kidnapped from his life in the north. Director Steve McQueen took a subject that has been studied in history and made it real and gave it a deeper emotional connection to a modern audience.
The Way Way Back - A coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old boy who is trying to figure out where he fits in between his recently divorced mom and her new found love interest. During a summer trip, he befriends the owner of a local water park who helps him discover that life isn’t as serious as he thinks.
This Is the End - Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson. Funniest, raunchiest, lewdest, most curse-word-sayingest group of guys on the planet in 2013? Yes.
Rush - Ron Howard is the man. Thor was great as a race car driver but Daniel Bruhl was spectacular as F1 racer Niki Lauda. The technical look of this film and the racing sequences blew me away.
The Wolf of Wall Street - Classic Scorsese and another great performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. Although it made my list, the first thing I tell people about this movie is that it is three hours long.
Nebraska - Bruce Dern is a legend (even as a crazed neighbor in the Tom Hanks comedy The ’Burbs) who delivers a stellar performance in this film that deals with aging parents, father-son relationships, family, and what we go through to make them happy.
TANNER SMITH: Film critic for Eye On Independence magazine, Delta Crossroads magazine and smithsverdict.wordpress.com.
Top 13 of ’13: The Spectacular Now - A truly wonderful film that starts out as a sweet, tender high-school story with appealing leads, and then it gets better and better as it continues with a great resolution in the final half. It’s a very touching, sometimes hurtful payoff that brings things into perspective for these kids. This mixture of sweetness and harsh reality, with a terrific script and two richly developed characters, is what made this film my personal favorite of 2013.
Gravity - The main goal was to put the viewer in space with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney; mission accomplished. I saw this film twice on Cinemark XD screens; it got me both times.
Before Midnight - Will there be another Before film after the heated argument between Jesse and Celine at the end of this film? Guess we’ll find out in nine years.
Mud - Great acting; very entertaining; effective coming-of-age story.
Saving Mr. Banks - One of the best films I’ve seen about the collaborative process in Hollywood filmmaking; walking out of the theater, I even found myself humming “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”
Fruitvale Station - Definitely one of the strongest films I’ve seen in quite some time, based on a true tragic story that happened in Oakland, Calif., on New Year’s2009. Great performance by Michael B. Jordan.
Captain Phillips - Very tense and kept me on edge. That’s the power of director Paul Greengrass (United 93).
The Way, Way Back - Yet another effective coming-of age film. Seamless blend of comedy and drama; terrific, believable characters; great ensemble acting including Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell.
Short Term 12 - What could have been a sappy, overly sentimental melodrama turned out to be a well-written, deeply effective film that features complicated people trying to move from their pasts. Additionally, it might be a deserving career breakthrough for actress Brie Larson.
All Is Lost - Haunting film with moments I won’t forget easily, as well as an excellent performance by Robert Redford.
This Is the End - Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Jay Baruchel playing themselves as they survive (gulp!) the Apocalypse? I’m all for it!
The World’s End - The third entry in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy is not only very funny but also surprisingly insightful in presenting its lead character - I’d even say it’s arguably Pegg’s best work as an actor too.
Tie between Frances Ha and Blue Jasmine - Similar films aided by great dialogue and convincing acting.
Honorable mentions: The Great Gatsby, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Prisoners, Warm Bodies
We’ll have more in a week or so. And on blood, dirt & angels.