Movies :: Kevin Taft’s Best of 2013
When compiling a "Best of" list I have to pre-empt my choices by stating that these are the best movies I’ve seen according to my taste and what has stayed with me the most. There are other worthy films this year. For example, "12 Years a Slave" is an amazing film, but it’s so gruesome that I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as I appreciated it. It’s well made on every level, so I do think it’s one of the best films of the year, but not one of my favorites.
So my caveat here is that when you read my list, you understand that these are not only my favorites, but also what I think are the better made films of those favorites.
Okay, so here goes - Kevin’s "Best" Films of 2013 (in no particular order):
The Place Beyond the Pines
Directed by Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine") this is a gritty epic film that spans two generations and looks at how one person’s actions affected a number of people. It’s also about how the sins of the father have repercussions throughout generations. It’s a stunning and impactful film with terrific performances by Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper (way better than his "American Hustle" performance), and surprisingly - Eva Mendes. It also boasts a standout debut by Emory Cohen as Cooper’s son who recalls a young Marlon Brando.
The Spectacular Now
Directed by James Ponsoldt and based on the book by Tim Tharp, the film has breakout performances by Miles Teller ("Footloose") and previous Oscar nominee Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants") as two teenagers who meet and fall in love. Not the standard John Hughes comedy/drama of teenage angst, this harder hitting drama deals with alcoholism and abandonment, but navigates these issues with a solid and realistic love story that touches the heart.
The Kings of Summer
Jordan Vogt-Roberts directed this hilarious coming-of-age film about three teenage boys who decide to escape their families for one summer by building a house in a remote area of a forest. While it might yearn to be an emotional powerhouse of teen anxiety (but doesn’t quite achieve it), what it does do is perfectly capture teenagers’ desires to grow up too fast before they are ready to tackle life head-on.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Here’s a film that is certainly not for everybody, but in all honesty it’s my favorite film of the year. Told lyrically and quietly (ala Terence Malick, but with more of a narrative), the film is filled with the heartbreaking poetry of a man and woman in love who find themselves separated by bad choices. Rather than poke fingers at these two lost souls, writer/director David Lowry chooses to respect his characters, forgive their mistakes, and let them try to work them out honestly. The result is a tragically beautiful love story with great performances by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. It also boasts some of the best cinematography of the year by Bradford Young.
In 2012, Shane Bitney-Crone posted a heart-wrenchingly personal viral YouTube post about how his boyfriend Tom was tragically killed and resulted in his banishment from attending the funeral. In 2013, director Linda Bloodworth-Thomason turned their story into a feature-length documentary via a Kickstarter campaign. The result isn’t a perfectly made film, but it effortlessly captures the love, devastation, and inequality that Shane faced with the loss of the man with whom he had built a life. While it appears to have been left off the potential Oscar nominee lists, this has become the most far-reaching documentary of the year. Every week more and more people are discovering Tom and Shane’s story and it truly is changing hearts and minds as they had hoped. In that, the film is a master work.
Short Term 12
This seems to be the Year of the Indie. "Short Term 12" is another amazing under-the-radar low-budget drama about a facility where kids go before being put into foster care. Starring Brie Larson (Showtime’s "United States of Tara") and written and directed by Destin Cretton, this is a highly emotional and well-written story about one young woman’s fight to save children to whom that she can personally relate. While it is dark and layered, it’s not without its humor and that gives this film the hugest of hearts. One of the very best of the year.
The Great Gatsby
Love him or hate him, but Baz Lurhmann certainly knows how to make a spectacle. Over-the-top to some, totally cool to others, he is the master of excess and he uses it like a devilish imp. Based on the novel of the same name, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby whose only goal in life is to make the object of his affection fall for him again. That woman is Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) who is unfortunately engaged to another man. Meanwhile, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves in next door only to become quite taken with Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle. Excessive for sure, there is still a strong beating heart here and that makes this "Gatsby" a summer spectacle like no other.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Something of a surprise, Ben Stiller’s adaptation of the James Thurber short story is not what you might expect. While there are bits of whacky comedy sprinkled throughout, for the most part this is a beautifully shot thinking man’s film about how life can let you down and how you should go seize it anyway. It stars Stiller as Mitty, a worker at the soon to be defunct Life magazine, who embarks on a cross-country journey to find an elusive photographic slide. What he finds is the way back into his life. It might not be what people are expecting, but it’s lovingly made and wholly inspiring.
Already a hit with audiences and boasting one of the best musical numbers in years, Disney’s latest Princess musical is funny, stunning, and filled with terrific tunes that will have you humming your way out the theatre. Based loosely on Hans Christian Anderson’s "The Snow Queen," Disney has finally wizened up and takes the normal Princess tropes and spins them on their head. Adding in fully blown musical numbers that harken back to the Disney animated films of the late 80’s and early 90’s, this is 5-star entertainment all around. Featuring a terrific voice cast including Kristen Bell (who knew she could sing!), Idina Menzel (we knew she could) and "The Book of Mormon’s" Josh Gad, this is the closest to a classic Disney animated musical as they’ve had in years. And it’s a welcome return.
Sure, this might be required viewing in IMAX and 3D (and might not hold up on the small screen), but Alfonso Cuarón’s 89-minute thrill ride is so technically brilliant that your mouth will be on your lap for almost the entire running time. Starring Sandra Bullock in a tour-de-force performance as an astronaut stranded alone in space, this is probably the most suspenseful film to arrive in theatres since "Aliens." The script is on the modest side, but screenwriter Cuarón and his son Jonás allow Bullock enough of a character for her to draw us into her psyche and willingly go on the harrowing journey with her. Phenomenal entertainment.
"Enough Said," "Upstream Color," "Wolverine," "The Wall," "The Bling Ring," "Before Midnight," "The Way Way Back," "The Conjuring," "Dallas Buyer’s Club"