Nothing in Ron Howard’s previous body of work suggested he was capable of something as sleek, sexy, and dynamic as “Rush,” but I’m thrilled that he made it happen. Chris Hemsworth is good here, but Daniel Bruhl gives one of the best performances of the year. The cinematography is obscenely beautiful. An overlooked gem.
Original Review: Rush
With time, “Nebraska” might rise up this list. Bruce Dern and Will Forte are magical in it and few filmmakers are as in tune with their own strengths as Alexander Payne. It’s a fantastic piece of Americana that’s as heartfelt as it is searingly funny.
Original Review: Nebraska
8. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Its cast is overstuffed with A-list talent, but that shouldn’t count against this monster of a black comedy. Streep, Roberts, and just about everyone else is on top of their game, making for an interminably watchable stage-to-screen adaptation. If only the ending were more faithful to the stage version.
Original Review: August: Osage County
7. BLUE JASMINE
Rarely has an actor or actress stolen one of Woody Allen’s films out from under him, but Cate Blanchett does just that in “Blue Jasmine.” She’s an ethereal force of nature here, painting a stark portrait of a mentally ill, middle-aged woman fraying at the ends. The rest of the diverse cast holds up well, too, providing Allen with one of his best ensembles to date.
Original Review: Blue Jasmine
6. IRON MAN 3
I reacted tepidly to “Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,” and “The Avengers,” so I’m as surprised as anyone to see “Iron Man 3” on my top 10 list. But in hiring writer-director Shane Black to replace Jon Favreau, Marvel injected some much-needed vigor into their formula. “Iron Man 3” is joyous and inspired, vehemently rebuffing the dourness that had overtaken the genre.
Original Review: Iron Man 3
5. THE SPECTACULAR NOW
Hard-fought, bittersweet romances are hard to pull off onscreen, but “The Spectacular Now” is a great one. Stars Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley give luminescent performances and the screenplay never gives itself over cliché, despite numerous opportunities to do so.
Original Review: The Spectacular Now
Far and away the best thriller of 2013, “Prisoners” exemplified the power of atmosphere in cinema. It’s not a particularly innovative film, but its might lies in its execution, its cast and crew firing on all cylinders amidst the voraciously moody backdrop that is winter in middle America.
Original Review: Prisoners
The best films blur lines between genres, and that’s exactly what writer-director Spike Jonze accomplishes with “Her.” As a strange coalescence of romance, comedy, drama, and sci-fi, the pic is another terrific showcase for legend-in-the-making Joaquin Phoenix, while Scarlett Johansson impresses in what’s arguably her most challenging role to date – a disembodied voice.
Original Review: Her
2. SHORT TERM 12
For the final three months of 2013, “Short Term 12” held a vice-like grip on this list’s top spot. Brie Larson is perfect in the film, deftly blending strength and vulnerability in a role (and film) that hinges on a memorable lead performance. She delivers in spades, carrying the bulk of the pic’s heavy dramatic weight with ease. “Short Term 12” would be my favorite film of most years. This year it’ll have to settle for runner-up.
Original Review: Short Term 12
1. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
I didn’t get to “Inside Llewyn Davis” until New Year’s Eve, but it was an experience I’ll never forget as it reframed everything else I had seen throughout the year. Nothing else achieved its level of poignancy, grace, or, quite simply, mastery of the medium. The film spoke directly to me, seamlessly aligning with my current life circumstances. It certainly won’t reach everyone on a personal level, but its craft is undeniable and I remain gobsmacked by how right the Coen brothers got this one. May it soon ascend to its rightful place as a classic.
Original Review: Inside Llewyn Davis