TOP 10 FILMS OF 2013

1. “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

This poignant three-hour romance begins as a fantasy of seduction and ends with powerful life lessons. The chemistry between Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux reaches its peak in the film’s falling action, when the couple struggles with the “let’s just be friends” talk. Overall, it’s one of the crowning achievements in LGBT cinema despite its divisive director and NC-17 rating. (In French with subtitles.)

2. “Upstream Color”

Director Shane Carruth’s enigmatic visual mystery is a sci-fi film that consistently rewards repeat viewings. Romantic partners Kris (Amy Seimetz) and Jeff (Carruth) unite to discover the reasons behind their psychic bond as they realize hidden truths about the interconnectedness of the natural world. Carruth is a fantastic puzzle-maker; this is his best work yet.

3. “The Wolf of Wall Street”

“Wolf” is a portrait of real-life stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his unending quest for money. The high-income, low-class lifestyle is parodied so perfectly by all involved that some viewers won’t realize it’s a satire. Jonah Hill is excellent in a supporting role, but again, DiCaprio deserves an Oscar. I’m hoping he finally wins this time.

4. “Inside Llewyn Davis” / “Her” (tie)

“Inside Llewyn Davis”: Oscar Isaac plays fictional folk singer Llewyn Davis, who explores the 1960s Greenwich Village music scene. The Coen Brothers have essentially made a portrait of a man haunted by death. We see it in his anguish over his music partner’s recent suicide; we feel it in his father’s silence; most importantly, we hear it in his singing. This is an exemplary musical revue, pairing today’s best singing actors with the folk hits of yesteryear.

“Her”: Joaquin Phoenix, who gave 2012’s best performance in “The Master,” proves once again he is the best actor of his generation. He takes his performance to the next level in this sci-fi story about a man who begins a relationship with his computer’s operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Theodore (Phoenix) is heartbroken when he realizes that Samantha is just moving too fast for him. “Her” is a sensitive and honest study of modern relationships featuring Spike Jonze’s best writing to date.

5. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

Ben Stiller stars in and directs this epic, swooning adventure about a daydreaming photo editor whose monotonous routine is flipped when he embarks on a quest for Life Magazine’s final cover photo. Stiller is constantly improving as a director. Not only is this film full of life and emotionally resonant, but his decision to shoot Mitty on film instead of digitally is fitting, as it is the character Walter’s favorite medium.

6. “Only God Forgives”

Julian (Ryan Gosling) is put in a frightening situation when he’s asked to kill the man who murdered his brother. “Forgives” becomes a violent and dark-hearted morality play as its many unforeseen layers unfold. This is the full arrival of director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”) and actress Kristin Scott Thomas.

7. “Frances Ha”

This effervescent, delightful dramedy stands in stark contrast to director Noah Baumbach’s other more cynical efforts. Greta Gerwig is outstanding as Frances. She turns her aging hipster character into a real person with a headspace all her own. It’s a coming-of-middle-age story, but its heart and whimsy make it much more enjoyable than that moniker might suggest.

8. “The Place Beyond the Pines”

Derek Cianfrance’s new film is powerful and poetic. Ryan Gosling is Luke, a motorcyclist-turned-bank-robber whose demise comes at the hands of Bradley Cooper’s Avery, a cop-turned-politician. The death, however, is not a climax, but a turning point in the film; afterwards, the movie becomes more layered and morally complex in its final two reels. It’s been accused of being maudlin, but in my opinion, the narrative ambition of “Pines” definitely surpasses its slight emotionalism.

9. “Prisoners”

This kidnapping thriller asks more questions than it answers, and that’s a good thing in the age of stranger danger. Hugh Jackman stars as Keller Dover, a conservative father whose daughter is abducted. Keller puts the pressure on Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) to find the girls, leading to many twists and turns. Director Denis Villeneuve did an impeccable job working with his ensemble, but Jackman and Gyllenhaal lead the way with flawless performances.

 10. “Nebraska”

Like “Frances Ha,” Alexander Payne’s latest film was shot in black and white. It’s a fitting choice for a movie about reminiscences. Bruce Dern shines as Woody Grant, the man who thinks he won $1,000,000. June Squibb and Will Forte as his wife and son try their best to lead Woody away from an obvious scam, but David (Forte) eventually decides to take him to Lincoln, Neb. to claim his “prize.” At its heart, Nebraska is about families in flux and why we still love them.

 

OSCAR PICKS

Best Actor

Should Win: Bruce Dern (“Nebraska”) or Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Wolf of Wall Street”)

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio

Why: Bruce Dern deserves to be recognized for his entire career, in which “Nebraska” is one of the crown jewels. But DiCaprio has been famously shut out many times before, and in “Wolf,” he expands his own repertoire and displays perfect comedic timing. (Seriously, no Tom Hanks?)

Best Actress

Should Win: Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”)

Will Win: Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”)

Why: From the time that Blue Jasmine was released, critics and moviegoers everywhere acknowledged that Blanchett had this all wrapped up. (Seriously, no Emma Thompson?)

Best Supporting Actor

Should Win: Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips”)

Will Win: Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”)

Why: If the Academy wanted to make a political statement (as it often does), it would give it to Leto or Abdi. I think the Academy sees more political potential in Leto’s transvestite Rayon than in Abdi’s Somalian-pirate Muse. I’m rooting for Abdi because I’ve never seen a better performance from a true newcomer. I wouldn’t be disappointed, however, if Jonah Hill (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) pulled the upset.

Best Supporting Actress

Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”)

Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”)

Why: Nyong’o is thankfully subtle and calm in “12 Years,” a film I find overbearing and pretentious. She’s the best part about it, and if I know anything about the Academy, they have to give this movie something big.

 Best Adapted Screenplay

Should Win: “The Wolf of Wall Street” (Terence Winter)

Will Win: “Before Midnight” (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke)

Why: “Before Midnight” was one of the biggest critical darlings of 2013, and the Academy tends to throw films like that a bone with this category. “Wolf” just has too many expletives for Oscar voters to feel comfortable with.

 Best Original Screenplay

Should Win: “Her” (Spike Jonze)

Will Win: “Her” (Spike Jonze)

Why: Again, the critical darling will win out. “Her” also has the momentum in this race because it won the Golden Globe.

 Best Director

Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”)

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”)

Why: Last year, I think the Academy attempted to sweep the recent financial plight of the Hollywood special-effects worker under the rug by giving “Life of Pi” Best Visual Effects and Best Director. I’d be shocked if they strayed from that path this year. Also, Cuarón won the Directors Guild of America top prize, which is typically a good indicator for this award.

 Best Picture

Should Win: “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “Her”

Will Win: “American Hustle”

Why: It’s “The King’s Speech” effect: an undeserving nominee somehow gains an incredible amount of momentum and ends up winning because there are no other frontrunners. I think “12 Years a Slave” could steal it, but most Oscar voters are still very conservative.