December 5, 2013

The Sun’s Top 10 Films of 2013

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1. Blue Jasmine

While Blue Jasmine was promoted as yet another quirky Woody Allen comedy, and the popularity of Allen’s two previous films, To Rome with Love and Midnight in Paris, drew large crowds to see his it, the film told a different sort of tale than audiences expected. For one, rather than a neurotic, Allen stand-in for a protagonist, Cate Blanchett plays a woman on the brink of collapse. The result is a tragic, but also highly amusing, film that focuses on a particularly dysfunctional family in the context of our nation’s economic collapse. Besides Blanchett’s stellar performance, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Skarsgard and Louis C.K. all contribute tremendously to the film’s success. — Julia Moser ’15

2. Mud

In a shocking turn of events, Matthew McConaughey became a legitimate actor this year. Of the several successful films McConaughey starred in, Mud (directed by Jeff Nichols) stands out as a brilliant story of adventure and friendship. Though McConaughey leads with the title role as the rugged, fugitive ex-boyfriend of Reese Witherspoon, the heart of this movie comes from the breakout child actors, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland. When the two best friends find Mud living in secret on an island in the Mississippi River, they help him repair an abandoned boat so that he can escape with the hope of everlasting love. Set in Arkansas, this movie captures both the spirit and struggle of the American South. And its story, reminiscent of Mark Twain’s, is action-packed, realistic and romantic — all at once. — Lucy Goss ’14

3. Nebraska

Nebraska has yet to open in Cinemapolis, or really anywhere outside New York or L.A. But for us few coastal elites who caught this film over break, we knew this funny, multi-layered portrait of Middle America belongs on any list of the year’s top movies. Ditching George Clooney for Bruce Dern, Hawaii for Interstate 25 and color for black-and-white, director Alexander Payne still manages to emerge with a film as beautiful as anything he has ever made. The story of a senile old man (Dern) who rides with his crestfallen son (Will Forte) to claim a million dollars from a baloney sweepstakes has little in the ways of action and packs precisely one punch, no more. In lieu of quick cuts and spectacle, Payne and screenwriter Bob Nelson offer us a minute look at life, with its many disappointments and many more reasons to keep on living. Nebraska ends on an uplifting note, guaranteeing many return visits down the road. — Zach Zahos ’15

4. Short Term 12

Few films this year felt as alive as Short Term 12. First-time writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton debuts with a feature filled with fresh air, and takes a painfully sincere look at thehorror and the joy of hurtling through adulthood. As chief caretaker Grace, Brie Larson is a revelation to watch.  Equally as good are John Gallagher Jr. and the two lead teenagers, Kaitlyn Denver and Keith Stanfield. Short Term 12 reinvents what a coming-of-age story and a rehab movie can be by scrapping all traditional tropes in favor of something else: a genuine connection between troubled teens and the troubled twenty-somethings who care for them, that is ardently and unapologetically human. — Mark DiStefano ’16

5. 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave was unrelenting. By that, I mean that it is both incredibly powerful and without any real moments of true relief or satisfaction (and in this way the narrative of the film mirrors its subject matter). 12 Years is a heartbreaking film that tells the story of how fragile a life of a black man was in America. I can’t imagine this is a film I would rewatch many times due to its unrelenting sadness and scenes of physical and psychological torture, but it is an important film to see as it offers a pretty accurate, grim picture of what a slave’s life was like without the usual “Hollywood” edge. Chiwitel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northrup and connects on profoundly with the film’s audience. He embodies the complexities of his character as someone who must grapple with two identities — a free man and newly captured slave. — Emily Kling ’16

6. Before Midnight

Oh, my heart. The Greek Pelopennese seems like an unnecessary expense when your movie covers the possible dissolution of a couple’s marriage. Like, really, you can do that in Philly or Miami, maybe. Under the direction of Richard Linklater, Before Midnight shows us the pretty and the mundane of classical Europe, as our lovers, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (who both wrote the script with Linklater), stroll down cobble streets, talking all the while. There’s little more than talking to be had here, but it’s introspective and at times devastating back-and-forth, instantly relatable while just a little better phrased than the drivel you or I get away with. As the third in a trilogy spanning 18 years of story and real time, Before Midnight achieves something cinema has never seen before: To capture, in bite size portions, the pleasures and pains saddled with long-term relationships. You’ll love it, or you and I have some talking (and walking) to do. — Zach Zahos ’15

7. Frances Ha

When Woody Allen’s Manhattan was released in 1979, audiences were impressed by its freshness, by how true the film’s language was similar to the young, cosmopolitan lingo heard around the namesake island. In 2013, we have Frances Ha, written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig as a document of the language of today’s talkative New York City apartment dwellers. Frances Ha could better be named Brooklyn, the Millennial response to Generation X’s Manhattan. However much the film is attune to current trends and sub-cultural tropes, it also engages film buffs for its retroactive references (albeit retroactivity is a contemporary sub-cultural fashion), including Leo Carax’s Bad Blood, David Bowie and T. Rex on the soundtrack, music from French New Wave classics. — Henry Staley ’16

7. Fruitvale Station

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Fruitvale Station, directed by Ryan Coogler, is a raw and striking portrait of the life and death of a young black man in Oakland. The film’s real resonance lies in its relevance — a unique trait in an age of superhero movies and period pieces. Released not long after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, this film has had a profound effect. It not only strikes the attention and sympathy of its undoubtedly enthralled audience, but also provides commentary on the public perception of an often-hidden dark side of modern day America. This was a small, modest production that turned heads in a major way. — Lucy Goss ’14

9. Gravity

Alfonso Cuaron’s first film since Children of Men immerses you so thoroughly in outer space that for all 90 minutes of Gravity you will find yourself gasping for air. Breathtaking is the word to describe this movie’s camerawork, which inspires a Spielberg-like sense of awe. Revolutionary technology was put to use in its filming to suspend Sandra Bullock in the vast empty pla

in above the Earth, with audience in tow, as her metaphorical strife, being cut off from the world, threatened to drag her to her death. Working with masterful cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuaron achieves a look that makes for a  one-of-a-kind theater going experience. We want to survive just as much as astronaut Ryan Stone in the pitch-black darkness, and her struggle is empowering. — Mark DiStefano ’16

10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, starring Jennifer Lawrence, is a must see. Things seem to have changed in the Districts of Panem since the last film, when both Katniss and Peeta emerged victors of the Hunger Games. The people, now inspired by Katniss’ insubordination to the Capital, start performing civil acts of disobedience and violence. This second film is a perfect balance of fast-pace action, romance and suspense, making the almost two and a half hours go by very quickly. Catching Fire is undeniably better than the first Hunger Games film, and some could even argue that this film deserves a higher place on this list. — Emily Kling ’16

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