Once again, it is time for The Movie Snob’s annual “best of” column. As always, the only rule is that I limit the list to films I saw for the first time during the last calendar year. Thus, you can be sure some 2012 releases will be sprinkled in among the 2013 releases.
Movie of the Year. It’s another tough call this year. I gave three movies a straight “A” grade this year, but one of them was a 1949 release, so I’ll temporarily disqualify that one. As between the other two, I’ll give top honors to 12 Years a Slave. You’ve already heard all about this movie, if you haven’t seen it already, so I’ll just say it was an amazing, harrowing experience. It’s a fitting companion to Lincoln, which was my pick for movie of the year last year.
Runner-Up. If I had managed to see it in 2012, when it was released, I would have picked Zero Dark Thirty as my movie of the year in last year’s column. If you missed this movie, correct your mistake and see it! Jessica Chastain gives a fine performance as a CIA analyst consumed with the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the final act of the movie depicting the raid on bin Laden’s compound is a tour de force.
Old-school runner-up. The third movie I gave a straight “A” to in 2013 was the 1949 classic The Third Man. It’s just a great, great movie. Look it up.
Best Action/Adventure Flick. I’ll pick Man of Steel as last year’s best action movie. This Superman origin story held my interest from beginning to end. Plus it featured Amy Adams, which is a plus even though she was kind of miscast as Lois Lane. I still haven’t seen the new Hobbit movie, so we’ll see if it can give Superman a run for his money. I also liked World War Z, and I think most zombie fans will too.
Best Animated Movie. I saw and liked two last year. Top honors go to Wreck-It Ralph, an entertaining and heart-warming story about the lives of a bunch of video-game characters “after hours.” I also liked The Croods. I didn’t have high hopes for that one, but the emotional ending really got to me.
Best Comedy. This is always a tough category, and last year was no exception. I didn’t think any of the comedies I saw were great, and the ones I thought were pretty good generally weren’t straight comedies. I guess the best straight comedy I saw was In a World…, about a woman who is trying to grow up while also trying to break into the very male field of movie voice-over work. Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 had some good moments, but it’s got a lot of very serious stretches amongst the amusing bits. And I liked Warm Bodies, which is kind of a zombie romantic comedy, or zom-rom-com, but it is certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste.
Best Documentary. Hands down, my favorite of the year was 56 Up. But don’t watch it until you’ve seen all the previous installments in this long-running British series of documentaries. The series follows a double-handful of British kids from different social classes from their childhoods until now, when they are 56 years old. Find the first one, 7 Up!, and watch them all. You’ll thank me. I saw a couple of other good ones in 2013 as well. Twenty Feet From Stardom was an interesting look at the careers of some rock-and-roll back-up singers. Blackfish is a grim, if one-sided, look at Sea World’s mistreatment of its captive killer whales.
Best Drama. I’ll give top honors to The Spectacular Now, an effective dramedy about a high-school senior who needs to come to grips with his burgeoning alcohol problem, fast. Another very good dramedy is The Way Way Back, about a young teenaged boy trying to come to grips with his mom’s relationship with a new, unpleasant boyfriend, played unpleasantly by Steve Carell. I also urge you not to miss Woody Allen’s last movie, Blue Jasmine, starring the sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated Cate Blanchett, and Alexander Payne’s last movie, Nebraska, which may produce an Oscar nominee or two of its own. Finally, Baz Luhrmann is not for all tastes, but I enjoyed his new version of The Great Gatsby quite a bit.
Best Foreign Film. Setting aside the British documentary 56 Up, mentioned above, I’ll go with the Italian film The Great Beauty. The movie is languid and episodic, but it’s still an interesting look at the life of an aging hedonist living among the splendors of modern Rome. I also saw and enjoyed a couple of older Italian movies—Fellini’s 8 ½ and the post-war classic Bicycle Thieves.
Best Science-Fiction Movie. Here’s another clear winner: Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Look for some Oscar nominations for this special-effects extravaganza about a couple of astronauts marooned in space. I also liked the latest Star Trek movie, Into Darkness, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Gravity.
Honorable Mentions. What else should you put in your Netflix queue or your streaming list? Here are a few suggestions. For drama, you could go with the 2012 release The Impossible, about the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia, or the recent remake of Les Miserables. The Steven Soderbergh movie Side Effects is a pretty effective and twisty little thriller. So is Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey. At the risk of making myself a laughing stock among critics, I’m going to come right out and say I didn’t think The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, was half bad. Just give it a chance! Frances Ha is a decent little movie about a young woman trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Short Term 12 is a decent little movie about a home for troubled teenagers and the twentysomethings who try to watch out for them. I liked American Hustle decently well, and you may still have time to catch that one in the movie theater. Finally, I finally got around to seeing Kubrick’s The Shining, which is a pretty effective and entertaining chiller. And I don’t usually like horror movies.
And that’s a wrap!