With the Oscars now in the rear view mirror, our film enthusiast, Steven Briggs, avoids all Academy Awards punditry and gives us an affection recount of the year 2013 in film.
Quaalude overdose and Stoli martinis. Infant stealing nuns and a pill smuggling cowboy. Subway shootings and a fake British accent. From feisty females to the recurring collapse of the American dream, 2013 will prove to be a year full of surprises and momentous cinematic achievements. Varying themes of powerful corruption and the battle for survival shape the landscape of another year of film come and gone.
A great female protagonist is hard to find, in every year other than 2013. The winner, Cate Blanchett, tore through Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, sinking her vodka-soaked claws into every moment of jealousy, denial, and tragedy. The wife of a philandering businessman turned criminal, Blanchett vigorously evokes humor and empathy for Jasmine, the most emotionally wrenched and selfish character in recent cinematic history that recalls the glory days of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Yet, Jasmine needs her sister Ginger, played subtly and gracefully by Sally Hawkins, to balance the film with a touch of warmth and humility.
In line with the best and morally complex women of the year, American Hustle offers two female characters that take charge of the events onscreen. Jennifer Lawrence continues her power streak as Rosalyn Rosenfeld, the quiet mastermind of the con artist comedy drama. Effortlessly duping her husband and the audience into believing in her innocence, Lawrence steals Hustle from the entire ensemble. Hot on her heels, Amy Adams gives Lawrence a run for her money as stripper turned con artist Syndey Prosser, stealthily lying to everyone in the film including herself. Lastly, June Squibb sets Nebraska ablaze as Kate Grant, the icy caretaker of her near senile husband, creating some of the most memorable scenes of the year including a graveyard frontal flash and a botched barn heist.
Another reason to celebrate comes with the gifts of several African American filmmakers whose extraordinary films left a powerful impression on the slate of 2013. At the top of the list, Steve McQueen’s unforgettable 12 Years a Slave brought Solomon Northorp’s memoir to the silver screen with brutal honesty and sterling confidence. Gut wrenching performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o guide the film as it punches through the dastardly grim history of American slavery. On the modern front, newcomer Ryan Coogler delivers a bold feature film debut with Fruitvale Station, the true story of Oscar Grant and the tragic events that took his life at a subway station in Oakland, California.
Bursting on the scene, Michael B. Jordan fills Oscar Grant with engaging complexity and compassion leaving the audience emotionally bare as the final scene unfolds. Supporting Jordan, Melanie Diaz and Octavia Spencer shine onscreen as Oscar’s girlfriend and mother making Fruitvale Station one of 2013’s brightest gems.
The most prominent theme of the year came with the quest for survival, solo characters forced to find their own way out of life-threatening situations. In the most visually radiant film of the year, Sandra Bullock fights off the void of nothingness with a nerve-racking high-wire act in Gravity by director Alfonso Cuarón. With sharp subtlety, Bullock delivers a brutal performance defined by logic and piercing determination. To a similar effect, Robert Redford offers his finest acting achievement as a man lost at sea in J.C. Chandor’s artful All is Lost. With scarcely a word, Redford emits a wealth of passion and strength as he bravely encounters one obstacle after another in open water. Worth honorable mention, Hugh Jackman astonishes in a darkly biting turn as a father that takes the law into in his own hands when his young daughter goes missing in Prisoners. Torture and hate fill the film with a painful sense of realism that lingers in the shadows of American culture. Lastly, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto take the crown as AIDS patients with no help in sight in Dallas Buyers Club. Using homemade tactics and southern charm, the pair blows the whistle on the undeniable lack of healthcare in the US and the shameful neglect of the FDA. These films unite with a common theme of abandonment and self-imposed isolation in the face of death, a frame of mind that reflects a society grown tired of false promises and staggering results.
Rounding out the end of the year, a handful of strong titles offers a startling twist on the all-too-common American Dream. In the biggest surprise of the year, Martin Scorsese finely crafts one his best films to date with The Wolf of Wall Street. In his fifth collaboration with the master director, Leonardo DiCaprio gives a savage performance as Jordan Belfort, a drug-addicted money-sucking stockbroker that swindles millions out of his unsuspecting victims. Along with his crack smoking partner in crime Donnie Azoff, played hilariously by Jonah Hill, the team builds and destroys one the most successful and illegal brokerage firms in history. As many of Belfort’s crimes go nearly unpunished, the film uncovers the haunting truth behind the American financial system. Along with Wolf, Alexander Payne’s heartfelt Nebraska unveils the myth of the American Dream as Woody, played by Bruce Dern, seeks a fictional fortune to leave his sons. Hardworking stiffs go without reward as greedy criminals succeed without consequence.
As the sun has already set on 2013 and with 2014 well underway, a wealth of performances and stories will not be forgotten. With so many wonderful titles to choose from, a top ten list comes from personal favoritism rather than definitive excellence.
TOP TEN Films of 2013.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. Blue Jasmine
5. American Hustle
8. Dallas Buyers Club
9. All is Lost
10. Fruitvale Station