The 2014 Oscars and I had a lot to agree on, but also a few minor disagreements. The winners were all unquestionably worthy of their awards, and the acceptance speeches were some of the best I’ve seen in recent history (motivational speeches over name-blasting goes far y’all!). My only qualms with this year were a few omissions in directing, acting and best picture, but I’ll hold my tongue on movie politics.
While this was not my favorite year for movies, 2013 relied heavily on exposing the culture we live in, a culture we could potentially live in and a look at one of our country’s darkest cultures in history. Movies like The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers offer an unflinching, realistic look at the corruption and superficiality of 21st century youth, while the movie Her takes us to a not-so-distant future where relationships of any kind have the power to produce as much joy as they do sorrow.
2014 also pushed an emphasis on relationships; how we treat people and how others treat us. Nebraska gave us a look at the humorous lengths we take for our family, while magnifying the destruction of aging. Movies like Fruitvale Station offer a story of hope, reinvention and the importance to empathize with people who we may not know. Whatever the relationship may be, compassion for the human spirit is a necessity for survival.
Here’s my list of my top 10 favorites of 2013–some are obvious choices, while some are obvious curve balls.
“I ain’t fiddlin’ with no cow titties. I’m a city girl!“
Plot: “An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.”
Director: Alexander Payne
Actors: Bruce Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb
Bottom Line: Alexander Payne’s portrayal of rural America is realistic, hilarious and bittersweet. The plot, while simple, digs into a muti-faceted core of relationships in his unconventional road trip story. The weight of the film is heavily carried by Bruce Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb who spit out some of the funniest and most honest dialogue 2013 has to offer. Dern and Squibb portraying of an aging couple prove Oscar-worthy, and the Academy agreed.
“So when you say something negative and insult the other person… You’re really just showing that other person what an unsure-of-yourself-type person that you really feel like you are.”
Plot: “Two highway road workers spend the summer of 1988 away from their city lives. The isolated landscape becomes a place of misadventure as the men find themselves at odds with each other and the women they left behind.”
Director: David Gordon Green
Actors: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch and Lance LeGault
Bottom Line: An intimate look at relationships, genuine conversation and ultimate solitude, Prince Avalanche crams a deeper meaning in this low budget indie than some of the multi-million dollar Oscar-nominated films. The movie brings two polar opposite characters (brilliantly played by Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) to a desolate wilderness for work where they’re forced to co-exist and tap into the darkest realities of life. The greatest supporting character is the serene setting in the abandoned backyard wilderness that offers meaning to the film without being pretentious (imagine The Tree of Life done right). The movie also offers some of the best performances from these actors, particularly Rudd, who rolled into an emotionally uncharted comfort zone in his acting career that deserved acknowledgment from the Academy.
Plot: “Four college girls hold up a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation. While partying/drinking/taking drugs they are arrested only to be bailed out by a drug and arms dealer.”
Director: Harmony Korine
Actors: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and James Franco
Bottom Line: Crammed with alcohol, drugs, excessive nudity, guns of all shapes and sizes and gang violence, this isn’t your typical spring break, nor is this a typical movie for Disney starlets Gomez and Hudgens. Welcome to the dark side, ladies. Lauded as one of the worst of 2013, it’s also one of the most misunderstood. Director Harmony Korine explains that the film consists of a generation raised on YouTube; the plot “plays like a Grand Theft Auto game, with about as much logic.” The film certainly pays homage to a “post-articulate culture” that feeds on video games, computers and ever-expanding technology, and incorporates characters that are morphed on screen like Call of Duty in bikinis on a neon pop-art canvas. Take a closer look at this film, and you’ll see that Korine is taking 21st century culture and throwing it your face.
Plot: “While attending a party at James Franco’s house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.”
Director(s): Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Actors: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson
Bottom Line: This is the End features the directorial début of longtime besties and collaborators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad and Pineapple Express writing partner) who deliver non-stop comedic romps and punchlines from page to screen with no limitations of raunchiness. The film is an extension of the 2007 short “Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse,” but this disaster flick’s edge relies solely on what we love these guys for—comedic chemistry and improvisation. If you’re not into excessive potty humor that these boys are known to bring, don’t bother watching and don’t you dare bothering complaining. This movie is clever, smart and hilarious–one of the biggest surprises of 2013.
“Fear does not work as long as there is hope.”
Plot: “Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.”
Director: Francis Lawrence
Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Jennifer Malone and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Bottom Line: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire proved not only to be a financial goliath raking in a record-breaking $110 million Thanksgiving haul, but raised a relevant question—when was the last time a sequel was this good? As a movie sequel, Catching Fire proves to have as much punch (if not more) than The Hunger Games. Young Adult franchises have either been a hit or a miss with me, and with such brilliant cast of actors, this is a huge hit. While the “Jennifer Lawrence Effect” is becoming more daunting than adorable these days, it’s undeniable that she kills it in the Katniss Everdeen franchise; any other actor would have fallen short.
“Oh, I’m the drug dealer? No, you’re the fuckin’ drug dealer. I mean, goddamn, people are dyin’. And y’all are up there afraid that we’re gonna find an alternative without you.”
Plot: “In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.”
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner
Bottom Line: If I read one more complaint about the authenticity of using a straight, male actor over a transgender actor for the role of Rayon, I’m going throw a brick at my computer. The role of Rayon marks Jared Leto’s return to acting in several years, and he owned that performance from start to finish. Equally as impressive, Matthew McConaughey’s recent streak with powerhouse indie movies has finally paid off with the best performance of his career. Following last year’s Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague, the movie hits every high note on the AIDS Crisis following the story of Ron Woodroof; it doesn’t hit every note, but it offers a glimpse into a past (from one point of view) that many of us have forgotten.
Plot: “The purportedly true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.”
Director: Ryan Coogler
Actors: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer
Bottom Line: The directorial debut of Ryan Coogler is one of the movies I’ve been most passionate about in 2013. It’s a story greater than race; it’s about how every person deserves the right to live. As one of the biggest overall snubs in my Oscar history, recognition should not have only gone toward the film, but to director Ryan Coogler and actors Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer. Despite knowing how the film ends, Michael B. Jordan gives one of the most authentic and heartbreaking performances that has you rooting for his character to survive despite knowing this true story’s outcome. That’s acting at its best. To quote Ryan Coogler, “A lot of filmmakers are stepping up to the plate and realizing we have a social responsibility not just to entertain, but to make people think. I hope that people who on paper would have nothing in common with Oscar can watch it and see that they do.”
“I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.”
Plot: “A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.”
Director: Spike Jonze
Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson and Rooney Mara
Bottom Line: A man falls in love with his computer is the most basic, undeveloped synopsis of Spike Jonze’s Academy Award winning screenplay. Set in a not-so-distant future, Her is a realistic exploration of relationships, love and alternative methods to avoid loneliness. One of the most uncomfortably accurate portrayals of our technologically-infused lifestyle, Her delves deeper into the unchangeable human condition to love and emotions surrounding that. Completely worth your time.
“I am not going to die sober!”
Plot: “Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.”
Director: Martin Scorsese
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Bottom Line: If Dicaprio and Scorsese continue their cinematic marriage together, I’ll have no complaints. One of Leo’s best performances, and a homerun hit for Jonah Hill’s acting career, Wolf of Wall Street is the most fun, ludacris and cautionary tales of greed and corruption. It’s the first movie in a while that I didn’t want to end. With a running time of 3 hours, this movie proves that good film editing isn’t about how short you can cut a film down, but how captivating you can make 3 hours feel.
Plot: “In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.”
Director: Steve McQueen
Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson and Brad Pitt
Bottom Line: The movie that defined 2013 is now in the Academy Award winner for Best Picture. It’s not just an important film, but a necessary one for everyone to experience. An unapologetic glimpse into the dark reality of the Antebellum South, 12 Years isn’t only carried by a powerful story, but also a tour de force cast. Even the cinematography from the swamps to the plantations makes you feel the humidity in your pores. One of the most well-rounded films in recent years is now becoming part of the high school curriculum for some schools around the country. This is a movie bigger than itself.