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Top movies of 2013: Lou's picks

December 18, 2013
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Earlier this week, I announced the best-of-the-year picks from the Indiana Film Journalists Association (of which I am a voting member). As I shared in that blog, my choices didn't always line up with those of other scribes in the organization.

Which is as it should be. This wouldn't be a very fun planet if we all agreed on everything.

Still, I regret that in those deliberations I had to throw a couple of films under the bus, so to speak, when I found them getting little support from other members. And I also regret missing a few of the films that were praised by others, including "Before Midnight" and the yet-to-be-released "Her."

Which leads me to my own list of the best films (that I saw) in 2013.

Top 5 (but not necessarily in order)

“Inside Llewyn Davis”  I'm not one of those folks who love everything the Coen Brothers do. However I've learned from experience that it's best to go into one of their films cold, with little knowledge of the story and its characters. I'm glad I did that here. Led by one of the most interesting  leads in the Coen canon, "Inside Llewyn Davis" combines gorgeous art direction and cinematography, rich characters, spot-on acting, and a knockout soundtrack. Even better, it explores the complications of being an artist in a way that I haven't seen on film before. And it's very funny.

“12 Years a Slave” Everything you've heard is pretty much true. I could have done without the distracting Brad Pitt cameo and a few of the more obvious lines of dialogue, but those are small negatives attached to such a powerful, human story. "12 Years a Slave" takes a subject that may have seemed overly familiar and finds new ways to both shock and empower. It will be hard to beat at the Oscars for combining outstanding moviemaking with an important subject.

“Frances Ha” Having served on festival juries and watched dozens of independent movies, I've seen far too many films about twentysomethings trying to find themselves and grow up. I've also seen a few two many would-be charming performances from actress Greta Gerwig. Yet here Gerwig and company make a wonderfully truthful, funny, smart film about, yes, a twentysomething trying to find herself. I get a smile just thinking about it. Bonus points for having a perfect last shot.

“American Hustle"  Big and loopy and with a narrative trajectory all its own, David O. Russell's Abscam adventure features a blast of a cast given plenty to chew on. I love movies where I have no idea if each scene is going to turn hilarious, dangerous, tragic or whimsical. Bonus points for nailing the New Jersey atmosphere.

“Frozen.” Charm is a very hard thing to pull off on film. And musicals are a difficult genre. But Disney has been on a roll recently with its animated musicals. I think the trio of "Princess and the Frog," "Tangled," and now "Frozen" are as rewatchable and fun as just about any other back-to-back-to-back trio in Walt's vault. The non-traditional ending is a plus, as are a slate of good solid songs. (Just don't tell your kids that the composer/lyrisists also wrote the songs in "The Book of Mormon.")

 Second 5 (also not necessarily in order)

“Blue is the Warmest Color." As emotionally raw as it is sexually graphic, this French drama shows young love and its aftermath in ways I've never seen before. It also contains one of the strongest performances of the year courtesy of Adele Exarchopoulos.

"Captain Phillips.” A truly thrilling rescue film, "Captain Phillips" rises to the top thanks to Barkhad Abdi's toe-to-toe performance opposite Tom Hanks. Hanks himself shows skills I've never seen him tap on screen, particularly in the final moments of this harrowing movie.

“Enough Said.” Who knew James Gondolfini could be this charming in a romantic comedy? A textbook example of how good an innocuous romcom can be.  

“Philomena.” An unexpected film that doesn't just showcase another strong performance from Judi Dench, but also subtly explores issues of loss, memory, and forgiveness. It's easy to think these kind of movies direct themselves, but hats off to Stephen Frears for never getting in the way of the moving story he has to tell. 

"Stories We Tell." Weeks after seeing it, I'm still amazed at what actress/director Sarah Polley pulled off in this searching documentary in which she sets out to sort out family truths. What could be self-indulgent becomes both a terrific memoir but also a questioning exploration of memoir itself.

What about you? Did I miss one of your 2013 favorites?

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