Indiana Film Journalists (including yours truly) pick movie bests for 2013

My fellow Indiana Film Journalists Association members and I spent about four hours on Saturday holed up behind the bar (not at the bar, mind you, but cordoned off in a small room actually behind it) at Studio Movie Grill.

The goal: Distill all that we've seen of 2013 movie releases into a list celebrating our collective opinion of the best.

I went into the deliberations with a list of wants, of course. Then I debated. Argued. Listened. Compromised. Played a little politics. Refrained from trivialized other POVs. Gave up on some lost causes. Picked my battles. Didn't take opposing views personally. And won over some converts.

This is how a multi-party system is supposed to work, folks.

But I digress.

Here are the awards as chosen by the IFJA. And, of course, my comments.

Best Film 

"12 Years a Slave"

Certainly in my top five, this is a remarkable film that managed to bring a new perspective to a subject that many seemed to feel had little more to reveal. 

Runner-Up: "Her"

I did not get to the one critics screening of this yet-to-be released film. But those IFJA members who did attend unanimously praised it. That set of first-place votes managed to push it into the number two slot)

Other Finalists (listed alphabetically): "All Is Lost" "Before Midnight" "Captain Phillips" "Frances Ha" "Mud" "Prisoners" "Spring Breakers" "The Wolf of Wall Street"

A wide range of films round out our top 10. I couldn't muster enough support for two of my favorites, "American Hustle" and "Inside LLewyn Davis" to get them spots on the list. But I was thrilled to see the low-key "Frances Ha" and the riveting "Captain Phillips" make the cut. My only argument about the list would be against "The Wolf of Wall Street." But I seemed alone in my disappointment in it.

Best Animated Feature

Winner: "Frozen"

Runner-Up: "The Wind Rises"

No argument here.

Best Foreign Language Film

"Blue is the Warmest Color"

Runner-Up: "The Grandmaster"

Forget about what you may have heard about the graphic sexual scenes in "Blue is the Warmest Color." They are in there and if you have a problem with that, don't see it. But the stunningly acted film explores aspects of relationships that I have never seen conveyed on screen. Those intimate scenes make the rest of the film even more poignant, complex, sad and compelling. I wholeheartedly endorsed it.

Best Documentary 

"The Act of Killing"

Runner-Up: "Stories We Tell"

This was a tough one for me. I saw and loved "Stories We Tell," fascinated by how it took a common documentary conceit (filmmaker tries to find the truth about her family history) and winds up with something unexpected, wrapped up in questions of memory, perspective, and honesty. I was prepared to push for it as the best documentary I saw this year. Then I saw "The Act of Killing." Actually, I first saw about 20 minutes of "The Act of Killing" and decided to shut it off because I really didn't feel like I could take much more. That's not to say it's a bad film. Far from it. It's an expert one. The difficulty is that the subject matter is so brutal—and what it says about our ability to dismiss our own brutality—that made me ill.  In short, the filmmaker invited men who had willingly and enthusiastically killed civilians in the Philippines to, years later, recreate their crimes on film. And they do. While the images they recreate are shocking, what's most disturbing is the casual way these men laugh off their actions.(Note: Whenever possible, I go into a film knowing as little as possible about it. I went into this completely cold, which may have impacted its effect on me.) A few days later, I opted to try to complete it. And I did. And it made me even sicker. But that's part of the point.

Best Original Screenplay

Spike Jonze, "Her"

Runner-Up: Peter Morgan, "Rush"

Didn't see either of them and didn't have a strong alternate to push for.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, "Before Midnight"

Runner-Up: John Ridley, "12 Years a Slave"


Best Director

Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave"

Runner-Up: Spike Jonze, "Her"


Best Actress

Adele Exarchopoulos, "Blue is the Warmest Color"

Runner-Up: Brie Larson, "Short Term 12"

I didn't see "Short Term 12." In addition to Exarchopoulos, my short list included Amy Adams in "American Hustle," Judi Dench in "Philomena" and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in "Enough Said."

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"

Runner-Up: June Squibb, "Nebraska"

I don't get the praise of Squibb, who does okay but is saddled with a foul-mouth senior character who seemed to have walked in from an episode of "Two and a Half Men." And I especially don't get it when Naomi Harris' intense performance in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" is also in the category. 

Best Actor 

Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"

Runner-Up: Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"

A tough category that also included outstanding work from Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips," Christian Bale in "American Hustle," and many others.

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"

Runner Up: Jeremy Renner in "American Hustle."

When you can go toe-to-toe with Tom Hanks, create a fascinating character out of a potential straight-up villain, and take us into the man's mind even when English is minimal, that's something. Abdi helps make "Captain Phillips" more than just a man vs. terrorist flick. As for Renner, I lobbied harder for his performance than any other award nominee. I tend to appreciate when an actor (in conjunction with writer, director, etc., of course) creates a character I haven't seen before but who feels dead right. In "Hustle," Renner does just that, with his portrayal of a mayor who truly believes his compromises are for the good of his people and a family man who values his friendship and is shocked by betrayal. All that while sporting some truly awful '70s hair. 

Best Musical Score:

Hans Zimmer, "12 Years a Slave"

Runner-Up: Hans Zimmer, "Rush"

I abstained from this category. In most cases, if I'm aware of the music it means it's getting in the way. (As it did in "August: Osage County," for instance.)

Original Vision Award: "Her" Runner-Up: "Gravity"

This award honors a film that we feel staked out new territory this year. While I believe "Gravity" certainly does that, I deferred to the critics who raved about "Her."

The Hoosier Award

"Medora," Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart, directors

(As a special award, no runner-up is declared in this category.)

Every year, we honor one film or person connected to Indiana. This time, it's the outstanding documentary that got festival play here as well as additional showings at the IMAX at the Indiana State Museum. 

Whatever you think of the above, keep an eye on the blog for upcoming IBJ Movie Night ticket giveaways. Past winners will be seeing "American Hustle" and "Inside Llewyn Davis" this week.

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