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2013   Introduction | List

As I wind down my second full year of writing this blog, I feel even more hopeful about the future of cinema than I did at the end of 2012. Last year, I wondered if my optimism about an apparent resurgence of quality filmmaking was simply a byproduct of seeing so many more movies than usual, and of seeking out films that I would normally skip or not be able to see at all. This year, though, I’m convinced that films from Hollywood, from overseas, and from independent filmmakers are enjoying a small renaissance both in terms of quality and theater attendance. And my feelings seem to be shared both by critics who have been writing about film much longer than I have and by friends who are returning to theaters after nearly ten years of staying home to watch movies on cable, DVDs, and streaming sites.

In 2012, almost all the good movies came out during the so-called awards season, the last four months of the year, but 2013 saw the release of excellent films all year long. I know that few people go out to the movies as frequently as I did this year, but I can confidently say that anyone who did would have found at least one worthwhile film each and every week of 2013, providing they lived in a major city with a sizable and diverse array of movie theaters. 

[Incidentally: if anyone out there is interested in seeing films as often as I do, I strongly recommend a service called Moviepass, which enables a subscriber to see one film per day in most major cinema chains and many independent theaters for $30 a month. If you live in New York City or Boston and see more than two movies a month, signing up for this service is a no-brainer. It does have some glitches, and a few major chains don't participate (including Landmark Cinemas – yet another irksome thing about this company!), but my yearlong experiment with Moviepass dropped my average cost per ticket to about $4.  (My fear that people will mistakenly think that I'm shilling for the company is assuaged by the fact that, at this early stage of the blog, I only have about 20 followers.) ]

It was certainly a terrific year for maritime movies.  Tales of men in peril on the sea, including A Hijacking, Captain Philips and All Is Lost, all but top my list of the best pictures released this year. Since Gravity really belongs in this category too, let’s expand the characterization and say it was a good year for movies about men and women in peril on terra non-firma.

And speaking of women, this year I saw more films written and directed by female filmmakers than ever before. True, these were mostly small indie movies, but what’s important is that they were good, they were released in theaters, and a lot of people saw them. My old-school-indie fav Nicole Holofcener and my up-start-indie fav Brit Marling had their biggest hits yet with Enough Said and The East, respectively.  Susanne Bier's Love Is All You Need, Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell, Kasi Lemmons's Black Nativity, and Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring all performed strongly at the box office. In addition to provocative débuts like Jill Soloway's Afternoon Delight, Lake Bell's In a World, Stacie Passon's Concussion, Maggie Carey's The To-Do-List, and Katie Aselton's Black Rock, 2013 also saw the release of the first films by female directors from Saudi Arabia (Haifaa Al Mansour's Wadjda) and Israel’s Hasidic community (Rama Burshstein's Fill The Void). It's exciting that women from traditionally repressive and cinematically hostile cultures made films that not only screened widely over the world, but also became their country’s official Oscar submissions for Best Foreign Language Film (in Wadjda's case, the first film the Saudis have ever submitted.)  Prominent films by black filmmakers included Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, Lee Daniels's The Butler, Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station, Malcolm D. Lee's The Best Man Holiday, David E. Talbert's Baggage Claim, Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson's American Promise.  This slightly improved level of gender and racial diversity in filmmaking and movie releasing is an unexpected positive byproduct of the digital revolution, which has reduced costs and broadened distribution platforms. 

2013 also seems to have marked the end of the stigma against black-and-white movies. While one could dismiss the Best Picture Oscar for Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist in 2012 as a fluke, successful releases like Alexander Payne's Nebraska, Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, Ben Wheatley's A Field In England, and Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing prove that audiences no longer associate black-and-white with old and boring. Digital technology has made this palette a perfectly viable creative choice for filmmakers; it's no less "cool-looking" than any of the vintage filters on photo-sharing sites like Instagram. Of course, movies like these don't actually use black-and-white film stock anymore; they're shot on digital video, with the color removed in post-production. This practice leaves open the option of releasing a color version in markets that still won’t accept black-and-white movies, which used to be a major hindrance to working in this form.

And while I’m still underwhelmed by the barrage of blockbuster sequels, roboots, and comic book adaptations, I was thrilled to discover some terrific Hollywood tent-pole pictures, such as World War Z, Prisoners, and the aforementioned Captain Phillips and Gravity. I also enjoyed all of this year’s major awards contenders: American Hustle, August: Osage County, Blue Jasmine, The Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska, and Philomena. While it was not as spectacular a year for documentaries as 2012, this year saw the release of three completely original takes on the form, Jason Osder's Let The Fire Burn, Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing, and Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson's American Promise. The one genre that fizzled in 2013 was horror movies, with releases that were disappointing in terms of both artistic merit and box office receipts, but that’s one type of film that people are NEVER going to stop seeing in theaters.  As the year ends, I feel fired up and there seems to be no shortage of interesting movies in the pipeline for 2014.

My own lists of the best work of the year...

Best Director:
Steve McQueen: 12 YEARS A SLAVE 
Alfonso Cuarón: GRAVITY
Denis Villeneuve: PRISONERS
J.C. Chandor: ALL IS LOST
Paul Greengrass: CAPTAIN PHILLIPS 

Best Original Screenplay:
Spike Jonze: HER
 
Aaron GuzikowskiPRISONERS
Tobias Lindholm and Thomas VinterbergTHE HUNT (JAGTEN)  
Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling: THE EAST
Asghar Farhadi: LE PASSÉ (THE PAST)
R.F.I. Porto: BLUE CAPRICE 
Bob NelsonNEBRASKA 

Best Adapted Screenplay:
John Ridley: 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Lem Dobbs: THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
Billy Ray: CAPTAIN PHILLIPS 

Best Actor:
Chiwetel Ejiofor: 12 YEARS A SLAVE 
Matthew McConaughey: DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Bruce DernNEBRASKA
Robert Redford: ALL IS LOST
Oscar Isaac: INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Adam BakriOMAR
Hugh Jackman: PRISONERS
James Cromwell: STILL MINE
James  Gandolfini: ENOUGH SAID 

Best Actress:
Cate BlanchettBLUE JASMINE
Brie LarsonSHORT TERM 12
Shailene Woodley
THE SPECTACULAR NOW

Adèle Exarchopoulos: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
Judi Dench: PHILOMENA
Amy Adams
AMERICAN HUSTLE
Kathryn Hahn: AFTERNOON DELIGHT
Tatiana Pauhofová: BURNING BUSH (HORÍCÍ KER)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: ENOUGH SAID 

Best Supporting Actor:
Jared Leto: DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Michael Fassbender: 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Barkhad Abdi: CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
Dane DeHaan: KILL YOUR DARLINGS
Sam Rockwell: THE WAY, WAY BACK
Daniel Brühl: RUSH
Fred Melamed: IN A WORLD... 

Best Supporting Actress:
Lupita Nyong'o: 12 YEARS A SLAVE
June Squibb: NEBRASKA
Jennifer Lawrence: AMERICAN HUSTLE
Julia Roberts: AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Sally Hawkins: BLUE JASMINE
Winona Ryder: THE ICEMAN

Best Cinematography:
Bruno Delbonnel: INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Roger Deakins: PRISONERS
Sean Bobbitt12 YEARS A SLAVE
Phedon Papamichael: NEBRASKA
Emmanuel Lubezki: GRAVITY 

Best Editing:
Nels Bangerter:
LET THE FIRE BURN
Eric Zumbrunnen: HER
Joel Cox and Gary Roach: PRISONERS
Alfonso Cuarón and Mark SangerGRAVITY
Christopher Rouse: CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Best Original Soundtrack / Score:
T-Bone BurnettINSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Arcade FireHER
Bjorn ErikssonTHE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN
Christophe Beck, Robert Lopez, And Kristen Anderson-Lopez: FROZEN 
Alex Ebert:  ALL IS LOST
Hans Zimmer: 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Steven PriceGRAVITY

Best Documentary Feature:
LET THE FIRE BURN, Jason Osder
THE ACT OF KILLING, Joshua Oppenheimer
THE SQUARE Jehane Noujaim
AMERICAN PROMISE, Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson
SHEPARD & DARK, Treva Wurmfeld

Best Foreign Language Feature:
A HIJACKING (KAPRINGEN), Tobias Lindholm
THE HUNT (JAGTEN)Thomas Vinterberg
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (VIE D'ADÈLE – CHAPITRES 1&2), Abdellatif Kechiche
BURNING BUSH (HORÍCÍ KER), Agnieszka Holland
LE PASSÉ (THE PAST), Asghar Farhadi
SOMETHING IN THE AIR (APRÈS MAI), Olivier Assayas

Best Début Feature:
AFTERNOON DELIGHT
Jill Soloway
BLUE CAPRICE, Alexandre Moors
FRUITVALE STATION, Ryan Coogler
GIMME THE LOOT, Adam Leon
FILL THE VOID (LEMALE ET HA'HALAL), Rama Burshtein
WADJDA, Haifaa Al-Mansour

Best Come-Back:
Robert Redford: ALL IS LOST and THE COMPANY YOU KEEP  
Bruce DernNEBRASKA
Arnold Schwarzenegger: THE LAST STAND  

Best Surprise:
Brie Larson: SHORT TERM 12
June Squibb: NEBRASKA
Kathryn Hahn: AFTERNOON DELIGHT 
Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof: WORLD WAR Z
Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen: THIS IS THE END 

Biggest Disappointment:
Kimberly Peirce, CARRIE
Nicolas Winding Refn, ONLY GOD FORGIVES
Michel Gondry, IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY?
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, THE WORLD'S END 

Best Year Overall:
Matthew McConaughey: There’s no question of who had the best year in 2013. After his breakout role in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) McConaughey became known primarily for dismissible rom-coms. But beginning in 2011 the actor appeared in a string of strong films giving stand out performances in The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, and Killer Joe. The steak continued through 2012 with The Paperboy, Mud, and Magic Mike, and culminated in 2013 with a cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street, the acclaimed HBO series True Detective, and his Best Actor Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club. McConaughey’s distinctive Hollywood comeback was dubbed, “the McConaissance” by just about every entertainment reporter writing in 2014.