Film Feature: Carrie’s Top 10 Films of 2013

by Carrie Kahn on December 27, 2013

Spinning Platters film critics Carrie Kahn and Chad Liffmann present their Top 10 Films of 2013.  Here’s Carrie’s list, presented in alphabetical order.

1.) All is Lost
Robert Refdord struggles against the elements in All is Lost.

Robert Redford struggles against the elements in All is Lost.

That a film with just a single actor and virtually no dialog can be absolutely riveting is a testament both to Robert Redford’s brilliant acting and to writer/director J.C. Chandor’s exceptional skill at his craft. Redford says more with his rugged face and worried eyes than most actors do with a wordy, five-star script. Not since Jaws and The Perfect Storm has a film so totally absorbed us in a man-against-sea survival story. And Chandor’s ambiguous ending lends itself to hours of debate and discussion; everyone who has seen this film has a strong opinion, and that a near-silent film can generate such passion makes it special and noteworthy.


2.) Blackfish

The orca Tilikum performs in Blackfish.

The orca Tilikum performs in Blackfish.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary about the death of SeaWorld orca trainer Dawn Brancheau uses that incident as a jumping off point from which to examine the larger issue of sea parks, and particularly those that keep captive killer whales. Cowperthwaite deftly weaves compelling narrative, on-screen interviews, and found footage to make her case in a way that is never heavy-handed, but always skillful and methodical. The fact that the film has generated much publicity – including strong denials from SeaWorld executives regarding many of the film’s accusations – is indicative of Cowperthwaite’s effectiveness and the film’s power.

3.) Blue is the Warmest Color

A happy moment in Blue is the Warmest Color.

A happy moment in Blue is the Warmest Color.

Perhaps the best film ever made about romantic relationships, French director Abdellatif Kechiche’s lesbian love story is alternatively emotionally uplifting and emotionally draining, much like the relationship it portrays on screen. With raw performances from its two costars, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, the picture fearlessly captures the intensity and all-encompassing passion of the trajectory of a relationship with compassion and unabashed honesty. The film also is a sharp exploration of how we mature, grow, and change, but often not in synch with our significant others.

4.) Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett calms her nerves in Blue Jasmine.

Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine calms her nerves in Blue Jasmine.

Woody Allen may not have got all the details right in presenting San Francisco and its residents on film, but he did capture the economic angst of the day brilliantly in his updated version of Streetcar Named Desire. Cate Blanchett is phenomenal as the fragile and neurotic Blanche DuBois-like Jasmine, who is forced from her high-society Manhattan life thanks to her scoundrel husband’s shady business dealings; her gradual descent into madness is heartbreaking to watch. Allen has always been adept at balancing pathos and humor, though, and the supporting characters here are well drawn and compelling, with Sally Hawkins, Louis CK, Alec Baldwin, and Andrew Dice Clay all by turns funny and poignant.

5.) Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey's Ron and Jared Leto's Rayon join forces - and become friends - in Dallas Buyers Club.

Matthew McConaughey’s Ron and Jared Leto’s Rayon join forces – and become friends – in Dallas Buyers Club.

Yes, both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto lost an unhealthy amount of weight for their roles as AIDS patients in the early days of the crisis, but, beyond their physical transformations, their performances are exceptional for their total psychological and emotional immersion. McConaughey stars as the real-life Ron Woodward a hard-partying, good-old-boy homophobic Dallas electrician who forms an unlikely alliance with Leto’s transgender Rayon to provide non-FDA approved drugs to other AIDS patients. The film is both a brilliant character study of a man’s awakening to a new consciousness, and a powerfully affecting look at the deplorable treatment of AIDS patients in those early days, when both key medical and political policy makers were slow – or outright refused – to acknowledge the disease’s devastating toll.

6.) Disconnect

A family confronts a crisis in Disconnect.

A family confronts a crisis in Disconnect.

No film this year better captured the zeitgeist of the Internet age than this compelling, cautionary tale of how the digital age is affecting us in profound and often disturbing ways. Released near the beginning of the year, this film may have fallen off critics’ radars, which is a real shame. Jason Bateman’s dramatic turn as an overworked but loving father is a standout performance in a picture filled with terrific character work. The film’s exploration of the power of human connections – both online and off – is emotionally rich, intensely thoughtful, and leaves us shattered and hopeful at the same time.

7.) Fruitvale Station

Michael B. Jordan's Oscar is questioned by BART police on the Fruitvale BART platform.

Michael B. Jordan’s Oscar is questioned by BART police on the Fruitvale BART station platform.

Ryan Coogler’s film allows us to see Oscar Grant the person – not just the victim of the much-publicized 2009 BART officer shooting on the Fruitvale BART station platform. Oscar was neither a saint nor a thug, but a 22-year-old young man who made mistakes, loved and was loved by family and friends, and was struggling to get his life together, like so many of us. He didn’t deserve what happened to him, and Coogler’s picture, which tells the story of the events preceding Oscar’s shooting, goes a long way in showing us the person beyond the headlines, as well as the effect of the tragedy on Grant’s family, friends, and community. Powerful and moving, with fierce performances from Michael B. Jordan as Oscar and Octavia Spencer as his mother Wanda, Fruitvale Station examines difficult issues of race, class, and justice with grace and compassion.

8.) The Hunt

Mads Mikkelsen's Lucas enjoys a moment with his son in The Hunt.

Mads Mikkelsen’s Lucas enjoys a moment with his son in The Hunt.

The chill of the Danish winter is palpable in Thomas Vinterberg’s story of a male grammar school teacher falsely accused of molesting a little girl, who also happens to be his good friend’s daughter. Themes of family, faith, community, conformity, forgiveness, and redemption are explored as Mads Mikkelsen’s Lucas is pushed to his psychological limit as he fights the charges against him. Beautifully shot in rural Denmark, the film features a wrenching performance from Mikkelsen, as well as an ending that will raise more questions than it answers. Haunting and poetic, this quiet film is unforgettable.

9.) Mud

Matthew McConaughey becomes an unlikely big brother figure to two impressionable boys in Mud.

Matthew McConaughey’s Mud becomes an unlikely big brother figure to two impressionable boys in Mud.

Matthew McConaughey’s transition from lightweight romantic comedy star to serious and exciting dramatic actor continued with his role in this stunning coming-of-age story from early this year. In the tradition of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, the picture uses the quintessential southern-life-on-the-river trope to tell a heartbreaking story of two boys who befriend McConaughey’s title character, a troubled drifter. Outstanding performances from supporting players Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, and young Tye Sheridan help bring this southern gothic tale to life, as each is equally charmed and disappointed by McConaughey’s magnetic anti-hero.

10.) Nebraska

Bruce Dern's Woody and Will Forte's David make their way through Alexander Payne's Nebraska.

Bruce Dern’s Woody and Will Forte’s David make their way through Alexander Payne’s Nebraska.

Director Alexander Payne returns to his Midwest roots in this starkly beautiful black-and-white tale of a depressed son, David (Will Forte, in a terrific dramatic turn), chauffeuring his rapidly aging, stubborn father Woody (Bruce Dern) to try and claim a sweepstakes prize. Alternately painfully funny and sincerely sweet, the film always rings true, and benefits from a remarkable supporting cast, including June Squibb as Woody’s exasperated wife and Stacy Keach as his former business partner. Payne masterfully conveys the nuances and rhythms of small-town middle America, and his film is filled with many indelible quiet moments and small pleasures.

Honorable mentions: American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street, Enough Said





Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll. Proud new member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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