The work that Alfonso Cuaron and his technical team did with their saga of space solitude is nothing short of pure movie magic. In an era dominated by glossy, obvious CGI effects and 3D overload, it was nice to see something that felt like old school craftsmanship, all while being far ahead of its time. The story of an astronaut trying to survive the vacuum of space is simple enough, but it’s the relentless roller coaster ride of Gravity that made it one of the most memorable theatrical experiences not just of this year, but of many years.
Short Term 12
Toward the end of the year it can be easy to forget about little movies from early year film festivals. Sometimes they get lost amongst the onslaught of Oscar marketing campaigns. Luckily there is nothing forgettable about Short Term 12 and Brie Larson’s breakout performance. I would go as far as to say that it has one of the better ensemble casts of the year, from troubled teens to the wavering spirits of 20-something counselors at a short term care facility for youths. Add to that the spectacularly moving script and steady handed directorial work of Destin Cretton and it’s not hard to see why Short Term 12 is the breakout film of 2013. Across the board, this movie is showing us that young talent is alive and well in Hollywood.
Shane Carruth doesn’t make movies that you simply watch, he makes movies that you feel in your chest. Like his previous effort Primer, Upstream Color has not shortness of density. But the emotional resonance is unavoidable, even for an audience member who isn’t entirely following along with the story. A strong central performance from Amy Seimetz is one of the more overlooked performances of the year. In fact, overlooked might be the best way to describe Upstream Color as a whole, outside those of us who had already been following Carruth’s work.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Some things get better with age. Fine wines, a good book, Marty Scorsese. The latter has come into some sort of quaalude-infused autumn period of his career, in which he and Leonardo DiCaprio have together become completely unhinged. The good news is that we all get to watch the result in the form of this highly energetic, seamlessly magnetic 3-hour film about the excess and greed of Wall Street. It’s the shortest 3-hour movie of all-time and perhaps one of the most electric performances that Leo DiCaprio will ever have. As I noted previously (and won’t ever find a way to say it better), The Wolf of Wall Street “takes off like a shot and never lets up. It’s surreal and exhausting and inarguably brilliant.”
12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen has made a name for himself making challenging movies. From Hunger to Shame, he’s never shied away from the darker aspects of the human condition. With 12 Years a Slave, he’s made his most accessible film, as it chronicles a dark mark on our country’s history that has reverberated throughout the generations that followed. But even with a film that speaks to a broader audience, McQueen has maintained the hardened authenticity that has become his signature style. This film presents a brutal vision of slavery in America that feels free of any inhibition that may have come had it been made by an American. It’s a tough watch, but there’s no arguing the fact that 12 Years a Slave is one of the most finely made films of the year.