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Collection of films made for a very good cinematic year

By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

January 2, 2014

 

WAUKESHA - In a fine year for cinema, such as 2013, it’s not all that challenging to compile a list of excellent movies. The challenge is to confine such a list to the customary 10 entries. One reviewer’s response to said challenge, including a one to 10 ranking and summaries, follows. (Readers will note the list is limited to movies seen in their entirety by the reviewer - and that even a reviewer doesn’t manage to see all of the many films released in a given year.)

“12 Years a Slave.” This brutally visceral view of pre-Civil War slavery gets the nod above all the year’s other films due to its weightiness and historical significance. Much has been said, rightly, in praise of stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o. Michael Fassbender is just as brilliant as an evil slaveholder in this long-to-be-remembered, memoir-rooted production whose screenwriter, John Ridley, is a Milwaukee native. Some stunning cinematography, too.

“August: Osage County.” Playing a volatile mother and daughter who don’t exactly see eye to eye, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts head an extraordinary acting ensemble guaranteed to mesmerize and delight. The titular county is in Oklahoma and the movie is based on screenwriter Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer- and Tony-winning drama.

“Blue Jasmine.” The amazing Cate Blanchett  teeters somewhere near the edge of insanity as the widow of a Bernie Madoff-type. Still, there’s plenty of comic relief in Woody Allen’s enticing flick.

“Nebraska.” Funnyman Will Forte is quite serious, and sometimes almost saintly, as he travels with and comes to understand his enfeebled and irritable father (Bruce Dern).  June Squibb is a hoot as Forte’s mom and Dern’s wife in what may be the best of several very good Alexander Payne pictures to date.

“Philomena.” A sweet old gal (and a sensational actress, Judi Dench) searches along with a calloused journalist (screenwriter Steve Coogan) for her long-lost son. One is tempted to describe “Philomena” as “The Bells of St. Mary’s” with nasty nuns, but such a tagline would hardly do it justice.

“Dallas Buyers Club.” AIDS may no longer be a crisis of epidemic proportions in the United States, but this Matthew McConaughey-Jared Leto movie, set in the 1980s and based on an unlikely but bona fide victim’s response to the HIV virus, is captivating from the word go.

“Frozen.” The cream of 2013’s animated crop is Disney’s cheerier take on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” The retitled fairy tale has been preceded on screen by what appears to be a vintage Mickey Mouse cartoon short, “Get a Horse!” The cartoon is buttressed by life-size characters popping in and out of the screen, making for the best 3D manifestation I’ve yet seen at the movies.

“The Way, Way Back.” This wonderful, relatable story of initiation stars Liam James and also has an acting-against-type Steve Carell, a very funny Allison Janney, a quirkily lovable Sam Rockwell, some exceptional bit players and the odd, but exactly right, setting of a water park that’s seen better days.

“American Hustle.” It’s hard to separate the good guys (and gals) from the bad in this ABSCAM-spawned Christian Bale-Jennifer Lawrence dramedy that recalls Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas.” A much appreciated touch: snippets of hit songs from the ‘70s.

“Enough Said.” James Gandolfini, who died before this gentle comedy’s release, is nothing like Tony Soprano here, playing opposite an equally pleasant and watchable Julia Louis-Dreyfus. What “Enough Said” said to me is that love’s embrace extends far beyond “beautiful people” who are brand-new to adulthood. And that’s something worth hearing.

All 10 movies were reviewed at greater length in TimeOut during 2013. Most of those reviews can be accessed at gmtoday.com/timeout/reviews.