The Honorable Mentions
As I said, this was a tough year to pick my favorites, knowing that there would be a lot of movies I really enjoyed that would have to be left off the list, so floating on the outskirts of the Top 25 are "honorable mentions" that I feel are worth mentioning. (And I reviewed at least the first five of these, so you can click on the titles to read more.)
- Olivia Wilde gave an amazing performance in Joe Swanberg's most accessible movie to date, this one exploring the platonic relationship between brewery co-workers, as played by Wilde and Jake Johnson from "New Girl."
- Alexander Payne's latest was a beautifully-shot dry road comedy that gave us a unique look at the Midwest via unforgettable performances from Bruce Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb.
- Montreal's Denis Villeneuve made his English language debut with a riveting "Zodiac"-like thriller starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and more, keeping us guessing through the entire film.
- Tom Hanks teamed with Paul Greengrass to tell the true story of a cargo ship captain taken hostage by Somali pirates, the leader played by first-timer and the film's real scene stealer, Barkhad Abdi.
- Mads Mikkelsen stars as a kindergarten teacher accused of abusing one of his wards in Thomas Vinterberg's tense and emotional drama. It was a career high point for one of Denmark's finest actors and second most eclectic filmmakers.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
- Like the second installment of "The Hobbit," this sequel directed by Francis Lawrence was much better than the first part, in large parts due to the fun new tributes in the Quarter Quell Hunger Games and much livelier action scenes all around.
- Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg team-up to tell the true story of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell who was trapped with three fellow SEALS on a mountain pass in Afghanistan, having to fight for their lives.
All is Lost
- J.C. Chandor's second movie is essentially "Robert Redford at sea," but the actor's still riveting to watch on screen and he's able to carry the movie from beginning to end nary saying a word.
Lee Daniels' The Butler
- Apparently, I enjoyed Lee Daniels' version of history through the eyes of Forest Whitaker's White House butler more than many of my colleagues. I thought it was a strong ensemble piece that covers a lot of historical ground in a unique way.
Top 12 Documentaries of 2013:
1. 20 Feet From Stardom
- Morgan Neville's portrait of the unsung heroes of rock and soul--the back-up singers, which you can read more about in my Top 25 list.
- Michael Apted's eighth installment of the long-running doc series that follows a group of schoolkids through their life. In this installment, they're 56 years old and many have grandkids.
- Gabriela Cowperthwaite put SeaWorld on notice with this exposé about the treatment of "killer whales" by the water park and how that treatment led to multiple trainers dying needlessly. When you talk about docs that cause real change, this one is on top this year.
4. Cutie and the Boxer
- Zachary Heinzerling's look at an unconventional New York art couple and how she uses her art to get out from under her oppressive husband's shadow.
5. Stories We Tell
- A deeply personal story from master filmmaker Sarah Polley, this one looks at a dark secret from her family's past, a story told in a uniquely dramatic fashion.
6. Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
- Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein's doc about the magician and magic historian whose stories are as astonishing as his sleight of hand tricks.
- A terrific portrait of New York City's greatest living mayor… who sadly died on the day of the film's release.
8. Sound City
- David Grohl's directorial debut starts as a portrait of the California studio where Nirvana recorded "Nevermind"… until he buys the studio's vintage Neve console and makes a tribute record with some of the artists who recorded there such as Stevie Knicks, Rick Springfield and Trent Reznor.
9. Muscle Shoals
- Another music doc, this one by Greg Camalier, about the amazing history of music produced out of Alabama's FAME Studios, responsible for the likes of Aretha Franklin, the Allman Brothers and other hugely influential acts.
10. The Crash Reel
- Director Lucy Walker covers the recovery process of extreme snowboarder Kevin Pearce after a training accident that causes him severe brain injury.
11. A Place at the Table
- Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush's moving look at people in this country who cannot afford to eat or feed their families got an added boost by having celebrity producers behind the cause, Tom Colicchio ("Top Chef") and actor Jeff Bridges.
12. A Band Called Death
and Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
- So I'm going to cheat this one time by picking two docs about two great rock bands from the '70s - one that was relegated to almost total obscurity for decades, the other who never made it past a cult following.
What I've Been Listening To
I'm not a music critic, but every year I like sharing the music that I'm listening to while writing about movies and here are five albums I really enjoyed this year (in no particular order):
* Daft Punk - "Random Access Memories"
* Nine Inch Nails - "Hesitation Marks"
* The National - "Trouble Will Find Me"
* David Bowie - "The Next Day"
* Queens of the Stone Age - "… Like Clockwork"
* Arcade Fire - "Reflektor"
That's it for now, but look for the inverse of this list, my annual Terrible 25, some time before year's end.