The Top 10 films of 2013: from 'Gravity' to 'Nebraska'



Just when you think all is lost, along comes "All Is Lost" starring Robert Redford or "American Hustle" about Abscam (of all things) and "The Way, Way Back" or "The Spectacular Now," coming-of-age stories squeezed off this list.

Although July brought "Fruitvale Station" and August delivered the devastating "Blue Jasmine," the year was back-loaded with many of the best films. Like the space debris in "Gravity," they kept coming at us, but not in a deadly, doomsday way.

1. "GRAVITY"

Now, this is a movie! It demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, not your iPad, and the 3-D surcharge is actually worth it.

I didn't grow up dreaming of becoming an astronaut or even with a fondness for space epics, but Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" presents the illusion that Sandra Bullock is, indeed, somersaulting through space and that bolts, licks of sparks or beads of tears are floating by her inside the spacecraft.

But it's more than technological trickery with its themes of rebirth, relinquishing real and tragic tethers and conquering adversity. I had the luxury of first seeing this in September, before the hype machine cranked into gear and raised watchers' expectations to unrealistic levels (which may explain all the people who shared their disappointment with me or rolled their eyes when I said this would be No. 1).

Besides, how can you go wrong with any picture featuring George Clooney? Expected on DVD Feb. 25.

2. "12 YEARS A SLAVE"

When people talk about this Steve McQueen movie, they mention Chiwetel Ejiofor's expressive eyes, a harrowing scene in which he is rescued from hanging but not hours of twisted torment, and the breakout performance of Lupita Nyong'o. She portrays Patsey, a slave trapped between the lust of a plantation owner and the cold hatred of his wife.

It's based on the true story of Solomon Northup, who was living as a free black man in 1841 Saratoga, N.Y., when he was kidnapped into slavery. This is not a movie to be enjoyed, in the traditional sense, but it is an important one, with a cast also including Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson and Brad Pitt. No longer in theaters; DVD release TBA.

3. "BLUE JASMINE"

Cate Blanchett might be the lock of the awards season. She is the odds-on favorite to win the best actress Oscar race and pick up a bookend for the supporting Academy Award she earned as Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator."

Her character, Jasmine, was living large with her Bernie Madoff-type husband when her comfortable cocoon of wealth and privilege was stripped away. The New Yorker's attempt to join the workaday world in San Francisco proves disastrous and humiliating, as does an attempt to find love again with the right man in this Woody Allen drama. On DVD Jan. 21.

4. "THE WOLF OF WALL STREET"

The brilliant bromance between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio has produced five movies, including this adaptation of Jordan Belfort's memoir about his wild, excess-soaked ride on Wall Street. He went from a "lower than pond scum" newcomer to $49 million a year at age 26.

Jordan never met a vice -- greed, sex, fast cars, Quaaludes and other drugs -- he didn't embrace. As he tells an FBI agent who has come aboard his yacht, "When you're sailing a boat fit for a Bond villain, sometimes you need to play the part." In wide release in theaters.

5. "AMERICAN HUSTLE"

Director David O. Russell informs moviegoers at the front end: "Some of this actually happened."

He brings his favorites off the bench -- Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Robert De Niro -- and adds Jeremy Renner to the mix for a thoroughly entertaining, zany trip back to the late 1970s and the Abscam scandal, which sounds sort of boring but is anything but. In wide release in theaters.

6. "ALL IS LOST"

Robert Redford is "Our Man." The name is never revealed but he's the leading character and the only character in this tale of a man battling for survival against the elements after his sailboat is destroyed at sea.

The J.C. Chandor film is almost wordless but the 77-year-old actor says it all with his face, body language and admirable agility. On DVD Feb. 11.

7. "PRISONERS"

A Pennsylvania carpenter (Hugh Jackman) lives by the motto, "Pray for the best, prepare for the worst." But he never imagines his daughter and a neighbor girl -- 6 and 7 years old -- vanishing on Thanksgiving Day in this intense, dark kidnapping thriller also starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a detective assigned to the case.

Just when you think you have it all figured out, it rounds another curve in the maze, a recurring image in the story with themes of imprisonment, religion, violence, vengeance and how those who have been hurt often hurt others. The cast also includes Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano. On DVD.

8. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Moviegoers walked out buzzing about Barkhad Abdi who plays the leader of the seafaring Somali pirates who hijack the Maersk Alabama container ship in 2009. He holds his own against Tom Hanks' Captain Phillips in Paul Greengrass' re-creation, brimming with action, energy, tension, humanity and a reminder about the gulf between the haves and have-nots. On DVD Jan. 21.

9. "PHILOMENA"

Judi Dench has called this an "extraordinary story of an extraordinary woman."

Modesty would forbid her from adding: played by an exemplary actress. Philomena Lee, who was a naive teenager when she gave birth to a son in an Irish convent, embarks on a search for him with the help of journalist Martin Sixsmith. It doesn't end in a holiday-movie hug but in a lifetime of love and, ultimately, forgiveness. At the Galleria in Mt. Lebanon and both Phoenix Big Cinemas.

10. "NEBRASKA"

Thirty-five years is a long time to wait between Oscar nominations, but Bruce Dern should receive his second (and first for lead) in January. At 77 and with flyaway white hair and a stiff-kneed, old-man walk, he plays a retiree who is convinced that he's won $1 million in a sweepstakes. His belief triggers a trip, some unplanned father-son bonding and even a small joyful act of rebellion at the end. At the Manor in Squirrel Hill.

Runners-up

The year was so bountiful, it demanded a second 10:

■ "Fruitvale Station" -- Director-writer Ryan Coogler goes beyond the headlines and heartache and shows Oscar Grant as a son, boyfriend, doting father and drug dealer who served prison time, and a man trying to start the new year with a fresh slate. Instead, he was shot and killed on New Year's Day 2009 on a subway platform in Oakland, Calif. On DVD Jan. 14.

■ "Blood Brother" -- Even if this documentary didn't have Pittsburgh roots, it would move you to tears and an ache to assist the Indian children with HIV or AIDS. All filmmaker proceeds are donated to help the film's subjects and others. On DVD Feb. 4.

 "Frozen" -- It's the go-to family movie of the holiday season, very loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" and featuring the voices of Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell. As in many Disney movies, the parents die (off screen), but this is a story of sisters, so let's hear it for the girls. In wide release in theaters.

■ "Dallas Buyers Club" -- The extreme weight loss of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto allows us to imagine them as AIDS patients in the days before red ribbons and cocktails of prescription drugs. Mr. McConaughey plays a Texan who would not take no -- or death in 30 days -- for an answer after being diagnosed in 1985. At AMC-Loews, Waterfront.

■ "Enough Said" -- When Elaine Benes met Tony Soprano? Yes and no, as Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini star in a romantic comedy guaranteed to resonate with adults who often feel disenfranchised by a diet of superheroes, teen trilogies, violence-soaked action movies or R-rated material. On DVD Jan. 14.

■ "Before Midnight" -- Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy return, for a third time, as characters who were carefree strangers in their 20s when they met aboard a train in Europe. Now parents of 7-year-old twins and his teenage son, they walk and talk, dine and debate and argue and assess their relationship. On DVD.

 "Mud" -- Writer-director Jeff Nichols explores what it means to be bitten -- by snakes, by fierce first love, by a fairy-tale idea of romance and by a thirst for revenge. It's part "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," part "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and yet another showcase for Mr. McConaughey and a pair of newcomers. On DVD.

 "Out of the Furnace" -- Everyone knows Christian Bale is brilliant, but he is nearly upstaged by Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson in this gritty, dark drama shot and set in Braddock, North Braddock and nearby communities. It also provides a nice platform for local performers such as Bingo O'Malley, Jack Erdie and Charles David Richards, better known to radio listeners as Stoney Richards. In theaters.

■ "The Hunt" -- Danish performer Mads Mikkelsen flawlessly plays a teacher who becomes the object of scorn, hatred and ostracism after a girl accuses him of indecent behavior. On DVD.

 "Her" -- Set in the Los Angeles of the near future, this Spike Jonze love story stars Joaquin Phoenix as a soulful, heartbroken man who falls for the voice of a new advanced operating system. Scarlett Johansson invests "Samantha" with humor, intelligence and insight, turning her into a true character. Scheduled to open in Pittsburgh Jan. 10.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.

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