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Best of 2013: Jordan M. Smith’s Top 20 Films (Picks 15 to 11)

Continued from picks 20 to 16….
20. Fruitvale Station – Ryan Coogler
19. Cutie and the Boxer – Zachary Heinzerling
18. Valentine Road – Marta Cunningham
17. Dirty Wars – Rick Rowley
16. Leviathan – Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Véréna Paravel

American Hustle poster15. American Hustle – David O. Russell

Doing his best Goodfellas impression, Russell has put together a lovably silly, surprisingly grim conman caper that has been wrongly billed as an outright period farce. Yes, Bradley Cooper in curlers, Christian Bale with a beer gut and classic comb-over, and Jessica Laurence as a headstrong, bellicose homemaker are the stuff of comedy gold, but this not a film stacked with one liners and physical gags. Instead, the awkwardly induced laughs are generally played as masterful characterial counterpoints to the increasingly complex and socially succinct narrative. Layered in the bungled schemes of Cooper’s power crazed FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, there is a scarily poignant depiction of the judicial system overreaching their means to the detriment of the American public at large. And let’s not forget Amy Adam’s incredible two-fold performance as Bale’s British banking impresario. Perfecto. [December 20th – Columbia]

The Wolf of Wall Street poster14. The Wolf of Wall Street – Martin Scorsese

Ever since Baz Luhrmann’s over-stylized Romeo & Juliet dropped a cinematic bomb on my ten-year-old brain, I’ve had an unreasonable man crush on Leonardo DiCaprio. What can I say? The heartthrob knows how to play overly confident, increasingly mad men that sacrifice personal safety for lofty dreams like no one else (see the majority of his filmography). This fact alone makes him the perfect man to play Jordan Belfort, a slime ball stockbroker millionaire who embraced oblivion for just a few more moments in his self made thrown of excess. Following the extravagant tenacity of Belfort himself, Scorsese has lensed not only his longest film (only one minute longer than Casino), but his most indulgently over-the-top work – both a disgustingly entertaining critique of capitalism and backhanded celebration of American reinvention all in one ‘lude poppin’ party. [December 25th – Paramount Pictures]

Blue Is the Warmest Color poster13. Blue Is the Warmest Color – Abdellatif Kechiche

I get what all the fuss is about. For whatever reason, people are still shocked to witness realistic depictions of homosexual couples on screen, especially when it is so brazenly showcased with such graphic glorification as within. But let’s be honest, such an authentic realization of the passion of young love and the pain of its eventual disintegration is a rarity in cinema, no matter the sexual orientation involved, hence the shower of praise Kechiche and his two incredibly committed young actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux have earned. Their film is a magnificent achievement that speaks volumes about the rapidly evolving tenderness of romance and the pains endured by youth still trying to reconcile their own identities, silently inside the closet. [October 25th – Sundance Selects]

Gravity poster12. Gravity – Alfonso Cuarón

Aaahhh…..the long awaited follow-up to the incomparable Children of Men. And what a follow-up it is. Employing state of the art film tech and, for the first time, an essentially immersive third dimension, Cuarón has taken us back into the ever-so-cinematic expanse of space and let us truly experience the freedom and fears that come firmly tethered to the weightlessness of space. Occupying nearly every frame of the feature, his leading actress Sandra Bullock turns in a career best performance as Ryan Stone, somehow managing to tune out the intrusive fakery of special effects on set to make Stone’s inconceivable series of one-after-another life or death situations a very real experience. Visually breathtaking and perpetually heart racing, there hasn’t been a film going experience – this year, nor ever – that looks or feels anything like it. [October 4th – Warner Bros.]

Spring Breakers poster11. Spring Breakers – Harmony Korine

On the topic of his narrative constructions, Korine often admits that he rarely has a fully formed story in mind. Rather, he prefers to film general concepts in search of a feeling that seems to synergize into something bigger. For Spring Breakers, the intention was to fully embrace this technique, hopefully creating a work that more exemplifies the repetitious propensities of pop music than cinema. As someone whose relationship with music tends to be much more physically visceral than that with cinema (more emotional and intellectual), I found myself in the ecstasy of a cinematic pop hook equivalent for the entire 94 minute running time. And yet, Korine’s mainstream breakthrough is not just a boozy X-rated sugar rush purporting to scrap the innocence of ex-Disney starlets. By treating the free-for-all MTV spring break experience with his usual eye for the culturally grotesque, Korine once again has found beauty in the repulsive. [March 22nd – A24]

Click here to see picks 10 to 6.


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