The global box office results tell a different story — with superhero sequels and “Despicable” Minions dominating big-money draws — but 2013 was an exemplary year for daring, original filmmaking. Vanity Fair went as far as to call this year’s crop of movies the best since 1939, when “Gone With the Wind,” “Wuthering Heights,” and “The Wizard of Oz” were released. When you consider the output by some of our most important directors (Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, Spike Jonze, The Coen Brothers, Ron Howard, Alexander Payne, Ridley Scott, Steve McQueen, the list is endless), it’s difficult to disagree with that sentiment.
Small-budget, independent cinema thrived with Richard Linklater’s ending to his “Before” trilogy, Ryan Coogler’s fabulous treatment of the Oscar Grant tragedy in “Fruitvale Station,” and Woody Allen’s modern spin on “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Fresh faces emerged, such as Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”), to complement the familiar names who were given new life: Bruce Dern (“Nebraska”) and Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”).
Documentaries like “Blackfish” and “20 Feet From Stardom” made commercial noise beyond the arthouse crowd and action movies like Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” pushed genre boundaries into groundbreaking new territory.
2013 was such a strong year in Hollywood, talk of the TV revolution taking place on HBO and Netflix has all but dissipated. It’s an ideal year to look at our favorite movies and performances and dole out some well-deserved accolades. Here are the results from the first ever Boston.com movie awards. Next
Comeback of the Year: Matthew McConaughey
All hail, Matthew McConaughey! After more than two decades of schlock, the smooth-talking, often shirt-less Texan shed his playboy stereotype in favor of three adventurous indie gems. McConaughey practically reinvented himself as a rogue romantic hiding out from bounty hunters on a Mississippi islet in “Mud”; as homophobic roughneck and reluctant HIV activist Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyers Club”; and as the chest-thumping, coked-out mentor of Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” McConaughey’s performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” (a role for which he undertook an alarming physical transformation, losing more than 40 pounds to play the HIV-infected Woodroof) has already been recognized with a Golden Globe nomination, but it wouldn’t surprise us if he took home multiple trophies for his magnificent year on Oscar night. 2014 looks to be equally promising for the actor as he’s set to star in the highly-anticipated new HBO drama “True Detective” as well as Christopher Nolan’s next film, “Interstellar.”
Picture: From left- Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort and Matthew McConaughey as Mark Hanna in ”The Wolf of Wall Street.” Next
Most Frightening Dystopian Future: ‘Her’
What unnecessary prequels were to 2012, apocalyptic wastelands were to 2013. Destitute landscapes, zombie hordes, and egregious climate change beset every category with duds like “Oblivion,” “After Earth,” and “World War Z” peppered in among the slightly more tolerable Seth Rogen and Edgar Wright comedies, “This is the End” and “The World’s End.” But the scarier — and certainly the most bleak — depiction of tomorrow came from director Spike Jonze and his sci-fi romance, “Her.” Jonze explores the deterioration of humanity in a society gluttonous for technology. People walk past each other unseeing, consumed in the spam emails relayed by a diminuitive bluetooth earpiece; meaningful friendships are limited to the characters in immersive video games; and even intimacy is outsourced to companies that specialize in handwritten love letters. In “Her,” this culminates in a shocking, albeit glossed-over dating trend, where people become smitten with their intelligent, pre-programmed operating systems. Factoring in our current tech-lust, Spike Jonze’s satire almost seems inevitable. The only thing attractive about the metropolis of tomorrow? The R. Crumb-inspired, high-waisted trousers. Pictured: Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from"Her."
Honorable Mention: “Pacific Rim”
Best Duo: James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Director Nicole Holofcener is like a bemused offspring of Woody Allen and Nora Ephron. Somehow, she avoids the tropes that regularly plague romantic comedies, creating believable, autobiographical characters with more flaws than witty asides or svelte physiques. Eva and Albert in “Enough Said” are two of her finest achievements to date, a happenstance partnership of battle-scarred empty-nesters who are attracted to each other more for their easy rapport than any overt physicality. Julie Louis-Dreyfus is able to flex her dramatic chops like never before as a divorced masseuse trapped between her budding relationship and a tightknit bond with her favorite poet/client, who also happens to be Albert’s ex-wife (played by Catherine Keener). The premise of “Enough Said” might have had more inherent schtick than any of Holofcener’s previous works, but Louis-Dreyfus and a dynamite James Gandolfini (in his penultimate role) are riveting bedfellows that’ll have you rooted to the screen. Pictured: James Gandolfini as Albert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva in "Enough Said" a film directed by Nicole Holofcener.
Honorable Mention: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in “Before Midnight”
Best Villain: Michael Fassbender in ‘12 Years a Slave’
Steve McQueen’s visceral and haunting adaption of Solomon Northup’s famous 1853 autobiography will almost assuredly go down as the definitive depiction of the cruelties of slavery. The number of atrocities suffered by Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in “12 Years a Slave” are almost impossible to count — from being drugged and sold to a Washington slave trader, to an attempted lynching, to innumerable bloody beatings. The brunt of these are carried out by Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a man known for breaking the spirits of slaves. Fassbender is one of McQueen’s favorite muses — he also stars in “Shame” and “Hunger” — but in “12 Years a Slave” he shines as the drunk and depraved Epps. Unlike the overblown, indulgent performance Leonardo DiCaprio lent to Calvin Candie, the tempestuous plantation owner in Quentin Tarantino’s“Django Unchained,” Fassbender seathes with an unpredictable malevolence. Writhing in self-loathing for his forbidden sexual proclivities, Epps often rouses his exhausted slaves in the middle of the night to dance and fiddle for his own amusement. It’s a role that brings to mind infamous brutes like Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet” and Hans Landa (aka “The Jew Hunter”) of “Inglourious Basterds.” Pictured: Michael Fassbender (left) and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a scene from "12 Years A Slave."
Honorable Mention: Danny McBride in “This is the End”
Most Surprising Indie: ‘Drinking Buddies’
Two co-workers at a thriving Chicago craft brewery test the boundaries of sexual ethics and hops consumption in director Joe Swanberg’s most exciting mumblecore movie to date. Best known for his prolific output (up to four movies a year) and his disdain for traditional screenplays (he prefers outlines over written dialogue), Swanberg benefited from a bigger budget and the improvisational talents of Jake Johnson, Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston. Unlike some of the director’s other treatises on post-collegiate 20- and 30-somethings, the film’s quartet lends a refreshingly honest timbre to the travails of mismatched couples and the ambiguities of platonic commitment in this originally bittersweet rom-com. Pictured: Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson in the 2013 film "Drinking Buddies."
Honorable Mention: “Frances Ha”
Best Action Movie : ‘Rush’
The contentious Formula One rivalry between Austria’s Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and Britain’s James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) seems like an odd subject for an American audience largely disinterested in Europe’s favorite sport, but “Rush” proved to be one of the very best of Ron Howard’s career. Focusing on a six-year span in the 1970s when Lauda and Hunt went from Formula 3 footnotes to archrivals for the ‘76 Grand Prix championship, “Rush” barrels along at a breakneck pace abetted by helmet mounted cameras and a sterling Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon”) screenplay. The priggish Bruhl shines opposite Hemsworth’s rakish lothario and the gamesmanship between the two – right up to the thrilling, adrenaline-soaked finale – is endlessly entertaining. Pictured: Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda in "Rush."
Honorable Mention: “Gravity”
Best Horror Movie: ‘Blackfish’
What would happen if you took one of the most intelligent, social, highly emotional animals, ripped it from its family and forced it to while away in a pod of solitary confinement? Well, with orca whales we’re learning that they slowly become insane, regularly chomping off human limbs, abusing other tank mates, and in the case of SeaWorld’s Tilikum – a 12,000 pound bull orca – drowning the trainers who have earned their trust. “Blackfish” isn’t your typical horror story, but director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s chilling documentary, regarding the atrocities of corporate aquatic theme parks, unfolds like a big-budget thriller, leaving you traumatized in a way those tired found-footage retreads could only dream of. With commentary from former SeaWorld trainers (many of whom are fortunate to be alive) and actual footage of Tilikum and other whales systematically dragging victims to the brink of death, you’ll lament the day you purchased that Shamu doll. Pictured: Tilikum in a scene from “Blackfish.”
Honorable Mention: “Stoker”
Best (Sort of) Comedy: ‘Nebraska’
Much has been written about the uncomfortable laughter found in the beats and pauses of minimalist playwrights Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard. Those same valleys of awkward silence are where the off-kilter Midwesterners of Alexander Payne’s whimsical canon so often reside. With “Nebraska,” Payne (“Sideways,” “About Schmidt”) has once again proven himself to be the a master satirist about the quotidian, as taciturn Korean War vet and ornery alcoholic Woody Grant (Bruce Dern in a career-defining role) stubbornly pursues a million-dollar payout at the Lincoln, Neb., headquarters of a magazine marketing sweepstakes. Will Forte (“Saturday Night Live”) plays David Grant, Woody’s son and reluctant accomplice in his father’s quest to fatten the coffers of his fallow will. Along the way, the duo ends up in Woody’s childhood home town, whose residents are desperate to believe in the new fortune of its prodigal son. Payne has been accused of belittling the rural eccentrics of Hawthorne, Neb., but “Nebraska” is a comedy of the absurd. The Grant clan present elements of a quirky, homespun wryness that hints more at nostalgia (Payne is from Omaha) for those small towns in the heartland, which are tragically becoming extinct. Pictured: Bruce Dern is Woody Grant and Will Forte is David Grant in 2013 film “Nebraska,” directed by Alexander Payne.
Honorable Mention: “Enough Said”
Most Overrated: ‘The Conjuring’
“The Conjuring” all but confirms that the horror genre is on life support, with little chance for resuscitation. James Wan’s (“Saw”) haunted house tale of renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren and their “real-life” investigation of a Rhode Island farmhouse beleaguered by a history of maternal filicide, indulges in every stale cliché: menacing dolls, gypsy-faced wraiths, intuitive toddlers, and plenty of gotcha moments punctuated by screeching violins. This over-lauded mess made its way onto plenty of Top 10 lists, including director Quentin Tarantino’s best of 2013, but “The Conjuring” is a cripplingly dull affair that feels more like a patch-job of stock scares borrowed from better forebears such as “The Exorcist” and “The Amityville Horror.” Pictured: Vera Farmiga portrays Lorraine Warren in a scene from "The Conjuring."
(Dis)Honorable Mention: “The Way, Way Back”
Most Underrated: ‘Room 237’
Was “The Shining” an allegory for Nazi genocide? Did director Stanley Kubrick use the Overlook Hotel’s rug pattern to inject subliminal imagery? Was the whole project – a far different story than the one Stephen King wrote – catharsis for the fake moon landing Kubrick shot for the government? “Room 237” is a fascinating look at conspiracy theorists and cinephile obsessives who have latched onto “The Shining” as an all-consuming metaphysical puzzle. Some of the subjects in Rodney Ascher’s documentary have spent their careers analyzing suggestions of Cretan Minotaurs in the skiing motifs that line the Overlook’s walls, while others have followed their own theories into a rabbit hole of paranoia and unemployment. Even if you don’t buy into their strange beliefs, the five participants in “Room 237” will give you a new appreciation for Stanley Kubrick’s particular brilliance and the power of good art, which has the ability to reduce even the most intelligent audiences into rambling lunatics. Pictured: Danny Lloyd in a still from "The Shining" which appears in the 2012 film "Room 237," directed by Rodney Ascher.
Honorable Mention: “In a World...”
Best Performance - Actress: Cate Blanchett
Using the basic framework of Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” to explore the repercussions of America’s post-economic crash, “Blue Jasmine” gave us a wrenching portrait of the top one percent in free-fall. Cate Blanchett is scintillating as the patronizing narcissist, Jasmine (or Jeanette, depending on which mask she’s hiding behind), who is left reeling after the incarceration of her husband, Hal, following his involvement in a financial Ponzi scheme. It’s Blanche DuBois meets Ruth Madoff as the haughty socialite is forced to live with her adopted sister Ginger, in a world of cramped apartments and boorish lovers. Subsisting on a diet of Xanax and Stoli martinis, Jasmine is all frayed nerves and acerbic barbs. Far removed from her sprawling manor and its closets filled with trendy couture, Jasmine is like a lubricated fledgling thrown into the wilds of the southern Financial District. Blanchett’s portrayal is wickedly funny and — along with co-stars Andrew Dice Clay, Sally Hawkins, and Bobby Cannavale — helped make “Blue Jasmine” one of the must-see movies of the year. Pictured: Cate Blanchett in a scene from "Blue Jasmine."
Honorable Mention: Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”
Best Performance - Actor: Oscar Isaac
Like “O Brother Where Art Thou,” the Coen brothers’ newest film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” presents an epochal moment in popular American music, where beatniks and folk-purists in Greenwich Village were soon to be swept away by the iconic ballads of Bob Dylan. Music buffs will no doubt bask in the Coen’s treatment of that bygone era of New York City and a soundtrack curated by legendary producer T. Bone Burnett, but the true ambience of “Inside Llewyn Davis” is far more pessimistic than celebratory. When the back of Dylan’s head actually shows up at the end of the movie, it’s more as a point of contrast to the career trajectory of the Coen’s embittered, couch-surfing title character. Oscar Isaac, as the sardonic Llewyn Davis, captures all the pathos of an uncompromising dreamer, whose failures are beginning to take a toll. From the first somber notes of “Hang Me” inside the famous Gaslight Café to his final back-alley beat-down, courtesy of a shrouded do-gooder, Isaac emerges as a sympathetic antihero that brings levity to the story of neglected genius. Pictured: Oscar Isaac in a scene from "Inside Llewyn Davis."
Honorable Mention: Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Movie of the year: ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Only Martin Scorsese could make “Goodfellas” seem tame. The ’roided-up cautionay tale of Jordan Belfort and his reptilian associates is a hilarious, often exhilerating circus of debauchery, greed, and excess. With a three-hour Terrence Winter screenplay dripping in testosterone, “The Wolf of Wall Street” caroms by in a sweaty maelstrom of cocaine, prostitutes, and quaaludes. Leonardo DiCaprio is electrifying as Belfort, a narrator who plows through the fourth wall with a mic in his hand, oozing charisma, like a crooked televangelist. Recently, actual victims of Stratton Oakmont (the phony, blue-blooded sounding moniker of Belfort’s brokerage) have unleashed lengthy tirades online regarding Scorsese’s indulgent portrait of vice. But Belfort and his band of jackals are never presented as anything but financial terrorists, bilking the wealthiest one-percent to fuel their lunatic bacchanal. Stratton Oakmont is like Ouroboros, a serpent that’s unhinged its jaw, slowly ingesting itself. But until the Feds swoop in and siphon up all those stacks of cash (illegally laundered in Swiss bank accounts, of course) and supercharged ‘ludes, “The Wolf of Wall Street” thrums with a gonzo energy that’ll leave you punch drunk. It’s unlike any movie experience you’ll have all year, and one that won’t be easily duplicated. Pictured: Leonardo DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Honorable Mention: “Inside Llewyn Davis”
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