How rare can a rare record be? - medium rare? uncooked? how about unreleased?
Susan Christie was a Philly based sophomore folk singer who had one novelty hit for a major label and never quite recovered - Afterwards, her psychedelic take on country standards and hand crafted tales of inner-city solitude backed by a break heavy folk-funk rhythm section was never accepted as a commercial viabilty by record company big-wigs - They obviously couldnt quite muster their nostradamus sensibilities to forsee what future hiphop producers and DJ’s would be feeding into digital music-machines 30 years down the line!
Luckily three -fifths of a handful (literally three!) privately pressed vanity copies were manufactured in early 1970 one of which became the source material for Finders Keepers 6th LP in their expanding library of obscure, obtuse, obsolete and obsessive vintage music from the 60’s and 70’s. Uber legend John Hill who penned the acid-rock floor-filler ‘LOVE,LOVE,LOVE,LOVE,LOVE,’ for 'Wool’ and 'Pacific Gas And Electric’ produced the LP which featues 8 tracks including a Johnny Cash cover and a 12 minute 'drugsploitation’ epic called 'Yesterday - Where’s My Mind’ featuring Susan flipping vocal styles between Janis Joplin and Margo Guryan (…who was in fact a close friend of Susans at the time of recording).
“Susan Christie is an American singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She had a minor hit with the novelty song "I Love Onions” (written by Donald Cochrane and John Hill). The track, which peaked at #63 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1966, is described as having a sound reminiscent of the 1930s, with Christie’s “breathy” vocal backed by a chorus of kazoo players and male backup singers.
In Canada, however, the single fared much better, reaching #19 on the RPM 100 national singles chart on August 1, 1966. The tune was adapted as “I Love Funyuns” for a late 60’s TV commercial for an onion-flavored snack food. The tune was later adapted for a Canadian television commercial as “I Love Turtles” in 1980.
Signed to Columbia Records, Christie recorded an album in 1970, Paint a Lady. Described as “psychedelic folk music”, the album went unreleased by Columbia, which considered it to be non-commercial, and Christie was dropped from the label. The album, of which only three vinyl copies were ever pressed, languished in obscurity until 2006, when Manchester-based DJ Andy Votel received a copy and brought the album renewed attention and a CD release. SPIN magazine described the album as “funky free folk” filled with “[b]rilliantly original songs” and Christie as a “dark, strange songbird”.
Christie participated in the 2008 “Lost Ladies of Folk” project spearheaded by Votel and his spouse, recording artist Jane Weaver, performing in concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and appearing on the compilation album Bearded Ladies. In 2010, Christie appeared as a guest artist on Weaver’s album The Fallen By Watch Bird.“
as the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name if you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride trying to catch the devil’s herd, across these endless skies
This is coming a little late, and I know most people already have 2013 in their rear view and are looking forward to the films coming out in 2014, but having now seen everything I think had a shot of making my list of favorite films of the year I’m going to go ahead and post my Top 25 Films of 2013. Barring a planet-sized surprise in the form of something like The Book Thief or The Counselor, this should be my final list. Most people seem to believe that 2013 was one of the strongest years for film in decades and while I’d go the opposite and say it was shockingly weak, I can safely say that my Top 3 are my favorite since 2007. The quality drops off pretty quickly for me and there were a lot of disappointments this year, but also some pleasant surprises and some of the best filmmakers in the business continuing to prove why they are just that. All of that said, here are my Top 25 Films of 2013, starting at #25:
25. A SINGLE SHOT (David M. Rosenthal)
As with any actor who’s been working for over two decades, there have been plenty of roles that Sam Rockwell has auditioned for and not gotten. My favorite of all, and the most interesting for me to think about, is the part of Llewelyn Moss in Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men. Of course we all know that Josh Brolin got that part and was perfect in it to a point where I can’t imagine seeing anyone else in the role, but this year Rockwell gave us a little taste at what his Moss might have looked like as he stars in the similarly grim backwoods noir A Single Shot. Structured more as a series of conversations between characters than a plot-heavy narrative with a ton of momentum, A Single Shot explores the many different shades of evil in men and women existing somewhere between the eyes of the law. From William H. Macy’s corrupt lawyer to Jeffrey Wright’s booze-soaked veteran, A Single Shot gives plenty of great actors opportunity to shine but of course it’s ultimately Rockwell’s show and he delivers yet another performance that demonstrates why he’s for my money the finest actor in the business. While it may take the movie a while to find its footing in its unique structure, once it does it really begins to soar all the way until its gripping climax and director David M. Rosenthal doesn’t hold back on letting us see the brutality of this bloody world.
24. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Joss Whedon)
Coming off directing what would soon go on to become the third highest-grossing film of all-time, most directors would feel comfortable taking a much needed vacation and watching the cash roll in before they saddle back up to continue on with that franchise. Not Joss Whedon. Most fans of Whedon have heard the stories of how he likes to gather his actor friends at his Santa Monica home, drink a lot of wine and perform various Shakespeare plays but this time he filmed it (presumably with less actual wine consumed) and let us all take a look. Shot in just 12 days at that house, Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing could have been one of those miserable experiences of a group of friends just goofing off and thinking that we would care, but instead it’s as solid a Shakespeare adaptation as anything we’ve seen and an absolute delight to watch. A charming lilt of a movie, Whedon’s picture is light on its feet and manages to stay true to its source while still incorporating his own unique style into the classic words. The cast is of course great and handles both the comedy and drama in equally sharp measure, but special notice has to go to Amy Acker who hits such a diverse range from pratfalls to heartbreaking monologues that really demonstrates what an immense talent she is.
23. SHORT TERM 12 (Destin Cretton)
The kind of low-key indie that we unfortunately don’t see a lot of anymore in a time where you’re either a $100 million big studio picture or a straight-to-VOD micro-budgeted indie, Short Term 12 is a character drama that shades its ensemble with rich texture that allows for great work from one of the strongest casts of the year. Made up of actors that are familiar but haven’t gotten this kind of deep material as well as a few newcomers, Destin Cretton’s examination of a group of workers and teenagers at a foster care facility for at-risk youths jumps a little too far into melodrama in its climax but thankfully it’s got a great roster of actors to keep things grounded and never let it get overwhelmed by the narrative trappings. These kind of small, independent and character-focused dramas are a breathe of fresh air among the prestige pictures and blockbusters but they’re a dying breed in a landscape that needs more of them. Nowhere else would an actress like Brie Larson get such a grand showcase to deliver a startling performance, with young actors like Kaitlyn Dever and Keith Stanfield showing up and dominating right alongside her.
22. THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (Robert Redford)
Robert Redford generated a lot of talk and awards buzz for his performance this year in All is Lost, but for me his best film was actually one he directed as well as starring in. As someone very fond of ‘70s political thrillers, it’s not a big surprise that this throwback starring one of that decades’ mainstays spoke directly to me. How far does idealism go? Does it require personal sacrifice? Does it conquer any and all familial loyalties? Can personal relationships take precedence, or does everything play second fiddle to your own moral convictions? These questions and many more ruminate deep within The Company You Keep, and through Redford’s former Weather Underground activist and Shia LaBeouf’s young reporter we are taken on a journey through many assorted characters as we see their own takes on living in a world decades beyond their lives as anarchist youths and the lasting ramifications of their actions. With one of the most insanely packed ensembles of the year, The Company You Keep offers up performances (often in only one scene) from actors as varied as Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Richard Jenkins, Chris Cooper, Brit Marling, Anna Kendrick, Brendan Gleeson and plenty more, with Redford and LaBeouf leading the charge in two opposite yet spiritually connected portrayals of men seeking some kind of truth in our modern world.
21. WORLD WAR Z (Marc Forster)
One of the most notoriously troubled productions of the past decade (maybe ever), a lot of people had written off World War Z long before it was released. As a result, its massive success was one of the biggest surprises of the summer, a big win for Brad Pitt after a nationwide promotional campaign and the nicest part is that the movie itself is actually damn good. In a summer of one disappointing blockbuster after the next, World War Z managed to be the exception that proved this kind of filmmaking can still be exhilarating. Operating on a global scale that actually allowed the scope to feel as epic as it should (another rarity in modern blockbuster filmmaking), World War Z took us on a journalistic, procedural run through countries as varied as South Korea and England as we watched Pitt’s Gerry Lane try to discover a way to cure a global viral outbreak. Mixing massive setpieces with intense closed-quarters combat, sometimes in the same scene, this film never let my pulse take a rest and at the same time it takes on a more political approach to the proceedings that added something more cerebral to go along with the straight-up visceral action that occurs through the majority of the picture. There’s not a lot of heart or emotion, but when it comes to pure summer blockbuster entertainment World War Z was the only one this year that really gave me exactly what I wanted and even a little something more. All of that troubled production paid off with something exciting and wickedly thrilling.
20. PRINCE AVALANCHE (David Gordon Green)
Rejoice, fans of early David Gordon Green. Since Snow Angels back in 2008 the director has fallen into some bizarre vortex of directing awful studio comedies like Your Highness and The Sitter, but finally he has returned to those like me who loved his early dramatic work. 2014 should see the release of his strict dramas Joe and (hopefully) Manglehorn, but crossing the bridge back from the comedy realm to his heavier work is Prince Avalanche, a two-hander that casts Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as road workers painting lines in the summer of 1988 after a natural disaster took out much of what once existed in the location. These two actors create a perfect balance for one another, Hirsch shining as the immature young man who is constantly talking about sex and letting his mouth run places it shouldn’t while Rudd plays a guy too stuck up in his own world and afraid of letting anyone else in that he doesn’t realize he’s letting his relationship fall apart in front of him. Both actors are given rich material here to deliver unexpected performances, demonstrating the talent they usually hide away by starring in films that don’t let them stretch themselves appropriately. Mostly a grounded, natural drama, there’s still a slight bit of magical realism in Prince Avalanche that reflects the beauty of Green himself. There’s a magic in this filmmaker that sets him apart from others and it’s a beautiful thing to see him finally harnessing that again after so many years spent working beneath his level.
19. THE SPECTACULAR NOW (James Ponsoldt)
For decades we’ve seen the teen movies with underage kids drinking, loving life and even when they go through hardships they make it out alright and you know that things are going to be okay in the end. James Ponsoldt (director of last year’s great alcoholism drama Smashed), along with writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, turn this misconception on its head by taking those kind of movies and following them through to their natural conclusion. Sutter Keely (Miles Teller, surely bound for a mainstream/awards-lauded breakout sometime soon) is the life of the party, the kind of guy that everyone loves to be around for a while but when things get serious he’s nowhere to be found and that’s how everyone likes it to be. What Ponsoldt does so beautifully here is he examines what happens when the party stops and Sutter realizes that you can’t live your life with a buzz going at all times and that “living in the now” is no way to live. If it weren’t for the achingly real performances of the cast, notably Teller and Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now could have fallen apart but what we get is an honest, incredibly natural film that doesn’t paint Sutter as a bad guy, nor does it take his side by cheering him on for his chaotic ways. Instead it gives us an authentic depiction of a well-intentioned guy who doesn’t realize just how far down he’s gotten.
18. BLUE JASMINE (Woody Allen)
Almost five decades of directing a film almost every single year and Woody Allen continues to prove that he’s still got it. He also continues to find ways to diversify himself while remaining true to his own brand (drama or comedy, you always know when you’re watching a Woody Allen movie) and with Blue Jasmine has made perhaps his most topical and culturally aware film to date. Allen’s work usually involves character dynamics that are universal and timeless, but Blue Jasmine casts a shade on the current financial crisis that directly affects the characters within it. That being said, it speaks to Allen’s neverending focus on character that for all of the troubles the crisis wages on these people it is ultimately the tornado that is Jasmine French who holds the responsibility for everyone’s suffering, not the least of which being what she causes for herself. In six weeks Blanchett will be winning her second Oscar for her work as Jasmine and it will be more than deserved as the incomparable actress portrays this loathsome character as simultaneously frustrating, vapid, tragic, hysterical, human and haunting. Of course part of the credit goes to Allen’s writing, but it would be nothing without Blanchett’s shattering work that blows the roof off in such a theatrical fashion and yet is still able to keep things feeling remarkably human; as if Jasmine’s elaborate showmanship is her own facade designed to heighten herself in the eyes of others.
17. THE CONJURING (James Wan)
As a longtime fan of the horror genre this past decade has been pretty rough. We’ve gone through the trend of torture porn and are still neck deep in the turgid found footage explosion, not to mention the countless remakes and sequels that are almost always terrible. It’s very rare to get a new horror film that’s any good, let alone one that takes off in a way that few could have anticipated. The Conjuring was that rare beast, not only a genuinely great picture but one that was embraced fully by critics and audiences, smashing the box-office during the summer and becoming a huge success on many levels. Of course that has now given the studio the idea to make a spin-off and maybe a sequel to it which is another sign of the death of this genre, but as long as we can have movies like The Conjuring show up there’s still hope alive. There’s nothing particularly new about the film, focusing on a haunted house that was investigated by the real-life couple who later took on the Amityville case, but James Wan’s decision to make it a throwback to the kind of films from the era its set in is exactly what was needed to make this one sing. With the combination of old-school techniques and new-school equipment, The Conjuring is the kind of film that shows you can sometimes teach old dogs new tricks and it creates for a visceral experience that may not have quite the same punch on repeated viewings but offers one hell of a thrill ride either way.
16. IN THE HOUSE (Francois Ozon)
Francois Ozon is one of the most underrated directors in modern film and In the House may just be his finest work to date. A bold, complex and marvelously creative exploration into the many facets of writing and a whole lot more, for something adapted from a play (by Juan Mayorga), it’s surprising how distinctive this film is to its director’s style. This fascinating tale begins with a high school teacher (Fabrice Luchini) becoming intrigued by a pupil’s (Ernst Umhauer) obsession with the seemingly quaint life of his classmate and two parents. Teacher and student embark on a dangerous expedition that treads on many layers of voyeurism, manipulation, naturalism and observation that comes not only with the human experience but more specifically with the work of writers. Anyone who considers themselves a writer, be it of books, scripts, reviews, short stories or anything, should do themselves a favor and check out Ozon’s enrapturing opera of twisting perspectives, ideas and plots. It comes a little unglued in the final stretch but that’s only noticeable due to how intricately woven the rest of the picture is, offering up many questions without a lot of easy answers and letting the viewer become just as much a participant as the characters themselves, who are also an audience to another story within the story. This is a complex journey into the mind of the writer as seen through the eyes of an audience, and the dangers that come with trying to objectively create your own design.
15. PHILOMENA (Stephen Frears)
One of the biggest surprises of the year for me. Philomena was done a disservice by the Weinstein marketing machine by being played up in the advertisements as the kind of treacly, emotionally manipulative and cringe-worthy light dramedy that he felt (probably rightfully) would bring in the biggest audience when in actuality it’s a film with a much more genuine, natural telling of an absolutely heartbreaking true story. Taking on her first leading role in a film since Notes on a Scandal (which was released seven years ago), Judi Dench portrays Philomena Lee, an Irishwoman who was forced fifty years ago as a pregnant teenager to give up her child and live in a convent to repent for her “sin” of lust. Philomena’s journey is one loaded with emotion and the combination of Dench, writer/co-star Steve Coogan and director Stephen Frears is able to present it to the audience in a way that draws on their humanity without feeling overly-manipulative or saccharine. I spent at least the last half hour of the film in tears, and I found myself wondering just how wrong this could have gone with a director less capable than Frears, who finally made a return to the kind of quality filmmaking that has been absent in his work for the past decade or so. This is a director who trusts his audience to respond naturally to a story and doesn’t feel the need to prompt them with manipulative cues for how they should be feeling in any given situation, and as a result he trusts in Dench to transfer everything honestly to the audience, allowing her to do wonders with such a strong role, delivering that human emotion in waves upon waves.
14. TO THE WONDER (Terrence Malick)
You’ve just created a film, widely considered to be your magnum opus, encompassing a scope as epic as depicting the literal creation of the universe and the afterlife. So, what do you do next? If you’re Terrence Malick, you take things in a more intimate direction with a domestic psychodrama detailing the coming together and falling apart of an American man and French woman. Played by Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko, with support from Rachel McAdams as a former flame and Javier Bardem as a troubled priest, the drama at the core of To the Wonder is semi-autobiographical for the filmmaker and yet it’s ultimately just a metaphor for his more universal themes of faith and love. Played without a traditional narrative structure and mostly told in whispered voiceover inserted atop handheld footage of the lovers in the throes of emotion, To the Wonder could easily be the director’s most polarizing work to date, but for this viewer it worked like a charm. Even some of Malick’s biggest fans (and the majority of critics) felt this was the director’s weakest effort, with most considering it his one failure, but for me it contained an emotional impact that I had never experienced with his films until now and while it may not have resonated as long as I would have liked it still hit me like a powerful wave while viewing the film.
13. AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS (David Lowery)
One of the toasts of the Sundance Film Festival early in the year, David Lowery's Ain’t Them Bodies Saints faded quickly on its release but if you haven’t seen it you should do yourself a favor and amend that. Plenty of reviews for the film noted the clear influence of Terrence Malick (ironically the man behind the film that ranks directly after this for me) and those comparisons are pretty apt in the way that Lowery is able to derive an emotional response from the poetic design of his direction. There’s a freedom to the way that Saints flows, almost stream-of-consciousness in some scenes, with every event feeling as natural as breathing. Some of the harsher critics of the film have gone as far to claim that it’s derivative of Malick more than anything else, and that’s where I’d say they’ve gone too far. There’s a fine line between influence and imitation, but I think Lowery takes inspiration from the director’s work while still crafting something very much of his own design. While Malick’s films are expansive and thematically potent, Lowery takes on a much more intimate and character-focused approach that makes Ain’t Them Bodies Saints really resonate and rely a lot on its actors. Thankfully he was able to assemble a superb cast of fine performers, led by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara with noteworthy support from Ben Foster and Keith Carradine.
12. STOKER (Chan-wook Park)
About half an hour into Stoker I was feeling disappointment and begrudging the fact that I had to spend another hour with this mess. The quick editing from scene to scene, chopping them off before the picture could establish a rhythm and the heightened nature of all senses took the picture into an area that I was perplexed by and not particularly responsive to. Then the twist came, from the debut script of Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, and it all made sense. We are brought into this world through the perspective of India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) and as a result it takes a while to adjust to her worldview but once it’s understood that this is what Stoker is, everything takes on a whole new level and the film begins its insane, layered and character-focused drive for the remainder of the picture. I still can’t say that I’m on board with how the first act takes place, but it’s certainly justified later on and through every breath it’s Chan-wook Park’s immaculate direction that guides Stoker into becoming one of the most individual, unique and creative movies of the year. Top that all off with another stunning performance by Mia Wasikowska, who has quickly become one of the very few young actors that I’m excited by or even interested in, and Stoker emerged as an early-year favorite for me that held on all the way to the end.
11. THE EAST (Zal Batmanglij)
A few years ago Brit Marling was the toast of Sundance with her writing and acting work in both Another Earth and Sound of My Voice. The latter was co-written and directed by Zal Batmanglij and two years later they have turned out another collaborative effort, this one a much more focused and topical thriller that delves into the world of freeganism through an anarchist group looking to take down major corporations through guerrilla attacks. Marling stars as an operative for a private intelligence firm, but when she finds herself getting in too deep with this group everything turns upside down for her and she is no longer sure where her loyalties lie. Sound of My Voice had a lot of interesting ideas and a phenomenal ambiance but its idea never felt fully realized and it all climaxed with a shock value cliffhanger ending that felt cheap more than anything else, but The East sees the Marling/Batmanglij team take their considerable talents and put them to their full potential with a timely thriller that excites its audience as much as it engages them in real-world themes and ideas. Marling only emerged back in 2011 but in three years she has become one of the most exciting and promising voices in current cinema and I can’t wait to see what we get from her next (Sundance will bring us another performance from her in Another Earth director Mike Cahill's I Origins).
10. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Martin Scorsese)
Within the first five minutes of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, we see American golden boy Leonardo DiCaprio throw a midget into a giant bullseye, receive oral sex while speeding down a highway in his sports car, snort cocaine out of a prostitute’s anal cavity and land a helicopter in his backyard. Whether that made you laugh hysterically or cringe and want to run out the door is a pretty decent indicator as to whether or not you’re going to be on board for this movie. For me it was decidedly the former and for the next two hours of Scorsese’s epic three hour picture I was in absolute hysterics as we saw DiCaprio and his cohorts traverse a world of excess, excess, excess with one scene of depraved, drug-fueled, sex-crazed debauchery after another. The laborious final hour drags the pace down to a painful level and offers up an attempt at humanizing DiCaprio’s character (the real-life Jordan Belfort) that felt inappropriate and insincere after two hours of watching this guy basically be the devil, but even in that final hour the movie manages to reach some high points of primal entertainment like the much-discussed cerebral palsy scene which is without a doubt the hardest I’ve laughed at a movie this year. DiCaprio’s performance is a commanding, show-stopping manipulation of that golden boy perception he’s cultivated over the years and Jonah Hill provides a turn that absolutely steals the movie in every scene he gets, but the real star of Wolf of Wall Street is the excess itself and whether that works or not for you is up for each individual person to decide but for me it ultimately created the funnest, funniest movie of the year, pacing problems be damned.
09. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (Jean-Marc Vallee)
On paper, Dallas Buyers Club looked like a movie that was going to be a trying experience at best. Telling the true-story of a bigoted man diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 who then fought the system in an effort to bring illegal medication to sufferers like him, this had all the potential to be just another self-important, awards-baiting biopic of the worst breed. To my delight this wasn’t to be the case, as Jean-Marc Vallee (one of two French-Canadian directors to make my Top 10 Films of the year) turns Ron Woodruff’s story into a rambunctious, energetic journey with tons of heart and significance. Never backing down from Woodruff’s lesser qualities, nor the importance of this story, Dallas Buyers Club still manages to provide plenty of fun and charm, which shouldn’t be too surprising given that it’s led by Matthew McConaughey at the absolute peak of his career renaissance. In what I firmly believe is far and away the best performance of 2013, McConaughey brings Woodruff to life with all of his flaws, tragedy, heartache and rambunctious charm to create a character as fascinating and tough to pin down as the film itself. Dallas Buyers Club is the kind of important movie with a story that needs to be told that is smart and caring enough to never get bogged down in its own self-importance. There’s not a pretentious bone in here, and that kind of approach allows its strength to naturally translate off the screen.
08. THIS IS THE END (Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen)
This shouldn’t have worked. A who’s who gathering of some of the most popular comedic actors today coming out of the Apatow factory playing themselves all gathered for a giant party at James Franco’s house when the actual biblical apocalypse comes crashing down. On paper this reeked of the worst kind of self-aggrandizing narcissism possible but when Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen got their hands on these guys (the two making their directorial debut as well as writing the picture, though naturally there was plenty of improvisation) they created something much more self-aware, scathing and absolutely, unbelievably hilarious than I could have ever imagined. With a central group played by Franco, Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, This is the End puts these guys through the gauntlet of slashing their public perception, their professional mistakes and their own personal dynamics, skewering themselves while offering the audience an inside baseball look at how these guys really think (maybe, at least partially). Whether we were watching the guys kick around a severed head because they were afraid to touch it, Jonah Hill getting possessed by the devil himself through coitus, a cannibalistic cameo of insane proportion or Franco and McBride’s argument over masturbation rules in someone else’s home, This is the End is the rare comedy to keep me laughing harder and harder from start to finish.
07. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Paul Greengrass)
As someone who has never considered himself a fan of Tom Hanks as an actor, it means a little extra something when I say that his performance in Captain Phillips is one of the best I’ve seen this year or of the past decade. Everyone talks about his incredible work in the final scene (deservedly so, it’s the best single moment of acting this year from anyone), but that shouldn’t take away from his selfless, inhabited work throughout the entirety of the film. Portraying Richard Phillips in the true story of the hijacking of a cargo ship by Somali pirates, Hanks captures in painstaking detail the emotion, intelligence and terror of this man while also making sure to give plenty of room for his Somali co-stars to shine, all of them played by first-time actors. Chief among them is Barkhad Abdi, a deserved Oscar nominee for his work as the leader of the pirates in the rare Hollywood picture that gives equal attention and detail to the kind of people who are more traditionally seen as caricature villains. With a script from the eternally underrated Billy Ray (seriously, watch Shattered Glass and Breach sometime) and the shaky-cammed, in-your-face direction we’ve come to expect from Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips is one of the most thrilling and visceral pictures of the year but it’s also got a ton of heart and texture underneath its exciting trappings.
06. AMERICAN HUSTLE (David O. Russell)
The film that broke the internet, American Hustle is beloved by critics but the backlash online has taken things to a disturbingly personal level that I’m doing my best to stay the hell away from. While I can’t say that I have the passionate love for it that I do for the four films that I place above it, for me this was one of the most pleasurable and surprisingly emotional experiences of the year. Combining the free-wheeling, zany tomfoolery of David O. Russell’s early work like Flirting with Disaster and I Heart Huckabees with the more grounded, human stories that we saw in his The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle feels like the culmination of everything in his career to date and while it may clash with itself at times I think its imperfections are what define it as something indistinguishably of its creator and its all the better for them. This isn’t a perfect movie, no doubt, but neither are its broken characters and O. Russell uses the bizarre pacing of American Hustle to get the energy to an overwhelming extreme before cooling it down to turn the focus onto a deeper examination of its characters, acted out by the best ensemble of the year and essentially what O. Russell has become all about. Take note Scorsese, this is how you pace a movie in a creative and effective way.
05. ABOUT TIME (Richard Curtis)
The marketing for About Time would have liked to have you believe that this was another romantic comedy with a time-travel male protagonist wooing Rachel McAdams, a strange and very specific subgenre, but that did a giant disservice to the beautiful picture this actually is. Coming from the mind of Love Actually writer/director Richard Curtis it’s easy to go into About Time with the wrong expectations, but coming out you’ll find that it’s a touching and thoughtful character piece about discovering the beauty in life and the things that really matter. Domhnall Gleeson continues his quick rise as one of the best actors of his generation with a superb, naturally evolving leading performance, but as much time as the film spends in the charming and very entertaining relationship between him and McAdams (a rare male-focused film that casts a female love interest who is five years older than the leading man) it also spends its time on the relationship between Gleeson’s character and his father, played in a career-best turn by Bill Nighy. Aided by scene-stealing supporting work from Lydia Wilson and Tom Hollander, About Time quietly became one of my favorite films of the year and if it weren’t for a meandering final act that drags on too long for no real purpose I could have easily seen it being even higher on this list.
04. SIDE EFFECTS (Steven Soderbergh)
The earliest release to make this list is a film that stuck with me all the year through, and if his retirement is to stick is also the final theatrical release in the tremendous career of director Steven Soderbergh. Ending not on a heavy, politically relevant type of film like Traffic but instead on a pulpy thriller that throws one twist after another until the whole thing is boiling over with genre goodness, Side Effects is one of the most deliriously entertaining films of the year. Headlined by a surprisingly ingenious and multi-faceted performance by the great Rooney Mara, along with some of the best work Jude Law has done in years, this thriller goes so far beyond what you’d expect walking in or even after the first thirty minutes. Opening up as a tale of the big bad world of pharmaceutical companies and the dangerous consequences of our over-medicated world, the sharp turns in Scott Z. Burns’ script send us deep down a rabbit hole of power playing assholes who are constantly trying to get the upper hand while bringing each other to their downfall. Side Effects may be the last film of Soderbergh’s to see a theatrical release in the U.S. (Behind the Candelabra, released a few months later and just narrowly missing this list, got an HBO release in the states and a theatrical release elsewhere), but if it is he made sure to go out on a high note.
03. HER (Spike Jonze)
Her, just the fourth feature by Spike Jonze and his first stab at a solo original screenplay, is an enigma in that it can present different things for each and every viewer. It’s a personal film for Jonze that translates this kind of heavy emotional reaction to some viewers (me included) while leaving others cold, only able to appreciate the more surface-level aspects of it. These are no doubt impressive, with the costumes and production design effectively bringing us into a near-future that feels advanced while entirely familiar, but it’s that personal touch that lands it such a high spot on my list of best films of the year. A rarely-better Joaquin Phoenix and voice-only Scarlett Johansson capture the beauty and humanity in a relationship between a lonely divorced man and an operating system, but the genius in Jonze’s writing is how he uses this unconventional, prescient relationship to explore the many evolving paths of all relationships. Her unravels in a fascinating way, touching on elements that any person who has ever been in love can relate to while also making sure to not put too much pressure on the central relationship and rob it of its individuality by pushing all of these elements into that one dynamic. This is a touching film that should only look better as time goes on, but even now it’s one of the most impressive of this or any year.
02. PRISONERS (Denis Villeneuve)
If there was one movie in 2013 that seemed designed to appeal directly to me it was definitely Prisoners. Cold, long and dark as night, this is a crime thriller to end all crime thrillers, tossing us down into the labyrinthine hell with Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) as they take opposite approaches in trying to find and rescue two young girls who went missing (one of them being Dover’s daughter). The script by Aaron Guzikowski takes things beyond the genre trappings into a murky moral area that does what the best crime thrillers are capable of doing – putting you into the shoes of these characters and asking what lengths you would go to if you were them. When Dover abducts and brutally tortures a suspect (Paul Dano) for days on end, the shattering complexity of Jackman’s performance is given an extra dose of resonance in how Guzikowski and director Denis Villeneuve turn that mirror onto the audience and confront them with whether or not they agree with his actions, and what the true extent of justice is if it gets the proper results in the end. Shot by the unbelievable talent that is Roger Deakins, who frames his actors in a way that adds so much more texture and gravitas, Prisoners sinks deep into the subconscious and refuses to exit long after we’re given the answers to the surface mystery. Villeneuve’s movie takes us into a dark world and for a breakneck duration of over two hours doesn’t let us go. Not that I wanted to be anywhere other than the bleak, cold hell these characters were living in.
01. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (Joel and Ethan Coen)
After treating us like kids stuffed on sugar with four films in consecutive years from 2007 to 2010, Joel and Ethan Coen made us wait a couple before returning with one of their finest efforts to date. Inside Llewyn Davis is as sharp, witty and melancholy as you’d expect from the best filmmakers in American cinema but there’s something about it that caught me off guard and catapulted it to become my favorite film of the year; it’s got so much more heart than we’re used to seeing from them. While the brothers are generally considered as artists who take a step back from their characters and like to poke fun rather than delve into and understand them, Inside Llewyn Davis explores its central figure with an emotional impact that I hadn’t experienced in their work prior to it and soared through me from first frame to last. Thanks in part to a breakout performance from Oscar Isaac as the eponymous figure, this journey through the '60s folk scene and the clash between artistic integrity and mainstream conventionalism feels as personal to the Coens as it does to Llewyn himself and it takes the film to a different level. Inside Llewyn Davis boasts the best soundtrack of the year on top of everything else, and is a film I am sure I’ll find myself coming back to over and over as the years go by. As with any Coen movie, this one is covered from beginning to end in themes and metaphors that can be dissected time and again, something that makes for plenty of richness upon initial viewing and will sure to make the pleasure and intellectual fulfillment of the experience increase tenfold on repeated viewings.