Stephen Miller’s picks for the top films of 2013

By : Stephen J Miller
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StephenMillerHeadshot_560873495When it comes to film, almost every “Best of the Year List” is a little incomplete. Because of the release schedule, some great films, ones that are eligible for the upcoming awards season, aren’t included in critics’ lists. This is because all films haven’t screened locally yet, or it’s hard to get advance copies.

However, I can send you to the cinema, to Netflick, to Amazon, or to your Redbox (or whatever way you choose) with some solid recommendations. So, although this may not be a complete list of 2013, it can give you ideas of how to fill up your Christmas vacation:

Gravity  Although this film has been talked to death, I am amazed to find that some people still have not seen it. Thankfully, it’s still in the cinema where we can catch all its wonder on a big screen. Unless you have a phobia of suffocation or of wide-open spaces, you should definitely see this emotional and technical wonder. Director Alfonso Cuarón abandons Sandra Bullock in space, with only her wits to help her survive. Visually arresting and heartfelt, Gravity is one of my favorite films of the year.

Fruitvale Station  You’re going to have to find a way to rent this spare, gripping biopic about a New Year’s shooting of an ex-con. Fruitvale Station uses cinema verit (real-life style) to follow this imperfect man’s last day. Michael B. Jordan and Olivia Spencer both give heart-wrenching performances, but the film was released in early summer. I fear awards committees will largely forget about it.

Dallas Buyers Club  Matthew McConaghey and Jared Leto should be on everyone’s lists for their physical transformations and performances. McConaughey portrays Ron Woodroof, a dumb Texan conman who finds he’s HIV-positive and then goes outside the system to get new drugs to help him fight the illness. Leto is a drag queen who helps. They both create a business on pharma that the FDA hasn’t approved. It’s a gritty, touching, true story about American bureaucracy and ingenuity.

Twelve Years a Slave  Film can help us understand a historical event better than any book or documentary can. This shines a light on the true story of musician Solomon Northrup, a free northerner who was kidnapped and forced into slavery in the south. It also shows us the atrocities of slavery in a new, painful way. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender are all garnering buzz for their portrayals. It’s hard to find in the theaters right now, but I’m betting it’ll be rereleased once more nomination announcements come out.

Saving Mr. Banks  This is a wondrous biopic about Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers and her struggles with Walt Disney in making the film version. In fighting the magic maker, Travers also must exorcise her own ghosts of a rough Australian childhood. Emma Thompson’s prim demeanor played against Tom Hanks’ bravado-filled Disney is hilarious. Both Thompson and Hanks are getting recognition. This film opens this week; it’s worth standing in line.

Gay films, if you need them: Besides Dallas Buyers Club, very few LGBT-themed films really caught me this year. There are some interesting ones getting released in early 2014, including the French flick Stranger by the Lake. However, if you’re looking for some recommendations right now, here are two:

C.O.G.  This is the first movie based on biographer and satirist David Sedaris’ work. It starts out witty and brisk and then gets sort of lost in well-meaning self-reflection, (which is a problem with many coming out films). After graduating college, a closeted wanderer (handsome Jonathan Groff) jumps on a bus to Oregon. On the ride there, he is exposed to every kind of loony, so he seeks peaceful work on an apple farm where things are just as weird. Each vignette is relatively funny, if a bit ridiculous. The scenery is beautiful. It’s good to watch in fits and starts a perfect rental.

Kill Your Darlings  This film is currently in a couple second-run theaters in our area; it’ll be available for rental in January. It outlines the violent beginnings of the Beat Generation, before they were famous. Young poet Allen Ginsberg (a witty Daniel Radcliffe) meets Lucien Carr (wonderful Dane DeHaan), a dangerously brilliant writer who was being stalked by a former schoolteacher and mentor Michael C. Hall. Together, these three also meet William Burroughs (Foster) and Jack Kerouac (a less effective Jack Huston). Finally, Carr becomes embarrassed by his predatory admirer and kills the older man, trying to cover up the death, and inadvertently inspiring Ginsberg’s epic poem Howl. Though uneven and a little vague on its impact, Kill Your Darlings is loaded with sound performances and historical intrigue.

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