The usual problem of coming up with a solid Top 10 Movies at the end of the year did not present itself in 2013.
This year, in fact, we have an abundance and the difficulty now is deciding which ones make the cut. Should it be “Nebraska” or “Before Midnight”? “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” or “Mud”?
It’s not a bad problem to have, of course, since it’s a welcome reminder that no matter how grim the prospect of going to the movies sometimes seems (during a late-night screening of “A Haunted House,” for instance) you’re practically guaranteed to discover something fabulous eventually. Such as these:
1. “12 Years a Slave” — This harrowing historical drama is an almost unimaginably cruel depiction of slavery in the United States, yet Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance, as an enslaved free man resisting despair despite hellish circumstances, is something that simply must be seen.
2. “Captain Phillips” — This intensely powerful true-life story about an American cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates features fine performances (especially by Tom Hanks in the title role) and a thoughtfully balanced depiction of the attackers.
3. “Dallas Buyers Club” — Great performances make this one special, especially Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of a homophobic redneck struggling to stay alive after contracting AIDS during the late-‘80s — plus Jared Leto as a transsexual who helps him sell alternative treatments to the gay community.
4. “Fruitvale Station” — The senseless shooting of a 22-year-old black man by San Francisco rapid transit police makes a shocking debut for writer/director Ryan Coogler — largely because of a painfully real performance by Michael B. Jordan as the victim living his last day.
5. “Gravity” — The predicament of astronauts George Clooney and Sandra Bullock adrift in space after a sudden disaster generates extreme suspense, but it’s the immersive effect of the cutting-edge special effects that make it a dazzler.
6. “Her” — A lonely writer (Joaquin Phoenix) falls for the female-voiced computer operating system designed to meet his every need in writer/director Spike “Being John Malkovich” Jonze’s fascinating meditation on true love. Remarkably romantic, considering.
7. “Mud” — There’s more than a little “Huckleberry Finn” in this sensitively written and acted Southern-fried indie, featuring another offbeat performance by Matthew McConaughey. This time as a drifter involving two teenage boys in a dangerous adventure for the sake of romance.
8. “Nebraska” — This slow-moving yet typically edgy comedy from Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”), has a lot to say about families, fathers and sons, but it’s Bruce Dern’s Cannes Fest-winning performance, as an alcoholic, near-senile old man chasing a non-existent million-dollar sweepstakes prize, that makes it a must.
9. “Philomena” — Director Stephen Frears (“The Queen”), English comic actor Steve Coogan and Judi Dench do a particularly nice job balancing tragedy and humor with this true tale of an atheistic journalist helping a devout Irish lady find her long-lost illegitimate child — sold into adoption by nuns 50 years earlier.
10. “Wadjda” — There’s a lot more going on in this first-ever feature film from Saudi Arabia than the deceptively simple story of a young girl dreaming of buying a forbidden bicycle. Even if it didn’t find an innocuous way to address the severe constraints on women in Saudi society, though, “Wadjda” would still be a must-see thanks to the talented amateur in the title role.