Culturevulture Critics Picks in Film for 2013

George Wu, Emily Mendel, Elgy Gillespie and Paula Farmer make their own Vulture Award nominees.

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George Wu
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George Wu

After the lackluster 2012, 2013 was a superb year for movies delivering excellence in every genre from dramas (“The Wind Rises,” “Captain Phillips”) to comedies (“American Hustle,” “This Is the End”) to documentaries (“Twenty Feet from Stardom,” “The Act of Killing”), but explorations of romantic relationships ruled the roost as we look at the best of the best of 2013 in the opinions of this reviewer.

("Before Midnight")

(“Before Midnight”)

Best Picture

1. “Before Midnight”

2. “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

3. “American Hustle”

4. “Post Tenebras Lux”

5. “Her”

6. “Gravity”

7. “Twenty Feet from Stardom”

8. “Short Term 12”

9. “Beyond the Hills”

10. “The Place Beyond the Pines”

Best Director

(""Post Tenebras Lux")

(“”Post Tenebras Lux”)

1. Carlos Reygadas, “Post Tenebras Lux”

2. Abdellatif Kechiche, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

3. David O. Russell, “American Hustle”

4. Derek Cianfrance, “The Place Beyond the Pines”

5. Richard Linklater, “Before Midnight”

 Best Actor in a Leading Role

(Joaquin Phoenix, "Her")

(Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”)

1. Ethan Hawke, “Before Midnight”

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”

3. Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”

4. Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”

5. Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Actress in a Leading Role

(Amy Adams, "American Hustle")

(Amy Adams, “American Hustle”)

1. Amy Adams, “American Hustle”

2. Brie Larson, “Short Term 12”

3. Elle Fanning, “Ginger and Rosa”

4. Adèle Exarchopoulos, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

5. Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

(John Gallagher, Jr.," Short Term 12")

(John Gallagher, Jr.,” Short Term 12″)

1. John Gallagher, Jr.,” Short Term 12″

2. Matthew McConaughey, “Mud”

3. Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”

4. Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”

5. Tom Hiddleston, Thor: “The Dark World”

 Best Actress in a Supporting Role

(Léa Seydoux, "Blue Is the Warmest Color")

(Léa Seydoux, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”)

1. Léa Seydoux, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

2. Agustina Munoz, “Viola”

3. Amy Adams, “Her”

4. Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

5. Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

 Best Screenplay

1. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, “Before Midnight”

2. Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

3. Spike Jonze, “Her”

4. Eric Singer, David O. Russell, “American Hustle”

5. Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, “This Is the End”

 Emily Mendel

There were many good films in 2013, but not many great ones, at least not that I saw. There were many visual effects features, too many unfunny comedies and not many historically based films. This was a year for American films — about contemporary Americans. My list is based on the films I saw last year, so it’s doubly selective.

 Best Picture


("Captain Phillips")

(“Captain Phillips”)

“American Hustle”

“Blue Jasmine”

“Captain Phillips”


“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”

For Best Picture, my vote goes to “American Hustle.” It has it all. Great story and direction and fabulous ensemble cast.

 Best Director


(Lee Daniels' "The Butler")

(Lee Daniels’ “The Butler”)

David O. Russell, “American Hustle”

Woody Allen, “Blue Jasmine”

Lee Daniels, “The Butler”

Paul Greenglass, “Captain Phillips”

Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”

For Best Direction, I like David O. Russell for “American Hustle.”

 Best Actor in a Leading Role

Forest Whitaker, “Lee Daniels, The Butler”

Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”

I like Tom Hanks as Best Actor. Yes, he’s won before, but his performance in “Captain Phillips” is outstanding.

 Best Actress in a Leading Role


(Felicity Jones, "The Invisible Woman")

(Felicity Jones, “The Invisible Woman”)

Amy Adams, “American Hustle”

Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Felicity Jones, “The Invisible Woman”

I’m torn between Cate Blanchett’s marvelous performance and Felicity Jones as “The Invisible Woman.”

 Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”

Alec Baldwin, “Blue Jasmine”

Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”

George Clooney, “Gravity”

As Best Supporting Actor, my vote goes to Barkhad Abdi for his performance in “Captain Phillips,” which, remarkably, is his first film role. But Bradley Cooper (“American Hustle”) is also a strong contender. He’s done a lot of fine work lately.

 Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

Oprah Winfrey, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”

Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”

 I vote for Jennifer Lawrence.

 Best Foreign Feature Film

("The Attack")

(“The Attack”)

“The Attack”

“Hannah Arendt”

“The Attack,” written and directed by Ziad Doueiri, is an exceptional dramatic film about an Arab surgeon working in Tel Aviv, who learns secrets about his Palestinian wife after a suicide bombing.

 Best Feature Documentary

“20 Feet from Stardom”

I love this film, which explores the lives of back-up singer

 Elgy Gillespie

By early summertime, 2013 seemed so parched for decent movies that I latched onto “Frances Ha,” “Before Midnight,” ” Blue Jasmine,” and even, God help me, “The Heat.” That “serious” movies are now back-loaded for release after Labor Day is obvious. But some fine work gets lost in the throng, so occasional small movies have tried coming out earlier and also risk getting forgotten. So….

("Frances Ha")

(“Frances Ha”)

Best Director in a Small ‘Indie’ Movie
Noam Baumbach’s “Frances Ha was a quirky take on the “awkward years” — a girl’s slacker twenties — after her BFF moves out. But it’s in sleek black and white, and Greta Gerwig’s beguiling turn as a charming but clumsy idiot makes you see this lovable little movie as bigger than it is. The camera loves her.

Best Screenplay Improvised by the Cast

But I stand by it; and also by “Before Midnight.” As third in the Richard Linklater-Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy franchise, this update on our old friends Jesse and Céline is set in Greece (which never hurts), and welcomes us back to another round of crazy couple talkathons about the romantic passages of life. Will there be a “Before Eternity?”

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett

Blue Jasmine also broke 2013’s drought with Cate Blanchett’s highly theatrical tour de force as a spoiled rich wife down on her luck. She’s the Blanche DuBois for today, who comes to stay with her San Francisco sister. But since it was annoyingly set in Woody Allen land, somewhere near Coney Island and Flatbush, it has since shrunk in our esteem.

Best Cinematography and Special Effects: Alfonso Cuaron

Gravity” is an obvious best picture, and not only for its eery beauty and adrenalin ride. Alfonso Cuaron’s astral thriller is out of this world, literally, and it’s Sandra Bullock’s crown to lose. Painstakingly stitched-together 3D effects raised this rollercoaster higher.

Best Actor: Tom Hanks 
The sheer reliability of actor Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass in “Captain Phillips” turned this real-life kidnapping tale into the crowd pleaser it instantly became. But for sheer tension, check out the last 30 minutes — and then watch the very similar Danish movie, “The Hijacking,” which came out earlier. Danish films are really taking off.

Best Supporting Actor (or actress?): Jared Leto


(Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club")

(Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”)

The Dallas Buyers Club” hugely deserves its acclaim, whether it got all its facts right or not. From this distance, the earliest AIDS drugs seem to have been hit or miss. But Matthew McConaughey’s haunting performance and Jared Leto’s hilarious tranny is what moves us. It gathered audience reaction slowly, but surely.

Best Editing and Screenplay: “Kill Your Darlings”

Best Supporting Actor: Dale Dehaan


(Daniel Radcliffe, Dale Dehaan, "Kill Your Darlings")

(Daniel Radcliffe, Dale Dehaan, “Kill Your Darlings”)

On the other hand, “Kill Your Darlings” was overlooked and buried, despite its glorious ensemble cast led by Daniel Radcliffe — probably because it came out late and clashed with major hits. It’s a coming of age portrait of the teenage Allen Ginsberg, and a filmed footnote about the Beat poets, their druggy loves, and the botched killing that imprisoned them. A succes d’estime as well as a murder mystery, it should have made its mark.

Best Foreign Movies

("The Past")

(“The Past”)

I just can’t get “The Great Beauty” or “The Past” out of my mind. The former is Italian Paolo Sorrentino’s homage to Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita, and invites you feel a million things, above all that you’ve inhaled two astonishing hours in Rome with actor Toni Servillo, and that you will be absorbing these glorious feelings for years.

The Past” is French-Iranian director Asghar Farhadéi’s movie about a French mother (Bérénice Bejo) whose troubled daughter, unhappy new man, and former lover all tangle when he returns to try to make sense of it all. The cast glows, but it’s the kids who excel in this morality play about how the innocent get messed up by the selfish misdeeds of their parents. It’s also a mystery of sorts, and the final shot is chilling.

Best Caper Comedy: “American Hustle”

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence

Finally there’s “American Hustle,” with its opening scenes of Christian Bale gluing on his hairpiece, with his spreading gut doing the acting for him. Hugely enjoyable, it’s the funniest caper comedy of the year. I would also have nominated Her” and many more, but we’ve run out of room — not a problem I expected to have in early May.

Paula Farmer

If the last couple of awards seasons have been lean with Oscar worthy options, then 2013 is more than ample, it was outright fat! From early October through end of the year, it felt like you could see one movie a week that would be a contender in any one of many major categories, if not all categories. Making the season even more interesting was the fact that the high quality transcended genres. Below is a list of the best … in a deliberate order.

Best Picture

("Like Father Like Son")

(“Like Father Like Son”)

“12 Years a Slave” – a unique take on an important time in history, with riveting performances and gutsy direction. This is the film that will make you cry at the end, and stay with you for a long time.

“Her” – Who would have thought such an engaging and believable story could come from this subject matter (a guy falling for his operating system)? Once again, Spike Jonze proves why he’s a creative tour de force. If I could have made this a tie for #1, I would have been tempted.

“Like Father Like Son” – A lovely surprise out of Japan. A poignant story, with appealing performances from the ensemble.

“Gravity” – One of the best and interesting cinematic experiences of all times, let alone this year.

“Nebraska” –  A quiet and stripped down departure for Alexander Payne, but still as effective and engaging as his other great works.

“The Great Beauty” – What a fun and beautiful romp through Rome’s rich, party intelligentsia. This seems almost like a modern take on “La Dolce Vita,” yet it has its own unique presence.

“American Hustle” – Go for the period clothes and hairstyles, but stay for well-written script of the double con and one of the best casts assembled.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” – This does not have the usual twists, turns, laughs or gasps that one usually experiences from a Cohen brothers film, but it is a uniquely portrayed character story of a struggling 70s folk singer. Also, the music is fantastic.

“20 Feet from Stardom” – Wow, speaking of music, the live and archival singing performances of these incredibly, little known back up singers will keep you on the edge of your seat! Then their stories kick in and you want to watch it again and again.

” All is Lost” – This is minimalism at its best, both script by J.C. Chandor, and performance by Robert Redford.

Best Director

(Alexander Payne, Bruce Dern, "Nebraska")

(Alexander Payne, Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”)

Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”

Spike Jonze, “Her”

Alfonso Guaron, “Gravity”

David O. Russell, “American Hustle”

Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”

Best Actor in a Leading Role

(Idris Elba, Mandela: "Long Walk from Freedom")

(Idris Elba, Mandela: “Long Walk from Freedom”)

  1. Chiwetel Ejiofor, “2 Years a Slave”
  2. Idris Elba, Mandela: “Long Walk from Freedom”
  3. Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
  4. Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”
  5. Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  1. Cate Blanchet, “lue Jasmine”
  2. Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
  3. Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”
  4. Judi Dench, “Philomena”
  5. Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

  1. Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
  2. Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
  3. Michael Fassbender,  “12 Years a Slave”
  4. James Gandolfini, “Enough Said”
  5. Matthew McConaughey, “Mud”

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

(Lupita Nyong’o, "12 Years a Slave")

(Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”)

  1. Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
  2. June Squibb, “Nebraska”
  3. Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
  4. Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
  5. Lea Seydoux, “Blue is the Warmest Color”

Best Screenplay – Original

  1. “Her,” Spike Jonze
  2. “Nebraska,” Bob Nelson
  3. “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  4. “American Hustle,” Eric Singer, David O. Russell
  5. “Blue Jasmine,” Woody Allen

Best Screenplay – Adapted



“12 Years a Slave,” John Ridley

“Philomena,” Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope





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