August: Osage County and This Year’s Top 10

August-Osage-County-movie-poster-2013-best-picture-oscarI’m somewhat baffled by the  response that August: Osage County has received by the critics. For me, it was the best film of the year, hands down. Better than Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, and several great films that were released. August: Osage County is electric with extraordinary dialogue rendered by actors who understood every fiber of their characters. Not a single person in this film felt false. While I wish I’d seen the stage play – as I heard it was extraordinary – of course some things would be lost from paring down a 3 hour play to a 2 hour film. But Tracy Letts, the writer for both, won a Pulitzer for this work, and rightly so. His mix of deep pain, wry moments and comic asides is masterful throughout, and I found myself deeply moved.

The dinner scene in this film is far more scary and tense than any horror film, because we are watching people tear at each other without mercy with words rather than any sort of bludgeoning tool.

Indeed, the dialogue and sentences in this film sparkle with intelligence and wit. The claustrophobic nature of the farmhouse is expertly crafted given that it’s surrounded by acres of nothingness. It’s one of the only films this year that I’d like to see twice.

So, here goes my 2013 Top Ten Films:

1. August: Osage County

2. The Place Beyond The Pines, The Dallas Buyers Club – The follies of men, and their need for redemption are expertly captured in these two films.

3. The Way Way Back

4. 12 Years A Slave – A very difficult film to watch that was undone slightly by the late cameo appearance of Brad Pitt.

5. The Kings of Summer – The three boys in the film are wonderful to watch as they navigate their summer away from responsibility only to find how responsible they must be to each other.

6. Gravity – The first 17 minutes and the ambiguous ending elevated this film over the rest of the film, which was merely exciting from the first frame to the last.

7. Her, Before Midnight – two important films about relationships, love, letting go, and the future.

8. Captain Phillips – the last 45 minutes of this film is harrowing stuff and brilliantly acted by Tom Hanks, whom I’d given up on.

9. Fruitvale Station

10. Blue Jasmine, Inside Llewyn Davis

So I really have a top 14 since there were ties and I didn’t want to leave them off the list. Caveat: I haven’t seen Nebraska or Short Term 12 yet, which are definitely on my to see list.

Worst film of the Year: The Wolf of Wall Street – an execrable waste of talent, money and time.

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The Place Beyond the Pines

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The Place Beyond the Pines, to me, is the first great film of 2013. Set in Schenectady, NY amid various classes and men, the film weaves together three generations, but aims at the relationships of fathers and sons.

Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) has made a minor epic propelled by stellar performances and a palpable dread that infuses almost every scene, which keeps you riveted for its entire running length of 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Eva Mendes, who has the difficult task of being almost the sole female in the cast, isbrilliant for being at a loss as to what to do about the circumstances she finds herself in and the deceit swirling around her.

I loved how the camera moved through the scenes: from the very first time we see Ryan Gosling almost glide with confidence from his trailer,through the carnival and into a tent, we watch how the director probes each scene for nuance whether it’s a tattoo or a dangling cigarette.

It’s novelistic in its approach, revealing characters and lives set in motion by tragedy. I hope it has a long life beyond the theater and will become a minor classic.