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Guest Column

The Best Films of 2013

Jon Plaut

Wednesday, January 1, 2014 • 7:44pm

My Best Films list starts with Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s latest.  Blue Jasmine is a combination of Street Car Named Desire and Wall Street, featuring the best female performance of the year by Cate Blanchett. 

Two very strong American movies featured male performances; Captain Phillips with wonderfully reserved acting by Tom Hanks as the hijacked captain of a freighter,  by Somali pirates. The interaction of the Somalis with the captain intrigues and Hanks’ forbearance in the role leads me to name him Best Male Actor in the same year he was nominated  for a Tony on Broadway for the play Lucky Guy.  James Gandolfini is equally outstanding in a somewhat smaller role in the comedy Enough Said. Mr. Gandolfini (famous for his portrayal of Tony Soprano) brings a subtlety to the role.  He died soon after making the film.

Two German films captivated me early in 2013: Barbara, about a German doctor caught in the web of East German-West German politics two decades ago, and Lore about a family trekking across Germany at the end of the Second World War.  Both movies were featured at the Roberts Chatham Cinema, which performs a tremendous service to our community in bringing us artistic films from all over the world.

Before Midnight is the third movie in a trilogy with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.  It is a charming, intelligent portrayal of modern people in love and yet selfish to their own desires.  Before Midnight is a close second for me for Best Picture. 

Two films about the African-American experience overwhelmed me this year.  The first is 42, about Jackie Robinson and his breaking in and changing society with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. The other is Twelve Years a Slave about a black Saratoga, New York, citizen, kidnapped and abducted into the Southern slave society. The film is brutal and chilling.  Both movies contain performances by Caucasian actors of note, Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in the movie about Jackie Robinson and Brad Pitt as an enlightened Southerner who comes to the aid of the abducted slave. 

American Hustle has much to recommend it, including performances by Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence in key roles in this drama/comedy about Abscam.  Christian Bales is inventive and convincing as the main schemer in this movie which goes from dark to lite.

Philomena is a serious and straight-forward story  about a lower-class Irish woman who seeks information about the baby taken away from her in a convent during the worst of the punitive religious era.  Judi Dench gives a strong performance in the lead role and reminds us of her great talent and range.

Two Matthew McConaughey movies excelled in 2013: Mud is the story of two boys and their adventures in Arkansas.  The Dallas Buyers Club is the true, if embellished story, of the early period of AIDS and the hysteria that surrounded it.  McConaaughey, who holds both films together,  may be our most versatile actor,

The first really good movie of 2013 I saw was Baz Lehrmann’s The Great Gatsby, a stylized version of the Fitzgerald novel, starring a very believable Leonardo DiCaprio. The last big movie released in 2013 by the Hollywood studio system is The Wolf of Wall Street, about the financial scandals that have beset America and which stars Mr. DiCaprio again.

Jon Plaut is a resident of Summit.  He is teaching a film and society course at Rutgers University (OLLI-RU) this spring.  

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