By Pamela Zoslov
Here's a quick rundown of films I liked, wanted to like, loved, felt sorry for, or just plain hated in 2013.
Crème de la Crème
I've heard critics dismiss Alexander Payne's NEBRASKA, maybe because it just seems too “easy,” or too corny, or too rural, or something. I don't get it. For me, the story is not the narrative of an old man who thinks he's won a big sweepstakes prize, but the space between the lines of dialogue, the things not said, the barren Plains landscape and the people shaped by it. With its flatland simplicity, stark monochrome cinematography and finely shaded tragicomic screenplay, I think it epitomizes the Great American Film. I wasn't all that fond of Payne's films that followed his coruscating 1999 ELECTION – cared little for SIDEWAYS, even less for THE DESCENDANTS. NEBRASKA, though, is a revelation. Payne, a very humanistic director, helped shape Bob Nelson's fine screenplay into something transcendent. Payne's deep sympathy and his preference for casting non-professionals in smaller roles gives the film a quietly moving authenticity. I don't envy Academy voters having to choose Best Actor in a field as crowded as this year's. In an ordinary year, the prize would unquestionably be Bruce Dern's.
Also masterfully done, with superb performances: FRUITVALE STATION; DALLAS BUYERS CLUB; AMERICAN HUSTLE; MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB also hasn't gotten the attention it deserves; I loved its gritty style. MANDELA, which is exceptionally well made, has been damned with faint praise. For example, a New Orleans Times Picayune reviewer named Mike Scott, reprinted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, sighed and pronounced it “like homework.” Well, Mike, some people need to do homework.
BLUE JASMINE; LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER
Underrated, Overlooked or Unfairly Maligned
SHORT TERM 12; THE WAY WAY BACK; WHAT MAISIE KNEW; THE SPECTACULAR NOW, 42 (the Jackie Robinson movie); PHILOMENA
Overrated and Overpraised
12 YEARS A SLAVE; ALL IS LOST; INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Flawed But Interesting
THE GREAT GATSBY; ENOUGH SAID; THIS IS THE END; BLACK NATIVITY; THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES; AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY; GREENWICH VILLAGE: THE MUSIC THAT DEFINED A GENERATION; BEFORE MIDNIGHT
We Expected So Much More
GIRL MOST LIKELY; THE FIFTH ESTATE; ADMISSION
It Doesn't Get Much Worse
THE HANGOVER PART III; THE BIG WEDDING; IDENTITY THIEF; AUSTENLAND; THE COUNSELOR; THE INTERNSHIP
Dumb, dumb stuff that I turned my brain off and enjoyed:
JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA; ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES