Film Feature: The 10 Best Films of 2013, Part Two

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Star5. “Blue Jasmine”

Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

As he did in Match Point (2005), American auteur Woody Allen explores economic class structure, but instead of London he comes home to the United States. It all centers on the character of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), the wife of a high flying New York City financier (Alec Baldwin). Jasmine loses her money and status when her hubby meltdowns like Bernie Madoff, and she is forced back to her middle class roots, moving in with her sister in San Francisco. There is delicate humanity in the film, as the brittle Jasmine is set against those who forgive her (her sister), those who reject her very presence (Ginger’s ex-husband, played to perfection by comic Andrew Dice Clay) and those who want to use her. Blanchett is amazing in capturing the nuances of Jasmine’s hell, and Allen’s script is a roller coaster ride of potential redemption and karma retribution. It’s a fascinating story the whole way through, within that special Woody Allen perspective.

HIGHLIGHT: Creating a subtle counterpoint for Jasmine is Sally Hawkins as her sister Ginger, who goes through a learning curve of her own.

Star4. “12 Years a Slave”

12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

There were three brave 2013 films that depicted life for African Americans in the United States over the years – “42,” the stark retelling of the Jackie Robinson story, “The Butler,” which symbolically covered the 1960s civil rights era and “12 Years a Slave,” which overtook the other two by presenting a brutally cold and honest view – by director Steve McQueen – upon a based-on-truth story of a African American free man who is kidnapped in the mid-1800s, and forced into slavery down South. The horrors of torture, rape and psychological beat downs that are met upon the slaves are portrayed starkly without tears, including the experiences of the captive Solomon, portrayed with guttural truth by Chiwetel Ejiofor. It is the type of important film that leads to questions like, “how can we cleanse the sins of our past, and allow that cleansing to redeem our future?”

HIGHLIGHT: Like a prisoner of war, Solomon took it upon himself to hold onto sanity in the midst of a virtual all-is-lost circumstance.

Star3. “Her”

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

I have seen the near future, and it is “Her.” In what is a natural step in the technological revolution process that we’re all going through, writer/director Spike Jonze imagines an operating system that becomes a companion. Joaquin Phoenix plays a relationship-challenged man who falls in love with the digital intelligence that exists to please him, and as in all relationships in which one partner develops faster and alternately than the other, it is doomed to difficulty. This science fiction exploration is also creepily familiar, as we gather our electronic devices and develop relationships with them. As machines are beating our human grandmasters in chess, who is to say that they won’t someday surpass us in other-worldly experiences? There is hope in Spike Jonze’s scenario, if only we’re willing to seek it.

HIGHLIGHT: Scarlett Johansson as the voice of the operating system. Between her portraying a put-upon Jersey girl in “Don Jon,” and creating character out of just voice acting in “Her,” it’s been a very good year for Scarlett J.

Star2. “The Patience Stone”

The Patience Stone
The Patience Stone
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Produced by Afghanistan, France, Germany and Britain in 2012, and garnering a limited release in the U.S. in 2013, this emblematic cinema survey of religion, war and women’s societal status is stunning in what it accomplishes. It’s a story set in a war zone, the type of war zone that the United States has become very familiar with in the last ten years. A soldier, who is also a husband, has been shot and injured, and is in a vegetative state. As his wife and child must flee as the street fighting comes to their home, the wife comes back to care for her stricken mate. To pass the time, she uses the non-responsive companion as a “patience stone,” the symbolic inanimate object that absorbs all of her confessions. The secrets that are revealed are indicative of a woman’s plight in such a time and place, and the truth that spills forth changes everything. Director Atiq Rahimi adapted her own novel, and visualizes the story as an evolution revolution, and uses her woman character (Golshifteh Farahani) as all women.

HIGHLIGHT: When the patience stone breaks apart.

StarNumber One. “The Wolf of Wall Street”

The Wolf of Wall Street
The Wolf of Wall Street
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

Another classic from director Martin Scorsese, this film takes on the real “goodfellas” in society, the robber barons of Wall Street. Based on a true story, it flashes back to the go-go 1980s, when financial regulations were softened to the point of moneymen simply stealing funds or making up new ways to steal funds – which was the foundations for the current financial manipulations. Leonardo DiCaprio slam dunks the role of stock trader Jordan Belfort, a blistering amoral soul who lives for the accumulation of wealth and all the highs that come with it. The film has already caused debate in the marketplace as being too glorifying of psychotic behavior, but ladies and gentleman, behold our financial “leaders,” for the most part playing the role of greedy sociopaths. Like when Martin Scorsese broke down the motivations of organized crime (money), he does the same – and in the same grand style – with the motivations of our so-called captains of Wall Street (money). This film will echo down the corridor of Scorcese’s overall history.

HIGHLIGHT: The selling point of a ballpoint pen as a bookend for before the beginning – as they said in “Citizen Kane” – and after the end of Jordan Belfort.

Click the links to read Patrick McDonald’s long form reviews of Be Good, Running from Crazy, Blue Jasmine and The Patience Stone, plus interviews with Todd Looby of “Be Good” and Mariel Hemingway of “Running from Crazy.” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

Noel O's picture

Patrick McDonald's Top Ten of 2013

I was surprised to see Spring Breakers on Patrick McDonald’s top ten list, so I checked it out. It was not what I expected at all. Much darker and funnier. Thanks for letting me know it would be 90 minutes well spent.

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