2013’s best movies part 2

By Karsten Burgstahler

And now, the conclusion of the Best of 2013 list…

#5: “The Way, Way Back” 

Sam Rockwell is another actor likely to be overlooked this year in his role as Owen in “The Way, Way Back.” He’s a supporting character to Duncan (Liam James), a teenager who learns to come out of his shell over a vacation at his mom’s jerk boyfriend’s summer home. Steve Carell plays the jerk, a role he owns despite playing against type. Rockwell plays Owen, a waterpark owner who gives Duncan a job and ends up becoming a father figure for him. “The Way, Way Back” captures the angst and worry of the teenage years without being melodramatic, and will make audiences remember both the good and bad times of adolescence. There wasn’t a better movie last summer.


#4: “Prisoners” 

The ‘90s were good to audiences in the thriller genre, giving films like “Se7en” and “Silence of the Lambs.” But Hollywood could not figure out how to replicate those powerful movies for more than a decade, until “Prisoners,” a master’s class in how to assemble a thriller, came out in September. “Prisoners” follows Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a man who finds his daughter and her friend has been kidnapped. After the cops fail to hold on to the prime suspect, a loner named Alex (Paul Dano), Dover convinces himself it’s his responsibility to break the man. Along the way Dover must contend with Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), who seems more interested in discovering Dover’s secrets than the missing girls. “Prisoners” moves gracefully from scene to scene, throwing off the audience’s scent until the final reveal. The ice-cold cinematography and the stunning performances make this one of the best thrillers in years.

#3: “12 Years a Slave” 

In “12 Years,” director Steve McQueen strips away anything that might romanticize the pre-Civil War south to tell the true tale of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in the north who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. The result is a brutal picture of slave owners who torture their victims just because they can, and a situation that, in the end, is hopeless, even if the audience is promised Northup’s eventual freedom. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the audience’s guide through the nightmare, and he deserves the Best Actor Oscar he’s likely to receive. The slave owners — Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch — are unhinged, even if they try to act composed. Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is captivating as Patsey, the object of Fassbender’s unwanted attention, and Paul Dano plays another creep here, this time as an overseer. It all makes for a movie audiences will probably watch through their fingers, but gives them the stark look at this dark mark on American history it needs to have.

#2: “American Hustle” 

David O. Russell is quickly becoming known for his big casts and heavy accents, and both fit quite well together here. They’re bonded by the best screenplay of the year and several over-the-top performances that show the cast was having just as much fun making the movie as audiences do watching it. Christian Bale and Christian Bale’s comb-over co-star as Irving Rosenfeld, a con man who works with Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) to grift thousands from desperate investors. After being caught by FBI agent Richie Di Masio (Bradley Cooper), the two are forced to work on a con targeting corrupt public officials. Jennifer Lawrence also stars as Rosenfeld’s neglected wife Rosalyn, and Lawrence chews the scenery with precision here; every time she’s on screen the movie is elevated three notches, not that it’s not already on high gear everywhere else. Every element of filmmaking — the score, the cast, the cinematography — matches like a complicated puzzle, and Russell keeps the movie flawless even as the con begins to unravel around his players.

#1: “Gravity” 


“Gravity” is the best case for movie theaters adding seatbelts to the chairs. That probably sounds cliche, but the movie is just as much a thrill ride as it is an example of master filmmaking. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are the only humans on screen, and even Clooney doesn’t get much screen time — as Dr. Ryan Stone, Bullock is left to her own devices to survive after debris destroys a shuttle she’s working on in space. Her quest for survival forces her to reflect on her own life and try to think of something even worth living for. Director Alfonso Cuaron’s camera floats along with the actors, resulting a 13-minute opening sequence absent of cuts and several stunning tracking sequences, including one where Bullock makes her way through a cramped space station that has caught fire. And while the camerawork may be by far “Gravity”’s most stunning asset, the movie works because Bullock plays the ultimate heroine. The audience is given something to live for through her, helping give humanity to the horror. It’s certainly been a great year at the movies, but “Gravity” is the movie no other studio will come close to replicating for years.

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @kburgstahler_DE, or 536-3311 ext. 254.