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Free Press movie critic Randall King rounds up his favourite films of 2013

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From left, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in


From left, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in "American Hustle."

It should be noted that none of my favourite films of 2013 made it to the top 10 box office hits of 2013.

That is not to say I don't appreciate a good piece of pop cinema. But my taste, like anyone else's, can be idiosyncratic and even persnickety. For example, as much as I appreciated the technical genius of Gravity, I didn't think Sandra Bullock's glum character was worthy of director Alfonso Cuaròn's mastery of the medium.

My main criterion, actually, is simply this: What films did I see this year that I am looking forward to seeing again?


Best '70s-set movie

American Hustle

In his followup to the inexplicable hit Silver Linings Playbook, director David O. Russell delivers a much more satisfying comedy-drama. It's based on the Abscam affair of the '70s, in which FBI agents drafted a reluctant con artist to help them net some big political fish. Christian Bale, sporting a bald spot and about 30 pounds of extra belly fat, plays the unlikely hero, Amy Adams is his mistress/partner/soulmate and, as the unhinged fed running the con, Bradley Cooper nails the preening peacock '70s male, including the neediness roiling beneath the ludicrous perm.


Best '70s-esthetic movie


This seriously funny movie is also a beautiful and affecting drama, delineating a long-delayed understanding between a father and son. Bruce Dern is at his career best as a prickly patriarch whose years of alcoholism and emotional neglect has deposited a wedge between him and his younger son, David (Will Forte). It takes a fool's errand -- attempting to cash in a mail-order company's promise of a million-dollar cash prize -- to bring the two together. Told with wit, sensitivity and economy by director Alexander Payne.


Best documentary

The Act of Killing

This astonishing doc could have simply functioned as an eye-opening look at Indonesia -- its horrifying past and its corrupt present -- but director Joshua Oppenheimer ups the ante. His subjects are the "gangsters" who readily and even gleefully killed hundreds of thousands of Communists, intellectuals and Chinese nationals in a 1965-66 purge under the military dictatorship of General Suharto. The old men are willing to stage their crimes in the visual lexicon of pop movies, with themselves playing variations of Hollywood gangsters, cowboys, and even musical stars. It is also an absolutely chilling display of how a culture of violence may breed monsters. In that, the viewer can not take any consolation that the issue is half a world or a half-century away.


Best docu-drama

Captain Phillips

Director Paul Greengrass has a bona fide Hollywood star (Tom Hanks) in the title role but hews very closely to a real-world style in telling the story of a modern-day act of piracy that gives equal time to the resourceful captain of a cargo ship and the Somali "captain" (Barkhad Abdi), whose ruthlessness is clearly a product of desperate poverty.


Best crime caper

The Wolf of Wall Street

In the shadow of the 2008 financial meltdown, Martin Scorsese offers a kind of corrective to his mob movies, suggesting maybe the guys in the sharkskin suits weren't as worrisome as the financial titans in the tailored suits, the suspenders and the Bulgari watches. Leonardo DiCaprio is downright jubilant as Wall Street upstart Jordan Belfort, a guy whose staggering greed in the '90s was a preview of coming attractions in the new millennium.


Best Canadian film

This Is the End

OK, admittedly, it's a Hollywood studio film, set in L.A. and shot in New Orleans. On its exterior, it's an end-of-the-world comedy offering a can't-miss blend of movie stars, bad behaviour, violent death, apocalyptic visuals and horror-movie tropes. But scratch the surface, and you might say it's about Canadians attempting to preserve their niceness in the face of American... not-niceness, from Canuck screenwriters/co-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Given the opportunity for a group of friends to engage in smirking, insider comedy la The Rat Pack, Rogen and Goldberg have crafted a surprisingly coherent, consistently funny piece of work.


Best local film

My Awkward Sexual Adventure

Director Sean Garrity and screenwriter-star Jonas Chernick have concocted an authentically funny comedy about a man (Chernick) who realizes he's a lousy lover and employs a knowledgeable stripper (Emily Hampshire) to teach him everything he needs to know about sex, but was too timid to ask. While the film's raunch has its laugh-out-loud rewards, Garrity and Chernick do not enter the theme of sexual exploration lightly.


Best reinvention


A couple of southern boys take refuge from the stresses of their fraught family lives by seeking adventure on the Mississippi River with a fugitive. Writer-director Jeff Nichols takes a premise that recalls Huckleberry Finn and delivers a coming-of-age story in the classic mould, wherein a boy attempts to negotiate his road to manhood and finds his path impeded by love, confusion, and very real peril. Speaking of reinvention, consider the work of former rom-com studmuffin Matthew McConaughey as a scraggly, sun-dried fugitive waiting for the love of his life, unfaithful white-trash goddess Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).


Best horror movie

You're Next

Director Adam Wingard gives us a setup beholden to The Strangers (2008), a home-invasion movie in which a couple's romantic weekend was ruined by a trio of remorseless psychos wearing creepy masks. Here, it is a fractious family discovering they're the ones being served up during an anniversary dinner at a remote country estate. The film trots out a few horror clichés, but when it counts, delivers pretty effective jolts, especially when it emerges the killers aren't as mysterious as believed. The characters aren't the usual slasher fodder either. If no masked psychos made an appearance, this family might have kept our attention under the banner of a mumblecore comedy or maybe even a solid indie drama.


Best summer movie

Pacific Rim

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro offers up an easily pitched concept movie: Transformers vs. Godzilla.

The giant robots -- dubbed Jaegers -- are built in response to attacks by gigantic reptilian monsters -- dubbed Kaiju. Obviously, a movie about robots vs. monsters is going for the broad strokes when it comes to entertainment value and del Toro delivers, especially in the film's colossal battle scenes at sea and on the rainy cityscapes of Hong Kong. But the devilish joy of the film is in its details, whether it's the rakish style choices of a black-market Kaiju body-parts merchant, the steampunk fixtures of a Russian-made Jaeger, or the increasingly fiendish biological defence mechanisms of those demonic Kaiju.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 27, 2013 D1

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