Best Picture - Drama
Winner - Before Midnight
Runners Up - Mud, 12 Years a Slave
Commentary - My favorite film of the first half, ended up being one of my favorites of year. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have created such believable, lovable, and authentic characters, and their journey over now three films, has been one of the most fascinating to watch over the last couple of decades. Richard Linklater's sensitive direction, and the trio's simply brilliant script have once again framed one of the most human dramas of modern cinema. I do hope they continue Celine and Jesse's story. It can only grow better with age.
Best Picture - Comedy/Musical
Winner - American Hustle
Runners Up - Nebraska, Enough Said
Commentary - There are a lot of movies out there that could be called a mess, but so few of those films would ever own up to such a status. But David O. Russell has a knack for making messy, ensemble-driven films. Only a truly skilled director, combined with an excellent cast could pull off such a film. Russell was successful with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook but I think that American Hustle is the best of them all, and knocks it out of the park. The story is supposed to be messy and dirty, I think it is what makes the film work. The cast is absolutely astonishing, each character nailing their performances with glee, and the whole enterprise is so funny, so entertaining, making it one of the best, darkest, yet funniest comedies in years.
Best Picture - Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror
Winner - Gravity
Runner Up - Star Trek Into Darkness
Commentary - Gravity is my favorite film of the year. It is a stunning piece of cinema that is visually compelling, brilliantly directed, led by one of the best performances of the year from Sandra Bullock, and manages to tug your heart strings with little dialogue. It is the 2001: A Space Odyssey for the new millennium and will be studied for years for its underlying messages, its groundbreaking use of technology, and its action-packed plot that is thoroughly entertaining.
Best Picture - Animated
Winner - Frozen
Runner Up - The Wind Rises
Commentary - In its canon, Disney has some of the greatest animated films of all time. Frozen may not make the top ten (it is very competitive), but you could have fooled me that this made was made in 2013. I would have thought that it was either a classic Disney feature, or one from its renaissance of the 1990's. Frozen really has sold itself short in its advertising, because it is a layered, funny, kid-friendly-yet-adult-worthy Disney film that is its best in years, and captures a new audience, in a classic-Disney way with stunning animation, beautiful songs, and a touching story. Another winner for the Mouse.
Best Actor - Drama
Winner - (TIE) Tye Sheridan "Mud" and Matthew McConaughey "Dallas Buyers Club"
Runners Up - Chiwetel Ejiofor "12 Years a Slave", Miles Teller "The Spectacular Now"
Commentary - It took a second viewing of Mud to realize that I had made a huge mistake not honoring Tye Sheridan in my Halfway Awards. But it is never too late to right a wrong, and Sheridan's win here is definitely worthy. Even at his young age, he proves himself as an incredible talent, and if the rest of his career trajectory reflects what we saw in Mud this year, then we are in for something special. His Mud co-star Matthew McConaughey has been having a career renaissance the last couple of years, and the star on top of his tree is his emotional, witty, and devastating performance in Dallas Buyers Club, which will most likely earn him his first Oscar nomination. A worthy honor for an actor that is finally proving his worth in modern American cinema.
Best Actress - Drama
Winner - Sandra Bullock "Gravity"
Runners Up - Julie Delpy "Before Midnight", Brie Larson "Short Term 12"
Commentary - Even for a genuine movie star like Sandra Bullock, it takes a knock-out performance and an incredible presence to be able to basically carry the movie yourself, as well as stand out in a visual effects driven film. And a knock-out performance is exactly what we got. Bullock was able to convey a heavy and complex emotional character despite little dialogue and a lot of action. It showcased just what a talent she is, that her Oscar was not a fluke or a joke, and that she is still one of the best actresses working today.
Best Actor - Comedy/Musical
Winner - Bruce Dern "Nebraska"
Runners Up - Christian Bale "Nebraska" and Oscar Isaac "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Commentary - I think that Bruce Dern is the dark horse contender for the Oscar. He really wants it, he is campaigning with so much energy, and he is an underground legend that has so many connections. But most importantly, he truly has the performance to back up a worthy Oscar win. Nebraska is another great Alexander Payne film, and Dern's performance as the delusional, heart-felt, and a bit gruff Woody Grant is the soul of a heartfelt piece of cinema.
Best Actress - Comedy/Musical
Winner - (TIE) Julia Louis-Dreyfus "Enough Said" and Amy Adams "American Hustle"
Runners Up - Greta Gerwig "Frances Ha"
Commentary - Such a tough race this year (seems even tougher than its drama counterpoint), a tie seemed necessary, and appropriate. Amy Adams is one of the best talents in film right now, and while her role in American Hustle is probably the least developed, she brings such an energy, a zeal, and a ferocity to the role that you soon forget it. She simply lights up the screen. But I also needed to find room for Julia Louis-Dreyfus. She has not done many films over her stellar television career, so when she decided to return to the big screen, I knew it had to be worth it. She was subtlety, yet profoundly funny, bringing such freshness and life to her character and connecting with Gandolfini in a memorable, and authentic romance.
Winner - Alfonso Cuaron "Gravity"
Runners Up - David O. Russell "American Hustle", Richard Linklater "Before Midnight", Jeff Nichols "Mud"
Commentary - As I have said before, Gravity was my favorite film of the year, and two particular people are the reason why. The first is Sandra Bullock (see above), and the other is Alfonso Cuaron. His vision is the reason that Gravity is such a stellar piece of cinema. His work to date has been great, but it is Gravity that really shows just what a talented and visionary he is, and an important voice in modern cinema. To be honest, this was practically a landslide, as he was the only name I really considered.
Best Supporting Actor
Winner - James Gandolfini "Enough Said"
Runners Up - Barkhad Abdi "Captain Phillips" and Jared Leto "Dallas Buyers Club"
Commentary - In case you didn't know, I am a sentimental S.O.B., and so part of this award goes to Gandolfini because of my heart. He was such an incredible actor, such an incredible presence, and this is probably the last time I will ever get to honor him (he has one more release in 2014). But even if Gandolfini had lived, I still think I would reward him for his compelling, funny, and wonderfully warm performance in Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said. It was a quiet performance, probably the most subtle of the bunch. But also, it was one of the most effective of the year.
Best Supporting Actress
Winner - Lupita Nyong'o "12 Years a Slave"
Runner Up - Jennifer Lawrence "American Hustle"
Commentary - A close race, as Lawrence is fantastic in Hustle, but in her first role, Lupita Nyong'o lives up to the hype, and is clearly deserving of all the recognition she is getting. She is devastating, and a powerhouse, representing a female perspective of slavery that is hard to watch, yet compelling, and is incredibly important character in the cultural discourse of American slavery.
Winner - American Hustle
Runners Up - Mud, Nebraska, and 12 Years a Slave
Commentary - The individual races were so close (Adams winning only in a tie), but the cast of American Hustle as a whole deserves as much recognition as it can get. These actors are simply on top of their game, they bring heavy fire power, and light up the screen with their sizzling chemistry, and wonderfully funny and dark performances. It has been a while since I have seen a cast fit so well together, and Hustle zings and sparks in an Altman-esque fashion.
Best Voice-Over Performance
Winner - Scarlett Johansson "Her"
Runners Up - Josh Gad "Frozen" and Kristen Bell "Frozen"
Commentary - I was not the biggest fan of Her. I think there is a lot to like there, but honestly, it feels a bit forced, and the final product, in my humble opinion, doesn't deserve all the hype. That being said, the hype surrounding Scarlett Johansson is worthy. Just using her voice, she conveys so much to the audience and to Phoenix's character. It takes a powerful, and committed work ethic to make a voice-only performance work to such a high degree, and Johansson nails it.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Winner - Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke "Before Midnight"
Runner Up - John Ridley "12 Years a Slave"
Commentary - This is a relatively weak year for the Adapted Screenplay race, so I am holding out hope that the Writer's branch will go to bat for this brilliant work of art from the director and stars of one of my favorite films of the year, Before Midnight. The script is so organic, realistic, and emotionally powerful, that the journey of Jesse and Celine has continued flawlessly, and I hope we see more chapters in this fascinating couple's life journey (maybe a remake of Amour?)
Best Original Screenplay
Winner - (TIE) Nicole Holofcener "Enough Said" and Bob Nelson "Nebraska"
Runner Up - David O. Russell and Eric Singer "American Hustle"
Commentary - A tough race between two of my favorite films of the year, so I decided why not reward both? Nebraska is the first film that Alexander Payne didn't write, and I wondered if it would gel as much as his previous efforts did. But Bob Nelson's script translated to the screen with ease, deftly combining the emotional struggles of aging with the black comedy in a winning adventure. But Nicole Holofcener also deserves recognition. I am not the biggest fan of romantic comedies, but the authenticity, the quirkiness, and the subtle emotional pull that Holofcener brings to her scripts is stunning, and romantic or not, the characters and real dialogue she created were enough for me to overcome my bias and enjoy.
Winner - Emmanuel Lubezki "Gravity"
Runner Up - Nebraska and Inside Llewyn Davis
Commentary - Some would argue that Lubezki doesn't deserve much credit, because it was the visual effects that carried the film. But Lubezki was the mastermind behind some of those incredible shots, and working closely with the visual effects team, they created the stunning visuals. He is a master of the cinematographic field, and Gravity is his latest masterpiece.
Best Visual Effects
Winner - Gravity
Runner Up - Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim
Commentary - Was there any other choice? The visual effects team behind Gravity, continued to push the boundaries of what was possible in film. More importantly, instead of using visual effects to distract from a crappy story, like so many of these effects-driven films do, Gravity's visuals only enhanced the quiet, yet emotionally effective story and performance from Sandra Bullock to simple perfection.
Worst Movie of the Year
Winner - The Lone Ranger
Runner Up - Movie 43
Commentary - I think that there were a lot of parts about The Lone Ranger that were top quality, particularly its technical achievements. But overall, it was just simply a huge catastrophe. It squandered its promise, and its talent both in front and behind the camera. It was a huge disappointment, a huge box office flop, and representative of the worst that 2013 had to offer.
Top 10 Films of 2013
2. American Hustle
3. Before Midnight
5. Enough Said
7. 12 Years a Slave
8. Captain Phillips
9. Fruitvale Station
10. The Spectacular Now
and the next ten for fun:
11.Inside Llewyn Davis
12. Short Term 12
13. The Wolf of Wall Street
14. Frances Ha
15. Stories We Tell
16. Dallas Buyers Club
18. August: Osage County
20. The Way, Way Back