For movie lovers and movie critics, the end of the year brings an avalanche of "best of" lists to analyze, pick apart, and argue over. Here at CT Movies, knowing that every critic and every movie lover brings different tastes, interests, and perspectives to the table, we've decided to take a different approach.
Each of our regular critics came up with a list of "best" films in categories of their own choosing, and we'll be running them over the next week. These aren't necessarily the year's best films, nor even the best movies these critics saw all year—just a sampling of the riches of 2013. We hope you'll find something to love.
Best Movie about Breaking the Family Curse
Writer-director Tommy Oliver told audiences at the Toronto Film Festival that the portrait of drug addict Shenae Brown was drawn from his own family experience. The steadfast Tim Brown (masterfully played by Hill Harper), conversely, was a conglomerate—a projection of the person he wished had been there to try to protect a child from a too-soon exposure to the problems of the adult world. Because of its Philadelphia setting, 1982 may get labeled or marketed as a "black" film. That would be a shame: family transcends all racial and socioeconomic boundaries, and the attempt to change the trajectory of a family is a narrative conflict that should be universally understood. See also: Saving Mr. Banks; Running from Crazy.
Best "Feel Good" Movie
Despicable Me 2
(Rated PG for rude humor and mild action)
This has been a great year for quality films, but the "feel good" movie has been conspicuously absent from most Top Ten lists, and for good reason. I asked for examples of quality "feel good" movies on social media and the replies I received from cinephile friends were either reaches (At the World's End) or flawed (Enough Said). Summer has been taken over by explosions and violent spectacle. Happy endings, even in traditional family fare (Frozen) must be tinged with loss or melancholy. Is Despicable Me 2 one of the ten best films of the year? No. But it is filled with people who love each and who take joy from that love. It is uncomplicated, entertaining, and happy.
Dallas Buyers Club
(Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use)
Film critics are a jaded bunch. Having been subjected to frequent doses of media manipulation, we tend to develop a suspicious (or even hostile) attitude towards any plays on our emotions. Movies that try to milk tears are spoken of in cold, legal terms. Did they earn their emotion? Those that succeed are resented for penetrating the iron armor. Yet humans are emotional as well as rational creatures, and our emotional responses—our laughter, anger, and tears—are the loudest external sign that a work of art is working.
Of the scores of films I screened this year, Dallas Buyers Club was the only one that made me cry. Other critical responses have been more measured, and critics appear content to categorize it as a performance piece, singling out Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto for stellar work. More than a period piece about the onset of the AIDS epidemic, Club is archetypal. Anyone, gay or straight, Christian or atheist, who has watched a loved one rage against the dying of the light will probably feel the film's emotional pull. What finally pushed me over the edge was a concluding scene that reminded us of the importance of having dreams to pursue. Life must be something more than holding death at bay for another day. It's what we do with each precious second that makes the day worth redeeming.