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Top 13 Best Movies Of 2013

that's high praiseOnce again, I’ve shared what my preference of movies were from last year, the films I’d rather watch again due to my own taste or personal reaction. But what about the films that objectively stood out among the rest? What about the films that, even if they were absent from my favorites, were clearly achievements in their own right either through technical or emotional craft? Here’s a brief rundown of the best films of the year, the only films this years that came close to the greatness of Nic Cage’s filmography.
But before we get started, let’s honor the runners-up. Counting down to the list are Blue JasmineNebraskaAll Is Lost, The Way Way Back, Frozenand The World’s End.

13. Saving Mr. Banks: Just missing out on my favorites, this true story about the making of the film adaptation of Mary Poppins is made just as interesting and magical as the film itself by smooth storytelling and several great performances, including Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, and the sorely overlooked Colin Farrell.

12. The Conjuring: A film that’s rated R for being too scary, The Conjuring brings back the vibe of classic horror movies when it was about tension and atmosphere rather than nudity or body counts. You’ll feel uneasy going into your basement from now on.

11. Captain Phillips: Paul Greengrass reminds us yet again why he is a master of this genre with this true story of the hijacking of a cargo ship by Somali pirates, bolstered by a visceral sense of realism and a spectacular lead performance by Tom Hanks.

10. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug: While still not as perfect or resonant as Lord Of The Rings, this latest installment in The Hobbit trilogy is full of fun action sequences and an immersive world. Not to mention a fantastic villain in the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch.

9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: The closest we’ve gotten to the greatness of the last Harry Potter movie in the Young Adult genre, Catching Fire reignites excitement for future installments with a darker tone, exciting action, and fantastic performances, especially from lead actress Jennifer Lawrence in a career best performance.

8. Lone Survivor: Overtly patriotic, but still a tense, hard to watch action thriller about the true story of a team of Navy SEALS who were pinned down by Taliban soldiers, held together by a deep respect for the brotherhood and bond that these men shared.

7. Star Trek Into Darkness: If anything, it just gets me more excited for JJ Abram’s Star Wars, but this film still works as a cool sci-fi film, an emotional character story, and an homage to previous Star Trek episodes and films. Not to mention a fantastic villain in the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch.

6. Dallas Buyers Club: People are so caught up on the admittedly fantastic performances that they miss out on the rest of the film. The story of a man stricken with AIDS who creates the Dallas Buyers Club is just as fascinating and well executed as the three leads.

5. Mud: Another Matthew McConaughey film, this coming of age tales of a 14-year-old boy helping a fugitive evade the law and reconnect with his true love, driven by his own young sense of love, is a dramatic, gritty, and even sometimes touching movie.

4. The Place Beyond The Pines: If not just to admire the unconventional structure, this dramatic tale of fathers and sons is expertly crafted and filled with fantastic performances all around that give the film a realistic touch.

3. Prisoners: An emotionally draining and nerve-wracking film to watch, Prisoners’ tale of a father and a cop working separately o find two missing girls is dark and relentless.

2. The Wolf Of Wall StreetA thoughtful comedy that could have been a throwaway film is brought to life by Martin Scorsese’s energetic, youthful direction and a cast led by an unstoppable Leonardo DiCaprio.

1. Gravity: A groundbreaking masterpiece as well as another thoughtful, emotional journey, held together by Alfonso Cuarón’s vision and Sandra Bullock’s powerful performance, Gravity will dazzle your eyes and your heart.

And just to finish off, here’s my video tribute to (almost) all the films of last year.

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drive-angry-3d-explosion-nicolas-cage-hair-highlights-carSweet bacon and eggs, there were some good ones this year. Picking my favorites of the year always feels harder than picking what I think are the best of the year. While some films are arguably better than others (like every Nicolas Cage movie ever made), there’s always those movies that stick with you in a certain way. Movies that make you laugh, cry, or just leave you entertained for two hours. Even if it’s a film I responded to emotionally or otherwise to, there might be another movie that has more rewatch value. If you’re stuck on a desert island, are you bringing The Place Beyond The Pines or Furious 6? I could have made a list of my thirty favorite or even forty favorite movies of last year and still felt some were missing. Of course, some major disappointments would have been absent like American Hustle or A Good Day To Die Hard. Really? I mean, really?
But on a positive note, there were some films this year that just made me happy to be a movie-goer. There are those movies that come out of nowhere like 42 or Fruitvale Station which I adored. Those movies that you expect to be horrible and leave you thrilled afterwards like World War Z or Olympus Has Fallen. Then there’s always those sequels that pop onto the screen and actually surpass their predecessor like Riddick or The Wolverine. Then there’s those little films to balance out your year like PhilomenaBlue JasmineSaving Mr. Banks, and Nebraska, which all just missed the cut by a hair.
Special shout out to Sharknado which is technically a TV movie. It doesn’t mean I love you any less, you ridiculous piece of shit.

EDIT: Had I seen Frozen before I initially made this list, it probably would have found a spot somewhere. What a wonderful movie.

Here we go!

theconjuringposter13. The Conjuring: Lucky 13. After scaring our socks off in 2011 with Insidious, which felt like an homage to more inventive horror films like Poltergeist, director James Wan came out swinging with The Conjuring, which felt more like classic 70s horror movies like The Amityville Horror or The Exorcist. A film based on tension and atmosphere, it’s the only horror movie I can think of that, for me at least, felt scarier the second time around. Focusing on the alleged true story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, most famous for investigating the aforementioned Amityville house, taking on a small family in the middle of nowhere with a malevolent force making their life a living hell. Rated R despite having no nudity, and no violence or language found in anything above a PG-13, The Conjuring earns its adult rating for being classically unsettling, and boy does it earn it.

lone_survivor_xlg12. Lone Survivor: A spot I was sure another favorite, Captain Phillips, would take, Lone Survivor is another tension filled, recent true story of survival with a palpable sense of humanity. We follow a group of four SEALS played by Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch, who are sent out into the mountains of Afghanistan to take out a high-ranking Taliban leader. But when their position is compromised, they find themselves outnumbered in a fight to survive. It’s a relentless action thriller that never forgets what it is, a film about brotherhood and the will to do what is right and what is necessary. Whether or not the film is completely realistic, I felt myself thrown into the situation and feeling the dread that the characters were feeling. Having trekked similar terrain near where the film was shot, I can only imagine how much harder it would have been if I were being shot at. Now the film at times feels overtly patriotic, which is obviously from director Peter Berg’s deep respect for the military. And whether or not it’s truly earned, is honoring our troops a bad thing?

thor the dark world poster11. Thor: The Dark World: Coming only a few months later and removing Man Of Steel as my favorite superhero movie of the year, Thor: The Dark World also replaces The Avengers as my favorite Avenger movie. Building on Thor’s growth as a character and as a leader, and Loki’s complex nature and absurdly likable villainy, as well as their dynamic together, this movie throws them into a much more immersive, creative, and ultimately more exciting film than its predecessor. While Thor was bound by the formula of an origin story, this film is free to explore the world of Asgard as well as its history and many enemies. There’s much more depth in this film than in any of the last few Avengers movies, finding its voice in its unique world. Not to mention some seriously kick-ass action ending in a fight to rival even Superman vs. Zod in Man Of Steel. And one more thing… dat twist.

Hobbit_the_desolation_of_smaug_ver15_xlg10. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug: I haven’t seen every movie dragon of all time, but I’m pretty sure Smaug is up there with the best. Now the film may not be as tight or memorable as a whole as Lord Of The Rings, and it may have been too long (no “may have been,” it was too long) but to say I was ever bored would be a gross falsity. The film only fed the flame that is my love of Middle Earth and all these films have to offer. Introducing new parts of the world I would have never imagine being part of this world, yet making it seem like a natural extension, it works as a solid installment. Not to mention some familiar faces as well as some welcome new ones, like Tauriel, a warrior elf played by Evangeline Lilly who just walked into my life. She may have been the standout, even with her Partner Legolas being a badass in ways we haven’t seen before, but that doesn’t take away from Martin Freeman’s unfailingly great portrayal of Bilbo. Then throw him in a scene with Benedict Cumberbatch playing a dragon and a chase down the river involving barrels and you have some of the most exciting action scenes in recent years.

prisoners-poster9. Prisoners: Damn. Replacing The Place Beyond The Pines as my favorite gritty drama of the year, Prisoners is a dark, intense tale of two men and their families coping with e abduction of their daughters, and the cop who’s dedicated to finding them. Television has been overly saturated in the last twenty to thirty years with shows that deal with this subject matter, so some elements may feel familiar, but that doesn’t stop this movie from being an emotionally draining experience with no sure outcome. With outstanding performances from the cast, a confident script, steady direction, and beautiful photography from Roger Deakins, Prisoners left me breathless. And that last thirty seconds brilliant.

0001_mud_poster8. Mud: Another film that not only came out of nowhere, but I had no clear idea what it was, Mud joins Warm Bodies as one of my favorite surprises of the year. Although very different in style, Mud is the story of 14-year-old Ellis who, with help from his friend Neckbone, helps a fugitive named Mud evade the police and reunite with his true love, whore- I mean Juniper. Speaking of, Reese Witherspoon is such a good actress that she made me hate Reese Witherspoon. Now the film’s marketing was based around Matthew McConaughey as the prominent supporting character, Mud, but this is young Tye Sheridan’s movie as Ellis. A remarkably subtle performance for a young actor, he shows an innocence underneath his blind confidence. Ellis’ young ideas of love are what motivate him to help Mud and are ultimately what lead to devastation. The film is almost nothing like the crime thriller that the ads would certainly lead you to believe it is, but it works even better at what it really is, a great coming of age story.

the-way-way-back-poster17. The Way Way Back: Another coming of age story, although very different from Mud. Whereas Mud is more in keeping with some harsh truths with rays of light here and there like The Spectacular NowThe Way Way Back is more in keeping with The Kings Of Summer which is more rays of light with some harsh truths here and there. Now The Way Way Back is a very good, very entertaining film about another 14-year-old who, Duncan, goes with his mom and her boyfriend to a beach house for the summer. He’s your typical awkward kid who’d treated like shit by her mom’s boyfriend and hid daughter, but you feel for him. His mom doesn’t quite pick up on the problems that her son is facing even though she tries, and her boyfriend doesn’t care or realize that he is the problem. So Duncan takes refuge in a water park where he meets Owen played by Sam-good-God-damn-give-this-man-an-award-Rockwell. Rockwell steals the show and give this movie the edge over Mud for me. Owen helps give Duncan the confidence to get a job, meet a girl, stand up to his mother’s boyfriend, and not be such a sad sack all the time. Plus, with a supporting cast like Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry, and Maya Rudolph, how can you not like it?

1322166. The World’s End: I’m not gonna lie, when I first saw it, I liked it, but I didn’t think it stacked up next to their last two films, Shaun Of The Dead or Hot Fuzz, or even the year’s earlier end of the world comedy (and another favorite) This Is The End. But, much like with Shaun and Fuzz, when you watch it again, you pick up on little things and the film starts to appear tighter and tighter and just that much better. Simon Pegg, in my favorite performance of the year, plays Gary King. When Gary gets his old friend back together to complete a pub crawl they didn’t finish in High School, things don’t seem to be able to get worse… until they discover the town has been taken over by alien robots. You know, typical night out drinking stuff. The film is unfailingly clever, full of detail, fun, funny, full of heart, and even sad at times. The unsurprising amount of depth in the film set off by its relentless comedy make this easily one of my new favorite comedies.

star_trek_into_darkness_poster_enterprise5. Star Trek Into Darkness: Simon Pegg, keep being in stuff so I can keep putting them on my list. After blowing our socks off with the fresh and genre revitalizing Star Trek, JJ Abrams is at it again with Star Trek Into Darkness. While suffering from sequel-itis, the film doesn’t quite feel as fresh as the first one, but it still retains all the same fun and great characters of the first film. While the characters have certainly found a groove as far as operating the Enterprise, they’re still learning and continue to figure out each other. Friendships are strained or even lost at times, and its made even worse when they go after terrorist John Harrison. Screw it, he’s Khan. Can I call him Khan? Spoiler: he’s Khan. But if you didn’t know that by now, Edward Norton and Brad Pitt are the same person and Snape kills Dumbledore. A great villain and some great action scenes including a sequence that involves two characters navigating a debris field in space and two Starships facing off against each other. Sign me up for part 3.

ff6-new-movie-poster4. Furious 6: Don’t judge me, I’m only human. I don’t care what you say, I love these movies. And what’s even more, I love them on a legitimate level as well. I’ve grown to care about the characters, I like the different directions the series has taken, and the chemistry between the cast is a lot of fun to watch. But let’s not beat around the bush, the reason most people go to see these movies is for the actions scenes. And Holy tits on a pancake are they good in this movie. As far as practical action scenes go, these films are certainly among the best of the last decade or so for the sheer skill involved and the excitement they emit. That one sequence in particular everyone is talking about, final chase scene involving the Antonov on the longest runway on the planet, was not only breathtaking, but I had to pee the whole time. Talk about tension. Now having grown attached to these character and caring about them on a legitimate level, I was deeply saddened by the passing of Paul Walker in a way I had never felt before with a celebrity death. But to find a happier way to look at it, with the level of enjoyment I felt with this film and the boisterous energy of the theater crowd, Furious 6 was the best theater experience I ever had I like knowing that he was a part of that. Speaking of, I really did have a great crowd, that one stunt in particular at the end of the tank chase had people going f***ing bananas. You know the one. And that cameo at the end has me pumped for the next film.

MV5BMjIxMjgxNTk0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjIyOTg2MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_3. The Wolf Of Wall Street: Something tells me that D.A.R.E never told Jordan Belfort to “just say no.” The Wolf Of Wall Street is an excessive, debaucherous film about excessiveness and debauchery. So I guess you can call it a success. The film could have been a very intelligent, serious film about Wall Street in the 90s, but Martin Scorsese’s decision to keep the film more in keeping with the proper tone of the story and characters and make it as wild and offensive as possible, was not only the right call, but a dangerous one as well. Under a less gifted filmmaker, the film could have been nothing but the type of parties and wildness you see in Seth Rogen movies, especially considering Jonah Hill pops up eventually, but the film has a clear point to it. This film had me laughing every bit as hard as I did during films like The Heat, but never forgot the dramatic, human side of the story. Throw on top of that Leo’s electric performance that feels like a one man stadium rock band, and the film is not only a great, smart film, but easily the fastest three hours of 2013.

thehungergams-catchingfire-ukposter2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Forget Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence is The Girl On Fire. In a performance that is far superior to her overrated turn in American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence brings the character to life again in what is easily, for me, the most satisfying movie of the year, based on expectation and previous disappointment. Not that I didn’t like the first film, I did very much, but it was missing a few things. Things that this film got right. Francis Lawrence, a director not exactly known for making great films, expands upon Gary Ross’ vision in the first film and makes this one darker, heavier, and ultimately much more tragic. The actors are in top form, the tension is high, the action is exciting, the tone much scarier and daunting, and the set and costume design can rival even those of the visually stunning The Great Gatsby, another film I highly enjoyed. I absolutely loved this film, which is saying a lot. I often am more critical of adaptations than I want to be, even having problems with great films such as The Shining. But any film that garners such a profound emotional response from me deserves praise.

gravity_xlg1. Gravity: There were times in this film where I found myself hyperventilating, sucking in as much precious oxygen as I could. Before I go any further, I have to get very serious right now and look you in the eye. This film… is a masterpiece. Despite the emotional and thematic weight of the film, the three-dimensional characters, Bullock’s intense and heartbreaking performance, and the visual metaphors that people either don’t see, see and appreciate, or see and call obvious, the film is such a technical achievement that even me, someone who frequently studies behind the scenes of films, was left wondering, “how’d they do that?” I spent the money to commute into the city, and then plopped down even more so I could see it in IMAX 3D, and prepared myself to be blown away. And guess what? I felt like I was in space. Even with extremely high expectations, I was not let down. The film was beautiful to look at, made my palms sweaty, and made my eyes water. It’s a seemingly simple film about two astronauts who survive the destruction of their space shuttle and have to find their way home. Similar in ways to the one man show and dialogue free All Is Lost in its simple premise but expert execution. Thrillers nowadays have to have multiple twists and turns or have to try to be something unforgettable or profound and usually fail. This film shows that sometimes the simplest story can be the most engaging, and that the characters themselves and subtle visual elements can be what make is unforgettable and profound. Alfonso Cuarón has created a groundbreaking film that has set the bar the same way Avatar did several years earlier. It pushes the boundaries of what is possible with film, but never forgets to connect with an audience and boy does it do it. Gravity is a wonder to behold and is, in simplest terms, why we go to the movies.

Top Ten Performances Of 2013

NicCageAs most of planet Earth knows, Nicolas Cage is the greatest actor of all time. His subtlety, his grace, his complete originality, and the will to put the pedal to the metal and give 150% when it’s not needed. Most actors spend their entire career trying to reach this level of sheer craft, greatness, and bees. Some actors come close and give great, memorable performances that resonate deeply and affect us in ways we didn’t think were possible in a non-Nicolas Cage film. Last year, we were privy to many such performances. The ability these actors show to crawl under the skin of a character and inhabit the world of another person with not only ease, but a believability that many actors strive and fail to accomplish, is astounding. I’ve decided to leave Nicolas Cage off this list because it would be unfair to the other actors. If you had told me months ago that actors like Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness, Steve Coogan in Philomena, Hugh Jackman in Prisoners and The Wolverine, Jennifer Garner in Dallas Buyers Club, Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, or the three leads in The Place Beyond The Pines, Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Dane DeHaan wouldn’t make this list, I would have told you to shove off, melon farmer. But there were some performances that stood out in ways that were hard to ignore. Performances like Robert Redford in All Is Lost, who just, just missed the cut. With zero other actors and only two or three lines spoken on camera, Redford displayed wonderful instincts as an actor as the sailor lost at sea. With some information we get from a message in a bottle paired with his behavior in the film, actions, reactions, lack of reactions, we begin to build a character in our head, while also leaving it vague enough for us to project ourselves into the character if we feel it necessary. It’s a perfect example of showing character through action rather than dialogue, and he was criminally overlooked at the Oscars. I sort of cheated there, you might as well call Redford #11, but I couldn’t resist. Anyway, now on to the top ten performances of 2013.

emma-thompson-saving-mr-banks10. Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks): We all (hopefully) remember watching Mary Poppins as a kid. Emma Thompson plays E.L. Travers, author of the book on which Mary Poppins was based. We see the odyssey of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks, who may show up later on this list) trying to get page to screen with Travers vetoing almost every move. It’s a terribly funny performance while also grounded in a real, dramatic base. She’s strong and willful, never willing to make a sacrifice unless totally won over, but also shows a sense of vulnerability. Not the kind you see when an actor cries in privacy or snaps under pressure, she keeps it just under the surface, hidden from the other characters, but just barely hidden from us, the audience. She keeps her half of the film in balance with Colin Farrell giving a heartbreaking performance in the flashback section, giving further depth to Thompson to work off of, keeping her from being a total bitch, which she easily could have been. You end up feeling sympathy for her. In the end, we get a wonderful, and even heartwarming performance in one of my favorite films of the year.

1373039350054.cached9. Sam Rockwell (The Way Way Back): Sam Rockwell is awesome. Next. OK, fine, I’ll go on. This guy owns it, and I don’t just mean the water park that most of the film takes place in, I mean the movie. Sam Rockwell as Owen, the water park manager who befriends the frequently belittled Duncan (Liam James) is a much-needed dose of pure comedy and delight in the main character’s initially miserable summer. Sam Rockwell’s delivery of Nat Faxton and Jim Rash’s dialogue is fast and full of energy. He brings an immense likability and charm covering a deeper person who, much like Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks, is hinted at enough to serve the character, but not so overtly that it distracts from the story. It needs to be believable that this character can turn Duncan around and help him build such strong self-confidence in one summer, and boy does he do it. He’s usually the scene-stealer in any movie he’s in, much like the previous year’s overlooked Seven Psychopaths, and here he proves again why he’s one of the best working actors that never gets the credit he deserves. Well I love ya, Mr. Rockwell.

PRISONERS8. Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners): Talk about drama. Gyllenhaal plays the detective looking for the kidnapped daughters of Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello, and Terrence Howard and Viola Davis. It was clear from the trailers that Hugh Jackman was going to give a killer performance, which he did. But little did I expect Gyllenhaal to swoop right in and be the best I’ve ever seen him. The role of the detective could have easily been the placeholder character whose only responsibility is to be a nuisance to Jackman’s efforts to find his daughter while also taking part in obligatory foot chases and clue discoveries. But Gyllenhaal brought a realism to the role, a quality we’ve all seen in real cops, as well as a determination to the character that creates a person just as compelling, if not more so, than the father coping with the loss of his daughter. It’s the subtle performance next to Jackman’s heartbreakingly agonizing, big performance, which makes it even more impressive that he stands out. A terrific performance that keeps the procedural side of the film just as compelling as the emotional side.

download7. Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave): In what I can only call the heart and soul of the movie, Nyong’o brings a human touch to the brutality in the film as the slave being sexually abused by plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) and physically and psychologically abused by his wife Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulson) to balance out the historical brutality of the film. The fact that this is Nyong’o’s first film is nothing short of remarkable. Heartbreaking and tragic, Nyong’o made me feel more for her supporting character than Chiwetel Ejiofor’s lead character, not to demean his impressive performance. I’ve said that the strongest parts of the film were supporting aspects or were brushed over, and this is the best example of that. Caught in the middle of a couple’s loveless marriage and being able to do nothing about it, legally or otherwise, Nyong’o shows a strength dripping in vulnerability with such skill, it’s hard to believe she hasn’t had dozens of films under her belt.

?????????????????????????6. Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips): Some actors become such big stars or such big personalities, that you forget that they are, or used to be, great actors. When was the last time you saw a Tom Hanks movie and saw someone other than Tom Hanks. It sure as hell wasn’t Larry Crowne. Tom Hanks is a big star in a docudrama style thriller, he easily could have overshadowed the film with his star power or overwhelmed the believability. But he comes on the scene with such a tuned in realism and uncommon calm in the face of danger in films like this, you almost immediately believe him to be a real person, the captain of a ship taken over by Somali pirates before being taken hostage himself in their lifeboat. You almost get so used to his subtle, real performance that you forget he can pack a serious emotional punch, and that last five minutes had me in tears unlike anything I’ve experienced since The Impossible. I can safely say, without even having to have seen every film that he has done, that this is one of his very best performances, maybe even his best since Forrest Gump. And boy do I love Forrest Gump.

???????????????5. Simon Pegg (The World’s End): Much like with Sam Rockwell earlier on this list, comedy acting rarely gets the credit it deserves. After all, comedy acting is acting, too. I’d like to see Daniel Day Lewis pull this off. Pegg’s performance as Gary King, the alcoholic loser obsessed with reliving the past with old friends who can’t stand him is funny, engaging, non-stop, and as we see the film progress, tragic. While doing a pub crawl called the Golden Mile (12 pubs, 12 pints) in their hometown of Newton Haven which turns out to have been taken over by evil alien robots filled with blue stuff, Pegg stays sharp as a tack, even if Gary King does not. Almost everything that comes out of his mouth is hilarious, even when a lot of it stems from a depressing self-loathing that he can’t seem to get over. Full of heart and dedication, and comically flawless, Pegg gives a performance that most actors wish they could pull off.

blue jasmine4. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine): Holy… crap. How can a character like the snobby, selfish, rude, alcoholic, pretentious, and slightly crazy socialite Jasmine French be so tragically sympathetic? I’ll tell you how. Cate Blanchett, that’s how. Throughout the film she belittles her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), she manipulates a perfectly nice man who can help her, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), defends her scoundrel husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) and estranges her son Danny (Alden Ehrenreich). So in that last scene of utter defeat, why do we feel sorry for her? That is the brilliance of Blanchett. She injects an empathy towards the character, and because she feels it, we feel it. She brings to the surface the simple fact that she is unequipped for the real world and when the things that make her happy disappear, she can’t handle it, emotionally or psychologically. But that doesn’t stop her from being an unstoppable force of acting. Her performance is fast and furious and she infuses the character with such an irresistible power that it’s almost impossible not to root for her.

GRAVITY3. Sandra Bullock (Gravity): I went back and forth with Bullock and Blanchett, switching them back and forth, toying with the idea of a tie, all up until the last-minute, and really I could have gone either way. But I gave the edge to Bullock because she’s just as captivating and powerful all but on her own. Sure George Clooney is there for a while, but for the most part, it’s just her. Playing astronaut Ryan Stone in her first time in space, she brings a realistic terror and strength in a character who not only has no hands on experience in a situation like this, namely satellite debris taking out her ship and her crew (minus one hunky Clooney), but who also feels she has nothing to live for once she survives the dangers of space, having suffered great personal tragedy. You get pieces of her story here and there, just enough to feed the character without becoming exposition, while also fueling the character in the admittedly sensational action sequences. Not only does Bullock have to balance her performance with the information given as well as the strong thematic backing that director Alfonso Cuarón gives her to work off of, but she also has to overcome the dazzling effects and not become lost in a sea of visual splendor. Her strength overcoming her vulnerability and her fear is seamless and effective, especially given the fact that the movie is so short. She gives a human element to the film that’s so strong, I may have shed a tear or twenty.

DALLAS-BUYERS-CLUB2. Matthew McConaughey & Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club): Much like with Blanchett and Bullock, I was going back and forth with this one until I realized the benefit of them being in the same movie: the chemistry between the two actors is just as important as to what they brought to their individual performances. McConaughey takes a character who should be unlikable like Ron Woodroof, a homophobic rodeo rider who discovers he has AIDS and still acts homophobic (a common trait in 1986), and makes him likable by bringing a relatable quality to him. He nails the denial, the anger, the charm, and the eventual turnaround. Ignoring the fact that he lost weight, McConaughey completely gives himself to the character and creates a compelling lead. A performance only strengthened when Woodroof starts the Dallas Buyers Club, a place for other AIDS patients to seek help that they can’t get from hospitals through certain legal loopholes, and becomes business partners with Rayon (Jared Leto) and HIV+ transvestite. His initial homophobia creates some genuine comedic moments between the two, but Leto creates such a gentle quality in the character that makes it impossible for even Woodroof not to like him. Leto also gives himself completely to the character, there were times where I forgot he was a man, so I was thrown off guard when he was referred to as “him.” Special props to Jennifer Garner as well who just missed the list, the three of these actors give the best performances of their careers (so far) and make a film that could have been a dry period piece into so much more.

???????????????????????1. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf Of Wall Street): Holy good God damn Jesus on a wheat cracker, he was good. Another example of a character who shouldn’t be likable but is, Leo brings an understanding and a remarkable amount of fun to Jordan Belfort’s saga of stock brokerage, crime, deal cutting, corruption, and debauchery galore. Leo is absolutely enthralling and manages to keep this three-hour comedy afloat with comedic sensibilities I didn’t know he had, a captivating sense of constant persuasion, a dramatic core that every so often reminds you that he’s a flawed human being, and an unstoppable energy that practically pops off the screen. His reciprocal trust with director Martin Scorsese, his smooth chemistry with Jonah Hill, as well as with Margot Robbie, is palpable. Leo presents an awful, drug addicted, morally confused con man who we want to root for and we can’t put our finger on why. It’s an intangible quality that’s confounding and just as compelling as the actual man. If the real Jordan were anything like this, I can see why people were practically throwing money at him.