Top 10 films, middle-aged edition

Top 10 films, middle-aged edition

What a year at the movies! For fans of survival against the odds there was Gravity and All Is Lost. I have a hard time deciding which was my favorite, because I didn’t see either movie. In fact, I saw only two films in 2013: The Great Gatsby and Before Midnight. So really, if I had to choose between, say, All Is Lost and The Great Gatsby, I would have to go with Baz Luhrman’s epic, made-for-MTV reworking of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, since it’s only one of two movies I saw all year, and the other one wasn’t All Is Lost!

It’s not as if there weren’t a lot of tempting offerings in 2013, including Inside Llewyn Davis, Dallas Buyers Club, and The World’s End. But I was tired, it got late, and I had to work in the morning.

Which makes it hard to compile a year’s top 10 list. Sure, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine apparently had a stellar performance by Cate Blanchett, although I can’t imagine if she was as good as Julie Delpy in Before Midnight. Blanchett may have had the more challenging role, but it wouldn’t be fair to Delpy to say so, since I didn’t see Blue Jasmine, although I can say with some confidence that Delpy does strong work as a disillusioned French wife to a doting-but-still-selfish American writer played by Ethan Hawke. Sorry Cate: better luck next year, when I will somehow get it together on a Saturday night and maybe see more than two movies.

Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is essential viewing for an American public still coming to grips with its racially incendiary past. The Great Gatsby similarly deals with essential American themes — not slavery, per se, but the corrosive effect of the American dream on white people. In that sense, I’d posit that Slave and Gatsby are companion movies, or would have, had I managed to lift myself off the couch, checked the movie listings, and actually driven to the multiplex. But I didn’t, so when the inevitable dinner table chatter turns to a comparison of Slave and Gatsby, I feel compelled to defend Gatsby.

The year ended with a bang when David O. Russell’s American Hustle, loosely based on the 1970s Abscam sting, was released to reviews calling it a frenetically entertaining burlesque, a phrase that could also describe The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I didn’t see American Hustle — that would have meant leaving the house and standing on line for tickets — but I can attest to the freneticism, entertainment value, and burlesqueness of Gatsby in spades! Still, I couldn’t wait to see American Hustle or perhaps any other movie this year, but I didn’t sleep well the night before. So let’s just call Gatsby one of the two best pictures of the year and leave it at that.

Or would that be unfair to Before Midnight? After all, this is a movie made on perhaps a fraction of the budget of Gatsby. The only real action in this movie involves an extended conversation between two characters, who for almost two hours eat, talk, drink, and talk some more as they hike around tourist sites in Greece. Personally, I don’t know where they get the energy. After I eat, I either want to take a nap or just sit on the couch, not talk. Meanwhile, Delpy and Hawke eat and spar with an energy that outshines even the glitzy freneticism of Baz Luhrman. Before Midnight reminds us that movie magic isn’t about artifice but real people doing real things after getting, presumably, a good night’s sleep.

As for the best Jewish movie of the year, that’s a tough call. I usually avoid Jewish or Israeli movies, because going to the movies usually seems like more trouble than it’s worth. But if I had to choose between Before Midnight and The Great Gatsby, I suppose I’d pick Gatsby, because it’s the only one with a Jewish character: Meyer Wolfsheim, who is sort of an anti-Semitic caricature. So really, the “best” “Jewish” movie I saw this year is Before Midnight, because it did not include any overt anti-Semitism. Mazel tov, director Richard Linklater!

Which brings me at last to my rankings of the top films of the year. In first place, Before Midnight starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Finishing a close second was The Great Gatsby, with Leonard DiCaprio and Tobey McGuire. If you were to see only two movies in 2013, those two were as good as any, and better than most, although I’m not sure that’s true of 12 Years a Slave. Or Blue Jasmine. Let’s just say they were good enough for me, and that we’re lucky to be living in a golden age when you can pick just two out of dozens of new releases and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.

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