Daybreak's Best of 2013: Movies

Chiwetel Ejiofor, center, in a scene from "12 Years A Slave."
Chiwetel Ejiofor, center, in a scene from "12 Years A Slave." Fox Searchlight, Jaap Buitendijk/AP Photo

12 YEARS A SLAVE


Yes, this a tough movie to watch. But it's profoundly affecting. It tells the true story of a black man living in 1841 Saratoga, N.Y., who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. Chiwetel Ejiofor's expressive eyes convey the character's anguish with stunning eloquence.

- Kristina Dorsey

20 FEET FROM STARDOM


If you like music, you need to see this documentary. It focuses on back-up singers, those unheralded voices that help give a song its soul. The women here, most of whom are African-American, tried to become stars on their own but saw those dreams go unfulfilled. Watching their monstrous performances makes you realize that stardom has as much to do with luck and single-minded pursuit as it does pure talent.

- Kristina Dorsey

AMERICAN HUSTLE


Here's a wild ode to the art of the con - and to the worst of '70s fashion. The "Hustle" actors are all working at the top of their game, and that's saying something when you're talking about Christian Bale (unrecognizable as an oddly likeable flimflam man), Amy Adams (his smart, sexpot partner in crime), Jennifer Lawrence (his blowsy, crazed wife), and Bradley Cooper (an increasingly unhinged FBI agent).

- Kristina Dorsey

BEFORE MIDNIGHT


It's been nearly 20 years since "Before Sunrise" introduced us to Jesse and Celine, then in their early 20s, who spent a night wandering around Vienna, talking to great and, for some, annoying lengths, and falling in love. Along the way, Celine notices an ad for a Georges Seurat exhibition and points out how the people in the paintings seem to dissolve into the background. Maybe love isn't forever; maybe it's transitory; maybe it's made to manifest only for a few hours. You look at it intently and it dissolves. But what if, what if.

Over the course of next two decades in the excellent two films, "Before Sunset" from 2004 and this year's "Before Midnight," director Richard Linklater and actors and co-screenwriters Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke, do reconnect and enter into a relationship, with its rewards and rows.

This time the couple, who have twin daughters, are vacationing on the Peloponnese, site of the most famous war of the ancient world.

Fittingly, the last 30 minutes of the film are given over to a massive argument between Jesse and Celine, where the couple prosecute and gnash at each other in a hotel room. Delphy and Hawke have seldom been better, and Linklater's direction enhances the claustrophobia of the room and their relationship.

This is love, actually, among the ruins.

- Stephen Chupaska

ENOUGH SAID


A romantic comedy for grown-ups - imagine that. Julia Louis-Dreyfus charms as a divorcee who is surprised to find a guy she actually likes - and who likes her back. What's so affecting, too, is how wonderfully warm and gently funny James Gandolfini is as Louis-Dreyfus's boyfriend, in one of Gandolfini's last roles.

- Kristina Dorsey

GRAVITY


You! Are! There! Director Alfonso Cuarón and his team did the impossible: made movie-goers feel as though they were drifting through space. Or propelling through, smashing against an errant space module. Sandra Bullock could very well get an Oscar for playing the astronaut who's the lone survivor of an accident.

- Kristina Dorsey

THE HEAT

So much about this comedy was lame - the script, for starters. But it's amazing what a couple of funny actresses with killer camaraderie and mad improv talent can do. Take a bow, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy! Now, find yourselves another project you can do together.

- Kristina Dorsey

HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE


See, blockbuster franchises CAN be done well.

- Kristina Dorsey

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING


It sounds sooooo self-indulgent. Let's film this Shakespeare comedy at the director's house! Let's speak with modern American accents! Let's shoot it in black and white! But, strangely enough, it all works beautifully, thanks to director Joss Whedon and a cast led by Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof.

- Kristina Dorsey

SAVING MR. BANKS


I guarantee - you will leave this warm blanket of a film singing "Let's Go Fly a Kite." Not that it's all spoonfuls of sugar. A purse-lipped Emma Thompson snips and harrumphs as the writer of "Mary Poppins," who is loathe to let Disney muck with her story. Tom Hanks charms as Walt Disney, trying to figure out a way into the writer's psyche. We all know what the outcome will be, but the trip to the happy ending is an old-fashioned delight.

- Kristina Dorsey

WORLD WAR Z


After reading an article about its agita-besieged production, I didn't hold out much hope for the big screen adaptation of Max Brooks' book "World War Z." Indeed, the book and film have little to do with each other, but a few rewrites and directors later, audiences got a thrilling zombie-apocalypse film that managed to not rehash the standard ghouls-in-search-brains-as-non-ghouls-flee story. Instead, we see how a zombie plague dismantles the modern world and the military's cutthroat response to it from a truly global standpoint. What's more, Brad Pitt's performance as a former United Nations investigator sent to find a cure to the zombie infection reminds us why he's a Hollywood institution. Best part, though? Daniella Kertesz as young Israeli soldier Segen, whose bravery in disaster after disaster will have you rooting for her.

- Marisa Nadolny

Christian Bale, left, as Irving Rosenfeld, Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser, and Bradley Cooper as Richie Dimaso walking down Lexington Avenue in a scene from Columbia Pictures' film,
Christian Bale, left, as Irving Rosenfeld, Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser, and Bradley Cooper as Richie Dimaso walking down Lexington Avenue in a scene from Columbia Pictures' film, "American Hustle." Sony/Columbia Pictures, François Duhamel/AP Photo
Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers in a scene from
Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers in a scene from "Saving Mr. Banks." Disney, François Duhamel/AP Photo
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