The 2013 movie slate got off to a slow start and then exploded: As of June, my "best-of" list contained only one title; now I'm having trouble keeping it to ten!
Here they are, heavily weighted toward fall and winter:
1. "12 Years a Slave" - Brutal and gripping true saga of Solomon Northup, a free northern black who was kidnapped and enslaved in the mid-1800s. With a dynamite cast - watch for dazzling newcomer Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey - Steve McQueen's masterpiece takes a clear-eyed, un-sensational and thoroughly harrowing look at Northup's nightmare odyssey.
Cate Blanchett’s performance in “Blue Jasmine”?is likely to add to her collection of awards.
The cast for coming-of-age comedy “The Way Way Back” includes from left, Toni Collette, Steve Carell and Allison Janney.
2. "Gravity" - Jaw-dropping zero-G effects and stellar work by Sandra Bullock mix with moments of stirring beauty to make pure movie magic from this tale of a lone astronaut adrift in orbit.
3. "Saving Mr. Banks" - Unabashedly sentimental yet firmly grounded by excellent performances from Emma the Great (Thompson) and Tom Hanks, this story of Walt Disney wooing author P. L. Travers for the film rights to "Mary Poppins" is hilarious and heart-warming; a bona fide crowd-pleaser.
4. "Much Ado About Nothing" - Joss Whedon's sparkling adaptation of Shakespeare's battle-of-the-sexes comedy. Setting it in the modern era but retaining the Bard's language, Whedon ("The Avengers") filmed in black and white on his own estate in about two weeks - yet it's every bit as entertaining as Kenneth Branagh's beloved 1993 version.
5. "The Way Way Back" - An unbeatable cast carries this delightful coming-of-age comedy about a teen surrounded by adults whose trashy behavior forces him to find his own identity. With Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb and the inimitable Sam Rockwell.
6. "Blue Jasmine" - Having already received nearly 20 awards and another dozen nominations, Cate Blanchett is well on her way to a second Oscar for her towering performance in this late-career triumph from writer-director Woody Allen; an indictment of superficial wealth and an ode to blue-collar sensibility, it's alternately comic and heart-breaking - with strong support from Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale.
7. "Captain Phillips" - Under the able direction of Paul Greengrass, Tom Hanks soars in this riveting true-life tale of a supertanker hijacked by Somali pirates; Oscar noms will surely go to both Hanks and Barkhad Abdi as one of the pirates.
8. "42" - If it hadn't been released last spring to coincide with the start of major league baseball, this universally beloved film about Jackie Robinson would be getting a lot more Oscar buzz - especially for Harrison Ford, simply terrific as Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey.
9. "Frozen" - Another instant classic from Disney, combining stellar tunes, gorgeous animation, plenty of laughs and tears - and rare story focused on love between sisters. Utterly enchanting.
10. "Catching Fire" - Despite its sci-fi/action premise, this second "Hunger Games" film is driven by solid characterization and top-notch performances: Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Woody Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright and many others. Here's to another year at the movies that's half as varied and exciting as the last.