Top 10 movies of 2013 critics' picks: John Lekich

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I’m happy to say that, this year, my list reflects a fondness for the kind of committed filmmaker who wears two hats—the writer-director whose most heartfelt work sometimes gets lost in the Hollywood shuffle. It was also a year that several well-known actors were given the opportunity to stretch beyond our usual expectations. All told, not a bad 2013 at all.

Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen manages to prove that the rich really are different, while retaining emotions that remain stubbornly familiar to the rest of us. With a cast that features outstanding work from Cate Blanchett, Allen serves up a darkly funny take on the price life demands for that penthouse view.

Caesar Must Die
Codirectors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (The Night of the Shooting Stars) take us inside Rome’s maximum-security Rebibbia prison as a group of hard-core inmates prepare to mount a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The result? A raw and, at times, profoundly moving lesson on the transformative power of art.

Captain Phillips
Based on a true story of Somali pirates hijacking an American cargo ship on the way to Kenya, this shipboard drama by director Paul Greengrass has enough suspense to fuel two average movies. Tom Hanks gives his best performance in years.

Enough Said
Writer-director Nicole Holofcener gives us a romantic comedy that’s poignant, original, and—above all—funny. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is so good she makes us forget Seinfeld’s Elaine. But it’s the late James Gandolfini—in a gentler turn than we’re used to—who reminds us that we’ve lost much more than Tony Soprano.

Kings of Summer
A dryly funny movie from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts about three teenagers (Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moisés Arias) who, fed up with their meddling parents, escape to the woods and build a cabin from scratch. Subtle, touching, and packed with the kind of life lessons that are well worth remembering.

Much Ado About Nothing
With a cast that includes just the right notes from Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker, director Joss Whedon (The Avengers) takes great delight in going low-tech. A black-and-white, modern-day version of the Shakespeare classic that delivers loads of charm while reminding us that sometimes simple is best.

Mud
Writer-director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) delivers a southern-flavoured coming-of-age tale that blends elements of Huckleberry Finn and Stand by Me with a bracing dash of backwoods suspense. Matthew McConaughey stars as a charming fugitive who entangles two boys (Jacob Lofland and Tye Sheridan) into his complex life.

Nebraska
Alexander Payne’s bleakly touching tribute to the decaying American heartland is a road movie that stays with you to the end of the line. Veteran actor Bruce Dern stars in the performance of his life as a downtrodden old man who’s convinced he’s won a million-dollar lottery.

Out of the Furnace
Writer-director Scott Cooper focuses on two brothers (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck) doing their best to cope with life in a dying Pennsylvania steel town. Filled with inspiring performances, it’s an uncompromising look at how we insist on clinging to hope in spite of the fact that life has other plans.

Rush
Director Ron Howard delivers a racing movie that offers a lot more than fast cars buzzing around in a circle. Focusing on the tempestuous rivalry between drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), Rush is inevitably a fascinating character study of two very different approaches to winning and life.

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