Who Needs Oscar?: Catholic News Service’s Picks for the Top 10 Films of 2013

by John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) – For much of 2013, Hollywood seemed to be in the doldrums, turning out a good deal of product but very little of quality. With the approach of year’s end and the looming awards season however, things improved remarkably.

That seasonal shift is reflected in the lists below, the Media Review Office of Catholic News Service’s top 10 movies for 2013. Unless otherwise noted, the Catholic News Service (CNS) classification for the films is A-III – adults, and their Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

The top 10 overall:

Tom Hanks, left, and Barkhad Abdirahman in a scene from “Captain Phillips.”
Tom Hanks, left, and Barkhad Abdirahman in a scene from “Captain Phillips.”

In the engrossing, complex and compassionate docudrama “Captain Phillips,” the skipper (Tom Hanks) of a giant container ship is taken hostage by Somali pirates (led by Barkhad Abdi). Director Paul Greengrass skillfully re-creates the maritime ordeal while keeping the humanity of all those concerned in the foreground.

The uplifting historical drama “42” recounts the 1947 reintegration of professional baseball, a breakthrough made possible by the collaborative efforts of Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey (a splendid Harrison Ford) and Negro League star Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman). Writer-director Brian Helgeland’s film is buoyed by Rickey’s righteousness and by Robinson’s example of forbearance in the face of hate.

In director and co-writer Alfonso Cuaron’s thrilling adventure “Gravity,” a Russian missile strike destroys the space shuttle and maroons its only surviving crewmates (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney). The nearness of death provokes reflections on mortality and the afterlife, which are used as steppingstones toward a resolution that viewers of faith will find pro-life.

The satisfying action sequel “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” follows the further adventures of the two victors (Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson) of a survival tournament in which youngsters from an oppressed underclass must battle to the death. In adapting the second volume in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling dystopian trilogy, director Francis Lawrence decreases the intensity of the violence on screen, and his film’s moral center is solid.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in a scene from the movie “Gravity.”
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in a scene from the movie “Gravity.”

The personal collides with the political in the affecting fact-based drama “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” which tells the story of a plantation worker (Forest Whitaker) who makes his way to Washington, D.C., where he finds coveted employment on the domestic staff of the White House. Appealing performances, especially Oprah Winfrey’s portrayal of the main character’s wife, keep the events from feeling like a checklist of postwar history.

In the multigenerational saga “The Place Beyond the Pines,” directed and co-written by Derek Cianfrance, a motorcycle stuntman (Ryan Gosling) re-encounters his ex-lover (Eva Mendes), who reveals they have a baby son. Determined to provide for his newfound offspring, he embarks on a spree of bank heists. The film offers a powerful message about temptation and relativism as well as the role of conscience (L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).

In director Denis Villeneuve’s powerful drama “Prisoners,” a seemingly decent family man (Hugh Jackman) turns vicious vigilante after his six-year-old daughter and a playmate are kidnapped. Though it presents the facade of a thriller, Villeneuve’s film – which also features Jake Gyllenhaal – is primarily a richly symbolic exploration of morality, the human condition and the role of religious faith in a fallen world (L, R).

Director John Lee Hancock’s fact-based film “Saving Mr. Banks” recounts the behind-the-scenes circumstances of the making of the classic 1964 musical “Mary Poppins,” a process that involved a battle of wills between Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), who penned the tales on which the movie was based. (A-II – adults and adolescents).

“Star Trek Into Darkness” is director J.J. Abrams’ snappy follow-up to his 2009 reboot of – and parallel story to – the long-lived sci-fi franchise. Dynamic, impetuous Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his seemingly emotionless first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) lead their intrepid crew on a morally fraught crusade against an intergalactic terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch). The underlying warning against employing immoral means to overcome evil is both scripturally resonant and timely.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, center, stars in the movie “12 Years a Slave.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, center, stars in the movie “12 Years a Slave.

A free black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) living happily with his family in antebellum upstate New York is lured to Washington then kidnapped and sold into servitude in “12 Years a Slave,” director Steve McQueen’s harsh but absorbing account of America’s “peculiar institution,” based on the eponymous 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup. A depiction of the endurance of the human spirit against crushing odds (L, R).

Top Family Films of 2013

As for the top 10 family films, with the exceptions indicated, their CNS classification is A-I – general patronage, while their MPAA rating is PG – parental guidance suggested, some material may not be suitable for children.

They are: “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” (A-II, PG), “The Croods,” “Despicable Me 2,” “Ender’s Game” (A-II, PG-13), “Epic,” “Frozen,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (A-II, PG-13), “Jack the Giant Slayer”(A-II, PG-13), “Monsters University” (G – general audiences) and “Turbo.”

[hr]John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.[hr]

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