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Entertainment Weekly's Critics Agree on '12 Years a Slave,' 'Before Midnight,' 'Fruitvale Station'

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by Sam Adams
December 5, 2013 10:19 AM
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"The guy in '12 Years a Slave' -- I can never pronounce his name -- was just phenomenal."

Entertainment Weekly's Best-Of issue doesn't hit newsstands until Friday, but they've released a preview of their Top 10 Movies and TV lists. Critics Owen Gleiberman and Chris Nashawaty overlap on three of their top four films, while TV critics Jeff Jensen and Melissa Maerz go in different directions.

The Best Movies of 2013:

Owen Gleiberman:

1. 12 Years a Slave12 Years a Slave is a suspensefully unsparing vision, with a violence that scalds, yet the film balances despair and perseverance, pain and transcendence. Steve McQueen's agonizing masterpiece is the first movie to dramatize the experience of slavery in all its fear, madness, and horror -- that is, in the terrifying intimacy of its brutality.

2. American Hustle. It's set in a late-'70s world of comb-overs, polyester lapels, and anything-goes amorality. Yet David O. Russell's swirling, bravura tale of a con artist, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), who gets lured into the equally slovenly FBI sting operation known as Abscam has a resonance that's thrillingly contemporary. It's a drama of people drugged by their own desperation.

3. Before Midnight. Love stories in the movies usually end before the most interesting part of a relationship even begins. But the third chapter of Richard Linklater's beguiling romantic talkfest is a striking exception.

4. Fruitvale Station. In the wee hours of Jan. 1, 2009, a 22-year-old African-American named Oscar Grant III was detained on an Oakland train platform, and before anyone knew what was happening, he'd been shot and killed by a transit officer. His death was a moral calamity -- but it was also, as Ryan Coogler's powerful film knows all too well, another blink-and-you'll-miss-it news story out of the file marked "senseless racial tragedy."

Chris Nashawaty:

'Before Midnight'

1. Before Midnight. Richard Linklater's Before trilogy is the rare romance that feels like real life -- heady, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful. Eighteen years after their first encounter on a train bound for Vienna in Before Sunrise, Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) are stuck in the sort of uneasy domestic routine familiar to anyone who's ever been in a long-term relationship

2. Gravity. Not since Stanley Kubrick's mind-blowing head trip 2001: A Space Odyssey has there been a film so alive to the awe-inspiring possibilities of cinema. The wonder of Alfonso Cuaron's deep-space slice of 3-D eye candy is that it manages to feel both weightless and weighty at the same time.

3. 12 Years A Slave. In 12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen tells the sickening true story of one exceptional man, Solomon Northup. Played with haunting grace by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Solomon wasn't born in chains like so many others he meets on his nightmare odyssey. He's a free man whose liberty is literally stripped from him, which somehow makes the excruciating absurdity of his fate even harder for us to wrap our heads around.

4. Fruitvale Station. An unarmed 22-year-old African-American is shot and killed by a white transit officer. That this tragic incident actually happened in real life is horrifying enough. But what makes the moment reach deep into your chest and rip out your heart is how first-time director Ryan Coogler chooses to begin his film with this tragic coda. He gives Fruitvale Station a dreadful inevitability as he flashes back and bears witness to the final 24 hours of Oscar Grant III's life, showing us the ordinary events that would end up being his last.

The Best TV Shows of 2013:

Jeff Jensen:

'American Horror Story: Coven'

1. American Horror Story. Coven is a Southern gothic about feminism, race, and subculture tribalism. The through-line: scary-good performances. Grand Guignol with grand dames and grand themes, American Horror Story is the most dynamic enterprise on television.

2. Time of Death. People die. We will die. Me. You. Everyone we know. We know this, intellectually. The docuseries Time of Death makes us feel it by drawing close and attending to a variety of terminally ill people during their last months, right up to their last breath.

3. Orphan Black. Sarah, a desperate thief. Alison, a prim housewife. Cosima, a brainy lesbian with black dreads. Helena, an insane Ukrainian assassin with wild blond hair. In a year abounding with complex female characters, Orphan Black possessed a surplus. It was stingy in one way: All were played by the same astounding actress,Tatiana Maslany. 

4. Parks and Recreation. A vintage year for the plucky sitcom saw Amy Poehler's (former) councilwoman from Pawnee gain a true foil in the dastardly Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser) and gave us sublime, politically aware outings like the "Bailout" episode and the recall-vote story line. The most colorful assortment of comic characters outside of The Simpsons kept growing, and kept the show flush with buzzy funny, including Jenny Slate's Mona-Lisa Saperstein and Patton Oswalt's filibustering Star Wars geek.

Melissa Maerz: 

'Breaking Bad'

1. Breaking Bad. Sure, watching meth kingpin Walter White (Bryan Cranston) slowly devolve from Mr. Chips into Scarface over four and a half seasons was awesome. Not since Walt first flashed his tighty-whities on screen has Cranston shown such vulnerability, or Aaron Paul such wrenching defeat, or the writers such mastery for wrapping up loose ends as they did in the final eight episodes.

2. Enlightened. Should you devote your life to doing the right thing, even if it's for the wrong reason? Mike White and Laura Dern's canceled-too-soon comedy forced viewers to grapple with that question as whistle-blower Amy Jellicoe (Dern) tried to drag down the big bad corporation where she worked -- and earn more Twitter followers in return.

3. Game of ThronesTwo words alone could earn George R.R. Martin's epic adventure a spot on this list: Red Wedding. Or maybe one word: dracarys (Valyrian for "Warning: This dragon is about to BBQ your face"). But GoT amounted to so much more than swordplay and fire breath this season. From Cersei and Margaery's struggle for control over Joffrey to Tywin's clandestine letter-writing campaign, the suspense played out like the best chess match ever.

4. Orange Is the New Black. What began as a show about a white, upper-middle-class, Whole Foods-eating, Toms-shoes-buying yuppie ultimately pulled a marvelous bait and switch, getting us to care less about bourgie convict Piper (Taylor Schilling) than about the drug addicts, murderers, and thieves around her. That's partly a credit to the absurdly talented acting, but it's mostly due to the show's bottomless empathy.

 

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More: From the Wire, Best of 2013, Television

2 Comments

  • Mohammed | December 5, 2013 10:53 AMReply

    This Jeff guy really should get another job if he thinks AHS or any of his picks are better than Game Of Thrones and Breaking Bad.

  • Keil S. | December 5, 2013 10:41 AMReply

    I think it's safe to say that Jeff Jensen is a moron.

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