By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
No one can see every movie that makes it to the multiplexes, which is why it’s a good idea to be skeptical of any critic claiming to have a “10 Best” list this time of year. Instead, here are my 10 favorites of the films I caught in 2013, followed by the 10 that I most wish I had missed.
Other movies may have had a shot at making one of these lists, but I only comment on things I’ve actually seen (what a concept!). A few titles that were well-reviewed elsewhere and may seem conspicuous by their absence here are “12 Years a Slave” (which I found earnest but plodding), “Gravity” (great special effects, no story) and “Blue Jasmine” (good but inconsistent). Then there was “Nebraska,” an aggravatingly insipid waste of time that I disliked so intensely I’m honestly baffled by some reviewers’ misplaced affection for it.
And now, my favorites:
1) “The Wolf of Wall Street”: Martin Scorsese’s wildly energetic three-hour epic features an award-worthy performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as a self-obsessed stock trader whose lifestyle becomes the definition of outrageous American excess.
2) “Her”: Writer/director Spike Jonze’s thoroughly modern romance between a lonely man and his computer’s artificial-intelligence operating system is thought-provoking, touching and unexpectedly human.
3) “Only God Forgives”: “Drive” director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling reteam for an elegantly brutal and sensuously strange film noir about a disturbed fight promoter, his sadistic mother and a ruthlessly relentless former policeman.
4) “Six by Sondheim”: This fascinating career-spanning documentary about the life and art of Broadway composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim is directed by the living legend’s three-time collaborator James Lapine.
5) “Inside Llewyn Davis”: Writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen continue their winning track record with a period piece character study about a struggling folk singer in the days before Dylan.
6) “Pacific Rim”: This Guillermo Del Toro spectacular about giant robots fighting city-wrecking other-dimensional monsters was big, bold and bombastic in the best sense of the word. (A close runner-up: “Thor: The Dark World.”)
7) “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”: Director/co-writer Peter Jackson’s second part of his “Hobbit” trilogy makes up for the frustrating flaws of the first installment with a fast-moving, visually dazzling and completely engrossing adventure.
8) “Frances Ha”: Star Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Noah Baumbach, makes this low-key comedy about an underemployed would-be dancer whose relationships are as precarious as her finances seem sweetly genuine.
9) “The To Do List”: If you’re wondering how a silly teen sex comedy got on this list, you obviously haven’t seen Aubrey Plaza’s innocently lascivious laugh-out-loud performance in writer/director Maggie Carey’s hilarious feature debut about a virgin who wants to get some experience under her belt before heading to college.
10) “I’m So Excited!”: Director/writer Pedro Almodovar’s campy farce about a group of variously connected passengers on what may be a doomed airline flight is frisky, fabulous and feel-good dirty fun.
And here are the 10 movies that I most wish I hadn’t bothered driving to see in 2013:
1) “Iron Man 3”: Robert Downey Jr.’s third outing as the armored Avenger was both the top-grossing film of 2013 ($1.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales) and possibly the worst Marvel movie ever made, if only because of the way it threw away the hero’s signature comic-book adversary the Mandarin. Sappy, stupid and with not nearly enough suit time.
2) “The Hangover 3”: Just when you thought this franchise couldn’t sink any lower, this purely mercenary money-grab came along to make the dreadful “The Hangover 2” seem high-minded and hilarious by comparison.
2) “Beautiful Creatures”: This soulless and cheesy would-be fantasy franchise about a teenage witch and her mortal beau in smalltown South Carolina was, in a word, charmless.
3) “A Good Day to Die Hard”: Even star Bruce Willis appeared bored in this abysmal fifth installment of the “Die Hard” franchise, which at this point is crying out for euthanasia.
4) “CBGB”: Dishonest, dull and dumb, this bad-sitcom style account of the origins of the legendary Bowery punk rock club is the antithesis of everything challenging, dangerous and original that the actual place and its founder stood for.
5) “The Fifth Estate”: This utterly unconvincing character assassination of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange turns its subject into such a paranoid, sociopathic and basically weird freak that it could have been bankrolled by the NSA.
6) “The Internship”: Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play two mid-career losers who go to work for Google in what plays like the world’s most uselessly unappealing two-hour infomercial.
7) “Austenland”: There was the germ of an interesting concept in this rom-com about a Jane Austen obsessive who attends the equivalent of an Austen-novel fantasy camp, but it was crushed by witlessness and aggravatingly broad performances.
8) “The Great Gatsby”: This visually frenetic adaptation of the classic novel was so infuriatingly inappropriate for its subject matter that it seemed like a vulgar parody made by a resentful student who failed English Literature and thought he had an ax to grind with F. Scott Fitzgerald.
9) “Saving Mr. Banks”: Everything that’s wrong with this brazenly bogus account of Walt Disney courting “Mary Poppins” writer P.L. Travers for the film rights to her book can be summed up with one example: The screenplay not only creates a sympathetic chauffeur character out of whole cloth, it goes on to give that completely fictional construct a wheelchair-bound daughter to increase the sap quotient.
10) “Nebraska”: If your idea of a fun night out involves watching elderly Bruce Dern act addled, mule-headed and semi-catatonic in a saccharinely condescending story that involves semi-deranged dad going on a dead-of-winter road trip with his ridiculously indulgent son to claim nonexistent lottery winnings, maybe you’d be better off staying home and cursing the meaningless existential nightmare your life has become instead.