Tracking Mud On The Red Carpet In Our Voting For The Best Of The Year

During the 2014 Oscar season, the ZekeFilm co-founders had the big idea to host our own site wide movie awards.  Members of our ZekeFilm Facebook Discussion Group were encouraged to vote via online surveys for their favorites, which we nominated.  We used a lot of the expected categories, and made up a few categories such as”Best Dialogue”, “Best World Building”, “Most Important Film” and “Most Spiritually Significant Film”.   A valiant effort, perhaps, but to say it wasn’t exactly a ringing a success might be giving this experiment too much credit.  You know how everyone gets worn out with the Oscar telecast after a short while?  Imagine that feeling, but slowly stretched out over a couple of weeks.  Yeah.  This was early in our existence, so I’d like to think that we’re allowed a few fumbles…

But on the bright side, we did get some terrific little nominee write-ups out of the experience.  Numerous  contributors from the site cooked up original paragraphs detailing whatever they were liking in a particular category.  Some good stuff, and worth looking back on.

We hope you enjoy this look back at the First And So Far Only Zeke Awards, rounding up what we thought was the best of the 2013 movie year.  – Jim Tudor

Our first category is:

Best Ensemble Cast


American Hustle (58%, 18 Votes)

Best-Ensemble-Cast logoWhen David O. Russell was ready to quickly follow up his forward pass Silver Linings Playbook with something heftier yet breezy in its own way, he got out his rolodex of favorite actors, and flipped to the section “My Previous Filmography”.  In the Goodfellas-lite American Hustle, you’ve got Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings, and Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter.  For good measure, toss in Robert De Niro who shows up in a scene-stealing cameo in Hustle, and you’ve got a who’s who of Academy Award nominated talent, most of whom netted their noms via their Russell film work.  (Bale and Lawrence even won for their earlier contributions.)  All are clearly currently operating “in the zone”.  Barely one year after the sensation that was Silver Linings, here we have the knotty, energized, and kitschy-itchy early 1970s crime caper American Hustle.  Many critics are arguing that the film, for all its Scorsese derivativeness, is the filmmaker’s best work to date.  (Indeed, Hustle, in familiar terms, is stylistically more Scorsese than this year’s Scorsese movie.)  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  But one thing no one can deny is the power of this pitch-perfect ensemble cast.  Bale, Adams, Cooper, and Lawrence wear their gaudy clothes and sunglasses well, and strut along in slow motion like the best of them.  They simply belong together in this film, and that’s where its greatest power lies. – Jim Tudor


The World’s End (16%, 5 Votes)

Edgar Wright’s films tend to have very strong casts, going all the way back to the Britcom Spaced, which he collaborated on with friend and writing partner Simon Pegg.   Along with Pegg’s best friend, Nick Frost, the three went on to create the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, of which The World’s End is the final installment.  Besides being arguably their best work yet, The World’s End may be the strongest “Ensemble” film in their repertoire thus far.  Although Pegg’s Gary King is certainly the main character, World’s End is far from a one-man show, and in fact contains significant story arcs for each of the “Five Musketeers.”  Each character has a journey to complete, with trials to overcome and demons to battle.  Gary’s may be alcoholism, but rest assured that every member of the group has their own unique struggle.

Rosamund Pike and Eddie Marsan are the only two members of the core cast who are newcomers to this unofficial acting company.  But even though the rest of the group are veterans by now, World’s End gives them all more of a chance to stretch their acting muscles than either Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz.  Gary King is Simon Pegg’s most complicated and accomplished performance to date; a multi-layered portrayal of a man losing his life to a crippling addiction.  Nick Frost gets to be the responsible straight man for once, but there’s a deep and abiding pain just beneath the surface of his teetotalism.  The remaining members of the group (Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Rosamund Pike) are all funny and tragic and real.  But lest I paint a picture of a downer film, The World’s End is also hilarious, finding the humour in the pain and vise-versa.

To accomplish all of this in 109 minutes, all the while reinforcing the central themes of the film, is no mean feat, and a testament not only to the meticulous planning and attention to detail that Wright and Pegg poured into this film, but also to the strength and veracity of the accomplished cast.  Clearly, The World’s End is a labour of love for everyone involved. – Dave Henry


This is the End  (16%, 5 Votes)

One could almost accuse the hilarious ensemble cast of This is the End of having an unfair leg up in this competition, due to several key factors, not the least of which is the actors’ pre-existing relationship with each other.  The roster is a veritable who’s-who of post-post-modern comedians, including Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, Mindy Kaling, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and many, many, many more.  Most of these guys are long-standing members of the Apatow Mafia (or else tangentially connected to Apatow productions in some way, shape or form) and have been good friends with each other for years in real life.  In This is the End, they lampoon themselves on what might be the most grandly apocalyptic scale of self-parody ever attempted on film.  The self-effacing humour plays off of both public perceptions of celebrity and what has got to be some fascinating inside jokes.  All of this goes for a spin through a brimstone blender, coming out as delightfully wicked schadenfreude as the actors poke enormous fun at themselves and each other.  I mean, any movie where Warning! Spoiler area! To read click here!—and all of these actors are playing themselves—that’s something wholly subversive and unique and special.  And the fact that a good 50% of the rapid-fire dialogue and interplay between the actors was reportedly improvised on set just makes this ensemble all the more special on a whole ‘nother level of Hell—or at least a hell of a good time at the movies. – Dave Henry


12 Years a Slave  (10%, 3 Votes)

We’ve already singled out three different members of this cast who did exceptional work this year in the Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress categories, and there isn’t much more to say about their amazing performances that hasn’t already been said by us, if not in the Zeke Awards posts then in Paul’s review and our various Best of 2013 lists.  But as wonderful as Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o are, they aren’t the whole story when it comes to the fantastic actors who populate this film.  Throughout his 12-year journey, Solomon Northrup runs across an array of different and distinct personalities, both slave and free.  While their roles in this particular story are minor, they are anything but insignificant, and filled by such masters of the stage and screen as Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Dano, Quvenzhané Wallis, and Sarah Paulson—and that’s just the more recognizable names, to say nothing of the other 80 or so cast members in this epic horror story of the Antebellum South.  Each actor leaves an indelible mark upon the film, making the movie that much better for their presence, and supporting and enabling the main cast to do their best work. – Dave Henry


The Way Way Back (0%, 0 Votes)

There are no wasted or forgettable performances in The Way Way Back. As the sullenly awkward teenager at the centre of the narrative, Liam James is as natural as can be.  The two radically different father figures in his life, played by Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, get the most amount of screentime after James, but make no mistake:  the rest of the cast is equally strong. Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Rob, Amanda Peet, Rob Corddry and Maya Rudolph all create characters so unique and interesting that we’d be happy to see more of them in the film. Even writers/co-directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon make the most of the small roles they’ve given themselves. Ultimately, The Way Way Backis a character-driven film, and much of the pleasure in watching it comes from its spectacular cast. – Sharon Autenrieth and Dave Henry

Total Voters: 31


Best Lead Actress


Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine (33%, 14 Votes)

Best-Actress logoSome have postulated that in Blue Jasmine, writer-director Woody Allen has finally created a female character as neurotic and psychologically damaged as he is.  But while Allen is certainly one of the greatest filmmakers of the last few decades, Cate Blanchett has him beat in spades when it comes to acting.  And the titular Jasmine is one her greatest roles yet.  Jasmine is the worst kind of WASP:  cruel, self-absorbed, judgmental and venomous.  In short, she is simply an awful human being who believes herself to be the opposite.  To make matters worse, she’s mentally unbalanced and an addict to boot.  In another movie, we would rejoice at her downfall, happy to see her finally put in her place.  But Allen and Blanchett will not let us get away with such a simple interpretation.  The way Blanchett embodies the role, we cannot help but feel sorry for Jasmine in spite of ourselves, and are able to identify with her plight.  This is the kind of character who in a lesser film would still be great—the type of villain you love to hate—but transcends that characterization here to become funny and sympathetic in spite of her awfulness. – Dave Henry


Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha (26%, 11 Votes)

It’s been said many times that Greta Gerwig as Frances in Noah Baumbach’s lo-fi charmer Frances Hagives a star-making performance.  Heck, I think I said it myself.  But truth be told, Frances Ha is a small, personal vision of a film – one built on a screenplay Gerwig co-write with her director.  For her, telling this story was an intensely personal endeavor.  And it shows.  Certainly there’s no shortage of Greta Gerwig in dancer/drifter/socially awkward creature Frances Halladay, and that’s to her credit as a performer and artist.  She completely sells the NYC reality of this young woman who is yet to fathom herself as a “real person”, and lives her life as a series of postbox addresses.  The movie is in black and white, free spirited yet imbued with “what-now?” millennial angst, and plays like something straight out of the most vibrant era of the French New Wave movement.  Sadly, in today’s blockbuster franchise-driven domestic movie marketplace, none of this is the recipe for a hit, a “star-maker”.  But it should be.  – Jim Tudor


Julie Delpy in Before Midnight  (14%, 6 Votes)

Julie Delpy is full of hatred and resentment.  And to hear her side of it, the feelings seem well earned.  In Richard Linklater’s hauntingly sublime Before Midnight – the third part of a one-per-decade talky character continuance preceded by 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset – we find Delpy’s Céline now officially coupled with Ethan Hawke’s Jesse.  She’s hitting middle age as a haggard mother of twin girls, doing all the mundane “life” things a haggard mother does while her acclaimed author husband pursues his intellectual flights of fancy.  Yes, his intellectual flights of fancy do bring them to the jaw-droppingly beautiful Greek Peloponnese peninsula for the summer.  But the setting is all but ironic considering the beyond-precarious state of this union.  In the film’s prolonged climax, a painful confrontational sequence in which a planned romantic night in a lush hotel room goes horribly, horribly wrong (it never had a chance, really), it’s Delpy’s sense of pain and exhaustion that twists the dagger so authentically.  In these moments, she embodies the trapped frustrations and overlookedness of the woman on the business end of most any relationship.  For Delpy, Before Midnight is the fully realized payoff to several decades of being Céline the Dream, and Céline the Unobtainable.  She’s always poured a raw humanity into Céline, but here, she’s at long last Céline the Woman.  And she is unforgettable.  – Jim Tudor


Dame Judi Dench in Philomena (14%, 6 Votes)

It was in the news semi-recently that Judi Dench is slowly going blind, and already has to fake her way through certain eye-lines on camera, and has to have screenplays read to her.  Well, if playing Philomena is the work of a blind woman, give Dench the Oscar right now.  Philomena is based upon a true story of a woman who, with the help of a self-interested journalist (played by Steve Coogan, who also wrote and produced Philomena), sets out to find the grown son she never knew.  The journey takes these two British strangers together to the United States.  The adventure is not as chucklingly comical as the film’s marketing campaign would have you believe, but the end result is something that sticks with you, in a positive way.  Were it not for Dench’s nuanced, relatable performance as the surfacely unremarkable title character, it’s certain that Stephen Frears’ Philomena would be a lesser experience.  Dench shows us that a common, simple woman is not a foolish, dismissible woman.  Philomena is so full of grace and understanding that we come away inspired in our own lives.  – Jim Tudor


Scarlett Johansson in Her  (12%, 5 Votes)

There’s no way that Scarlett Johansson’s performance in Her should be as amazing as it is.  First of all, she was a last-minute addition to the cast, coming on in post-production, no less.  She replaced the original actress, Samantha Morton, as the voice of the advanced computer operating system that Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly falls so deeply in love with.  So while Morton had the advantage of being on set and interacting with Phoenix’s performance in real-time, Johansson worked with her co-star and director from inside a recording studio after-the-fact.  Secondly, the convention of the role requires that we only ever hear Samantha’s voice—removing all the visual tools from the actor’s toolkit.  It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but Samantha has no eyes—merely a solitary camera mounted on the outside of a smartphone.  How then do we come to believe that a computer operating system—only a generation or two removed from SIRI—becomes ensouled; imbibed with a real, living spirit?  It is due to the amazing vocal performance from Miss Johansson, whose subtle gradations of a new life form achieving real, sentient consciousness, bit by bit, taking us from what is merely a friendly computer-generated voice in beginning of the film, into what is a heartbreakingly (virtually) real woman (albeit not a human one) by the end.  And she does it while playing against one of the greatest acting powerhouses of our time.  That she did not qualify for a Golden Globe was offensive; that she was not nominated for an Oscar was a pity.  But we here at ZekeFilm are proud to nominate Miss Johansson for the performance of her career (so far).  – Dave Henry

Total Voters: 42

Best Lead Actor


Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave (43%, 16 Votes)

Best-Actor logoMany may not realize it, but Chiwetel Ejiofor has been working regularly as a successful actor since the mid-1990s.  He’s worked with such renowned directors as Stephen Frears, Richard Curtis, Ridley Scott, Woody Allen, Alfonso Cuarón, Tom Hooper, and Steven Spielberg.  Then Steve McQueen came along, chained him up, and hung him from a tree.  And for that, he’ll be remembered.  In a fuzzy way, it resembles the arc of his unforgettable character in that film, 12 Years a Slave.  Ejiofor plays the historical figure Solomon Northup, a free African American living up east in the age of slavery.  But after Northup is tricked, drugged, and sent down south, he finds himself trapped in a nightmare of stripped identity, indignity, and inhumanity.  In real life, guided by McQueen, his bold portrayal of a once-competent man reduced to helplessness has finally pushed Ejiofor over the hurdle of working actor to formidable star.  TV and radio commentators are now racing to figure out the correct pronunciation of his name as he rightfully rides the wave as a prime awards season contender.  I can only imagine the inner difficulty a contemporary black man must face in agreeing to play a victim of slavery.  Ejiofor soaks up this challenge and then some, imbuing Northup with an admirable persistence that is again and again overtaken by the reality of the sheer powerlessness he’s forced to assume.  It’s easy for us to look at the evil around and say “Why doesn’t he just…!”  But then one second later, Ejiofor reminds us that in that terrible time and place, he couldn’t.  – Jim Tudor


Joaquin Phoenix in Her  (8%, 3 Votes)

It’s okay to find Joaquin Phoenix a little creepy in Her.  As an about-to-be-divorced introvert who earns his living copping sentiment that eludes him in his own lonesome life (writing personalized correspondences for strangers), Phoenix is utterly perfect for the role.  In films such as The Masterand Walk the Line, Phoenix has displayed an emotional exterior that is at once impenetrable and altogether vulnerable.  For a guy like Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly, real, lasting love seems not just unlikely but often impossible.  He lives in his own head, and it’s obviously a bit of a mess in there.  Hence, the creepy factor – something date-gone-wrong Olivia Wilde informs him of to his face, and also validates our own suspicions.  But, with that out of the way, we’re free to better understand and more deeply relate to Theodore than ever before.  Hence, when he finally falls head over heels in love with his personalized operating system, Samantha – a reciprocating relationship in this near-future Los Angeles – we’re right there with him.  It’s the kind of hot and cold, dense yet penetrating performance that Her demands in order to work.  Who better than the uniquely unpeggable Joaquin Phoenix to play such a part?  Spike Jonze scored the year’s greatest casting coup, and Phoenix one of his best roles yet. – Jim Tudor


Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street  (22%, 8 Votes)

As one of the three actors on this list to be nominated for playing a real, flesh-and-blood, living person from actual history (the only one of the three who is still alive, no less), both in our list and in the final Oscar nominations, Leonardo DiCaprio lays everything on the line, giving 150% to what may be his best role yet.  His Jordan Belfort is clever, conniving, and charismatic—especially to the band of merry motherfrakkers he inspires to follow him.  He’s also a despicable, slimy, low-down, lying and cheating scumbag—the kind of a-hole we love to hate.  An egomaniacal narcissist and borderline sociopath, Jordan buys all of his own hype with the money he steals from his victims (who, to him, are simply disembodied voices on the other end of the phone who effectively cease to exist when he hangs up the line).  In his mind and the minds of his followers, he’s the ultimate badass—the “Wolf of Wall Street”—the coolest of the cool, a rock star who makes real rock stars look like schmucks.  But the real, ultimate schmuck is Belfort himself—an insecure loser, a boy playing (poorly) at being a man.  As my mom used to say, he thinks he’s hot snot on a silver platter, but he’s really just cold boogers in a paper bag—in other words, a spineless, petulant dipstick.

Playing the character any one of these ways would have been the basis for a great performance.  The fact that DiCaprio manages to layer all of these elements carefully on top of one another makes it one of the greatest performances of the year and truly award-worthy. – Dave Henry


Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (27%, 10 Votes)

Matthew McConaughey is a chameleon, transmogrifying himself into a plethora of widely divergent characters.  We’ve nominated him in another category—Best Supporting Actor for Mud—but that mysterious escaped convict is worlds away from the dying AIDS victim McConaughey plays in Dallas Buyers Club (and for that matter, his Wall Street power broker in The Wolf of Wall Street) Only his southern drawl remains the same—appropriate for the character of Ron Woodruff, a Texas native (just like McConaughey).

McConaughey didn’t just physically transform himself into the spitting image of the real Ron Woodruff (shedding an astonishing 40+ pounds in the process, rendering him nigh-unrecognizable to those who are used to seeing the Adonis-like figure he cuts in films like Magic Mike).  In many ways, he became Woodruff—no mean feat, as Woodruff has been dead for over twenty years.  So convincing was McConaughey as a frail, dying AIDS patient, that many worried for his health in real life (they needn’t have; the actor took precautions to stay healthy in spite of his weight loss)—not just because of his skeletal appearance, but because of that haunted look in his eyes—the look of a man staring death itself in the face; eyes that can discern the stray threads on the Grim Reaper’s robes; the little chips and notches in his scythe; the shiny patches on his skull.  It must be a terrifying head space to get into, yet the actor who is willing to commit so thoroughly to a part is an extraordinary talent and a brave man.

Early suggestions for the role included Brad Pitt or Ryan Gosling, but after McConaughey’s performance it’s clear how wrong for the part actors like that would have been, and that no one else could have done Woodruff justice.  From the swagger of a cowboy who believes himself to be invincible to the quiet bravery of a man in the shadow of his own mortality, McConaughey owns the role completely from the first reel to the last.  – Dave Henry


Hugh Jackman in Prisoners (0%, 0 Votes)

As Wolverine, we’ve seen Hugh Jackman go into Berserker mode plenty of times.  But I’m not sure we’ve ever seen him manifest rage like this, as a frantic father desperately searching for his kidnapped daughter, becoming more unhinged by the day and hour, until he’s willing to do anything to get her back.  What makes Keller Dover more complicated (and harder for an actor to nail down) than, say Mel Gibson’s Tom Mullen in Ransom (1996) or Gerard Butler’s Clyde Shelton in Law Abiding Citizen (2009) is that Dover is a man of faith—a devout Christian, to be specific.

Most characters in revenge-based thrillers are able to act decisively with relative impunity from their own consciences.  They make a definitive choice to pursue lawless justice on their own terms, and never look back.  There’s a simple purity to the revenge thriller—almost a sense of righteousness, in a way, which is one of the things that makes them so satisfyingly cathartic.  But Prisoners is not that kind of film, and Keller Dover is not that kind of protagonist.  He doesn’t really want to hurt anyone, and it’s not revenge he’s after—at least at first.  But with each step into the darkness; each compromise for the “greater good,” the shame and guilt begin to devour him from the inside out.  He withdraws from his family and from his God.

His desperation then becomes twofold, for he is in mortal danger of losing two of the most precious things in his life—his daughter, and his own soul.  The loss of his little girl shakes him to the very foundations of his mind, heart, and spirit—throwing everything he thought was black-and-white into murky grey.  Jackman’s rage is multi-faceted; he rages against the loss of his child, the seeming inability of the justice system to right this great wrong, and his own impotence as a father who could not protect her.  Dover becomes fixated and obsessed, consumed by conflicting emotions of anger, helplessness, vengeance, desperation, guilt, fear, and mounting despair.  Jackman plays all of this brilliantly.  Etched across his haggard visage in stark relief is this growing corruption.  Every time he tortures Alex in an attempt to locate Anna, he also destroys part of his soul, and you see that pain in Jackman’s eyes.  You hear it in his voice.  He owns the screen, filling it with desperation and rage, and you cannot look away. – Dave Henry

Total Voters: 37


Best Supporting Actress


Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave (56%, 24 Votes)

Best-Suppoting-Actress logoThis amazing and talented young lady came out of nowhere, making her American debut in the awards darling of the year, 12 Years a Slave.  The fact that she was only one among a cast of venerated veterans of the silver screen, in a film directed by one of the top filmmakers of his generation; a movie that is swamped in awards nominations, including Oscar nominations for two of her co-stars; a film that is almost guaranteed to win Best Pictures at the Academy Awards this year—and she still stood out so much that people can’t stop talking about her?  That’s something special indeed.  – Dave Henry



Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle (21%, 9 Votes)

Jennifer Lawrence continues to demonstrate her vulnerability, verisimilitude, and versatility; carrying the biggest female-led franchise of all time while continuing to show new sides of herself in smaller roles like this one from David O. Russell, whose previous collaboration won her the Best Actress Oscar last year.  Lawrence is an acting dynamo, bringing just as much, if not more, to the table than the writers and directors who inspire her at this point.  With comedy timing that doesn’t-quite-mask the hurt behind the humour, young Miss Lawrence truly is a muse and an ingénue.  At this point, I’d wager there isn’t a soul alive who doesn’t love America’s New Sweetheart—when you’ve even won-over the hardcore nutjobs of the Westboro Baptist Church, I’d say it’s pretty hard to hate on you even if one wanted to.  – Dave Henry


June Squibb in Nebraska (19%, 8 Votes)

As new and fresh-faced as Lupita Nyong’o, June Squibb is herself a seasoned veteran of the stage and screen.  And yet, to many she was just as new, or at least almost as unfamiliar to mainstream audiences.  Perhaps it is because she has made the biggest impression of her career in Alexander Payne’s critically-acclaimed meditative comedy, Nebraska.  As Kate Grant, the brusque and persnickety wife of Bruce Dern’s aging alcoholic, Woody Grant, Squibb was like a velvet battle-axe, radiating exasperation and tenderness, often at the same time.  – Dave Henry


Toni Collette in The Way Way Back (2%, 1 Vote)

In her role as a single mother trying to navigate the tension between the unhappiness of her sullen teenage son and the controlling manipulations of her jerk of a boyfriend, Toni Collette brought a palpable sense of vulnerability to the part, stemming from her character’s mortal fear of being alone.  Collette’s performance was so heartbreakingly believable, that her willingness to ignore both her own instincts and the best interests of her son came off not only as completely understandable, but even sympathetic.  – Sharon Autenrieth


Joanna Scanlan in The Invisible Woman (2%, 1 Vote)

Here’s a movie that hasn’t even opened in most markets yet (look for a tag-team review from Paul and I later this week), but Joanna Scanlan’s heart-breaking turn as the beleaguered and cuckqueaned wife of Charles Dickens, suffering in relative silence from her husband’s infidelities while doing her best to keep up appearances, stood out perhaps more than anything else in Ralph Fiennes’ sophomore directorial effort.  Scanlan is quiet and reserved in the role, but her subtlety speaks volumes.  – Dave Henry

Total Voters: 43


Best Supporting Actor


Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave (41%, 21 Votes)

Best-Suppoting-Actor logoMichael Fassbender’s terrifying turn as the monstrous Mr. Edwin Epps earned every last bit of critical acclaim it’s gotten and then some.  Fassbender is one of those rare talents who seem to effortlessly straddle the line between movie star and critically acclaimed thespian (it doesn’t hurt that he’s ridiculously handsome, of course).

Since making his big-screen debut as Stelios in Zack Snyder’s 300, Fassbender has exploded into the pop culture, becoming one of the most prolific stars of the 2010’s, balancing big-budget blockbusters like the X-Men franchise and Assassin’s Creed with smaller indie films, including obscure grindhouse and horror movies.  Along the way, he has worked with such notable auteurs as Sir Ridley Scott, David Cronenberg, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, and Terrence Malick.  But he has found a constant companion in Steve McQueen, starring in the lead of his first two films and now co-starring in his third and latest.  McQueen and Fassbender are like a match made in Heaven; McQueen seems to be able to coax Fassbender’s best work out of him; the lion’s share of both his nominations and awards have been from McQueen’s films.  For his part, McQueen seems to have found something of a muse in Fassbender, like Johnny Depp to Tim Burton—only much, much better.  -Dave Henry


Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club (29%, 15 Votes)

Jared Leto disappears into the role of Rayon, a transsexual drug addict dying of AIDS in 1980’s Texas.  Given how far removed that is from most of our present realities, I think it’s safe to say that Rayon may be one of the more inaccessible characters of 2013, at least on the page.  But thanks to Leto, she’s also one of the most engaging, sympathetic, and relatable.  The transformative relationship that Rayon and Ron develop over the course of the film, starting from a place of mutual advantage but ending with mutual love and respect, wouldn’t be half as convincing if not for the two great actors inhabiting the parts.  You may or may not share much common ground with her, but rest assured that Jared Leto’s Rayon will break your heart into a million pieces nonetheless.  -Dave Henry


Sam Rockwell in The Way Way Back (14%, 7 Votes)

In some ways, Sam Rockwell’s water-park manager is like a post-modern Tripper Harrison.  But that description would be too reductive.  In Rockwell’s capable hands, Owen transcends that one-note comparison and becomes something greater.  He brings great levels of pathos and sensitivity to the deadpan, almost boyish humour, and while the comparison to Bill Murray’s role in Meatballs is apt, Rockwell’s performance eclipses it in every respect.  A wounded force for good, Owen is the heart and soul of The Way Way Back.  In equal measures charming, caring, and charismatic, Owen is the kind of real, fleshed-out character you’ll wish was your best friend.  -Dave Henry


Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street (12%, 6 Votes)

Traditionally comedic actors don’t usually get the same level of accolades their dramatically inclined colleagues do, but real actors will tell you that comedy is much harder to pull off than drama—especially when that comedy is informed by dramatic underpinnings of wounded insecurity.  Jonah Hill’s brand of comedic gravitas transcends caricature and becomes painfully real and familiar—hilarious, touching, troubling, and profound all at once.

Although he played a fictionalized stand-in for a real person in Moneyball, his role as Donnie Azoff (renamed to avoid a lawsuit by the real-life basis of the character) is his first time stepping into the shoes of a very real human being (not counting playing himself in This is the End), and Hill knocks it out of the park.  He’s very believable, very despicable, oddly sympathetic, and always hilarious.  -Dave Henry


Matthew McConaughey in Mud (4%, 2 Votes)

As the titular character (yet not the main character, which is why he’s in this category) in Jeff Nichols coming-of-age drama, McConaughey exudes both quiet heroism and simmering menace, often in the same shot.  He lends an air of almost magical ambiguity to the escaped convict—is he a benign father figure, or a dangerous threat?  Or is he both, or neither?  You find yourself wanting to trust Mud, but you can’t get over your suspicion of him either.  -Dave Henry

Total Voters: 51


Best Director


Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity  (42%, 10 Votes)

Zeke-Awards-logoIn making Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón was limited to a cast of two (which quickly became a cast of one).  How then, to make such a compelling human drama with so few humans?  Well, when you’re critically acclaimed filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, you stop asking and you start doing.  And do he did, crafting one of the most compelling and thrilling movies of the year.  Not only is Gravity a white-knuckle thriller; it’s an epic metaphor for loss and survival; death and rebirth.  It’s one of the best-looking, well-shot films of 2013, thanks to the synergy between Cuarón and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki.  The effort to bring this film to the screen was monumental; involving the development of new filmmaking techniques and technology; long, unbroken takes; and extensive visual effects.  Yet, in spite of the technical complications in making a film like this, the story is as bare-bones-basic as you can get.  Cuarón knocks both aspects out of the park.  Life may be impossible in space, but it feels like, despite the amazing filmography Cuarón has built up to this point, that we’re only just beginning to see what is possible for this master auteur.  – Dave Henry


Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave (25%, 6 Votes)

Steve McQueen is a measured, calculating artist who chases perfection in his shots and comes pretty darn close.  He isn’t afraid to use long takes and long shots to create a tangible mood—whether that mood is pensive or dreadful.  He embodies the best qualities of the best directors—the ability to wring the best work out of his cast and crew, as evidenced by the quality output of his constant colleagues, including cinematographer Sean Bobbit and actor Michael Fassbender (both of whom have worked on all three of McQueen’s films), who have done the best work of their careers with McQueen.  This is truly the mark of a great captain, to use our earlier naval analogy—because it the mark of a great leader.

In 12 Years a Slave, McQueen once again showcases the horror of the mundane—or rather, what is/was mundane to some societies in some times (as the treatment of Irish prisoners in Hunger and the sex addiction Fassbender’s character Brandon wrestled with in Shame), but should never be considered so.  He takes the shocking and shows how it was/is able to exist in so-called “civilized” society, ripping the scab off cultural wounds and exposing darkness to light.  Yet somehow he is able to do so with restraint, even when showcasing acts of utter and horrific brutality—witness the scene in which Sarah Paulson’s Mistress Epps hurls a crystal decanter at Lupita Nyong’o’s Patsey, striking her in the skull.  Somehow, it’s every bit as horrifying and ghastly as the scene in which Fassbender’s Master Epps forces Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to flog Patsey, or the scene in which Northrup is cruelly punished by hanging.  – Dave Henry


Spike Jonze, Her  (13%, 3 Votes)

With Her, Spike Jonze has made one of the all-time great love stories, and it’s basically about a man who falls in love with his computer.  The premise sounds silly, and is admittedly reductive—Her is a melancholy yet soulful odyssey of the heart and mind, taking a potentially ludicrous premise and making it more credible than most romantic films have been able to do—all of this in Jonze’s first romantic film, I might add.

He does this in part by first blurring and then obliterating the line between “real” and “artificial.”  Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha may start out as an A.I., but by the end of the film she’s as real and alive as any of the characters in the film (and more so than a lot of characters in a lot of films).  The love that she and Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) feel for each other is legitimate and valid, although it becomes something unique we haven’t seen before in a movie, by virtue of the fact that this kind of relationship is one we haven’t truly seen realized—at least on a level this genuine and realistic.

It’s that element of genuine sentimentality that marks Her as an evolution of Jonze’s craft.  He’s an older, more mature filmmaker, and with age and maturity comes a sense of grounding.  While he hasn’t completely abandoned the quirkiness that marked his earlier work, it’s now rooted in real heartfelt emotion instead of detached irony.  – Dave Henry


Edgar Wright, The World’s End  (13%, 3 Votes)

The World’s End may be one of Edgar Wright’s most personal movies to date; drawing on both his personal story and the stories of his real-life friends in order to tell a story that is optimistically hopeful in the midst of apocalyptic upheaval.  Like all of his films to date, The World’s End is about growing up, maturing, and moving on, but it’s about a lot of other things, too.  Like some of the other filmmakers on this list, TWE is the work of an older, more mature filmmaker—grappling with darker and more complicated themes and storytelling techniques, as well as telling a story that reflects the shifting tides of age.

And yet, the stylistic flourishes that have always marked him as one of the best filmmakers of his generation are there and more accomplished than ever—the tight, stylistic fight choreography; the brilliant building of cause-and-effect action sequences; the off-kilter British humour that finds humanity in the absurd.  The World’s End may be Wright’s best film so far, in a career full of fantastic films.  – Dave Henry


Richard Linklater, Before Midnight  (8%, 2 Votes)

Essentially jump-starting the Slacker Film movement with his same-titled indie darling in 1991, Richard Linklater became the pioneer of the independent film renaissance of the early 90’s.  He was either directly or indirectly responsible for launching the careers of such diverse artists as Kevin Smith and Matthew McConaughey (himself up for two Zeke Awards this year, as well as an Oscar), and is a patron saint of Generation X.  He has traveled through many different genres, from opaque indies to mind-bending science-fiction to family-friendly studio comedies.  But some of his most personal work has been the Before trilogy, made over the course of the last two decades, and culminating with 2013’s brutally honest Before Midnight, which has been nominated for several Zeke Awards, as well as the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

Linklater’s sense of intimacy with his stars—trusting them to write much of their own dialogue and direct themselves a great deal (after all, they have known these characters just as long as Linklater has—all three of them have grown up together)—was a courageous risk that paid off in spades, making Before Midnight one of the best movies of one of the best years for movies.  – Dave Henry

Total Voters: 24


Best Story Structure


The World’s End – Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg  (41%, 9 Votes)

Best-Story-Structure logoIn his medieval commentary on the Old Testament Book of Job, Pope Gregory I (590-604 AD – also known as St. Gregory the Great) is quoted as writing, “Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.”[1]  At the risk of sounding heretical, I would venture to say that a similar sentiment could apply to the films of Edgar Wright.  Not that I meant to say that The World’s End is divinely inspired, of course (Simon Pegg, the co-writer and star, is in fact an atheist).  The point is that these guys have always told multi-layered stories that can be enjoyed on a visceral surface level, and yet are densely packed with depth and meaning for those who are willing to dig.  The World’s End is no exception.  Just like their previous two Cornetto Trilogy collaborations, Wright and Pegg meticulously planned and plotted the film out to the nth degree before the first camera rolled.  Everything has significance.  Even the smallest details are important.  Like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the entire plot of the film is foreshadowed in the first act with hidden clues that become revealed after the film has run its course.  Unlike those previous films, however, The World’s End is significantly more complicated in both its characterization and story development, opting for an advanced technique called “inverse drama.”[2]  While this may have been a little off-putting for those who were expecting more of the same, it is also much more rewarding the more consideration you give it.  The result is a tightly plotted yet multi-faceted story that reveals more every time you watch it.  While it can certainly be enjoyed as an uproarious apocalyptic comedy, it is simultaneously ripe with dramatic metaphor and synchronicity.[3]  Everything comes full circle; everything fits together like a completed puzzle. – Dave Henry


Her – Written by Spike Jonze  (32%, 7 Votes)

With his “five minutes in the future” science fiction ode to loneliness and romance in the age of personal computers and evolving artificial intelligence, Spike Jonze has given the world not only one of the most moving and thought provoking films of 2013, but also his most accomplished screenplay.  The deliberate story structure of Her may be a bit deceptive in all its apparent meandering and detours, but make no mistake, all of that is deliberate, and part of the techno-texture that we transverse with Joaquin Phoenix as he falls deeply in love with his irresistible operating system, Samantha.  By the dramatic climax of this otherwise often funny film, one can go back and realize that all the relational beats were there, pulsating, crackling, repelling.  If not for Jonze’s unafraid screenplay, and its all-too-relatable internal structure, Her couldn’t pack the emotional wallop it does, alongside of its intellectual one. – Jim Tudor


12 Years a Slave – Written by John Ridley, based on the book Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northrup (27%, 6 Votes)

In adapting the fact-based story of Solomon Northup, the central figure of Steve McQueen’s historical slavery eye opener, screenwriter John Ridley took obvious and meticulous care to make sure that his screenplay’s structure operate effectively for mainstream audiences.  This is a smart decision for a film such as this one.  12 Years a Slave is the type of project that leaves the gate of its production starting line saddled with all manner of lofty exceptions of importance, and artistic high mindedness.  Yet, 12 Years avoids the path of narrative and character aloofness that McQueen’s previous film, the sexual addiction drama Shame so effectively sported.  This isn’t to say that 12 Years isn’t an artful, important, and challenging film – it very much is all of those things in positively the most effective way possible.  But what makes 12 Years work for the long haul, across the board, is its accessibility.  Ridley’s screenplay communicates Solomon’s horrible, degrading plight in a straight forward and traceable way that flows like wind through a prickly hot cotton field.  It’s especially key that things seem to happen organically, yet underneath that, it’s all very much the work and structuring of a clearly accomplished screenwriter working in league with a director of clear goal and vision. – Jim Tudor


Gravity – Written by Alfonso and Jonas Cuarón (0%, 0 Votes)

Although Gravity is incredibly complicated from a technical standpoint, and addresses great cosmic themes of life, death, and rebirth, the plot itself is fairly basic and simple:  a bare-bones [wo]man vs. nature struggle for survival in the most hostile environment imaginable.  The fact that the father-and-son team of the Cuaróns are able to make such a universal tale feel so unique and new is a testament to their storytelling prowess.  Astronaut Ryan Stone’s story is both mundane and intimate; exhausting and exhilarating; tragic and triumphant.  Add to that there isn’t a single moment wasted in this nail-biting survival thriller, and Gravity surely has one of the best story structures of 2013. – Dave Henry


Iron Man 3 – Written by Shane Black and Drew Pierce (0%, 0 Votes)

Shane Black, a newcomer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, brought with him those qualities for which he was most well-known as a prolific action-movie screenwriter in the 80’s and 90’s—crackling, razor-sharp dialogue, and a story structured like a Russian nesting doll—revealing hidden mysteries inside hidden mysteries as the film progresses.  Like many of his older films (as well as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Iron Man 3 features two seemingly independent storylines that are later revealed to be two sides of the same sinister plot, narrated by a wraparound voiceover by the title character.  Black is an old pro at this type of storytelling by now, but it feels incredibly fresh and new to the Marvel Movie Universe, and coupled with the manic energy of Robert Downy Jr. and the some of the most whiz-bang action sequences of the year (the “Barrel of Monkeys”), make Iron Man 3 one of the most unique comic book movies to come along in years. – Dave Henry

[1]Translated from the Latin



Total Voters: 22


Best Dialogue


Before Midnight – Written by Richard Linklater  (38%, 9 Votes)

Zeke-Awards-logoBefore Midnight is the third film in a trilogy of films going back 20 years. Through each of these films the dialogue between the two main characters, Jesse and Celine, have been the driving force behind the films, and our identification with the characters as they deal with love, dreams, expectations and the struggles of everyday life. Before Midnight continues this tradition and elevates dialogue even more than the previous two installments.

This film’s dialogue was written by the director and the two lead actors and has been said in some articles to be the closest approximation of real conversation of any Hollywood film ever made. Before Midnight captures dialogue between two lovers, friends, and even between people from different generations. It is a film made for all who understand the power of words. – Erik Yates


The World’s End – Written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg  (21%, 5 Votes)

There is a silly yet bittersweet progression in the dialogue of The World’s End:  the discourse of a group of erstwhile friends who are getting progressively more hammered as the movie goes on.  In each scene the characters are drunker than in the one before, and their conversations with each other brilliantly reflect this changing reality.

The self-appointed monarch of this unhappy band of brothers is Gary King (Simon Pegg).  He is both the protagonist and the antagonist of the film; the semi-functional alcoholic for whom every conversation is a lie, a manipulation; a strategy for getting what he wants out of life—and what he wants out of life is to “be free to do what [he wants to] do…get loaded…have a good time.”

Lies are Gary’s stock and trade.  He lies to everyone else, and he lies to himself.  He lives in a reality of his own making that reshapes his reality.  But as the evening wears on, and inhibitions fall away, the truth is revealed.  The walls of fantasy crumble and brutal honesty rears its ugly head with a vengeance, tearing open old wounds and exposing them to the light.  Conversations become heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time, and Gary can no longer lie to himself about his crippling addiction.

Every sentence in The World’s End is significant—loaded with meaning and metaphor, both about the plot, theme, and meaning of the movie, and the meaning and theme of the plot of the movie. – Dave Henry


Frances Ha – Written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig  (17%, 4 Votes)

The central character of Frances Ha is sweet, earnest, clumsy, and slightly delusional.  It’s a wonder that Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig could craft dialogue that communicates all of that without Frances ever sounding artificial.  Her rambling monologues on love and friendship and her hopes for her life manage to be both heartbreakingly raw and delightfully funny.  No one sounds scripted in Frances Ha, even though the mumblecore veterans stuck tightly to the script for this film.  The unaffected intimacy of female friendship; the pomposity of a certain kind of privileged young adult; the skittish flirtations that precede romance – it all comes through in the words in Frances Ha. – Sharon Autenrieth


Her – Written by Spike Jonze (17%, 4 Votes)

Spike Jonze has always been a great writer, and Her is no exception; the dialogue is filled to the brim with aching human emotion.  But what really takes the discourse in this film to the next level is the character of Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), an artificial intelligence who achieves sentience within the course of the story.  The subtle yet profound shift in her very being is conveyed entirely through her dialogue, as she interacts with Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), and by proxy, the audience, onlythrough her voice.  At first, her words are that of an operating system a few generations in the future—preprogrammed responses:  generic, upbeat and friendly.  As she interacts with Theodore, she becomes more customized to his personality, and her responses grow and evolve accordingly.  But when she begins to come to life—to become a real (digital) woman, moving beyond her programming—the delicate transition in her voice, away from what has been written for her and into her own identity, is simultaneously understated and weighty, balancing on the head of a pin that is at once theological, philosophical, metaphysical, and spiritual.

Although Samantha’s birth as a new form of life is gradual and incremental, there is one moment that could be considered a turning point for her:  the first time that she and Theodore make love.  As she begins to experience real connection with him—something that is no longer just for his benefit but rather has become very real for her, Samantha suddenly and surprisingly exclaims that she can feel her skin.  It’s a beautifully intense moment that is revolutionary.  A machine has begun to experience real human connection, love, and even sexual sensation to the point of a new kind of orgasm, in some magical way that transcends the physical body and becomes a climax of the soul.  The fact that this entire conversation—incredibly sexy without being explicit, romantic without being maudlin—takes place in pitch blackness; the screen completely dark; only the words to guide us—and that it is one of the most powerful scenes of the year, and one of the most impacting love scenes in recent history—is truly a testimony to Spike Jonze’s prowess of the written word. – Dave Henry


The Way Way Back – Written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash  (8%, 2 Votes)

Jim Rash and Nat Faxon distinguished themselves writing The Descendants, and followed that up by both writing and directing The Way Way Back.  What sets this script apart is its ability to provide so many strong and distinct voices for the ensemble cast:  Allison Janney’s alcohol -soaked bawdiness; Maya Rudolph’s long-suffering sensibility; the rapid-fire absurdities delivered by Sam Rockwell.  But perhaps most impressive is the dialogue written for the movie’s villain, played by Steve Carrell, which exposes his simmering need to belittle and control even as he tries to keep up a cheerful facade. – Sharon Autenrieth

 Total Voters: 24


Best Soundtrack


Inside Llewyn Davis (26%, 7 Votes)

Best-Soundtrack logoListening to the soundtrack for Inside Llewyn Davis is like sitting in the Gaslight Café on Bleecker the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, during the early 1960’s folk music scene.  You can almost smell the cigarette smoke wafting through the thick atmosphere, mixing with the mournful acoustic harmonies of the guitars and mandolins, overlaid by the dulcet tones of Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, Stark Sands, Oscar Isaac, and Marcus Mumford; curious anachronisms that nevertheless sound entirely era-appropriate.  These actors and singers and actor/singers are playing imaginary folk musicians in Joel and Ethan Coen’s love letter to the fertile soil from whence the legends of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and Bruce Springsteen sprang forth and changed music forever.  Some of the songs on the album are traditional folk tunes; some are original songs from the period; the rest are new songs written authentically in that very specific style, rooted to a single address on a street in a village in a borough of a city that shaped the destiny of pop culture for all time.  If one did not know which was which, I doubt very much if they would be aware of any distinction whatsoever.  This album is that good.

The record (available on vinyl, of course) is produced by the legendary mogul of Americana music records, T Bone Burnett himself, who also produced the soundtrack for The Coen Brothers O Brother, Where Art Thou?, another album featuring delightful folk songs.  Most of the songs from this album measure up to that one, but the highlight of Inside Llewyn Davis is probably the hauntingly beautiful “Dink’s Song” (AKA “Fare Thee Well”). – Dave Henry


Frozen (22%, 6 Votes)

Easily the best animated Disney musical in over two decades, Frozen may not have a perfect soundtrack (“Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People” is cute, but that’s about it, and I hope we can all agree on the awfulness of “In Summer.” [Really, just the all-around awfulness of Josh Gad {the poor man’s version of a poor man’s version of Jack Black} in particular]), but it’s pretty darn close.  Besides, even the best musicals of all time have a clunker or two.

The Frozen songbook by husband-and-wife team Kirsten Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon) embody the best of what the musical genre has to offer, echoing not only the Disney musical output of Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid), but the greatest Broadway shows like Les Miserables and Wicked—an apt comparison, as legendary Broadway belter Idina Menzel played both title roles—the Witch Elphaba in Wicked and the Snow Queen Elsa in Frozen.  Indeed, her big show-stopping number in the latter, “Let it Go,” which is up for the Best Original Song Oscar, echoes Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” in the best of ways, and is as good of a song as any musical has had to offer over the past decade:  a powerful and rousing girl-power anthem of liberation that celebrates the accepting and embracing of oneself for who they are.  “Let it Go” isn’t as musically complicated as “Defying Gravity,” but that’s okay—it just makes it that much more singable—especially by the children who make up so much of this film’s audience, and who will themselves be inspired to write great music someday because of this movie.

Other great numbers include the bittersweet growing-up-and-growing-apart “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” which manages to be in turns adorable, sad, heartwarming and tragic, the light and breezy “Love is an Open Door,” which takes on a sinister subtext once you’ve seen the film all the way through, and the exhilarating “For the First Time in Forever,” which sets up Anna and Elsa’s story arcs for the rest of the film, culminating in the reprise duet which also incorporates elements of ”Let it Go,” which I’ve already described as one of the greatest musical numbers of the last decade.

The result of all of this is a bravura soundtrack you can’t stop listening to, whether on your iPod or simply in your memory—the songs are that good.  -Dave Henry


Warm Bodies (22%, 6 Votes)

There’s a scene in Warm Bodies in which the Zombie, “R,” and his new human friend, Julie, are hanging out on the abandoned airliner R calls home, hiding out from the other zombies.  Julie begins to look through his record collection, quipping, “What’s with all the vinyl?  Couldn’t figure out how to work an iPod?”  Struggling to regain his speech, R groans, “…better…sound…”  “Oh, you’re a purist, huh?” Julie replies.  His response speaks to the theme of the entire film:  “…more….alive…

Not only does this exchange sum up the ethos of the movie, but also the soundtrack itself, filled with a “better sound” that is “more alive” than that of most other “teen” movies.  Warm Bodies boasts a stellar assortment of fantastic tunes both classic and modern, featuring a diverse roster of accomplished artists that includes John Waite, Feist, Guns N’ Roses, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and M83, to name a few.  It’s really hard to pick the best songs out of this soundtrack, because they’re all just so good.  -Dave Henry


Frances Ha (15%, 4 Votes)

Frances Ha, co-written and directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the WhaleGreenberg) tells the transient tale of a young New York City woman quickly aging out her carefree twenties and facing the reality of an uncertain, directionless future.  Although a contemporary film, Frances Ha employs unlikely and diverse song choices to flesh out its soundtrack.

Music of note include “Chrome Sitar,” by perennial rockers T-Rex, “Every 1’s a Winner,” by Hot Chocolate, “Blue Sway,” by Paul McCartney, “String Quartet in G Major K387 1stMovement,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, several selection by Johann Sebastian Bach, “Mrs. Butter’s Lament,” by Harry Nilsson, and “Modern Love,” by David Bowie, to which Frances freely runs/dances down city streets for several blocks.  Most notably, however, is the film’s clever use of several tracks by French composer Georges Delerue, originating from vintage French New Wave films. – Jim Tudor


Muscle Shoals (15%, 4 Votes)

Muscle Shoals is a music-driven documentary detailing the unlikely emergence of one major recording studio, then two, in the small Alabama swamp town the film is named after.  Through the often tragic life story of studio founder Rick Hall, as well as stock footage of the house band known as The Swampers (as in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lyric, “Now Muscle Shoals has got The Swampers”) and others playing with all manner of iconic and soon to be iconic talent (Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, The Rolling Stones, and Lynyrd Skynyrd).

Music of note includes well-placed original recordings of Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances” as well as his version of “Hey Jude,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” by Percy Sledge, “Sitting in Limbo,” by Jimmy Cliff, “I’ll Take You There,” by the Staple Sisters, “Tell Mama,” by Etta James, “Kodachrome,” by Paul Simon, and a particularly moving version of Skynyrd performing “Free Bird,” on “The Old Grey Whistle Test.” – Jim Tudor

Total Voters: 27



Up to this point, we’d been posting individual posts devoted to each category.  Memory is admittedly hazy as I transfer this content from our old site to this one, but it looks like we opted to cut our losses on this and simply fast-track to the finish line.  Go figure, some of our biggest categories ended up getting the short shrift, but believe me, complaining was minimal.  So, in the interest of documenting what when down in our tracking of mud all over the red carpet, here are the rest of the results:


Best Movie of the Year 



12 Years a Slave has been called the greatest movie about slavery ever, which I would agree with. In my review, I talked about how past movies about slavery have dealt with the subject with kid gloves. Other movies have challenged viewers, especially white viewers, but not so much to pull them too far out of their comfort levels. Those movies have shown the slaves as free spirits who refuse to be broke; shown the slaves developing friendships with their owners and eventually given freedom; or shown the slaves fighting back for their freedom, that way the viewer can tell themselves that it wasn’t all that bad. And our country doesn’t need to really take responsibility for it.  – Paul Hibbard

Filmmaker Steve McQueen’s historical slavery tale is positively everything you’ve heard about it: Frank, brutal, essential, and undeniable. But it’s also beautifully crafted and amazingly, daringly acted. Most are skittish to see it (I was), but all who have taken this cinematic trip 200 years back to America’s dark heart will confirm that you also must see it…  12 Years is not just necessary, it’s immaculate.  – Jim Tudor 

Runner-Up:  GRAVITY



Most Spiritually Significant Film


Don Jon_1Earlier, porn was more attractive to [Jon, played by the film’s writer/director/actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt] because he could “lose himself” in it, where real relationships always felt like a job…much like his approach to his faith.  When he begins to care about those around him more than himself, this is when he begins to “lose himself” in the real relationships he has and finds more satisfaction in these relationships than the porn he had been substituting for.  Bill Mallonee sang once that we seem to accept a “reasonable facsimile most of the time”.  But once you’ve tasted the real thing, you don’t go back.  So while “religion” blew him off, I’m still encouraged that the message was uplifting enough to say that you can still find your way.  It reminds me that God can still intervene in our lives, even when the man-made institution of the church fails us.  – Erik Yates

Runner-Up:  HER

Best Comedy


Frances-Ha-runningIn this wistful comedy Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig (Greenberg) reteam to tell the story of a young woman clumsily trying to become a “real person” among the educated, artist class in New York.  Gerwig’s history is in mumblecore, but Frances Ha is a much more deliberately crafted film; with black and white cinematography evoking the French New Wave and a soundtrack featuring film composer Georges Delerue.  It’s a revelation to hear Baumbach describe the 30 takes required for just one brief scene in the film, or to hear Gerwig talk about resisting any impulse to improvise – and then to see the naturalness of the resulting film.  – Sharon Autenrieth

Also Nominated:  DON JON, NEBRASKA

Most Thought Provoking Film


Exploring our ever-growing personal ties to technology and how it substitutes our need for human interaction, Her is an endlessly fascinating film, providing much food for thought once the theater lights come up. Spike Jonze has struck an emotional, nerve-wracking chord, regarding computers becoming an extension of ourselves. Those disappointed with his last film, Where The Wild Things Are (2009), a film I personally enjoyed, will find Her a welcomed return to form. It is a wonderfully melancholic portrait of where we are possibly heading, that ultimately will be hailed as a new sci-fi classic.  – Rob Gabe



Most Important Film

12 YEARS A SLAVE12-years-a-slave

The importance of 12 Years a Slave may not be as obvious as other historical movies. The third film from English writer/director/gallery artist/provocateur Steve McQueen is his best and most powerful film (not to diminish his first two features, especially Hunger, which is about as equally powerful)

Solomon Northrup (played wonderfully by Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man and a musician living in New York State. He is confronted by two men (Snoot McNairy and Taran Killam, from SNL) promising Solomon of an auspicious gig in Washington DC. After Solomon decides he cannot turn down the money, he travels with the two, is drugged at dinner, and wakes up sold to a brutal slave trader. Solomon is eating in one of the finest diners in the Capitol one moment and is being beaten so hard with a stick that it shatters the next. Solomon crawls to the open window of his prison and screams repeatedly for help. McQueen’s camera slowly ascends and focuses on The White House while we still hear the screams for help. Maybe not subtle, but neither was slavery, and the point still stands. McQueen knows whose fault it is.  – Paul Hibbard


Best Genre Film

(Tie) FROZEN and HER


On FROZEN:  Disney’s Frozen, the latest freshly minted “animated classic”, is a crowd-pleasing return to familiar form following the successful stylistic departure of last year’s Wreck-It Ralph. The film evokes both the staid classicism of the best Disney fairy tale adaptations, and the modern comedic wit of something likeTangled, even if it doesn’t go as far as that film did with the jokes.  – Jim Tudor
On HER:  This new movie from writer/director Spike Jonze packs a wallop.  The story of an emotionally guarded man who develops a relationship with his operating system, Her has the sort of premise that sounds silly or perverse.  But the insights it offers into how we connect with each other – and with our technology – are profound.  Joaquin Phoenix in the lead, Amy Adams as his best friend, and Scarlett Johansson as the voice of a very self aware OS all give terrific performances.  Additionally, Jonze has produced a movie that is visually stunning.  This near-future world is neither utopia nor dystopia, but somehow is as beautiful and transcendent as the movie’s ideas about what it means to be human.  – Sharon Autenrieth

Outstanding World-Building


A simple question for iPhone users: What if SIRI actually worked? Our computers know everything about us. It’s terrifying to realize that our relationships with our computers may be our most intimate relationships, lopsidedly outweighing those we maintain with our friends and loved ones. And yet, Her presents a certain viability within the notion. And then, it proceeds to leave us to ponder and question it all the while, even as we’re absolutely absorbed within Joaquin Phoenix’s beautifully delicate performance as the lonely, wounded, socially invisible misfit Theodore living in Jonze’s “five minutes in the future” vision of Los Angeles.  – Jim Tudor




Best Original Score 



Runner-Up:  (Three-Way Tie)  ALL IS LOST, GRAVITY and HER