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6 | Gravity
Alfonso Cuaron's heart-pounding galactic opus achieves Top-10 status on the strengths of its technical wizardry alone. This film in 3D is a marvel — outer space and its infinite vastness as it's never been captured before. It serves as a much more compelling direction for 3D than, you know, Wolverine. To boot, Sandra Bullock knocks it out the park as Dr. Ryan Stone, the gutsy heroine trying to survive after a storm of hurtling shrapnel compromises her mission's NASA shuttle... and for whom things get worse. Ultimately, Gravity is hamstrung by lines like "Clear skies with a chance of satellite debris," plus human interactions and bizarre monologues that feel banal and totally cliché. Cuaron should be awarded for tackling a story perfectly suited for the big screen in 2013. He is a master editor and technician. He is not, excuse me, a writer.
7 | American Hustle
If you star in a film directed by David O. Russell, you're all but guaranteed an Academy Award. That should be Russell's tagline. Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence already snagged hardware for their turns in Russell films in 2011 and 2012, and they return here alongside Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper, all of whom glitter predictably in this '70s-era heist film with Oscar aspirations. Moviegoers will love the disco-era fun and the script's restless energy; but though the surface is decadent, the payoff leaves a tad to be desired. Easily one of the year's Top 10, but lacks the full emotional battery of Russell's fantastic 2012 effort Silver Linings Playbook.
8 | Blackfish
This documentary — the only doc on our top 10 list — is a captivating tour of operations at Sea World and its horrifying treatment of Orca whales. Using an attack on a trainer in 2010 as a launch point, the doc crew reveals how and why killer whales are incited to violence and the misconceptions about the breed at large. Tillikum, the massive Orca at the film's center, is as compelling a star as Maximus in Gladiator. Other than tapping into our deep emotional connection to animals, the film is anchored by two prominent elements that make all documentaries so vital to cinema — haunting never-before-seen footage and powerful interviews with sources intimate with the subject on both sides of the issue.
9 | Enough Said
There's nothing quite like a good rom-com, well acted and uniquely told. Nicole Holofcener, who's directed episodes of Sex and the City and Parks and Recreation, wrote and directed this smart, observant romantic comedy about two middle-aged divorcees bumbling through second romances and finding common ground. It stars Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and James Gandolfini (in the penultimate performance before his death), and they're both, by turns, tender and hilarious. Their chemistry is natural and their conflicts grounded — it's refreshing to see people on screen acknowledge their smaller deficiencies and act their age. A wonderful supporting performance from Catherine Keener and a witty, patient script vaulted this one to Top-10 honors.
10 | Rush
Ron Howard's '70s-era Formula-1 racing biopic is one of his greatest directorial achievements to date. He leverages the pre-programmed drama of both history and sports and coaxes spirited lead performances out of Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl as rival drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The international grand prixes are rendered in bold colors and sounds in sequences that, regardless of our familiarity with auto racing, feel new and unexplored. Rush edged out a few others vying for the No. 10 spot, mostly for Bruhl's handiwork as the meticulous Lauda, but unmemorable supporting performances and occasional faltering storytelling methods keep this one well out of the Top 5.
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