Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 13 – Fruitvale Station

Original byline: RON KOEBERER/

Fruitvale Station is a film written and directed by Ryan Coogler.  The film is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a young man who was killed in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 2009 by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer.  The movie follows Grant (Michael B. Jordan) on his last day alive as he spends time with his family before the New Year’s celebration.  The film is a scant 85 minutes in length.

Fruitvale 2Fruitvale Station is the feature-length debut by Coogler (pictured at the far left with Michael B. Jordan), a 27-year-old filmmaker who has previously made three award-winning short films.  Coogler takes a story that everyone going in already knows the ending to, and yet, he does so in a way that made me emphasize with each character, praying for the inevitable ending not to happen.  The movie has such a limited storytelling, considering it takes place all in one day (with the exception of a short flashback scene), and Coogler uses this to fully immerse the viewers into the world of Oscar Grant.  It is simple, but stylistic; heartbreaking, but beautiful.  This may be the first film from Coogler, but his inspiring debut effort has garnered critical acclaim from everyone in Hollywood—he has signed on to direct Creed, a spin-off from the Rocky series that is sure to be a blockbuster affair.

Fruitvale 1Apart from Coogler’s striking filmmaking, the movie succeeds with tremendous acting, especially from Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer.  Little by little, I have followed Jordan’s young acting career, from his early roles in the Keanu Reeves film Hardball and HBO’s The Wire to his recent appearance in Chronicle (2012).  Even from his early days in the business, I could tell Jordan had a wealth of potential, and I am glad to see that coming to fruition.  In Fruitvale Station, Jordan acts with incredible dexterity as he portrays a troubled young father trying to escape his past to provide a better life for his family.  At times, the character is brash and angry, but at other times he is sensitive and caring—Jordan’s delineation of the complicated Grant made me feel for his character no matter which way he was leaning on the emotional spectrum.  I was hoping that Jordan would receive either a Golden Globe or Oscar nomination for his performance, but this film proves that he will most likely get there, deservedly, in the near future.

One performance not to be overlooked in this film is that of Octavia Spencer in the role of Grant’s mother.  Spencer is a particularly established actress, having won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Help (2011), and even though you do not spend a large amount of time with her character, her performance is what acts as the glue to hold this tragic story together.  She plays the character with honesty and command, and her performance was definitely one of the film’s many gems.  Fruitvale Station is rated R for violence, language throughout and some drug use.

Fruitvale Station trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crMTGCCui5c

Academy Award nominations for Fruitvale Station:

NONE

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

Top 15 Films of the Year – Honorable Mentions (16-20)

This Is The End

Now that the Oscars season is officially back into action, I have once again compiled a list of my favorite fifteen films from the previous year.  Over the next few weeks, I will be revealing each of the movies on my “Top 15 Films of 2013” list, but today I am announcing the five “Honorable Mention” films that were nearly worthy enough for inclusion of my year-end list.  Now, I present you with the five films that just missed cracking my Top 15 list:

No. 16 – This Is The End

This Is The End is a comedy film written and directed by Seth Rogen and long-time collaborator Evan Goldberg.  The film features a number of Rogen’s film buddies, includingThis Is The End 2 James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson, playing fictional versions of themselves as the disastrous apocalypse takes place.  The movie was based on a short film called Jay and Seth versus the Apocalypse (2007), and its feature-length adaptation was most definitely one of my favorites from 2013.  It was such a simple concept with a pretty distinctive plotline, and the performances by the actors were ridiculously humorous, keeping me entertained the entire time.  A vast amount of celebrities make hilarious cameos in the film, such as Rihanna and Channing Tatum, but my favorite was Emma Watson—but then again, I will support anything she is in!!  If you have not seen this movie yet, do society a favor and get to your nearest Redbox ASAP!!!  Okay, maybe that is extreme, but still, you will not want to miss this one.

No. 17 – August: Osage County

August: Osage County is a film directed by John Wells with a screenplay by Tracy Letts.  Letts adapted this film, a tale about an Oklahoma family reuniting after the passing of a August Osage Countyrelative, from his very own award-winning Broadway play by the same name.  My viewing of the film was a case of first impression because I had never seen the play, but I greatly enjoyed the dark, twisted storyline of the dysfunctional Weston family.  The film featured some scenes that will most definitely live in my memory for a long time, particularly the family dinner scene and the scene where Julia Roberts cusses out her sister and mother over a plate of fish.  Speaking of Roberts, she did an absolutely phenomenal job in her role as Barbara, and that performance was one of the highlights for me; furthermore, Meryl Streep, the greatest living silver screen actress, lit the film on fire with her wildly erratic behavior as Violet, the pill-popping matriarch of the Weston family.  The combination of a dark, but amusing script and some fantastic acting performances is the reason this was one of the better films of 2013.

No. 18 – Rush

Rush is a film directed by Ron Howard with a screenplay written by Peter Morgan about the infamous Formula 1 rivalry between racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and NikiRush Lauda (Daniel Brühl) during the 1976 racing season.  As a sports fan, I am always on board to watch a sports-related film, but rarely do I come across one that is made with such an intricate filmmaking style as Howard’s Rush.  The sound was amazing, the cinematography was wildly intense, and the acting was top-notch.  I have rapidly become a big fan of Chris Hemsworth, and in this movie, he truly spreads his wings and establishes himself as a rising dramatic talent in Hollywood as the real-life James Hunt.  But my favorite performance from the film was Daniel Brühl’s role as Niki Lauda.  If you watch any interviews with the real-life Lauda on YouTube, you will see that Brühl absolutely nailed the accent.  His portrayal of the Formula 1 driver was spot-on and award-worthy, and I was relatively disappointed that he was snubbed for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  I bought into everything on the screen when I watched Rush, and I would highly recommend this film.

No. 19 – Mud

Mud is a coming-of-age drama written and directed by established indie-filmmaker Jeff Nichols.  The movie is about Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a criminal on the run, and hisMUD-13103-PS.JPG friendship with a couple of 14-year-old boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) who happen upon Mud’s hideout on a small island in the Mississippi River.  Matthew McConaughey had probably the best acting year of any performer in Hollywood, and although he is receiving widespread acclaim for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, his outstanding performance as the mysterious Mud is definitely not one to overlook.  Even with solid performances from McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Sam Shepard, Mud is highlighted by a breakout performance from Tye Sheridan.  Although he was just 14-years-old during production, Sheridan gave an exceptionally mature performance in his role as Ellis.  Even though Sheridan did not receive any major award nominations, his performance was the best part of Mud, and I expect great things from him in the future.

No. 20 – Prisoners

Prisoners is a thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski about the search to find two young girls that are abducted from their neighborhood in PrisonersPennsylvania.  Guzikowski’s script is dark and menacing, and each actor makes the most of the mystifying plot.  There are some first-rate supporting performances from Terrence Howard, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano, but Hugh Jackman steals the show with an extraordinary performance as a father willing to go to all lengths to find his daughter.  Last year, I voted for Jackman as Best Actor for his role in Les Misérables, and once again this year, he gave a performance that I truly felt was worthy of acclaim.  Even though he was ultimately not nominated for any major awards, he still gave a brilliant performance, and Prisoners is a frightening film you do not want to miss.