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10 movies that rocked us in 2013

The movie year isn't over until the fat lady sings or every old, white, male movie critic weighs in with a top 10 list, whichever comes first.

Don't see any opera singers around so here goes with one such critic's list of the movies that moved me most in 2013 to laughter, to tears, to anywhere except the exit.

Discuss among yourselves because I'm on vacation, probably watching Spring Breakers again. Happy New Year, and let the countdown (count-up?) begin:

(Click on the title to see a trailer.)

1. 12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen's brutally human epic, based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, towered above all other 2013 releases. Not only impeccably acted, designed and photographed, but John Ridley's adapted screenplay preserved the 19th century's elegant grammar, lending a horrible air of civility to the dehumanizing institution of slavery.

2. Nebraska

Bruce Dern's portrayal of a lifelong loser believing he's finally won something deserves all the awards coming his way. Don't overlook a crucial supporter on this quixotic road trip, former Saturday Night Live cast member Will Forte. As a spurned son needed now, Forte's hangdog expressions and resigned line readings make a perfect foil for Dern.

3. American Hustle

Everything missing from The Wolf of Wall Street is right here: a clockwork caper, plus characters keeping and using their wits. Director David O. Russell and a knockout cast create a joyous deception, loosely based on the real-life Abscam scandal and reeking with sex and insecurity.

4. Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen's 44th movie in a 47-year career — a remarkable run — is one of his finest. Cate Blanchett delivers a quicksilver portrait of a disgraced socialite victimized by circumstances within her control. Jasmine is a creature of extravagant habits, unable to sustain them without snaring a man of substance.

5. Fruitvale Station

Ryan Coogler's movie coincidentally reached theaters in the wake of Trayvon Martin's killing by a neighborhood watchman, echoing the contested shooting of another young African-American, Oscar Grant, played by Michael B. Jordan. Coogler resists heated rhetoric and crafts a debut as direct and devastating as a point blank bullet to the back.

6. Gravity

The year's most stunning technical achievement, if a tad hokey in plot. Director Alfonso Cuaron announced innovation with a 13-minute uncut tracking shot in outer space, a zero-gravity illusion hushing audiences in awe. The wonderment continues through buckshot waves of space debris stranding an astronaut (Sandra Bullock) carrying too much baggage to fly. We're too dazzled to complain.

7. The Way, Way Back

Some movies you just fall in love with. Coming-of-age is common but the spins applied here by co-creators Nat Faxon and Jim Rash make everything fresh. The summer Duncan (Liam James) will never forget involves Mom's bully boyfriend (Steve Carell, against type), a water park cowboy (Sam Rockwell) and, of course, the girl next door. Feel-good movies can't feel much better.

8. Her

Spike Jonze presents a very modern love story, set in a near future when a lonely writer of other people's love letters (Joaquin Phoenix) falls for his OS personal assistant, a computer program voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It's an impossible scenario played heartbreak plausible, and it took me two viewings to fully appreciate the oddness of it all. (Opens Jan. 10 in the Tampa Bay area)

9. Inside Llewyn Davis

Greenwich Village's folk music scene in 1961 is where a surly musician going nowhere (Oscar Isaac) frays his remaining threads of friendship. The movie begins and ends with Llewyn getting punched, and in-between Joel and Ethan Cohen craftily show why. Music is vital, of course, often sung and strummed by Isaac in a charismatic performance. (Opens Jan. 10 in the Tampa Bay area)

10. The Place Beyond the Pines

This movie haunted me since April when its fateful drama — sins of fathers visited upon sons — first unfolded. Derek Cianfrance boldly structures his film around two stars (Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper) barely sharing a scene, in an unpretentious saga of crime, corruption and revenge. It's what literary types call a page turner.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

10 movies that rocked us in 2013 12/27/13 [Last modified: Monday, December 30, 2013 10:25am]

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