The Year in Movies 2013: Joaquin Phoenix Returns and the Films of the Year

We look at the year a man fell in love with a phone and a whole lot more.

"The environment on set was very intimate. Everybody respected and was affected by what Joaquin was doing," Jonze says. "When we'd cut, the set would stay quiet. That's really special."

Phoenix, of course, brushes off compliments. "As long as you're not visibly shaking in front of a camera, anyone could give a great performance with the right script and the right director." He saves his praise for the cast of the new Star Trek, a film he adores, calling their work "fucking brilliant."

He insists, "It's even more difficult to stand with a half-made, fake-ass fucking set with some weird fucking wig and say a bunch of technical dialogue and not have the benefit of people going, 'Well, this is important work so let's give it its space.' Everyone's going, 'C'mon, jerk-off! Let's do this!' "

Joaquin Phoenix is lovelorn in Her.
Amanda Demme
Joaquin Phoenix is lovelorn in Her.
Rooney Mara stars with Phoenix in Her.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Rooney Mara stars with Phoenix in Her.


Want to see the list of the 10 best movies that screened in Houston this year? Check out The Year in Movies 2013: Top 10 Movies, Houston Style.

Slideshow: The Top 20 Films of 2013

Maybe he'll do a blockbuster like that someday. Maybe he won't. "I love comedies and I love action movies," he says. For now, he again feels like an actor who's confident about his options.

Phoenix admits of his I'm Still Here experiment, "I'm sure there were times when I went, 'Oh, fuck, it's going to be hard to do the movies that I want to do after this. Am I going to be battling this shit?'" He shrugs. "But you're always battling some shit that you fucking said, so it doesn't really make a difference."

To prove he's mended all possible fences, Phoenix's next film, The Immigrant, is by Two Lovers director James Gray, who has forgiven him for hijacking their last publicity tour. Did Gray make Hollywood's most unpredictable prankster pinkie-swear he won't pull that stunt again? "No, we didn't," Phoenix pledges, suddenly looking serious. "We didn't make jokes about that."

Toasting computer love, a genocidal musical and a midwestern odyssey.

By Amy Nicholson

I could write a Shakespearean sonnet about each film on my top 10 of 2013, but we know we're all here for the agreements and arguments. (Plus, have you tried writing about Joe Swanberg in iambic pentameter?) Ladies and gentlemen, let's begin.

The Act of Killing — The year's best film is a film within a documentary. Director Joshua Oppenheimer won the trust of an Indonesian gangster named Anwar, who massacred more than 1,000 people in the 1960s during the country's bloody attempted coup. Never prosecuted, he and his cronies are now local heroes who agree to re-enact their slayings as a sprightly musical comedy. It's an arresting look at villains turned history textbook victors and an elderly murderer fighting off his fear that he's done a terrible thing.

Her — The year's best romance is between a man and his phone, which shouldn't surprise anyone who's felt that sweet thrill of relief when a lost iPhone turns up safely in a pocket. And it shouldn't surprise fans of Spike Jonze and Joaquin Phoenix, both turning in work that's as good as ever, i.e., flawless. Her is so stylish that it almost risks people overlooking its bruising truths about love and loneliness. But, judging by the sniffles I've heard the three times I've seen it in theaters, they aren't. And, yes, Scarlett Johansson deserves a best actress nod for her voice work.

Nebraska — Alexander Payne loves the Great Plains with the same affection a hunter has for his beloved, bed-wetting bloodhound. Will Forte and Bruce Dern's road trip across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska is humble and harrowing, full of rich, quickly sketched, complicated characters that cityfolk call "local color" but the rest of us call aunts, uncles and cousins. The stakes never get higher than a man's pride, and that's plenty.

Pain & Gain — Sure, Scorsese sent Leo howling through the bowels of Wall Street. But Michael Bay's comedy about three bodybuilders who kidnap a wealthy weakling was this year's wildest takedown of the American Dream. Their victim is a creep, our heros are killers and the moral gray area between them grows and darkens until the whole world feels bleak, despite the guys' bitchin' neon spandex shorts. And when Mark Wahlberg sighs, "I was looking at another 40 years of wearing sweatpants to work," it's a rallying cry for every dude and dudette stuck in a dead-end job and desperate for better options.

Frances Ha — Is Greta Gerwig a too-serious indie princess or a got-lucky goof? The answer is both and neither. Frances Ha was made for Gerwig — literally, her boyfriend directed it and she helped him write the script — and it hews to her onscreen stereotype: She's a struggling artist and charming imp scampering around Manhattan begging for someone to love her. But every few minutes, Gerwig does something raw and honest and her talent hits you like a slap, or, truer to her temper, like a playful elbow to the ribs.

Inside Llewyn Davis — Every musician flick follows the same arc: A genius gets discovered, gets rich, gets drunk, and gets the hubris knocked out of him or her before a closing-credits comeback. Unless it's by the Coen brothers. Inside Llewyn Davis is frustrating: We're waiting for something good to happen to their titular, made-up folk singer, Oscar Isaac's lived-in creation, until we realize that, like the tortures that befell the Coens' hapless leads in A Serious Man and Burn After Reading, this is yet another cosmic prank. Is Davis sabotaging himself? Even if he's not, the dark truth is that not everyone can succeed.

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