By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Okay, the moviemaking year of 2013, which has shaped up to be a pretty strong one, is in the record books.  So what were the year’s most stimulating and/or satisfying and/or admirable moviegoing experiences?

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Here, in ascending order and chosen by the voting members of the Academy of Me, Myself, and I, are one critic’s choices for the Top Ten Movies of 2013.

10.  Her

Director Spike Jonze’s meditative, comedic science-fiction romance stars Joaquin Phoenix as a writer in the not-too-distant future who makes his living creating personal letters for customers.

In his own personal life, he’s suffering through a recent divorce and falls in love with Samantha, the disembodied voice of his computer’s new operating system (whose husky voice is provided by Scarlett Johansson), whom we can picture even if he can’t.

This fanciful futuristic fable about emotional connection is as provocative as it is original.

9.  Inequality for All

Here’s a documentary that packs a punch.  Director Jacob Kornbluth follows former US labor secretary Robert Reich as he lectures and preaches and explains why we should be concerned about the country’s widening economic gap.

Sounds dry, no?  Well, it’s not, and that’s because the brilliant and charismatic Reich gets his message across with the help of astonishingly informative graphics and a ready sense of humor, and with so much clarity and force that the film starts to feel like a horror thriller.  You’ll exit enlightened and alarmed.

8.  Prisoners

French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s visually and thematically dark mystery-suspense thriller is spellbindingly dense in its narrative as two young girls go missing from a Pennsylvania suburb on Thanksgiving.

When the dad of one of the girls, played by the intense Hugh Jackman as an anguished survivalist, feels that detective Jake Gykkenhaal isn’t doing enough, he takes matters in his own hands.

This nail-bitingly suspenseful, unflinching, and complex vigilante drama about crossing moral boundaries takes you prisoner and leaves you drained.

7.  Star Trek Into Darkness

The 12th entry in the high-quality Star Trek movie franchise comes from producer-director JJ Abrams.  Essentially a sequel to a prequel, it is at least the equal of every previous installment.  Which is saying something.

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto return as Captain Kirk and Commander Spock.  And the layered, character-driven script offers betrayals, reversals, witty repartee, and contemporary relevance, and tweaks the existent mythology without betraying it.  The action is at warp speed, so set your phasers on stun for this stunning achievement.

6.  Stories We Tell

Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley takes the storytelling instinct down some fascinating and unfamiliar roads by making misdirection magic with the documentary form.

She starts out in search of a nonfiction portrait of her late mother, who died in 1990, to be painted during the interviews of her other family members.  But her search for ultimate truth includes legitimate surprises inside other legitimate surprises, and we end up with something very different from what we started with or imagined, and that title takes on additional insightful meanings.

5.  Populaire

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Typing as a spectator sport?  Will wonders never cease!  And a wonder this French, candy-colored throwback most certainly is a wonder.

Style trumps substance here, but this charmer of a period romantic comedy (the 1950s) is wonderfully whimsical and winning as a secretary trains for a speed-typing competition while she falls for her trainer/boss.  And vice versa.

A salute to the films of the ’50s, this breezy, irresistible ode to female empowerment isn’t as superficial as it first appears and just might be your… type.

4.  Before Midnight

The marvelously engrossing second sequel in the unique series of walky, talky romantic dramedies from director Richard Linklater is set 18 years after Before Sunrise and nine years after Before Sunset, and is the strongest entry to date.

Stars and co-writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy return as Jesse and Celine, who now live in Paris but are vacationing on Crete with their kids.  By now we know these lived-in characters so well, it’s like watching friends negotiate their intimate relationship.

Rarely is movie dialogue this genuine and rarely is the essence of life conveyed with more consummate skill.

3.  The Butler

An ambitious and engaging multi-generational melodrama based on the true story of the man who served as a butler for seven American presidents was directed by Lee Daniels, who gets great performances from Forest Whitaker in the trying-to-be-invisible title role and Oprah Winfrey as his too-much-time-on-her-hands wife.

Unerring in its period detail and behavior, and terrifically economical in providing context as well as exposition, this deeply moving and richly rearding drama has scope, pace, impact, and inescapable contemporary resonance.

2.  Gravity

In most years, this brilliantly realized, completely riveting, dread-drenched science fiction thriller about two astronauts stranded in orbit around Earth would be atop the list.  Sandra Bullock gives the performance of her career and is skillfully supported by the effortlessly charming George Clooney.

Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron co-wrote the close-to-realtime script with his son, Jonas.  Visceral, breathtaking, and exhilarating, the survival epic is an overwhelmingly immersive experience, thanks to a set of absolutely astonishing and majestic illusions that routinely deliver the awe of Gravity.

1.  12 Years a Slave

British director Steve McQueen has tackled the true story of Solomon Northup, a freeborn African-American sold into bondage a few years before the start of the Civil War, into a masterpiece based on the nightmarish 1853 memoir.

Difficult to watch at times -– as it most assuredly should be –- but urgently and breathlessly compelling throughout, the film boasts exemplary performances by lead Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kenyan newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender.

In a year with a number of artful and indelible considerations of race, here is the most harrowing and wrenching. Important, sickening, and powerful, this is the stuff that nightmares are made of.

And now, on to 2014!

More Bill Wine Movie Reviews

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