With the Oscars approaching fast, Hollywood is busy thinking about the best pictures, directors, actors, actresses and screenplays. But what about the intangibles — the movie moments and details that encompass the year in film? Without proper industry yearbooks, here’s a list of superlatives and unconventional awards that serve as an alternative to the buttoned-down Oscars.
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started …
1. Toughest Scene to Watch: Patsey Gets Whipped, “12 Years a Slave”
The only scene that rivaled this was when Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is left hanging from a tree branch, his feet scampering on the ground to support his weight. But seeing the pain in Lupita Nyong’o’s eyes as her slave master (Michael Fassbender) forces Solomon to give her a brutal whipping was so uncomfortable that I had to watch the clouds of pink mist erupt through my fingers.
2. Best Crossdressing Performance: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
With his perfect cheekbones, sparkling doe eyes and slim, feminine physique, the Thirty Seconds to Mars singer was simply born to play this role. Not only did he talk the talk and walk the walk, but Leto played a better woman than some real actresses this year.
3. Worst Use of a Boston Accent: Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”
In a near-flawless movie, the only drawback was this distracting choice from the two-time Oscar winner, and I’m from Boston so I’m qualified to judge. The accent went overboard and should’ve been thrown there too.
4. Best Use of Pornography: “Don Jon”
Writer-director Joseph Gordon-Levitt spiced up this ode to modern romance with titillating-yet-tasteful XXX clips that helped us understand the protagonist’s addiction and how it impacts his approach to relationships. Between its Sundance debut and its theatrical release, JGL strategically toned down the images without diminishing their undeniable power.
5. Best Fight: “The World’s End”
Most folks would cite “Pacific Rim” for its battles between jaegers and kaijus, or superhero movies such as “Man of Steel” or admittedly impressive bullet train sequence from “The Wolverine,” but I preferred the less epic confrontations such as Julia Roberts tackling Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County,” Will Forte punching Stacy Keach in “Nebraska” and Leonardo DiCaprio wrestling a phone from Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Still, there was no better melee than the bathroom brawl in Edgar Wright’s “The World’s End,” in which Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan take on a group of robots. Impeccably choreographed, featuring solid action and a great sense of humor, this was an unexpected highlight of the year.
6. Best Teenage Killer: Tequan Richmond, “Blue Caprice”
Chloe Moretz’s Hit-Girl garnered a lot more attention for “Kick-Ass 2” but Tequan Richmond’s performance as the D.C. sniper was absolutely riveting, devastating and ultimately haunting. Seeing Lee Boyd Malvo slowly fall under the spell of John Allen Muhammad, it felt like we were spying on the real killers. This young actor is one to watch, as he’s definitely going places.
7. Funniest Non-Comedy: “Adore”
“Movie 43” was easily the worst comedy of the year, but that’s only because “Adore” is supposed to be a drama. Naomi Watts and Robin Wright play mothers who start sleeping with each other’s sons. Does that sound funny, because trust me, it is. I was one of many audience members who couldn’t help but laugh throughout its Sundance debut. I have no idea what director Anne Fontaine or either of these fine actresses were thinking, though I’m sure Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville didn’t hesitate to sign on.
8. Best Drug Scene: “The Wolf of Wall Street”
I’m not sure whether Martin Scorsese’s intention behind the Lemmon scene was to make you laugh or swear off drugs forever, but regardless, it is entertaining as hell. I don’t have any experience with quaaludes but it’s safe to say that Leonardo DiCaprio nails the powerful effect they have on motor skills. DiCaprio proved himself adept at physical comedy as he crawled like a drooling baby behind the wheel of his luxury car. While audiences have mostly laughed, I viewed the scene as a sad indictment of DiCaprio’s criminal behavior. The fact that the scene is open to multiple interpretations means Scorsese has succeeded in his quest to make the audience question Jordan Belfort’s actions.
9. Worst Drug Scene: “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman”
Legend has it that method actor Shia LaBeouf actually dropped acid to enhance his performance in this scene, but it’s really difficult to convey the effect that mood-altering substances have on people in a movie. It almost always comes across as forced, because we’re not experiencing the scene as the characters are, so it’s our perception that comes off as skewed rather than theirs.
10. Best Couple: Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, “Behind the Candelabra”
“Sightseers” stars Steve Oram and Alice Lowe may kill me over this selection but what can I say? The tenderness between Douglas and Damon was wonderful and the May-December duo had fabulous chemistry. Credit Steven Soderbergh for not only thinking of this inspired casting, but having the ability to convince these actors to do it, and finally, for pulling it all off with wondrous results.
11. Best Third Wheel: Moises Arias, “The Kings of Summer”
Biaggio was the McLovin of 2013. At first, Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso aren’t sure why this lovable weirdo is tagging along on their journey to manhood, but by the end of the film, it’s Arias who has stolen every scene. Biaggio was easily one of the standout characters in a year full of memorable ones.
12. You’re in Trouble, Who Ya Gonna Call? – Halle Berry, “The Call”
In real life, superheroes aren’t going to save you, and neither is Mark Wahlberg. If you’re in danger, you’re going to call 911, and it’s going to be someone like Halle Berry (but definitely not her) on the other end of the phone. This throwback to the efficient suspense thrillers from the ’90s boasted a brave female hero who went above and beyond her job requirements to help a young girl in need and dispense justice as she saw fit. You’ll never look at 911 operators the same way again.
13. Best Friends – Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen, “This Is the End”
As much as I enjoyed the unique friendship between Steve Jobs and Woz in “Jobs,” the guys in “The World’s End” and mismatched partners Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in “The Heat,” these guys were willing to die for each other and it’s that selflessness that ensured both were accepted into Heaven.
14. Most Quotable Line – “Everything you told me was a lie!” – “Mud”
Sure, everything that came out of James Franco’s blinged-out mouth in “Spring Breakers” was pure gold, but for some reason, Tye Sheridan’s passionate line-reading from “Mud” stands out. You can hear the pain and betrayal in his teenage voice, as well as the sound of broken promises and unmet expectations. It’s a simple line of dialogue from writer-director Jeff Nichols but it packed one hell of a punch.
15. Best Villain: Tilikum, “Blackfish”
It was a pretty good year for villains, with The Animals from “You’re Next” giving Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave”) and Woody Harrelson (“Out of the Furnace”) a run for their money. But for my money, the villain I’d hate to be locked in a dark room with is Tilikum the Whale from the terrifying documentary “Blackfish.” It used to be a dream to go to SeaWorld, but now, it’s a nightmare.
16. Biggest WTF? Moment – The entirety of “Upstream Color”
Even the people who like and defend this movie seem to have no idea what it all means. I don’t need a movie to answer all my questions, or for my cinematic narratives to be tied up with a bow, but this movie doesn’t make a lick of sense and Shane Carruth’s refusal to explain it is that much more frustrating. This self-distributed art house sensation is more “art” than “movie.”
17. Best Media Comeback – “World War Z”
Remember when the press wrote off this zombie epic sight unseen, months before its release? Well guess what — it was actually pretty damn good. Definitely one of the better summer blockbusters. Brad Pitt got to flex his movie star muscle and Marc Forster delivered some hair-raising sequences of zombie mayhem. I’m not sure Paramount was always confident, but the studio played its cards right and the film ended up making enough money to merit a sequel.
18. Best Hair: Al Pacino, “Phil Spector”
Sure, this is technically cheating since it aired on HBO, but what are you going to do? Shoot me? As much as Christian Bale deserves this for shaving his head and giving a dynamite performance from beneath a horrifying comb-over in “American Hustle,” Pacino’s hair was off the hook in this movie. It was in the Tyson Zone, where you have no idea what to expect but aren’t surprised either way.
19. The Nap Award (tie): “Upstream Color” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”
There’s a quiet beauty to David Lowery’s directorial debut but don’t watch it if you’re remotely tired, because like a good lullaby, it’ll have you drifting off to sleep before you even realize it.
20. Best Nudity: Margot Robbie, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Rosario Dawson’s vagina played a legitimate plot point in Danny Boyle’s “Trance,” but no nudity made us sit up and take notice like the Duchess of Long Island in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Between her gorgeous face and jaw-dropping curves, Margot Robbie could launch more ships than Helen of Troy. Robbie made for an absolutely stunning screen siren, and the fact that she could actually hold her own against the great Leonardo DiCaprio indicated that we’ll be seeing her for years to come, thank God.
21. Not the Best Nudity: Gaby Hoffman, “Crystal Fairy”
I couldn’t call this Worst Nudity because Gaby Hoffman is still nude and that’s cool, but I don’t think guys will be wearing out the pause button on this Blu-ray for years to come.
22. Best Brothers: “Mistaken For Strangers”
Sure, Christian Bale and Casey Affleck were terrific together in “Out of the Furnace,” while the four leads in “Lone Survivor” might as well have been brothers given their unbreakable bond, but seeing The National singer Matt Berninger and his roadie brother Tom was heartbreaking, thought-provoking and ultimately relatable.
23. Best Song – “Oblivion” by M83 featuring Susanne Sundfor, “Oblivion”
There’s no denying the power of Lana del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” ballad from “The Great Gatsby,” but this majestic track simply soared, even during the closing credits of Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi spectacle. When paired with Joseph Kosinski’s gorgeous visuals, no song burned as bright in 2013.
24. Best Reveal – Alfonse Simone plays the FBI for a fool in “American Hustle”
I’ll bet most of you didn’t see Melissa Leo’s villainy in “Prisoners” coming, but the scene that truly “got me” was when Victor Tellegio’s (Robert De Niro) attorney, Alfonse Simone (Paul Herman), is revealed to be the cold cuts king of Long Island. Say what? That was some Keyser Soze shit right there!
25. Worst Reveal: Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan in “Star Trek Into Darkness”
J.J. Abrams’ mystery box approach has grown stale. Instead of playing games with his audience, the director should’ve been upfront regarding his villain’s true identity in the weeks leading up to the release of this sorry sequel. Instructing actors to lie about their roles doesn’t strike me as the best way to build trust with your customers. I don’t know a single person on Earth who was surprised by this reveal, but maybe they were in other galaxies. Who knows (besides everyone)?
26. Best Kiss: Rooney Mara & Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Side Effects”
Who is the warmest color? While the trenchcoat crowd gathered to witness a gratuitous nine-minute sex scene that garnered reams of ink this year, the sexiest kiss in 2013 belonged to two other women entirely, and we’re not talking about “Passion” stars Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace. No, it was the sight of Rooney Mara smooching older woman Catherine Zeta-Jones in Steven Soderbergh’s theatrical swan song that really got our blood pumping.
27. Most Awkward Dinner Scene – “August: Osage County”
The scene in “The Butler” where Oprah calls David Oyelowo’s new girlfriend a “no-class ho” was close to winning this one, but there’s no competition when Meryl Streep is firing off barbs against her family. The dysfunction on display here actually made me appreciate my own family more.
28. Best Short Film in a Feature Film – Safe Haven, “VHS 2”
Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto delivered the year’s most visceral slice of horror and the only needed twenty-something minutes to do it. An inside look at a crazy cult with an incredible ending, this was one nightmare that was unforgettable in all the best ways.
29. Most Overrated Female Performance – Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Alfonso Cuaron’s space opera was a dazzling technical achievement and an eye-popping thrill ride from start to finish, but how much credit belongs to Bullock? Granted, the actress is saddled with some truly embarrassing dialogue, but she never really sold me on her fear. “Oh God, no. No. No. God, no.” That was more or less the entirety of her dialogue, no? Bullock isn’t bad in “Gravity,” but I preferred her work in “The Heat,” in which she challenged her image as America’s Sweetheart.
30. Most Overrated Male Performance: Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”
Redford was solid, don’t get me wrong — but what was so great about his nearly wordless performance? Stick me on a boat all alone in the Indian Ocean and I could deliver an approximation of Redford’s work here. I was actually surprised at how calm Redford played it considering his plight here, and didn’t even buy it when he did let out that single swear word in frustration. I understand that the Academy may look to reward him for an incredible career that often went unappreciated by critics, but his performance in “All Is Lost” is not worthy of an Oscar nomination. The competition is too strong and other contenders merit closer consideration.
31. Most Underappreciated Female Comedy – “Ass Backwards”
Maybe it was the altitude, but I laughed my ass off at the Sundance premiere of Chris Nelson’s comedy, which found longtime collaborators June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson starring in an estrogen-soaked riff on “Dumb and Dumber.” “The Heat” got all the headlines this year but these two comediennes came damn close to upstaging their A-list counterparts. Give the first two minutes a chance and if they make you smile then stick around. If not, then clearly we have very difference senses of humor.
32. Best Alternative Sex – Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, “Her”
While I missed my chance to see Cameron Diaz shtupping a car in “The Counselor,” Spike Jonze’s love story proved that phone sex is still in vogue in the future. Jonze treats the audience to a little foreplay when an uncredited Kristen Wiig asks Joaquin Phoenix to choke her with a cat, but things get much more serious — not to mention steamy — when Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson consummate their relationship with this romantic sex scene that plays with the sense of sound rather than touch. Imagination has never been sexier.
33. Worst Alternative Sex – Mia Wasikowska, “Stoker”
The masturbation scene stopped this movie dead in its tracks and elicited laughs from an audience that wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at Sundance. Sure, female sexuality often gets the short shrift on the big screen, but this awkward scene did it no favors.
34. Best Performance by an Animal – The giraffe in “The Hangover Part III”
In a surprising upset over the cat from “Inside Llewyn Davis” and the goldfish Jonah Hill ate in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” this magnificent creature’s long neck proved its downfall thanks to Zach Galifianakis’ reckless driving in this lackluster sequel. The giraffe’s priceless reaction shot was used as the kicker in the trailer, which may have foreshadowed the trouble to come.
35. The Over the Top Award – Sean Penn, “Gangster Squad”
Penn chewed so much scenery that the production designer nearly quit the film. Between “Elyisum” and “Oldboy,” Sharlto Copley tried his hardest to win this award but alas, his villains were no match for Mickey Cohen.