Despite Academy opinion, the best 2013 films

With the Oscars only a few weeks away, everyone is telling you how crazy “The Wolf of Wall Street” is, how fantastic Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are in “Dallas Buyers Club” and everybody thinks “American Hustle” is a masterpiece for reasons beyond my comprehension. But since you have heard of all these movies over and over again, I thought I would highlight what I thought were the best movies of 2013 that you might not have seen. I saw over 100 movies released last year, so narrowing it down to just five was tough, but here they are, in alphabetical order.

1) Her

Okay, maybe you have heard of this one. It is nominated for Best Picture. But despite that, I do not know many people who have actually seen this movie, and that is a shame, because it is without a doubt my favorite movie of the year. Joaquin Phoenix is possibly one of the most underrated actors out there (probably due to his weird stunt of “retiring” to become a rapper, all for his mockumentary “I’m Still Here”), and it is beyond me why he was not nominated for Best Actor with the role of Theodore Twombly. The director, Spike Jonze, has not released a bad movie yet, and considering this is his first screenplay, he is a pretty great writer as well. If you push past the admittedly unusual premise of a man falling in love with the voice of his computer’s OS, you will be rewarded with a sweet, sad and ultimately beautiful love story.

2) Mud

This was my favorite movie of the year until “Her” came along. Continuing his career renaissance (which started with 2011’s “Bernie” and “Killer Joe”), Matthew McConaughey stars as the titular Mud, a fugitive who teams up with two local boys in order to hide from the men who are after him and reunite with the woman he loves. The movie was filmed on location in Arkansas, and director Jeff Nichols shoots the scenery masterfully, creating an atmosphere of wonder and beauty in the backwoods that is not often depicted in movies.

3) Prince Avalanche

Some were beginning to grow weary of David Gordon Green’s foray into R-rated comedies (“Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness,” “The Sitter”), but his latest film is a true return to form for the director, and it was shot right here in Bastrop, in the aftermath of the fires a few years ago. It is a simple tale, starring the ever-charming Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as two men hired to re-paint traffic lines on the highway after a wildfire in the ‘80s. The film involves a lot of walking and talking, with not very many characters aside from Rudd and Hirsch, so if that does not appeal to you, then I suppose you should avoid it, but it is a nice character piece about love and friendship set in our very own backyard, and you can even stream it on Netflix.

4) Side Effects

Released at the beginning of the year, “Side Effects” seems to have been forgotten by many people even though it is acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh’s supposedly final film. It was the first new release I saw in 2013, and I never got it out of my head. It has a great ensemble cast including Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It follows Mara’s character who sinks into a deep depression and starts taking a new type of pill prescribed by her psychiatrist, which begins to have horrible side effects for her. The movie is full of twists, so to say any more would spoil the experience for you. But if you are looking for a tense psychological thriller, you will not find much better than “Side Effects.”

5) Upstream Color

One of the most-anticipated indie films last year, “Upstream Color” is from Shane Carruth, the same writer/director as 2004’s insane mind-bending sci-fi movie “Primer.” Carruth took a nine-year break in between movies (with one between those that never raised enough funds), and the wait definitely paid off. The plot is no more clear than his last movie’s, but then again no one was expecting it to be. I do not really know how to begin describing it, besides saying there are some pretty but dangerous flowers, parasites, pigs that are somehow linked to humans, and a lot of other bizarre stuff that you are honestly most likely not going to understand on a first viewing, which is expected; both of Carruth’s films require a couple viewings to fully absorb and enjoy, and that style of movie is not for everyone. But if you give it a chance (it is streaming on Netflix as well), it is a beautiful movie shot over in Dallas that you may not immediately enjoy, but it will at least make you think. And is that not what great sci-fi should do?