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The Dallas Buyers Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts


Jared Leto
The Dallas Buyers Club

It’s been four years since Jared Leto acted in a motion picture, and his glorious comeback in The Dallas Buyer’s Club is a much-welcomed gift from the movie gods. Leto sinks his teeth into the role of Rayon, an AIDS stricken gay transvestite who becomes Ron Woodroof’s (an excellent Matthew McConaughey) partner in crime. The crime in question regards Ron’s drug trade, where he smuggles FDA unapproved medicine over the U.S. border and subscribes them to suffering AIDS patients. Leto’s vulnerability as Rayon compliments McConaughey’s rugged masculinity as Ron, and he grounds each scene with graceful humanity. There is one scene, in particular, where Rayon asks his estranged father for money, and it is among the most powerful movie moments of 2013. For our sake, let’s hope that it doesn’t take Leto another four years to act again. Jon Lisi


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12 Years a Slave

Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard


Michael Fassbender
12 Years a Slave

How do you make a monster human? That must’ve been the question at the center of Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the terrifying plantation owner Ediwn Epps in 12 Years a Slave. Fassbender plays one of the screen’s most vicious villains this side of Amon Goeth from Schindler’s List, like Ralph Fiennes’ groundbreaking performance in the Steven Spielberg film, Fassbender seems to have realized that the answer to the question was that at some point all monsters were human. He plays Epps like a man at war with himself: between his dark desires and what seem to be the remains of a conscience. Watching him fall in love with his slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) is devastating because Fassbender makes us see that even if this dynamic is violent, cruel and inhuman, it is love to him and even sadder, it’s probably the only kind of love he knows how to feel. Jose Solis


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The Dallas Buyers Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts


Matthew McConaughey
The Dallas Buyers Club

A touching tale of infuriating circumstances, The Dallas Buyers Club succeeds on the frail back of its star, Matthew McConaughey. While the film was first made famous for the actor’s drastic weight loss, McConaughey wholly transforms in front of our eyes through his character, the AIDS-stricken, whiskey-loving cowboy Ron Woodruff. No one would blame the actor for bringing in his past ticks: the Texas twang or his bag of charms. Yet he doesn’t. This is not the McConaughey of old. This is not even the McConaughey of 2012. Much like many declared him after last year’s string of impressive turns, he’s a new man in Dallas and quite deserving of all the accolades heaped upon him. Ben Travers


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The Great Beauty

Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso, Iaia Forte


Toni Servillo
The Great Beauty

Jep Gambardella is at a crossroads. At 65, he’s made quite a life for himself with only a famous book (written in his 20s), a series of cultural columns, and a lot of fancy parties to his beloved name. And yet, for this aging socialite, time is becoming temperamental. It mocks him, thus requiring the kind of cinematic introspective that gave birth to the Fellini era of Italian moviemaking. Indeed, Paolo Sorrentino‘s ode to La Dolce Vita and the entire Mediterranean jet set style of film is so much fun, so sumptuous to look at, that we almost forget that we’re watching a man struggle here. Luckily, Servillo never lets us forget what’s going on inside. That’s why his performance is so effective. Within the beauty of Rome, we still see the somber subtext. Bill Gibron


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Before Midnight

Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy


Ethan Hawke
Before Midnight

When Before Midnight begins, Ethan Hawke is playing a familiar character, but that character has undergone significant changes since audiences last saw him. Nearly a decade since he reignited his romance with Céline in Before Sunset, Jesse is at the airport in Greece with his son from a previous marriage. Here is Jesse, the dad giving advice about sports and airport safety. Here is Jesse the pragmatist. Eventually, the old Jesse emerges, as he discusses his new book with a plot line about “the transient nature of everything,” accompanied by the promise that “it’s gonna be funny.” Those lines set up Hawke’s multilayered performance in Before Midnight.

On one hand, he manages to be enthused as ever about a philosophical concept that inspires him. On the other, he seems genuinely shocked when he recognizes the seeds of that idea in his own volatile relationship. In the film’s celebrated hotel suite sequence—an argument with Céline that exceeds half an hour in length—Hawke plays Jesse as an occasionally hostile witness on trial for being selfish. And as Jesse faces the potential transience of his marriage, Hawke finds ways to inject humor, his whole being registering regret for ever initiating such a talky relationship in the first place. Thomas Britt

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