Working Title: Only the Best

Will Leschber embarks on the fools errand of putting together a best of list when the year hasn’t yet come to a close. Enjoy…

This time of year falls to looking back. We see the year as a whole and take time to reflect and collect our best and worst moments of the year. Shortly, most media outlets will be flooded with their respective “best of 2013” lists. Since there are never enough of those out there in the blogospheres and various media tiers, I figured I’d provide a short list here as well. For brevity’s sake, today’s list shall be limited to a top 3. Top selections of film and theatre as seen my me.

This year in film has been strong. Or at least the latter half has been, but that’s always the case. The highlights remind me of how transportive great film can be. By no means does a mere top 3 list encompass the entirety of quality film entries this year AND this isn’t necessarily the order or my final top 3 BUT they are some favorites that best fit the focus here. Meaning, not simply were they some of the years best, but they optimized the best aspects of what the film medium can achieve.

After all that ado here we go…from the top down

#1 Gravity: Alfonso Cuaron’s film was a monumental success on many fronts. From a technical stand point (editing, cinematography, score, sound design, visual effects) the film offered innovation and excellence. Also the uncommon storytelling was executed expertly. It features Sandra Bullock’s best performance to date. And if that was enough, the film was a giant financial success. Gravity shows the power of the film medium by placing us out in orbit with our astronauts and relentlessly pushing us through their spectacular struggles.

#2 12 Years a Slave: Based upon Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography, 12 Years tells the harrowing journey of a free black man who is abducted and sold into slavery. Narratives of this kind bring the story stakes to the highest level. However, it is director Steve McQueen who elevates the story above the mere biographic details by shining a light into variant corners of our humanity and collective past. It also features one of the best performances of the year. Chiwetel Ejiofor who plays our lead, Solomon, is simply superb. 12 Years a Slave shows the power of film by making this 150 year old story emotionally immediate and terribly accessible through its even lens. It’s a hard watch but there are few better out there this year.

And now for something completely different…

#3 Frozen: This latest entry into the Disney animation cannon reminds us how good animated fairy tales can be. This may seem light fare compared to the other two on this list but, I tell you, not a single frame is wasted in this re-imagining of the Hans Christian Anderson tale, The Snow Queen. The wonderfully rich and deep color pallet is stunning to look at. The songs co-written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, of Book of Mormon and Avenue Q fame, rival the best in Disney’s back catalog. While playing with the familiar tropes that we love about these animated tales, Frozen also turns the true-love morality story on its ear and provides something fresh after all these years. The voice cast is chosen upon ability and character fit instead of star power. In short, Frozen is supremely satisfying. It feels like the best of good old-fashioned animated musicals. I’m not ashamed to say I saw it twice.

The best pieces of theatre that I was privy to this year range from the regional/professional to the personal independent. These stories would fundamentally change in another medium which only speaks to their power as theatre.

#1 Terminus, The Magic Theatre

This play closed the season last spring at The Magic Theatre. Boy, what a finale. Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe weaves a tale of intersecting lives on a dark Dublin night. Singing serial killers, love sick demons and other unconventional characters populate this play that is told in a series of rhymed monologues. With only three actors, a charcoal rocky raked stage, and minimal lights, Terminus relies upon it’s acting and it’s writing. Both of which are stellar. It’s a hard play to wrap ones head around with its violence and lyric poetic language, but when all the theatrical pieces work this well together it makes for potent theatre.

#2 Underneath the Lintel, ACT

Beginning with one small act of mystery, the return of a 113 year past due library book, this one man show opens up to the universal and the sublime. Lintel concerns itself with human endurance, trials through suffering and small decisions, maybe even not our own, that affect our lives in monumental ways. The play excels in this theatrical setting mainly because of its singular performer, David Strathairn. He imbues this piece with so much heart and compassion that I would have spend many more hours listening to his librarian spin further yarns on life and the dancing mysteries therein.

#3 Age of Beauty, The Exit Theatre

What this play, written and directed by Stuart Bousel, captured for me was the sense of all the important conversations that one has in their 30’s. Redefining ourselves , the loss of friendship, measuring up to our own expectations, being ok with the fact that life isn’t what we thought it may be: these things and more are on the table for discussion between four pairs of women. Like all excellent theatre, this play is held up by superior dialogue and genuine characters. We remain with these women for an hour and a half because we like them, we laugh with them and we get frustrated with them. They are real to us. Their unique perspective is valuable because it illuminates our own. In viewing them, we are privy to insight we may not have had and are reminded of things we may have forgotten. It’s life circa our 30 year old selves.

The best part of making these end of year lists is having people tell you how wrong you are…or right. What were your favorites of 2013?

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