12 Years a Slave (2013) Written by John Ridley Directed by Steve McQueen
In 1841, freeman Solomon Northrup, a resident of Saratoga Springs, New York was tricked by two white men into joining them as a traveling violinist. With his wife and children away for work for three weeks, Northrup sees an excellent opportunity to make a little money on the side and travel. Instead, his companions drug the man and sell him to a slave ring. A journey begins that brings Northrup to New Orleans and into the ownership of a plantation owner where our protagonist experiences just a taste of the hell that his life will become. From there he ends up at the cotton plantation of Epps, a drunkard and a brute who sexually abuses one slave in particular, Patsey. Northrup tries to keep his hope alive while watching those around him become brutalized and eventually murdered in some instances. Eventually, he will be free again but forever changed, terrors and evils scarred into his mind that he will never forget.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) Written & Directed by David Lowry
Ruth tells Bob she’s pregnant and he couldn’t be more excited. Bob needs to pull off one more robbery, and they’ll be set, able to escape their small Texas town and start over somewhere else. However, things don’t go as planned; a shoot out ensues with an officer wounded and Bob taken into custody. Ruth is taken in by her father figure Skerritt and raises her daughter as a single mother. Patrick, the officer, wounded in the shoot out, begins coming around to Ruth’s place to help her out and they slowly develop feelings for each other. Meanwhile, Bob escapes prison and starts making his way to Ruth, to take her and their daughter away to a better place.
Stranger by the Lake (2013) Written & Directed by Alain Guiraudie
Franck frequents a nude beach that doubles as a favorite spot for gay men to cruise and hook up. He befriends Henri, an older man recently broken up with his girlfriend. The two chat for a while every time Franck arrives, and he learns Henri appreciates the quiet of this side of the lake. Later, Franck sets his eyes on Michel, an incredibly handsome man who already appears to be attached. On his way home, after a late afternoon tryst with another beachgoer, Franck stumbles upon a strange scene. From his vantage point, he witnesses what appears to be a murder and Franck believes he knows the murderer. The police begin asking questions as Franck and Michel’s relationship blossoms and the beach starts to lose the splendor it once possessed for our protagonist.
Ida (2013) Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz & Pawel Pawlikowski Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Ida is about to take her vows as a nun when the prioress informs her they received word from her Aunt Wanda. This comes as a surprise as Ida is an orphan, raised in the church since she was an infant. She travels to her aunt’s home and learns Wanda is a judge living her days out drunk and in promiscuous encounters with random men. Wanda also divulges that she is a Jew, that her parents were killed when the Germans invaded during the war. The two women set out so that Ida may find her parents’ graves and have some closure with her now uncovered past. What they learn profoundly unsettles them, encounter anti-Semitic resistance and ultimately learning how Ida’s mother and father were murdered. Ida also finds herself tempted by the world outside the church, a place she has no experience with.
American Hustle (2013) Written by Eric Warner Singer and David O. Russell Directed by David O. Russell
Inspired by the FBI’s Abscam operation to take down organized crime and later public corruption, American Hustle shakes off the procedural to tell a more stylistic and fictionalized version of the events. Irving Rosenfeld is a con artist in New Jersey who has found a soulmate and partner in Sydney Prosser. The two are running an art scam, and some loan sharking but get caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso who coerces them into using their skills and connections to start taking down bigger fish. Irving’s life is complicated by his irresponsible wife Rosalyn whose son he has adopted which causes him to refuse to leave her. DiMaso gets the pair embroiled with the mayor of Camden, New Jersey and on the ground floor of the mob-led rebuilding of Atlantic City. As expected the stakes crank up to a frenetic level and Irving finds himself deeper and more threatened than he ever wanted to be.
Short Term 12 (2013) Written & Directed by Destin Daniel Critton
Short Term 12 is a group home for troubled and emotionally-challenged teenagers. The film focuses on Grace, a young supervisor who is in a relationship with coworker Mason. Grace discovers she’s pregnant early on in the picture and spends the rest of the film contemplating if she is capable of being a good parent. Her day to day life puts her right in front of some of the most challenging issues young people face. The children she sees are victims of predatory adults who have used these kids up and spit them out. Grace also has her past as the child of an abuser hanging over her like a dark cloud. A new resident comes to Short Term 12, Jayden, a girl that puts up a cold front to avoid creating personal connections. In Jayden, Grace begins to see her pains and may spiral out of control on a crusade to save Jayden’s life.
The Grandmaster (2013) Written by Wong Kar-wai, Zou Jingzhi, and Xu Haofeng Directed by Wong Kar-wai
Ip Man was a Cantonese master martial artist, specializing Wing Chun. He would go on to become the teacher whom Bruce Lee studied under, but this film focuses on his ascension to becoming a grandmaster and his fall from grace during the Japanese occupation. The film begins in the 1930s when Gong Yutian, the grandmaster under whom the southern and northern schools united announces his retirement. He chooses Ip Man as his heir in the south and Ip goes through a series of challenges to prove his worth. Yutian’s daughter Gong Er feels her family has been dishonored by losing this position and sets out to defeat Ip. She loses but a friendship begins that is cut short when the Japanese invade. Ip loses two children to famine and starvation while Gong Yutian faces betrayal at the hands of former students. The rest of the film tries to incorporate way too many events in Ip Man’s life that it ultimately becomes hard even to keep track of what is going on.