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Movie critic Colin Boyd looks back at CityLife’s top 10 movies of 2013.

1 – Nebraska

Perhaps because it isn’t a play-for-keeps human gamble like most of the year’s notable films, Nebraska feels the most unique. There are no special effects, no history-changing journeys, no epic scale. But even for films where those things are true, the characters still have to pull you in. Enter Nebraska. Bruce Dern is heartbreaking and hilarious as a man dead-set on claiming a bogus million-dollar sweepstakes prize, and director Alexander Payne offers up his best, most complete film to date.

2 – Her

Spike Jonze has always walked to the beat of his own mariachi band, and Her is a subtle, unexpectedly touching story of a man who falls for his futuristic operating system. It’s a deft look at love and our growing technology addiction, anchored by a sublime performance from Joaquin Phoenix.

3 – 12 Years a Slave

A genuine haymaker, there’s no getting around the power of 12 Years a Slave, and no avoiding the quality work from star Chiwetel Ejiofor and director Steve McQueen. If not for Brad Pitt’s performance and a villain that’s too clichéd (Michael Fassbender), this would be higher on the list.

4 – Short Term 12

Here’s the movie more people should have heard about. A look at the staff of a foster care facility, Short Term 12 is strong on fractured characters, ensemble acting, and creating its own vibrant universe.

5 – Gravity

Although 12 Years a Slave has a slight edge for awards, the biggest studio achievement is Gravity, hands down. It’s past $600 million worldwide and is the best science fiction movie in years. The performances are solid, balancing an average script, but sweet Jesus, the visuals are so far beyond anything else that just watching it is kind of transformative.

6 – Mud

Nobody in Hollywood has had a better two years than Matthew McConaughey. Mud is his most understated performance in a six-pack of outstanding work, coming in the service of a Southern Gothic story that pays close attention to the kind of characters you don’t find anywhere else.

7 – Captain Phillips

The last 30 minutes of Captain Phillips represents some of the best work by director Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks. That’s enough, really. But, as with all good films with incredible third acts, how they get there is just as important. It just gets overshadowed by the pure adrenaline rush of the big finish.

8 – The Wolf of Wall Street

American Hustle might be the more popular choice, but shady con men are handled much more enthrallingly, believably, and powerfully in Martin Scorsese’s latest tag team match with Leonardo DiCaprio.

9 – Dallas Buyers Club

You could make a strong case that Matthew McConaughey’s work in Dallas Buyers Club is the best performance – male or female – of 2013. Who could have predicted that a few years ago?

10 – Fruitvale Station

The story of Oscar Grant, a young black man killed on San Francisco’s public transit by a white cop, Fruitvale Station is the kind of serious, mature film studios would never make instead of an Adam Sandler movie, which is frankly getting tiresome. CL