If there’s a great movie or two in the mix, it will be among those that I have yet to see: “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Wolf of Wall Street,” “Philomene,” and “American Hustle.”

What’s a great movie?  A good story, well told visually and in dialogue, characters with depth and  actors up to the task (and no miscasting), musical score that advances and never interferes with the story and characters, and usually elements that resonate beyond the confines of the story.  They also tend age well. *  

Nothing wrong with a purely entertaining movie that falls short on most of those criteria.  “The Heat” with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarty would be my 2013 pick for entertaining.  Not as rich or as entertaining as my 2012 pick of “The First Class Exotic Marigold Hotel,” but far better than the 2013 distant second  of “We Are The Millers.”  Okay, 2013 wasn’t hot for comedies.

No shortage of highly touted sci-fi/action/adventure/fantasy movie fare.  This list is as good as any guide for you.  I avoided most of those – and still managed to see a couple that I wouldn’t put on any recommended list.  However, “Gravity” is good and “Rush” is excellent.

What I recommend, one conditionally, are a couple of movies that haven’t gotten much buzz because the good field is so crowded.  Unlike say, “The Butler,” have no serious criticisms of either.  Both are well crafted, visually pitch perfect, music hits the right notes, and the actors dig well into their roles.

First, the other “PA deer hunter” movie of 2013.  Be forewarned, it may be the most depressing movie of the year.  “Prisoners” still takes it for most disturbing.  Which is sort of a shame because “Out of the Furnace” should have been most disturbing as well.  That part of the story got a bit lost as the violent and depressing elements overwhelmed the thought provoking parts of the story.  It’s raw, gritty, and bloody.  If it weren’t so well made, I would have hated it.  But it’s too real about too many lives in the US that my educated white ass doesn’t want to know or think about for me to like this movie.

It touches on the themes that were seen in “Winter’s Bone,” a movie that I highly recommended, but is simultaneously more and less.  The director of “Winter’s Bone” made the choice to lighten the heavy load of the movie with a short musical interlude.  The Coen Brothers did the same thing several times in “Fargo.”  A “spoonful of sugar” does help the medicine go down.  The closest “Out of the Furnace” comes to offering a sweetener is watching Christian Bale on a big screen.  It wasn’t enough for me, and I came close to missing how finely crafted the movie is.  An assessment a second viewing could change, but it’s not a movie I think I could sit through again.

Thematically, “The Book Thief” shares more with “Out of the Furnace” than is immediately apparent.  Both concern the impact of war and economic inequality and injustice on ordinary people.  Told through the lens of ordinary people and not that of the war makers and those labeled as hero warriors.  Sixty plus years on and a bazillion movies later, it would seem that there would be no stories left to be told from WWII.  That it’s been mined to the point of exhaustion.  Perhaps that’s not true because we have never gotten the story right.  In an almost understated fashion, “The Book Thief” offers as much, if not more, than “Schindler’s List” did.  Small segments that could easily have lapsed into derivative or cliched (like so very much in “The Butler”) are kept short enough and freshly staged enough to work well.  

Or perhaps it was all the exceptionally fine acting performances in this movie that made it so good.  Or Emily Watson, one of my favorite actors, is in it.  She’s so good in a supporting role that her performance is sublime.  She’s in that rare category of film actors that can speak with their eyes.  (Check out Hilary and Jackie to see this for yourself.)  Watson may become the female version of Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole with multiple Oscar nominations and no wins, but this year is likely not even to get a nomination.  However, wouldn’t quibble if Sally Hawkins wins for her work in “Blue Jasmine” which is really close to or equal to Watson’s in “The Book Thief.”

Speaking of  “Blue Jasmine,” and ignoring the experimental component, if you haven’t already done so, suggest seeing Woody Allen’s “Alice” before seeing “Blue Jasmine.”  The hand of the same “god” is at play in both.  A “god” that knows when to be generous and when to be unsparing (and occasionally to be confounding as in “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”)  

(Am debating seeing “Ender’s Game” and “Thor” which are at the $3.50/ticket theater.   Both are getting high marks and may be excellent in their genres, but that’s a low bar IMHO.  OTOH, it’s easier to be disappointed when I drop $10 to see a movie; I like the lower risk of waiting a few weeks.)              

*My short list of great movies:
“The Wizard of Oz”
“The African Queen”
“Some Like It Hot”
“Lawrence of Arabia”
“Driving Miss Daisy”
“Unforgiven” (almost)
“Shakespeare In Love”
“Brokeback Mountain”

(“Unforgiven” was marred by Eastwood in the lead role – he was too old for the part by the time he was able to make the movie.  I didn’t include any Woody Allen movies because he invariably has at least one casting misstep (most often in the male roles) and the screenplays aren’t tight enough (may add the charm and quirkiness that make his movies enjoyable, but at a price).