Reel Critics: Racial themes dominated year's best films

Last year closed with several strong candidates for Best Picture. It's hard to narrow them down to a 10-best list, but these are my picks without ranking them in order.

This was a hallmark year with three major films focused on the African American experience across two centuries. I mention them first as they all deserved Oscar nominations:

"12 Years a Slave" is a stark portrayal of the cruel reality of slavery.

"42" is the compelling story of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier of Major League Baseball.

"Lee Daniels' The Butler" covers decades of the civil rights movement through the eyes of a White House butler who served eight presidents.

"Gravity" is a sci-fi marvel that transports you into space and keeps you there as the intense adventure unfolds.

"Blue Jasmine": Cate Blanchett should win the Best Actress award as a woman unraveling mentally after her wealthy husband's arrest on fraud charges.

"American Hustle": A wild comedy/drama caper with Coen Brothers overtones resulting in several nominations.

"Dallas Buyers Club": Another offbeat movie based on true events with Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto favorites to win their acting categories.

"Nebraska": A character study that covers a cross section of real life in middle America through the quirky antics of Bruce Dern's cantankerous persona.

"Her": Romance in the future takes a hi-tech turn as Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with the voice of his computer's operating system.

"Saving Mr. Banks" with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in a complex tale of the life of the woman who created "Mary Poppins."

Close behind the above picks and also worth seeing:

"Lone Survivor": The quintessential realistic war story of our time.

"Captain Phillips": Tom Hanks in a headline story of modern piracy.

"Enough Said" and "The Way Way Back": The two best romantic comedies of the year are a cut above all their competition.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

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