Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My Favorite films of 2013

There's no way I've seen all the films I need to in order to do full justice to this list. I still haven't seen Like Someone in Love and am still waiting for Beyond the Hills to get some kind of distribution. But at some point, you just need to put 2013 to bed. I think 2013 was a tremendous year for film. Probably the best year in the last decade. Last year I had a hard time filling out a top 10. This year, my 10 favorite films (actually 11) are all top notch, and there were a several others that I had a hard time leaving off my top 10, including (ahem), Frozen. Anyway, now that we're already 1/4 of the way through 2014, these are my favorite films of 2013. And now I can move on. (ratings are out of 4 stars)

1. 12 Years a Slave (2013) - McQueen ****
- There was no more powerful film last year than this one. It even gained in stature for me after I read Northup's incredible memoir. I will not soon forget this one. McQueen's greatest feat was bringing the stone-cold emotional honesty of the memoir, whilst not selling out to sentiment.

2. Before Midnight (2013) - Linklater ****
- Perhaps the best film of the trilogy, Linklater's labor of love with his stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke is another superb entry in what is turning into more of a lifelong relationship examined on film. As Celine and Jesse age, the entire trilogy continues to morph and shift as our perceptions of past and present perceptions of this couple changes.

3. Gravity (2013) - Cuaron ****
- The funnest and most breathtaking experience I've had in a theater in about 8 years. And when I say breathtaking, I really mean it. I felt out of breath at the end of the film. It's a memorable leap forward for technological effects and the advance of cinema as experience. It's also a deeply felt humanistic tale and well acted by Bullock.

4. The Act of Killing (2012) - Oppenheimer ****
- It's hard to completely fathom how this film got made. But Joshua Oppenheimer has made a documentary for the ages. Scorching, brazen, appalling, and unforgettable.

5. Laurence Anyways (2012) - Dolan ****
- Mostly went unnoticed, this Canadian release from 2012 that played in the US last year is an unabashed love story with tinges of Kubrick and Fassbinder. It's loaded with style and although it has a long running time, it also has an epic and tragic leaning that I couldn't get enough of.

6. Prisoners (2013) - Villaneuve ****
- My favorite procedural since Silence of the Lambs (and without sensationalizing the crime). Villaneuve's film is utterly creepy and gets under your skin. I had this film on the brain for weeks. Jackman and Gyllenhaal have never been better.

7. Blue Jasmine (2013) - Allen ****
- Allen's best film since Match Point, nearly a decade a go. True, though the film is a tremendous vehicle for Cate Blanchett, it also contains a great deal of Shakespearean elements and class dynamics. Superbly acted by the ensemble and really an engaging film.

8. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - Scorsese *** 1/2
- This was the most talked about film for awhile there, but when you boil it down to pure cinema and bravado, nothing could top it. Hard to believe that Scorsese still has this much energy, but his film made American Hustle look boring by comparison. Scorsese is remarkably successful portraying comedy as grand circus, with DiCaprio an excellent ring leader.

9. To the Wonder (2013) - Malick ****
- Malick's darkest and most doubt-laden film was his most poorly received film yet, mainly due to the public's and critic's misreading of it. If The Tree of Life displays spiritual birth, then To the Wonder examines spiritual doubt. Once all is said and done, the film will likely settle nicely into Malick's canon. It just might take awhile. I found it to be gorgeous, romantic, and unsettling.

10. Short Term 12 (2013) - Cretton ****
- At times the film begins to veer into tv movie territory, but reality and honesty are constantly setting things straight. Brie Larson as a social worker taking care of troubled teens is just amazing. It's as moving and honest as any film from last year.

11. Fill the Void (2012) - Burshtein *** 1/2
- I'm making room for this one on my list. This is the one film that took me somewhere I felt I'd never seen before. Rama Burshtein brought me into the Hassidic Jewish world of arranged marriages and makes it feel simultaneously unique and common, building upon the kinds of societal and relational pressures common to the works of Jane Austen, but transporting them to a world rarely filmed.

Honorable Mention:
Afternoon Delight (2013) - Soloway ***
The Attack (2012) - Doueiri *** 1/2
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) - Kechiche ***
Captain Phillips (2013) - Greengrass ***
Frances Ha (2012) - Baumbach ***
Frozen (2013) - Buck, Lee *** 1/2
The Kings of Summer (2013) - Vogt-Roberts ***
Cutie and the Boxer (2013) - Heinzerling ***
Mud (2013) - Nichols ***

The rest of 2013: In alphabetical order....

Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013) - Lowrey **
All is Lost (2013) - Chandor ** 1/2
American Hustle (2013) - Russell **
August: Osage County (2013) - Wells ***
A Band Called Death (2012) - Covino ***
Behind the Candelabra (2013) - Soderbergh **
Blackfish (2013) - Cowperwaithe ***
The Bling Ring (2013) - Coppola **
Blue Caprice (2013) - Moors ***
The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012) - Van Groeningen * 1/2
The Butler (2013) - Daniels ***
Computer Chess (2013) - Bujalski **
The Conjuring (2013) - Wan **
Dallas Buyer's Club (2013) - Vallee **
Fruitvale Station (2013) - Coogler ***
The Gatekeepers (2013) - Moreh ** 1/2
Gatsby (2013) - Luhrman **
Gimme the Loot (2012) - Leon ** 1/2
Goodbye First Love (2012) - Hansen-Love **
The Great Beauty (2013) - Sorrentino ***
Hannah Arendt (2012) - Von Trotta ***
Her (2013) - Jonze ***
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) - Lawrence ** 1/2
The Hunt (2013) - Vinterberg **
I'm So Excited (2013) - Almodovar * 1/2
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) - Coen **
Leviathan (2012) - Castaing-Taylor * 1/2
Mama (2013) - Muschietti ***
Nebraska (2013) - Payne ***
Night Across the Street (2012) - Ruiz ** 1/2
No (2013) - Larrain ** 1/2
Only God Forgives (2013) - Refn * 1/2
Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013) - Raimi ***
Pain and Gain (2013) - Bay **
The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) - Cianfrance ***
Post Tenabras Lux (2012) - Reygadas ** 1/2
Prince Avalanche (2013) - Green **
Renoir (2012) - Bourdos ** 1/2
Rush (2013) - Howard * 1/2
Saving Mr. Banks (2013) - Hancock ** 1/2
Side Effects (2013) - Soderberg ** 1/2
Something in the Air (2012) - Assayas **
The Spectacular Now (2013) - Ponsoldt **
Spring Breakers (2013) - Korine ***
Stoker (2013) - Park **
Stories We Tell (2013) - Polley ** 1/2
Therese (2012) - Miller ** 1/2
Touchy Feely (2013) - Shelton **
Trance (2013) - Boyle **
Upstream Color (2013) - Carruth ** 1/2
The Way Way Back (2013) - Faxon/Rash ** 1/2
The We and the I (2013) - Gondry ** 1/2
What Maisie Knew (2013) - McGehee **
The World's End (2013) - Wright ** 1/2
You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet (2013) - ** 1/2


Sam Juliano said...

As always you have done a fabulous job sizing up the year Jon! Real nice that we have the same Number 1 film--not sure when I remember that happening--but we have been on the same page with that film from the start! Then you follow up with a film I have never connected with, but on that count I am in the minority for sure. I like GRAVITY less than you do, but I can't fault you for including it here is a lofty position. I applaud you for including LAWRENCE ALWAYS which just missed my Top 10, and of course we have long agreed on the magnificence of TO THE WONDER. I NEVER at any time saw SHORT TERM 12 ever drifting off in TV territoty, in fact that is essentially why is it as great as it is. We are in agreement many time in your fabulous presentation here Jon! The wait apparently was well worth it my friend!

Anonymous said...

Nice list Jon. My top ten…

1. The Act Of Killing
2. Prisoners
3. Top Of The Lake
4. Captain Phillips
5. 12 Years A Slave
6. A Touch Of Sin
7. Inside Llewyn Davis
8. Nebraska
9. Berbarian Sound Studio
10. The Grandmaster


Anonymous said...

One other thing Jon… just finished watching Melville's Un Flic again which as you probably know was his last film before dying. Couldn't help but be reminded of Malick's To The Wonder in how it basically parodies all of the director's stylistic flourishes without any of the same rewards.

Luckily for Malick he can rebound from his misfire without it being his last word in cinema. And I don't think most people misread To The Wonder…I came to the same conclusion as you did about the film's thematic concerns. It just seems obvious to most viewers that Malick was running on autopilot with his images and that he lost the film in editing. The Affleck/Bardem story lines don't coalesce effectively and the movie can't find its footing until the last 20 minutes (which reach masterpiece levels).

We will eventually find out how time will handle To The Wonder, but I don't think it will ever be considered special. I just hope it wasn't the first glimpse into a filmmaker in demise, but instead just a isolated misstep. Reading what Knight Of Cups and the formerly known Lawless are about, I have reservations. M.Roca

Jon said...

@ Sam - Thanks for stopping by and yes, it did take me awhile to finish this although I don't think it's ever quite finished until I see a few others.

@ Maurizio - You remind me that I still need to see A Touch of Sin. That's another film I have not gotten to yet. I could never figure out the appeal of Inside Llewyn Davis and that'll go down as one of my disappointments for this year. As for Malick, I know that YOU didn't misread it, but I still think most of everyone else did, hence the inability for most to understand the connection between Affleck and Bardem. I thought they did connect thematically very well. But I was in the minority on that. I don't regard Un Flic very highly either and would hope that To the Wonder doesn't turn out to be THAT in the end. I have not paid much attention to what his future films will be like but would be concerned about so many films in a short period of time.

Catherine Short said...

We finally received 12 years from the library. Now we have to find the time to watch it! I got about 3/4 of the way through prisoners and I had to stop! I'm such a wuss... But I liked what I saw ;-)

Jon said...

Hope you like it Catherine. It has stuck with me. I read the memoir and gained even more respect for the film after that.