I’m cheating a bit here and doing a top 15 for the year, rather than just a top 10. 2013 was a great year for foreign films and domestic indies, but I thought it was pretty disappointing for big budget US studio movies. Granted, I missed American Hustle and haven’t yet had the chance to catch Her, but despite Richard Brody’s excellent defense of The Wolf of Wall Street, that one’s far too long to crack my list. Gravity was beautiful and aurally stunning, but suffered from weak performances.
So anyway, here’s that list, with a few disclaimers at the bottom:
15. Inside Llewyn Davis
It’s taken me a little while to come around to the Coen’s new film. I didn’t love Carey Mulligan’s performance at all, but everything else is spot-on. My initial reaction was that it treaded similar existential territory as No Country for Old Men, Barton Fink, or A Serious Man, all of which did it better. I still more or less believe that, but Inside Llewyn Davis is so tightly constructed, funny, and bleak that it’s hard not to put on this list. A long car ride where the eponymous Oscar Isaac is accompanied by John Goodman and Garret Hedlund is a highlight.
14. Post Tenebras Lux
This film is a puzzle and I don’t know that I’ve solved it. Carlos Reygadas is such a bold filmmaker and even though parts of Post Tenebras Lux are too obtuse, it’s always risky, beautiful, and enigmatic. I wrote about it in more detail HERE.
13. Short Term 12
Here’s another film, like some of the later ones, that really make the list because of the performances. Sure, the story is good, but Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield raise the bar. HERE‘s a review I wrote of the film earlier this year.
12. Berberian Sound Studio
This movie is just so fun and tricky. I loved Toby Jones’ performance, and it’s really enticing for any filmmaker. I won’t write much more since I just blogged about that one and Museum Hours. You can read about them both HERE.
11. Museum Hours
See the link above for more on this film. One addition that I don’t go into a ton of detail on in that post: Museum Hours is paced so oddly. Shots linger, scenes abruptly end, and director Jem Cohen frequently digresses. Yet it always works because of a really solid mood of friendship and art. I loved it.
10. Frances Ha
Love it or hate it for its hipster tendencies, Noah Baumbach’s film is sheer exuberance. It’s also funny, something that not many films from 2013 can claim. HERE’s my review of it.
9. Like Someone in Love
Abbas Kiarostami’s second foray outside of Iran is a gorgeous, enigmatic film about lost love. It’s pretty to look at, and, like a lot of Kiarostami films, somehow makes long conversations interesting. Part of that is due to his exploratory camera. Part is due to the content themselves and the hidden motivations of these interesting characters. HERE‘s a review.
Pablo Larraín is an idiosyncractic filmmaker. Though shot on old VHS stock, No, about advertising in 1988 Chile, is his most accessible, affecting film to date.
7. The Act of Killing
More horrifying than any genre horror film this year, The Act of Killing is a Herzogian documentary that is absurd and devastating at once. Review is HERE.
6. The Hunt
Thomas Vinterberg’s path has diverged rather dramatically from his ‘enfant terrible’ Dogme partner Lars Von Trier’s. The Hunt is a frustrating and captivating film that features Mads Mikkelsen in a brilliant performance as a schoolteacher accused of molestation. Review is HERE.
5. Drinking Buddies
The simplest film on this list, Drinking Buddies has the best modern American 30-something performances (particularly from Olivia Wilde) in some time. My interview with director Joe Swanberg is HERE.
4. Before Midnight
It’s a lot of talking and a lot of long takes, but Before Midnight still works as well, if not better, than either of Richard Linklater’s previous two entries in his trilogy.
When it comes down to it, all I really want is a good thriller. That’s probably what I watch 60% of the time. Not all foreign directors make a successful transition into American filmmaking. Denis Villeneuve did with this tense, taut thriller, one of the leanest big budget works by somewhat not named Fincher in awhile. My review of the film is HERE.
2. The Great Beauty
The Great Beauty is imagination on-screen. It’s a film filled with ideas and longing. It should be over-stuffed and bloated but it’s not. Instead it’s a thought-provoking film that features some of the more startling images in cinema this year. My interview with director Paolo Sorrentino is HERE. My blog post on it is HERE.
1. Paradise Faith/Hope/Love
I’ve mentioned these films so many times on this blog this year. Ulrich Seidl’s trilogy is an accomplishment. It’s distant and detached one moment, wryly funny the next, existentially horrifying after that. Seidl gives a lesson in the human condition that Nabokov would be proud of, but his films, particularly Paradise: Hope, are never without a sense of humanity. Check out my past posts on two from the trilogy: Faith, and Love.
There are plenty of films that came this close to making my list. I loved Ki-duk Kim’s Pieta, which I blogged about HERE.
Sister marked Ursula Meier as, yet again, a filmmaker to watch. I’ll blog about that one soon.
In a World was hilarious; La Jaula de Oro was heartbreaking; Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was ephemeral; Blue is the Warmest Color was intense; The Place Beyond the Pines was ambitious; The Grandmaster was pretty; This is the End was surprisingly really funny; Night Across the Street was a sad goodbye to a great filmmaker; Computer Chess was unique.
And then there are all the other ones I haven’t seen yet: A Touch of Sin, Viola, Gloria, Metro Manila, Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, The Past, Bastards, I Used to Be Darker, In the Fog, etc.
As I did last year, below is my list of Top 15 Films First Seen in 2013, Not Made in 2013. This list is harder to make, and left off films like The Offence, Shampoo, The Front, El Sur, Nobody Knows, Billy Liar, Port of Shadows, and Get Carter.
The 1960s are pretty dominant here. Two by Ritt and Etaix make the list. All are linked to my past posts.