(for the list of the best of 2013, remember to click on the "More photos" link that accompany this article)
Every year I find it hard to reduce my experience at the movies to only 10 best films. Why does a list have to stop at 10? Where is it written that the official number of a respected list should not go further?
To me, it all has to do with the films that strike a nerve, that entertain me and put my brain cells into work the longer after I leave the theater. If I forget what a film was about by the time I get home, or confuse it with another, then, I've only seen a formula.
Here's the list of my favorite films of 2013.
But before, I would also like to check on films that weren't great but had some redeeming elements:
- Saving Mr. Banks by John Lee Hancock. Thompson and Hanks are excellent even if the film takes the same conventional approach once taken before in Finding Neverland, another film about another writer of another Disney movie.
- The Great Gatsby by Baz Luhrmann. It is like Fitzgerald through the lens of Moulin Rouge, but it's still entertaining and you get the idea. Plus it has DiCaprio and Mulligan.
- August: Osage County: This film is like a Soap Opera elevated by its superb acting. Meryl Streep, who has done almost everything in acting, finds some dark corners she hasn't explored fully yet. Julia Roberts doesn't have much to do but is able to respond to Streep's antics with some explosive rage. If the film had had a more precise direction it would have landed a Best Of 2013. Let's just say it is enjoyable to see people in misery.
Now let's review the complete misses:
-The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by Ben Stiller. Boy wants girl. Boy loses photo. Boy loses job. Boy travels to three or four places for photo. Boy finds photo around the corner. Boy wins girl. This is the most moronic piece of pretentious boringness I've ever seen.
- American Hustle by David O. Russell. Al little bit more cohesive than his previous film, this one is so fake and so been there, done that you may confuse it with 50 other films. I do have to admit that I applaud Amy Adams. Finally this actress has been offered a character that is not the typically likable girlfriend.
- The Butler by Lee Daniels. This film suffers from a case of self grandeur/importance. It wants to put the history of the United States, one cameo at a time. With all this, the film wastes Forest Whitaker's talent and gives too much screen time to Oprah in hopes of giving her an Oscar nomination. (For my full review, click on the following link: www.examiner.com/node/65205026/edit)
- Prisoners by Denis Villeneuve. This one is a big disappointment. Most of the cast wasted in characters with nothing to say or do. Jackman and Gyllenhaal doing generic stuff. A story with an interesting idea that ends up becoming somehow ineffective. (For my full review, click on the following link: http://www.examiner.com/review/prisoners-the-event-of-a-crime-we-are-all...)
- The Counselor by Ridley Scott. A cast to die for. An A-list Director. A script with a pedigree writer. This film only proves that not all formulas work exactly the same in Hollywood even when studios keep thinking they can measure success. What's good for one film doesn't translate the same for another.
- Only God Forgives by Nicolas Winding Refn. I was the only person who didn't think "Drive" was the visionary work that won Nicolas the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director, and his newest film confirms that he is pure form and nothing inside. This film is no different from his previous film, except that the critics and the audience opened up their eyes for good. (For my full review, visit the following link: http://www.examiner.com/review/only-god-forgives-a-more-stylized-drive-s...)
- I'm So Excited by Pedro Almodovar. I never thought the day would come when I would detest an Almodovar film. His scripts have shown a maturity and a capacity for surprise that few screenwriters have shown lately and consistently. And no matter how much he wants to convince you this film is a metaphor for the economy crisis in Spain, it is a pastiche with a clear lack of timing for comedy. It's like Almodovar wasn't really there when the camera was rolling. (For my full review, click on the following link: http://www.examiner.com/review/i-m-so-excited-almodovar-lost-spain-polit...)
This list doesn't include some films that should be noticed, because I haven't had the chance to see them yet (Captain Phillips, Much Ado About Nothing, The broken Circle Breakdown, The Great Beauty, Hannah Arendt, All Is Lost, Out of The Furnace, Enough Said, The Past, Labor Day, among others).
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers's latest production is their most delicate and gentle contraption. Filled with their signature commonly surreal situations and characters (Specially an Oscar worthy performance from a usually snubbed John Goodman and an equally award deserving work from Oscar Isaac who sings and plays the guitar accordingly and embodies the spirit and mood of the whole film), a photography by Bruno Delbonnel that catches the dirt in the cold and the particles in the air, and a screenplay that makes Llewyn's pitiful life an heroic Odyssey, the film leaves you with a tender melancholic feeling for all those of us who haven't achieved the success we've dreamed of.
12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen's third film is his most complete and with greater repercussions. It sets up to make you feel what it is to be a free man and suddenly be enslaved for 12 long years, submissive of people who believe they are your superior and far away from the ones you love. The acting is superb, and the scenes of cruelty (specially when Solomon Northup spends a whole day hanging from a tree while the other slaves do their usual everyday activities, and when he is forced to torture Patsey for the pleasure of the masters) are hard to watch without getting into the characters' skin and psyche.
Sarah Polley's accidental documentary finds the only truth possible about concepts like objectivity, first person account and how we chose to understand, believe and enjoy them. As she sets up to create a portrait of her mother, she finds out that she knows even less about her now, and by chance, also comes face to face to the fact that she is not who she thinks she is. As the movie ends, a simple answer from a pivotal character will turn everything around and we discover that what we think about life is really fiction.
Alfonso Cuaron has created the ultimate cinematic experience. Completely visceral, yet filled with philosophical moments of Kubrickian grandeur, The film is best experienced in Imax 3D, so from the moment Sandra Bullock shows up nervous and doubtful, to the moment she sets her feet on Earth, larger than anything else, you finally understand the power of man in the universe.
The third part of an unusual and unplanned trilogy, Jesse and Celine find themselves spending a weekend in Greece and confronting middle age, boredom and regrets. Every word these characters say to each other sound true and painful and the emptiness they leave as you see a couple who fell in love so beautifully, going down is heartbreaking. But, hey, it's the closest you get to life, and it might teach us a lot about what keeps us all together. Delpy and Hawke co-wrote the dialogue and if you think they are improvising in most of the scenes it is just because they are absolutely great actors.
Greta Gerwig helped write this story along with its director Noah Baumbach. The freshness of its characters and their lives in a Black and White New York makes you wonder where has Woody Allen been all these years. Yes, this is a movie that makes you fall in love with everything in it.
An experiment that happened by pure chance (after it was virtually impossible for Oppenheimer to interview the victims), this documentary centers on the victimizer and engages them in a game of reenactment of their proudly committed crimes... As the film progresses, one of them is beginning to feel physical pain before he catches up with his moral responsibility. It's a One-of-a-kind film.
Alexander Payne's films (like that of the Coen Brothers) can be visualized by a map of the United States. Having explored the Napa Valley and Hawaii, it is time for the mountains of Nebraska, as silent Woody is stubborn enough to go after a mail-in One-Million-Dollar win that everybody knows is a scam. Nevertheless, he manages to bring his family together (and remember why they aren't anymore) and express his feelings in two or three words. The Black and White photography along with a cast that is a delight and a Career crowning performance by Bruce Dern make this a must-see.
Spike Jonze is one of those few modern American directors with a singular voice. With Wes Anderson and David Finch he shares a precise visual palette and with Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers, he is there to tell his story the most effective way.
His latest film, HER is set in a very near future that seems like today, and it deals with our isolation and return to imagination, as we develop feelings for technology's virtual universe.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Scorsese has done it again. He's made a film about the socio-econominal excesses of the privileged ones, and makes you open your eyes to where your money is going.
DiCaprio completes his view of the Upper Class weakness that he started with The Great Gatsby.
Thomas Vinterberg's nightmare of a film puts a common man in an unfathomable situation to see how the little people act and react to it. In this case, a little girl insinuates that her teacher "touched her" which sends a whole town against him (an impossibly perfect Mads Mikkelsen). Now, think for a moment that someone could wrongly accuse you of something like this. what would happen to you? Hitchcock tried to do this with The Wrong Man in one of his least successful films, but Vinterberg's little jewel succeeds in every respect.
One thing Sofia Coppola has for her is that her films are completely original. No one has ever made a film that looks and feels like a Sofia Coppola film. Take this Bling Ring, for example. She goes over and over and over the numbing pleasure of stealing frivolous and ridiculously expensive objects from celebrities until you understand how the youth brain works, completely alienated by what they have learned from life.
This film's pleasure comes from 4 people. It was directed and financed independently by Paul Schrader. It was written by Brett Easton Ellis. And it stars Porn Star James Deen and trouble Star Lindsay Lohan.
Nothing bad can come from so many damaged and uncommon souls, unless, of course, you refuse to understand the legal degradation of Los Angeles. Most critics hated Schrader's film, and some criticize Lohan's performance. I think they are just perfect.
Woody Allen creates a new version of Blanche Dubois in a film about secrets, lies, hypocrisy and madness. And even if it has great performances, it is impossible to take your eyes off of the exquisite Cate Blanchett.
A perfect companion to Blomkamp's District 9, Elysium is a throwback to the soul of science fiction. All the technology and CGI is just the dressing of a complex soul that reveals a current state of social injustice: Health is available only to the wealthy. That's true now and always.
Ryan Coogler has a plan: he wants you to know a man is going to die (because it was in the news), and he wants you to follow his last day, his dreams, his failures, his mistakes and his humanity. It is the basic structure of the cinema of cruelty, but it makes you care for each thing you do in life.
Harmony Korine's film is kaleidoscopic. It doesn't explain anything and it avoids lecturing you. It simply immerses you in the hyper-ventilating world of teenagers when they devise their "great idea" of a spring break of freedom and excess.
Blue is the Warmest Color
Oh, the first love. You'll never forget it. But what if it's an unusual love, what if you actually don't understand it, and don't know how to keep it, and don't know you that pain leads to a more controlled adult life?
Abdellatif Kechiche's three-hour love story is a poem to youth spirit of discovery, and Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux are the perfect cast for an unflinching (and sometimes scandalous) film.