Year-end wrapping up. Time for that annual debate on the state of cinema and what was its best. 2013 was a great year for good movies. It was a good year for great movies. The best 2013 had to offer wasn’t better per se than any other given year, but the 11-30 was something to behold.
Blockbuster cinema continued to stumble around, with a movie worth gobbling down showing up maybe once a month. Those willing to stretch to other venues though, be they independent cinemas, On Demand or merely wait a few months for streaming options were met with a cornucopia of options. Sure there are still your movies that seem akin to a myth (At Berkley, Leviathan) and always feel like they played in town last night at 11:30pm, but the riches are vast.
What were the best movies of 2013 though? The decision was tough. Yes, the majority of this ten screamed itself out from first viewing. What about the last slots? What about those that one hasn’t caught up with yet? My thought is simple; I won’t catch all of 2013’s finest until June of 2016 anyways and I have to publish at some point As such, I can only truly wait so long and at this juncture, I am quite confident that the ten following films stand as my favorites these past months had to offer.
Without further ado, here we go and my sincerest thanks for reading, commenting and considering. Truly.
I didn’t know what my favorite film of 2013 was until I was forced, an odd thing I suppose. My head and heart went in multiple directions, yet it was the thought of Joel and Ethen Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis that brought the biggest smile to my face. It’s a quiet masterpiece, following a week in the life of a misanthropic folk-singer, inspired by the life of Dave Van Ronk. Oscar Isaac is worth all of the hoopla as the titular fellow, a man who tends to be a smidge too self-centered to make the right decisions. He is nevertheless intriguing, as the Coens and Isaac show us a person capable of being special, whose brightness only shimmers when he belts from the barrel of his chest his deepest passions. Add to that a sneaky humor that resonates larger upon reflection, what you have here is the best movie 2013 has to offer, at least in this critic’s opinion. I love it to pieces.
Nine years is a long time. It’s a long time to wait for a new movie, to rekindle what feels like a friendship, to be together. Richard Linklater had a lot of pressure with Before Midnight, the third outing between he and his love-birds Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), especially considering how perfectly crafted, and especially perfectly ended, each of the two previous films were. That Before Midnight is such a staggeringly impressive work is unbelievable, branching out the tale of nearly missed love into something organic and real. The three collaborators, with Hawke and Delpy contributing to the screenplay once again, took us into all of the highs and lows marriage can contain, where compromises can periodically leave both parties displeased. This is just great stuff, featuring the finest natural dialogue being written today.
Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills is a startling view of traditional religious thought colliding with current civilization. Based on a true story, the film views two women in love (the absolutely magnificent Comsina Stratan and Cristina Flutur) who struggle to reconnect after years apart when one finds emotional comfort in a Romanian convent’s strict rules. What’s impressive of Mungiu’s direction is its simplicity, always picking a direct way to unfurl his narrative. We don’t get bogged down in details. We do know that there are those that find this love romantic, those that find it confusing and those that find it an error against a perceived higher authority. By the time we get to the shattering conclusion, one is overwhelmed with solace and impressed by the movie’s forthrightness.
I adore IMDB’s plot synopsis for Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha. “A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn't really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she's not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles.” Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, who stars and co-wrote the film, follows a woman at the edges of modern growing pains. The movie is funny, non-judgmental and slickly edited into 86 minutes of humanity; with all of its eccentricities and holes for people to slip into if given the rope. Gerwig, as has become the norm, is sensational, as Baumbach continues to prove himself among the elite directors this county has to offer.
Profoundly moving. Those are the two words that spring to mind for Spike Jonze’s Her. Words like smart and inventive flitter in the brain too; profoundly moving even more-so. Jonze’s movies follows a lonely writer who develops a romantic bond with his phone’s operating system, an advanced piece of programming which names herself Samantha. If this sounds like a movie about a dorky guy who can’t get a date, open your mind. This movie lingers on classic sci-fi tropes (the artificial intelligence which gains its own sense of morality and feeling) and layers in philosophical questions about love. Phoenix shows, if there were doubters, that he can be more than intensely dramatic, while Jonze continues to make surprising films without repeating himself.
Acclaimed filmmaker Oliver Assayas has done one of those rare thing with Something in the Air. He successfully tells the tale of protestors and revolutionaries, with their proper warts and passions. Traditionally, this kind of movie would come down either too hard on those acting on the revolution or those they are rebelling against, particularly when it comes to a youthful resistance. Assayas unravels the allure of the outsider, the bourgeois traces it can contain and gets into the trenches of fighting against a system you may not comprehend. This semi-autobiographical retelling of Assayas’ own anguish after the May 1968 strikes and riots in France, rooted in dismay over the governments treatment of students and factory workers, is smartly made an exquisitely acted.
Disturbing and beautiful, Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut isn’t especially profound. Unlike some other movies on this list, it doesn’t hint at deeper insights into the human psyche/condition. It’s really thrilling though. Mia Wasikowska is eerie as India, a teenager still overcoming the bizarre death of her father. Into her life comes her uncle (the impish Matthew Goode), whom clearly has secrets of his own, as well as an eye for both daughter and mother (Nicole Kidman). The images Chan-wook presents are like a doctor’s needle; a shock, even as one knows their inevitability. Gloriously gothic.
For much of the year my favorite release of 2013, Sarah Polley’s documentary is one of a kind. Polley details the nature of storytelling as she researches the truth of a long-rumored family secret; that her alleged biological father is not who she believes. Polley intimately studies her family’s past to profound emotional effect, eking out details, holding back criticism and presenting a wallop of an ending. A film with a significant heart and intelligence.
Hayao Miyazaki leaves filmmaking like he came into it, with wit, boldness and an eye for the frame like few ever. The legendary director’s last movie is a stunner, a reimagining Jiro Horikoshi’s life, an aeronautical engineer for Japan during World War II. The Wind Rises meditates on what it’s like to dream big, the sacrifices that come with doing so, not to mention the horrors that are required to fuel ambition. It’s also pretty as can be, full of charming comedic beats and drawing tears in that elegant way few directors are able to achieve. For years Hayao Miyazaki has been my favorite director, his contributions to cinema will be sorely missed.
The quickest three hours you will spend is with Martin Scorsese’s vision of excess and debauchery The Wolf of Wall Street. Supremely humorous and with an aces ensemble, led by a turn by Leonardo DiCaprio that’s perhaps the finest of his career. A wicked treasure is playful as its tears into the disease of consumerism.