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Top 35 Films of 2013: Part 1 (35-26)

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This year in film has captured a new imagination and a new definition of cinematic greatness. From the socially relevant and resonant, to the personal and entertaining, as well as all of those in-between. Drama, comedy, documentary--what have you--there are plenty of offerings from the year of 2013 worthy of noting and then some. Here are the first ten best films of the year, in Part 1 of the countdown:

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35. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty: “Love is confusing time wise.” Terence Nance’s exploratory creative debut feature documents the hypothesized relationship between a quixotic artist and a beautiful young mystery woman who stands him up. I am at a loss of how to explain this one and not simply because it is a little rough around the edges. The question of experienced love and relationships are at the head of the film. The stylistic and artfully insightful manner in which Nance communicates these truths is awe-inspiring and often wonderfully perplexing. This is a visually impressive film all the way through and is lifted even higher by its exhilarating soundtrack and questions, analogies and metaphors. Through all of its pondering, there is some enlightenment--which somehow leads to more pondering. The core of this mystical gem seems to be creative and clever pondering--of love, of relationships, and of passion. It is probably the most entertaining 90 minutes of pondering you’ll see this year.

34. Stoker: After her father dies in an auto accident, India’s life is bombarded by her Uncle Charlie who she never knew existed and slowly grows to be infatuated by. It is a pretty, deliciously dark coming of age tale written by Wentworth Miller that awakens on screen with the exquisite direction of Park Chan-wook. The film itself is pretty straightforward in its little intricacies and could have easily fallen apart in the hands of a lesser director, but the hefty and artful lifting from Chan-wook, injects the atmospheric narrative and its enigmatic characters with a lush and dark steroid that strengthens the stage for India’s mysterious journey into becoming a woman. The result is a quiet little dark tale that is above all else memorable, visual-striking and well-realized.

33. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints: It seems to have been directed with Terrence Malick’s visual eye, but David Lowery is the one who helms this cinematic answer to an outlaw folk song. A romantic American story that follows three characters (outlaw Bob, his wife Ruth, and Sheriff Patrick) on various sides of the law. Inevitable consequences loom about for all involved and their fates are inescapable, even with significant striving against the odds. The film is a folk poem, very lyrical but surprisingly exhilarating in where it reaches--which coincidentally isn’t very far or wide. That said, where the film lacks in reach it makes up for in its pitch-perfect performances (Affleck and Mara are splendid and romantically endearing) and its atmospheric visual texture. Its slow pace even ends up a reward to the viewer.

32. Computer Chess: I did not expect to like this surprising charmer yet Andrew Bujalski often does better than what some probably give him credit for (me included). His latest is set over the course of a weekend tournament for chess software programmers. What else could sound or be more mundane than that, one might ask? The film is an experience of weird nostalgia as the viewers becomes sort of a fly on the wall attempting to interpret the many eccentricities of where the plot and characters go. Done with an inventive intelligence, the retro production delightfully reflects the uniqueness of the premise at hand--a discussion concerning the artificial intelligence playing games meant for living beings and the authentic whimsy of the human spirit. One might be surprised just how human this film turns out to be.

31. Stories We Tell: Truth truly depends on the source--who is telling the story. The documentary that compellingly explores the nature of storytelling and the mystery of memory. Sarah Polley creates something that probably shouldn’t be as captivating as it is by use of discovering her own family secrets. Narratives drift along, often contradicting one another and adding intricate layers to previous scenarios. The family of storytellers become enthralled in expressing narrated history and myth. The documentation of it all unravels like that of a breathtaking thriller. A proclaimed genre-twister with valued originality, the viewer gets as caught up in the wonder of the stories that are being told that nothing remains completely certain. In the end, one is simply endeared with the pleasure of having been told a story. And that might just be the point of it all!

30. Gloria: Redefining “the golden years” is no small feat, yet Sebastian Lelio and Paulina Garcia make it look sublime and effortless. The titular protagonist, Gloria is a fifty-something divorcee unwilling to let herself become old and bitter; however, the reality is she is lonely, bored and has fallen into a perpetual mid-life crisis when she finds herself involved with an older man still tied up in his own family. Paulina Garcia helps steady and magnify the sometimes meandering narrative that is overall packed with some memorable character moments that bring the film to true life. It is fantastic to note that this is probably the first clever and truly involving films centered around a fifty-something female character that doesn’t color “women of a certain age” in an undesirable shade of gray. This is an impressive, mature drama and character study that is full with rich observations.

29. Enough Said: Possibly the most charming film on the list, this little gem starring Julia Louis Dreyfus and the late, great James Gandolfini is a wonderfully sardonic effort. A divorced and single parent, Eva spends her days enjoying work as a masseuse but dreading her daughter's impending departure for college. She meets Albert- a sweet, funny and like-minded man also facing an empty nest. And through their humorous, involving interactions a new "something" blossoms between them. What makes this film more than just your average little grown-up comedy is its naturalistic dialogue and the surprisingly stunning chemistry between its two leads. Director Nicole Holofcener brings out the best, most bittersweet dispositions of privileged middle-aged characters: their considerably miniscule worries, the vanity, the insecurities...All very well realized in a painfully hilarious manner. Dreyfus and Gandolfini are heartwarming comedic gold. It's hard to be original in the field of dating comedies, but somehow this one pulls it off. Seriously...enough said.

28. Beyond the Hills: While some viewers may consider the pace quite bland, there is a deliberateness to everything about this film. Tension builds intelligently and steadily without distraction as the story comes to vision. Inspired by the non-fiction novels of Tatiana Niculescu Bran, the film takes place in an isolated Orthodox convent in Romania where best friends Alina and Voichita are reunited and religious faith gets in the way of their friendship. The story becomes a powerful examination on faith of any kind--especially faith in receiving definite answers. The periling bleakness of the experience remains haunting even long after the film ends, its many questions pertaining to human fallibility still up in the air hovering over you like ominous shadows. One of the few pieces of cinema that will certainly leave every viewer awestruck. It’s not a particularly fun watch, but it is worth it.

27. God Loves Uganda: “They tried to pray the gay away.” Deeply exploring the role of the American Evangelical movement has in fueling Uganda’s turn towards biblical law and the proposed death penalty for homosexuality is the year’s most shocking and enlightening exposé. Religion can be a gateway to personal peace and revelation; however, when twisted by charismatic religious leaders hoisted by a well-financed campaign, the influences of religion can open new sides of human evil and delusion. The influences that have changed the political and religious scope of an entire country all come from the Western religious right, all implementing a rise of persecution and intolerance in the African country. No other film of this years has made this viewer question America and its values. Even amongst all the vitriol, it is remarkable that the filmmakers argue in a balanced manner, still ending up making its point. Truly, it is a disturbing highlight of spiritual exploitation at its worst.

26. I Used To Be Darker: After a runaway seeks refuge with her aunt and uncle in Baltimore, she finds their marriage unraveling also witnessing her cousin being affected. This is a film about the struggle of finding something new to hold onto in the face of losing what seems like everything--a film about escape from turmoil. Emotionally relevant explorations of the modern family is so truthful and sometimes ugly that it hurts. The viewer is a fly on the wall--making everything seem distant and a trifle confusing; however, the film’s story is heightened by these decisions. Quiet and thoughtful, there is the feeling of stillness amongst everyone’s internal chaos. There are also some pretty beautiful songs and music in general in the film that help reveal more about the characters than the dialogue itself, helming persona truths and histories. Everything boils but there doesn’t seem to be all that much to it. The film just sort of happens as an experience that is no doubt very much felt.

Part 2 coming soon! Don't forget to subscribe and leave a comment!

© Patrick Broadnax 2013

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