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Top 35 Films of 2013: Part 4 (5-1)

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Part 3 of the best in film this year included some new favorites such as Blue is the Warmest Color, Inside Llewyn Davis, Short Term 12 and more! Here are the final five and my favorite films of the year:

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5. Frances Ha: This film should be labeled as an iconic blockbuster for young people of a certain age. This little comedy follows Frances, a twenty-seven year old young woman living in New York and an apprentice for a dance company. But Frances doesn’t really have an apartment, nor is she a dancer, by definition. Dependent on her best friend, Sophie our protagonist flails to realize her dreams and potential. With the harshness of reality sneaking up on her bit by bit, Frances lackadaisically drifts through different stages of her life, meeting various characters who all tell her the same thing, just in different ways: You need to get your s*** together. Unaccountability and lightness can only get one so far in this modern comic fable that expresses so much about youth’s lofty explorations of friendship, class, ambition, failure, eventual success and acceptance. This film succeeds mostly because of Noah Baumbach’s observant direction and Greta Gerwig’s charming performance as our protagonist. It is a movie that goes back to filmmaking basics (for one, the film’s black and white filter is somehow very appropriate) and does it well. There is an odd elegance which seems to take on many different influences and thankfully all of them meld well. Much like the main character, the film helms a loftiness yet it is very capable of expressing an endearing thoughtfulness that is unlike any bit of media concentrating on this kind of story. The whole experience is relatable, hilarious, playfully painful, disarming and in the end exuberant with meaning. Something Frances had been searching for all along.

4. Don Jon: Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his first feature debut, with this stylistic and surprising gem that has a great deal to say about society’s state of delusion when it comes to romance and sex. Jon is the kind of guy who can “pull” a different woman every weekend (a womanizer) but nothing compares to his “relationship” with porn. A new relationship with the beautiful, old-fashioned “dime” girl with a passion for Hollywood romantic films, Barbara Sugarman becomes a catalyst for our protagonist to be shaken awake from his pixilated and simulated sex-soaked state of delusionment. The state of porn and romantic films have a distinct hold on us in our society; we allow gender specific media imagery, be it porn or false ideals of romance in television and film, to dictate our emotions and our relationships. Gordon-Levitt illustrates this perfectly with Jon and Barbara’s relationship--their endeavors become solipsistic, sexually and relationship-wise. Good thing Julianne Moore’s elating character comes in to snap Jon out of it. The façade of a perfect relationship for females and the façade of perfect sex for males that unhinges these characters is unraveled and examined with an on-point precision, making this the perfect date film that will make both partners think and hopefully reflect. It should definitely be seen by growing youth, as it could possibly save them from a lifetime of bitter disappointment. This is no rom-com, this is a story about a boy growing up and finding meaning. A contemporary that is superbly acted, well-executed, viciously honest and emotionally resonant. Gordon-Levitt’s feature debut is a refreshing success for so many reasons. Jon is glowing by the end of the film and that glow isn’t coming from a computer screen.

3. The Act of Killing: Contrary to its title, this captivating documentary is more about the act of self-delusion than killing. Probably the most excruciatingly visceral experience you’ll endure all year. Darkly cathartic. There is something completely terrifying about the power of confrontational testament. Joshua Oppenheimer borders on exploitation to expose the raw nerves of incomprehensible human evil. This long, truly uncomfortable journey is horrifically fascinating. When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar Congo and his friends became mass-murderers promoted from small time gangsters to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese and intellectuals in less than a year and continue to spread destructive propaganda to this day. The notorious Anwar Congo himself has killed hundreds of people. Through the usage of film, Oppenheimer allows Anwar and his friends to recapture the glorious murders they perpetrated with an stylistic Hollywood flare, taking from their own nostalgic memories of old American films--resulting in musical numbers, noir gangster scenarios and galloping cowboy personas. As an unforeseen result, the internal demons that have haunted Anwar Congo since the mass murders force him to realize a suppressed human empathy that erupts as a cathartic sickness. In short, by the end of this documentary Congo is exposed like a raw nerve and facing the implications of what he and his companions did nearly destroys him. It all elapses as the world’s most nightmarish fever dream concluding with a harsh queasiness where art mirror’s past reality and forces emotional confrontation. This is as disturbingly surreal as it can get…

2. 12 Years a Slave: “Your story is amazing…and in no good way”. Make no mistake, Steven McQueen’s brutal look into the savagery and corruption of slavery is nothing short of a horror film. Unflinching and distressing, while watching I quite often felt sick to my stomach and my brain would occasionally go numb. Chiwetel Ejiofor is Solomon Northup, the New York State citizen who was kidnapped and made to work on a plantation in New Orleans in the 1800s. Based on Northup’s remarkable memoir, the film is something of an overpowering watch--a very unpleasant but imperatively necessary one. One man’s tragedy is the nation’s tragedy--we watch as the horrors beat down countless bodies and souls like bystanders, perhaps because it is exactly what our nation did. Above all else the film is a remembrance of America’s most egregious sin. Visceral and affecting, the horror is packed of contemplation--the depths of human evil and the depths of human survival. The ensemble cast takes on some of this year’s most powerful roles (a breakout performance from Lupita Nyong’o will truly touch the soul). The story of Solomon’s circumstance does not need any Hollywood fictionalizing to pack the necessary punch--necessarily this film is perhaps most vital for all to witness; the ugly brutality that still burns and pains lives while tainting the nation to this very day. McQueen has made his masterpiece--his direction is steady and artful, bringing this relentless bit of historical education to the screen with unflinching eyes and hands. Let’s hope that the rest of the world can watch with the same steady acceptance of the daunting horror. This is an essential drama and amongst all of the mortifications, there is sentimentality and powerful observation--as with history, something merciless and extraordinary.

1. Her: “I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.” The idea of a man falling in love with an operating system might sound completely ridiculous to some and to even more downright stupid or creepy even. However, there is much reason to believe that what the film explores about society’s love of technology could become a reality very soon. Or are we already there? Spike Jonze creates movie magic, with an emphasis on magic--a story that is something extraordinary and something extra human. The film tells the story of a lonely writer named Theodore who is in the midst of a divorce from his ex (Rooney Mara). We see Theodore in his world, at his worst and most perplexed, from having lazy phone sex to working as a love letter writer. After purchasing an innovative “smart house” system voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Theodore finds his life filled with more joy, more purpose and direction--he’s falling in love. Spike’s film touches on all human aspects, interactions, emotions and expressions. I’m not ashamed to admit I watched most of this film misty-eyed.

“For some of us, our biggest fear is not finding love. But what happens when you do find it but realize it isn’t ‘real’?” The concern of falling in love with artificial intelligence becomes a profound question of how our technological advances are changing our own developing emotions and interactions with loved ones. There is a point in the film in which the viewer begins to really see or hear--feel the operating system as human being--something significant and warm--a person with doubts, worries, charm, feelings and quandaries of her own. It becomes “her” very quickly, as if we too fall in love with this machine. The film becomes much more than human falling in love with technology, but questions the reality and frailty of human emotion especially when it comes to feelings of love and passion. What makes them real to us and why we are more compelled to hide our emotions behind the safety of glowing screens and imitations of human interaction? The questions the film poses are overwhelming and on the surface, beautiful.

The world in which the characters inhabit is a lush futuristic, colorful L.A. setting--the cinematography and various aesthetics are expressive palettes and mesmerizing characters themselves. The score by Arcade Fire and Karen O is equally amazing. The film is very much alive, it has a pulse--a heart that goes through a whole range of piercing emotions. Good luck not tearing up with this one. The story goes in and out of some dark and cathartic places but also holds a light soulful charm. The cast gives elating performances. All of the characters are well realized human beings, exquisite and vital to the story. Joaquin Phoenix’s sensitive and brooding Theodore is an iconic character that reflects a certain state of current society. It‘s also definitely Phoenix‘s best work, which is saying something. There is some worrying yet thought-provoking wisdom concerning the state of modern relationships and the ever-changing sphere of technology. Frankly, this film makes one feel everything all at once, which can be a little overwhelming, but it’s an experience that you’ll love--it’s why I love film in the first place. It's hard not to fall in love with this film. I cannot recommend this story--this love story--enough! Thank you, Spike Jonze…

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Place Beyond the Pines
  • The East
  • Museum Hours
  • Blackfish
  • Prince Avalanche
  • No
  • Twenty Feet From Stardom
  • In the House
  • Philomena
  • Rush
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Captain Phillips
  • All is Lost
  • The Spectacular Now
  • Nebraska
  • Like Someone In Love
  • Concussion
  • The Wind Rises
  • What Maisie Knew
  • Afternoon Delight
  • Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?
  • The Croods
  • Spring Breakers
  • American Hustle

2013 was definitely an interesting year for film, that's for sure. What were your favorite films of the past year? Don't forget to subscribe and leave a comment!

© Patrick Broadnax 2013


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