Before we get into the nitty gritty of the year gone by in bullet point form I should preface this list with a few notable things:
As I mention every year, there are films I missed. In the most notable of films I’ve yet to see from 2013 there is: Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, American Hustle, At Berkley, The Wolf of Wall Street, Short Term 12, Blue is the Warmest Colour and All is Lost; to mention a few.
There are a lot more films I’d love to give love to. When sitting down to do to work on a short list for this end of year tally I came up with near 30 films that I feel left an indelible mark on my mind that I either can’t wait to revisit or just can’t stop thinking of. Of the films of 2013 that aren’t mentioned below that I’d love to give a cowboy like nod of the hat to are: The Place Beyond the Pines, Pacific Rim, Stories We Tell, The Purge, The Grandmaster & The World’s End.
Otherwise, let it be known that while my list is numbered there are a lot of points where I just flung a film in a place as opposed to being definite about anything. Like all lists, it’s personal and therefore flawed. So enjoy:
20. BEFORE MIDNIGHT (dir. Richard Linklater)
I wrote previously how this film reminded me of the aged love that I as a 20-something (the age that Celine and Jesse were in their first meeting) am yet to figure out. That kind of love which tackles the idea of “forever” and whether it’s that idealized version of love. The fights and the disagreements that leave a lot of awkward moments that to me I’ve tried to avoid so far in my life, with this film looks more as the moments that make the more peaceful ones more appealing.
Do all women become crazy people to men and all men simple children that will never take something serious until we go to defcon 1? Or do we see it as that moment where we can say as simply and beautifully that this is me, this is love, this is what I have for you and I have no intention of taking that away even if you decide you don’t want it anymore. That’s the equivalent of all of the “I love you”s and “You’re the most beautiful”s that we say when we’re twenty. I guess time will tell for me, but at least Jesse and Celine wen’t there first for me and it remains an emotional tirade of moments that make me love love in movies more.
19. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (dir. Paul Greengrass)
Very much like 127 Hours we have another opportunity for isolation and self-sufficiency in the real world show how bravery really looks. We still imagine that the marines and the kung-fu masters of cinema show us how to be brave. However, Capt. Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) shows us that with nothing other than reason and his wit is what keeps him alive in this situation.
This may be one of the first films in recent memory where Greengrass‘ handheld style of filmmaking didn’t get in the way of my understanding of intentions and feelings of characters but rather actually assisted it all. Something about how it featured our pirates, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and others, it reminded us that their tale, as serious as it is, is easily understood. While we have the stereotypical moment of him telling us “maybe in America” for his hopes and ambitions of being legitimate making a living.
18. RUSH (dir. Ron Howard)
What happens when you put two of the best characters that the world against each other in a brilliant tale of sporting rivalry? FUN! This film works as charisma oozes out of Daniel Bruhl and Chris Hemsworth as they go against each other in racing, life and everything inbetween. Both with differing opinions on life and racing in every aspect, other than being first is the most important thing ever.
Ron Howard discovered something I that I hope a lot of filmmakers, both young and old, discover very soon; that is that if you can, it’s probably a lot more interesting to just do the real action. When you film real Formula 1 cars racing on the track it’ll be a lot more engaging and intense than any computer generated version you can imagine. I’m not putting down CG as a tool, I love great CG embedded in filmmaking, but still when possible the real tactile thing can do wonders for storytelling.
17. COMPUTER CHESS (dir. Andrew Bujalski)
To those of you who follow me on twitter you would probably know two things about me, besides movie adoration; (1) I use to be a heavy chess nerd; and (2) I’m a software/web developer by trade. Taking those two facts into mind what works better on this person other than an comedy set in the 80s about a group of chess players who have come together to play their chess playing computer software against one another. It’s filled with that type of nerd discussions I’ve heard all my days as they make coding jokes and many weird unbelievable chess gags that seem so absurd they just work. There’s even a computer that’s figured out it’s playing against computers and is actively trying not to play against computers. It’s insanity wrapped in a serious piece of satire that I’m sure only the right kind of audience will find funny. I was the right kind of audience for this one.
16. THIS IS THE END (dir. Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen)
Moving from the niche comedy of the year to possibly the best of the comedies of the year that hit it wide. Packing in actors that we’ve come to love/hate as the “same role” actors that’s had their fair share of Hollywood successes and horrendous failures into this one mansion to watch them devolve as the world enters its final days and we all just want to fight over who gets a bite of that last Milky Way bar.
More and more I find myself gravitating to these films, especially in the world of comedy, which have that nod to film itself. Not only does this film take comedy as it relates to mocking the public persona — however true or false it is — of these guys as they play these caricatures of themselves, but also it takes a bead on the world of apocalyptic horror cinema; from Rosemary’s Baby to The Exorcist and more. The film plays all these things and more with the biggest of tongue in cheek moments, 90s reminiscent nostalgia (not even in a good way) and just good ideas and intentions littered throughout.
15. MAN OF STEEL (dir. Zack Snyder)
I feel it’s become my burden to be that guy this year who keeps the light burning for action cinema. Man of Steel was Zack Snyder‘s reminder that when we make cinema grand it’s spectacle washes over us in a fantastic fashion. Something about the wonder that film does to us as I can only imagine a 6-year-old would feel for the first time seeing Krypton through this film. Seeing a world where Superman (as we know him) finds out who he is when he first enters the fortress of solitude and meets his father. To when General Zod challenges him and he finally shows himself to the world seeking a weird self defined version of acceptance.
I’m not even going to be that guy who asks you to look at all the amazing explosions and forgot that dumb story in the background. I want to ask you to look at the tale of a man finding his own acceptance of himself in society. So many films we call “coming of age” of tales have to be of that real teen who’s finding their place in the world. This is Superman and Clark Kent’s coming of age tale that I adore.
… And it’s got some awesome action.
14. ONLY GOD FORGIVES (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
A few years back the world was seemingly introduced to what I like to describe as Winding Refn-lite with Drive. This is Refn-true as we’re given this tale of justice with seemingly unreal to the level of godlike stature. The more I think of this film is the more I want to describe it as a dark fairy-tale of the world of vengeance and justice. Vithaya Pansringarm playing the Angel of Justice in Bangkok, Chang, as he sings his karaoke awaiting for another case to assess where justice must be played out. It’s important that we never see the courts or any sense of systematic justice, only Chang and Jullian (and the rest of his family). Only the right and the wrong.
13. DRUG WAR (dir. Johnnie To)
Coming back to the world of entertaining action crime cinema. I can’t imagine a more tightly structured and well put together film of this past year than Johnnie To‘s Drug War.
Over the last few years I’ve seen my love for the genre be spurned on in the world of television (with the likes of Luther), but this film does something I don’t think I’d ever see in film; that is keep the tension built and never letting it go. You imagine that whenever a built action sequence occurs it would deflate enough tension and intrigue that it would ask us to take a breath, instead it does the opposite. It creates more.
Also all the kudos to Honglei Sun for playing the lead in this film. From scene to scene he’s a joy to watch be the most amazing police officer ever existed.
12. FRANCES HA (dir. Noah Baumbach)
When you are young there’s nothing but magic in the world. There are thoughts, hopes and dreams. When you grow older those things either become a reality — somehow — or they become a forgotten thing that you once felt for and not necessarily in a bad way. The film follows Frances as she fiddles and fumbles through life looking for that moment where she knows that “she’s a real person” finally and it never feels hurtful or dismissive of those moments where she’s finding it difficult to be searching. Life isn’t a direct line of progression like a military ranking system, but rather something more emotional and needing a more analog compass to complete; if it ever can be. I’m still looking for my compass and I look to Frances to know this better.
11. THE HUNT (dir. Thomas Vinterberg)
Real life is sticky and not well laid out. There are things which aren’t controlled by scientific truths but rather a very emotion driven one. So when the world throws you a bothersome side note like your best friend’s daughter who you teach in kindergarten telling a lie that you molested her it becomes infinitely more difficult to live. The thought constantly entered my head as the community became more and more against him of “is there anyway out of this?”and I’m honestly uncertain if there is. No matter how civil we are in our society there are always going to be taboos like this that as untrue as they are and whether or not you can be found innocent in the world of the law the world cannot forgive you. Even if we don’t reach the end of days where the Kangaroo Court takes over and the community just tortures him to death; the idea of being a pariah in a way that no one will communicate or deal with you in any manner leaves much less to be desired.
10. FRUITVALE STATION (dir. Ryan Coogler)
To continue to discussion of the world not being a nice place sometimes we shift from a fictional story set in reality to a true story that asks us to take note of the reality of the situation. When we watch films set in a long gone by history we look back on it with a kind thought in the back of our minds that think “we’re past this”. When we turn on the news we still see stories of these types, and here it’s taken into the cinema in such an emotionally engaging manner that we can’t ignore. We, or least I, go to the cinema to see reality in a different way, but when you put it straight up like this it still affects you in a way that you can’t imagine.
9. CLOSED CURTAIN (dir. Jafar Panahi)
Something I’ve recognized about the films I’ve seen this year and how this one separates itself from the lot is that it roots itself not just in the realm of truth but in the realm of self truth. With the world of Jafar Panahi being restricted as he’s still banned from filmmaking in his home country of Iran he constructs this narrative of a man trying to save this dog from the outside world that’s currently in a state of riot and murdering all dogs. At the same time an unexpected visitor enters his home and begins to confront him to open his world, to see the past that he’s trying to forget. The film goes even further making us understand that this is an external representation of the internal processes of Panahi himself as he tries to live a life of silence against his will. Locking himself in, when all he wants is what I imagine all filmmakers and artists want, to open up and create.
8. SPRING BREAKERS (dir. Harmony Korine)
We can talk about the American Dream and how it’s a lie. We can discuss how Gonzo weird out there filmmaking makes us disconnect from any reality that is cinema. We can discuss the ideals of good and evil, God and the Devil. I want to talk about Harmony Korine‘s crazed story set in the middle of hedonism and escapism for young adults who’ve yet to discover a world of consequence. Even in this world when our invincible on vacation women are shot or emotionally distraught by their situation they’re able to get on a bus and be almost instantly okay again. It’s a brilliant look into what I remember my perception of reality was when I was 19 and trying to have fun in the US, except I was a dude I guess and didn’t have a bikini and a shotgun.
7. UPSTREAM COLOR (dir. Shane Caruth)
I imagine couples, very much like Celine and Jesse from the Before films, telling their tales of finding each other in the very stereotypical nature. Many people will see the film Upstream Color and question the science and try to deconstruct it to some truth that the world is going through only to be lost. I see it instead as the tale of how these two unlikely people met and created a relationship around this very unique happening that they have in common.
Unlike all other tragic love story it involves a few more weird bits and bobs, including mind control and pigs transfusions, but it’s nothing more than an amazingly put together piece of cinema that will test it’s audience in a complete manner.
6. STOKER (dir. Park Chan Wook)
It feels certain that every year there is that one film that we as a cinematic community rally around and start to call “the film Hitchcock would be the biggest fan of” or “would’ve wanted to make himself”. While I don’t want to be the one to criticize these people — as I’ve done it before, with Buried — or put words into the great filmmaker’s mouth; I want to feel that this film feels most like the best of him. It’s a story about a character figuring out herself in a way that’s been suppressed all throughout her childhood and now reaching the age of 18 is made to find that person that she really is, which happens to be a psychotic murderer. The tension and tone of this film finds new places to take its audience as we stop trying to look for the next bookmark in the narrative but rather feel it all.
5. THE ACT OF KILLING (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
I have a tendency to have, what some may call, the obligatory documentary addition to my end of year list and whether you believe it or not in years gone by I want this one to serve as something else in your minds. This film doesn’t just work as emotional and historical documentation but feels like a new kind of cinema.
We’ve always had two ways of seeing films so far. It’s either through the director’s eyes as he shows us a world or through his subject’s words. Not to say that these tools haven’t been great builders of worlds in film this last decade, but something about allowing these men who in any other sort of documentary would’ve just sat there and told us what they did and what they felt to create their own films to help express their emotions at the time when they were partaking in this coup. It also adds an extra layer in the fact that these men all have their own appreciation of cinema and turning their tales into differing genres of film that we all have our own emotions and feelings on.
4. THE WIND RISES (dir. Hayao Miyazaki)
I’ve not been quiet about this. I’m a Miyazaki fan. More than that. I’m an admirer. I love what he does with films making amazing adventure cinema that plays for all. It’s unadulterated joy.
The Wind Rises however is not that. This is a historical retelling of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed the planes that Japan used in WWII and more specifically during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film utilizes all of Miyazaki’s known style in a way that remains calm and underspoken all to the story. With some well done dream sequences that help us not only not try to attribute the negative feelings we have towards the outcome of this story, but rather revel in his achievement as a technological innovator at his time.
3. THE SPECTACULAR NOW (dir. James Ponsoldt)
We know the teen romance. It’s cute, it’s lovely, it warms our hearts not only to see, but also to remember when it was us. When we would have this weirdly amazing love that made us love for the first time in a way we didn’t before; and at the same time looking back we see all that was wrong with that romance. Watching this film felt like that, but different.
There’s a tragic tone to this romance that even though we watch her love him we don’t want her to. We see all the ways he’s not right for her and the ways we wish for her to see it. Slowly we see it twist and turn in ways that we wish it won’t. But there’s something about how the film ends up. It ends with hope. We hope he’s better. We hope he loves her. We know he loves her better than he ever loved before. It’s brilliant in how it lets us believe in young love and ways it teaches us that we still hope that people can be better; just as Odenkirk tells us, “I’d tell you what you’re doing to yourself”.
2. GRAVITY (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)
It’s a thing these days to hold up a film that deviates from the norm in some small way and still manages to affect you. Gravity isn’t a film that I’d say is new to me, it does something that I’ve seen many before it do, but that doesn’t make its effect on me any less remarkable.
With little to discuss as Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) fights for survival to make it back onto Earth’s surface safely the film holds us moment to moment with every breath that’s limited and every last second chance she takes to make it to the next thing that should help her not suffocate or burn to death swinging towards Earth’s atmosphere.
This film, more than any action filled feast of 2013, proved how to make a proper roller coaster ride of emotions and action so small, so brilliant and so amazing that somehow it makes you forget what you thought you wanted from film before this.
1. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (dir. Steve McQueen)
Don’t make be that guy who holds up a slavery film as the film of the year that you should seek out. It’s most likely the Oscar front runner, to those who care of such things, and at the same time I wonder how much that says about cinema that this is the topic that gets widespread viewing in the world of black cinema as opposed to the contemporary Fruitvale Station.
However, what makes this film most noteworthy for me isn’t the general empathy that is brought about by seeing the system of slavery brought back to life, but rather how the system affected this one man. While the questionable nature of the time there’s something about a story about a free man, with a family and a world in which he’s a successful artist. He’s in no different social standing than most “normal” people today, but still he suffers the same result as most people of his kind did for just being born on the other side of the nation. His systematic suffering from that moment onward becomes a pause in his life. From the static moments when we’re forced to endure his suffering without the ability to look away comfortably with an easy cut away, as films would generally do for us. Until the final moment when we’re forced to see what this world took from him and just begs us to feel. It’s amazing cinema.
What are you favourite films of 2013?