Best Films of 2013

Alas my favorite films of 2013 piece written up halfway through 2014, because why not?

Films I still should probably see: The Great Beauty, Wadjda, The Wind Rises, Beyond the Hills

Top 15

15. Drinking Buddies dir. by Joe Swanberg

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A sort of modern version of When Harry Met Sally, exploring the dynamics of male and female relationships both romantically and as friendships, it is lead first and foremost by Olivia Wilde’s magnificent performance as “one of the guys”.

14. Fruitvale Station dir. by Ryan Coogler

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Though it may be over the top in some of the symbolism, Fruitvale perfectly addresses the climate that we are currently living in, showing what it is still unfortunately like to be a black man in the modern world. And oh does it wreck you.

13. The Act of Killing dir. by Joshua Oppenheimer

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A film that is almost impossible to grasp, not only looking deep into the face of unrepentant evil, but also asking pertinent questions about where art comes from. What happens when those who win the battle remain in charge and are celebrated? How hard is it to repent of evil when it has become normalized in society? The Act of Killing shows us and asks us to look into our own society.

12. No dir. by Pablo Larrain

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A marvelously entertaining film about a team of activists who use advertising techniques to help overthrow a dictator. Interesting in its portrayal of social change and shows the varying costs of getting involved.

11. Inside Llewyn Davis dir. by Joel and Ethan Coen

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Llewyn is beaten down again and again in his quest to find success and make art amidst the folk movement of the 60s. The Coen’s offer everything they are known for with expertly shot scenes, deep sorrow, and outrageous characters.

10. Frances Ha dir. by Noah Bambauch

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A tale of being young in New York, in which everyone wants to make it big in some sort of artistic endeavor – but nobody really can. Frances Ha seems to critique this lifestyle while following around Frances (played by the wonderful Greta Gerwig), but remains deeply sympathetic as she struggles with her dreams, her love life, and ultimately her friendships.

9. Short Term 12 dir. by Destin Cretton

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Short Term 12 tells the tales of a group home where troubled minors go to stay. The film focuses not only on those who inhabit the home, filled with joy, pain, violence, and community, but those who run the home and the struggles they daily face. It is ultimately the tale of Grace (played by Brie Larson) who has all of these events simultaneously happening where she must make important decisions. She helps to run the home, but must too confront her demons as they are represented to her in others. It is a film which shows how hope and grace can show up even in the darkest of pains.

8. A Hijacking dir. by Tobias Lindholm

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One of two movies about Somali pirates released in 2013, this one deals with a Danish ship that has been taken captive looking through the lens of the cook on board and the head of the shipping company who must negotiate their way home to safety. It is a gripping film, one full of impossible choices, shown with a calculating precision that is almost procedural. The film’s best moments are in the fleeting sense of camaraderie between the Somalis and Danish, both captives in their own sense.

7. Something in the Air dir. by Olivier Assayas

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A tale of passionate teens thirsty for a revolution spending their post-high school days trying to get caught up in something to live for. We watch as their lives spin in different directions all for the “cause” that sometimes undoes itself by splintering factions. Olivier Assayas’ film is excellent in the way it shows youthful vigor and activism in its good and bad.

6. The Past dir. by Asghar Farhadi

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A story that serves as an argument for the ambiguity of life. When people from different backgrounds with varying desires and needs make decisions both in selfishness and selflessness, how can sides be chosen? We try to love each other and do what is best, but this gets lost amongst the rubble of life, shaken by fragile people. Asghar Farhadi’s stories represent the tension of being human in a complex world.

5. The World’s End dir. by Edgar Wright

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The third in this sort of trilogy, The World’s End may be the best of all. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost set this end of the world parody as the backdrop to a critique of our homogenized world (or the Starbucks-ing of culture) all while telling a sort of depressing tale of an alcoholic trying to relive his glory days. Only Wright and company could pull this off and it works on all three levels: an action-comedy that is hilarious, a satire that really does cut into our monoculture, and the melancholy of an alcoholic trying to recover something in his life.

4. Upstream Color dir. by Shane Carruth

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Shane Carruth’s second and long anticipated feature did not disappoint – though it is one that is hard to put into words. The plot – involving kidnappers, surgery, pigs, forgotten memories, and a love story – is one that never fully makes sense. What does happen though, happens through feelings and tone. It is about repeated mistakes, but finding love through all of the pain and tragedies that occur – at least I think it is.

3. Captain Phillips dir. by Paul Greengrass

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I wrote a huge piece on why I love this film here. It works as a great action thriller as well as a critique of how we (as Americans/Global Northers) view the Global South. It is about the experience of being a captain and how being a hero is in the eye of the beholder.

2. 12 Years a Slave dir. by Steve McQueen

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A powerful, heartbreaking, moving film, Steve McQueen made a masterpiece showing his capability as a director and a storyteller. It tells the story of slavery, of how injustice once (though still does) pervaded over America. It’s much more than a period piece – a cinematic tale that needed to be told and lived up to all the awards it received.

1. Before Midnight dir. by Richard Linklater

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Jesse and Celene have existed in our movie going experience for 18 years now. The reason why this film is ultimately my favorite of 2013 is because of the way they have grown. Sunrise showed these two impulsive people, discontent with the world and their lives, caught up in their youth and wanting to just do something. Sunset continued this with a chance meeting, showing some of the regret, filling in the gaps of where they had gone, and allowing them to make the decision to stay together. With Midnight they are together and have been so, having a family and living out the consequences of their decisions. Previously, their impulses were admirable, we wanted to spend all of our time chasing them wherever they may go – but this is a movie portrait, life isn’t as whimsical as the movies indicate. Anytime two people fall in love, there are sacrifices to be made as each gives of themselves for the other.

We loved Jesse and Celene for certain reasons and those reasons are the ones that make it hardest for them – leading them to do and say things to each other in Midnight that are downright mean spirited. They still have regrets, this time not of a love lost, but of a love chosen. Richard Linklater’s third film shows how difficult these choices are to make and deal with day in and day out. It is one of the most realistic portraits of marriage I’ve ever seen, one full of life weariness and bitterness, but also forgiveness and love.

Ten films to round out the top 25: Frozen, Enough Said, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, The Hunt, To the Wonder, Nebraska, A Touch of Sin, All is Lost, Mud

 

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