My personal favorite films of 2013. These are listed descending from #25 to #1, with an additional 25 added on at the end because there were a lot of really great movies this past year! The top 10 include longer reviews, with shorter reviews for 11-25. Granted, I’m neither a good writer nor a critic, so they’re mostly just my basic thoughts on the films, but if you’re interested in why I liked them they might be worth the read.
Don’t let it’s position on the list fool you. LEVIATHAN is the most viscerally arresting movie I’ve seen all year, perhaps in a very long time. It is stupendous, phenomenal and completely amazing. Describing it should be easy, but it’s not. There is no dialogue or interviews, but this is one of the most moving documentaries I’ve ever seen. It is transcendence, it is transportation. An audacious exploration of life on a fishing trawler, it is by no means an easy watch, but the subject matter requires that it not be. This is not an easy life. I wanted to take a shower as soon as I finished it. This is a movie you simply experience. You must let it happen to you. It is completely worth it.
24. BLUE JASMINE
BLUE JASMINE is not a Woody Allen comeback, just like MIDNIGHT IN PARIS was not a comeback, just like VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA was not a comeback, just like MATCH POINT was not a comeback. Woody Allen is not the Comeback King, he’s simply a prolific and insanely talented writer who doesn’t always hit the mark, but in his 5 decades of consistent work it is amazing to see him tackle such delicate psychology so rapturously. Cate Blanchett is simply incredible in this movie, not to mention emotionally taxing. She is a tornado onscreen and it is an event to watch her. It’s wonderful to see Woody tackling such depth and working outside his comfort zone so diligently still. His artistic spirit seems stronger than ever.
23. THE SPECTACULAR NOW
The throwback sensibility of classic John Hughes meets new millenium art house styling. It sounds like it should be forced and patronizing. It’s anything but. James Ponsoldt’s incredibly smart and sweet film about a senior high school relationship that gets caught in the crossfire of teen alcoholism is surprisingly affecting and infectious. It is a testament to Ponsoldt’s great talent that he is able to take such a tired genre and inject such freshness and intelligence into it. THE SPECTACULAR NOW is not only invigorating and moving, but it gets stuck in your head. Like a pop song you were prepared to hate, but found it surprisingly intelligent and well-crafted.
22. MUSEUM HOURS
An exquisite film about art and how it both reflects and influences the way we see the world. Moving between focused shots of great works of art in the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna, to shots of the city itself and an intimate portrait of two lonely souls finding brief respite in each other, this is an elegant and tranquil film that leaves a gentle impression, but a profound one none-the-less.
I love Dana Stevens’ description of Bruce Dern’s character, Woody, as a kind of King Lear of the Great Plains. It beautifully captures the emotional state he seems to be in through Alexander Payne’s NEBRASKA, a beautifully delicate film that follows the adventures of Woody and his son, David, as they travel to the state to pick up sweepstake winnings that obviously don’t exist. The film is casually paced but never slow. It’s touching and emotional but also incredibly funny. Like in SIDEWAYS, Payne revisits the “road trip” to help coax his characters into revealing and discovering themselves, but he’s also being more playful here than he has been in awhile and it works delightfully well.
20. COMPUTER CHESS
Like NO, COMPUTER CHESS utilizes outdated technology to help tell it’s story. This time, it’s the Sony AVC-3260, a 1970’s era videocamera that utilizes a 2/3 inch black and white Vidicon video tube. Like in NO, the filmmaker, Andrew Bujalski, is interested in transporting you visually to a period in time, but unlike NO, the camera here is participating more directly. The film is shot like a mockumentary and at one point, the subjects even wield the tool themselves. But COMPUTER CHESS is also ambiguously fantastical, and the technology almost wants to “tell us something.” There are moments where the outdated tech creates strange aberrations in the image. It’s not always easy to tell if they are intended or not, but they help create an intriguing dislocation in the film itself. It’s isolated, but fun. A lot of fun, in fact.
What is it about Jeff Nichols that makes it seem so easy? MUD, like TAKE SHELTER and SHOTGUN STORIES before it, are simple tales. They’re tales of simple men in complicated scenarios, but more than anything they’re tales told simply. Jeff has this innate ability to craft riveting tales with a casual ease, but his films remain full of conflict and unease. A sort of “calm tension” and MUD follows the streak. He’s building a fascinating filmography and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
18. SAVING MR. BANKS
As a diehard Disney historical fanatic (I’ve read 3 different biographies on the man) I was trepidatious about this film. I have always wanted to see Disney portrayed on screen, but only if it was sincere and honest. I was surprised by how much I loved SAVING MR. BANKS, I expected it to be fluffy, and to a certain extent it tended to be sometimes, but it was done with so much care and ended up being so delightful I was truly won over by it. Very very funny and quite touching. I found myself crying both times I’ve seen it (to be fair, I adore Mary Poppins). And yes, Tom Hanks is stupendous as Disney. He’s not a carbon-copy but he absolutely nails the persona and felt real to me. But as you’ve probably heard, Emma Thompson is the real winner here. She is inimitable in this role. But honestly, the whole film is so well-casted. Bradley Whitford is delightful, and I was pleasantly surprised by Colin Farrell.
17. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
I am such a massive Joss Whedon fan. “Firefly” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” rank as two of my most revered shows of all time. THE AVENGERS I have mixed feelings about, and it left me in a quandary, because it called into question my devotion to the “Joss Whedon is a freaking genius” camp. What’s that you say? A small, modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING by Joss Whedon and many of his reoccurring actor-friends? So I saw it, I was enchanted beyond words and am now comfortably back in the camp. Thankyouverymuch.
16. THE PAST
While maybe not as powerful as his previous film, A SEPARATION, Asghar Farhadi’s LE PASSÉ is none-the-less sensational. A compelling and effective film about familial dynamics and the unintended consequences they often produce. As he does with A SEPARATION, Farhadi explores his themes in a tempered slow-burn that allows the revelations to come through naturally and, one might argue, more effectively than if they were surrounded by dramatization. The result is a film that seems calm on the surface, but underneath is bubbling with unease and unresolved conflict. Bérénice Bejo is stellar in the film, showing a different side to her talent after her joyous and bubbly performance in THE ARTIST. More than anything, Farhadi has proven himself to be one of the world’s foremost storytellers.
15. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Obscene. Disgusting. Hilarious. Arresting. Uncomfortable. Infuriating. Brilliant. Yes, I absolutely adore this movie. But I am so sick of talking about it at this point, that I’m just going to leave it at that.
14. AMERICAN HUSTLE
David O. Russell is carving out quite an artistic legacy here. It’s refreshing to see a filmmaker who is able to consistently produce such unique, individualistic visions within such a mainstream framework. His characters are complex, interesting and original, and his films march to the beat of their own drummer, which in AMERICAN HUSTLE’s case, seems to be a jazz drummer. I fell deeply in love with the frenetic, bebob-y nature of this film, and found it so wonderfully refreshing right from the moment Amy Adams and Christian Bale connect spiritually through the transformative power of “Jeep’s Blues.” I can relate.
13. BEYOND THE HILLS
Cristian Mungiu’s first feature since his triumphant Palme d’Or-winning 2007 film, 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (one of my favorite films of all time), is a mesmerizing and tense story of two friends. Once closer than sisters, but now torn by the rigorous order of a secluded Orthodox monastery in Romania where one of the girls, young Voichita (played with desperate purity by Cosmina Stratan) has found meaning and peaceful solace, that is until the other girl, Alina (played with confused fury by Cristina Flutur) comes to take her away with her. Voichita is torn between her love of the convent and her loyalty to Alina, and when she pushes back and attempts to initiate Alina into the religious order, hell breaks lose, literally and figuratively. But Cristian presents us with an interesting and unsettling situation: who, in the incident, is truly possessed?
Actually shot on U-Matic 3⁄4” videotape, which gives the film an incredibly appropriate 1980’s tv news feel, this is simply one of the best political films ever made. Gael García Bernal stars as Réne who takes over the seemingly doomed “No” campaign, created as part of a referendum proposed (under international pressure) by General Pinochet in 1988 Chile in which the public is allowed to vote: “Yes” for the General and his dictatorship continues for another 8 years. Vote “No” and he steps down. Réne’s incredibly risky approach helped revolutionize campaigning forever by incorporating advertising techniques in political campaign videos.
11. THE ACT OF KILLING
There is no violence in THE ACT OF KILLING, but it presents us with the kind of discomfort that makes 12 YEARS A SLAVE seem tame in comparison. That discomfort is manifested through the many uncomfortable situations but also in the strange disconnect that we feel when watching these men talk about these heinous acts. It’s hard to believe we’re watching evil, cold-blooded killers, but not only is truth always stranger than fiction, but it’s also often more complex and confrontational.
10. THE GREAT BEAUTY
One of the most enjoyable times I had at the movies this past year was with a luxuriously mischievous film called LA GRANDE BELLEZZA (THE GREAT BEAUTY). A dynamic film that evokes a sense of youth and invulnerability in it’s rhythm, yet focuses on the late awakening of it’s main character, Jep Gambardella, played quite effortlessly and with enchantment by the great Toni Servillo. Structurally, the film is episodic in nature, consisting of a series of almost short films played together to form the larger narrative. We begin at Jep’s 65th birthday party. Jep is a man who, many decades ago, wrote an acclaimed best-seller, and then spent the rest of his days living the high life. Sometime after the party, he learns that his first love has died, and these events lead him to a series of events which follow his come-down. The director, Paolo Sorrentino, crafts the film with such delicious wit and touching reflection. Each moment interweaves within the film with fierce intelligence. It is one of those films that really feels like it’s main character. The film is Jep, his quick wit, his caustic elegance and his passion for Rome. As a result, we are able to experience Rome as Jep views it, which becomes as important of a character as any. Jep and his friends lament and remember the Rome of the past and romanticize about the Rome of all our imaginations (“The best people in Rome are the tourists,” he remarks). A place of intense beauty, of exquisite glory and violent history. The cinematography by Luca Bigazzi is bold, with magnificent wide shots that frame every moment within the context of a place that seems like a fantasy or an exaggeration more often than not. I’ve always wanted to visit Rome and Italy and LA GRANDE BELLEZZA teased me with such overwhelming environments it was heart wrenching to watch sometimes. I also often got a sense that this could have been the kind of movie Fellini would have made in 2013. Perhaps I identify Italy with Fellini too much, but it was hard not to see specific parallels to Mastroianni and LA DOLCE VITA. Certainly, Jep and Marcello both partake in their share of dissolution and awakening (not to mention, obsession). A heavy dose of LA DOLCE VITA, some ROMA, a touch of 8½ and even the wit and humor of AMARCORD are all distinctly present in this spectacular film. It’s hard not to get a sense that Paolo is remarking both about the romantic nature of nostalgia and in a sense, it’s transformative power as Jep seems to be reborn spiritually in the process.
9. UPSTREAM COLOR
Like most of my fellow cinephile’s, I patiently and eagerly awaited Shane Carruth’s follow-up to his 2004 time travel puzzle-film PRIMER. That follow-up, UPSTREAM COLOR, follows in PRIMER’S footsteps in more ways than one. To begin with, like the former movie, it is produced literally independent of Hollywood. Carruth does just about everything and the result is a film that is uniquely individualistic. Whereas the term autuer can often be used unfairly (and inaccurately), UPSTREAM COLOR is through and through a singular vision, and one that is, in my humble opinion, a triumph. What is it about? Ha! Yeah, right. I believe I generally have a fairly decent grasp on that, suffice it to say it is a narrative jigsaw puzzle requiring heavy mental lifting. Like PRIMER before it, several viewings are required and I’ve managed three thus far. Fortunately, a firm grasp of the plotting is not necessary to glean the themes and basic thread of the film which are fascinating and gorgeous to watch. Filmed on a hacked Panasonic GH2, the film utilizes a soft palette of incredibly shallow depth-of-field to present both a photographically pleasing image, as well as a somewhat foggy dream state. Our characters seem to be living in a borderline schizophrenic existence and Shane requires that we meet them halfway. It’s not enough to unravel the mystery, but he wants us to try to see the narrative from their point-of-view as well. It is here where the singular vision of the film is important to reflect upon. Carruth is known to be a creative free-spirit. He savors his ability to create outside the confines of a marriage or familial responsibility and as Caleb Crain muses in his excellent “New Yorker” analysis (http://www.newyorker.com/
8. SHORT TERM 12
SHORT TERM 12 was another film I was not prepared to fall so deeply in love with. Written and directed by Destin Cretton, who it seems is drawing from his own experiences at a center for at-risk teens, the film manages to delicately deal with the kind of subject matter that, in less capable hands, could have easily been treated with bathetic simplicity. Here, though, Cretton crafts a story with richness and purity. The film’s lead, Brie Larson, is stellar as Grace, a former at-risk teen herself and who takes her job incredibly seriously. She’s not completely out of the woods emotionally, however, and as a result her secret relationship with Mason, played with delightful ease by John Gallegher Jr., is simultaneously endearing and tempestuous. Fortunately, his patience, like his wit, is abundant. A lot has been said about Brie Larson and she is phenomenal in the film, but I found myself incredibly won over by Gallegher. I’ve enjoyed him immensely in THE NEWSROOM (he’s often my favorite thing about the show) but in this film he works as a charming rounding of the jagged edges left by Grace’s failed attempts at fortitude. While the subject matter seems rather bleak, the film is surprisingly funny in all the right places, including the ending, which left me with a permanent smile. The balance of tones, both serious and comedic, and the warmth for which he infuses in the beautifully developed characters, is a major testament to the talents of Cretton. The story is simple, and doesn’t demand much from you. This is an emotional story, but it never takes unfair or unmerited advantage of our natural parental instincts. It is a delicate story told incredibly well, and easily one of the best films of the year.
This film was my personal sleeper hit of the year. As with last year’s THE SESSIONS, I was not prepared for it. I hadn’t seen a trailer for the film and the poster is more than a bit misleading in the sense that it sets up for a film that may be more lighthearted than it actually is. But these are the movies that I get the most excited about. They are the ones that I go in with no expectations whatsoever and am able to be moved (or not) authentically, without my own pre-judgements getting in the way. And so it was with PHILOMENA, the true story of Philomena Lee, played with sincere authenticity and nuance by Judi Dench, who embarks on a dedicated mission to find her son, who was taken from her and put up for adoption by righteous nuns in Ireland who then forced her into slave labor as penance for her “sins of the flesh.” The story is heartbreaking, and unfortunately, not terribly well known outside of Ireland and the U.K. as a previous film that dealt with the subject, 2003’s THE MAGDALENE SISTERS, failed to make much of a splash this side of the Atlantic. Known mostly for his british comedy, Steve Coogan co-writes and produces this film, as well as plays the co-lead, Martin Sixsmith, the actual journalist and author of the book on which the film is based, THE LOST CHILD OF PHILOMENA LEE. I will admit, I don’t mind a little sentimentality now and again, if it’s crafted artfully and serves the narrative, and while PHILOMENA certainly ventures into sentimental territory as you might expect, it never does so at the expense of the film’s trustworthiness. Much of that is most certainly thanks to Dench’s incredible portrayal, but I don’t think enough is said of Coogan, who manages to make Sixsmith a deliciously acerbic cynic with a tenderness always just beneath the surface. His wit and style plays well especially when the film suddenly becomes an almost road-trip buddy comedy, which is a surprisingly successful tonal change almost halfway in the film. I not only enjoyed him immensely in the role, but I always felt that there was a sense of him supporting Dench in just the right ways to let her shine even brighter. He never tries to steal her spotlight, and keeps the film grounded as a sort of point of relation for us. Certainly, I could feel the anger present in the theater as the audience sat in concert with him as he tells the aging, yet unrepentant nun, “Well, I couldn’t forgive you.” All in all, it’s easy to dismiss a movie like PHILOMENA because it’s brand of sentimental storytelling is often misused and abused by Hollywood producers needing to crank out attempted Oscar bait, but this film shows that, just as is the truth with every genre of cinema, these kinds of stories are worthy, valuable and even necessary.
6. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (known in France as La Vie d’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2, or THE LIFE OF ADELE, CHAPTERS 1 AND 2) is a film that is both vulnerable and about vulnerability. The most obvious reference being that of the now infamous explicit scene, which lasts for a provocative seven minutes. Many people have written numerous essays and deconstructions of that scene, the meaning, the artistic merit and even the politics of it. I don’t see the need to add to that, nor do I feel I’m qualified to do so, other than to say that I felt it necessary and beautiful. It certainly was representative of the greater whole of the story, that of which concerns our two leads, phenomenally and heroically portrayed by Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. The story, about the awakening of a young woman named Adéle, is one of the most refreshing tales of young love, of course, but also of the complexities of identity. Adéle is not simply discovering who she is sexually, she is discovering who she is. The sexuality in the film is important, as is the message, and I do honestly hope that young people struggling with their identities are able to glean a powerful message from the film, but I also feel that it transcends the discussion of sexuality. There is a deep and meaningful narrative in this film about the power of influence embedded in our most important relationships. Emma helps shape Adéle into the beautiful young woman she becomes. There is true love that exists there. There is no doubt that these two people are soul-mates as their connection is palpable and their chemistry immediate. When Emma first encounters Adéle in the bar it doesn’t take but a moment for us to truly want these two to be with each other, and their subsequent relationship is endearing and powerful. [SPOILER ALERT!] Of course, the dissolution of their relationship is heartbreaking, not because we simply want them to remain together, but because it is so evident that Emma is a good role-model for the burgeoning Adéle. There is a feeling that their narrative has been cut short, and in the process a piece of Adéle may be missing for the rest of her life. Emma is a beautiful character of intelligence, compassion and romance and as we first meet Adéle as a youth, it’s hard not to relate as a parent seeing our child get to be with that person we know truly loves them and is good for them. But in the final scenes of the film, it is the once vulnerable Adéle that truly matures past Emma, who’s career becomes a diversion, and the heartbreak becomes one in which we see that it was Adéle who was good for Emma in the end. Emma becomes the vulnerable one, vulnerable to the compromises of adult relationships and career ambitions, and as we may speculate, future vulnerability in the arms of regret.
5. 12 YEARS A SLAVE
I’ve struggled for three days now trying to figure out how to write anything worthy of this monumental film. I’ve tried to re-examine it from different points of view, trying to figure out what kind of meaningful verbiage I can give to such a harrowing work of art. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needn’t try to be so academic in my analysis, but simply express the core emotions that I felt upon watching it, which is truly the only thing one can really do when a movie breaks you to the core like this one does. For me personally, I come from a place of regretful ignorance. Of course, I’m fully aware of the historical account and significance of slavery. As most students, I was taught the basics: that it was a horrific event that happened early in our country’s history and that a war was fought and won to end it. We learned the mainstream history of the civil rights movement: segregation, Rosa Parks, “I have a dream.” But, in 2012, my wife and I took a mini-vacation to Memphis (I’m a massive Elvis fan) and prompted by a wonderful segment towards the end of Cameron Crowe’s ELIZABETHTOWN as well as a passion for history, we decided to visit the Civil Rights Museum. We were ahead of our itinerary that day so we took our time, I did the audio tour and read as much as I possibly could of every inch of every display. I was not, however, prepared for the kind of transformation that visit would yield. The complex and abhorrently massive story of black people’s struggle in America was overwhelming. Not because I didn’t know it occurred, but because I hadn’t been told the full story. It was like I was learning it all for the first time. Like I had been lied to. There were eye-opening histories I discovered that day that felt as vitally important to the history of this country as any stock market crash, or world war, but had never been taught to me in school and I was outraged by it. I was raised in a very small rural town in central Illinois, and my school did not have a single person of color in the entire system, from Kindergarten through Twelfth-grade, and so my experience with race was disconnected from reality. I understood right and wrong, and I was taught by my very loving parents that racism or any prejudice is bad, but my own human experience with race was non-existent. I recount all of this to illustrate my personal experience with 12 YEARS A SLAVE, a film that also overwhelmed me in the same vein. We are all very aware that slavery was something that happened and we all denounce it easily, but as Richard Brody discusses in the New Yorker, there is such a divide between our emotional grasp of the Holocaust, for instance, and Slavery: “…though the term ‘the Holocaust’ is immediately identified with extermination, the term ‘slavery’ is widely associated with involuntary servitude—with unremitting labor. When we say that we’re slaving away at our desk, it means we’re doing hard or dull work demanded by our bosses; it doesn’t imply physical violence or the threat of death—and that’s exactly what McQueen restores to the term and to the idea, in all of its horror and monstrosity.” * In my view, 12 YEARS A SLAVE is not only as an impeccably made film, with astounding performances and direction by Steve McQueen, but is a propitiously relevant one in a time of my own awakening to the true gravity of this history. This is one of those films that demonstrates the true power of the cinema. It is not an easy task to make a decent film about slavery, certainly not many have tried. And even the questionable criticism that has been lodged toward it shows that it continues to be controversial material in cinema, but I know that, for myself, I’m so incredibly grateful for veracious art such as this that can assist in my pursuit of understanding and empathy. * SHOULD A FILM TRY TO DEPICT SLAVERY? By Richard Brody (http://www.newyorker.com/
It’s telling how many reviews I read regarding PRISONERS that came from the point of view of being surprised by how good it was. One review said “It was better than it had any right to be,” mostly because of the stellar cast of Hollywood A-listers like Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhal and Viola Davis. I found that strange, though, because I remember seeing the trailer back in the spring and thinking “My god, this movie is going to be phenomenal.” In one of the very rare cases of trailers actually successfully representing their films, PRISONERS blew me away, and I find it somewhat sad that we’ve gotten to a point where we expect movies with A-list talent to be fluff and not as cunning, unnerving and complex as PRISONERS turned out to be. The film is loaded with artistic achievement from the stellar performances to the meticulously crafted plotting to the stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins. It is a massive testament to the talents and thrilling mainstream potential of director Denis Villeneuve (INCENDIES) who manages to weave everything into an exceedingly competent thriller, the kind of which I would expect from seasoned auteurs like David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky. I’ve since watched the film 3 times and manage to take away something different each time. Plot points are revealed, motivations made clearer, essentially the kind of multiple viewing rewards that one rarely gets in this age of dumbed-down cinema. Layers. Layers are something that are not so evident in mainstream drama, as studio marketing tends to demand products that are democratically appealing to the lowest common denominator. But films like PRISONERS, which was a surprise success at the box office, debuting at number 1 and eventually profiting $15 million dollars in domestic grosses (a feat for a film that’s not part of an established franchise, adapted from a comic book, or animated), proves again that there is actually a mass-market for intelligent cinema. Especially in a cinematic climate that is pessimistic towards the continued bankability of stars. Speaking of stars, Jake Gyllenhal has been slowly rising in my book as one of the most interesting and talented actors working in Hollywood. From ZODIAC (a personal favorite) to the underrated BROTHERS to last year’s excellent END OF WATCH and now, with this film, he has managed to become my favorite male Hollywood actor and I eagerly await whatever he has in the pipeline.
3. STORIES WE TELL
I’d be hard-pressed to find many other modern films as both achingly personal and revealing while still being so wonderfully entertaining and elegant as Sarah Polley’s STORIES WE TELL. Most of the films that come to mind rely on fictional stories to get at the heart of the storyteller. Truffaut comes to mind with both THE 400 BLOWS and DAY FOR NIGHT. And there is certainly a laundry list of beautiful autobiographical films, but STORIES WE TELL doesn’t just invite us into the very personal story of Sarah’s [equally as interesting] family, but it invites us to ponder the mechanics of memory and the subsequent act of storytelling in and of itself. Told through various interviews of family members and close friends, we are told the story of Sarah’s both charismatic yet enigmatic mother, Diane, and the events that eventually lead to Sarah’s exploration of her own roots. Where many might inflate their own stories with a certain level of self-importance, Sarah never does. And that’s very important. While my wife and I may enjoy our share of reality shows like THE VOICE, we are always bothered by the over-dramatization of each and every person’s “sob story.” At this point, we get it. Everybody has a story. Everybody, in their lives, has had hardship and adversity that they’ve had to overcome. We are all David’s faced with our own Goliath’s. But Sarah’s film is so tactfully crafted with enough casual asides and unpretentious energy that it never feels self-indulgent or devious. Making a documentary about your own story and family history should honestly not be this beautifully well-made, but Sarah is able to take her own personal history and tell it with a narrative that speaks to the way we remember events. The way in which we interpret our own history and, in turn, mostly unintentionally invent our own narratives. STORIES WE TELL is one of the most apt titles of a film I’ve ever heard. It certainly works just as well as the direct theme of the movie as it does a beautiful title in and of itself. This is one of the greatest documentaries I think I’ve ever seen, and an inspiration in the philosophical pursuit of truth (or lack thereof) in storytelling.
2. BEFORE MIDNIGHT
I propose to you now that Richard Linklater, the director of DAZED AND CONFUSED, SLACKER and SCHOOL OF ROCK, has managed to create the greatest trilogy of all time. Like you, I passionately adore STAR WARS, BACK TO THE FUTURE, THE GODFATHER, TROIS COULEURS and LORD OF THE RINGS. But those trilogies, though brilliant, are also fraught with inconsistencies, installments that pale in comparison to their fellow entries and in some cases, in comparison, not enough humanity. BEFORE SUNRISE, BEFORE SUNSET and now BEFORE MIDNIGHT represent one of the most consistently amazing and profound series of films ever made. Surely, future generations will study them as literature and explore the themes within, the promise of passion and romance, the joy of rediscovery and in the case of this latest installment, the struggle against the reality above it all. Upon leaving the theater, both my wife and I looked at each other and said “That movie was like watching our future.” It was unnerving, yet joyously profound. It nested in my head for the next couple of weeks, thinking about not only it’s quality and message but in context of the previous films, how uncomfortably poignant it is. At this point, I can’t make up my mind about which one I love the most. Like most trilogies over time, the three films bleed into a single volume, leaving you unable to completely separate one from the others. I can’t watch BEFORE SUNSET without preempting it with SUNRISE and following it up with MIDNIGHT. The movies in and of themselves are brilliant but when connected they become an unstoppable force of sagacity. Linklater could easily stop at MIDNIGHT, but I am so invested in the lives of Celine and Jesse that I will unabashedly follow them for the rest of their lives, even if it means the vague possibility of tarnishing what is, at this point, a perfect series.
1. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
It could be said that the Coen Brothers are perhaps two of the most visually entertaining philosophers who ever lived. Their movies are existential to the core, but they utilize characterizations that seem to be simultaneously realistic and caricature. I’ve adored almost every one of their films, and while movies like THE BIG LEBOWSKI, BLOOD SIMPLE and BARTON FINK will always hold very special places in my heart, I was not prepared for how completely blown away I would be by INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. From the onset I was interested in the film as I’ve been fascinated by the early 60’s Greenwich Village folk scene for many many years (a fascination with Bob Dylan in my early 20’s sparked a digressive interest in the movement, as I was in the heart of being a singer/songwriter myself). The film, utilizing the visual palette of Dylan’s “Freewheelin” in brilliant execution, does much more than present that history though. It tells us the story that so many artists can, unfortunately, relate. Passion is not enough. In the pursuit of art, your honesty, your talent, your message and even your hard work is all still accessory to the will of the fates. Where so many films are about the rewards of artistic passion and struggle, INSIDE is about the failure that so many experience in spite of themselves. The film is dour, yet sublime. Harsh, yet transcendent. Of all the movies I watched in 2013, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS spoke mountains above to me. It spoke to the struggling artist in me. The nagging understanding that success is just as much about “right place, right time” as it is about talent and hard work. It is, I believe, the Coen’s most personal film and a brilliant reflection on the existential nature of success. Oh, and it’s also hilarious, entertaining and has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Let’s hope it inspires a new generation to seek out the amazing music of real folk artists like Phil Ochs, Judy Collins, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger and, of course, Bob Dylan.
26. To The Wonder
27. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet
28. Frances Ha
29. 20 Feet From Stardom
30. Dallas Buyer’s Club
31. The World’s End
32. All Is Lost
33. Fruitvale Station
34. Drug War
35. Captain Phillips
36. Enough Said
37. The Conjuring
38. Man of Steel
41. Room 237
43. The Place Behind the Pines
44. Spring Breakers
45. This Is the End
46. I’m So Excited
49. Escape From Tomorrow
50. Pacific Rim