The 20 Best Movies of 2013!
It's that time of year again. The time that film critics dread all year round. The time to declare the Best Movies of 2013.
As with last year, I found it impossible to pick just ten. My inflated sense of ego, which is convinced that the mere utterance of a film's title will bring it glory. My top 10 is a top 20.
With an honorable mention: 'The Act of Killing.' It isn't omitted because it is a “difficult” film (there's plenty that's difficult that's on here.) It meanders and needs some oomph in the editing. That said, I am in awe of its daring and audacity. This documentary about murderous executioners living as heroes in Indonesia, who then recreate their heinous crimes against humanity, is one of the most shocking and provocative films ever made. But I'd be lying to you, certainly, if I said I “enjoyed” it, or even if I thought it was “better” than any film on this list.
The top four on this list are basically a dead heat, but this is all about going with your gut, and this is what my gut says right now.
2013 was a great year for movies. Let's keep our fingers crossed for 2014.
90s rock, drunken rants, robo-aliens that squirt blue goo. What's not to love? Edgar Wright's latest (hopefully not last) collaboration with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is a sloshy, angry middle finger at middle age, followed by the strangest acts of maturity and redemption. There's a very skillfully constructed script here, in addition to some real nasty bar fights.
Best part: Defeating Bill Nighy with beer-fueled logic.
If this were a Hollywood film it would be a supernatural thriller about the spirit of Satan in a remote convent. You can argue about the nature of evil and madness, but this Romanian picture top heavy with intentionally infuriating talk is a marvelous exercise in tension. Watch and feel uncomfortable as a closed social group slowly implodes in a series of extremely long takes!
Best part: The doctor taking a phone call in the middle of the film's climax.
This may seem, at first, like an NPR guilt fest, but this is a fascinating portrait of the life of women in the affluent, allegedly modern country of Saudi Arabia. It's shocking this film ever got out of the country, especially considering a woman directed it, as it makes plain the indignity and second class citizenship women must endure. It's also an engaging, entertaining film about a young girl determined to get a bicycle.
Best part: Young Wadjda befriending the neighbor boy, with implications that maybe, maybe the next generation will reform the horrific social structure in Saudi Arabia.
Australian director Cate Shortland's German-language film is history as fable. A walk through a haunted woods to Grandmother's house on the day World War II ends. Mom and Dad have been taken in by the Americans and the children must survive the journey, led by the eldest sister who who begins the trip a girl and concludes a woman.
Best part: Patrician children reduced to savagery scandalize Grandma by eating with their hands.
Forget the plot, forget the scares, this is a filthy movie made by a creepy old man. At least, that's my interpretation. Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska wear adorable little doll dresses and their hair is just perfect and they are shot in close-up with short lenses. Get on the right wavelength and its hilarious. I watched this movie three times this year, once with the sound off on an airplane and I think that was my favorite.
Best part: The piano duet.
If 'Stoker' was a little naughty this is positively depraved. A family man on vacation at Walt Disney World (like, the real Walt Disney World) gets fired via phone and has a full mental breakdown that includes chasing French teenagers around the park and burrowing deep into the imagination-industrial complex. Weird, subversive stuff from a movie most like a 90s zine to come out in years.
Best part: Disney Princesses' second revenue stream.
Rodney Ascher follows up his phenomenal short 'The S From Hell' with another strange look at the unexpected psychological effects of popular culture. This dark, beyond-the-point-of-no-return exploration into obsession just so happens to be on a topic that fascinates me: Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining.' Using only pre-existing footage, Ascher conducts a symphony of entertainment psychosis.
Best part: The moon landing guy.
Good God, Hoffman, why are you putting this so high on your list? People may read this, you know. Well, the fact is that this nihilistic, exploitative and kinda gross movie about obese Austrian housefraus who vacation in Kenya and hire local men to be their sex slaves appealed to my angry side. Everyone is terrible to everyone else and you'll need to shower for a week after watching this, but it sheds light on a nasty side of the human experience. And all anyone wants is just to feel loved.
Best part: Room service.
The most brutal road-picture rom com ever. British madman Ben Wheatley's best picture yet, this tale of mild middle-aged sweeties coming out of their shell goes completely off the rails and into dark realms of unchecked rage. It's a satire on our culture of instant gratification . . .I hope. And very, very funny.
Best part: The death of Poppy the Dog.
Woody Allen's loose adaptation of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' is his best film in quite some time. Droll yet tragic, Cate Blanchett knocks it out of the park as the 5th Avenue high roller condemned by Alec Baldwin's dirty dealings to live with her blue collar sister in San Francisco. A nice blend of sympathy and schadenfreude.
Best part: Jasmine's first day as a receptionist.
A fantastic documentary that manages to be both joyous and heartbreaking – just like life. Nokiro and Ushio Shinohara are Japanese ex-pat starving artists that have been living in New York for decades and they mean it. They've earned respect, but respect doesn't pay the bills, and doesn't make up for the time Nokiro has spent ignoring her own work to take care of the family. Now, in the winter years, the time has come for Nokiro to step out from the shadows.
Best part: It's devastating to watch, but young, drunk Ushio caught on old audio tape.
The high highs and low lows of first love are written on young Adele Exarchopoulos' flush cheeks. Her journey towards self discovery (we hope) involves a blue haired lesbian artist and all the enthusiastic deviance that implies. Despite the specifics (it's also French) this is a universal film for all who have loved and lost.
Best part: Honestly? Not the sex scene. The party scene in the back yard. With the sex scene a very close second.
Listen, I lack the capacity to lie to you, the fine and noble ScreenCrush reader. I don't care that Metropolis is still a smoking hole of death, I love this movie. But I love it because it is defiantly nerdy from first frame to the last. Release that World Engine. . .right into my heart.
Best part: Multiple Ghost Russell Crowes guiding Amy Adams through Zod's ship with sweeping arm gestures.
Shane Carruth's metaphorical tale about thought worms and pig babies and blue flower powder that will make you drain your bank account is, and I need you to trust me, absolutely terrific. Also, it makes sense. Yes, it works as a departure for philosophical discussion, but don't completely disregard the surface story. You just have to work at it.
Best part: Arguing over ownership of memories.
As an exercise in pure cinema, it has no equal this year. As an emotional tale of loss and acceptance, it's pretty good too. Sandra Bullock more than holds her own zipping among the stars, first panicked, then learning how to (yes, yes, the metaphor is heavy) stand on her own two feet. Note: 'Gravity' is a one-and-done. Watching this a second time did it no favors.
Best part: Destruction of the ISS as Ryan is outside the Soyuz. It's among the greatest shots of all time.
If you want to make a film about entitled middle class twenty-somethings lacking direction you had BEST come correct. Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig do just that and this movie, while necessarily mopey, is heartfelt, funny and true. These are not people to seek out in life, but in a movie it is very, very entertaining.
Best part: Vacation back in safety, with parents in Sacramento.
They should hand out Purel at the theater. Ye who enter these portals, abandon all sense of propriety. Martin Scorsese's best since 'GoodFellas' (or, at least, his most flamboyant,) 'The Wolf of Wall Street' is shocking, vulgar and endlessly watchable. This is a movie that you will come back to again and again – it zooms like a crassly conspicuous jet ski. DiCaprio is reminiscent of Nicholson and Jonah Hill is just doing his own thing, man.
Best part: The lemons.
The best pure science fiction film in years, Spike Jonze's take on Relationships 2.0 is wholly unpredictable and wildly original. Joaquin Phoenix doesn't play his lonely onanist as a loser and Scarlett Johannson as the voice of the sentient operating system is whole and real. It's a genuine love story, just one in which only half of the participants exist in a way we currently understand.
Best part:It's a short moment, but the picnic.
A bold, emotional and important movie that is also a work of art. Great performances, interesting characters, sharp dialogue and beautiful cinematography make this expose of America's original sin a total package. This is a movie that could easily have been merely horror show. It's still difficult viewing, but it is miles from exploitative handwringing.
Best part: Again, “best” may not be the operative word, but Solomon finally singing with the other slaves at the funeral is an iconic image that will continue to represent what cinema can do for decades to come.
I confess to a certain degree of guilt placing any film above '12 Years a Slave,' but this is my list and I have to be true. Joel and Ethan Coen's tale of a self-destructive loser wasting his talent just speaks to me. Then add a personal fascination with the time period (the folk revival scene of the early 1960s) and the fact that I used to live where much of this was shot, and I can't deny that this is my number one movie of the year. Maybe I'll eventually regret the decision, which is oh so much in keeping with the tenor of this marvelous film about poor decisions.
Best part: Driving past Akron.