Well here it is, the fruit of my loins as a cinephile. Every year, I find that it’s a critic’s most joyful duty to compose a top ten list, and this year had no shortage of quality releases. I actually contemplated doing a top 20 list, but I the felt that that would prove distracting, and that these ten films I’ve chosed as my personal favorites round out the year perfectly well. Hope that many of you concur with my picks, and if you don’t then I cordially invite you to have a friendly debate with me.
10. Blue is the Warmest Color
Abdellatif Kechiche’s film has received so much discussion since it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for it’s sprawling running time and explicit sex scenes, that it’s almost easy for one to call the film 2013’s most overrated film. Even if that’s true, it’s still a terrific saga about going through a first-love experience, that’s effectively both tumultuous, cautionary and joyful. I mean hell, it’s a three-hour French film about a lesbian romance, so I don’t think too much could of gone wrong with it.
9. Computer Chess
Arguably, the mumblecore film that critics have been dying to see, as director/writer Andrew Bujalski (who inspired the movement 10 years ago with his film Funny Ha Ha) has given us a film with the most minuscule of budgets that has the largest of ideas. Examining a weekend tournament between chess software programmers during the early 1980s, Computer Chess is a layered look at the foundations of our current technological climate, all while shot in a deliciously blurry black-and-white hand-held style that makes the film feel all the more organic and retro. Often hilarious, surprisingly surreal, and always cerebral, Computer Chess is a stunning document on the magnetic power that American independent cinema is very much capable of holding in this day-and-age.
8. Inside Llewyn Davis
If the Coen brothers have entered their latter day career period now, then perhaps that’s why their latest film acts as a pessimistic picture on a young talent. An ode to folk music, the film follow the title character (embodied by a career sparking performance by Oscaar Isaac) in his unlucky pursuits through New York in the early 1960s. It’s possibly the brothers most idiosyncratic film since O Brother Where Art Thou, as Llewyn is every bit a Coens creation, as he’s leeching and hypocritical, yet also a gifted musician who happens to be a bit of a victim of his surroundings. We see our character fail again-and-again throughout the film, but with the Coen’s talent for creating eccentric characters and stunning period decor, the film proves to be a dismal trip that also happens to be a lot of fun! Plus, it’s just so gratifying to see this film and realize how much of New York’s element has remained in tact for over half-a-century now
7. The Past
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi became a bit of an overnight-sensation for arthouse cinema when his 2011 film A Separation received near unanimous praise as a masterpiece. For his follow up film, the director has crafted a film that’s similar to A Separation, both thematically and cinematically, but that doesn’t make it any less of a necessity. It’s an intense family drama that only grows more intricate and ambiguous as it unravels, and it ends with an image of true poeticism and beauty. Another masterpiece from one of the world’s best new film makers.
6. Frances Ha
One of the most appealing things to me about Frances Ha is that all the reasons I love it, are what other viewers will find middling. The kitsch style, the intentionally spotty narrative, and the glorification of contemporary white-priveleged 20-somethings just really connected with me, and I couldn’t help but find the film as a real spoke’s person for our generation. Of course, none of this would matter if not for Greta Gerwig’s lead performance, as she transforms her character into the most endearing indie film chick of the year. I can hear Lena Dunham’s envy already.
5. The Spectacular Now
The year’s surprise masterpiece! This adaptation of Tim Tharp’s novel could have turned out like so many teen romance films before it, but instead it’s so much more thanks to a superb script, top-notch directing, and brilliant chemistry between it’s two leads. All I need to say is that as soon as the movie was done, all I could say was this: “Finally, a teen-romance movie that actually get’s it.”
4. Short Term 12
Short Term 12 is exactly the type of film to restore your faith in American independent cinema. Destin Cretton proves he’s as valuable a director as he is a screenplay writer, giving us a film that touches on every human emotion, while also being a very realistic look at a topic that isn’t explored nearly enough in fiction. Also, Brie Larsson gives a performance of utmost power and range in this film, and I’m certain the Academy will all but ignore it. Heartbreaking, funny, plausible, and fluid, Short Term 12 is truly something special from beginning to end. It might not be what I’d call the “best” film of the year, but I’m thinking it might be my personal favorite
3. 12 Years a Slave
If it’s not the best film ever made about slavery, then it’s certainly the most brutal, humane and relevant one. Steve McQueen’s adaptation of the true story of the free African-American Solomon Northup and his kidnapping and enslavement by white men is an astounding period piece that showcases the horrors of America’s most despicable sins. Gritty and hard-to-watch, yet also profound, brilliantly filmed and handled by a cast of some of Hollywood’s best actors, 12 Years a Slave legitimizes Steve McQueen as an auteur that can be mentioned in the same breath as Martin Scorsese.
2013 was a great film year for love stories (about 50% of my top 10 list will tell you that), but leave it to Spike Jones to give us the most original and subversive one of the year. The story of a man falling in love with a computer certainly could of come off as hooey, but instead Jonze crafts his near-future world with an eye for humanity that makes us all completely embrace his believable vision, and the complex love story at the heart of it. Joaquin Phoenix also gives a perfectly sweet and vivid performance here that actually is very much a parallel to his volcanic turn in last year’s The Master, and yes he does have the utmost chemistry with Scarlett Johansen’s voice. Spike Jonze should be very proud, as he just proved he doesn’t need a screenplay from Charlie Kaufman in order to make a great film.
1. Before Midnight
Best three-quel ever? Well, besides Toy Story 3, I’m blanking on one that comes even remotely close to Richard Linklater’s majestic film on imperfect-yet-true love. Just like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Linklater keeps directing tricks at a minimalist level (although there is no shortage of great shots in the film), and instead lets Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke work their magic. The dialogue and character interactions are even richer than before, and the film’s lengthy “argument” scene may be the single best scene shot for an American film for this generation. Here’s hoping that Linklater, Hawke and Delpy will retain the creative stamina to make another great installment of this series for the next decade (and onward).
Honorable Mentions: Nebraska, Blue Jasmine, Fruitvale Station, Mud, American Hustle, Gravity, No