My Favorite Films of 2013

Another year and barrage of lists. 2013 ended up being a pretty fantastic year for cinema. Here’s a brief list of my favorite films of 2013 that have stayed with me.

HER

A subject matter right up my alley, I had high hopes for this film but was floored. People scoff when they hear the premise, “a man falls in love with his phone”, but this film is so much more than that. A nuaced, thoughtful exploration of relationship, personal growth, healing, and the ways in which we relate to technology. This film had me from the first frame, let alone by the time we find out what is really happening to Samantha. Beating Depp/Pfiser to the punch! Beautifully shot, acted, and made, from start to finish. Please don’t think of it as a technology movie; it’s a relationship movie about transcending AND including.

12 Years a Slave

I can still barely believe I had never heard of Solomon Northrup’s story. Not a peep about this man in my entire K-College education, which makes this revelatory film all the more stunning. Yes it’s hard to sit though. And yes, you really should. A lesser film would have played it safe in typical Oscar straightforward narrative. Steve McQueen takes it a bit further, playing with the narrative structure and focusing on people above all else. There are three shots from this film that will stay with me always, truly powerful.

Gravity

It’s already had a wave of backlash because of it’s “thin story” and “weak science”, but if that’s what you leave the theater thinking about this film was not for you. One of the purest cinematic stories to hit theaters in the last few years, this film really had to be seen in 3D on the biggest screen you could find. If you waited to see it on netflix, shame on you, you’ll be getting a tenth of the experience. Stellar work by Sandra Bullock, and a marvelous example of how NOT flashing back can greatly intensify the narrative of a film. It’s clean, efficient, and meaningful writing at it’s best. A truly worthy follow up to Children of Men.

Before Midnight

I love this trilogy. I loved this film. Did not go where I expected it to and by doing so went so much deeper. Few films are able to put me into altered states, but each film in this trilogy rips me open from the moment they start. Such perfect examinations of the micro that the one can’t help but feel the macro throughout. Every word rings true, clearly born from years of open hearted experience by Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke. I’m already excited to rewatch these in a few years.

Upstream Color

If Primer was a stunning example of rigid form, Upstream Color is truly it’s match in formlessness. The plot is there – just in the background. I felt uncomfortable watching this movie, as at first I really struggled to get it, and “figure it out”. The moment I let go of that expectation, it came into light. This film is a feeling. A very unsettling feeling, but one that has stuck with me nearly 9 months later.

Oblivion

“Generic sci fi plot that’s just a mashup of better movies”. Much like when people complain about Avatar in that way, I find it a lame argument. Whatever. Parts of this movie really don’t work, but the other parts that do are pretty fabulous. I love love love the score by m83 for this film, and think the world really holds up. Better films may have come out, but this one has managed to stick with me and I look forward to watching it again one day, which I can say for very few films these days.

Honorable mentions:

Spring Breakers – Pretty mainstream for Harmony Korrine, but still unforgettable. Like Herzog before him, Korrine paints imagery that will stick with you for a very very long time. Makes The Wolf of Wall Street look like a shallow made for TV indictment of excess.

Prince Avalanche – So good to have David Gordon Green back, even with humor still in hand.

Grand Theft Auto V – No it’s not a movie, but it certainly had one of the most memorable characters of the year, and the production quality is definitely that of a hollywood movie.

All is Lost – Makes Gravity look like a Mamet talker. If that last shot had been more allegorical I might have been sold all the way.

Captain Phillips – Hanks knocks the last 10 minutes out of the park showing a raw state rarely if ever captured on cinema. This stuff usually happens after “cut”.

Inside Llewyn Davis – If it ain’t never been new, but it never gets old, it’s a folk song. Few films tackle failure as bluntly. I think us Americans are scared of this type of film.

Nebraska – The car talk is spot on.

Stuff I wanted to see but didn’t and may have made my list:

American Hustle, Blue is the Warmest Color, Frances Ha, Leviathan, Stories We Tell, In a World, Fruitvale Station, The Act of Killing, Blue Jasmine

Just didn’t work for me…BUMMER:

Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Elysium, Thor 2, Ender’s Game, the horrid finale to Dexter

Your favorites? What stuck with you?

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