Sunday, December 29, 2013

Favorite Films, 2013

Wow. What a great year for movies. For the past couple of weeks, I've been squeezing in many of the Fall Oscar-run releases, and I've been deliberating over my list of the year with the nagging feeling that I'm forgetting something from earlier in 2013. I'm including my favorite movies of the year and some others from prior years that I finally got around to. My main criteria is probably still visceral (I want to be moved and transported), but I'm finding that more and more, I appreciate a film that shows me something new. So I'm including an Honorable Mention section, for those films that perhaps didn't hit homeruns but are must-sees for one reason or another.

My 5 Favorite Films of 2013:

Inside Llewyn Davis

A week or so in the life of a struggling folk singer, circa 1961, and one of the most intriguing portraits of an artist I've ever seen. Great performances by Oscar Isaac and John Goodman and like any Coen brothers film, lots of enigma and comedy. Loved, loved, loved.

12 Years a Slave

Honestly, I hadn't planned on seeing this. I didn't think it would offer anything new on its subject, and I thought it would be extremely depressing. I'm so glad I changed my mind. Beautifully filmed, the depth of a saga, outstanding performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o but really, if Michael Fassbender doesn't win an Oscar for his role as a disturbed and cruel slave-owner, it will be a crime. He commanded every scene he was in and was just amazing. And the screenplay, which is based on a memoir, does indeed offer a unique look at the time period. Simply a great film.

The Hunt

While it may be true that you'd be hard-pressed to find a movie with Mads Mikkelsen I wouldn't like, this year's offering is outstanding. Mikkelsen plays a passive teacher struggling to retain his son's custody. When a child accuses him, the entire town begins to turn against him. I loved the mood of this film, the dark shadows and the way it felt that each person was like a spinning top--just one push and they could turn animalistic and destructive. The fear behind all anger. Mikkelsen's character was frustrating and Hamlet-esque, and the movie seemed to imply that in being this way, he may have brought it all on himself. Suspenseful, provocative, and highly entertaining.

Before Midnight

OK, lets start at the beginning. Did you see Before Sunrise (1995)? What about Before Sunset (2004)? If your answer is no, then you have some work to do. The former was the story of two strangers who meet in Paris and fall in love. The second, the story of their reunion almost a decade later. This latest installment catches up with Jesse and Celine another nine years later. They are middle-aged and taking a trip to Greece, where we watch them rehash their now-long-term relationship and decide on a future course. One of the best, truest marital arguments I've ever seen, and a mesmerizing portrait of the couple who have remained engaging for twenty years. You will only be sad that you may have to wait nine years for another.

All is Lost

A man on a boat, alone. Problems ensue. Man fights, time and again, to survive. Take it as an allegory of each man's final, solo journey or as a primer on how to keep your communication devices dry and working properly. Either way, this film grabs you from the first frames and never lets go. Robert Redford is seventy-seven years old but honestly, this role would challenge a man of any age. He is amazing and you won't be able to look away, even though he speaks maybe four or five sentences the entire film. Gripping, from start to end, and plenty to think about when you get home. I keep returning to this one, replaying parts in my mind and finding greater depths.

Honorable Mentions (Subtitle: Films I liked very much for one reason or another but I felt missed the mark on something else):

Philomena - A nuanced performance from Judy Dench, who creates one of the more memorable characters of the year. A bit connect-the-dot in other ways but still, had me crying throughout and pretty much any time I talked about it afterwards. Good stuff.

Blue Jasmine - Woody Allen's latest offering, entertaining throughout but notable for the remarkable performance by Cate Blanchett. A very good movie that left me frustrated because it could have been better.

Her - I include this on the list because it will be one of the more original films you see this year. Solid performances, visually fun and really clever. I enjoyed it but I wonder about staying power. I just saw it yesterday and already feel like it's slipping away.

American Hustle - Entertaining, with standout performances and some fantastic scenes but sluggish throughout the middle, at least for me. Original and funny.

Nebraska - Elderly man and son take a road trip to pick up a cash prize that doesn't exist and along the way, find out much about each other. I loved the way this was filmed--patiently, and in black-and-white, but I was never 100% invested. Some great moments, though.

Stories We Tell - A woman's exploration of her family, especially her mother, through stories and memories. She ends up uncovering a huge secret and tracing the reverberations it makes, once revealed.

Side Effects - I'll be the first to admit that this film got a little silly towards the end but it was so, so entertaining until then. Underrated, I thought.

Other Stuff, Other Years:

The Kid with the Bike (2011) - A coming-of-age film about a boy who is abandoned by his father but saved from an orphanage on weekends by a hairdresser he meets by chance.

Craigslist Joe (2012) - Documentary about a young man who decides to spend a year living on the kindness of strangers, via Craigslist. Fascinating look at society, humanity.

Pina (2011) - A movie I'm not sure I fully understood but could not stop watching. All about dance, in tribute to a German choreographer.

Footnote (2011) - Father and son Talmudic scholars competing for an important prize. But really, a story about relationships and family.

The Flat (2011) - Another documentary about unearthing family secrets; this one follows a grandson's search for the truth about his grandparents, who emigrated from Germany to Israel before WWII.

Through a Glass Darkly (1961) - A Bergman classic about a family reuniting to splinter apart. Includes a crazy sister and an evil spider.

Mud (2012) - Matthew McConaughey's much-lauded role as a fugitive serving as mentor to two young boys in the bayou.

Holy Motors (2012) - A film that defies explanation but which contains one of the best scenes EVER. I include it here, mostly for my own pleasure.


  1. Thanks, Mary, for sharing your 5 favourites, will look out for them.
    I haven't seen many films this year. Some on your list are familiar. Re: - 'Pina' - riveting.

    Looking back over the years my list would be long, including classics. The first film I fell in love with was Les Enfants du Paradis by Marcel Carné - unforgettable with Jean-Louis Barrault's pantomime.

    Yesterday I watched Tarkovsky's 'Nostalgia.' Poetic, captivating images in a slow-flowing choreography, beautiful and haunting, a deep contemplation on loss and memory.

    Part of me craves a library of comics like Laurel & Hardy, Chaplin and Buster Keaton ...

  2. Wow! Thank you for the highlights. Now I know what to watch for in DVD.

  3. Ashen, could not find the first film but queued others by Carne; also, Nostalghia. Looking forward to that. Happy new year to you both and thanks for reading :)


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka