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Sunday, February 9, 2014

My Top 10 Movies of 2013

            And here we are at last- once again, despite massive delays, it’s time to throw all objectivity aside so that I can gush about the 10 movies of 2013 that I loved the most.  Thus far, I have seen 42 movies from 2013, 32 of which I reviewed for this blog.  Sadly, due to the persistence of an archaic international release schedule, I am still not caught up on all the major Oscar nominees, nor have I had the opportunity to see either Fruitvale Station or The Wind Rises.  As such, it is only right that I start by apologizing for the absence of said films from this list.  Should any of them make enough of an impression to merit a changing of this list (when I am able to see them), it shall be updated post haste.  Click here for my own personal awards post, released last month.  

            In order for a film to qualify for this list, it had to meet one of the following conditions; it had to get either a theatrical release OR a festival premiere in either the US or Germany anytime between January and late December 2013.  This means that movies that premiered at festivals like Nippon, for example, were eligible, even if they never got a theatrical release.  This also means that movies like First Position and Blancanieves, which initially came out in festivals and other countries in 2012, were eligible as well, because both got a theatrical release in Germany in the summer and fall, respectively.  Yeah, those are pretty loose rules, but I decided to do it this way anyway, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to put a third of my list on here. 

            And of course, as always, everything that follows is my opinion, what I think right now as I look back at the long list of films I saw this year.  There are other, equally good (or even better) movies from this year that are not on the list, like Blue Is The Warmest Color, Wadjda or Captain Phillips, not because I didn’t like them, but simply because I personally didn’t love them to the same degree that I did others. 

            Alright, enough dallying, let’s begin. 

Honorable Mentions:

And now, the main list:

10.  Blancanieves  (Pablo Berger)

            All I knew walking in to this one was that it was a silent, black-and-white Spanish version of Sleeping Beauty, and when I walked out, I knew that I’d seen a modern silent masterpiece of a film.  Blancanieves is a wonderful reminder of the visual power of this medium, how simple looks and brief shots, when done right, can convey so much more than any piece of exposition.  I already gave the villainous mistress a shout-out in my Awards post, and while she is the biggest scene stealer, Sofia Oria brings the right amount of sweet innocence to her role to keep things balanced.  It’s a crime this movie isn’t as widely regarded as The Artist

9.  The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

            Wolf of Wall Street, along with 12 Years A Slave, was one of the hardest movies to watch this past year without flinching.  It is an exuberant bundle of energy that manages to never let up for three whole hours, something very, very few filmmakers are able to achieve to any degree of success.  DiCaprio and Hill bring in career-best performances, and it may one day top The Departed as my favorite Scorsese work.  It’s a shame the Oscar ranks are so crowded this year, because while I would still rather see the acting awards go to 12 Years a Slave, DiCaprio’s Oscar is long, long overdue, and I can’t help but wonder if and how he’ll manage to top this one. 

8.  Key of Life (Kenji Uchida)

            What else can I say about Key of Life to get you all to see it?  I laughed more than I did watching any other film this year.  All three of its leads are funny, hapless, adorable, and sympathetic, all at once.  It has Stooges-esque stapstick.  It has hilarious dialogue.  And it left me with that wonderfully warm, fuzzy feeling that so few movies manage to give me. 

7.  Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron)

            This year’s Life of Pi/Avatar, Gravity is my kind of big-screen, special-effects spectacle.  Set in space, probably the most philosophical place in the universe, carried by the best performance I’ve ever seen from Sandra Bullock, and achieving an astonishing degree of technical perfection, Gravity was a buckshot of reality to the face of every other major 3D movie of the year (yes, even Pacific Rim), resounding proof that big budgets don’t have to be lavished on repeated action beats.  Its own unique kind of space epic, this movie has me even more pumped for Nolan’s next film, Interstellar, set to come out this year.  No, the projects, aren’t related, except that I assume Interstellar will have to do with space.  Sorry, I’ll stop digressing now.  Gravity.  Loved it.  Favorite soundtrack of the year too. 

6.  L'Écume des Jours (Michel Gondry)

            If I did an award for biggest acid-trip, this movie would have just edged out the boggling visuals of The Congress, because while the insanity of that movie took up a full two-thirds of the running time, L'Écume des Jour never leaves its world of malleable everything.  I could do a whole commentary on the social and cultural undertones present in some of its more interesting scenes.  Also, I’m a big fan of movies that unabashedly shift genre and tone with little warning, which happens several times over the course of the movie, and this movie did that better than any other I saw this year.  Now a film for everyone- it’s in-your-face weirdness will be off-putting for more than a few- but if you are up for it, it’s one hell of a trip. 

5. Her (Spike Jonze)

            This movie deeply affected me, and if I could allow myself any more time in formulating this list, I would quite possible feel compelled to put this movie higher, but this list is over a month late, and I really, really need to get onto my Oscar post as soon as possible.  So for now, it’s getting the number 5 slot, although I may revisit this list in a couple of months once my thoughts have settled (and my Oscar angst has been purged from my veins with fire).    

            That said, even though it was the last film of 2013 I saw prior to compiling this list, few other movies of the year had me feeling so reflective afterwards.  Spike Jonze has only made four feature-length films so far, but all of them have provocative, enriching, and engaging in all the right ways.  Her is a powerful look at the nature of love and relationships, saying far more about the subject than every single Nicholas Sparks book and/or movie put together.  Joaquin Pheonix gives a performance every bit as emotionally powerful as his turn in last year’s The Master (sadly, he was denied another nomination this year because the Academy would apparently rather nominate David Russell’s used spoons than give a piece of the limelight to an actor that actually deserves the gold), and Scarlett Johansson (as only a voice, mind you) gives the best performance of her career.  I wish this had come out earlier enough for me to give it a review.  Ah well.   

4.  12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen)

            Any movie that makes me cry harder than I have EVER cried during the credits has earned a Top 5 spot on a list of mine.  This is the most brutally accurate depiction of slavery ever put to film, but its merits go beyond that.  The acting is as powerful as anything else from this year.  Hans Zimmer, so derided for his liberal usage of tubas in other movies, turns in one of his best efforts to date.  And Steve McQueen has further established himself as a major rising talent.  This should be essential viewing for all juniors and seniors taking American history in the near future.    

3.  Much Ado About Nothing  (Joss Whedon)

            Joss Whedon has given us a perfect example of how to “modernize” Shakespeare- that is, to place it in present times, with modern dress, settings, and speech patterns- without losing the essential nature of the story and characters.  This might very well be my favorite film adaptation of Shakespeare yet made, with all due respect to Kenneth Branagh’s immensely impressive body of work.  It’s cleverly and beautifully shot, and even the ridiculously stupid male leads, who essentially drive a girl to “suicide,” get moments of real sympathy, something I thought impossible after I first read this particular play.  A shame it’s gotten zero love from the awards rounds. 

            On a side note, what a surprisingly good year for black-and-whites.  That just occurred to me, actually. 

2.  Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen)

            Like last year's mental duel between Cloud Atlas and Lincoln, this was a close, close call between my top two.  This is a new favorite of mine from the Coen Brothers, still my favorite set of directors in the business today (excepting Miyazaki).  It’s a surprisingly underplayed tale of mediocrity and frustration, and about the seemingly endless loops our lives often appear to fall into.  Oscar Isaac has given us one hell of a breakout performance, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.  The soundtrack, as much a focus here as it was in O Brother, Where Art Thou, also deserves special mention, and was my second favorite of the year, second only to Gravity

1.  Asura (Keiichi Sato)

                But yeah- despite how much I love Inside Llewyn Davis and Much Ado About Nothing, despite how powerfully effective I found Gravity, Wolf, and 12 Years to be- from the moment I saw this dark, gripping work at Nippon way back in June, a part of me knew I’d already seen my top film of the year.  I mentioned in my review that the movie utilizes a new form of hybrid animation, with backgrounds done in watercolor and characters rendered with CGI, which is fascinatingly well-done, but my love for this movie goes far beyond admiration for its visuals.  There is a tragically beautiful irony that the main character, even more violent and depraved than Belfort or Epps, is forced to confront the evil he’s done not by being punished or hurt himself (his own capacity to endure physical pain seems endless), but by watching the effect it has on the few people he genuinely does care about.  It’s a brutal, stark film, one of the most creative animated works I’ve seen in years, and it is my favorite movie of 2013. 

            And there you have it!  My 10 favorite movies from 2013.  Hope you enjoyed reading, and feel free to leave comments below.  I will be doing Oscar catch-up this month, but I’ll only review any that really leave a big impact on me.  Otherwise, this month will feature my picks for the Oscars, and, sadly, a collective farewell post for several performers we’ve already lost in an incredibly short space of time this year.  But that’s for another day. 

-Noah Franc 

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