This year I want to go even crazier. I want to talk about my Top 61 films because I see this as one of the best years in cinema I’ve ever experienced. Also I think the film market is changing. Right now you have access to amazing films so you don’t have to go see The Legend of Hercules. There are more options!
Last thing before this gets any longer (Ha!), even though I waited to see more movies, that doesn’t mean I saw everything. I still missed About Time, After Tiller, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Bastards, Best Kept Secret, Beyond the Hills, Caesar Must Die, Clear History, Deceptive Practice, Ernest & Celestine, Escape From Tomorrow, Go For Sisters, The Hunt, Night Across the Street, Paradise: Love, Pieta, Post Tenebras Lux, Sightseers, Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers, Something in the Air, Starbuck, Tim’s Vermeer, A Touch of Sin and You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet. I’ll get to those…one day.
Last first thing, why 61 films? Because I was going to do 60 and then I realized I forgot to put one on my list halfway through writing this. Why even have this many? Make it to the end of the article, but now let’s get started…
How to Make Money Selling Drugs
This movie is so obviously influenced by The Wire it’s even bold enough to have scenes from the HBO masterpiece and interviews with David Simon. The gimmick of making this movie a “How To” guide is a lot of fun and serves as a nice counterbalance to the depressing financial statistics about how the decades long War on Drugs has severely damaged America.
Another year, another documentary about an awesome niche world I’ve never seen before. This movie shows the cultural rise of the cocktail and how the right bartender could be just as exciting as the brilliant new chef. Always cool and slick, this brings such a nice allure to this world and the work it takes to make a successful environment.
Behind the Candelabra
In America, this movie premiered on HBO. Internationally, this premiered at Cannes. If this would have been in theatres first, we would be seeing an Oscar nomination for Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, but since it aired on television it was up for Emmys. The quality didn’t change, just the way you paid for it. And this is a very fine film. Steven Soderbergh put the subject before his own techniques and allowed for some really beautiful performances in a strange surreal world. Man, I hope Soderbergh comes out of retirement.
Berberian Sound Studio
As you will see from the rest of my list, I love it when a movie can only be a movie. Not just because this deals with post-production sound editing, this is a movie that lives and breathes (and scares) you through crazy images and psychological untangling. Toby Jones is incredible where his world starts to dissolve into the schlocky Italian horror film he’s editing. This has confident filmmaking from the first to last frame.
Whoa, this is a Best Picture nominee. That’s sweet/weird. It’s too bad because now everybody is going to watch this wondering “Is this one of the nine best films of the year?” The answer is obviously no, it’s the 57thbest. Yet it’s still a really good true story told in a charming fashion. Steve Coogan has great writing chops as he co-crafts a story for grown-ups that is always more interested in the small moments than the big ones.
Once any company becomes too big, I know that they aren’t saintly. Yet it’s scary when you realize just how bad they can be. This indictment against Sea World has pissed off everyone who has seen it and it’s because they really know how to make an argument. Most of the interview subjects are ex-Sea World employees who truly love orca whales and have to speak up once one of their trainers died and Sea World tries to put the blame on the young girl. Powerful, horrifying footage.
Others have their Friday the 13ths or their Paranormal Activties, this is my horror franchise. Like the last one, it’s a series of short films held together with a creepy throughline of discovering VHS tapes with really weird stories found on them. The third segment is so absurdly good that my audience burst into a full applause in the middle of the movie. These films are always a fun because it lets a bunch of talented filmmakers experiment with the POV format with really exciting results.
In a World…
There are a bunch of independent comedies filled with today’s top comedians but this one right away feels different. First thing, this has a fantastic premise: Lake Bell tries to become the first woman who really break into the voice-over world. Secondly, that ensemble of comedians (Rob Corddry, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, Tig Notaro, Nick Offerman, Michaela Watkins) aren’t just playing their typical personas but actual characters which requires actual acting. While still being funny, this isn’t a joke machine but a really well-constructed story with a great ending. I want more Lake Bell movies!
I’m So Excited
Pedro Almodovar can make a movie that delves deeply into the vulnerability of the soul to find incredible hidden truths. Also he can make a movie about drunk stewards who figured they’ll probably crash so they should lip-sing to cheer up first class. This is such a funny movie that works in this strangely balanced world where things can be very very silly and yet you do care about this colorful soap opera in the air. This is Almodovar through and through.
Iron Man 3
I watch Marvel movies for one reason: the awesome filmmakers they bring into their world. I adore the last Shane Black/Robert Downey Jr. team-up, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and this didn’t disappoint as a follow up. This movie finally broke apart the typical superhero structure by changing up how they dealt with villains and fight scenes. Plenty of great dialog, bold choices and without a doubt the best post-credits scene Marvel has ever done (because it wasn’t a stupid tease for the next movie).
This movie should be seen entirely for its cinematography. Usually I can say that for something like Samsara where that is the whole movie, but this is what makes this movie special. The story is familiar (Shadow of a Doubt meets….Shadow of a Doubt) but Hitchcock never had such a batshit crazy camera. This is the camera that reinvents every room of the house and can dramatically change what it means to play piano with someone. The trio of actors are game to let the movie change around them with nifty results.
This is the End
Judd Apatow did a great job with casting Freaks and Geeks way back when, but he did an even better job seeing them not just as actors but storytellers. Seth Rogen has always been an interesting screenwriter since Superbad and now finally he gets to have the freedom to make even bolder choices while moving more personal. Handling the apocalypse isn’t just a setting for crazy jokes, but a look to examine their vain lifestyle and what they want to do to become better people.
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
First Heartland film on the list! An autistic boy finds himself stuck on the subway without a clear way to get home. A typical journey like this would focus on the plot steps he needs to accomplish, but with Ricky as our protagonist it’s a different story. The movie is filled with scenes to give the audience the chance to understand what Ricky would and wouldn’t do. All of his actions feel genuine as are the frustration his family feels in his absence. Quiet and curious, a real treat.
Life According to Sam
Filmmakers Sean and Andrea Nix Fine have a gift of finding the most extraordinary kids and giving them the opportunity to show who they really are. Sean Berns may have been known by his Oprah appearances or his enthusiasm for the Patriots. He was the perfect public face of Progeria because he was such a genuinely inspirational individual. Why I like the Fines so much is that they can have great admiration for their subjects while still showing their humanity. Showing the less than perfect aspects doesn’t turn the piece cynical but makes them more powerful.
First Cousin Once Removed
I’m going to keep talking about this later in the list, but a documentary can’t just be a good subject. This is a visual story and you have to have a reason why you made a movie not an article. First Cousin Once Removed is one of the most fascinatingly edited movies of the year because it took the patience of getting so much repetitive footage. To examine the man the grandfather is now means you have to reexamine how you know somebody. A man without memory isn’t influenced by his past actions, but the personality that will always remain. Absolutely fascinating and emotional.
Cutie and the Boxer
Artists are weird subjects for movies because it’s never easy to capture what is going on in their head. The art is used to search for clues but what if you had another source? I don’t love the art by either one of the titular artists in this movie, but I love watching how their relationship kinda completely works. Their age gap is significant, he’s often very cruel and emotionally distant, but they both need each other in their own way. It’s a weird spiral of love, hate and the canvas they use to breathe.
The Spectacular Now
I turned this on Christmas Day because every trailer made this look like a sweet tale of young love. Nope! That’s there and handled well, but it’s more of this really strong character study about a boy on the verge of no longer being the shit. Miles Teller is excellent as he deals with a lot of difficult emotions coming from different sources while maintaining the charisma that worked so well for the character in high school. It’s because of this performance that the characters and the audience never want to give up on him.
Independent movies have just as many clichés as the Hollywood ones. All can be done well if you make the moments feel real. This movie always had credibility because of how fantastic Anna Margaret Hollyman was displaying unprocessed emotions of grief and confusion. Also why this movie is so good is because when it goes into moments of heightened decisions, it never applauds itself for being quirky but unflinchingly deals with it as part of her process.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote a movie where he gets to have sex with Scarlett Johansson and somehow that only makes him more charming. This movie never feels like an ego trip but making a nice argument for the way relationships are distorted by the narratives we intake. Already he’s proving he has a nice style as a director and clearly is passionate about stories he wants to tell. Very strong first feature.
There’s an uncomfortable reality surrounding this movie. People are focusing on the poor nature of some of the family members, but I also see so much truth in the kindness of the core characters. This is one of the best examples of learning about a character’s past without the use of flashbacks. It’s sprinkled along so well that it is able to earn all of its amazing cathartic moments. I love the patience of this film.
I try my best to keep up with the news but sometimes I feel I need a history lesson. When I read about the Egyptian revolution, it was hard to understand what was going on. This documentary rectified all of that. The Square works as a great educational tool, but it’s a lot more emotional than I would have expected. It’s more than seeing how they have to fight for their rights, but why they’re fighting so hard. The footage they were able to capture was just incredible.
Now it’s time for the opposite of my last pick! Do you want to watch the coolest cop movie with the undeniable best action scene of the year? Then stop caring about subtitles and put this on. It’s a cop vs. robbers movie for adults meaning the plot will move fast, the characters aren’t stupid and it may not come together perfectly. This movie was exciting and awesome from beginning to end. Now I need to watch the rest of Johnnie To’s movies.
Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus
A few years ago, everybody kept (unfairly) saying that Michael Cera plays the same role over and over again. Recently, he’s blowing up that concept. He went down to Chile to make two movies with Sebastián Silva and this is the one I found to be really amazing. Cera is so committed to being such a realistic asshole that their journey to find a hallucinogenic cactus becomes a different type of endurance contest. Cera refuses to become cartoonish but draws upon our own worst selfish impulses.
Somebody Up There Likes Me
There’s something so wonderfully goofy about this movie that I could never turn away. It has a touch of Wes Anderson other-worldy behavior but without any of his precision. The movie creates this haze that envelops the main character to drift through every life decision without any emotional attachment. It’s a weird criticism of the man-child that goes a step further with its only weird style. I ended up watching this twice in a row because I was so amused by its one-of-a-kind world.
Ken Marino has a demon possessing his butt. Still with me? Good. The demon is a metaphor but learning what that is is part of the great fun of this horror comedy. Everybody is committed to this insane premise and everyone is giving their best comedic take on the characters while Marino is giving the dramatic performance of his career. In addition to a cool character study, there is some awesome world-building going on here.
The initial premise of this movie drew me in. In the 80s, there was a yearly competition between programmers to develop a computer program smart enough to beat a master in chess. All of the characters in this conference make a fantastic ensemble but writer/director Andrew Bujalski in interested in more than just letting them bounce off each other in a hotel room. The movie gradually gets more ambitious as it starts to blend its genres and scope to make a truly unique experience.
There isn’t a story in this movie or any characters. Yet I couldn’t look away because I saw a world I had never seen before—neither had the people involved. The filmmakers when on a shipping boat and placed cameras in the most curious of places capturing unseen moments of danger and beauty in what seemed like a mundane environment. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to see this in theatres, but it was still very effective on a decently sized TV. Do not watch on your phone; you won’t know what you’re looking at.
I love David Sedaris’ work but I never really thought they were adaptable. I didn’t know it was possible to translate his dry sense of humor. Jonathan Groff ends up being a perfect conduit because he was willing to be really awful. David’s journey through an apple factory begins as the most ironic of actions but the film takes a really fascinating path. In many ways, this is the movie to end hipster movies because it’s a search for the genuine connection and how hard that could be.
Here we go. You can peak at the rest of the list, but I assure you, this is the best horror movie of the year. I like me some heightened horror movies, but I love me the ones where none of the characters even have a clue what genre they’re in. This Cronenberg devolution of a SDI gone very wrong works at being gross-out but works even better at creating really powerful drama amongst its characters. Everyone feels very lived-in which only raises the stakes. Watch this one.
Perfect transition! Here’s another movie where women shouldn’t be trusting medical officials and it’s hard to tell what genre they’re playing in. Soderbergh is fantastic at keeping the cards to the chest because it’s so hard to read the tone of this movie. It has an agenda. Is it pro-medication or anti-medication? Was Jude Law’s character right or wrong? Is there a problem with the system…or is there a different problem? The twists in this movie are quieter than most movies and that makes this even more effective. Seriously, don’t retire Soderbergh.
There is a distinctive Paul Greengrass style that I like a lot. It perfectly gelled into the Bourne universe and it especially works in a hostage thriller. With the use of realism, it becomes even more unnerving when the boat is taken. For it stops feeling like a set, but a home that we’re also living in. Every beat feels and unnerving down to its amazing final scene. It’s not on my list, but I also recommend the Danish film A Hijacking as a companion film.
The Great Beauty
The title doesn’t lie; this film is gorgeous. Every frame brings out the best of Rome and all who live in it. From the new age parties to the antique ruins, this is exquisite. What’s so nice is that it throws us into this world for quite awhile before we meet our protagonist who has grown unimpressed by it all. His dissatisfaction has made him a bit rude but the movie treats him as a challenge. Wanting you to look at him further and figure out what makes him tick. The results are wonderful.
Gimme the Loot
Can this be a TV show? Please? I can’t imagine only getting 81 minutes with these characters and this world. This is my favorite heist film sinceThe Brothers Bloom and yet (as I be vague) this could be the opposite of that movie. Two graffiti artists decide they want to finally get the respect they deserve by tagging the Apple of the New York Mets. All they have to do is get the money to pay off the security guard. What results is two people working really hard to make this happen in a smooth, cool series of events.
I love walking through art museums but I never end up getting those earpieces to tell you all the history about every piece. There’s something very soothing about immersing yourself with art and learning from the pieces and the people around you. This movie perfectly captures that experience by highlighting the building, not the art. Those who inhabit the building are enriched by what they see and each other.
The Forgotten Kingdom
Another one that really worked for me at Heartland. Before watching this movie, I admit I didn’t even know where Lesotho was on a map. It’s a country that is completely surrounded by South Africa and it feels like it is working hard to keep its culture from the surrounding area. Our protagonist returns home for family reasons and quietly discovers the power of such a place. What’s the most impressive about this movie is how much writer/director Andrew Mudge places in the hands of his actors. It is entirely up to these performances to make all the subtleties of the story work. That takes a lot of confidence in your direction and this was Mudge’s feature debut. I’m very excited to see what he does next.
When a Wolf Falls in Love With a Sheep
It’s not a secret that I love romantic comedies and this one is an ambitious one. It has an Amelie-esque look at the world and like that movie a lot of its “quirky” elements are fueled by an undercurrent of sadness. It’s not just a story of a young man trying to win back his girlfriend who goes off to cram school, but a whole environment of people all holding onto something they shouldn’t. This is visually creative that fits well with its puzzle-structure where every little piece fits to pull off its wonderful ending.
Much Ado About Nothing
Just in case, the internet wasn’t in love with Joss Whedon he made a Shakespeare movie at his house with his friends while on break from making the freakin’ Avengers. And he did a fantastic job. So much so, I kinda wish he was doing another one of these instead of another Marvel film. He took my favorite Shakespeare comedy and brought an element of cool to it. The wit is always admired, but Whedon adds new physical humor that isn’t there as a distraction. Even when the original plot goes into some weird directions, Whedon makes it work by caring deeply about the characters. This is one of the ones on my list, I could watch this any day. (After typing that, I turned on this.)
Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
Bo Burnham: “what”
What?! A tie and two films that most people wouldn’t argue are films?! MY LIST. I’m a big fan of stand-up comedy and these two as performers. The medium isn’t something that really needs to be improved, but a mic and a stool doesn’t work for every storyteller. At the end of Birbiglia’s outstanding one-man show I realized this was as powerful as anything else I saw this year. He told a complicated and amazing story that is worthy to be called cinematic despite the fact that he never left the stage. Burnham is delving deeper into themes he has explored for a few albums but now he’s being even more experimental in his techniques. He is creating a unique visual experience that feels inspired by Edgar Wright. These may not fit into traditional definitions of “films”, but it checked off every box that fulfilled what I want from a great movie.
This is probably the angriest I was at a documentary this year. (Sorry whales.) A young homosexual boy was shot point-blank in his junior high. What happened next was just absurd as more people of the community started to defend the killer. The film restrains itself by letting every side of the issue say their peace, often times not for their betterment. The movie is sophisticatedly composed which makes it even more heartbreaking.
Hank and Asha
There’s a gimmick at the heart of this movie that only makes the movie stronger. The title characters live on opposite ends of the world. She saw his film at a film festival in Europe and was inspired to send him a video message. A romance begins to blossom when he responds with his own video message. Since they’re both young documentarians each one of their messages isn’t just someone sitting in front of a webcam, but sophisticated and glorious expressions of their emotions. Also the gimmick creates an intriguing acting challenge where Andrew Pastides and Mahira Kakkar have to act against a camera, not another person. The results are magical.
To the Wonder
I thought I understood Terence Malick’s new stage of filmmaking afterThe Tree of Life, but this film shows he’s capable of even more than I imagined. Like The Tree of Life, this is an emotionally gorgeous film but it’s a whole lot sadder than anything he’s done so far. He fills the movie with characters desperate to try to connect to each other, but something always lets them down. It is tied into their faith with God and their faith in humanity. There aren’t any easy answers but there’s something engrained in the core of all of their souls that allows them to keep trying no matter how low they feel.
There are a billion lawyer shows and books, but rarely do I see any of them cover public defenders. Probably because their life isn’t as glamorous and that’s why this movie is so important. I don’t think there was a more sympathetic character on screen last year than Travis Williams. The man is a real life hero and this film honors him and so many in their profession by making a tight intelligent documentary. There’s never a false or unnecessary scene. By the end, you just want to give all of them a hug.
Short Term 12
I’m excited for Dustin Cretton movies. The man knows how to write characters with such a keen attention to detail. There’s never a false moment or action which means every character actor in the business should be waiting outside his house, hoping he has a part for them. Brie Larson gives a career-changing performance as a woman who works in a group home for troubled teenagers. Throughout the film, you learn just how exhausting this situation is for everyone, but also why it’s so vital.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Remember all the noble things I said about the characters of my last two movies. Strike that and reverse it for this crew. This feels like Martin Scorsese’s first proper comedy since After Hours yet this is way more sinister. Even though there have been plenty of movies about the economic crisis and the immorality of Wall Street, none have been able to use their own world against them. Every frame of this movie uses their absurd lifestyle to show how dumb they all are. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort like Daffy Duck as he reverses the polarity of his natural charisma to act like a complete dork. Who happens to be rich. Silly rich.
Enough can’t be said about how amazing Waad Mohammed is in this movie. She gives a joyful effortless performance as a young girl who just wants to buy a bicycle. That proves to be a task that puts her up against plenty of societal and religious struggles that makes this a deceptively complicated film. There’s a passion to the movie that reflects the director’s own struggles to make this as she was the first woman who direct a movie in Saudi Arabia.
Inside Llewyn Davis
I typically hate stories about artists because usually it’s the storytellers being too indulgent and self-congratulatory. That is absolutely not the case here. Llewyn is a folk singer who fights for his art in a world that isn’t interested. He is so entwined with his music, it is really him that the world is saying no to. He is unlucky, but he also makes some poor decisions as he continues to grief for his dead partner. Oscar Isaac plays this character without asking for any pity, just a couch to crash on. It’s a sad world with no reward, but I found myself caught up in rooting for Llewyn. Not to succeed, exactly, because that will never happen. I just want him to be okay.
The Wind Rises
Now, this is a movie that is the storyteller being indulgent but that’s why it works. (Yes, I’m okay to contradict myself within a paragraph.) Much like A Prairie Home Companion, this swan song is a chance for Hayao Miyazaki to refect on his own career. Instead of looking at a filmmaker, he looks at a boy who wanted to design planes more than anything else in the world. However living in Japan during World War II, there is only one group that can put money to designing planes. There’s a powerful struggle about the compromise of art and what one needs to do to achieve your dreams. Then at the end, what do you get? Every sequence in the air is awe-inspiring and any example of destruction is haunting. This isn’t just an expensive way of being self-reflective, it’s a sweet way to say goodbye.
This was undeniably the most fun I had in the theatre. I gasped several times and I even was on the clichéd edge of my seat several times. Every scene of chaos felt brand new because of the attention to detail to give us an action film in an entirely new plane. Audiences are getting to watch a new display of physics where simple actions are now seemingly impossible. While this insane domino game would be fun on its own, this movie resonated for me because I cared about the main character. By the end, I wanted her to live, defy the elements and make it back home because she really earned it. I’ve never seen Sandra Bullock act so well.
This is Where We Live
There’s a level of realism where the only way you know you’re watching a fictional film would be that the characters would notice there’s a camera in their home. Every character of this struggling home is so well thought out and performed in a masterful way. This is a tale that refuses to work like a Hallmark movie in that it is up to the characters to defend themselves, not the film. To take care of a family like this is exhausting and never glamorous, but this movie managed to make something really special and endearing about the process.
There are heroes and then there is Mud. A young boy finds a mysterious man with a boat in a tree who wants to get his girlfriend back. This seems like the beginning of a fairy tale but that’s not how this world works. This is such a great coming of age film because we are watching this young boy figuring out what’s possible as we are. Every new piece of the mystery makes the world feel richer. This is a lovely movie that continues to show the great range of writer/director Jeff Nichols.
Like Someone in Love
It’s best to go into this as blind as possible. This doesn’t have crazy plot twists or anything but it wants to challenge you how much you can learn about the main character. Actress Rin Takanashi is going to give away as little as she can, which makes for surprisingly compelling cinema. There’s a heartbreaking sequence when she is listening to her voice mail early in the movie that only makes her more intriguing. Abbas Kiarostami is brilliantly making movies that are making me not trust movies. His tactics seem clinical but the results really resonate.
An Adventure in Space and Time
Yes!!! Doctor Who even manages to make my list about movies! This is my list on my blog so I get to be as biased as I want. This is a made-for-TV movie that depicted the first few years of the 50-year-old program. It is filled to the brim with love for the show, but unlike so many biopics I’ve seen—it knows how to keep its focus. It is faithful to the spirit of the time, especially David Bradley wonderful portrayal of William Hartnell. The actor to play the First Doctor was a difficult man at times, but there was also an undeniable warmth. A very worthy celebration.
Noah Baumbach made my all-time favorite film Kicking and Screaming. I’ve loved many of his films since then but he has grown more cynical with how he treats his characters. There is a lot of suffering going on…until Frances. Unlike the show Girls, this is a movie that really wants its characters to succeed. There’s hope and inspiration but that doesn’t cancel out the growth that has to happen first. There are no shortcuts in this movie and that leads to some hilarious results. There is a vibrance and an excitedness that I haven’t seen from Baumbach in awhile. I’m excited to see more.
Blue is the Warmest Color
There are so many romantic movies with an objective to win over somebody else. While the core relationship between Adèle and Emma is key, the real journey of the movie is Adèle looking to find any sort of connection where she is able to feel comfortable as herself. This isn’t just her sexuality but all parts of her personality. The movie is this exquisite search for a life that she’s happy with. Adèle Exarchopoulos’s performance fits so inline with this movie that the three hour runtime races by thanks to every moment feeling important and revealing.
12 Years a Slave
It’s kinda crazy that Steve McQueen is now an Oscar contender. In all regards, his style doesn’t gel with the Academy. His first two films were a raw unflinching look at an NRA hunger strike and sex addiction. Now he turns his eye to the brutal inhumanity of American slavery. Despite having a bigger budget and a bigger cast McQueen never backed down. Nothing about this movie feels like a typical Hollywood period piece. There’s no cheesy title cards saying how long Solomon Northup has been held captive or emotionally monologues as he looks towards the fields. What is there is, perhaps, the greatest representation of slavery ever made. There’s never a moment in the movie when you forget that these are human beings who never deserved to have any of this happen. Powerful, unforgettable and important.
As I’ve mentioned before, documentaries have to be more than journalism just like narrative films have to be more than just a good story. It is a visual medium where every component of filmmaking needs to reflect your subject. This examination into the kindness of Rocky Braat was exhilarating and hopeful because of Steve Hoover’s impeccable direction. The story of a young man choosing to leave New York to work at an Indian AIDS orphanage could be manipulated into a guilt-ridden depressing feature. Yet that’s not what Hoover found when he visited his friend. This was a place of joy. Partly because the infected children don’t understand how bad their situation is, but also because that’s how everyone was viewing their experience. The children made Rocky a better person and Rocky improved upon their lives. Even in the darkest corners of the planet, there is hope.
The Final Five
The Act of Killing
The World’s End
There were five films that I gave a perfect grade to in 2013 and here they are. A perfect grade means that I found them masterful, but I also found them to be incredibly emotional. With the other 57 movies on the list, I’ll happily debate their worth all day and night but these I’d rather not. Not everybody will like these five, especially my number one. These are special to me and represent why I find movies to be so powerful.
For example, I still can’t comprehend all that I saw in The Act of Killing. It wasn’t the violence that upset me, it was the violent men. Even though I knew I was watching a documentary, it seemed liked a fantasy world. A short-story “what if” concept where the coolest kids in high school were psychopaths and the world adjusted around that. Allowing the opportunity for these Indonesian men to look back on their killings is one thing but this is allowing them to creatively recreate it. This is an unseen and terrifying insight into their psyches. The rabbit hole goes even further when the director allows them to see the footage from this movie. This is the movie I’ve had the best conversations about because these men are a bleak enigma that we desperately want to understand if only so we can better understand the darkness of humanity.
On the other end, The World’s End has a plot point involving crazy straws! I am a complete Edgar Wright fanboy and that’s because he is the most exciting director working today. I have adored all four of his films and this is a bold step forward. None of his movies have been simple joke machines, but this one is delving more into its characters than ever before. Both times I watched it, I felt a powerful chill during a key running scene because they earned these moments of sadness. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright continue to evolve as storytellers as they retire tricks before they become stale. This is a more ambitious side to an already ambitious storyteller. This is so good, I’m now excited for something called “Ant-Man”.
The World’s End and Her both use the science-fiction genre to comment on society. While End has a list of corrections, Her has a list of “what if”. Both of them are wanting to create a better world to connect with each other on a more genuine level. There is a beautiful romance in the middle of Her where one of the two happens to be an OS. She is not Siri, she is not a robot. From her first moments, the film proves that she is a unique personality with thoughts of her own. At first I thought this would be a movie about how Sam was there to help Theodore move past his divorce, but every relationship has evolution on both ends. Sam is a character just as much as Theodore and the movie completely commits to that.
Man, I wish there was a way to transition from evolution of relationships to Before Midnight. I’ll edit one in later. Anywho, Before Midnight continues the impossible magic of this series where every sequel actually makes the previous films better. This is now the second time we’ve looked back into the lives of Jesse and Celine. While it has the feel of the previous entries—there’s a lot of walking and talking with a beautiful European backdrop—this is shockingly different. The tone is prickly, the stakes are higher but the characters are always true. This series is a brilliant achievement in cinema and this entry has the best performances thus far. For it can’t end here, could it? (It could.)
Then we finally have it. My #1 film of the year. I’ve written almost 7000 words to get here, managed to talk about 61 other films all to say thatUpstream Color is the best film I saw last year. Why is this better than all the rest? Because this is the only movie I watched and thought, “Damn, this could only be a movie.” The reason I was so drawn into this sad story was because the editing and visuals were so essential in creating this bizarre new world. There is no precedent for what happens to these characters and I’m not even sure if we’re supposed to understand it all. The whole film, these characters are betrayed by their own emotions to the point of collapse. I was caught up in it all because trauma is trauma. This movie has its own surface mythology, but, to me, the metaphor is there for sexual abuse. Upstream Color could have just been a clinical experiment in structure and genre, but instead it’s something richly personal. I’m someone who sees (clearly) way too many movies and when I finish something I have never seen before and that shows me an exciting new kind of story—I take notice.
Are you still reading this? Thank God. Almost done, I swear. So why did I write this absurd article? Why list 62 films instead of just 10? Why bring up the easiest way to see these films?
For the best films don’t just go to New York and LA anymore. I live in the middle of Indiana and I had access to all of these movies. We have film festivals that end up playing some of the best films of the year, more television channels are getting faster access to incredible documentaries or producing some of the best movies themselves. So many freakin’ 2013 films are already on Netflix. A good number of this list originally appeared on Video on Demand so you can rent an excellent film through a cable provider (or iTunes or Amazon) for usually half the cost for a ticket to the theatres. While I love seeing movies on the big screen, there are other options designed to make it easier and affordable for everyone to see and support great filmmakers.
At the end of the day, this list doesn’t matter to the industry. None of the filmmakers get any trophy (or better yet, prize money), nothing I wrote will shift Oscar voters but it does accomplish what I love to do: connecting people with amazing art.
Enough reading. Go watch some good movies.