By now it should be fairly obvious that this blog is solely dedicated to my end-of-year lists. Clearly, it hasn’t been used for something more analytical or insightful (as if I could write something that would be either of these things.) Since I moved earlier this year, I’ve been able to see films that I would have never been able to see. It’s pleasing to finally see the films I want to see, even though it does take a hit on my wallet.
Coming off of one of the worst years for cinema in some time, 2013 was bound to look good. It couldn’t possibly be worse. Even without the contrast, this year was a great year. It’s a year that I actually had a somewhat difficult time narrowing down, something that can’t be said for the past couple of years. Most of the films I anticipated delivered, and, as always, there were a few surprised that sneaked up here and there.
10. The Act of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
It’s entirely fascinating: watching people that gleefully committed the worst atrocities imaginable feel empathy – all because of art. It’s not something I’d ever want to see again; it left me shaken for at least a week. But it’s something that needs to be seen.
9. Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth)
The questions are endless in Carruth’s sophomore effort. It’s a film that is greeted with scratching heads and a good deal of admiration. Beneath its non-linear editing and abstract imagery is a thematic concern that is universal: the connection of people and the general idea of fate. Once you latch onto its core, the questions seem meaningless.
8. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)
Recently, there seems to have been a backlash to Cuarón’s long-awaited follow-up; “It’s a roller-coaster ride with some nifty effects.” Frankly, this strikes me as unfounded and lazy. There’s a thematic circle present within its imagery (yes, there’s more to it than the resemblance of a fetus – although that should be more than enough to clue you in that there’s something to the film) and an emotional current that’s consistent. When was the last time you marveled at the intelligence and tracking shots in a blockbuster?
7. Short Term 12 (dir. Destin Cretton)
On paper, Cretton’s film seems similar to a Degrassi episode. But this is the strength of perfect casting and knowing when to hold back. The film, for all of its dramatic arcs, never reaches that point. It remains genuine and endearing throughout, and it boasts a performance from Brie Larson that will completely surprise you. The best way to describe it, as I once told a friend, is that it’s akin to a Dardenne picture, except it’s optimistic.
6. Blue is the Warmest Color (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)
Yes, the sex scenes are explicit, and they go on for a little too long. But we’re talking about a seven minute scene in a film that is close to three hours. It should say something about how prudish some are that a small (though essential) segment of the film is the moment we choose to focus on. What should be focused on, I think, is how exquisitely handled the depiction of a girl becoming a woman is. Adèle Exarchopoulos gives the year’s greatest performance, convincingly depicting every single beat of this character. She builds the emotional center with her trance-like stares and infectious smile.
5. Ernest and Celestine (dir. Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renne)
With its warm watercolor palette and inventive style, Ernest and Celestine manages to create a world that echoes the stories we heard as a child. At its center is an entirely charming depiction of two vastly different beings becoming the best of friends. Instead of relying on pop-culture references, its humor relies on the absurdities of prejudices. In an age where children’s animated films are predominately demeaning, it manages to stand out as something unique.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis (dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)
The Coens make their return after three years with a character driven picture that is as emotional as anything they have ever done. While it may share some commonalities with their recent films, the Coen film it echoes the most is Barton Fink: the depiction of artistic creativity in a certain industry, witty dialogue, and its readily unlikable protagonist. Its narrative structure and direction may be a bother for some. For me, it’s something I’ve long desired from the duo.
3. Her (dir. Spike Jonze)
The comparisons to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind may initially seem justified, but they seem a tad unfounded when you really step back to compare the two. Indeed, they both share common traits: the slightly quirky/melancholic protagonist, depicting a relatable love story under its sci-fi trappings, etc. Her, however, seems to have something grander on its mind. Through its refreshingly warm dystopian view, it attempts to examine human behavior, and our dependence on technology. What seems miraculous is that the film actually makes you feel for the other end; there’s a sense of urgency and feeling for a voice. You do what you thought was the unthinkable: you understand why the protagonist (played wonderfully by Joaquin Phoenix) behaves the way he does.
2. Stories We Tell (dir. Sarah Polley)
Sarah Polley departs the world of fictional relationships to make her first foray into documentary filmmaking. What could have been an utter disaster (Why should I watch your home movies?) is anything but. Through documenting her family history, Polley remarkably opens a closet of rich ideas and themes: it questions the very idea of narrative, family, and truth. People (including me) tend to groan when they hear about documentaries. This is the documentary that moves past the endless talking heads and ham-fisted agendas. It stands alongside the films it tries best to emulate. When you’re standing alongside Kurosawa and Kiarostami, I’d say you’re in good company.
1. Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)
The days of roaming carelessly around your desired European village are long gone. Linklater’s romantic depiction in his Before series has reached the point where consequences and responsibilities are apparent. While it remains undeniably romantic, it takes a sidestep from its romanticism to stop and put thought into their relationship by replacing the stone-cobbled streets and sun-drenched buildings with an entirely bland hotel room. The blank canvas is ready to be painted with the inevitable. It’s a daunting task: the second half of your two-person picture taking entirely place in one room. Hawke and Delpy, who are better than ever here, make it work. The sequence, set entirely in real time, is comprised of two people that have been together long enough to know where to stick the knife and when. For a series that is noted for its realistic romantic portrayal, the series begins to feel like it’s going to end on the most upsetting note imaginable. Fortunately for cinephiles everywhere, it doesn’t. Itt ends with a scene that is almost as perfect as its predecessor’s. After Before Sunrise, I dreaded the idea of a sequel, fearing that it would taint my love for the original. After the perfection of Before Sunset and the announcement of Before Midnight, I became cautious. They’re going to define us the ending to Sunset? They better know what they’re doing. They do. It’s obvious now that the three know what should be done with the series. Come 2022, I’ll be welcoming Before Dawn with open arms.
As always, these lists tend to seem rather pointless in hindsight; multiple viewings and time can change your admiration a tad. Looking back at the 2011 list, I can already see the changes I would make: the number one spot would remain the same, but Certified Copy would be moved up to the second spot. As of now, however, I’d say I’m comfortable with this list and its order.
Until next year.