Best of 2013
By Don Simpson | December 26, 2013
When I first started preparing my year-end lists for 2013, I knew for certain that I was going to continue my trend of creating one post with my favorite theatrically released narrative films of 2013 and a separate post with my favorite documentary films of 2o13. This is because I have a difficult enough time ranking films that share no common elements other than they were all shot on a medium that can capture both moving images and sound. The ranking of anything (especially art) seems completely arbitrary to me and the fact that most year-end lists focus on the “top” or “best” really makes no sense. While I guess there are certain basic mechanisms of filmmaking that can be done well (thus making a “good” movie) or can be done poorly (thus making a “bad” movie), for the most part it is all just personal opinion. I prefer to approach talking about films in terms of whether or not the film works for me; whether the film is interesting and stimulating, whether it does something new and exciting with the cinematic medium.
If you have not already figured it out by reading my reviews over the years, I try to approach film criticism by way of audience (or reception) studies, meaning looking at the ideas and messages being conveyed by a film and how the audience might interpret that information. I believe that it is important for people to be more cognizant of the information that they are consuming while watching films. I also think our personal histories (our past) and life philosophies play very significant roles in determining which films we appreciate the most. Our moods really affect how we receive films, so I can watch a film and hate it one day but love that very same film after a second viewing just because of my differing moods. So, basically, any year-end list just represents a snapshot of an opinion at that particular moment. I hate that in the process of publishing this list, it essentially sets it in stone, because this list is far too fluid to be considered absolute. Any film on this list could easily show up in the 1-10 slots on this list at any given time — and I am not just saying that to make the filmmakers towards the bottom of this list feel better about the completely arbitrary number to the left of their film’s title. This list was purely just a luck of the draw and some films were luckier than others.
After all of this bitching, you are probably wondering why I even bother publishing year-end lists, and I often wonder the exact same thing. This year I felt a lot more justified in creating this particular list because of what it ended up representing. I had originally intended to publish a separate list of my favorite “low-budget” and/or “micro-budget” films of 2013, because I really wanted to showcase all of the amazing films that may have only received small, boutique theatrical (or VOD-only) releases in 2013, but deserved to be seen by a much wider audience. While I was compiling the master list of my favorite narrative films of 2013, I noticed an interesting trend: a majority of the films on this list also qualified as low-budget and/or micro-budget films. Maybe that says a lot about my taste in cinema this past year, but I believe that it is also a testament to the ever-increasing quality (and quantity) of low-budget and/or micro-budget filmmaking.
This is a much longer list than I usually create, but I very strongly recommend seeking out every single title on this list. But please disregard the number to the left of the film’s title — just because I assigned it a certain number has no baring on whether or not you are going to “like” the film. Besides, some of these films are not meant to be “liked” (for example: 12 Years a Slave), instead they are quite purposefully intended to solicit other types of reactions and emotions.
Okay, enough of my rambling about list-making… Let’s get on with the list! (Oh, and since this list only includes films that received an official theatrical or VOD release in 2013, please also check out my favorite undistributed films of 2013.)
Note: This list does not reflect the opinion of Smells Like Screen Spirit. The official Smells Like Screen Spirit “Top 10 Films of 2013” will post next week.
Il Futuro exists in a surreal fugue state in which strange events are explained by the siblings’ damaged psychological state after their parents’ catastrophic accident. Time has become blurred and they see things much differently — bright lights blast through their windows all night long and their parents’ crushed yellow Fiat is now grey. (Check out my full review of Il Futuro.)
49) The Bling Ring
As if using cinema as therapy to deal with her own guilt trip for being brought up into Hollywood opulence, writer-director Sofia Coppola once again delivers us into a world of spoiled young people grappling with their warped sense of entitlement. Coppola addresses the socio-economics of the situation, specifically the inherent jealousy of the vast divide between us and them. The influence of wealth and fame-obsessed popular culture weighs heavily upon the protagonists, as if the auto-tuned boasts of their favorite singers has brainwashed them with unabashed vanity; they are zombified Hollywood teens salivating for the finest of celebrity couture. (Check out my full review of The Bling Ring.)
48) The Silence
Director Baran bo Odar’s The Silence is a very unique police procedural which dutifully contemplates the aftershocks that untimely death (whether caused at the hands of a fellow human or due to natural causes) has on surviving family members as well as the ramifications that violence has on a community. (Check out my full review of The Silence.)
47) Lotus Eaters
Alexandra McGuinness’ gorgeously photographed (by cinematographer Gareth Munden) black and white film is doomed to be called pretentious, stunted and over-stylized; but I see it as a Whit Stillman-by-way-of-Sofia Coppola-esque critique of the guiltless over-indulgence of London’s bourgeois 20-somethings. The group’s hedonistic lifestyle is somewhat alluring, yet it is obviously an accident waiting to happen… Featuring live performances by Little Death and O Children, the British indie rock soundtrack plays like my own dream mixtape. It would be a crying shame if the soundtrack is never officially released; but, in that case, I will certainly track down the individual songs and create my own compilation. (Check out my full review of Lotus Eaters.)
Wuss is a masterful work of sound and vision, clearly exceeding the production values of most independent cinema. Clay Liford’s uniquely desaturated, nearly monochromatic aesthetic visually binds his two features together, while clearly separating himself from most other filmmakers. (Check out my full review of Wuss.)
If made by his father, Antiviral would have fit perfectly between Scanners, Existenz and Cosmopolis. In fact, there is a very fine line between Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis and Caleb Landry Jones in Antiviral, just listen to their accents and speech patterns. They also seem to have the same fashion sense, though Jones is certainly more crumpled than Pattinson, with his unkempt hair and perpetually “sick” demeanor. (Check out my full review of Antiviral.)
Don Swaynos’ script is saturated with dry and subtle humor built upon the surreal situation of someone no longer realizing that they have a roommate. Pictures of Superheroes delves deeply into interpersonal relationships, specifically focusing on the disconnections and selfishness that seem to have become inherent in our oh-so-hectic modern society. In Swaynos’ unique cinematic place, there is a moral responsibility to obtain a work/life balance, to pay attention to one’s surroundings, and to exist; but the most profound statement to be found within Pictures of Superheroes is that despite the fact that Eric and Joe’s approaches to work and life are so drastically opposite, their choices have stuck them in the same exact place. Their house is a surrealist limbo in which they must reexamine their life philosophies in order to escape. (Check out my full review of Pictures of Superheroes.)
43) Some Girl(s)
Penned by the incomparable Neil LaBute, the dialogue is meticulously-crafted, as if torn from the pages of classic literature; the characters’ brains seem to work on hyper-drive, allowing them to concoct the most perfect response to each other in the matter of milliseconds. Each woman’s scene is written like a one-act play, taking place in its own individual location. The hotel rooms are each crafted in a specific style and mood to showcase the uniqueness of the five women; every prop, movement and word is saturated with meaning and significance. (Check out my video interview with Daisy von Scherler Mayer and Adam Brody for Some Girl(s).)
42) Cinema Six
Very few comedies are consistently funny (throughout all three acts, no less) while also containing a strong, noteworthy narrative. Despite its sublime knack for obscenity and vulgarity, Cinema Six is a very deep film. At its very [big, bulging] heart, Cinema Six is about a hapless group of movie theater employees who are stuck in limbo between childhood and adulthood. Stanton Family Cinemas is just as much of an escape from reality for the employees as the films are for the audiences. (Check out my full review of Cinema Six.)
41) A Hijacking
Handheld verite camerawork (Magnus Nordenhof Jønck) allows us to observe the scenarios onboard the ship and inside the Copenhagen headquarters first-hand from the perspectives of Mikkel and Peter, respectively. Like flies on the wall, we are given keen insight into the two disparate and desperate worlds that are totally cut off from each other, except for whatever truths and untruths Peter and Omar choose to share with each other. Lindholm’s cleverly restrained approach to the narrative structure shapes A Hijacking into an undeniably unique thriller that is certain to serve as a mold for a lot of copycats. (Check out my full review of A Hijacking.)