Top Movies* of 2013
*that I've been able to see
And we're back! Just in time to look back at 2013 and pick our favorite movies. With the new baby robot launch earlier this year, it's been hard to get to the theater, so there are a lot of movies that everyone seems to love that I haven't caught up with yet. Thankfully there were great movies coming out all year long, so even if the end-of-year representation is spotty, there's enough notable stuff for a list of 10.
Spring Break Forever! I just fell in love with y'all. This list represents my personal favorites, not necessarily The Best Films of the year, and no movie had a greater effect on me than Spring Breakers. It's a smart criticism of our culture's sexual exploitation of young women, and it's a nightmare of violence, drugs, excess, partying, and James Franco's cornrows. But it also works as an impressionistic fantasy and has some surprisingly beautiful hot tub sequences, Franco at a white piano (adding another chapter to the absurdist performance art his career has become) and a shotgun ballet musical number to Britany Spears's "Everytime". It added "Look at all my shit!" to the lexicon (A.O. Scott has a lot to say about that) and introduced the world to the scary and fascinating ATL Twins. I'm still picking my jaw up off the floor.
Inside Llewyn Davis
It's not an easy one to love, this melancholy movie about failure with a central character who's kind of a jerk. Little happens besides losing, finding, and losing a cat, but the tone of struggle and disappointment is what the Coen Brothers do best. What did you expect, a happy ending and a record contract? Llewyn's musical performances are so compelling and sad that we want it all to work out for him, even though most of his woes are self-created. The movie is full of tiny moments with big emotional impact, like Llewyn looking at a record sleeve of the album he did with his dead ex-partner, and driving past a highway sign reading "Akron". Sadly funny and beautiful.
Somehow, this movie completely avoids being the self-involved, precious, twee little hipster quirk-fest that it so easily could have been, and ends up just about perfect. Frances isn't an adorable oddball, she's a real mess, but her flaws make her sympathetic and genuine. Things get wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly at the end, but the way there is sloppy and hilarious.
Stories We Tell
A fascinating documentary about Sarah Polley's nice Canadian family, that ends up exploring how we construct our family histories and whose version of the story gets passed along as "what really happened". Her family is more convoluted and mysterious than most, but it's the inventive way the central mystery is set up and investigated that makes it so good. It's also a sweet father-daughter story and a love letter to Polley's own father, the unexpected hero of the story.
The World's End
The funniest movie I saw all year, and the best/saddest/most touching of the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost Cornetto Trilogy. Simon Pegg's energetic performance as a delusional hyper-manic middle-aged early-'90's throwback was my favorite of the year.
I love the whole series, and feel a particular resonance with Jesse and Celine's rocky romance because I've always been about their age when each new movie comes out. Their relationship is at its thorniest in this final installment, but watching them fight is more fun than watching them talk about the nature of consciousness. I especially admire Julie Delpy for writing and performing a lot of unflattering scenes in which her character is insufferable and nuts; conversely, Ethan Hawke let himself off easy with all his reasonableness and wit. Who's that clever when their relationship is falling apart?
Beyond the Hills
Just like the director's earlier 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, this movie got under my skin with its oppressive sense of dread. This one feels even more like it exists in its own creepy universe, set in an isolated monastery with an overbearingly controlling culture. The two central characters are childhood friends/lovers, trying and failing to find a way to relate to each other within this scary, byzantine place. I love these movies, but they scare the hell out of me.
12 Years a Slave
An unflinching look at the brutality of slavery, but full of many beautiful shots and moments--you can really tell that Steve McQueen was a visual artist before he started making movies. This one has the same chilly, detached quality that Shame and Hunger have, which sometimes made it hard to feel involved in the action on screen, though given what much of the action consisted of, maybe I should be grateful for that.
I should point out that there are many recent movies I haven't seen yet, some of which would probably be on this list: Her, Short Term 12, The Past, All is Lost, The Wolf of Wall Street, Blue is the Warmest Color, Nebraska and American Hustle. Those last two movies are by directors I don't much like anymore (and have I told you lately how much I hated Silver Linings Playbook?) but everyone seems to love these movies, so, OK.
There were also a few exceptionally good examples of otherwise tired genres: Gravity, an old-fashioned disaster movie with fancy new technology, Pacific Rim, the best big-budget monster-action movie I've seen in a long time, and Philomena, a perfectly constructed touching true-story human drama.
The year's biggest disappointments:
This is the End. Not funny enough.
To the Wonder. Terrence Malick finally blows it.
World War Z. Starts strong with a large-scale zombie attack on downtown Philly during rush hour, ends with a series of incredibly boring walks down long deserted office hallways. Terrible.
What were your favorites last year? Let me know what you recommend in the comments. Here's 2012's list.