The first eight months of 2013 filmmaking were so pathetic, I despaired of finding enough films for a top ten list, but the fall made up for it; it was so good, in fact, that I need to have a top twelve list so I can accommodate two films starring Matthew McConaughey, the best actor of 2013 (who’d have thought?). My list also includes two films starring Robert Redford and who could possibly have predicted that? I can’t recall a year in which I was more impressed with actors (men). I think I can list at least a dozen performances I think are Oscar-worthy (look for this list in a future blog post).
Another interesting feature in the list below is that four of my top ten films contain virtually non-stop dialogue while three contain virtually no dialogue whatsoever.
A fascinating stat is that four of my top twelve films of 2013 were directed by people who also had films in my top fifteen list of 2011 (J.C. Chandor, Woody Allen, Terrence Malick and Jeff Nichols). Alexander Payne almost made it five with Nebraska, which might have made my top fifteen of 2013.
I need to add a note about Sarah Polley’s excellent documentary Stories We Tell because it’s Gareth Higgins’ favourite film of the year. Gareth’s review makes it sound like it should be my favourite as well, but while I agree that it is possible to glean the wonderful observations he makes from the film, I found enough problems to keep it out of my top ten. I also note that Canadian critics were much harder on this Canadian film than American (or Northern Irish) critics, which may play a role in the reservations Walter and I had with Stories We Tell.
Finally, for those of you who have seen Blue is the Warmest Color: Yeah, you’re right; it should be in my top twelve list. I hope you understand why I decided not to review this film or put it on my official list (given my present job).
Okay, here are my top twelve films of 2013, counting down from twelve:
12. Dallas Buyers Club – Matthew McConaughey is awesome and Jared Leto is even better in Jean-Marc Vallee’s filming of the true story of Ron Woodroof, an alcoholic, drug addict, sex addict, homophobe, sexist, and racist who is diagnosed with AIDS and given thirty days to live. In response, he turns his life around and starts the Dallas Buyers Club to help others with AIDS.
11. Mud – Matthew McConaughey is flawless again in Jeff Nichols’ old-fashioned coming-of-age adventure about two fourteen-year-old boys and the wild man (Mud) they find on an island. A wise and haunting tale about love, Mud would have made my top ten if it hadn’t been for its final fifteen minutes of violence.
10. The East – This quirky suspense drama from Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling (who also stars) asks whether violence is the only way to challenge the corporate greed that is destroying our planet. Sarah is assigned by a high-level security firm to infiltrate a group of eco-terrorists, but the infiltration works both ways. A thoughtful study of relationships, community and violence.
9. To the Wonder – Terrence Malick’s latest film is a work of pure cinematic poetry, a gorgeous and profound spiritual meditation on the lives of four people, which are filled with joy and wonder but also with pain, loneliness, sadness and despair.
8. The Company You Keep – Robert Redford directed and starred in this low-budget indie political thriller that ultimately asks why today’s young people aren’t protesting the outrageous corporatism and militarism that are destroying the planet (sound familiar?). This underrated film is also an understated, intelligent and engrossing tale of 70’s radicals in the 21st century.
7. Blue Jasmine - Cate Blanchett delivers a stunning performance as the very blue Jasmine in Woody Allen’s 44th film. Rawer and deeper than most of Allen’s films, this intense character study may not be entirely realistic but it nevertheless comes with profound insights into questions of gender, class, wealth, privilege, self-worth and the meaning of life.
6. The Gatekeepers - Made in 2012 but only released in the spring of 2013, this Israeli documentary by Dror Moreh is a fascinating, depressing and terrifying film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with six former leaders of the Shin Bet sharing their thoughts (doubts) about the effectiveness of their attempts to control the conflict.
5. All is Lost - Robert Redford is magnificent as a man struggling to survive alone on the open seas after his boat strikes a container. J.C. Chandor’s film works both as pure adventure and as an endlessly compelling reflection on the adventure of life that speaks differently to each viewer.
4. 12 Years a Slave - This old-fashioned, harrowing historical drama by Steve McQueen is a masterpiece of filmmaking, with a perfect sense of pace, minimal sentimentality and flawless acting (especially Chiwotel Ejiofor as the man forced to be a slave in 19th century Louisiana).
3. Gravity - Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi thriller stars Sandra Bullock (in her best role ever) as an astronaut caught in orbit with a deadly cloud of satellite debris. A film about death, God and being human, it’s a profound and breathtaking work of cinematic art.
2. Her - An amazing, wise and wonderful indie sci-fi romance, written and directed by Spike Jonze. Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as a man who falls in love with his computer operating system (voiced beautifully by Scarlett Johansson). Her scarily (and thoughtfully) predicts the future of relationships in our smartphone culture.
1. Before Midnight - The third (and best) in Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ series, in which we catch up with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) every nine years as they discuss life and love in a beautiful European setting. This time things get heated. Thought-provoking, wise, beautiful and well-acted, this series is what filmmaking is all about.