Last year, my wrap up consisted only of Independent films, so in keeping with that tradition I’ve mostly limited my list of films for the 2013 Wrap Up to indie titles as well.
2013 was not only a good year for award worthy narrative features – 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle and Fruitvale Station, to name a few – but also for documentaries. This year was arguably one of the best for both the quality and quantity of docs that gained mainstream attention including Blackfish, The Act of Killing, and Stories We Tell. It should also probably be noted that 2013 was a great year for women in film, in part due to the increased interest of documentaries like these, all of which featured women either on screen or behind the camera.
After such a large number of memorable and noteworthy films were produced during 2012 I never anticipated that 2013 would prove to be just as an incredible for the world of film. It goes without saying that this year’s Oscar race should be particularly interesting. Below are some of my top picks from the 2013 film circuit, along with a couple I could have done without.
I’m rarely disappointed by anything Noah Baumbach touches – or Greta Gerwig for that matter – so I had high hopes for Francis Ha, and happily I was not disappointed. Cinematic techniques borrowed from films of the French New Wave and the black-and-white style often utilized in Woody Allen films, accompanied with Baumbach’s stellar writing and Gerwig’s outstanding performance, provided the perfect combination. Also, the soundtrack kind of rocks.
While there are several noteworthy films of 2013 that could fall into this category, including a few of my personal favorites – The Way Way Back, The Place Beyond the Pines and In a World – Short Term 12 topped them all for me, and it’s the only one I’d give a perfect score to in a review.
Anyone who has ever talked movies with me knows I am one of Woody Allen’s biggest advocates. But it frustrates me that critic’s seem to like/dislike his movies every other year in a perpetually predictable pattern, so while I enjoyed Blue Jasmine, unlike the majority of critics I also liked To Rome with Love. However I didn’t find either of them award-winning in comparison to other film’s produced during their respective years, nor did Blue Jasmine prove any more award-winning in nature than To Rome with Love – perhaps with the exception of Kate Blanchet’s performance in the former. In the end, I think the hype around this film resulted in high expectations that went unfulfilled upon viewing. That being said, I still love you, Woody.
I was really excited for David Gordon Greene’s Prince Avalanche, and typically I like any movie with Paul Rudd as a lead character, but this one just really let me down. Tonally uneven, I was never really sure what to feel as I watched, patiently waiting for the story to finally come to it’s climax – and then it just didn’t. I was thankful once it finally ended, but sheerly out of boredom, not because it provided any kind of resolution. It feels more like a sketch than a fully developed film.
Art documentaries are always fun, if you’re like me and enjoy learning about art, but maybe not so much to the average viewer. Tim’s Vermeer is an exception to this, part art documentary, part mystery, this film surprised me more than any other film this year. It absolutely defines this category. Like I said in my review of the film, It’s so much fun to watch you won’t even notice you’re learning something too.
Drinking Buddies offers a refreshingly candid look at relationships from the perspective of the romantic comedy genre. The level of realism Joe Swanberg is able to accomplish through his creative directing techniques and the use of improvisation gives the story a universal appeal. Anyone who knows what it’s like to struggle with the realities that come with being a grown up (so basically anyone in their 20’s or anyone who has lived through their 20s) watching this film will feel like watching real life, and that’s what makes this particular 20-something coming back for more again and again.
Director Ryan Cooger’s phenomenal feature film debut, Fruitvale Station, stars Michael B Jordan as 22-year-old Oscar Grant III. Set during the last twenty-four hours of his life, the film tells the true story of Oscar’s tragic and untimely death, hours after midnight on New Year’s Day in 2009. As an actor Jordan is probably most recognized for his role as a “little hopper” named Wallace (who ironically also suffers a tragic fate) in David Simon’s The Wire, so as a fan of the show it was exciting to see Jordan all grown up and tearing it up on the big screen. Jordan’s pitch perfect portrayal of not only a multi-layered character, but a complex human being in real-life, has earned him a permanent placed among actors to watch in my book.
2013 brought a lot of great documentaries to the mainstream, but Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell stands out for it’s deeply personal and revealing nature. Brave does not even begin to properly describe Polley’s work. With courage on the level of some of America’s greatest memoirist – Joan Didion comes to mind – Polley plunges into the darkest corners of family life, revealing truths others would rather try to forget, or simply ignore altogether. The result is one of the most honest works of creative non-fiction I have ever experienced, and one that can’t help but speak to every viewer on some level.
I actually saw No for the first time in 2012 during the BFI London International Film Festival, before it was released in the United States, but it’s unique cinematic style and use of realism stayed with me, and upon viewing it a second time this year I was once again struck by the way director Pablo Larraín manages to portray this dark time in Chilean history in both a beautiful and honest way. It’s a rare film, which deserves all the recognition it’s garnered this year, plus some.
There are so many films I could have put in this category – and I should note that unfortunately there are a number of films I’ve yet to see that could potentially outshine this one – Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Philomena are just a few of the film’s still on my “must-see” list that I’ve been unable to get to yet for one reason or another – but working from the list of those I have seen, and because David O. Russell’s visionary direction never ceases to amaze me and I just can’t get enough of Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle is my pick for Best Film of 2013.