[tps_title]Maxwell Haddad’s Top 10 Films of 2013[/tps_title]
Although each year provides its own delights if you look hard enough, 2013 has been a particularly incredible year for cinema with fresh new voices emerging, old masters reaffirming their greatness, and surprises around every corner. I had a difficult time deciding which of the multitude of films I saw in 2013 should make this list and thus I ultimately chose the ones that affected me the most. It has been such a good year, in fact, that I opted not to select any honorable mentions as that would be an impossible task unto itself with at least 25 other very good films fighting for spots. There are of course plenty of films I have yet to see (notably foreign works and documentaries), and opinions can evolve over time so think of this not as a definitive list but rather as a marker of how I felt about the year in film as it came to a close.
10. The World’s End – As stylish and inventively crafted as any film Edgar Wright has yet made (the fight sequences are phenomenal), this film is not only a hilarious slice of madcap science fiction but an insightful examination of friendship, what it means to “grow up,” and an ode to the delightful recklessness of the human condition. Messrs. Pegg and Frost play on the conventions of the comedic chemistry they have developed over the past decade wile also delving into new crushing depths.
9. Frances Ha – The great Noah Baumbach teams up with Greta Gerwig once again, and in many ways it seems as if she has become his muse. Frances Ha is a witty, romantic, gorgeously black & white look at modern New York City and one young woman’s attempt to find herself in the adult world. The film is melancholy, idiosyncratic, and wise, a reflection not only of the Gerwig/Baumbach team but of the title character herself. I recognize a lot of myself in this film, and that is one of the most special experiences of all.
8. Frozen – Disney’s new animated musical provided me with more pure joy than perhaps any other movie this year. Filled to the brim with zip, terrific characters, and gorgeous animation, the film cleverly exists within the traditional mold of the Disney musical while also subverting expectations by emphasizing the wonderful, complex personalities and relationship of sisters Anna and Elsa. The songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (husband and wife) come perfectly formed; hummable, infectious, and integral to the narrative. “Let it Go” may be the sequence of the year; it is chill-inducing.
7. Gravity – As a technological exercise, Gravity is unparalleled. For 91 perfectly taut minutes, Alfonso Cuarón and his team of “wizards” transport audiences into the depths of space and each weightless moment, each intense obstacle, and each gorgeous dark vista is felt in beautifully rendered 3D that truly adds to the experience. Add in Steven Price’s excellent score and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography and this is the stuff of spectacle legend. Then, Sandra Bullock (and George Clooney’s charm) is tasked with the film’s emotional resonance and the simplicity of it allows the audience to project themselves into the thrills. Ryan Stone (Bullock) goes through hell, and we experience the cleansing and rebirth of the human soul, right down to the allegorical imagery.
6. 12 Years a Slave – In his previous films, Steve McQueen has explored the distortion of the human body and soul. This film feels like the culmination of that idea. It is a searing, raw look at slavery and the mistakes of our past, brought to life with great intensity from a trio of stunning performances (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o). American slavery has never before been depicted with such horror, honesty, and quiet dignity. This is the best type of art because it makes us reflect and discuss, ideas lingering in our head long after the film has come to a close.
5. The Wolf of Wall Street – Many films this year have dealt with the idea of American excess, but none have approached it with the verve and intelligence of Martin Scorsese’s epic. Clocking in at a robust 3 hours, every frame of this film overflows with debauchery and exuberance. Scorsese’s craft is as brilliant as it has ever been, and at 71 years old he injects the film with more energy than most filmmakers 1/3rd of his age. The film is also riotously funny, thanks to terrific performances from Jonah Hill, relative newcomer Margot Robbie, and career best work from Leonardo DiCaprio who has never been this vital or unhinged. There is an anger bubbling underneath this film, though, and it is not all about wildly entertaining parties. This film serves as a potent indictment of capitalism and the American dream, and makes us seriously question the misguided idea that many have about “success.”
4. Inside Llewyn Davis – The film begins with a tight shot of one man singing a haunting rendition of a classic folk song. “Hang me, oh hang me… I’ll be dead and gone,” he croons, his face awash in stark white light. Thus begins this melancholy, brilliantly structured musical journey through the world of the 1960s New York folk scene and the isolation of our “hero,” Llewyn Davis is deeply felt. Oscar Isaac, in a true breakthrough performance, brings to light not only Llewyn’s clear musical talent but somehow manages to make this sardonic, pained character likeable. He is faced with harsh reality and left searching for satisfaction and success in a world that has perhaps already moved on, and the Coens prove their unique mastery once again.
3. Before Midnight – Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy began this grand experiment 18 years ago and I am not sure even they knew at that time the delicious fruits that were to come. Rich and literate, with the expected emphasis on conversation and simple human interaction, Before Midnight takes us far past the lush romance of “Sunrise” and “Sunset” and explores the struggles and compromises it takes to maintain a relationship. The three artists at the head of this project are intimately familiar with these characters, and thus they are able to delve deeply into the murky, painful truths. The performances and filmmaking are effortless but perfect, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call this one of the most astute, wry, and honest films about this subject matter that I have seen.
2. Short Term 12 – Writer/director Destin Cretton exhibits a gentle, honest touch that elevates the potentially banal premise into something deeply felt and ultimately cathartic. The performers, notably Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., and Keith Stanfield, are tender and uncommonly vulnerable, and thus this examination of a foster care facility and the varying personalities that reside within feels vital and true. I recognized myself and those I have know throughout my life in the film’s pains and struggles, and it overwhelmed me with genuine moments and delicate gestures.
1. Her – Spike Jonze’s new film (his fourth) is an absolutely exquisite examination of love and loneliness, and it is without doubt the most emotionally profound film of the year. The film aches in each gorgeous, melancholy moment and it has a purifying effect. As a work of science fiction it is astute and beautifully designed, with a far more hopeful and affirming approach than many films in the genre have. As a love story, it is pure and true, even if said love is between a man and a computer operating system. As that man Joaquin Phoenix is nuanced and genuine, and as the operating system Scarlett Johansson brings warmth and whimsy through only her voice. Jonze tackles the tricky, potentially silly subject matter with utter sincerity and it serves as a fervent reminder of our innate need for human connection in this increasingly technological world.