We're officially halfway through the year and I'm kicking off the next 6 months with a sharing of the best films of 2013 (thus far). There's nothing I like writing about more than films that I love. Thus, lists with "best" in the title excite me, especially when I'm looking at an entire year's worth of films (or in this case, half of a year). I did this same type of list in 2012. Thing is, I never did a Top Ten: Best Films of 2012 once the year was over. Sure, Trent and I each shared a list in our Year in Review episode of the podcast, but we both looked at our lists then as a work in progress with some egregious unseen titles. I still feel that way. On the other hand, we're half-way through this year and we all know there's films that have yet to be released, not to mention those we may have missed and still mean to catch up with. The very addition of "(thus far)" in the title makes it clear that this is a work in progress. Maybe all our lists should be that way. We'll never catch up. We'll never see everything. We'll only see what we see and are therefore mortally limited; this goes for film-viewing, game-playing, album-hearing, theater-going, museum-hopping, sports-watching, food-eating, wine-drinking... life-living.
One of the biggest thorns in my cinephilic paw are foreign v. domestic release dates. Such a problem came up when Trent and I were discussing a film like "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia." It made his and others' Top 10 of 2011 list, while myself and others had it in consideration for 2012. What's a guy to adhere to? The date it was put in the can? (Problem: "Free China: The Courage to Believe") The initial release date wherever it was first born upon the silver screen? (Problem: "From Up On Poppy Hill") It's festival circuit? (Problem: "Pieta") Maybe in the annals of filmdom here in the Tome things will sort themselves out, but while we're in the present I will be referring to any films that received their non-festival U.S. theatrical release (be it limited or wide) this calendar year as 2013 films. Yes, even something like "Kon-Tiki," a 2012 Oscar-nominated film, gets pushed to 2013 for my consideration. As a blogger based in Los Angeles, California this makes the most sense to/for me. I understand this issue is strictly a first-world calamity. It's absurd I'm fretting over a trivial matter like this when someone's running for their life from a wild boar in Samoa right now. But if someone were to be filming that incident today and it wound up in a documentary later this year but didn't get shown in the States until 2014... well, it'd probably be topping my list of the best films of 2014... thus far.
I geek out and relish this type of list, but it's also extremely difficult to rank and leave off certain titles. I've said before how arbitrary ratings and rankings can be even though I still attempt to do so. I know I sound like a broken record three years in a row now, but this year is incredible so far! You probably wouldn't know it (you'd maybe even claim the opposite) if you limit yourself to the Hollywood train at your multiplex, or if where you live limits it for you. As you'll see the majority of my picks come from overseas. I encourage any serious cinema connoisseurs to seek these films out for their respective reasons. I hope to give you some of those reasons now.
10. Room 237
Some of my favorite documentaries are about film, but never before has one been so obsessed about a particular one. Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" is a classic horror film that nearly everyone I know who has seen it cites it as one of their favorites of the genre. Though we all probably pale in comparison in our fandom to the talking voices (no heads are seen and I love that about this doc) heard throughout "Room 237." They range from film study to floor plan analysis to downright conspiracy theories. Before seeing the film I scoffed when I heard about the guy who believed that hidden in "The Shining" was Kubrick's confession for helping to stage the moon landing. But by Kubrick's beard when that segment came around I was as transfixed as a gullible child. This is a hypnotic barrage of visuals (from a whole catalog of movies) that not only ensure you'll never look at "The Shining" the same again, but permisses any cinephile to derive what they dare from their favorite movies. Fittingly, this one has become one of mine. Should I try to make a documentary about "Room 237"?
9. Monsters University
Pixar is back (in all their "instant classic" churning glory) with a prequel to one of their most beloved and ingenius exercises, "Monsters, Inc." We meet Mike and Sulley before they were ever the top scarers in the business and before they ever met each other. It's the rare prequel that should be seen after already knowing the original and manages to successfully expand this otherwise unseen world. Those who have been to college will be in on half the jokes, which really makes me feel this is not a film for kids - though they may certainly have a lot to be entertained by. I seriously think this could be Pixar's funniest film to date, but of course they've brought two monster-sized hearts along for the shenanigans.
8. The Silence
In 1987 a little girl disappears outside of an unassuming German township. 23 years later to the day a mysteriously similar crime occurs. "The Silence" takes no sides. It merely displays the outward actions of its players: the victims, their parents, police detecives, and the culprites. I observed that all were victims. Only once does it take us into someone's head, a snippet I'm still mulling over. Here's my review.
7. Before Midnight
The third installment in writer/director Richard Linklater's unique series is set/made 9 years after "Before Sunrise" which was set/made 9 years after "Before Sunset." It's neither as creative as the first, or as important as the second, but for me may be the most meaningful. It's an exponentially rewarding yarn that I'm yearning to revisit each year, especially every 9 years. It's philosophy on-the-go courtesy of a couple who feel so familiar with each other and for those who've seen the prequels. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have certainly aged, consequently their performances behave like a fine wine.
This avante-garde documentary sets itself solely upon the North Atlantic as we observe a day-in-the-life of the fishing industry. Shot with GoPro cameras and more tricks up their filmmaking sleeve (from the team behind "Sweet Grass") than the French New Wave, this film makes waves all of its own. In the theater the experience was inescapable. Nearly insufferable. You will feel like you're at the mercy of the sea like the fish and the birds that occupy the immediate sides of its surface. My wife hated it and I can understand every point she makes, but because I've never experienced anything remotely like "Leviathan" and admired the toiling on both sides of the tiny fish-eyed lens, I salute everything about it.
5. Like Someone in Love
Legendary Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami ("Close-Up" and "Certified Copy") has taken his act to Tokyo for his latest project. Akiko is a university student by day / call girl by night whose "manager" has arranged for her to visit a peculiar customer. Akiko's grandmother, unaware of her kin's current occupation, is visiting the city and hopeful to see her. Akiko's classmate and boyfriend is increasingly infatuated and frustrated with her. "Like Someone in Love" is so impeccably crafted that the adapted 16-hour period is filled with those moments in life that some filmmaking daydreamers experience and say to themselves, "I wish I had filmed that." Little, ineffable moments. Here's my purposefully short review.
4. Paradise: Love
The first in Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy follows Teresa, a 50-year-old Austrian woman, who holidays to Kenya. Her lifestyle and desires are virtually unknown, but not long after arriving it becomes evident she's there as a sex tourist, albeit sheepishly so. "Paradise: Love" is a wonder of naturalistic filmmaking and feels far more real than most documentaries. It is an eye-opening and uncomfortable viewing: for Teresa, her younger male prostitutes, and us. The title seems like a sick joke by the end of this emotionally punishing film, but you will ponder the word during the hours, days, months and years following your viewing with additional insight and experience, however pained. I'm both eager and hesitant to see sections "Faith" and "Hope." The opening scene alone of "Love" speaks volumes about our relationships with others, particularly those we bump into for however brief an encounter.
3. Beyond the Hills
Cristian Mungiu's follow-up to "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" is primarily set at a Romanian convent where two orphaned friends reunite for a season. It's an endlessly fascinating look into the Orthodox church as it explores our rising generation as contrasted with the singular Father who seems to have governed there for centuries. "Beyond the Hills" manages to provide a stinging commentary to Christianity's view/treatment of homosexuals. The whole affair would prove to be a fabricated cautionary allegory if it weren't unfortunately based on a true story. Don't let the IMDb page fool you, this may be the best horror film in years.
I consider this film to be the adverse of "The Truman Show," one of my most beloved films of the '90s. If ever I run a theater, festival or some sort of film program I'm billing these two as a double-feature on Day One. Instead of an oblivious reality television star discovering the truth and attempting to break out of his show (a la Truman) we follow the heart-wrenching yet darkly comedic downfall of a father who gets the taste of fame for Italy's "Big Brother" and pursues a spot thereon like an sick addiction (meet Luciano). The is Aniello Arena's first performance in a film and he's honestly one the breakthroughs of this new millenium. "Reality" turns the magnifying glass on the audience, pushing our face to the glass of society's fixation on television and pop culture. It's as eerily magical as the Alexandre Desplat score with one unforgettable scene (shot - yes, lots of long takes) after another.
1. The Place Beyond the Pines
Two men, both being old sons and young fathers, are at the forefront of this generational myth: Luke (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stuntman, and Avery (Bradley Cooper), a patrolling police officer. Set around the forested towns of Albany County, their lives cross paths in the woods of life and are irreparably altered. Trent and I recently discussed our top father-son relationships in film. "The Place Beyond the Pines" not only deserves consideration and conversation, it may very well top the list. When I saw this in theaters I couldn't get up from my seat when the closing credits began to roll. "Heavy," was the word that escaped my lips. It's chapters have continually flipped through my mind's eye. No picture has ever made me more wearily respectful to enter the sacred role of fatherhood. "The Place Beyond the Pines" = required viewing.
10 Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
From Up On Poppy Hill
The Great Gatsby
Star Trek Into Darkness
To the Wonder
Violeta Went to Heaven
Personal Statistics for Feature-Length Film Watching in 2013 (thus far):
Days of the Year: 182
Films Seen this Year: 198
2013 Films Seen this Year: 82
Average Films/Day: 1.088
Average Films/Month: 33
Most Productive Month: January (40 films)
Least Productive Month: June (27 films)
There you have it! I actually surprised myself while ranking this Top Ten. Nothing is set in stone, but I'm sticking with this for now. What are you surprised to find on here? Surprise me yourself by sharing some of your favorite 2013 films (thus far) in the comments below.