I haven’t seen as many films in 2013 as I would normally have seen by now for various reasons and many of them were disappointments such as the latest Star Trek entry, the latest Iron Man entry, the Superman reboot a.k.a. Man of Steel, Oblivion (which is where that film belongs), The Great Gatsby (which I walked out of), and one I was really counting on being jaw-dropping, the misstep that was The Place Beyond the Pines. Still, I managed to scrounge together a list that includes a couple of entries in need of the proverbial asterisk – i.e., caveat – and assembled them in no particular order.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT directed by Richard Linklater
Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and director Richard Linklater did it again with this final(?) film of a phenomenal series about two people who found each other in a chance encounter nearly 20 years ago who have grown into, dare I say, “adults” with adult problems. Just as in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the trio of filmmakers allows us to quietly observe one of the most interesting and realistic relationships ever shown on film. Like a fine wine, this trilogy, its characters, and its themes have simply gotten better with age.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY directed by Dan Scanlon
I’m sure this would be replaced by this or that film if certain movies had opened in my area. However, I stand by the fact that it isn’t completely out of place as I do enjoy a Pixar animated film. The studio has rarely gone over the same ground, which is one of the reasons its films are so terrific – they are wonderfully original in scope and story. Cars 2 was not Pixar’s finest hour, but this prequel to Monsters, Inc., is packed with jazzed animation and vocal work which is on par with the original film. It’s just good old-fashioned Pixar-pixelated fun.
THIS IS THE END directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
This film is just madness – of the best kind. I won’t dare attempt to discuss the “plot” or list the numerous actors who appear. I will just say that the film pretty much ruins nearly all other movies of the apocalyptic genre. My hat’s off to Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen for managing to make this film, with this cast, and do so in a no-holds-barred fashion. I doubt I’ll ever look at Jonah Hill the same way again.
SPRING BREAKERS directed by Harmony Korine
Harmony Korine is a mad scientist, right? Here, he writes and directs a story of four girls who commit robbery to pay their way to Florida for spring break. The girls find themselves in a Florida jail and are bailed out by a thug called “Alien.” He is played by James Franco (who can often be quite painful to watch on screen – a 2013 exhibit: Franco as Oz in the land of the same name) who plays him with great, uh, aplomb. The girls become part of his crew and, of course, things do not go well. If they had gone “well,” it wouldn’t have been nearly as disturbingly fun – now would it?
UPSTREAM COLOR directed by Shane Carruth
In 2004, film-lovers were introduced to the phenomenal filmmaking of Shane Carruth in a fantastic film called Primer. For those of you who couldn’t understand that film, be warned that his brilliant follow-up is a nightmare for anyone who wants to “know what’s going on” in a movie (there’s a reason Carruth’s latest has conjured comparisons to Terrence Malick). Who cares what’s going on – no one expects a book report on it . . . you must just sit back and experience the, well, the experience.
SIDE EFFECTS directed by Steven Soderbergh
Is there such a thing as too many plot twists? Well, apparently not. Steven Soderbergh’s final feature film about a psychiatrist, his patient, and prescription meds is a tremendous thriller when first-class films of that genre are few and far between. The picture succeeds because of (a) the performances of Rooney Mara and Jude Law, (b) Scott Z. Burns’ audacious script, and (c) Soderbergh’s usual innate ability to bring everything together in a thoroughly enjoyable ride.
MUD directed by Jeff Nichols
We said it last year, and it’s true in 2013: it’s good to see Matthew McConaughey making great film choices again. As the title character, McConaughey is figuratively and literally living “on the edge” in the Arkansas delta on the Mississippi River. He has a chance encounter with two teenage boys – Ellis (wonderfully portrayed by Tye Sheridan) and his friend Neckbone (equally well-played by Jacob Lofland). They become embroiled in the mess Mud’s in and become willing participants in Mud’s visceral struggle for survival. It’s a fantastic film.
STOKER directed by Chan-wook Park
This was a tough choice for me and gets on the list because Chan-wook Park is one of my favorite directors and one of the best working in the world today and because I’m willing to grade on a curve. I saw what he was going for and even if he and his principal cast – the creepy Matthew Goode, the creepier Mia Wasikowska, and the always fetching Nicole Kidman – did not quite achieve the greatness that could have been, they came close enough for me in 2013 . . . so far.
BEYOND THE HILLS directed by Cristian Mungiu (yes, a 2012 Cannes winner, but it didn’t open in the United States until 2013)
Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur certainly were solid picks to share last year’s Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award for their work in this haunting story about two women who grew close in an orphanage and then are separated – one now lives in a rather mysterious Romanian monastery and the other lives and works in Germany. When they are reunited at the monastery where Stratan’s character lives, all hell breaks loose and it does so rather literally.
ZERO DARK THIRTY directed by Kathryn Bigelow (I include it here because it didn’t open in most places until 2013 and wasn’t available for our 2012 year-end list)
Kathryn Bigelow equals her Oscar-winning helming of The Hurt Locker with the cinematic retelling of one CIA agent’s hunt for Osama Bin Laden (the agent is played by Jessica Chastain in a powerful and extraordinary performance) and the uber-realistic “you are there” SEAL raid on his compound. For a story where I already knew the ending, I was utterly captivated from the opening to closing shots.