Top Films of 2013
It has been a very good year to see quality, challenging, and entertaining movies in a variety of distribution platforms including theaters (my preference) to multiple streaming video-on-demand (VOD) choices (including YouTube, Amazon, Netflix). Given the quantity of quality films released and available to the public and your eclectic taste, I have decide to forgo an unrealistic top ten and give you my choices for a REEL DEAL: MOVIES THAT MATTER home movie festival. Think Sundance in your own living room. So make the popcorn, chill the beverages, and invite all your cineophile friends over. Do make space for discussion after each film. This honors the work in a true Festival manner. The top 25 films are ranked in order; 3 additional list documentaries, foreign film, and LGBT films (for all discriminating film lovers) are also included. So clip, copy or paste and get your queues started, simply Google the film with the words VOD platforms included,
BEST FILMS OF 2013
(In order of preference)
1: AMERICAN HUSTLE
David O. Russell is the best American director working today. American Hustle examines the underlying hope against all odds and the desire to reinvent oneself that is unique to the American psychic. Russell takes the viewer on a wild, unpredictable ride. Informed by the best work of both Frank Capra and Preston Sturges and tinctured with a sensitive post-modern sensibility. No one walks the path between intelligent comedy and social issue drama better than does Russell. The film is also blessed with the best ensemble cast of the year. The stark contrast between the glorified decadence of Wolf Of Wall Street and the human condition under the complicated stress of the triumph of capital in American Hustle proves insight can be cinematic without embracing that which a director focuses on. Terrific!
2: MUSEUM HOURS
Jem Cohen has been making beautiful, art-driven films and video outside the mainstream to critical acclaim in the multimedia art and music world. Here he tells a simple narrative story of a museum guard and a Canadian tourist slowly letting go of their insular loneliness and revealing themselves. This is simple storytelling with the depth of an opera of human experience. Filmed in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches art museum and featuring two understated yet sticky performances: Mary Margaret O’Hara as the tourist and Bobby Sommer as the guard. O’Hara, a singer songwriter with an international cult following had all but disappeared from public view and wonder of wonders is alive, middle age and very present with her quirky insights emboldening her acting and her pas de deux with Sommer. Museum Hours is both an eye pleasure and a soul calming precious film.
3: THE ATTACK
Ziad Doueiri’s controversial film The Attack was banned in some countries and denounced by both Zionist and Arab political groups. It grapples with the politics of the Arab-Palestinian conflict through a love story set in Tel Aviv. Doueiri was born in Palestine, raised in Lebanon and brought up to hate all Jews. When he went to study film and to work with Quentin Tarantino, he finally got to know and like Jewish people for the first time in his life. Avoiding the pitfalls of pure documentary and mining the emotional boundaries of narrative storytelling, Doueiri choose Yasmina Khadra’s novel The Attack to dare to ask serious question about the politics of assimilation, the meaning of marital bonding, and the shock of the unknown. A powerful love story about ambition and acceptance that asks the question can you ever be sure you fully know the person you love even after 15 years of marriage. The conversation of the necessity of change on both sides of the conflict are raised.
4: DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
All the things that make a movie memorable are all the elements that director Jean-Marc Vallée focuses on to make Dallas Buyers Club one of the best films of 2013. There are some remarkable performances by an ensemble cast lead by Matthew McConaughey, and Jared Leto, in a breakthrough performance that finds the brazen humanity and sassy refusal to be anyone but himself in the face of derision as a homosexual and a cross dressing, trans-person. Jennifer Garner plays the conflicted AIDS doctor and Denis O’Hare, as the play-it-by-the-rules AIDS doctor. This is storytelling that brings to life an actor’s dream script – the complicated, messy tragedy of AIDS in the dark days of thousands dying and quilts made remembering them before they disappeared forever. It took 20 years for the script, written by Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack, to be brought to the screen. (Thanks to McConaughey’s commitment and 12 producers out of the indie film world.) While we have seen activist film: the good (We Were Here) and the bad (How To Survive a Plague), Dallas Buyers Club picks up where Philadelphia ended. It is a film about self-empowerment and the real time crisis of fighting for your life. It universalizes the struggle to live that any person diagnosed with a terminal health condition has. Dallas Buyers Club is the most important film about the people who got and get sick with AIDS. It is a four-hanky movie with a much needed gallows humor to balance the sadness and anger. See it!
5: THE PAST
It’s over, you live in Paris, the ex is back in Tehran, the daughter is confused. Without a divorce you can’t move on. You are pissed off at the world. In his follow up to the Academy Award winning The Separation, Iranian director Asgard Farhadi looks into the life of a woman who fell in love with an Iranian expat. The relationship ended. He left and she kept the child. He needs to return, sign the divorce papers so she and her current boyfriend can move on. He does and The Past explores how complicated and full of conflict it is bringing closure into the past. The ex-husband travels to Paris to sign off on the marriage and also to move forward; a very sad and angry human condition, and one that deeply reflects not only the personal but the political realities these physical moves telegraph. It is told with the same subtlety that is a hallmark of Iranian film and full of the same kind of integrity and cinematic skill seen in The Separation and less seen but equally as brilliant After Elly. The Past portrays a universal reality that confronts many couples across landscape and identity. The wife, Berenice Bejo (The Artist), the husband Ali Mosaffa (Leila), and the boyfriend Tahar Rahim (The Prophet) are the triangle the beautifully crafted and shot film landscapes. Universal in storytelling and Chekhovian in how the interior dialog navigates an external political reality without ever becoming polemic. Masterful.
Director Spike Jones has written and directed a parable on contemporary culture where digital life has replaced personal human contact. It is seeded everywhere in the Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram culture of social interaction. Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance of the year as a recently-divorced computer writer nerd who falls in love with his siri-like computer operating system-generated companion. She is humanized and masqueraded in the sensual, caring, seductive voice over of Scarlett Johansson. She only exists in his ear and imagination; a frank critique of the loss of human interaction and its replacement by a digital creation of the other. What it says about the couple’s relationship is profound. Jones seems to be asking how can you be heartbroken when the person you created from your repressed sub-conscious cannot actually be touched or kiss… at least not if you do not have a 3d printer. Brilliant on all levels.
Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar is perhaps the most important political drama and the saddest movie of 2013. After his Paradise Lost captured international recognition at Cannes and made visible this Palestinian director, there was much anticipation surrounding his new film. Omar landscapes the physical reality and the emotion tension young people who live in the occupied territories experience day after day. It also shows the brutal trap young Israeli soldiers find themselves in as they internalize the fear and consequently create impersonal, sometimes brutal relationship to the people of Palestine as they carry out “security” measures. It makes a shocking case for the disruptive effect the long-term occupation has in denying to the Palestinian youth the possibility of a normal life and the ritual of love and family if they stay. Beautifully construed and powerful on a human level. A companion piece to The Attack.
Alexander Payne takes us on a slow drive through any Midwest rural town on a grey fall day after the trees have been stripped of leaves and color; where communities that have FOX’s news channeled into their local donut shops and American Legion halls where retirees gather. The middle class dream has collapsed on itself and their children have fled elsewhere for work. We meet a family where the father teeters on early dementia, (Bruce Dern in a remarkable performance anchored in discipline and focus) a wife (June Squibb) whose tart tongue masks a love as solid and impenetrable as a heart made of steel, and their two sons in dead-end jobs they are lucky to have. Dad receives a letter which he believes says he has won a million dollars (the magazine sales trap). Despite his wife and sons telling him it’s a scam, he refuses to believe it and defiantly begins to walk to the big city to pick up his winnings. A beautiful elegy to what the American dream was and how it left a generation behind.
9: THE COUNSELOR
Ridley Scott has never been afraid to lift the scab of the respectable veneer of business (American Gangster), space (Alien) or war (Black Hawk Down). In The Counselor, he takes a hard look at the violent underpinning of the business of international drug dealing; the manipulation of people for profit and the conspicuous consumption of material goods. Michael Fassbender brings his sleek, cool persona to the role of a counselor, engaged to Penelope Cruz. He has no idea of the sinkhole of deception when he is seduced into saying yes to a one-time business arrangement with a stylish cunning drug lord (Javier Bardem). Enter Cameron Diaz, the most wicked female character we have seen in action drama since the earliest days of an ambitious Barbara Stanwyck. Diaz fleshes out the man- and woman-eating beauty who can as easily paint her nails as she can gun down anyone who stands in her way. The Counselor sheds the mask of civilized hedge fund game-playing to reveal the insatiable, immoral desire to use and/or abuse anything that stands in the way of being the richest drug leader in the cartel. It is a chilling and disturbing look at how capitalism works in the free market drug world.
10: THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN
The most Americana of all the films on this list is not made in the USA but is a Belgium film written and directed by the young talented Cannes prize winner Felix Van Groeningen. Based on a successful play that he saw by accident and fell in love with: a Bluegrass story telling that has as many bad luck turns as it does declarations of love that any an authentic country music hit should have. A remarkable ensemble of actors bring to life the heated and tragic love central to this story telling. One of the outstanding performances of the year is delivered by Veerle Baetens, as a young, tattooed, country punkish singer, She falls in love with a singer songwriter that loves her back but a tragedy (oh so country) implodes their relationship. In the tradition of perhaps a 40s Jane Wyman women’s film updated to have all the swagger and lust of a riot grrr child of feminism who thinks she is entitled to be equal in all her relationships. The faithful creation of a contemporary bluegrass adult fairy tale is rooted in the music performed in the film. I swear I thought it was June and Johnny or a couple leaving a Bushwick bluegrass joint.
11: Philomena, 12: Short Term 12, 13: Fruitvale Station, 14: Mother Of George, 15: Blue Is The Warmest Color, 16: Lee Daniels: The Butler, 17: A Taste Of Sin, 18: Spring Breakers, 19: Upstream Color, 20: Lovelace, 21: Captain Phillips, 22: Lone Survivor, 23: A Teacher, 24: Kid-Thing, 25: Sunlight Jr.
NOTE online you find my reason for picking 11-25 + My Top Foreign Films + My Top Documentaries + the best LGBT films of the Year all with multimedia links (jimfourattsreeldealmovies.blogspot.com or Westviewnews.org/reeldeal)
(cc) jimfouratt 12.23/13 NYC