As 2013 winds down another year of quality film, both indie and mainstream, comes to a close. Though, in our opinion, not a particularly banner year for filmmaking of any kind as the further dichotomy of template pushing artistry finds itself in more and more prominence, the year did bring several quality and interesting films to theaters big and small.
Below is our own subjective compilation of our favorite films of the year, which as been complied by the IndieWood/HollyWoodn’t team. As with every “list” based approach, the physical numbers are somewhat arbitrary in their meaning with all films being of sound quality and vision. Also included are several honorable mentions that did not quite make the same impressions yet are undoubtedly quality nonetheless.
And without further adieu…
1. Spring Breakers
Writer/Director Harmony Korine‘s art house critique of millennial excess was 2013’s guilty pleasure reality nightmare for parents, conservatives, template pushers and morality thumpers alike. Driven by massively against type performances from Disney discoveries Vanessa Hudgens & Selena Gomez, and coupled with the frantic nu-snake oil salesmen charisma of James Franco‘s “Alien” (our vote for 2013’s Best Supporting Actor), ‘Spring Breakers’ genially offered its audiences blatant social mockery all while feeding notions of generationally engrained nihilism pulsating within the deep foundation-less wobble of its Skrillex produced soundtrack.
Spike Jonze first directorial effort from a self penned original script comes as this year’s most socially relevant, honestly heartfelt and playfully colorful film. From its rich pink and yellow palette (coming courtesy of top flight Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema) to an overwhelmingly relatable 21st century love story of self-isolation and the places we go for companionship, ‘Her‘ offers an enduringly optimistic view of reverse singularity in the not so distant future.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese‘s coked up satire of Wall Street culture is a debaucherously glorious glimpse into the minds (and mindsets) of those responsible for our financial, social and moral collapse into material self-imprisonment. Driven by a best-of-career performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as strong turns from Jonah Hill (sporting the years best dental work) and Matthew McConaughey (in a short yet hilarious role) amongst a slew of others, ‘The Wolf of Wal Street‘ has already polarized audiences citing criticisms of protagonist fate to accusations of vice glorification. Of course, none of this holds true to a film embedded in its lack of self reverence, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ ultimately represents one of the finest additions to Scorsese’s filmography, as well as a loud, in your face memorandum of status climbing and the sociopathic qualities one must possess to reach the upper rungs of American “success”.
4. Before Midnight
Film history’s lowest grossing trilogy (a check in its favor, by the way) offers, quite possibly, the most satisfying of (near) conclusions to the decades spanning slice of life centered love story of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse Wallace (Ethan Hawke). Opening with an extended, uninterrupted take of Greek countryside familial travel and expanding into a crisply intellectual (and existential) take on enduring affection, passion and respect, ‘Before Midnight‘ gracefully depicts the rocky, yet highly traversable, roads of age, interest and desire with chemistry rich performances all around and steady, determined direction from Richard Linklater.
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
Joel and Ethan Coen‘s melancholy meditation on the artistic spirit set against the rapidly evolving culture of materialism and conformity offers one of the years most cinematically complex one-dimensional antihero’s (as well as a star making turn from lead, Oscar Issac) all while painting a hauntingly desaturated picture of New York City now only recognizable via its own folk sensibilities. Wholly original yet undeniably Coen, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis‘ frigidly captures all the minutiae, pretentiousness and sacrifice of a pre-Dylan Greenwich Village introducing a new array of self-righteous musician and nomads along the way.
Featuring 2013’s finest lead actor performance (albeit closely followed by Leonardo DiCaprio’s in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street‘), Alexander Payne‘s monotonous, drab meditation on all things new-age Americana, ‘Nebraska‘ plays as the years ultimate slice of loserdom. Humorous, heartfelt, devastating and tediously dull, ‘Nebraska‘ epitomizes the generational descent into irrelevance via the blood-less arteries connecting Middle America to a place of impotent hopefulness already having made a fool of so many along the way. The family quartet led by Bruce Dern and featuring Will Forte (“Saturday Night Live“), Bob Odenkirk (“Breaking Bad“) and June Squibb (Dern’s feisty yet ever-wise wife), hold more than a fair share of relatability in their incorrigibly close knit dynamics of understandably divisional tangibility.
7. Drinking Buddies/Computer Chess
Joe Swanberg‘s platonic ‘Drinking Buddies‘ and Andrew Bujalski‘s neurotic ‘Computer Chess‘ are two films who bring their mumblecore roots into a, now prominent, indie filmmaking template while still bringing fresh characters, situations and locales. Constructed using improvisationally leaning scripts, as well as (the latter’s) 80s retro technology, both ultimately result in pillars of original new age indie filmmaking (the kind that MUST be done on the fly) as much a roadmap for the future of production as it is a homage to, what are now, indie foundations. DIY, technologically proficient, humorous and contemporarily relevant, ‘Drinking Buddies‘ and ‘Computer Chess‘ show that the polish and control of conventional filmmaking need not apply to quality production as definitively exclusive technique.
8. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints/Upstream Color
With the new age Western ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints‘, David Lowery‘s double indie threat as Editor and, now, Director represents a promising new face in the landscape of filmmaking, whether indie, studio indie or otherwise. Also acting as Editor to Shane Carruth‘s (‘Primer‘) dazzlingly existential ‘Upstream Color‘ (and with no easy task in constructing even a hint of narrative arc), 2013 saw Lowery show us his eye for the wide, as well as the macro with a smooth, defined and sensitive approach to each.
9. Fruitvale Station
Human beings are multi dimensional creatures; this is why acting is not just pretending, but rather an embodiment of the subtleties of its source character. As Oscar Grant, Michael B Jordan delivers a breakout performance, depicting (in the spectrum of the bio-pics) a lesser known victim of the worst in racially driven authoritarian supremacy. 2013’s Sundance Film Festival winner and an indie film phenomenon (undoubtedly fueled by its theatrical release adjacent to the socially dividing trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman), first time Director Ryan Coogler‘s ‘Fruitvale Station‘ successfully depicts the everyday struggle of the minority everyman while uncovering a rich plate of talent across the board.
10. Blue is the Warmest Color
The undisputed champion of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, ‘Blue is the Warmest Color‘ offers a devastatingly objective observance of young love as only the French can (or are willing to) show. With the year’s most honestly raw and (literally) stripped down performances from its female leads (Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux) to its extensive modern interpretations on food, art and culture, ‘Blue is the Warmest Color‘ offers unflinching, honest filmmaking in a capacity that must continue into 2014 and beyond. A complete sensory experience, where the smell and feel of its flesh are as prevalent as the weight of its drama, ‘Blue is the Warmest Color‘ offers a welcome addition to the notion of auteur as honest, minimal and unforgiving.
Honorable Mentions: ”Short Term 12′, The Place Beyond the Pines’, ‘Frances Ha’, ‘The Way, Way Back’, ‘Gravity’, ‘The Act of Killing’, ‘Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?’, ‘Post Tenebres Lux’, ’12 Years a Slave’, ‘The Square’, ‘Crystal Fairy’.
– Steve Rickinson