The annual disclaimer: I will not be so bold as to say these are the “best” movies of the year – they are my personal favorites. These are the movies that have stuck with me; movies I’m really glad I saw and think you should see, too. Frankly, I didn’t see all of the 600+ movies released in 2013, and I admittedly missed some major contenders.
The Awesome Eight
The Act of Killing - At least half a million Indonesians were executed after an attempted coup in 1965. Their unrepentant – sometimes celebrated – murderers perform happily for the camera in “The Act of Killing,” one of the most surreal, head-tweaking, eye-opening documentaries of all time.
All is Lost - There’s no one to talk to but god and yourself when you’re alone and lost at sea, but Robert Redford’s character doesn’t even do that in “All is Lost.” And yet somehow we get intimately familiar with Our Man, proving that great acting and great filmmaking speak louder than words.
Stories We Tell - Actor, writer and Oscar-nominated director Sarah Polley turns the camera on her family to better understand the life of her mother Diane, a fascinating and complex woman. What she unravels is a revelation for her and her family; the way she tells the story is a revelation for the audience.
her - Spike Jonze’ fantastic new film is a futuristic fable of love in the age of artificial intelligence. With Oscar-worthy directing, acting, writing, music and production – well everything really – he’s created a seamless future world to tenderly pose the ancient question: what is love?
Short Term 12 - Films dealing with serious societal ills tend to be painfully earnest; “Short Term 12” isn’t one of them. You’ll hardly notice the hard-hitting issues underlying this tender, funny, naturalistic love story about two young people working in a home for troubled teens.
A Hijacking - Everyday life is suspended and a surreal life-and-death drama ensues in this amazing film about a ship seized by pirates – and the man trying to negotiate its release. This a movie seething with quiet suspense, and unlike most thrillers, it only seems to get quieter as the story unfolds.
Upstream Color - In 2004, Shane Carruth tweaked heads with his ultra-indie time-travel film “Primer.” His second film is equally stunning and equally mysterious. Sensual and nearly wordless, it poses disturbing questions you never thought to ask – and leaves them delightfully unanswered.
No - In the late ’80′s, the world put pressure on Chile’s dictator to let the people decide: Should he stay or should he go? “No” is the story of that referendum – and the amazing campaign that was victorious. It’s a tense, powerful story accentuated by the use of vintage video equipment and archival footage for a real “you are there” feel.
The Best of the Rest
The Square - When it was all going down in Tahrir Square, director Jehane Noujaim (“Control Room”) headed to Egypt with her camera. The result is a dramatic, personal and incredibly timely documentary. It’ll help you make sense of what’s happening in Egypt in a way the news can’t or won’t.
Afternoon Delight - Jill Soloway made her name as one of the creative forces behind “Six Feet Under.” Now she employs her razor-like and deceptively deep wit in a movie about love, marriage and a stripper living in the maid’s room. That’s one way to shake up your marriage.
Europa Report - The story of a mission to one of Jupiter’s moons in search for life. In the hands of the studios, it might be just another big effects movie; but this is indie sci-fi – it’s all about the storytelling. Get ready for a rip-roaring ride into the unknown.
Much Ado About Nothing - Director Joss Whedon invited a few friends to his house to shoot a little movie while he was editing “The Avengers.” The result is a cool new version of Shakespeare’s beloved romcom; it’s light, lovely and delightful.
The Kings of Summer - A film that beautifully captures that perfect sun-filled summer of youth – frolicking in the great outdoors with best friends, filled with unbounded joy and an ever-growing sense of self. It’ll make you nostalgic for a time that only really exists in movies and memory.
Enough Said - A sweet romantic film about two divorcees finding love – and a lot about themselves – made all the more poignant by the death of co-star James Gandolfini. Some people say the film has a sitcom flavor; I say that’s true inasmuch as you want these people to come back into your home week after week.
Spring Breakers - The story of four girls who want desperately to go on vacation but become scantily-clad desperados. Not a cautionary tale about our hedonistic, rudderless youth or anything else much of substance, for that matter. Just incredibly f’ed up, incredibly stylish, fun.
History of Future Folk - An endearing little movie about space men who fall to earth, fall in love with folksy American music and save both their home world and our humble little planet. The word “quirky” has become cliche’ in the indie film world, but I think it’s safe to use that term to describe any movie that features banjos and laser guns.
Nebraska – Bruce Dern in a wonderful, Oscar-worthy performance as a elderly man fixated on travelling from Montana to Nebraska to claim an alleged million-dollar sweepstakes prize. There may not exactly be method to his madness, but he’s certainly not as out of it as his family would like to believe.
A few other terrific films: “Blue is the Warmest Color,” “Blue Caprice,” “Gimme the Loot,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Concussion,” “Post Tenebras Lux,” “Touchy Feely,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Mud” and “Philomena.” Coming up – a list of great 2013 documentaries.
Many of these films were featured as part of KCRW’s First Take Screening Series.
Find out how you can attend HERE.