I’ve seen a dozen pretty wonderful films in 2013, but four have stood out in particular. That’s not to say that the other eight aren’t exceptional, it’s just that the following quartet will almost certainly make my Top Ten of 2013 list(expect it on or around February 1st)—while the others will only have an outside shot. Traditionally, the late November/early December time frame is when I release a synopsis of just what I am thinking regarding the year’s finest films. Last year, around this period, I unveiled the “Super Six”, and you can easily find that story here on the blog. The Fabulous Four is what I’m calling the 2013 bumper crop, but the eight films just out of range could theoretically grow in stature as time passes. Example: Alexander Payne’s “Election” made my honorable mention list in 1999, and all these years later my feeling has morphed into thinking that I clearly underestimated it. It should have easily made my Top Ten that year, and I now regard it as his masterpiece. The lesson should be that, in some cases, film reviews given almost directly after experiencing the work are bound to be somewhat inaccurate. Walter Chaw of filmfreakcentral.net has spoken often about his pan of Spike Lee’s “25th hour” in 2002—and his subsequent complete turn-around, as he unconditionally heralds the film now. More recently, he’s spoken similarly about Michael Mann’s 2009 “Public Enemies”. This should prove that film appreciation is not a stagnant thing. It grows, it shapeshifts, it expands—and sometimes it even contracts. For instance, does even the Academy any longer consider “Slumdog Millionaire” the best picture of 2008? Over “The Wrestler”? Or “Synecdoche, New York”? “The Dark Knight”?! But I’m pretty sure that my four top dogs will stand the test of time, and that I won’t regret any of these selections in the weeks or years to come. The Fabulous Four are:
1. Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight
2. Neil Jordan’s Byzantium
3. Jeff Nichol’s Mud
4. Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell
So, the third installment of a low-grossing trilogy, a lyrical vampire film that flew almost completely under the radar, a modern “river saga” that channels Mark Twain, and a documentary from a Canadian actress turned director that is startlingly revealing. All four are extraordinary, and it’s hard for me to contemplate seeing another half-dozen, or more, over the next few weeks, that can approach their high quality. It’s possible, but it’s highly unlikely. Especially when Walter Chaw tweets that I’ve got detritus like “Saving Mr. Banks” waiting in the wings. I may need an insulin shot before watching that one. But what if I fail to see even one more marvelous motion picture over the next eight weeks? That’s extremely unlikely, but if such a happenstance occurred, there are another eight that I’ve seen and found particularly impressive. Those films are:
1. J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost
2. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish
3. Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine
4. Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess
5. Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha
6. Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station
7. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity
8. Pablo Larrain’s No
A number of these, like “All Is Lost” and “Frances Ha”, are so amazing that I hate the vision of any year-end list without their inclusion. I’m not-so-secretly hoping that they manage to squeak their way in. But if not, they will still reach the honorable mention roster…which ain’t too shabby either. Also, I was absolutely riveted by the expose of oceanarium treatment of their orcas in the documentary “Blackfish”. And Woody Allen continues his late-career resurgence with his Tennessee Williams-inspired, “Blue Jasmine”. “Fruitvale Station” devastated me with its subject matter, while “Computer Chess” tickled me with its retro-ingenuity. I would bet that “Gravity” fails to hold up on the small screen, but in IMAX 3D it is a very impressive experience. And Pablo Larrain’s “No” is a gripping political drama from Chile, that throws light on the use of advertising propaganda during the reign of Augusto Pinochet. It was good enough to garner a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination in 2012…but wasn’t “officially” released in the U.S. until earlier this year.
So, there they are, just like last year, an even dozen of the films I adored the most. They are listed alphabetically, btw, so don’t take their respective “order” literally. These selections were pulled from the 42 releases I’ve seen so far in 2013…six films ahead of 2012’s pace. And “crunch time” is just beginning. Upcoming stuff I’m looking forward to the most? The Coens’ “Inside Llewyn Davis”, David O. Russel’s “American Hustle”, Stephen Frears’ “Philomena”, Spike Jonze’s “Her”, Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” undoubtedly lead the list. Those, and at least a dozen others, should join the roster of what I’ll review here during this busy awards season. So, keep on reading—and maybe one of your favorites will pop up too! It’s my sincere hope that it will.