By Barbara Goslawski
I love other people’s year-end reviews and ‘Best of’ lists. I enjoy the debate that happens within and between these lists as each individual, and group, sets out their own parameters for a coherent overview. But god, I hate composing my own. However, I just needed to find a way to view 2013 and communicate it clearly to others while providing a meaningful point of view.
This is by no means a “Best Films of 2013” list. These are, in no particular order, my picks that provided me with “Holy shit!” moments – those serious cinematic experiences that make this sometimes cynical Cinephile stop in wonder.
A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhang-ke)
Sophisticated visual and thematic depth inform an intricate narrative scheme to lift the four seemingly unrelated tales into a profoundly universal sphere. Teeming with unforgettable moments and images and tropes, this film demanded my attention right from the outset. A wealth of cinematic riches in a single masterful vision, I’ll still be bubbling over with newfound enthusiasm after my tenth or twentieth viewing.
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)
Family stories, family lies, family secrets: fact and fiction blur in this illuminating and deeply cogent investigation into the nature of personal truth. Bold, yet not brash.
Jingle Bell Rocks (Mitchell Kezin)
I love Christmas as much as the next person but it has become increasingly difficult to understand why in the face of relentless commercialization. Force of habit, it seemed, until this film poked through all the cloying sentiment and provided an alternative view worth sharing. This film bears repeat viewings as my future holiday tradition. Yes, the ending is kinda predictable but sometimes it’s lovely to see things come to fruition.
Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Another intricate Coen Bros. puzzle portrait of a time, place and person that zigs when you expect a zag, and keeps the tone refreshingly complex and yet familiar. Startling in the manner in which they can mix unrelated conventions into an unlikely mix to reimagine genre and expectations, proving once again that it’s not always easy to label a Coen Bros. film. Thankfully.
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)
Yes, he’s usually more obviously cutting-edge, but a slight stare inwards quickly reveals that Korine is cleverly lampooning the very façade that he builds up. Over the top, of course, but unexpectedly refined at its core.
Siddarth (Richie Mehta)
This director made some brilliant aesthetic and dramatic choices while operating within a landscape that would have tempted others to remain myopic and sentimental. Shocking in its subtlety, and haunting in its erudite mix of poetry with realism.
The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino)
A love letter to Rome, it’s also a piercing celebration of a modern society in an ancient city, in all its glories and pitfalls: finally the term Fellini-esque has a thoughtful implication. The film is a decadent banquet that also provides necessary palette cleansers. It’s the proverbial wild ride, but one that lands in an unexpectedly gracious place.
15 Reasons to Live (Alan Zweig)
Another admitted list-avoider, Zweig’s solution is to incorporate input from others even as he masterfully shapes the delicate trajectory of this film, such as it is. The film moves more with an emotional logic, acumen being a matter of course. Understated but nonetheless uplifting (and no, Zweig has not gone sentimental on us).
Gloria Victoria – 3D (Theodore Ushev)
Russian constructivism in animated 3D motion. Slight gestures and shapes echo and repeat upon themselves to take on meaning in an ever-increasing rhythmic push to bring forth the lifeblood of its subject.
Impromptu – 3D (Bruce Alcock)
The magic of a single line animated and moving through time, while simultaneously encapsulating and realizing a world of possibilities. Simply glorious.
Portrait As A Random Act of Violence (Randall Okita)
Revelling in the joy of pure movement, a simple act becomes a moment of transformation. Not an easy experience to put into words and yet the metaphoric implications abound.
Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée)
Two magnetic powerhouse performances are intricately knotted into a context where it becomes obvious that the filmmaker knew when to step back and not interfere. I rarely credit performances for being intrinsic to the creation of a great piece of cinema, but this film’s filmmaker-actor dynamic turns what would’ve been a great film into an outstanding one.