2013 was a good year for movies, maybe not the best, and obviously not compared to something like 2012, that had many masterpieces under the names of ‘Amour’ (2012), ‘The Master’ (2012) and many others, while this year only has four masterpieces that I can count and right now I think that one of them might only be a part of a much larger masterpiece that will be finished next year. As always, my rules for elegibility for this list is that any movie that had its original premiere in 2013 is elegible, but something that was released this year but premiered in 2012 or 2011, doesn’t count. Bad luck, I guess, good movies do find their way into my schedule the year that they premiere thanks to many festivals and other showings that swarm Chile every now and then.
Also, a note on the products that might be elegible, I think that I haven’t said it enough times, anything is elegible, that counts for shorts, miniseries, tv movies, half-length features, direct to DVD movies, animations, everything counts and will be rated with the same strength as the other full length films. They are all audiovisual works released entirely in 2013 and they should count alongside the rest. Also, if there’s a review or something written about the movie in the list, there’ll be links to such writing. So, without much further ado, I shall show you my top 20 films of 2013.
20. Il futuro (Alicia Scherson)
Sadly, the only Chilean film of the list, but what a movie this is. Based on the short novel by Roberto Bolaño (chilean writer based in Mexico until his sad death a few years ago), this is more a co-production between Italy, Germany and Chile to make this seemingly faithful adaptation, capturing the themes and the paused narrativity of the writer, as well as the scenarios given here. The film is in italian, and only about three minutes of the entire film were actually filmed in Chile, but the two main actors and the director are from Chile, as is the main production (and the idea of making this movie). This seems to be an odd experiment for Scherson, who was used to more muted and narrative-less filmmaking, but here she grabs the story of Bianca and her brother, as well as the slow invasion of the jocks and the plot about the treasure at the house of Maciste, those are maybe one of the strangest elements ever to be put together in a movie made in Chile, but while it’s not Raúl Ruiz, it manages to have its own mystique, its own cinematographic elements that pop out of the experience because of their seamless treatment that make them permeate with the background, the motions and camera movements that seem almost ballet-like, this is my choice for the best Chilean film of the year.
19. Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
The best Alexander Payne film I’ve seen. I’m not a fan of ‘Sideways’ (2004), in fact, I actually think it’s a bad movie, and ‘The Descendants’ (2011) was forgettable at its worst and only memorable for a couple of performances at times. This, on the other hand, is completely different. It sports two of the strongest performances of the year by Bruce Dern and June Squibb, both as an eldery couple that is facing one of the most aggravating crisis that they’ve ever had in their life, the husband (Dern) is becoming senile, and thinks that he’s won a million dollars in a scam letter fraud, and the wife (Squibb) just wants the trouble to be over with, as she insists that she won’t go to Nebraska with him (the place where he supposedly has to redeem his money). One of the sons of that marriage (Will Forte) travels with his dad on a road trip that is memorable and gorgeous to look at, with a stupendous black and white cinematography and incredible camera movements that fill the screen with motion and that contrast with the still moments in which Dern seems to be most of the time. The movie manages to make you emotional just by making you care about someone who doesn’t know better about the world, and in a way it’s magical how the script informs you about a lot of the past of the characters, as well as their attitudes and family ties, it’s a great picture about how families work, and I think everyone can relate.
18. Koto no ha no niwa (Makoto Shinkai)
I like Makoto Shinkai stuff when he keeps it short, because his earlier full length film bored me and maintained me at the top of some visual Nirvana. I can’t deny that his guy has talent and he may become the next big thing (after Mamoru Hosoda, of course), but sometimes he just gets too heavy on the Scenary Porn, and spends maybe too little time on the script department. Nevertheless, just like in his earlier short, when he fully evolves from the genre and gets into something more romantic (so to speak) he manages to create some nice feelings for the viewer. The story is simple, a student and a teacher of the same school have never met, but they always find themselves in a little space in a garden when it rains. It’s a sanctuarium, it’s the place where their words flow, and where the beautiful landscape feels the screen. Tokyo has never looked so beautiful under the rain than in this film, that manages to choke you with its twists and turns in the plot. Garden of Words is just over 45 minutes long and it’s the best animated film that you’ll see this year, I can sign that (unless you’ve seen the new Miyazaki, in that case, I envy you).
17. Barroco (Estanislao Buisel Quintana)
The best Argentinian film of the year, and the only one in my list. I guess this might be the most obscure picture in my list, and I don’t really know what to say about it that it’s so great that made me fall in love with it, I mean, there’s the review, and you can read it, but I think it fails to really capture what made me place this movie so “high” in this list, specially when a couple of great releases did fall out at the end when this was compiled. This movie actually speaks to me, just as the protagonist who feels that knows everything that he needs to know, I’m in the deep look of knowledge and discovery, one of the most dangerous places to look is in novels, books of information, places where one’s mind could fly away and find something that will change it forever, and just like the protagonist, I get myself pretty infuriated when I see the book stores filled with books I want to read and see them piled up without being read. When he enters to work in a book store, he thinks it’s his dream job, but he quickly realizes that maybe it’s not what he thinks, and there are some very funny moments when it comes to the rules of the place and the choices he makes, as well as some very well chosen character actors. The feel is that of a simple movie, but it’s not, it’s actually quite complex, specially when one takes the ending into account, one of the most beautiful and strange compositions and choices that I saw all year. When I saw this at BAFICI, I was enthralled and thinking about it makes me admire it more.
16. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
Here is a natural progression. After ‘Before Sunrise’ (1995) and ‘Before Sunset’ (2004) this was exactly the movie that I hoped it was and the one that everyone waited for, yet no one asked for it. It’s the natural progression of the feelings of two people, the natural descent slope that comes with every relationship, and it’s actually depressing to see all these films together and end with this one. After the feeling of pure love that was present in the first one, the sense of relinked feelings and that killed final line, this comes as a bucket of cold water, specially when, even if for some it’s a surprise, we see our two protagonists (Hawke and Delpy) together as they have been for the past 9 years (since the last movie ended) and now finding themselves with two kids of their own and with a lot of emotional, physical and relationship problems that aren’t as easy to forgive as the ones presented in the 2004 film, and in a way it is a more complex film (though not better), because it not only devolves on its own couple during one day plot and the problems that they have, they also try to bring some knowledge and perspective on the political and economical problems of Greece, where they are having their daily conversation this time. There are more characters this time, and the movie isn’t just the two of them, but when it matters, it leaves them alone and it manages to become one of the rawest experiences in terms of pure emotion that I saw this year. The fight at the hotel room is the one scene that everyone should be moved by, and I hope it leaves a scar.
15. Nugu-ui ttal-do anin Haewon (Hong-san Soo)
There’s a joy and energy in every Hong picture, every one of his films start with a lot of energy and joie de vivre and then it quickly evolves into something else, something much more somber and melancholic, and this might be the perfect example and one of my favorite Hong pictures of those I’ve seen. It’s kinetic (as most Hong films are) but also it manages to create interactions between the characters that seem to go beyond the classic romantic triangles in which Hong usually finds its place. Here he adds an interesting element, that is the experience of a student that has visited and lived in another country (haha) for most of her life, so this South Korean girl (Haewon) becomes a fatherless figure (like the title suggests: Nobody’s Daughter: Haewon) because she has lost contact with the mood, the culture and the way of life that south korean people usually have. That’s why she becomes such an interesting and lovable character to some, while to other people she becomes disgusting and revolting, mainly because of her attitude towards drinking and eating her own food. There are some beautiful scenes in which she seems to want to be connected with her roots, to become someone more akin to what the other people expect from a South-Korean girl, and the way that she feels interrupted, only to become herself once again is maybe one of the most intellectually moving set pieces of the year. A great movie from a great director, let’s see what else he has for the future.
14. Trance (Danny Boyle)
Why so many people hate on this movie? I loved it! Of course that it’s a movie birthed out of the success of ‘Inception’ (2010), but that doesn’t diminish its power as a mind puzzler and a mystery. There’s also the whole thing about the visual flair present in this movie. I can already tell you that I think this movie has one of the best cinematography of the year, not because of the spectacle of light and colors that Boyle manages to achieve in the screen, even comparable to any of the nominees to the Oscar in that category this year. I think this has been maligned and not frequently discussed as I wish it should’ve been. That’s why I’ve been so curious about the negative reactions to this movie, reading every takedown or normal review of this, and I just can’t really understand what’s going on. Was I flabbergasted by the special effects, the camera movements that Boyle already has me buying and eating out of his hand? Maybe I just love Danny Boyle too much, but I implore to you, please watch this movie if you haven’t, it’s one of the great visual experiences to have this year, but also it manages to create a mindwarp, a real mindtwister for people who love that kind of experiments, a movie that actually manages to keep you on the tip of your toes, and introducing you to maybe a lot of wrong concepts regarding certain areas of psychology, but as long as it keeps doing it in a fun way, there’s no way you can fail.
13. Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)
Look at this! A Woody Allen movie in my top 20 of the year. What a coincidence, I’ve recently started a new feature at my blog called: Woody Allen Year. 2014 I’ll have a review of every Woody Allen film that I can come up with and I shall also have some other stuff prepared for you, you can read the first entry right here, but let’s skip ahead a bit and let’s talk about his latest movie. Cate Blanchett steals the show, she manages to create a portrait so accurate of a person under an emotional and psychotic distress, that my girlfriend actually recogniced those traits from a family member that she has. The movie has also quite an interesting way of telling its space and the way that it plays with the flashbacks and how to organize the materials of the movie, how it mixes up past and present by simply presenting those places as open and closed, we immediatly know where we are, not because of the characters that she is with, but because of the way that the places are framed, they seem to be infinite, the sky is the limit and the exteriors dominate, but when we are in the present, everything seems to be more inclosed and the closeups appear more, and I can assure you that even the colors change, from a more pastel look to something more raw and real, as if there was a difference between dream and reality. Woody Allen doing contemporary social commentary is something that you don’t see every day, and we are lucky to have a movie so good and priceless as this. This is currently among my favorite films that Woody has ever done.
12. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
This one is actually one of my favorite Coen Bros films. That’s because it achieves what some of the other best Coen films want to achieve, and that is tonal perfection, everything from the performance, the framing and the cinematography are done in such a way that it always points out to the same element: the theme, the depresion of failure, the gloomy shadows and the brilliant exterior, in a way really showcasing the mindset of the protagonist Llewyn Davis. What made me fall in love with a movie like this is how it managed to make me care and sing along a music style that I’ve never been really attracted to, the folk songs featured in the movie are addictive and a great addition, from the songs of Inside Llewyn Davis to Please Mr. Kennedy they are fun to watch performed and then listened afterwards from the soundtrack. Maybe one of the best moments of the movie is how Llewyn finds himself in Chicago, covering the whole travel that he goes through, way in and way back, it’s like a season in hell for him, for sure, it’s one of those moments that when you see his final decission (even though it takes the worst of turns) we understand the frustration and the imposibilities to be a better person, to be something that you want to be, but that you can’t, either because you’re having the weight of a great loss over your shoulders or maybe because you’re just not good enough.
11. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
This is a big movie, not only in its length, but because of how much controversy, debate and fights have been initiated, how people should react to it, how the events portrayed support or not what was done by the real Jordan Belfort, yadda yadda, but in the end I have a major question: why do you care? People have their own reactions and thoughts regarding the movies they see, can we label them as wrong or right? No, we can’t, because those thoughts are part of an individual process, a moment when they are alone with themselves and take the choices they might have regarding the delivered movie. Think pieces left and right regarding the true intentions of Martin Scorsese, as if he was some kind of evil mastermind, where his intentions and goals were clear, he wanted to make a fun movie, one that would make the people go see it, get to know a little bit of story regarding their own goals and situation in a social world, not in hopes of having Belfort as a model of way of living, but as one figure to guilt. As much as Belfort uses compassion with us, he knows that he’s screwed and he wants us to pay attention to what he says, that’s why he speaks to us through the camera, trying to explain what he’s doing, and how does he do it, and how he isn’t really that bad. The fact that a movie can trascend the media and go into the depths of what is right and wrong, in a way how the aesthetic is really related to ethics in much more than a couple of ways.
10. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
Like an opera rock musical without any actual musical numbers, that’s how it feels when you first see the characters, the way they dress and the wonderful moments in which they talk about things long past. Interesting and at times way too intelligent conversations among the characters, about the human condition and about how mortality (or immortality) can affect the way we see things in the long run. This is an incredible movie, it is preciously constructed, with a tight editing and extremely interesting camera work. This particular film doesn’t really work in terms of moments, but more as a continuum in which every scene works on its own but doesn’t get as much of an impact when viewed one after the other in the total of the film. The final 5 minutes seems like the annotated moments of the film, a movie within a movie, like a resume done by a student after seeing the movie, puting the ties and the ropes around the themes and the characters that we’ve known for the past two hours. One of the best and funniest vampire movies in a long time, and I wish that I can see it again soon enough, and the rest of you too.
9. The Dirties (Matt Johnson)
A comedy about school shootings. If you find that offensive, go away. It’s one of the most hilarious and at the same time it tackles such a serious topic in such a lightweight manner that it makes it among the best films of the decade, one of those that will be remembered because of their boldness as well as the careful planning in the chaotic manner that it’s shot. Has anyone thought about a list of the most important and influential films of this new decade? I think this one instantly makes the list at a very high spot, it’s incredible the way that it plays around with those themes, as well as being an incredible company piece with films as disimilar as ‘Catfish’ (2010) and ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2012), because or spite of their great technology and how it’s showcased, how the experiences of others feed unto the modern fabric of society. Impressive and one of the best films of the year, for sure.
8. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
Yes, the movie that everyone thinks that is going to win the Oscars, the movie that everyone else is putting at number one in their lists of the best movies of 2013, yes, that movie… that movie moved me in a way that I couldn’t possibly think of, it’s great, it’s truly a great movie and I think that it deserves the spots that it has earned among the people who want it. Yes, this is a powerful drama, everything is just dripping emotions, knowledge and sadness from every moment and shot of the movie. The acting performances from everyone aren’t what you’d call showy in any kind, they find their way into your soul, and while some shout and some cry, they always feel real, at all times they feel as if they were really there in those times and with that language, those clothes, the feeling isn’t something I can easily describe how this movie managed to feel real. It didn’t affect me emotionally as much as some others would and have, but I find myself really liking the movie as what it is, as one of the most impressive feats of the year in terms of acting, directing and how do you construct a movie like this in terms of the framing, the timing and the way that the scenes and the movie itself never drags.
7. Top of the Lake (Jane Campion, Garth Davis)
Impressive. I mean, how can we have something like this in television and not make everyone crazy? It’s a miniseries, sure, it’s maybe the only reason why I watched it and followed it every week: because I knew it was going to be a narrative that would end after 5 weeks. Why are we praising things like Mad Men or Breaking Bad when they aren’t narratives that have been set since the beginning but that they’ve been given the chance to expand and grow upon its original conception thanks to the extension of the contrats via the television networks. This is a mystery that has a clear answer, yet at the same time it gives its mysterious vibe throughout the series and it continues its charm even after it ended, it’s one of those that you can’t really comprehend why but you shiver and enjoy every second of it. Sure, it’s a bit episodic, but it’s because it was thought that way beforehand, and there’s always an advance in some way or another regarding the mystery or the characters who conform it and form part of it. This is one of the best experiences of 2013.
6. Stoker (Chan-wook Park)
Naming this among the least effective works of Chan-wook Park wouldn’t be far from the truth, specially when you take into consideration the amount of masterpieces that the korean director has under his belt. But at the same time, ignoring that this is among the best works of this year and maybe the most impressive debut in a foreign language that any director has ever done in the history of film (I may be exaggerating here, but what can I say, I love Park). This movie is a tense psychological test to the senses and to your own soul, directed with a clean and at the same time sinister visual style that at times rivals the references made to the masterful director Alfred Hitchcock. The movie is dark, of course, it has to be, it’s Park, it’s devoid of any feeling, the characters are irrational, they react with bloody vengeance when they are put in the corner and with the oportunity to do so. It has one of the most beautiful and horrific endings that I’ve seen in cinemas in a long time, and I really wish I could see this at a theater, it’s just that amazing.
5. The World’s End (Edgar Wright)
What a relief. This movie couldn’t be bad, couldn’t dissapoint in any way, shape or form, don’t listen to the nay sayers, this is on the same level as the rest of the trilogy (though Shawn is my favorite), with the same visual flair and invetive scripts, references and smart planning that makes this movies so memorable and rewatchable in the future. The movie also manages to get some sensible things out, and it doesn’t shy away from certain topics and decisssions that would’ve been looked at in a bad mood if this was done by some unknown director, I can imagine Edgar Wright handing out the script and getting shit for some of the decissions and twists made here and there, but he does what he does and he does it greatly, and I think people trust him, he wouldn’t have the Antman gig if it wasn’t that way. The scifi elements were handled in a great way and it was a fun ride, a bit emotional. I think the ending was strange but maybe I need to rewatch it, and that will happen, for sure.
An apology. For the four masterpieces that follow, I didn’t have enough time to write something about them, but let’s make something about this! I shall write the next four saturdays on these four movies, one at a time. They’re all masterpieces on my eyes and it’d be really good. In the meanwhile, here are the rest of the choices for my top 20.
4. Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski)
3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson)
2. Yi dai zong shi (Wong Kar Wai)
1. Her (Spike Jonze)
Hope you enjoyed.