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03

Feb

1. Her

As it’s most basic, Her is a love story. A beautifully told, revolutionary love story. But what makes Her so blindingly and without question brilliant is that it’s so much more than that. It’s a movie about connection and our constant need for it, as well as the alienation felt by the advancement of technology that allows for more connection. Working for the first time from his own screenplay, Spike Jonze hits Her out of the park, out of the city, out of the country, out of this damn galaxy. Any man who can make me feel and care for an OS is good in my book. Theodore and Samantha’s relationship is unlike any I’ve ever seen in cinema. Once they move beyond connection, it’s all about experience between the two. Samantha has no limitations and that both excites and scares Theodore and, to a larger extent, the audience too. Just when you’d thought every romantic movie had covered every type of relationship there was, Her comes around to show that’s not even close to the case. We’re only beginning to explore love, connection, and experience. What’s more, Her proposes that we may never even know answers to these questions and that is ok.

2. Before Midnight

It’s hard to make just one great film, even harder to make a sequel and make it better, and harder still to make a third film and make it better than the previous two. Before Midnight pulls off this feat, but was that really surprising? After being floored by Before Sunset, I was eagerly anticipating Before Midnight. What I got was the quality I expected but the deeply rich story I did not. What makes Before Midnight so damn good is that the stakes have been raised much higher. In Before Sunrise, they were two kids with no commitment to one another. In Before Sunset they’re two successful adults but still with no commitment to each other. In Before Midnight, that all changes. Jesse and Celine are now married with two twin daughters. If that isn’t involved and commuted to one another, I don’t know what is. It’s a film that I think truly tackles and shows what marriage is, something I think many films on this matter lack. Before Midnight doesn’t show marriage as a constant joy and beauty but rather a complicated relationship with many ups and just as many downs. Before Midnight, however, is still structured incredibly similar to the first two. Long takes of Jesse and Celine just in conversation about anything and everything. The genius of this is that we get to know these characters so well, their hopes, dreams, failures. No stone is left unturned. The end also doesn’t leave us with the easy way out. That may just be why Before Midnight is so good: it refuses to let you have the easy answer.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis

As much as I love abstract, ambiguous, and experimental films, there’s no substitute for a fantastic story told by 2 masters of their craft. That is exactly what Inside Llewyn Davis is. The screenplay alone is one the best I think I’ve ever encountered. The Coens spin a rich, hilarious story out of the sad sack that is Llewyn Davis, a man so afraid of success that he actively rebels against it. Oscar Isaac lends incredibly humanity to a very tricky character. Along the way, Davis comes into contact with a host of characters (including a genius F. Murray Abraham, in one of the best scenes of the year) who give him advice on a number of issues or scorn him for being the sad sack he is. I also must mention the performance numbers, as they are the best part of the movie. What struck me so about them is that I didn’t feel bored or taken out of the movie. They enriched the tapestry of the film and had me glued the entire time. With Llewyn Davis, the Coen brothers have reaffirmed their status as one of the greatest American filmmakers of all time.

4. Upstream Color

I had such a hard time picking my top 4 this year because 2013 was great year for cinema. Upstream Color was my number one pick for much of this year, as I was taken by it the instant I finished it. It’s narrative is incredibly abstract and you wont be looked down upon should you not fully understand the movie. Yet, Upstream Color is stunningly gorgeous, beautifully emotional, and executed brilliantly. Shane Carruth continues to prove himself one of the most exciting and experimental directors of our, or any, time. What he achieves here is a sort of poetic narrative that left me floored. Special attention should be given to Amy Seimetz who gives an intense, deeply vulnerable performances. Though it lies at number 4, Upstream Color is masterpiece, no questions about it.

5. Gravity

As far as movie theater experiences went this year, Gravity was about 100 cuts above the rest. I was floored by Alfonso Cuaron’s vision. He was able to truly make me feel like I was there, trapped in space. What Gravity lacks in narrative it more than makes up for with it’s visual power and committed performances (specifically Sandra Bullock, at her career best). Gravity isn’t a movie I’ll sit and tell you about, as I think the very best way to experience and know this movie is to see it. Seriously, go see it. Especially if it’s still in theaters.

6. 12 Years A Slave

In the coming years, I have no doubt 12 Years A Slave will become essential viewing for all. Brutal, agonizing, and heartbreaking as it may be, 12 Years is an exquisitely realized masterwork. Steve McQueen’s direction has never been more confident or poetic. He’s the real star of the movie, as he’s able to tell a difficult story in a transcendent way. This is a film that truly forces you to take a long, hard look at slavery and it’s apparent evil. I haven’t even mentioned the stunning Chietwel Ejiofor, who carries the movie and allows it to soar.

29

Jan

7. Short Term 12

Brie Larson gives a complex, transcendent performance in this drama about a residential treatment facility’s staff and kids. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the movie around her is crafted with such awe inspiring authenticity. It’s an emotional gut punch but don’t think that means it’s a depressing movie. Short Term 12 succeeds so triumphantly because it doesn’t bow to any normal movie cliches.

28

Jan

8. Spring Breakers

The marketing for Spring Breakers was absolutely genius. It was advertised as a sex-crazed, drug, alcohol, party, party, party movie. What we got was exactly that AND a biting, scathing critique of young people’s obsession with incredibly hedonistic lifestyles and idolization of the “gangsta” life. Harmony Korine has never been known to hold his punches and here he comes out guns blazing (pun intended). What’s even more, the movie’s neon soaked cinematography is truly gorgeous. James Franco, from the minute he comes onscreen, pretty much steals the movie and gives what may be one of the best performances of his career. “Spring break 4 EVAAAA!!!”

9. Blue Is The Warmest Color

Most of what you hear about Blue will either be about it’s lesbian subject matter or it’s intense, incredibly long, and highly graphic sex scenes. The movie, however, isn’t about any of that. In fact, it doesn’t even matter that they are a homosexual couple. The movie is more about self discovery, first love, and all consuming passion. The two lead performances from Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos are extraordinary; raw in intensity and beautifully sensual. This is a film I would recommend to any and everyone, not the least of which because it’s an eye opening, hypnotic experience.

10. A Band Called Death

About 2 years ago, I stumbled upon an all African-American punk band from the 70s called Death. They weren’t well known. Hell, their songs stayed in an attic for 30 years before anyone thought of releasing it. What I heard, however, was mind blowing. It was punk music before punk was even a thing and it still sounded so fresh. A Band Called Death chronicles Death’s storied past and still vibrant future. Equal turns heartbreaking and uplifting, Death is a triumphant film about family and the ties that bind. It’s everything a truly great music documentary should be and more. I highly, highly recommend that anyone search out and find their music.