7. This Is Martin Bonner
Chad Hartigan's intriguing tale of a middle-aged man who relocates to Nevada and works at a prison relocation non-profit owes much to the subtle turn by Paul Eenhoorn in the lead role. As Martin forms a bond with newly released prisoner Travis (Richmond Arquette), the story transforms into a remarkable tale of survival for both men that creeps up on you.
6." Vanishing Waves"
Lithuanian filmmaker Kristina Buožytė's trippy sci-fi drama involves a man who enters the mind of a comatose woman as part of an experiment and falls in love with her. The movie is second only to "Upstream Color" as the year's best otherworldly fictional narrative. As the man in question gets drawn into the possibilities of aiding the comatose woman, "Vanishing Waves" turns into a kaleidoscopic collage of emotions to represent the fragmented nature of consciousness itself.
5. "Dead Man's Burden"
Jarod Moshe's debut feature is a minimalist Western shot on 35mm film with a shrewd feel for the genre's many traditions: a little Sam Peckinpah violence here, a dash of John Ford sentimentalism there, a jolt of Anthony Mann bleakness all over the place, especially in the tense finale.
4. "See You Next Tuesday"
An angry rejoinder to "Tiny Furniture" that perfectly encapsulates the vibrant cynicism at the root of American underground filmmaking today. Drew Tobia's awesomely cynical portrait of a pregnant single Brooklynite alienated from her lesbian sister and mean-spirited mother has a liberating quality embedded in its snide dialogue and perceptive look at urban eccentrics. Comparisons to early Todd Solondz are apt. The movie barely had a festival life and to date doesn't have distribution, but should fall into the right hands so Tobia's name gets out there. A truly original voice.
3. "Post Tenebras Lux"
I have mixed feelings about the coherence of the ideas in Carlos Reygadas' esoterically personal, meandering, and impermeably lyrical work, but its hypnotic ingredients are impossible to shake. One of the most inventive narrative experiences of the year, it has more cinematic vision than anything else Reygadas has done before. I have to remind myself I didn't just imagine its allure, because "Post Tenebras Lux" is a movie about dreams that, by its end, transforms into one.
2. "Toad Road"
Jason Banker's semi-fictional portrait of a druggy hedonist who gets lost in the woods with his girlfriend looking for the seven gates of Hell is possibly one of the most terrifying looks at addiction since "Requiem for a Dream." Imagine the "Jackass" guys struggling with their violent tendencies while surrounded by constant denial. "Toad Road" is an assault on the senses that makes its main character's physical struggles into a personal journey.
1. Closed Curtain
Time for a year-end regret: I should've figured out a way to cram Jafar Panahi's second feature -- made while living under a travel ban in Iran (after the brilliant "This Is Not a Film") -- on to my Best Undistributed Films list. The movie premiered at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival and has yet to find a U.S. distributor -- but maybe it's better that way, so that Panahi's situation doesn't get even worse. Nevertheless "Closed Curtain" is a beautiful, often surprisingly funny look at life under confinement, and operates as a kind of narrative puzzle: It starts as the story of a man on the lam before turning in on itself with brilliantly understated results. Ultimately, Panahi's focus is on the desire to tell stories against impossible odds. It's a dynamic form of resistance that owes much to the innocence of the main character's dog, who makes Uggie from "The Artist" look like a privileged brat. The Iranian canine puts a witty and eventually profound face on the tragic state of being a simpleton in a cruel world. Aren't we all?