Like everybody else in this racket, I’ve already published my top 10 list — well, a lot of top 10 lists, including my favorite distributed and undistributed movies, best performances and so on — but no single numerical overview can possibly convey the full range of movie experiences this year. As a result, much slips through the cracks, and even after publishing list after list I’m left with a desire to single out a few more titles.
So once more with feeling: Here are 10 movies I like quite a bit but either discovered too late in the game or realized after the fact that I could have done more to spread the word about them. Collectively, they paint a very different, far more exciting and diverse portrait of 2013 at the movies than the relatively pat narrative created by awards season fervor.
10. “The Selfish Giant”
Clio Barnard’s first narrative feature is a tender and profoundly melancholic look at two boys who form an unlikely friendship in an isolated countryside. It has the gentle flourishes of Shane Meadows’ coming of age movies but builds to a far more powerful emotional climax than anything in his oeuvre.
9. “Ilo Ilo”
Singapore’s Oscar submission won Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes yet barely gained any recognition in the U.S. because it’s so low key. But Anthony Chen’s directorial debut about a 10-year-old boy who forms a bond with his Filipino caretaker while his parents war over money issues is a stirring look at catharsis amidst familial discord.
8. “RPG OKC”
There are dozens of shorts that screen at festivals throughout the year and never get noticed beyond them. But I was privileged to serve on a jury at the Philadelphia Film Festival and award this charming and innovative short, made with 16-bit graphics and centering on a romance between two retro video game characters, which perfectly illustrates how a great gimmick can develop into an emotionally involving story. Watch it below:
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.
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?