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TOH! Top Tens of 2013

TOH! Top Tens of 2013

At last, the TOH! contributors list their top ten films of 2013. At the end of what was no doubt a banner year for cinema, it was certainly a bloodbath as we whittled our lists down to ten, struggling to make room for all of our favorite films. Check out our lists below.

Anne Thompson:

It hurt to leave off some of my favorite films of the year, from David Lowery’s exquisite noir western “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” the Coens’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” and JC Chandor’s “All is Lost” to David O. Russell’s exhilarating “American Hustle” and Siegel and McGehee’s brilliant reworking of Henry James,  “What Maisie Knew.” I also had about four more docs I could have added to this list. 
1. “Gravity
Alfonso Cuaron’s deceptively simple space epic breaks new cinematic ground in VFX, but it’s Sandra Bullock’s balletic grace and human heart that fuels this space opera. They couldn’t have done it without her. 
2. “Nebraska”
Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson take us on a meandering (black-and-white) road trip as a family deals with a disappointed father (Bruce Dern, the best role of his life) who needs something to hold onto. He finds it. This is a zeitgeist movie that shows us who we are and what we’ve lost. 
3. “12 Years a Slave” 
This movie needed to be made and Brit Steve McQueen pulled it off with elegance and grace. It’s his most accessible film to date, formally thoughtful, spare and precise, and yet the filmmaker does not pull back from what he wants us to immersively experience for the first time in our cinema’s history. 
4. “Captain Phillips”
Paul Greengrass soars back with this unexpected pirate adventure that reveals how vulnerable Goliath can be. And Tom Hanks gives the most naturalistic and moving performance of his long and storied career. 
5. “Short Term 12”
With his sophomore film, this year’s breakout talent Destin Daniel Crettin coaxes a moving performance from young actress Brie Larson that deserves Oscar recognition, but also shows a sure hand in telling an authentic story about young people in crisis. 
6. “Before Midnight” 
Richard Linklater and his gifted writer-actor collaborators Etha Hawke and Julie Delpy return 18 years after starting their relationship trilogy with “Before Sunrise” to present an amazingly complex and accurate portrait of a modern partnership that reveals the dynamics of men and women today in a way that no one else has. Kudos to all. 
7. “Her”
Spike Jonze has returned with a vengeance, for the first time writing as well as directing the well-constructed sci-fi fable of a man on the rebound from a failed marriage. “Her” can be viewed as the flip side of Sofia Coppola’s Oscar-winning movie about the end of their relationship, “Lost in Translation,” a visual/aural tone poem that followed lonely, disconnected Scarlett Johannson around modern Tokyo, as she finds a soulmate with whom she can never truly mate. Jonze also puts Johannson front and center–but not-on-screen–in this fractured future vision of a city, a digitally reconstructed Los Angeles. She plays sultry, brilliant OS 1 system Samantha, who “bonds” immediately with Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix). They fall swiftly in love. Their sex is satisfyingly erotic, and their relationship believable. The film grapples with some of the issues Ridley Scott confronted in “Blade Runner,” about what it means to have consciousness, whether human or not. It’s about who we are now. And who we want to be. 
8. “Enough Said
Nicole Holofcener’s fifth feature in 17 years is by far her most accessible movie to date: witty, sharply observed, painful and entertaining. Her characters ring true, and this relationship comedy provides a perfect vehicle for smart comedy actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who co-stars with James Gandolfini, in what unfortunately turned out to be his penultimate movie role–and could earn him a posthumous Oscar nomination. After an LA party, Eva, an L.A. divorcee and masseuse trying to get back into the dating scene, gets involved with Albert, also divorced, as well as poet Marianne (Holofcener regular and muse Catherine Keener), who becomes a client and friend. They all have daughters heading for college. Things get tangled when it turns out that Marianne is Albert’s still-angry ex-wife.
9. “Fruitvale” 
Rookie filmmaker Ryan Coogler figured out how to film a day in the life of a struggling black man whose unaccountable loss wreaks havoc on his family. He recreates the last day in the life of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), who at 22 years old was shot and killed by an Oakland police officer at the titular BART station on New Year’s Day, 2009. It’s a gut-wrenching tearjerker in the “Precious” tradition. 
10. “Stories We Tell”
Canadian actress-writer-director Sarah Polley’s family memoir “The Stories We Tell ” is remarkable for its innovative, organic transparency, as Polley discovers and shares secrets about her long-lost mother, who died when she was ten, her family and her parentage. 
“The Hunt,” Denmark’s shortlisted Oscar entry, marks an extraordinary collaboration between Thomas Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen. He plays a mild-mannered schoolteacher falsely accused of sexually molesting one of his young kindergarten charges. How he is treated–and how he reacts to being ostracized by an entire community, including his closet friend– is tough to watch. Mikkelsen deserved the 2012 Best Actor win in Cannes.
With gorgeously wrought 2-D “The Wind Rises,” Hayao Miyazaki escapes from the family film ghetto into Japan’s pre-World War II past, as the country was growing into a modern power. He celebrates a young designer who over many years becomes the star creator of the prototype for the Tiger fighter plane. The movie has sparked controversy in Japan–but Miyazaki is clearly presenting a pacifist point-of-view. He identifies with the artist, not the warmonger.1. “Gravity”
Top 10s from TOH! contributors Beth Hanna and Ryan Lattanzio after the jump.

Beth Hanna:

The prevailing theme in my Top Ten list is connection. Two
lonely divorcés find a spark of romantic connection in Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said,” even if some dishonesty threatens to dash their love; in Richard
Linklater’s “Before Midnight,” a longtime couple teeters on the brink of
collapse, following an evening of too much
honesty. In the Coens’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” and Zachary Heinzerling’s
documentary “Cutie and the Boxer,” artists struggle to forge a connection with
their public — for cash, for recognition, and for a way of pushing down life’s
miseries. In Margarethe Von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt,” one of the 20th century’s most radical intellectuals connects with the dark history of the
past, and in doing so alienates herself from society; in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a tycoon connects with quick success while disconnecting
from practically everything else (family, love, reality, sobriety); in
Sebastian Silva’s “Crystal Fairy,” twentysomething bohemian travelers in Chile
forge a bumpy friendship on the road to would-be bliss; in Wong Kar-wai’s “The
Grandmaster,” two martial arts experts are connected over space and time, even
if a romantic union proves impossible. Finally a duo of brilliant neo-noirs, Ridley
Scott’s “The Counselor” and Claire Denis’ “Bastards,” examines what noir is
best at: Connection is doomed to failure, and probably will be violently

1. “Before Midnight” (dir. Richard Linklater)

2. “Hannah Arendt” (dir. Margarethe Von Trotta)

3. “Inside Llewyn Davis” (dirs. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

4. “The Counselor” (dir. Ridley Scott)

5. “Bastards” (dir. Claire Denis)

6. “Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus” (dir. Sebastian

7. “Cutie and the Boxer” (dir. Zachary Heinzerling)

8. “Enough Said” (dir. Nicole Holofcener)

9. “The Wolf of Wall Street” (dir. Martin Scorsese)

10. “The Grandmaster” (dir. Wong Kar-wai)

Best Female Performance: Barbara Sukowa (“Hannah Arendt”)

Best Male Performance: Ethan Hawke (“Before Midnight”)

Best Screenplay: “Before Midnight

Best Cinematography: “Inside Llewyn Davis

Best Film on the Festival Circuit Without US Distribution: “The
Fifth Season” (dirs. Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth)

Best Film on the Festival Circuit With US Distribution in
2014: “Stranger by the Lake” (dir. Alain Guiraudie)

Best Pleasant Surprises of 2013: “Dead Man Down” (dir. Neils
Arden Oplev), “World War Z” (dir. Marc Forster)

Ryan Lattanzio:

This year, I tended toward flawed films with ambition and chutzpah rather than note-perfect, polished masterpieces. “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” for example, is a big, sprawling novelistic mess of a picture, which really didn’t need those sex scenes to tell its beautiful story, but finally Abdellatif Kechiche’s modern romance is an act of bravery, a boon to gay cinema everywhere and a gift we should all be grateful for; Reygadas’ “Post Tenebras Lux” can be boring-as-hell, but it entrances and mystifies and essentially turns cinematic form on its head; and “Gravity” did not need all that spiritual bombast, but Cuaron’s cosmic poem gave us all a reason to fall in love with going to the theater again. Which we needed. 

The very best film I saw in 2013 was Ari Folman’s brilliant and insane “The Congress,” a half-live-action, half-animated feat of madness in which Robin Wright (as Robin Wright) sells her soul to the Hollywood studio system and becomes trapped in a cartoon dystopia. Stateside audiences won’t see the film until next year, but had this film — a mixed bag for most critics — been distributed in 2013, it would have been my favorite film of the year yesterday, today and tomorrow. Drafthouse Films has tentatively set a summer 2014 theatrical release.

And for the record, anyone who knows me is well aware that I’m the biggest fan of Jesse and Celine there is. But I’m not ready to hail “Before Midnight” as perfect a masterpiece as “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.” Time will tell.

1. TIE: “Inside Llewyn Davis” (dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen) and “Blue Is the Warmest Color” (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)

2. “Post Tenebras Lux” (dir. Carlos Reygadas)

3. “The Bling Ring” (dir. Sofia Coppola)

4. “The Past” (dir. Asghar Farhadi)

5. “Gravity” (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)

6. “Laurence Anyways” (dir. Xavier Dolan)

7. “Her” (dir. Spike Jonze)

8. “Blue Jasmine” (dir. Woody Allen)

9. “Museum Hours” (dir. Jem Cohen)

10. “American Hustle” (dir. David O. Russell)

Honor Roll: “Stories We Tell,” “Only God Forgives,” “The Act of Killing,” “Upstream Color,” “To the Wonder,” “A Touch of Sin,” “You’re Next”

Festival Faves Awaiting US Release: “Stranger by the Lake,” “Tom at the Farm,” “The Selfish Giant”

Favorite performances: Adele Exarchopoulos (“Blue Is the Warmest Color”), Amy Adams (“Her” and “American Hustle”), Jonah Hill (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Mads Mikkelsen (“The Hunt”)

Once more, with feeling: “The Congress” is the best film I saw in 2013.

Up next: Bill Desowitz and Matt Brennan

Bill Desowitz:

Top 10: The Year of Survival and Reinvention


2. “Her”

3. “Inside Llewyn Davis”

4. “12 Years a Slave”

5. “The Wolf of Wall Street”

6. “American Hustle”

7. “Nebraska”

8. “All Is Lost”

9. “Dallas Buyers Club”

10. “Frozen”

Honorable mentions: “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Captain Phillips,” “Philomena,” “Prisoners,” “Before Midnight


Matt Brennan:

For me, 2013 was the year of the double feature. With the
exception of Steve McQueen’s historical drama — as clear a first choice as any
I’ve encountered in my years of making these lists — the movies that struck me
most forcefully did so in tandem. The four pairs and one trio that follow
“12 Years a Slave,” whether obvious or idiosyncratic, reveal the
diverse aesthetic gambits by which filmmakers tested the documentary form,
interpreted the high seas adventure, constructed complex stories as striking
miniatures, portrayed the romance of youth or the middle-aged romance. It was
these unexpected conversations that defined the films I loved, no matter the

1. “12 Years a Slave”

In a somber graveside rendition of “Roll, Jordan,
Roll” as in a torture of unbearable brutality, “12 Years a
Slave” distilled the omnipresent violence of the Old South’s
“peculiar institution” and the innumerable avenues by which the
enslaved survived, or failed to survive, our history’s most indelible scar.
Those who consider the film “pornographic,” or prettified, seem to
have forgotten the complexities of the past. Enduring bondage meant resisting
an overseer’s play for power and finding the beauty in paper dolls, keeping
faith in the next life and sometimes trying, by suicide or escape, to enter it.
McQueen, aided by his outstanding cast, bore fuller witness than any director
before him to a world that resists understanding. In the process he created not
only the best film of the year, but also the finest film ever made about
American slavery. 

“Visitors” and “Stories We Tell”

Godfrey Reggio’s immersive sensory experience, 70-odd frames
of faces, bayous, and an abandoned amusement park set to Philip Glass’
excellent score, rejects narrative entirely. Sarah Polley’s investigation of a
family mystery takes narrative (how we construct it, deploy it, change it,
secret it away) as its explicit subject. Yet both films force us to reconsider
the centrality of the ineffable, and at times the fictive, in the documentary’s
power — to respond as profoundly to the artful hand that shapes nonfiction as
to the form’s tacit promise of “truth.” 

“Captain Phillips” and “All Is Lost”

One plunges us into a cacophony of directives, negotiations,
pleas, and cries; the other, nearly wordless, is a diving bell submerged in
nature’s fury. Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips” and J.C. Chandor’s
“All Is Lost” share little but the mercilessness of the ocean —
stretching as far as the eye can see, and beyond what the mind can conceive —
and a hard-won understanding of what it means to be, in the figurative sense,
at sea. Indeed, on the strength of brilliant performances by aging lions Tom
Hanks and Robert Redford, both films plumb the depths of fear and despair that
accompany their protagonists’ courage: heroism in its most rough-edged, moving,
and indelibly human form.

“Laurence Anyways” and “Frances Ha”

“Laurence Anyways” screened at Cannes in 2012
before securing a U.S. theatrical release this summer, so its inclusion here
may be cheating. But I couldn’t omit Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s
exuberant romantic epic, exploring the vagaries of love, sex, and identity as
Fred (Suzanne Clement) and Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) work through the
challenges of their unconventional relationship. Much like Noah Baumbach and
Greta Gerwig’s warm, disarming “Frances Ha,” about the joys and
disappointments of a twenty-something dancer in present-day New York, Dolan’s
film fashions a remarkably precise portrait of the world it inhabits — French
Canada in the 1990s — but never loses its empathic grip on adulthood’s
lingering growing pains, no matter the time and place. 

“Before Midnight” and “Enough Said”

If “Laurence Anyways” and “Frances Ha”
suggest the hurdles we face in making a life, “Before Midnight” and
“Enough Said” feature the troublesome work of living with the lives
we’ve made. In “Before Midnight,” Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and
Julie Delpy complete their superb relationship trilogy by mapping the limits of
attraction; Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said,” starring James
Gandolfini (alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in his last and most adroit film performance,
examines the anxiety of discovering attraction once more. Both chatter through
decades of baggage — former marriages and forgotten moments, annoying habits
and bad faith — to emerge, in their ambivalent conclusions, as fine-grained
depictions of people-in-progress, learning to be unfinished together. 

“Street of Dreams,” “Like a Rolling
Stone,” and “Aningaaq”

Is Vine a cinema of attractions? Is YouTube a modern-day
nickelodeon? Where do GIFs, auteurist advertisements, interactive music videos,
and the ancillary materials of a major studio release fit in this puzzle we
call “the movies”? I chose Martin Scorsese’s dreamy, black-and-white
Dolce & Gabbana spot, Interlude’s multi-channel interpretation of Bob
Dylan, and Jonas Cuaron’s “Gravity” sidelight as representatives of
where cinema seems to be going — or returning — as we encounter new frontiers
of the digital age. The short has been around as long as pictures have been
moving, but one would be forgiven for thinking the Internet has given the form
greater visibility, and malleability, than it’s enjoyed in decades. Here’s to
2014: I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Next: John Anderson, Matt Mueller and Tom Brueggemann chime in.

John Anderson:

1. “A Touch of Sin”

2. “The Square”

3. “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

4. “American Hustle”

5. “The Armstrong Lie”

6. “Upstream Color”

7. “What Maisie Knew”

8. “Frances Ha”

9. “Mother of George”

10. “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Matt Mueller:

1. 12 Years A Slave

2. Gravity

3. Blue Is The Warmest Colour

4. All Is Lost

5. American Hustle

6. Frances Ha

7. Philomena

8. Blackfish

9. Stories We Tell

10. Wadjda

Tom Brueggemann:

1) “Gravity” (Alfonso Cuaron/US/Warner Bros)
A brilliant synthesis of craft and narrative, with a talented director not only presenting his vision but accumulating state of the art craft to make a breathtaking story, rediscovering the essence of cinema more than a century after the medium’s inventors after Melies, the Lumiere brothers and Edison first created the art form. This opened just after the finale of “Breaking Bad” and more than answered the question of whether cinema still can rule the zeitgeist.
2) “Nebraska” (Alexander Payne/US/Paramount)
Working for the first time from someone else’s script, Alexander Payne made his most visually stunning work, bringing to mind Bela Tarr’s black and white studies of the terrain and people of his own Hungary. Anchored by a brilliant performance by Bruce Dern, this tight-wire act constantly risks losing balance until its unusually satisfying ending.
3) “A Touch of Sin” (Jia Zhang-ke/China/Kino Lorber)
Sadly now banned in its own country, the great Jia combines trenchant analysis of his own society with a mastery of multi-story narrative with this, both his least “arty” but still very personal work.

4) “Her” (Spike Jonze/US/Warner Bros.)
a year of breathtaking visuals, Spike Jonze’ precious
man-loves-computer voice rom-com ranks with the best as an ethereal,
almost unrecognizable downtown Los Angeles almost becomes an equal
character as distinctive as the sets in the director’s earlier “Being
John Malkovich.” One view only scratched the surface of the mean of this
risky but rewarding work.
5) “The Act of Killing” (Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cyn, Anonymous/UK/Drafthouse)
that top-tier Nazis had escaped prosecution and managed to recreate
their deeds with relish for the camera 40 years later – this is what
this horrifying film does with Indonesian military death squad veterans
now enjoying retirement and gleefully playing to the camera for
posterity. Both essential and very difficult to experience.

6) “The World’s End” (Edgar Wright/UK/Focus)

The final film of Wright and company’s Cornetto trilogy and the year’s funniest comedy, this visually resplendent and assured work is let down only slightly by an ending not up to the rest of the film from rating even higher.

7) “Frances Ha” (Noah Baumbach/US/IFC)
Anchored by a risky, daring performance by co-writer Greta Gerwig. this low-budget NYC 20-something comedy risked alienating audiences with its too-quirky-to-be-believe lead character, but overcomes the pitfalls to ultimately become an endearing, incisive story.
8) “Before Midnight” (Richard Linklater/US/Sony Pictures Classics)
Another third film in a series, this time around the direction (with an amazing lengthy single-take early on and compelling character interaction shifting through the film with much varied visual design) was often uncomfortable to watch but never less than honest or compelling.
9) “The Wind Rises” (Miyazaki Hazao/Japan/Buena Vista)
The animation master’s final work is a bit down from his best, but also is possibly his most personal as it becomes a national saga about how genius (in this case, in aviation) still needs to be recognized despite the uses made of it. Emotionally powerful but much more complicated than what the public expects from animated film.
10) “To the Wonder” (Terence Malick/US/Magnolia)
Unfairly overlooked after the backlash after “The Tree of Wonder”‘s acclaim, this even more risk-taking film actually comes closer to the Malick vision earlier seen pre-“Tree,” stripped down to a visual design that far more subtly portrays his themes of theology and family than in his previous work, while extending the experimental visual language in that film with much more assuredness and splendor.
In a more average year, any of these could have easily also been included: Stories We Tell, Captain Phillips, Blue Is the Warmest Color, The Great Beauty, In the House, Ernest and Celestine, Like Someone in Love, Tim’s Vermeer, The Past

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