Top Ten Films (I've Seen) of 2013

Heading into to December I felt like I had barely seen any films this year. This was technically true. I used to do sixty to seventy new release films a year and I think I was at around thirty-nine when November ended.

Between Netflix, HBO GO and Blu-rays from Vulcan Video I made a concerted effort to close the gap through December.

As a quick workflow overview: I used Mike D’Angelo’s indispensible NYC master list to determine which films opened this past year and loaded up my Letterboxd watchlist.1 I also copied D’Angelo’s complete list into OmniOutliner to track which films I had seen and when; this came in handy organizing the below list.

As it stands now I have seen fifty-one films that opened in NYC in 2013 and two television movies that I think should count:2 Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra and Greg Mottola’s Clear History. There are some big titles I haven’t seen yet that I suspect would otherwise make their way onto my top ten list, like The Wolf of Wall Street and Inside Llewyn Davis, but the year is up.

So here it is, my top ten films of 2013.

1. Nebraska, Alexander Payne

Payne may be one of my favorite working comedy directors. His camera is patient and wide, allowing his actors generous breathing room for letting the dark, painful humor of life play out. Will Forte is the big surprise here: he plays an amazing straight man.

I love this movie.

2. Computer Chess, Andrew Bujalski

Computer Chess is such a brilliant, beautiful, weird little film. I feel like I shouldn’t need to say anything more than “Bujalski” to get you to see it, but his films fly deep under the radar for most audiences which is a shame. I think he may be the most exciting American director to watch today. When I interviewed him in 2009, Bujalski had shot all of his movies on film:

If you’re trying to get video to look exactly like film, it’s a silly thing to do. You might as well just go and shoot on film anyway if you’re using the super high-end stuff.

Computer Chess was shot on a Sony AVC-3260 and it looks gorgeous.

3. Dealin’ With Idiots, Jeff Garlin

Jeff Garlin laughing incredulously at things and talking in a high-pitched voice is my hero.

Dealin’ With Idiots is a showcase for comic performers like Richard Kind, J.B. Smoove and Gina Gershon. The premise is thin (Garlin’s Max Morris decides to interview other parents on his son’s little league baseball team for a potential film project) but the jokes are honest and never let up. I haven’t laughed this hard this consistently at a film in a long time. And it all comes together in the end in a way that just crushed me. Truly.

4. Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach

Greta Gerwig plays an incredible shlemiel, which is good because Baumbach really puts her character, Frances, through the ringer. It’s starting to get annoying how good he is at composing these painful comedies about characters coming to terms with responsible adulthood.

5. Stoker, Park Chan-wook

A truly creepy and patient film. Park wisely lets the film unfold in emotional, not temporal, order. Mia Wasikowska proves to be a formidable talent. Stoker can be uncomfortable at times but remember: it’s horror. Nice to be reminded that not everything in the genre relies on creatures jumping out of the shadows and killers sidling up in mirrors.

6. This Is the End, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

Easily one of the funniest films of the year. Rogen and Goldberg put together an oddly affecting film that is also a stoner apocalypse supernatural popcorn flick. Not easily pulled off.

7. The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola

It’s voyeurism all the way down in The Bling Ring. To watch it is to participate in the modern obsession with the self(-ie). At first we follow the young thieves on their celebrity exploits but eventually we learn that it is we, via Coppola’s camera, who are looking in on the lives of others and leering.

It would be foolish to think this is a film about a specific generation’s proclivities toward mimesis; it’s about us, the audience, no matter the age.

8. This Is Martin Bonner, Chad Hartigan

A great character piece that dives deep into the lives of two men trying to start their lives over. Paul Eenhoorn and Richmond Arquette give nuanced performances that really show a love for the men they portray. Hartigan is clearly capable of great comedic setups, but his restraint pays off tenfold in This Is Martin Bonner.

9. Prince Avalanche, David Gordon Green

David Gordon Green’s progression as a filmmaker continues to be astounding to watch. I think it’s too easy to see his stoner comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) as stumbling blocks and equally myopic to view Prince Avalanche as a return to form (like his quieter films George Washington or All the Real Girls). Instead this fantastical Texas tale feels like a culmination of Green’s craft. And Paul Rudd shows off some serious chops too.

10. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, Alain Resnais

Theater. Reality. Cinema. Memory. These are just a few of the themes that come to mind while watching Alain Resnais’ You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, about a group of actors convening to mourn the death of a playwright. Give yourself over to this one and you will be rewarded.

  1. I did a decent job of logging everything I watched this year on Letterboxd; my reward is a comprehensive Year in Review. It’s becoming one of my most visited sites. ↩︎

  2. But don’t; why have arbitrary rules if you can’t enforce them? ↩︎