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The Best Movies Of 2013 (The Playlist Staff Top 10s)

by The Playlist Staff
December 31, 2013 11:40 AM
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Jessica Kiang's Top 10 Films Of 2013: First, a few disclaimers: these are films that I saw in 2013, though some haven’t had releases outside of festivals yet, and may be 2014 U.S. releases, where they get theatrical runs at all (I hope I’ve largely avoided spoilers, though). Conversely, because I don’t live in the U.S. there are some films that I haven’t been able to catch up with because of the vagaries of international release dates, including "12 Years a Slave," “Under the Skin,” “Her” (missing “Don Jon” too means I’ve had a ScarJo-less year), “American Hustle,” “Short Term 12,” “In A World…” and others I’m no doubt forgetting—so the absences of these titles should not be considered pointed omissions. As opposed to the lack of “Spring Breakers” which I did see, and totally don’t get what all the fuss is about.

There was never any doubt for me about my number one, leaving the rest of the films I’ve picked to jostle for positions 2-10, not that any of us should place too much store by the ranking of this sort of list. If listmaking is itself a weird and always arbitrary act, ranking that list is doubly so, as the shifting sands of mood and memory are all we have to go on when deciding that, yes, Movie X is two positions worse than Movie Y but one up from Movie Z. So, pinch of salt, please. That said, this year the list was perhaps easier than last, not least because I could immediately discount every single major summer tentpole I saw—of that hugely disappointing crop, “Iron Man 3” "Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and “Furious 6” were probably my favorites, but none was ever going to trouble my end-of-year best list. As a result I’m probably a little indie-arthouse-festival-centric as 2013 closes, though I’m surprised at the non-representation of Asian cinema and a little disappointed (in myself? the industry? who knows?) that in a year in which there was quite some discussion about female directors, not one of my top ten films was directed by a woman, though several are present in the honorable mention section.

Okay, then, without further ado, because this New Year’s Eve champagne ain’t gonna drink itself, here’s my top ten of 2013.

10. “The Wolf of Wall Street
Is “filmgasm” a word? If not, it should be coined to describe Martin Scorsese’s undisciplined beast which, in its overlength, overexcitableness and over-everything-ness provided me with some of my most defiantly entertaining moments of the year at the year’s very end--“movie” just doesn’t quite cover it. I found it utterly joyous in its infectious bawdiness, and so magnificently over the top in the depiction of the sheer awfulness of these grubby little men and their horribly shopworn versions of the American Dream, that I got another huge belly laugh when I read that there are those who think the film somehow glorifies these idiots?! Wha? To be honest, it feels like the coke-snorting, ‘lude-popping, tits-and-ass excess almost conceals the fact that actually ’Wolf’ takes aim at a pretty soft target, relatively speaking (if Belfort and his cohorts scammed millions, the sleek-suited anonymous grey men of Lehmans etc scammed billions and ruined entire economies, but are nowhere seen here), but it’s just such an entertaining target that even that didn’t really dampen my enjoyment. There is also I’ll admit, a sort of relief at work here: after the stateliness of “Hugo” and with Scorsese recently suggesting he has only a couple more films in him, it was just great to witness this level of ah-who-cares-what-the-fuck exuberance from him, because at his most buoyant, he is simply the pre-eminent American director. So even the film’s flaws like overlength, repetition and lack of formal discipline (the random way DiCaprio sometimes addresses camera, the occasional hearing-people’s-thoughts thing) didn’t bother me, partly because they seemed to arise from an abundance of enthusiasm, and mostly because the whole thing was sweeping past in the kind of heady, giddy, Scorsese-trademark rush that I don’t think I’ve experienced since the cross-cut cocaine/pasta scene in “Goodfellas.” Regular collaborators DiCaprio and editor Thelma Schoonmaker also bring their A-game (DiCaprio, of whom I’ve never been hugely fond, totally won me here) not to mention a great Jonah Hill and the million terrific cameos (McConaughey’s the one everyone talks about but I’m going to wave my pompoms for Spike Jonze). It’s a hedonistic blast of folly and hubris populated by rascals, cheats, snobs and imbeciles and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Filmgasmic.

9. “Death of a Man in the Balkans
It feels kind of anachronistic to be including this film on my 2013 list, as it first made the festival rounds in 2012, and I caught it all the way back in January at the Goteborg Film Festival, so that I’d almost classified it with last year’s films too. But it’s a tiny gem that deserves more props than it got, though I can see how a combination of its title, rivalled only by “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker” for sheer heart-sinking “do I have to?”-ness, and the logline which has to include mention that it’s all shot from one-locked off webcam position might have been enough to throw water on any potential distribution bidding war. It’s a real shame, because Miroslav Momcilovic’s small, oddball film is actually an immensely enjoyable, frequently laugh-out-loud funny story, and the conceit of the webcam is actually not so much a handicap as one its most inspired choices. Perhaps initially slightly awkward in its marriage of darkness and light, the film starts off with the titular death, as a man turns on a camera and solemnly proceeds to kill himself, leaving the camera running--unbeknownst to the succession of neighbours, policemen, undertakers, and pizza delivery guys who then one by one come to investigate the gunshot. Really it’s an absurd comedy of manners that observes the very different way people behave when they know they’re being watched as opposed to when they think they’re alone--all magnified in the presence of death. And it’s played with pitch-perfect anti-glamor by the cast as they trundle in and out of frame and the hilarious pettinesses of their reactions to the corpse in the corner are laid bare by the camera’s unblinking eye. It’s a tiny film, but the formal rigor of its approach and the truly terrific scripting and performances make it feel liberated, rather than constrained by its threadbare budget and lo-fi approach. And it’s very, very funny, did I mention?

8. “Blue Caprice
I’ll admit I came late to this fictionalized account of the story of the Beltway snipers by first-time feature director Alexandre Moors, but I was hugely impressed when I finally did get to it--not quite sure what I was expecting, but certainly I couldn’t have anticipated just what a brilliantly unsettling, intelligent film it would be, with no hint of the kind of sensationalism its subject matter might suggest (largely due to the smart decision not to recreate the actual sniper attacks themselves, but to let news footage and 911 audio set the scene early on before skipping back in time). In fact, one of its great strengths to me was that “Blue Caprice” almost entirely eschews the drive to “put us in the mind of the killer” or to “explain what made him tick” or other cliches. Instead, it shows that the sniper attacks that claimed so many random victims and terrorized an entire region for weeks, were all the more terrifying for being the logical extension of a profoundly alien world view that sprang, not from the various societal and economic pressures faced by the killers, but actually from the deep-set, differently striped but mutually reinforcing fucked-up-ness that both men harbored. It’s a brave and rather unfashionable stance to take in these days when the drive exists to humanize even the most monstrous of behaviours--to render them understandable, explainable, and therefore somehow avoidable in future. But “Blue Caprice” is terrifying because it at least partially rejects that notion, and in its impressionistic recreation of the lives of these killers (brilliantly played by Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond) posits the existence of a chilling, abject otherness that exists on the other side of the unbridgeable gulf between people who have a moral conscience and those who do not. And this low-key, dialed-down insightfulness is all the more startling for coming from a first-timer: Moors has clearly arrived onto the film scene fully formed from the off.

7. “Gloria
Without doubt the straight-up happiest film on this list, Sebastian Lelio’s “Gloria” is outwardly extremely simple: a portrait of an ageing divorcee and mother of two grown children as she experiences ups and downs in her romantic life and a love/hate relationship with her neighbor’s hairless cat. But the warmth and depth of the characterization of Gloria, as unforgettably embodied by Berlin Best Actress Paulina Garcia makes the film completely extraordinary--in fact it’s so unusual to watch a movie that finds this many tenors and layers in a character who’s not somehow essentially fucked up, that it took me a while to put my finger on what it was I found so compelling about it. But it’s just that: Gloria is a fundamentally decent, happy woman, with no tragic streak of misery or shady skeletons in her closet, getting by as best she knows how with a strong sense of humor about herself and about the indignities of being single this late in life. I can’t stress how much of an outlier this makes “Gloria” and how refreshing -- she’s simply a completely wonderful human being with whom I fell so in love throughout the course of the film that I was really sorry to have to leave her as the credits rolled. Except that the final scene is of her dancing to the eponymous track by Umberto Tozzi and, in itself, provided me with one of my very favorite film moments from 2013--a perfectly uplifting, joyous ending to a movie that manages to be optimistic without being pat, funny without being scornful and happy without being slight.

6. “Borgman
Alex van Warmerdam’s Cannes competition entry hasn’t seen a US release outside of the festival circuit yet, but I really hope a wider audience gets to see it and be alternately as tickled and as chilled by its clever, weird, off-kilter vibe as I was. It’s a spritely, dark and mischievous film, part home invasion thriller, part fairy tale as a chimeric and mysterious outsider inveigles his way into an affluent suburban home and things gradually turn murderous as he Pied-Pipers himself into the family structure. Twisted and pitch-black funny, it’s precisely and brilliantly played by the whole cast particularly Jan Bijvoet who perfectly preserves Borgman’s dangerous ambivalence and mordant sense of “play,” even as events get progressively more deranged. And it’s also very beautiful, with some of its imagery, like that of weighted dead bodies floating in a lake like fronds in an aquarium, lingering with me even now. Mostly though, it’s a triumph of control over its deliciously black, deadpan-ironic tone, the kind of unholy, pristine surreality that might result if Michael Haneke and Ben Wheatley got locked in the “Dogtooth” house. We’re not quite sure why there was as little buzz as there was for this one after its Cannes bow, and perhaps it is hard to see its chilled cerebrality finding a huge audience without the benefit of a better-known arthouse marquee name than Van Warmerdam’s, but if it does get even a limited release next year, beat a path to its door and let it trick and tease and toy with you.

5. “Gravity
It’s thin on story, the dialogue occasionally clunks, some of the twists strain logic and I don’t give a damn, because “Gravity” SENT ME INTO SPACE. Three times over, to be precise, I happily, giddily coughed up the 3D IMAX surcharge to watch Alfonso Cuaron’s thrilling, visceral, utterly beautiful film, and each of those three times it worked its astounding magic on me and gave me my most breathtaking cinema experience of this, and probably any other year. It was a film I wanted to eat with my eyes, and that lived as much in my nerve endings as in my brain, and while I can understand that as a negative for some viewers, I can’t be anything but grateful for and amazed by it--I say again, it sent me into space. And even if that had not been enough, I did find thematic and emotional resonance within the story where it left others cold. Perhaps my age-old obsession with space meant I came ready-equipped with a huge amount of my own enthusiasm I could map onto the slender bones of what is there, but the terror and stark beauty of space, the motifs of rebirth and renewal, the utter ridiculous implausibility of life and hope existing in this merciless universe at all, the miraculous nature of humanity’s presence as a whole, and one human’s survival instinct in specific--all of this the film brought home to me, providing me with more than enough philosophical and emotional material to render it a far deeper and more nourishing experience than the cut-and-dried fun park diversion that some of its detractors have reduced it to. I don’t just appreciate “Gravity” (and a shout out too to Jonas Cuaron’s lovely little companion short “Aningaaq”) I’m weirdly grateful for it, as I’m unlikely to ever actually voyage into space, but thanks to the movie, there is, right now, a tiny little mental version of myself, lit bright white against the velvety inky blackness hovering high above the blue sky, looking down, and I know how she feels.

4. “Inside Llewyn Davis
I can’t remember exactly when it was during my screening of the Coen brothers’ folk music bildungsroman that I started to look forward to my second viewing, but it was either in the third or fourth minute. It was unexpected, because to be perfectly honest, a portrait of the pre-Dylan era Greenwich Village folk scene had never rated particularly high on my radar, and were it not for the filmmakers behind it I probably wouldn’t have bothered queuing two and a half hours in the rain (by far the longest Cannes line) to get in. But somewhere in that opening scene, as Oscar Isaac sang “Hang Me Oh Hang Me” in a voice so surprisingly lovely it could break your heart, and the smoky browns, ochres and greys of the autumnal palette worked their minor-key magic, I felt myself palpably relax, feeling impossibly warm and safe in the hands of those peerless storytellers. From then on the film unfolded in a bittersweet blur of gently disappointed dreams and self-defeating ambition, and now in retrospect it strikes me, in a year dotted with paeans to/takedowns of American excess (“The Bling Ring,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Spring Breakers,” “American Hustle” even “Pain & Gain”), it may actually provide the antidote, a soothing balm to smooth over the jagged garishness of those films’ depiction of ostentatious wealth. “Inside Llewyn Davis,” contrary to the modern ideals of striving and success and achievement, sings a sweet, sad song about the occasional nobility of failure, that builds into an appropriately melancholic anthem for the also-rans. It would be a confession too far to say just how much I identified with it.

3. “Blue is the Warmest Color
What to possibly say about Abdellatif Kechiche’s Cannes winner that hasn’t already been said, (and subsequently undercut by some tantrum thrown by one of the principals--man, I’ve never wished so hard that people whose work I admire would just shut up about that work)? Clear away all the hullabaloo that surrounded the film, from its graphic and, yes, (over)long lesbian sex scene, to the alleged heteronormativity of its positioning, to the acrimonious war of words that erupted between its three Palme d’Or winners (Kechiche, Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos), and we’re left with simply one of the most wonderful, transportative film experiences of the year, and one that, like “Inside Llewyn Davis” does with Oscar Isaac, makes its hitherto largely unknown lead (Exarchopoulos) into a bona fide star in one fell swoop. That it can withstand all the issue-clouding babble that went on around its release is testament to just how much bigger a final film is than any one of its participants, even such an obviously talented director, and such stellar performers: ‘Blue’ is a hundred times the sum of its parts and, aside from the spell-breaking sex scene, perhaps, to break it down into its constituent elements is to deny yourself the glorious, immersive pleasure of living Adele’s life through these tumultuous and passionate years. Long after the recriminations have faded from memory, the movie will stand as a beautiful journey of discovery and recognition for anyone who’s ever fallen in love, and a furiously tender piece of transcendent filmmaking.

2. “Upstream Color
There was a man in an orange high-vis jacket operating a cleaning machine on the deserted train platform where I waited after my late-night screening of “Upstream Color.” With no one else around, he pushed the droning machine up and down the platform in rigorously straight lines, passing me by occasionally in the flat, clinical light. And such was the lingering mood of the film that I found myself humming along to the machine, to try and achieve a moment of perfect resonance as it neared me--for this uncharacteristic whimsicality I entirely blame Shane Carruth and the unearthly techno-spell his sophomore film cast over me, a film that’s at the same time brilliantly precise in its intent, and silvery-opaque in its effect. More than anything else a very peculiar love story, the film bears astonishing testament to Carruth’s polymath tendencies, from the stunning photography--gauzy but cool, like a new dream rooted in an old memory that’s a little bleached from overwashing--to the soundscape in which effects blend with his self-composed score so that, in a theme that recurs, you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins, to the enigmatic, minimalist dialogue in which the words are only ever the tip of a gargantuan iceberg of unseen connections. Carruth has carved out unique territory for himself at the point at which science strays so far into the arcane that its mathematics become as intuitive and beautiful as any work of pure imagination, so while there is logic and causality at work here, it’s less the science fiction of laser cannons and spaceships than it is a voyage inward, into the psyche, into the emotions--into places where science might often fear to tread. Totally unique, shimmeringly bizarre and achingly lovely, I can’t recommend “Upstream Color” enough, if only for the new way you’ll look at a buzzing fluorescent light, or hear your desktop printer’s inner gears work, for days afterward.

1. “The Act of Killing
It will surprise precisely no one who who knows me, or had the misfortune to be seated beside met me at a party or on a medium-to-long distance train trip, to see Joshua Oppenheimer’s shattering documentary, “The Act of Killing” nestle comfortably at my number one spot for the year. It is without doubt the film I’ve talked about, thought about and agitated for more than any other throughout the year, to the point that I’m less now an advocate than an evangelist. The reason is simple: when I think back to myself, stumbling water-kneed out of the Berlinale screening back in February, and missing my subsequent films (sorry, “Don Jon”!) due to the insistent buzzing of my brain and pounding of my heart, I just can’t think of any film that has had a more physiological effect on me. “The Act of Killing,” in its evocation of a genocide of which I had, prior to watching it, not one single goddamned clue, its masterful portrayal of the smiling, hearty faces of utter moral abnegation, and the way it convinces that cinema itself can be the chief purveyor of the most insidious mythologies (lies) while also providing an avenue for the reclamation of memory and the possibility of catharsis, if not redemption (truth), is probably the most intelligent and layered film ever to have frightened the living shit out of me. Because that was its real effect: it was simply terrifying. To witness the complete annihilation of humanity that Anwar Congo and his cohorts embody and then to discover that this moral collapse is not just unpunished in Indonesian society, but sanctioned, even encouraged? It was psychologically, emotionally and philosophically challenging, occasionally to the point of me wanting to shut my eyes, without ever being able to un-rivet my attention. In fact it feels like Oppenheimer’s storytelling unlocked bonus levels in my capacity for surprise--how is it possible that he can layer revelation on revelation, shock upon shock, and yet have each subsequent instance stab just as deeply as the last? It’s a merciless film in that regard, a difficult, queasy watch, a tumble down a fathomless rabbit hole of depravity, and, by maybe a mile, the very best movie I saw in a very good year.

I was tempted to go to 12 entries but made myself stick to the ten for some masochistic reason, however the two films that would have been at the eleventh and twelfth spots, respectively, were Soderbergh’s deceptively touching “Behind the Candelabra” and Lisa Langseth’s “Hotell” starring Alicia Vikander which I saw in Marrakech (review here). And then there are a whole host of other strong films that I considered for inclusion but didn’t make my final cut--I’ll link to their reviews where I can: “The Selfish Giant” is genuinely heartrending and boasts the most astounding child performance of the year from Conner Chapman; “A Field In England” drove me slightly insane, in a good/terrifying sort of way; “The Broken Circle Breakdown” might have taken the ‘lovely sad film about musicians with a killer soundtrack’ ribbon any year that ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ wasn’t released; Alain Guiraudie’s Cannes winner “Stranger by the Lake” is a very strong, very creepy story of summer murder; more in genre territory I really dug horror remake “We Are What We Are” by Jim Mickle; I loved Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past” until the final overwrought third that for me undid a lot of the film’s terrific work till then; JC Chandor’s “All is Lost” is my cream of the crop of this year’s many survival movies (“Gravity” aside); “Frances Ha” I liked a lot, though maybe I wasn’t quite as enraptured as some of my colleagues; Rebecca Zlotowski’s “Grand Central” is the other Lea Seydoux movie I saw and really enjoyed this year, also starring “The Past”’s Tahar Rahim; while James Gray’s “The Immigrant” and Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” were two Cannes films I caught that were also both top of mind when I thought about compiling this list. Less well-covered, perhaps, Andrea Pallaoro’s “Medeas,” an extraordinarily quiet, and astoundingly well photographed film, and Lukas Moodysson’s “We Are The Best!” (which we’ll be reviewing soon) were two films I caught in Marrakech that I liked equally but for totally different reasons, and another year (or another day, another mood) could have nudged their way higher.

And that was my year, written down in the closing moments of 2013 while I’m still sober enough to remember it. Happy New Year everybody, and thank you for reading.

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  • Samuel Ivan | May 31, 2014 4:36 PMReply

    I am glad to see this list,So far its good but you missed a lot of movies such as stroker,samurai , perfect murder ,orphan,game ,And what about the lord of the ring series ..Any way this is good list,Thank you ,Sam from

  • Kelly Macdough | January 8, 2014 5:01 PMReply

    Lol: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will indeed be the worst film of 2014. Spot on prophecy.

  • Paul | January 4, 2014 4:59 PMReply

    Note to The Playlist writers......"The Upstream Color" is a terrible movie. There simply is no defending it if you really have an interest in narrative cinema. However, if your interest is embracing pretentious dreck that you believe will either infuriate or perhaps intimidate the "Common Man", and if you equate being obtuse with actual intellect, then I suppose the high praise is inevitable. However, just as some of us know that "dying is easy:comedy is hard", few things are easier (and less accomplished) then throwing together the film equivalent of an unassembled jigsaw puzzle minus the box cover, as if the farther removed you are from any conventional forms of narrative (recognizable characters, meaningful dialouge, coherence) moves you farther up the "Deep Thoughts" chart. I thought that stuff stopped with undergrad English classes.

    Oh, the Coen Brothers' latest, while technically impeccable, has a giant empty space where its heart should be.

  • Nathna | January 1, 2014 2:54 AMReply

    Where the HELL is "The Place Beyond the Pines?" I thought you guys loved that movie.

  • Rick | December 31, 2013 12:35 PMReply

    Katie, are you from Massachusetts, cause I swear what you said you did during 12 Years a Slave definitely happened during my screening? LOL

  • Katie Walsh | January 1, 2014 9:20 AM

    Ha no, this was in LA.

  • Liam | December 31, 2013 12:27 PMReply

    Enough with the Upstream Color lovefest! It's pretentious, empty drivel that was pre-packaged to be hipster cool the same way a Jay Z album is pre-packaged to be mainstream hit. This is the work of a filmmaker - albeit a talented one - trying way too hard to be experimental, edgy and oh-so-ethereal. I heard that David Lynch, Terrence Malick and David Cronenberg were going to get together to make a parody film of their styles and try to pawn it off as genius. They can't now though, because Upstream Color already exists. But other than that I have no strong opinion about it.

  • Tyler | December 31, 2013 2:38 PM

    Watch it again. I didn't really "get" the film until my 2nd or 3rd viewing, and now its one of my most cherished films I own on dvd.

  • Liam | December 31, 2013 12:54 PM

    And I didn't mean to post that twice... or maybe it was intentional - a subtle commentary on the echoing effect of remakes and reimaginings on our desperate desire to tout blindly the merits of original works in the face of becoming obsolete in the mainstream? Hmmm... maybe I should make a minimalist film full of striking imagery to single-note synth music. I could be on Yhe Playlists' staff's Top 10 next year...

  • Liam | December 31, 2013 12:27 PMReply

    Enough with the Upstream Color lovefest! It's pretentious, empty drivel that was pre-packaged to be hipster cool the same way a Jay Z album is pre-packaged to be mainstream hit. This is the work of a filmmaker - albeit a talented one - trying way too hard to be experimental, edgy and oh-so-ethereal. I heard that David Lynch, Terrence Malick and David Cronenberg were going to get together to make a parody film of their styles and try to pawn it off as genius. They can't now though, because Upstream Color already exists. But other than that I have no strong opinion about it.

  • Joshua Polanski | January 1, 2014 7:02 AM

    I thought Upstream Color was a fascinating film. I think it was quiet and unassuming. I don't think I saw the pretention or pre-packagedness you speak of.

    I don't think it is a flawless picture, but I found it, quite refreshing and ambiguous. I very rarely like films of the style which you describe ("trying way too hard to be experimental"). I saw a bit of Lynch, but mostly Malick. However, although it looks like it was inspired by those type of film-makers, I still think it manages to plod along in it's own little world.

    I genuinely don't think Shane Carruth would've expected anyone to even see this small film, let alone have it appear in numerous Top 10 lists. I think films like Upstream Color and Spring Breakers have made quite a few lists of critics because they are quite infuriating to watch, yet simultaneously you can't look away.

  • B.R.S-G | December 31, 2013 2:43 PM

    Maybe you should stop talking and do it then. I think Goddard said the best way to review a movie is by making another movie. I loved "Primer" and can't wait to see "Upstream Color" I really liked the fact that "Inside LLewyn Davis", "The Wolf of wall street" and "Gravity" are in Jessica's list and I think is great that "The Act of Killing" is number one.
    I don't know if you guys ever read this comment since you hardly respond, however I wanted to say I'm always checking what's new on The Playlist and I love to read Jessica's reviews.

  • Abi | December 30, 2013 6:26 PMReply

    This list does not even begin to make sense...

  • Duhz | January 1, 2014 5:52 PM

    which one? There are four of them so far.

  • Danny | December 27, 2013 10:36 PMReply

    How people are not seeing the blatant misanthropy Inside Llewyn Davis has in it is beyond me. A modicum of research into Dave van Ronk would show that he wasn't like Llewyn Davis at all. So why use all the signifiers of Van Ronk such as his album? They are tarnishing a legacy. The are alienating not illuminating. The misanthropy is clear. Everybody has something that the Coens cue us to laugh at, to feel superior over. This movie is a shameful bubbling pot of cynical determinism and humanity hating. Screw the Coens and people promoting this claptrap.

  • Danny | January 2, 2014 2:06 AM

    Yeah of course I agree. Not exactly my point though. I'm not saying that a movie about a misanthrope is always bad. Taxi Driver has parallels in that Travis has a strong disdain for certain people but we get the very clear sense that we are seeing the world from his pov and that this isn't the view of the filmmakers. Inside Llewyn Davis nudges its audience to scoff at people who have some mannerism or believe in something the Coens deem worthy of mockery. They are putting down many people's very human hopes and aspirations without making it very clear that this is only Llewyn's pointofview.

  • Rick | December 31, 2013 12:39 PM

    I definitely see the misanthropy. Llewyn Davis was definitely like a pre-hipster (referring to the modern college radio type of hipster). I don't think a character piece of a misanthrope is automatically a bad movie.

  • DANNY | December 28, 2013 11:56 PM

    Woahhh "educated" reviews say something so I'll quickly scurry over to the other side of the fence where all the smart people who sop up bad Coen misanthropy are. Glad to be with the "informed" crowd, I was so delusional for thinking every human other than Llewyn is shown with some weird trait that the audience can condescend to. Guess that was just on me then. Thanks Phillip great to be with you on this side. The side that thinks that ending with "so there" after saying something to the effect of 'everyone thinks this dodo' is the Ultimate PWN. Cool crowd!

  • Philip | December 28, 2013 4:03 PM

    Wrong. The Coens have indicated multiple times that while Van Ronk's story provided a template, an introduction to the world of folk music in Greenwich Village in 1961, Llewyn Davis is not Dave van Ronk. And if you felt that the Coens wanted you to laugh at the characters and not feel any ounce of empathy, that's on you. That's a very general and uninformed way of reading any of their movies. There's subtext provided, practically spelled out that is suppose to let you understand why he acts the way he does. And if you look at the majority of educated reviews, you are on the opposite side of the fence. So there.

  • Nick | December 27, 2013 2:56 PMReply

    So is the United States ever going to get a chance to see the uncut version of Snowpiercer? Where does the issue stand at this point?

  • benutty | December 27, 2013 2:54 PMReply

    Is it noteworthy that Oliver tops both my Worst Film Critics of 2013 and Most Questionable Taste of 2013 lists?

  • B.R.S-G. | December 31, 2013 3:18 PM

    No it is not. At least I don't care if you're really doing a list like that or if it is just a bad joke. If you ("BENUTTY") want to show you don't have a "questionable" taste I dare you to show to us your "Best of 2013" list.

  • roxie | December 27, 2013 12:57 PMReply

    Catching Fire was atrocious and completely unentertaining ( I felt sorry for Philip Seymour Hoffman & Donald Sutherland .) , just like it's previous film. Jennifer Lawrence is still a mediocre actress that got very lucky . The poor girl cannot emote and deliver her lines properly .

  • Lyndsay | January 3, 2014 9:06 AM

    You people are idiots. "Catching Fire" was so much better than the first one. It actually stuck to the book. It was one of the best films I've seen, and I am eagerly awaiting the next one.

  • Abi | December 30, 2013 6:27 PM

    Catching Fire is a big joke.

  • oogle monster | December 27, 2013 12:43 PMReply

    THANK YOU for acknowledging that AMY ADAMS in HER is one of the best and most underrated performances of the year. She is INCREDIBLE. And she's equally stellar in AMERICAN HUSTLE. How is this woman not a 2 time Oscar winner by now?

  • Rosanna | December 26, 2013 4:22 PMReply

    How about the usual suspects? James Brolin, James Brolin, Brad Pitt, or maybe Kifer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon or Christopher Bale, Matthew McCaughnahey? NO Brad Cooper, Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Ben Stiller or Woody Harrelson!

  • RHCP | December 26, 2013 1:34 AMReply

    Will someone explain why "Spring Breakers" is #2 on this list? Or even on this list for that matter? One of the worst movies I've ever seen in my opinion

  • Luminous Carcass | December 22, 2013 11:44 PMReply

    Upstream Color was by far the most over-rated, piece-of-shit movie I've seen in years. I haven't seen anything try so hard to be compelling or thought-provoking since Dogville. Shouldn't really come as a surprise; you did throw Harmony Korine and Claire Denis in the mix as well. Opinions are opinions, but Upstream Color isn't iconoclastic. In time, the internet will be (even more) over-run with pretentious "films" by hipster, emotional children; involving water streams infused with dye and "nature" and "human emotions." Throw a droney-ambient soundtrack over it and you've got the next Upstream Color.

  • Tyler | December 31, 2013 2:40 PM

    Also, Dogville is great. (my favorite lars von trier film actually)

  • MDL | December 24, 2013 7:54 PM

    What movies have you made recently 'Luminous Carcass'? That's what I thought. None. Upstream Colour and these other movies and directors you mention don't try to be hip. The media perhaps makes them hip. But that is not the fault of the filmmakers. Filmmakers make movies. Everything else is opinion.

  • Daniel | December 21, 2013 11:01 PMReply

    Is there anyone else looking forward to " Think Like A Man Too", due next year?

  • No more trolls. | December 21, 2013 7:54 PMReply

    No more trolls in 2014.

  • Brad | December 21, 2013 1:14 PMReply

    People can be really stupid, (I'm sorry, I think is really low to insult on this comments but after reading this list and the comments here I got really mad) that's why I never read this comments and I hardly comment on anything myself, but if your focus is in just looking at small mistakes (where the killings happened in "The act of killing" or where "Blue Ruin" premiered, please) anyone can make instead of talking about the movies, you really need some perspective.
    I liked this list and appreciate the fact that "Spring Breakers", " Her" and "Inside Llewyn Davis" are in here since I think are some of the best movies of the year and they will be hardly nominated to any awards and I agree with what was said about "Saving Mr Banks", I just don't get all the buzz about a Disney movie that portrays how another Disney movie was done (I know there's more into it, but still)
    I want to thank The Playlist too because thanks to the writers I've been able to know about movies that because of the limited screenings otherwise I wouldn't know about like "Primer" from Shane Carruth, which by the way I can't wait to watch "Upstream Color" or films like "Killing List", "Holy Motors" or "Dogtooth" among several other films that I have been able to find since I came across The Playlist a year ago.
    I would like to know what do you think about the movie "The east" Gabe?. I think it is one of the best movies I've seen this year but not a lot of people has seen it and no one is talking about it at this time.
    Great List Gabe!!!! I'm a Playlist addict and I'm always looking forward to read your reviews.

  • Kyle | December 21, 2013 12:25 PMReply

    Gabe, you have good taste my friend. Only wondering where "Before Midnight" landed?

  • Loz in Transit | December 31, 2013 8:40 PM

    It seems 'Before Midnight' didn't get a mention of any kind. I'm half expecting an efusive apology that it was "accidentally omitted". Maybe I'm being completely biased.

  • Jon | December 21, 2013 12:05 PMReply

    So is "Like Someone in Love" ever going to be released on DVD?

  • @raptorjuice | December 20, 2013 10:25 PMReply

    i dont even do internet comments but these reviews really annoy me

  • @RAPTORJUICE | December 20, 2013 10:31 PM

    i am gonna watch upstream color rn, but im not gonna read ur review til after gabe. now i commented i feel invested and like i needto pay u somerespect

  • Tom | December 20, 2013 10:08 PMReply

    I've seen Taboor at the IFFR this year, and it was absolutely awful. Nothing Lynchian about it if you ask me.. So I don't know if you liked it or if you had high hopes for it, but it was weird in an obnoxious way. No atmosphere, cheap looking (I guess no one is to blame there..), and utterly boring. Which is unfortunate, because I thought that the premise was very promising too.

  • leopold | December 20, 2013 6:28 PMReply

    The Act of Killing [easily the best film of the year] is about the mass killings of communists at the end of Sukarno's reign in Indonesia in 1965/66 and not Cambodia as Gabe Toro suggests above. Perhaps you could amend the text as this inaccuracy takes away from your recommendation of a most significant film

  • Gabe Toro | December 20, 2013 11:31 PM

    Not sure how that ended up in there, we fixed that asap. Thanks though!

  • AE | December 20, 2013 4:49 PMReply

    At the very least 12 Years has provoked interesting discussion on race in the movies, this and David Thomson's review of the film speak some important truths. For what it's worth I just feel that there is still, in 2013, so much denial afloat in the culture about race, lately wrapped up in economics, that a movie, which is always a commercial project marketed to some kind of general audience, is just impossible; by definition denial works by avoidance. Even the historical distance of 12 Years isn't far enough for many who find reasons to deflect or bypass it. Unless we reach - and we likely won't - a situation where films are made simply for the need of them, nothing will change, via the movies at least, we live in hope that it will be socially where events move us forward.

  • Mark | December 20, 2013 4:14 PMReply

    Truly mindblowing that the director of Star Trek Into Darkness was hired to make the new Star Wars.

  • benutty | December 20, 2013 3:19 PMReply

    I really enjoy your comments on diversity. I was considering the other day the whole notion of this being a big year for "black films" and the value of what makes a film "black." It seems to be that the goal of the "black film" industry should be to get black actors into roles that aren't race-specific--and the only one I could think of that's had success recently is Beasts of the Southern Wild (which is one of my favorite films of the last 5 years). I feel like there isn't enough discussion about the fact that Quvenzhane and Dwight got recognition for performances that could have been played by white actors, but (regardless of director intent) were masterfully portrayed by black actors. Aside from that, if we look at black films that have been nominated for Oscars recently, a majority of them are films that consist of black characters that could only be portrayed by black actors (The Help, Precious, Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, Fruitvale Station). Save Denzel's character in Flight and reaching back to Viola in Doubt, Beasts of the Southern Wild is the only film that represents black actors and black film outside of what seems to be a typical box of "black actors can only fill roles meant for characters the must be black."

    I know there are plenty of films in recent years that fit outside of this box, but in terms of awards it seems that recognition of "black films" is still only going to the black story told through a racially bias lens. AND THIS IS FRUSTRATING ME!

    Anyway, thank you for your comments on it. I think it's discourse that should be happening with more frequency.

  • owdl114 | December 20, 2013 2:46 PMReply

    I'm sorry but I don't quite understand your criticism of the politics of 'Saving Mr Banks' (A film I rather quite liked). Do you mind explaining further?

  • Gabe Toro | December 20, 2013 11:33 PM

    Oh, wow, Alan, that changes everything!
    Thanks for the hits!

  • Alissa | December 20, 2013 6:51 PM

    Yeah, and you the troll of all trolls are Mr. Civil Maturity. That's a laugh.

  • Gabe Toro | December 20, 2013 2:59 PM

    It's a story about one of the world's richest and most powerful men instructing a creative woman how to re-interpret her own emotions while simultaneously making money off of her. You can have it.

  • Jim | December 20, 2013 2:34 PMReply

    "Blue Ruin" premiered at the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes and then screened at Locarno, before it "debuted" at Toronto.

  • Gabe Toro | December 20, 2013 2:48 PM

    Ah, thanks, my mistake. SOMEONE FIX.

  • Jeremy Wilson | December 20, 2013 2:32 PMReply

    Gabe Toro, a man after my own heart. Great list and nailed #1. I am dumbfounded that UPSTREAM COLOR isn't being hailed even more than it is. Maybe it was due to being released in the first half of the year and becoming a victim of getting lost (to a certain degree) of the crush of releases in the last third of the year. Carruth's second feature is such a leap forward for himself and for American independent cinema. Also, nice shout-outs for the Claire Denis' somehow critically underrated BASTARDS and Amy Seimetz's fantastic (and sticky) debut SUN DON'T SHINE.

  • Chad Opitz | December 20, 2013 2:05 PMReply

    Love what you have to say about "black" cinema and how it's only within very certain contexts that many audiences are even OK seeing black characters. It's very upsetting and obvious that this is going on and I wish more folks were cognizant of that and pushing back against it.

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