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2013: The Best Films Of The Year...So Far

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist June 4, 2013 at 2:56PM

Wow, wait, okay, what? It’s June? Right! So here we are again, rapidly approaching the midpoint of another year, and as is our custom, we’re taking a moment to pause and look back at 2013 so far, and to discuss, debate, and throw hissy fits over what we collectively consider the best films we’ve seen so far. As regards bigger releases, the year up to now has been, if we’re honest, a little so-so, with the blockbuster hopefuls ranging from the slightly disappointing to the outright dire (“Star Trek Into Darkness,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Pain & Gain,” “After Earth,” “Oblivion,” with “Iron Man 3” probably proving the best of the bunch to date). That said, in the smaller screens of your multiplex, and at the arthouse, a few gems have found their way through and there is a positive bevy of films we’ve been lucky enough to catch early, that are coming down the pike soon, that are so good they should drag up the base standard of the year by some margin.
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Hide Your Smiling Faces

Hide Your Smiling Faces
Apparently there’s no release date or distributor yet that we know of, but that would be a huge shame because the most arresting film of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival was certainly “Hide Your Smiling Faces.” The feature-length debut of DP-turned-writer/director Daniel Patrick Carbone, ‘Smiling Faces’ definitely announces DPC as a bold new filmmaker to keep an eye on. A moody and atmospheric exploration of adolescents in rural America who unexpectedly have to deal with mortality when a mysterious death enters their lives. Plot takes a backseat to this beautiful, but anguished tale of teenagers struggling with emotions that are beyond their maturity. Unnerving and disquieting and yet sundappled and gorgeously shot, ‘Smiling Faces’ is something of a Terrence Malick, Michael Haneke and David Gordon Green bastard lovechild. It perhaps most resembles Green’s “George Washington” on the surface -- children exploring the nooks and crannies of nature while grappling with their own emotional issues -- but ultimately it is its own beast; a formidable piece of filmmaking and a stellar debut. [Read our review from Tribeca 2013]

Bluebird, John Slattery, Emily Meade

Bluebird
Ranking movies can sometimes suck, but perhaps possibly just a slight hair behind "Hide Your Smiling Faces" as the “discovery of Tribeca 2013” is Lance Edmand’s striking and haunting debut, “Bluebird.” A former editor (he clipped together “Tiny Furniture” for Lena Dunham), Edmands opening bow is superb for several reasons but chief among them is that you would never guess in a million years that this mature and patient drama was a debut film. Centering on the interconnectedness of a tragedy that ripples out and touches two disparate families in a frigid logging town in Maine, the film not only boasts a carefully composed and preternaturally assured eye, it features some terrific performances by actors you may not know yet, but soon will. Sure Adam Driver from “Girls” and “Mad Men” star John Slattery are solid in their parts, but it’s the terrific trio of females in the film that are particularly remarkable including Amy Morton (Tony winner for “August: Osage County,” also George Clooney’s sister in “Up In The Air”), Louisa Krause (the bitchy, scene-stealing hotel clerk in "Young Adult"), and Emily Meade ("Fringe," "My Soul to Take"). Understated and subdued, the picture can remind one at times of David Gordon Green’s “Snow Angels” but as much as we love Green’s film, this simple and sometimes ambiguous film could arguably be seen as the less Hollywood version of a somewhat similar tale. No word on when this one hits in 2013, but it can’t be soon enough. [Read our Tribeca 2013 review]

Short Term 12 Brie Larson

Short Term 12
The highlight of this year’s otherwise unmemorable 2013 SXSW Film Festival, Destin Cretton’s sophomore effort snatched up the top prize at the fest. Chronicling the 20-something supervising staff of a foster care facility who have to navigate the troubled waters of a world filled with abused, neglected and discarded teenagers, this bruising drama is both authentic and heartrending. Centering on two staff members in a relationship who also have their own personal issues, the names Brie Larson ("21 Jump Street") and John Gallagher Jr. (HBO's "The Newsroom") probably don’t jump out at you when discussing some of the best young actors working today, but holy hell they are terrific, with Brie particularly impressing far beyond anything she’s done thus far. Opening later this summer, “Short Term 12” is worth your time and then some. [Read our review from SXSW 2013]

Prince Avalanche Emile Hirsch Paul Rudd
"Prince Avalanche
To many, David Gordon Green’s career is a head scratcher. He began as the heir apparent to Malick with his stunning debut “George Washington” and seemed poised to remain one of the most beloved indie filmmakers out there with movies like “All The Real Girls,” “Snow Angels” and to a lesser extent, the uneven experiment that was “Undertow” (which Malick himself handpicked him to direct). Then Green did what most assumed was go mainstream, with a string of comedies that included “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness.” The reality seems to be that Green, like Steven Soderbergh, Danny Boyle and Gus Van Sant (three filmmakers he admires), has omnivorous taste and wants to try everything (and arguably his restless drives shows that he wants to try several things at once within the same movie). While many would call “Prince Avalanche” Green’s return to his indie roots, it’s much more than that, a melding of all his sensibilities thus far into something boldly idiosyncratic, humanistic and vital. The plot is a “Waiting For Godot”-like two-hander (starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) about two at-odds-with-each other highway road workers spending their summer toiling away in the middle of nowhere while both nursing female troubles; ‘Avalanche’ is both hilarious, meditative and deeply full of life. Green’s best film so far? If not, damn fucking close. [Read our review from Sundance 2013]

Honorable Mention:

Mads Mikkelsen In "The Hunt"

Obviously, there’ve been a few we've missed. Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt,” starring an outstandingly good Mads Mikkelsen, is a film we love and it ended up on three of our Best Films Of The Year lists... last year, because we all saw it at film festivals. While we really admire it and encourage you to see it, we felt like we’ve given it enough love and decided to place some of these other picks first, but it just missed the cut (review here). The same can be said, to some degree, for “Ginger & Rosa,” “A Hijacking” and "The Attack," three additional films we saw last year at film festivals and were included on some of our year end lists (RP's, Oli's and Jess' lists, respectively.) The first features a stunning turn by Elle Fanning (her best to date, this kid is gonna be a Meryl Streep when she’s older); "A Hijacking" is a super tense drama about a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates; and "The Attack" is a gripping and fearless drama detailing a good man's unraveling after he discovers his wife was a suicide bomber. Also, something that arguably should have been near the top of our proper list is Jane Campion's breathtakingly good, haunting and moody crime thriller, "Top Of The Lake." Of course it was a seven part TV series, but don't be surprised if you see it on our individual lists at the end of the year anyhow.

Terrence Malick’s “To The Wonder” was too divisive for the whole group to include it in the main list. You can probably tell from our podcast earlier this year, some of us loved it, others hated it and some of just thought it was admirable, but not Malick’s most successful film. Other festival films we dug not making the cut included “The Rocket” and “What Richard Did” from Tribeca, and “Breathe In” from Sundance. Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” is kind of an enthralling blast of music and visuals, but falls short story wise, so it ain’t on the main list. As uneven as it is, there remains plenty to love about it, including James Franco playing a white trashy Florida rapper and a defining Britney Spears cover/music moment. The provocative "We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks" is an essential doc as is “The Gatekeepers” which we saw at TIFF last year. And lest we break embargo, we won’t write any major details, but Zack Snyder’s “Man Of Steel,” (impressive and yet imperfect) is certainly is strong enough to merit inclusion here (note the sole blockbuster on this list).

As for the "coming soon" section, there are some films that we've seen at festivals and that will arrive at some point but don't have firmed-up release dates yet so we didn't add them, like James Gray's “The Immigrant," Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive" and Jim Mickle's deliciously atmospheric, slow-build cannibal horror remake "We Are What We Are." From the festival circuit, coming later this year and also worth your time is “The Spectacular Now” starring strong performances from Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller and Brie Larson.

Side Effects Rooney Mara
In Case You Are Wondering: Fought Over & Didn’t Make The Cut 
OK, what’s not on our list and why? Lots of us like “Room 237,” the documentary about Kubrick's “The Shining,” but some of us made the strong case that it’s like fan fiction gone wrong, or like being trapped at a dinner party with a nerd going on and on about something that’s interesting at first, but then makes you want to shoot yourself after a while. Plenty of us enjoyed the thrillers “Trance” and “Side Effects” but they are admittedly thin, inessential films with little long-term sustain. At best they are shiny baubles that you aren’t going to pack with you on a trip (or include on a Best of Year list). While some of us (OK, just Drew) think "The Croods" is the best DreamWorks Animation feature since "How to Train Your Dragon," the rest of us don’t necessarily think that’s much to write home about. While we love Cate Shortland, her sophomore feature, “Lore,” just felt somewhat unremarkable. The same can sadly be said for two auteurs, Olivier Assayas and Abbas Kiarostami. While there are supporters for both “Something In The Air” and “Like Someone In Love,” the naysayers on these films were much more vocal about the middlingness of both and beat into submission those who thought they were “a’ight.” Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price” features the best Dennis Quaid performance in forever and its last act is rather excellent, but the film is too uneven and unfocused for us to include here. “Shadow Dancer” is a decent espionage thriller, but again, not quite memorable enough to include in our main list. And while Joss Whedon's low-budget Shakespeare adaptation "Much Ado About Nothing" is hugely entertaining and outrageously funny (in the same way all things kissed-by-Whedon are), its cheap, DIY looseness just keeps it from achieving actual greatness.   


What has impressed you so far this year? What you are looking forward to and what do you think should also make the cut? Let us know below. -- Jessica Kiang, Rodrigo Perez, Kevin Jagernauth, Drew Taylor, Oliver Lyttelton, Cory Everett


This article is related to: Best Movies of 2013, Upstream Color, Stories We Tell, Frances Ha, Sightseers, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, The Past , Blue is the Warmest Color , Before Midnight , The Kings Of Summer, Prince Avalanche, Features, Feature


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