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 severed.
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 Silva)
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)
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