Best Films of 2013: 20-16

The easy question to ask is: “why do a list at all when you already have an awards slate on your site?” It’s a good question and I finally may have formulated the best response to it yet. Basically, it’s a less comparative discussion on each film that you feel marked the year fro you. In writing a list you discuss each film and a only every few numbers or so get bogged down in discussing placement.

I will try my best to avoid redundancy and will link and self-quote where I deem necessary but it was in re-watching something that I came upon the aforementioned truth. Awards with their winners and fellow nominees and then snub-ees can be read as a slight, though that is never the intent. A list as celebratory, if not more so because of the insularity of conversation.

Now 30 is a high number and I could’ve increased it. I saw the most eligible titles ever this year, but I wanted to further honor these films by having the percentile they represent be a smaller fraction than prior lists.

Let us continue with 20 to 16…

20. Philomena

Philomena (2013, The Weinstein Company)

This year, perhaps more than others, had some great surprises in it. I think that always has to play a role. And by surprises I don’t just mean exceeding expectations but really I mean coming out of nowhere unexpectedly. This film did that for me.

Based on the commercials you knew the basic premise: an elderly woman seeks to discover the fate of the child she put up for adoption 50 years prior. It plays it up like it’s going to be all giggles and a heartwarming “human interest story” as Steve Coogan’s character would’ve derisively put it at the beginning of the film. But much like that journalist we are treated to, yes, some laughs, quite a few surprises (both good an bad) and some tears. The film has some touches to it like its montages of home video that foreshadow the child’s life being learned about and the weaving through time Philomena’s memory occasionally does. Judi Dench is positively marvelous, as is Steve Coogan who plays against type and wore many hats to help make this film happen.

19. Mud

mud-2013-1

Every so often I seem to with no great pre-meditation happen upon a double-feature, one entirely of my and my viewing partner’s own devising, that really stands out. This year it was viewing Mud and Disconnect back-to-back at Philly Landmark Theatres.

Here Jeff Nichols strikes again with another great film. The scary thing is that he really makes it look fairly easy when we all know it’s not. There’s a lot more to Mud than meets the eye such as coming-of-age, a classic tale of unrequited love, a southern Gothic tale of river-life with just an allusion to recent realities treated in nearly a magical realist way. It’s a film that just may grow over time both with myself and in the public consciousness.

18. The Counselor

Michael-Fassbender-and-Brad-Pitt-in-The-Counselor-2013

If there was one prediction I had going into Awards season, and “List Season”, it was that I’d see The Counselor on a Best and a Worst list. I did. This is one of those films where I get the arguments against it. It’s one of those films where you either go along for the ride and appreciate it or you can just never get into it for any number of reasons. It certainly settles itself into the world its building eschewing getting over-concerned with the intricacies of the illegal activities being planned, and also builds a world prior to more firmly entrenching its characters. It’s got a unique brand of dialogue you’ll love or loath; all that and more are things I too as part of why enjoyed this film. Aside from the stories within the story that matter and the introspective, philosophizing criminals.

I’ve seen quite a few of Ridley Scott’s films and he never tried anything like this and it’s worth looking in to for that fact alone.

17. The Way, Way Back

Way Way Back 4

I like to send out a one tweet reaction to almost all the films I see. Part of why that is, is that I’m attempting to succinctly encapsulate my thoughts and preserve them for later reference.

Here’s what I said with regards to The Way, Way Back:

“The Way, Way Back” is quite exceptional. It’s hilarious, heartfelt, dramatic and full of wonderful performances by a spot-on cast.

In many ways this is a film that’s traveling well-trod ground, not that most of it isn’t at this date and time. However, there is a freshness and a truth to it. You have at the center of it Duncan (Liam James) who faces many familiar influences a first love, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb); a mother (Toni Collette); an over-bearing new pseudo-stepfather, Trent (Steve Carell); and an adoptive father figure, Owen (Sam Rockwell). It’s the way these things blend, how the film achieves the aforementioned superlatives that make it stand out.

16. The Old Man

The Old Man (2012, Kazakhfilm)

This film is a testament to quite a few things: seeing films on the big screen (which I didn’t get a chance to), the power of cultural specificity and transliterating a story and the universality that can be found in such specificity. It’s a Kazakh version of the Old Man and the Sea that works brilliantly well.

This film is called Shal, when transliterated from its native language. In English it’s just referred to as The Old Man. In short, the sea does not apply to this tale instead the film is landlocked and tells the tale of an old shepherd. The wilderness he battles is the Eurasian steppe rather than the sea, which brings wolves into play. Thus, aside from the source material it brought to mind the recent film The Grey. However, I feel this film excels far more than that one did in its man versus nature elements because it’s defenestrated to a greater degree. There are fewer affectations of traditional action films and more human drama, more philosophy, more searingly gorgeous imagery and even further respect for the beasts of prey as there is the added element of the old man protecting his herd.

This is also a generational tale wherein quietly the Old Man’s grandson who he tongue-in-cheekily calls Sheitan-bek, translated as “dickens,” comes to a newfound maturity and shows his respect for his grandfather, and thus his elders. The setup of the generational divide is well-executed and though very steeped in indigenous culture and religious mores does have a universal quality to it. One example of it would be that though in rural Kazakhstan the grandfather’s passion for football knows no borders and he struggles with poor television reception to watch Barça and names all his sheep after members of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup team.

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