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Stories We Tell

‘Stories We Tell’

“I don’t think it makes any sense at this point in history, if it ever did, to talk about ‘the year in movies’ as if that could be divorced from any social or political context,” writes Andrew O’Hehir in a very fine piece for Salon. A few favorite moments:

  • “One could devote an entire article, or even a book, to decoding the incoherent politics of the Marvel universe (possibly someone has done this), which seem to teeter back and forth between post-1960s liberalism and full-on fascism.”
  • “Is Katniss Everdeen inspired by Lenin, by Emma Goldman or by Ayn Rand? Anyone who asks the question already knows what they think.”
  • “Although it was Ted Cruz, a Cuban-American born in Canada, who served as the leader of this fall’s government shutdown, his constituency is largely a lily-white, neo-Confederate nation within a nation, seeking to fight one last battle against the multicultural usurpers or simply burn the whole place down. Whether you choose to view this as coincidence, paradox or corollary, 2013 also brought us a remarkable mini-renaissance of black cinema at all levels of the business.”

Oh, and he’s got a top ten, too. His #1: Stories We Tell. “Canadian actress-turned-director Sarah Polley has sneakily become one of the best young filmmakers in North America, and this subtle, heartbreaking documentary proves it.”

Trailer for Hard to Be a God (no subtitles)

“I can recall many Decembers when I was just about able to scrape together a grudging Top 10,” writes Jonathan Romney for Film Comment, “but the past year seems to have been unusually rich. Once again, reports about cinema’s demise—often based on the notion that narrative feature films have been rendered obsolete by long-form TV—were not just premature but ridiculous.” Before turning to his top ten, he’s got notes on TV, blockbusters, France (more from Jon Frosch in the Atlantic), a few underrated films, and the “Folly of the Year,” Aleksei Guerman‘s Hard to Be a God: “It was if someone had handed Breughel a camera without stopping to explain what cinema was. It’s an authentic delirium of a film, with a minute potential audience in real-world terms, but an assured future as a revered cult phenomenon.” His #1: Paolo Sorrentino‘s The Great Beauty.

Niles Schwartz, who writes about film for L’étoile Magazine, is one of my own favorite discoveries of the year (via a tweet from Matt Zoller Seitz). His #1: “The Act of Killing is Joshua Oppenheimer’s extraordinary exposé of a person’s soul, or as the filmmaker calls it, ‘a documentary of the imagination.'” And I was planning to pair A Touch of Sin and The Wolf of Wall Street on my own forthcoming list, but he’s beaten me to it; they tie at #2.

The L‘s got a big “Best of 2013” package, and Miriam Bale, Aaron Cutler, Paul Dallas, Jesse Hassenger, Steve Macfarlane, Calum Marsh, Benjamin Mercer, Elise Nakhnikian, Max Nelson, Nicolas Rapold, Vadim Rizov, Henry Stewart, Justin Stewart, Dan Sullivan, R. Emmet Sweeney, and Ryan Vlastelica have contributed to the list of top 20 films. Calum Marsh blurbs #1, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel‘s Leviathan: “To describe this film as ‘a documentary about commercial fishing’ hardly seems adequate, even with a vague qualifier like ‘avant-garde’ ineffectually appended. This heaving, churning epic defies pat classification. In this case it’s only reasonable to invoke a critical cliche: you have to see it for yourself.” And film editor Henry Stewart notes that “12 Years a Slave tied for 49th with five other films—garnering fewer points than Pain & Gain!”

But it’s Wesley Morris‘s #1 at Grantland. 12 Years, not Pain & Gain. “It isn’t just that McQueen’s movie is moral. It’s that his movie is haunted by a history of cultural and moral transgressions…. No one goes to the movies to feel this upset. But what’s the point if at least one director doesn’t give a damn about what you go to the movies to feel?”

Trailer for Bastards

To Time Out New York, whose film staff is now down to two reviewers (fortunately two very good ones). Joshua Rothkopf‘s #1: Inside Llewyn Davis. “Equal parts wintry misfortune and guitar-slung dreaminess, the Coens’ cosmic comedy turns a musician’s dying career into an uncommonly rich picture of the changing terrain of American folk art circa 1961.” And Keith Uhlich‘s: Bastards. “Bleak is beautiful in Claire Denis’s latest, a hypnotically woozy tale of a working-class mariner out for revenge against the big businessman who ruined his family. It’s an enveloping nightmare that you perversely don’t want to wake up from.”

“No less than 80 films were nominated across fifteen separate ballots in Front Row Reviews’ annual best-of poll,” notes Michael Pattison. Landing on top: Richard Linklater‘s Before Midnight.

What the hell am I watching?Cheryl Eddy: “I muttered that phrase many times in 2013, with interpretations ranging all over the cinematic map. There was a sense of amazed ‘How did they do that?’ during Gravity; feelings of intrigued unease during Upstream Color and The Act of Killing; and a genuine feeling of befuddlement as a book I thoroughly enjoyed, World War Z, was transformed into a puddle of CG mud with Brad Pitt bobbing at its center.” Her #1: The Act of Killing.

Also in the San Francisco Bay Guardian: “I seem to recall Spike Lee giving the orders that seemed to finally, fully come to pass in 2013: ‘Make black film.'” Kimberly Chun‘s top ten is in alphabetical order. Jesse Hawthorne Ficks: “I will say it, and I will say it loudly: The Lone Ranger is the most subversive Hollywood film since Starship Troopers (1997).” And Nicole Gluckstern programs a set of double features.

Clip from Before Midnight

“Our version of every cinephile’s favorite parlor game does away with the usual listological parameters,” notes the staff at BAMcinématek, “expressing a loose, free-floating love for the moving image with shout-outs to everything from repertory favorites and new releases to GIFs, TV, and Beyoncé’s visual album.”

Rob Christopher‘s list for the Chicagoist is in alphabetical order; at the Reader, Ben Sachs revisits the year in repertory (parts 1, 2, and 3).‘s settled on an “official list”; #1: Inside Llewyn Davis. And on a separate page, you’ll find Calum Marsh‘s top 15. His #1: “Martin Scorsese is 71 years old. Based on The Wolf of Wall Street, he might as well be 25. The late period has never seemed quite so young.”

At In Contention, Guy Lodge‘s #1 is Gravity: “I’ve been comfortably certain since September: no film I saw this year better exploited and expanded the formal possibilities of its medium, nor in the service of quite such classically elemental storytelling.”

“This was the year documentaries forced their way to the forefront of the critical conversation, the year audiences and gatekeepers seemed to step cautiously toward the idea that nonfiction films can be as complex, as artful and as exciting as their completely scripted counterparts,” argues Robert Greene for Sight & Sound. “Led by my top film of last year, Leviathan, this year’s surprise Sight & Sound film of the year, The Act of Killing, and the widely loved Stories We Tell, nonfiction cinema in 2013 found its moment with three very different, equally resonant films that had major theatrical runs.” A top 25 (#1: The Act of Killing) and a slew of honorable mentions follow.

Trailer for Sofia’s Last Ambulance

At Sundance Now, Anthony Kaufman presents “a highly subjective collection of underseen theatrically exhibited documentaries that may not be a part of the 2013 critical conversation, but absolutely should be.”

Indiewire‘s editors and bloggers recap their lists. The Philadelphia City Paper posts a top eleven in no particular order, followed by another round of eleven. At Movie Morlocks, R. Emmet Sweeney writes up his favorite home video releases. And Michael Guillén revisits his ten favorite conversations of the year.

Listening (59’02”). “Voice film editor Alan Scherstuhl runs point while Voice film critic Stephanie Zacharek and L.A. Weekly film critic Amy Nicholson run down their top ten movies of year.”


The Visual Effects Society has “named acclaimed filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón as the recipient of its Visionary Award in recognition of his extraordinary career, most recently including his landmark achievement on this year’s hugely acclaimed Gravity.”


Slant‘s #1 music video of 2013

Slant‘s picked its 25 Best Music Videos of 2013. Hrag Vartanian selects ten of the year’s best art books for Hyperallergic. Jason Kottke points to several year-end lists that have caught his eye. And Phaidon looks back on the year in photography.

Lists and Awards 2013 Index. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at

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