[There are editions for music and literature as well but I wager most folks would lose interest quite quickly….]
Lists are of-the-moment. They reference arbitrary distinctions (particular the beginning and end of a year). For what? For not much whatsoever. It’s the “most wonderful time of the year,” though. And by that I mean Melena Ryzik (a.k.a. “the Carpetbagger”) is writing again for the New York Times.
The year began inauspiciously—30-December, to be exact—with a dislocated patella (“kneecap” in laypersons’ terms) and then dislocated again on the eve of my departure for the True/False Film Festival. It was a year of maladies. It was also a year when we lost too many wonderful people. Ray Harryhausen. Karen Black. Jonathan Winters. Richard Matheson. Jesús Franco (and only slightly more than year than Lina Romay passed away). Julie Harris. Les Blank. Taylor Mead. Bryan Forbes. David Sullivan. Roger Ebert, of course. Too many deaths. Always too many. Always more ahead.
And, while some individuals tithe to their affiliated religious institution(s), I seem to have made a similar arrangement with Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns in 2013. You’re welcome, (you know who you are).
What follows is a relatively random assessment of the past twelve months in cinemas, at festivals and online. A peculiarly biased “best of” without particular dimensions. A year, though, is a curious thing. The limitations are films released or first screened at a festival in 2013. A number of these films I first watched in 2012. Or, in a few cases, 2011!
Granted, I’ve never quite figured out why anyone wants to read these lists (even though it was my pesky suggestion to run thirty-one of them on Keyframe). Why would anyone care what any of these folks have to say? Or, as the swami says in Head, “Why should anyone listen to me? Why should I speak since I know nothing?” In any event…
Walked the red carpet one lone time at Cannes to see Nebraska. And… read on.
Any year that gives us Wrong (theatrically; premiered at Sundance last year) and Wrong Cops (debuted, partially, at Sundance this year and then screened in its complete form at festivals thereafter) cannot be all wrong. Or Sightseers and A Field in England. Cinema is dead? Long live cinema!
Best Overall (contemporary)
Bastards. Much has been written about the “literary-ness” of The Counselor (given the screenplay by Cormac McCarthy) but Claire Denis’ latest feature is about as “literary” as cinema gets. Also recommended: Ida.
Best Overall (classic)
Only Yesterday. Introduced by Jerome Hiler at the New York Film Festival. I’d never heard of the 1933 film prior to the screening and I haven’t stopped thinking about it ever since.
Best Recreation of an Earlier Era
Computer Chess. Like an artifact from another time. Perfection.
Best (or Worst) Wasted Opportunity
Blue Jasmine. As happens all too often, I was stunned by its ineptitude and absurdity and then surprised by the praise lavished upon it by many reviewers. Which is further evidence that most contemporary film critics are not the brightest bulbs….
Worst English-Language Debut
Stoker. A complete waste of time.
No contest. Gravity. The Wizard of Oz and Jurassic Park (and, evidently, another which I’ll fail to name since I missed it entirely) were re-released in 3D this year but only one film gave any evidence to what is truly possible in the format. To paraphrase from my Telluride program notes, Gravity produces the sensation that audiences must’ve experienced when seeing A Trip to the Moon for the first time. See also screenwriter Jonás Cuarón’s related short, Aningaaq.
Best 2013 Theme
Man-versus-Environment. The aforementioned Gravity, of course, but also All Is Lost and others.
Worst 2013 Theme
The End of the World! This is the End had its moments, though. World War Z could’ve been worse. Still haven’t seen The World’s End.
Best Original Screenplay
Tie! Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s script for Inside Llewyn Davis and Amy Belk and Matthew Porterfield’s script for I Used to Be Darker.
Best Adapted Screenplay
John Ridley’s script for 12 Years a Slave. Admittedly, I have been surprised—disturbed, even–by some recent criticism claiming that the film is an unrealistic portrayal of slavery. Read the damn book!
Best Independent Improvised Scenario
Drinking Buddies! Joe Swanberg is in a rather wonderful phase of his career with this premiered-at-SXSW feature and the made-earlier-but-about-to-be-released-theatrically All the Light in the Sky (all while continuing to appear in numerous films by others).
Best Independent Scripted Scenario
Bryan Poyser’s The Bounceback. Also premiered (appropriately enough) at SXSW. Coming soon to a theatre near you!
Inside Llewyn Davis. If not for the whole thing, for “Please Mr. Kennedy” at the very least. And the most inappropriate audition song of all time. Greetings from Tim Buckley would make for an interesting double-feature. Lightweight at times, but admirable.
Best Sound Design
Gravity, obviously, but In a World should be acknowledged as well.
Best Debut Feature
Fruitvale Station does a great deal with limited resources. Michael B. Jordan carries the film. But… Sun Don’t Shine is a much better (and better-made) film.
Best Sophomore (Narrative) Feature / Best Ensemble Cast
Short Term 12. It received plenty of accolades at SXSW and essentially all of them are deserved.
Best Performance and Best Editing in a Ponderous Sophomore Feature
Amy Seimitz and David Lowery, respectively, for Upstream Color.
Best Performance in a Little-Seen Film
Sonja Kinski in Diamond on Vinyl. Forget that she’s the daughter of Nastassja Kinski and, therein, the granddaughter of Klaus Kinski. Whatever her name, she gives a great performance in film that deserves to be seen by more folks.
Better as an Idea for a Film than as an Actual Film
Getting a handful of teen actors (and the wife of the director) to star in a debaucherous party film? Great! Spring Breakers? Not so great. Biggest box office for a Harmony Korine film, though.
Best Voice Acting
For questionable reasons that would take hours to debate, most animated films use “recognizable” actors to do voice work where they largely attempt to disguise their voice. This is akin to the 1930s live-action Alice in Wonderland that featured many of the biggest stars of the day in costumes where they couldn’t be identified. Genius! In any event, much has been made of Walt Disney providing the voice “in absentia” for Mickey Mouse in Get a Horse! But the most notable part is that the great Will Ryan provides the voice for the antagonist, Peg-Leg Pete. Not some C-level celebrity, thankfully. Will “Willio” Ryan!
A tough call. Granted, I didn’t see many sequels. Caught A Good Day to Die Hard on a cross country flight. That might be the one.
The same for Oz the Great and Powerful. Sam Raimi, what the heck?
Before Midnight. Though I still haven’t seen it since I’d like to watch all three together. Some things you just know in advance.
Most Unnecessary Remake
Take your pick. Evil Dead, perhaps? Man of Steel? The latter, at least, seemingly deserves some speculative ensemble award for a reliable cast working their way through a horrible screenplay.
Don’t Write Anything if You Have Little Nice to Write
I adore Alexander Payne. One of the most film-literate directors working today. Quite fond of his regular writing partner, Jim Taylor, too (and Jim’s wife, Tamara Jenkins). But Nebraska… I look forward to their next film (together, ideally.)
Many, many great ones. It continues to be a remarkable time for documentaries.
No question about it. The Act of Killing. An extraordinary work of filmmaking.
Best Use of Pre-Existing Material:
Our Nixon. A lovely composition of images from amateur footage. Suitcase of Love and Shame a close second (comprised largely of pre-existing audio recordings). Primarily sticking to feature-length non-fiction but for short-form fiction, Michael Robinson’s The Dark Krystle is ever-so-worthy.
Best Personal Documentary:
Three-way tie! Elena and Stories We Tell and First Cousin Once Removed. Great autobiographical or semi-autobiographical films, beautifully made and wonderfully constructed.
Best Personal Documentarian:
Mark Cousins. Caught Here Be Dragons at Telluride and A Story of Children and Film at Cannes and finally got around to watching The Story of Film on TCM (arguably the best coordinated series they’ve ever presented).
Best Editing / Best Integration of Scientific Material:
Particle Fever. No contest. Edited by the remarkable Walter Murch. Releasing theatrically in 2014.
Best Sound Design:
Leviathan. Arguably the second-best experience in a cinema all year (next to the Nathaniel Dorsky screenings at NWFF in Seattle and—with Jerome Hiler—a pair of programs at Views).
Best Profile of an Historical or Contemporary Figure (or Figures):
Tie! Wavemakers and Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.
Most looking forward to seeing: Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater.
For forty years, the best event in the world remains the Telluride Film Festival. Everything else pales in comparison. Views from the Avant-Garde (at the New York Film Festival) and Wavelengths (at the Toronto International Film Festival) were exceptional this year. IFFRotterdam still remains one of my favourite cinema-related expeditions of the year. The Ann Arbor Film Festival is always delightful, of course. Cannes, the Berlinale and Sundance are still a chore. I had the pleasure of attending the Festival du nouveau cinéma and Hot Docs for the first time this year and both were wonderful. I hear that True/False is remarkable (pesky patella; see above). And Sarasota. Maybe in 2014…
Too many to count. The Pickford in Bellingham, NWFF and the Grand Illusion in Seattle, the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, the Castro Theatre, the Roxie and the Cinema Arts Program at the Exploratorium (and, soon-but-not-quite-soon-enough, the Alamo Drafthouse) in San Francisco, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, the Black Hole Cinematheque in Oakland, Cinefamily/Silent Movie Theatre and REDCAT in Los Angeles. And that is just the west coast of the continental United States. Still the best way to see a film. Obviously.
Direct deals. In addition to our earlier relationships with Bruce Baillie, Mark Rappaport, Lori Felker, Todd Rohal, Janie Geiser, Lewis Klahr, Lawrence Jordan and many more, we’ve added a number of other wonderful filmmakers in the past year: Albert Maysles, Penny Lane, Bryan Poyser, Jay and Mark Duplass (adding to our assorted brothers Zellner and Safdie), Lynne Sachs, Daniel Stuyck and (coming soon) Jodie Mack. A great year all around! More where that came from.
Is there some perversity that allows Ernest Dickerson to get a 120x audience for the half-season finale of the horribly scripted The Walking Dead over Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy the same weekend? Don’t get me started on the “film is better than television” nonsense. They’re different. Accept that they’re different.
Happiest of years-that-are-nearly-new to our friends in a similar space [principally MUBI, SnagFilms, IndieFlix and others] all fighting the good fight.
For the complete list of year-end lists on Keyframe, go to The Year in Film: 2013.
For the complete index of the films on these lists, go to 2013 Year in Review: Indexed.