So here it is, the final 10 films in my top 50 of 2013 and in this batch there are two from some of my favourite directors, a feature film debut that blew me away and a English language debut that had a similar impact. However the top spot is an unconventional choice to be sure but one I hope some people will agree with. Here are numbers 10 – 1.
10. The Broken Circle Breakdown – This Dutch film isn’t the whimsical film you might imagine, it’s a very dark family drama with a deeply religious core. The film follows the love story of Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and Elise (Veerle Baetens), two like minded souls who only differ on their belief in god. When their daughter gets cancer they both find their beliefs shifting as they seek to find answers to a situation without any. The heart and soul of The Broken Circle Breakdown is the films ability to make viewers understand the importance or at least the benefit of belief is. The film uses bluegrass and country music as a way of conveying emotion in a very real and unusual way as Didier and Elise perform as a way to get away from their problems and stay connected to each other. However this is a dark film, one with moments of joy and levity, but a dark twisted tale that picks you up and tosses you aside, leaving you with a hopefulness about the films outcome, an outcome that relies upon the belief the film gives you.
9.Zero Dark Thirty – Released in January this Kathryn Bigelow directed thriller is a film of constant tension, the kind that at times you want to rip your own skin off. Not only does Bigelow manage to control the action in a way that it heightens every little paranoid aspect of your mind but she also has carefully edited the film so that the film is low on answers and high on questions. The film constantly leaves you questioning what is happening around you, a byproduct of the intelligence community the film is trying to depict. Jessica Chastain gives one of her finest performances to date as Mia, a brutally honest CIA analyst whose mission to find Bin Laden consumes her until there is nothing but a husk left. The almost 3 hour film never loses itself, it’s constantly manipulating the viewer to his breaking point. A worthy follow up to The Hurt Locker.
8.Breathe In – This Drake Doremus directed family drama is a story of lives not lived and inadequacies that boil to the surface when a young woman integrates herself into another family. The film follows Keith (Guy Pearce) and Sophie (Felicity Jones) as they get wrapped up in an affair of intimacies when Sophie comes to stay with Keith and his supposedly happy family. The film gives a detailed portrait of regret in each of its forms from the youngs idea of experiences not taken to Keith’s middle age view that life isn’t over but if he doesn’t act soon it will be. Featuring a tour de force performance by Pearce and an excellent if brief supporting performance by Amy Ryan as Keith’s wife Megan, Breathe In is a dark story of the corrupting force of desire and how it can ruin a good thing. Keith and Sophie’s love affair may be fleeting and complicated but boy is it good to watch.
7.Parkland – This JFK drama tells the story of the events in and around Parkland Hospital on the day Kennedy was assassinated and the days that followed. Filled with a plethora of big name actors from Paul Giamatti to Zac Efron as one of the doctors who worked on the president the whole film is slightly overstuffed but it’s brimming with real sentiment, an idea that if the same thing happened today the same instinctive loss would be felt. Not only is Giamatti excellent as the man who filmed the shooting and helped the police and Secret Service find Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong). The side story regarding Oswald’s brother Robert (James Badge Dale) is particularly effective as he struggles to maintain his family loyalty and balance it with his patriotism. Dale is excellent and he grounds the films more out there storylines. Well edited and shot with an admirable sensitivity to the event despite some of the more unsavory moments such as the delusional ramblings of Harvey’s mother (Jacki Weaver), the film never forgets the driving force of this tale and neither do we.
6. Stoker – Chan-Wook Park’s first English language film is just as surreal, violent and depraved as his Vengeance trilogy but at its core this is a twisted love story, one of dark impulses, twisted visuals and a lead performance so good you might think Mia Wasikowska is actually a sociopath. The film follows India (Wasikowska) as she comes to terms with her father’s death. However when a mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives to live with her and her unstable mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) she begins to have strange feelings and urges she cannot control, ones that may consume her and her mother. Filmed in a very lavish style and working from a Black List script by Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller, Stoker is a stroke of genius, a tale of control when you don’t quite understand the difference between right and wrong. Kidman justifies India’s actions by being one of the worst movie mothers of all time, a self absorbed child in a womans body trying to put together the pieces that her husbands death threw apart. The whole film is constructed in a way that leaves you on edge, unsure of what to expect and what to understand, ultimately putting you in India’s shoes as she falls deeper into Charlie’s path and Goode makes an excellent manipulator. The film works so well because of its performances and Wasikowska has proved herself more than capable of carrying a film.
5. Gravity – Lauded as the best film of the year by many, Gravity is a marvel of both modern technology and close, intimate storytelling, an odd mix by any standard. Gravity tells the harrowing story of Dr Ryan Stone, a first time astronaut stuck in space during a deadly debris storm, one that destroys the shuttle that should get her and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) back to Earth. Visually breathtaking with almost every scene being entirely CGI except for a few brief moments, Gravity keeps things real with a story that keeps this tale of survival deeply personal. Stone is an empathetic character, a victim of not only her surrounding but her past as she is forced to go through the Zero G ringer in the name of survival. Clooney’s charismatic persona fits nicely with Kowalsky, a career astronaut whose love of space makes him the perfect companion, especially considering the situation they find themselves in. Director Alfonso Cuarón manages to draw upon many different themes in vastly different ways to add a richness to the picture from the idea of rebirth to the grip religion or faith can have on someone in a life and death situation. Bullock is perfect and guides the viewer’s thoughts and fears through the film in a way no other actress could and the finale is without a doubt perfect. Both the films best popcorn movie and one of the best emotional dramas to boot.
4. Cloud Atlas – There was a time last year when I thought this would be my Number 1, in fact it lasted until at least September. In fact when I heard the film was being made with the Wachowski siblings I just had to see it. I had read the book, a sprawling narrative set in different centuries and countries, telling vastly different stories, each about love and devotion to others and the idea that souls and lives can impact people across millennia. What I finally got was a breathtakingly beautiful film that used the book at a starting point as it toyed with the central premise and reconstructed the complex tale through themes instead of stories. From 18th century Hawaii to a post apocalyptic future where every person speaks a degenerated version of English, each section of the film adds to the grand narrative, the idea that everything matters, the good, the bad and everything in between. The films cast all play multiple roles to add to this idea of effects carrying over and actors like Tom Hanks, James D’Arcy and Ben Whishaw give terrific performances with a gay love affair between D’Arcy and Whishaw proving to be one of the films most powerful sequences. However the film relies quite heavily on the performance of Doona Bae in her first English language film and she delivers in a futuristic sequence that could only come from the minds of the Wachowski’s. The film is grand yet small, expensive yet cheap and most of all its absolutely outstanding.
3. Short Term 12 – The Top 3 all have something in common, they are all relatively cheap indie dramas that tell small but important stories about life and the effects we have on the people around us, be it a family member, a lover or a child. The first of the 3 is first time feature director Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12, a tale about a care worker who runs a short term care facility for children without homes or kids who are in transition. The film follows Grace (Brie Larson), the head of Short Term 12 as she discovers she is pregnant, something that begins to open up old wounds as she tries to help new arrival Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) as well as many of the other kids at the centre. Cretton’s tale is one of repetition but not in a bad way. He plays with the idea that abuse and abandonment breed more of the same in the generation that follows as Grace struggles to get past her own parents. Co starring John Gallagher Jr as her lover and fellow care worker Mason, a fellow abandoned yet found child, Short Term 12 is a film of understated yet devastating performances. Gallagher is terrific, especially during a scene about halfway through the film but he doesn’t hold a candle to Larson and Dever who each deliver some of the best work of the year with Larson being a dark horse choice for an Oscar nomination. Cretton conveys these dark and depressing family stories in new and realistic ways including the personalization of a rap song by Marcus (Keith Stanfield), a 17 year old whose life has been nothing but care homes, someone who is so afraid to leave because he doesn’t know anything else. The film doesn’t set out to make you bawl your eyes out but it may just be one of the side effects.
2. Before Midnight – It’s been 9 years since we last checked in on Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they strolled around Paris for an afternoon as Jesse waited for his plane back to his wife and child. Before Midnight follows Jesse and Celine on a holiday in Greece as they prepare to leave and return to their idea of the real world as their personal issues start coming to the surface in a way that could ruin their once perfectly romantic union. Before Midnight is the 3rd instalment in the series but it doesn’t mean director Richard Linklater has lost what made the first two so involving. In fact chapter 3 is his best yet, a tale that isn’t just two people in playful courtship, it mixes real problems and emotions into the mix as Celine struggles with her desires to find fulfillment in her job as Jesse worries that his distance from his son makes him a bad father. Their clashes make the experience richer, more developed as we really get to see why we liked Jesse and Celine in the first place, warts and all. Both Hawke and Delpy’s ability to improvise adds realism to the story but Linklater is the real star as he brings not only the Greek countryside into the tale but he also juggles the films many themes and issues like a master. After 18 years it would be understandable that people might be bored of watching two people walk around a city discussing their lives and how they came to be where they are now but with Linklater at the helm I have no problem watching another Before film in 2022.
1. What Maisie Knew – The best film of 2013 isn’t a big title, in fact it was barely released in cinemas over here in the UK. However that doesn’t mean it isn’t a marvel of a film with one of the best if not the best child performance in the last 5 years. What Maisie Knew is a modern day version of the novel of the same name by Henry James. The film tells the story of Maisie (Onata Aprile), a 6 year old child whose parents Beale (Steve Coogan) and Susanna (Julianne Moore) are separating and are using her against each other as the two new people in each of their lives are forced to stand by and watch it happen. Co-directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, this shocking tale of the destruction of a child’s sense of worth is a subtle story with many hidden layers with the direction perfectly hiding little hints at the films true meaning. The film relies heavily upon Aprile and she brings plenty to the table as she conveys emotion through her eyes in a unique way. However the film’s best aspect is how it messes with the idea of the conventional family, how it judges the worth of blood over devotion as it introduces two people more capable of taking care of her than her actual parents, be it Beale’s new wife Margo (Joanna Vanderham) or Susanna’s new squeeze Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), each bring different ideas of family to the table. Surprisingly however, What Maisie Knew doesn’t make judgements, it treats its subjects fairly even if the viewer doesn’t think they deserve it, giving audiences a fuller picture. The film however is also shrouded in obscurity as everything is displayed from Maisie’s point of view as she doesn’t quite understand what is going on around her. The film is an exercise in acquiring self knowledge and Aprile makes Maisie’s self discovery exhilarating in a different kind of way making What Maisie Knew in my opinion the best film of 2013.
So there you have it, the top 10 films of the year. What did you think of this list? Did you enjoy reading it? Let me know in the comments.