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My Top 10 Films of 2013

Top 10 Films of 2013

It has been a while since I updated this blog, as I’ve focused on other writing that has taken me away from adding reviews here, but I couldn’t not come back for my favorite films of 2013 on the eve of the Oscars, when we put a period at the end of the long run-on sentence that was the year in movies.

I’ve seen 73 films released theatrically in 2013. I eventually may see more, but for now I think these were the best among them.

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2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

the butler oprah winfrey forest whitakerDir. Lee Daniels
(2013, PG-13, 132 minutes)

The Butler is rough around the edges with notable flaws, but it’s also refreshing in one important way: It’s a story of racial inequality in America that takes the point of view of a black family. There’s a tendency in major motion pictures to tell stories about ethnic minorities or Eastern cultures through the point of view of white tourists (The Impossible) or white saviors (The Blind Side, The Help). Even science-fiction isn’t safe: in the 22nd century-set Elysium, a group of poor Hispanics need Matt Damon in a big metal body suit to rescue them.

Some of those films are better than others, and assuming a white point of view doesn’t by itself make a film good or bad, but taken together they establish a frustrating trend: do studios think a wide audience needs white protagonists to make such stories palatable? If so, why?

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fill the voidDir. Rama Burshtein
(2013, PG, 90 minutes)

Fill the Void is about a way of life I am not very familiar with: the Hasidic community in Israel. But writer-director Rama Burshtein, who began her life secular and became Hasidic as an adult, approaches the subject with sensitivity and specificity of character; she does not aim to instruct us about the tenets of faith, or criticize its practice, but rather considers her characters as individuals who must make decisions based on their consciences and beliefs. Through them, I felt I understood a little more about the history and traditions that inform their lives.

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you will be my son gilles legrandDir. Gilles Legrand
(2013, R, 102 minutes)

Director Gilles Legrand‘s riveting You Will Be My Son begins as a simple family drama but gradually transforms into something Shakespearean. It’s the story of a French vineyard, where an aging winemaker, Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup), must plan for the future of his estate. His brother, François (Patrick Chesnais), is dying of cancer, and his well-meaning son, Martin (Lorànt Deutsch), is not up to his exacting standards. The very first shot of the film is of a coffin. The remainder of the film shows us, with gradually building tension, how we get there.

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blue jasmine

Dir. Woody Allen
(2013, PG-13, 98 minutes)

When Blue Jasmine starts, it seems like a comedy about class: the title character (Cate Blanchett), a former New York socialite, loses everything and is forced to move in with her working class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in San Francisco. Their strained relationship at first is like a clash between the haves (superior, condescending) and have-nots (suspicious, resentful) in miniature.

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stoker kidman wasikowska goodeDir. Park Chan-wook
(2013, R, 98 minutes)

Stoker opens with a setup very much like Alfred Hitchcock‘s Shadow of a Doubt, one of my favorite of his films, in which a teenage girl is suspicious after a mysterious uncle moves in. In this film, Mia Wasikowska plays the teen, India Stoker, and the uncle, Charlie, is played by Matthew Goode, an actor whose large, striking blue eyes have proven effective in roles both dashing (Match Point) and sinister (The Lookout).

India’s father has just died in a car accident. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) seems more concerned with the social obligations of mourning than with mourning itself. Charlie arrives, and India isn’t sure why; she’s never even heard of him.

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elysiumDir. Neill Blomkamp
(2013, R, 109 minutes)

This doesn’t feel like a film from the director of District 9. It feels like a studio-bred facsimile, which takes the superficial formula of that film – futuristic sci-fi as an allegory for contemporary inequality – increases the body count, amps up the explosions, and leeches the humanity from it. But it is written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, whom I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt, but I can only judge what I see.

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Mads Mikkelsen Thomas Bo Larsen The HuntDir. Thomas Vinterberg
(2013, R, 115 minutes)

When it comes to the well-being of children, the protective instinct of human beings brings out the best and worst in us, sometimes simultaneously. Perhaps there is an evolutionary basis behind the way intelligent creatures become thoughtless pack animals in defense of our youth; we stop thinking and go on the attack.

But what makes The Hunt so powerful is showing how a misunderstanding about a child can lead to a cruel witch hunt without anyone necessarily being to blame. Young kindergarten student Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) hears some naughty words from her brother and sees naughty pictures on his iPad, and then at a moment of frustration with her teacher, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), she uses some of those words to describe him, without really understanding their meaning or consequences. Afterward the grownups seem afraid and angry and start yelling, and she can see that Lucas is in big trouble when he doesn’t deserve to be.

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20 Feet from StardomDir. Morgan Neville
(2013, PG-13, 91 minutes)

Watching 20 Feet from Stardom will make you wonder if the music industry is broken. The women profiled here could sing circles around most artists on the Billboard charts.

That’s the biggest takeaway from this very appealing music documentary by director Morgan Neville, which chronicles the lives and careers of background singers who have performed some of the best remembered vocals on tracks by the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, and many more: It’s possible to become a headlining star with limited ability if you have a big enough ego, but it’s not possible to be a successful backup singer without talent, because it’s all about the voice, plain and simple.

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