As we get ready to welcome the sense of wonder and excitement that a new year of cinema brings, I wanted to reflect on the films of 2013 that left the biggest mark on me. As with any film list, narrowing down the choices was tough. This is especially true in a year that featured so many wonderful films. All of the films in the shortlist section could have easily made my top ten. Keeping that in mind, here are my favourite films of 2013:
10. Under the Skin
This film divided audiences at TIFF and will most likely do the same when it gets released in theatres. Wonderful and perplexing all at the same time, this film has kept me under its hypnotic spell. I would not be surprised to see Under the Skin, as well as another science fiction film on this list, becomes a cult classic.
9. The Broken Circle Breakdown
The simple tale about a couple dealing with the death of a child grabbed me more than I expected it would. It is not a flashy film, but effective nonetheless. The more I think about this film, the more it becomes apparent that it celebrates life and love just as much as it explores pain and loss.
It seems every few years we get a film that manages to offer both grand spectacle and an enthralling cinematic experience. Gravity offered all of that in a tension filled 91 minutes.
7. Before Midnight
While I have enjoyed the previous films in the Before series, this is the first one that I truly identified with. The youthful romantic fantasy has been replaced with an honest examination of love, aging and an appreciation of the here and now. It is simply the film that speaks to my current state in life.
Mud is a wonderful exploration of the male psyche in regards to relationships and love. Jeff Nichols delivered another sensational film filled with exceptional performances and assured execution. The film is further proof that the Matthew McCounaughey renaissance is one of the most exciting things to follow right now.
5. Stories We Tell
It was a fantastic year for documentaries and Sarah Polley’s look at narrative and family was amongst the best of them. Polley analyzes how we share stories, and who has the right to them, in a unique and thrilling way. It is a film that offers new things to discover with each viewing. Though the film technically opened in Canada last fall, its inclusion on this list is due to the fact that I only caught up with it theatrically this past January as part of TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten series.
4. The Act of Killing
Rarely has the medium of film been used in such a captivating way to expose not only the corruption of a region, but the pure evil that exists within some men. The film serves both as our window into the heart of darkness and as an enabler for those who revel in the despicable deeds they have committed. Equally mesmerizing and disturbing, Joshua Oppenheimer pushes the boundaries of documentary filmmaking in an unbelievable way.
3. Upstream Color
For the better part of the year this held the number one spot for me. Shane Carruth’s film is not an easy one to decipher, but attempting to unlock all of its mysteries is what makes the experience so enjoyable. I have seen the film three times and will no doubt be visiting it over and over again.
The perfect blend of humour and melancholy, Spike Jonze’s latest film is both an engaging romance and a unique commentary on our obsession with technology. The film looks at human connection, or lack thereof, in a way that makes it seem extremely plausible for mankind to fall in love with things like operating systems. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, her voice at least, prove to be one of the onscreen couples for the ages.
1. 12 Years a Slave
There have been only a couple of films in the last few years that hit me as hard as 12 Years a Slave. It was an emotionally draining experience and I mean that in the best possible way. Filled with stunning performances and a haunting atmosphere, Steve McQueen captures both the social dynamics and the overall slave experience in a truly devastating manner. Steeped in misery, it is not a film that one easily forgets.
The Shortlist: Inside Llewyn Davis, Captain Phillips, The Battery, 12 O’Clock Boys, The Wolf of Wall Street, Blancanieves, Frances Ha, The Dirties, Side Effects The Amazing Catfish, R100, Much Ado About Nothing, Mystery Road, Prisoners, Fast & Furious 6, Valentine Road, Bombay Talkies, Nebraska