(Originally appeared on my Facebook page)
There were so many great movies in 2013 that any movie on my top 10 here could have topped my list for some weaker film years in the past had they been released at that time. I have to say though that while the major studios may have churned out more quality movies in 2013 than in any recent year, I don’t think many of them would be considered as future cinema classics (2012 was a particularly strong year as well, and I could think of at least three movies from that year that I would put in a movie time capsule). I might add some more films to this list, simply because there are still so many notable 2013 movies that I’ve yet to see, like Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” and other films from Asia, and some festival favorites like “Sacro GRA” which won in Venice, and “Omar” from Palestine. But as of today, here are my faves:
1. The Act of Killing (Director’s Cut) (Joshua Oppenheimer, et al)
OMG. WTF. Indonesia, I hardly knew ya.
(Also, I’m glad it’s justifiable that I can put it this high on this list, to annoy those who feel that the filmmaker crossed the boundaries of ethics in documentary filmmaking. Ethics? The subjects of this extraordinary film and the authorities who empowered them implicated in the movie are unrepentant butchers. They deserve all the shaming in the world. If we cannot haul their asses off to The Hague, at least we know this film will live forever.)
Further viewing: The similarly chilling and surreal 2003 documentary “S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine,” which basically does the same thing but to the Cambodian genocide of the ‘70s.
2. Big Bad Wolves (Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado) - From Israel. One of the most brutal films of the year is also 2013’s finest allegory and satire. If you did not get it, you either were not paying enough attention, or did not make it till the end, which would be a shame.
3. Blue Is The Warmest Colour (La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2) (Abdellatif Kechiche) - A lot has been said about the extended love scenes between the protagonists, which if shortened, the film I believe would still retain its message and impact. Ok so perhaps the scenes put people on those seats. Fair enough. Great performances overall, especially by Adèle Exarchopoulos.
4. Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn) - It’s beautiful, it’s brutal, it’s arty, it’s trashy, it’s cerebral, it’s hollow. Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to 2011’s “Drive” (now regarded as a modern noir classic) divided opinions, and it’s truly all that. Kristin Scott Thomas’ delicious turn as a mob matriarch / mother from hell deserves recognition, but sadly no recognition came.
5. Rush (Ron Howard) - There are very few Ron Howard movies that I like, too bad this one didn’t make as much money as the usual drivel he comes out with. This movie belongs to Daniel Bruhl, who brings a lot of honesty and humanity to his character more than Thor can to his.
6. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach) - And I thought nobody makes sparkling New York dramedies anymore after Woody Allen made his in the late 70s and early 80s. This movie is just a delight from start to finish, and I’d like to see more movies starring Greta Gerwig.
7. Her (Spike Jonze) - A future classic right here. Watch it.
8. Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron) - What is there left to say, except that I thought it was too short.
9. This Is The End (Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) - The comedy of the year, especially for stoner guys :D. Like The Wolf of Wall Street, this movie doesn’t give a shit what you might think about it.
10. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese) - The most Scorsese-esque Scorsese movie since Goodfellas. It’s refreshing to see Scorsese return to form and not try to win Oscars (Hugo???!? Scorsese did that??!?). And Leo’s best performance since “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”
11. The Grandmaster (Original Cut) (Wong Kar—Wai) - Many people, including critics, were disappointed, perhaps because they were expecting the usual big-budgeted Chinese martial arts extravaganza—or because the version that they saw was the shorter Harvey Weinstein cut. However, this is a Wong Kar-Wai movie through and through, with keenly observed moments that are both intimate and ravishing. Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Zhang Ziyi being together again in a movie is enough for many fans.
12. Wadjda (Haifaa al-Mansour) - I’m amazed that this movie was shot entirely in Saudi Arabia (a first), made by a Saudi female director (!), and officially submitted by the country as its entry for the Oscars (also a first). The fact that it’s actually an excellent, keenly observed movie about girls/women in the country is just icing on the cake. While the filmmaker might have intended it to be a glimpse into (and subtle rebuke of) everyday challenges of being women in Saudi Arabia, the government might have thought that it’s a movie about how females should toe the line; kinda like how Zhang Yimou would make these excellent Chinese epics about how the individual tragically succumbs to authority (the hero almost always dies in the end, watch them all again), while at the same time being funded by the government thinking that it’s a movie about how authority and groupthink should always triumph over individuals. Genius. If I didn’t know any better, I would even think Saudi Arabia is changing as a society. Well, of course not.
13. Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro) - It’s the live action Japanese robot movie we’ve been dreaming about since the ‘70s.
14. Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor) - A candidate for best superhero movie ever made. Marvel does Star Wars.
15. Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski) / Ender’s Game (Gavin Hood) / Elysium (Neill Blomkamp) - Am I the only one who thoroughly enjoyed this trifecta of sci-fi films that did not get enough love even from sci-fi nerds? Were people too busy playing video games?
16. The Search For Weng-Weng (Andrew Leavold) - Not only is it an in-depth look at the life of Filipino diminutive actor Weng-Weng — who through the years has become this pop cult figure — it is a love letter to Filipino low-budget genre filmmaking that is ripe for re-evaluation. Anybody who had ever sat through double features at a bug-infested Philippine movie theater in the 70s and 80s would get misty-eyed.
17. The Square (Updated Version) (Jehane Noujaim) - As Egypt continues to unravel, watching The Square feels like reading a year-old news article on the country: sad, hopeful, and you feel sad that the subjects were hopeful because you now know that the despair was just going to get worse. Viewers should not expect the documentary to be exhaustive as it mainly focuses on events in the capital city Cairo. The Square nonetheless is a great snapshot of the insanity, complexity, confusion, the passion, the defiance, the heartbreak, and numerous other elements that surround the protests in Egypt since 2011, that one outside Egypt can’t really get from Western TV newscasts and wire reports and even YouTube phone videos.
18. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-Ho) - An excellent sci-fi film based on cult French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, it features great performances from Chris Evans, Song Kang-Ho, and especially Tilda Swinton; if only this movie actually got shown in the U.S. prior to awards season, the movie press would be all over her performance. Reportedly, the U.S. release is being held up by Harvey Weinstein (aka Harvey Scissorhands, who did the same to movies like Cinema Paradiso, etc.), who wants a shorter, possibly more commercial cut.
19. Los Amantes Pasajeros (I’m So Excited) (Pedro Almodovar) - The latest romp from Almodovar, a return to form after a string of critically-acclaimed dramas.
20. Inside Llewyn Davis (The Coen Brothers) - I could understand why not many people took to the Coen’s latest. It’s meandering, sort of just stays where it is. Which is faithful to the story it’s trying to tell. This is not a movie to be transported to another place, but for kicking back, like with a good old friend.
21. Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling) - Or how it feels to be struggling artists in New York, while also being senior citizens. Starring avant-garde Japanese-American artists Noriko and Ushio Shinohara.
22. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater) - The trio of Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy could never go wrong. Even if they don’t make another movie together or individually, their legacy is assured with the “Before” movies.
23. The Past (Asghar Farhadi) - Iranian filmmaker Farhadi’s follow-up to “A Separation” is a great ensemble piece led by Ali Mossaffa and Bérénice Bejo (“The Artist”)
24. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra) - A biopic of Indian runner and Olympian Milkha Singh, the movie is the best picture winner at Bollywood’s Filmfare Awards.
26. Nebraska (Alexander Payne) - Alexander Payne has never made a bad movie, they are all great including this latest, featuring the best ensemble performance of 2013.
26. American Hustle (David O. Russell) - Fun as cotton candy, and as substantial.
27. Kiss of the Damned (Xan Cassavetes) - A stylish vampire film that recalls not only early 80s Euro horror, but also 70s Italian horror (giallo) and even the heydays of Hammer horror with its use of location, cinematography, costume, make-up and music. And no Bella, Edward or Jacob in sight!
28. The Wolverine (James Mangold) - An underrated but excellent superhero movie set in Japan. This certainly is my favorite X-Men-related movie ever.
29. Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen) - “A Streetcar Named Desire” is one of my favorite movies ever, and this is a modern retelling of it. Hands down one of Woody Allen’s best late-period films, and Cate Blanchett’s best performance (with her take on “Blanche DuBois”) since “Elizabeth.” My short take on the latest eruption in the Woody Allen family saga: I don’t care about Woody Allen’s personal life, and whatever he did in the past however murky the details, it doesn’t take away the fact that Woody Allen was and still is a great filmmaker, and his films will live long after everyone concerned has all died.
30. Here Comes The Devil (Adrián García Bogliano) - A stylish but ultimately frustrating Spanish-language horror movie set in Baja, California. A throwback to 70’s-style psycho-horror/demon-possession films, enjoy it for what it is, just don’t look for a satisfying conclusion to a story that raises a lot of questions.
31. Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee)
32. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)
33. Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée)
34. 12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen) - While excellent, I’m getting sick of the hype. It’s an “Important Movie,” therefore “good for you”, therefore you should be ashamed if you did not like it :(. It just might win the Oscar.
35. The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola) - Only a Hollywood brat like Sofia Coppola could have made a movie this good about Hollywood brats. And Emma Watson is getting prettier with every movie.
36. Philomena (Stephen Frears)
37. Gloria (Sebastian Lelio) - From Chile. Because senior citizens also have sex lives and have all the right to party and be irresponsible. Great acting and soundtrack.
38. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Peter Jackson)
39. Planes (Klay Hall)
40. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine) - Former Disney girls go bad and dirrtty. Inspired by Britney.
41. Filth (Jon S. Baird)
42. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth) - Carruth’s follow-up to 2004’s “Primer”
43. Dirty Wars (Richard Rowley) - Are there other kinds? From the investigative-reporter-in-a-warzone subgenre of documentary filmmaking, this is the latest entry in the 9/11-related film canon, about unpublicized night raids in Afghanistan (and in other countries where there is no declared war) and how a certain country’s forces and its government cover up killings its soldiers make by mistake or for other reasons unknown. Appaling reality — and essential viewing — as always. (Note: So it just so happens that I’m writing this from Kabul. Fun.)
44. Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler) - How I wish though that the filmmakers were able to find more things uniquely film-worthy about the subject than the last moments of his life. A case of a powerful theme that even clumsy filmmaking can’t bring down.
45. 20 Feet From Stardom (Morgan Neville) - If you love music, if you love Motown and soul music and singing, then you should watch this film.
46. A Field In England (Ben Wheatley) - A low budgeted, black and white, costume film (still here?) that feels more like a play (thank you for staying with me), albeit a very unhinged one.
47. Child’s Pose (Calin Peter Netzer) - There are only two countries in the world that have been consistently churning out great movies these past two decades: Romania and Iran. This latest piece of Romanian new wave was the big winner at the 2013 Berlin Film Fest.
48. Trance (Danny Boyle)
The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino) - If I wanted Fellini, I’d have watched Fellini. If I wanted only gorgeous images, I’d have gone to Google Images, instead of a very long Italian movie. Pauline Kael would have complained loudly had she lived to go through this. Certainly topping the lists as we speak of critics who want everybody to know that they “appreciate Art.” Good camerawork though, I give it that.
Regret of the year: It was again one of the best years for Filipino filmmaking. I read. My soul is now cursed to pass through movie purgatory wherein I would be made to watch 9-hour Lav Diaz and Raya Martin movies on a loop as a consequence of not making time for their (rare) screenings.
Direction: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
Actor: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Actress: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) / Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue Is The Warmest Colour)
Supporting Actor: Daniel Bruhl (Rush)
Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer)
Ensemble peerformance: Nebraska / The Past
Original Screenplay: Her (Spike Jonze)
Adapted Screenplay: Before Midnight (Richard Linklater / Ethan Hawke / Julie Delpy)
Original Score: Maniac (Rob) / Gravity (Steven Price)
Production Design: Gravity
Visual Effects: Gravity
Costume: Behind The Candelabra / Computer Chess
Best Music Video: Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Sone”