It is that time of year again. The time when we evaluate the year in movies. What a year it has been. A bit disappointing in my opinion. Not as bad as 2008 and 2009 but not quite as good as 2010 or even 2011. Thinking back on it, last year wasn't so bad either.
Not too many movies stuck out in my head this year. I have seen nearly all the movies I wanted to see and I have very little catch up to play. In total I gave 12 movies four stars, 10 of them are on this list.
It was the first time in two years death did not affect my family. Something which clearly influenced my past choices on these lists when I named Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" (2011) as the best film of the year and "The Impossible" (2012) last year.
But as is usually the case there were sad goodbyes in Hollywood. Only a few weeks ago we lost Joan Fontaine and Peter O' Toole. This was the year film criticism died when Roger Ebert, former film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, passed away. With him goes a generation of film critics who gained respectability and the trust of readers. With Ebert an era has ended. Gone are Gene Siskel and Andrew Sarris. Luckily Rex Reed and Michael Wilmington are still with us but, nowadays who reads what the critics have to say? It used to be an art to write an insightful film review now, papers are hiring people who don't know the first thing about the history of cinema. Young kids, who may love to write, but just don't know enough about movies. Or papers play "musical chairs" and put the book critic as their head movie critic or their theatre critic becomes the new movie critic. Maybe people who know how to write but again, don't know movies. And because of that, the trust is gone.
I usually like to strike a common theme among my list of the ten best films. I'm unsure this year. Five of my choices are based on real-life events. Is this the year we turned to the movies for reality? Some of my choices deal with family and connecting to people. Other choices are about the economy and inequality. A look at the rich and powerful and the gap between them and the working-class.
There was no single theme which touched me more than any other. These movies show society at their worst. They show a world where terrible things happen, but, sometimes we find the courage to fight back. Maybe that's the common theme this year. Perseverance.
Here are my choices for the best films of 2013!
1. BLANCANIEVES (Dir. Pablo Berger / Spain) - The second silent movie to come our way in two years! True, the Best Picture Oscar winner, "The Artist" (2011), may have stolen some of this film's thunder, but, this was the most visually impressive, endlessly creative heart breaker I saw all year. A re-telling of "Snow White" told in 1920s Seville dealing with a family of bullfighters.
Director Berger is not just dazzling us with visuals but gives us an emotionally well-told story about a young woman searching for a life she has never knew. A life with her father. We are all bound by a desire to be loved and connect with people.
This movie does many things but it never forgets to be about people. There will be those that will be put off by the movie because it is silent. This is not a gimmick picture. It is a straight forward story that is simply told without sound. Read my original review.
2. INEQUALITY FOR ALL (Dir. Jacob Kornbluth / U.S.) - Here is a documentary which exposes what we have all already known. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, Robert Reich explains to us economic inequality in this country and how the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" has been growing at a steady rate since 1978. In an age of "Occupy Wall Street" and a presidential election in which one candidate said 47% of the population are dependent of government, we cannot forget this injustice which is going on. A real eye opener. Don't miss it. Read my original review.
3. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Dir. Martin Scorsese / U.S.) - With "Inequality For All" on my list here is another look at income inequality told to us by a filmmaker known for dealing with criminals, Martin Scorsese. Based on real-life events, the movie looks at the life of stock broker Jordan Belfort, a man who conned working-class people into buying worthless trading stocks and made a fortune in the process.
It is basically "GoodFellas" (1990) meets Wall Street as Scorsese shows us these people on Wall Street are no different than criminals. A visually bold work from a man who proves he still knows how to rattle us. Leonardo DiCaprio gives an outstanding performance as a man who cons himself. Read my original review.
4. WALESA: MAN OF HOPE (Dir. Andrzej Wajda / Poland) - Another movie based on real events, this film looks at Poland's Solidarity movement in the 1970s as it was lead by Lech Walesa (played by Robert Wieckiewicz). It was directed by the greatest Polish filmmaker, Andrzej Wajda, I have reviewed several of his films. This is a movie he was born to direct. No other filmmaker has done more to put Poland's history on screen. Wajda put Poland on the cinematic map. This film serves as a nice companion piece to his other works such as "Man of Marble" (1977) and "Man of Iron" (1981), both of which I have reviewed.
I saw this movie at this year's Chicago International Film Festival, where it became my favorite at the festival. A truly inspiring work of art by a great filmmaker. Read my original review.
5. BLUE JASMINE (Dir. Woody Allen / U.S.) - Cate Blanchett gives a tour-de-force performance in Woody Allen's celebrated cautionary tale about a rich socialite whose world comes crumbling down on her. Allen's film explores many themes including the influence the rich and powerful have on us and our desire to emulate them. It is also a story which warns us, everything will end badly, a theme which has found its way in several of Allen's films.
With "Inequality For All" and Scorsese's "The Wolf Of Wall Street" here is another movie which shows us the world of the wealthy and how out of touch they are with the rest of us.
6. HER (Dir. Spike Jonze / U.S.) -The love story of our times. A look at modern society's relationship with technology and with the world around us. A man falls in love with a voice on an operating system. But, it is not creepy. In this world of GPS, texting, emails, on-line dating and streaming movies, we have lost the ability to connect face to face with people. The movie ask us how do we define 'relationships" in this day and age. And shows us how technology is over taking our lives. Nothing beats human interaction. Read my original review.
7. THE HUNT (Dir. Thomas Vinterberg / Denmark) - This Cannes Film Festival winner from Denmark shows society at its worst. A teacher is accused of molesting one of his five year old female students. He didn't but no one believes him. The child lied as a way of revenge. The town turns against him showing us a place where people are quick to judge before knowing all the facts. We live in a world full of gossip, hate and lies. This is an emotionally stirring movie that really gets under your skin. Read my original review.
8. THE BLING RING (Dir. Sofia Coppola / U.S.) - In my opinion Sofia Coppola's best film. A damning look at our culture and our obsession with the rich and our desire to want to be like them. We live in world where "celebrity gossip" is a big business enterprise. But why? Who cares? The movie is based on real events as told in a Vanity Fair article. A sad look at what people think they have to do in order to lead a better life. Read my original review.
9. THE CONJURING (Dir. James Wan / U.S.) - The best horror movie I have seen all year. A throwback to classics like "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) and "The Exorcist (1973). Based on real events, the film takes place in the 1970s and a family that moves into a house which is possessed. Not all blood and guts, the way some horror films are these days but one with truly effective chills.
10. LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (Dir. Abbas Kiarostami / Japan) - The great Iranian filmmaker, Kiarostami has moved away from his homeland and has been met with some of his greatest critical acclaim. Following up on the success of "Certified Copy" (2011), which also made my top ten list, here is another movie about relationships and identity. Like "Her" a movie which ask us to question "relationships" but not at the same level. Kiarostami seems to have gained some vigor leaving his homeland. I greatly look forward to what this great visual artist has in store for us next.