This list will comprise my top 10 favourite films of the year and though I was fortunate enough to see many films, I missed several key ones including Short Term 12, Prisoners, and Captain Phillips.
1. Before Midnight
The third part of the “Before” trilogy, which also comprises Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, is another excellent film from this Linklater, Delpy and Hawke collaboration that feels new yet still contains the magic that was found in the preceding films. It is a beautiful exploration of romantic relationships for those entering their middle ages with a script that feels as natural and free flowing as the ones found in the first two. Where Before Sunrise was unabashedly romantic and magical and where Before Sunset was a balance of pain and magical romance, this one feels much more melancholic; however, it always remains hopeful. Before Midnight joins its predecessors as one of the best films about love and romance and does so in a sometimes painful but ultimately beautiful drama.
2. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her
Technically I am cheating here, as this film has only been shown at film festivals and has not been officially released yet. However, I had the chance to catch this film at TIFF and found it to be a great exploration of relationships and love, with a very different approach compared to the “Before” trilogy. Directed by Ned Benson, the film follows two different perspectives of a heterosexual relationship between two characters played by Jessica Chastain and James Mcavoy. It is a beautiful mediation on perspective and the power of memory. Not only is it well acted but it’s enjoyable, funny and sad. The supporting cast is great featuring Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Bill Hader and Viola Davis. When you have a chance, give this film a shot when it is released in 2014. It has become one of my favorite romantic films and hopefully will become yours as well.
3. Inside Llewyn Davis
Is anyone really surprised the Coen Brothers have made another great film? Inside Llewyn Davis is yet another high note scored from the esteemed directing duo. A great fictionalized look at the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s, which manages to avoid overly adoring nostalgia for a harsher, more morose side of the historic moment. With great performances across the board from a true all-star cast as well as those great quirky Coen Brothers’ moments, the film is a bittersweet joy to watch.
4. 12 Years a Slave
A harrowing tale from one of the most brutal eras of American history, this film by Steve McQueen, is without a doubt one of the best films of the year. A film that is unflinching in its portrayal of what slavery was and so well crafted in doing so. No other films this year made audience members flinch as much as this one did and it does so purposefully. In a year where racial tensions are still in turmoil, the film was an important reminder of the base and brutal side of humanity. The entire formal exercise made by McQueen only served to enhance the clarity of the vision and thus made for an extremely effective film. While Shame is still my favorite McQueen film, 12 Years a Slave continues in the trend of excellence that the director has established.
5. Man of Steel
The best blockbuster of 2013 and yet another good film by director Zack Snyder, this film managed to reinvigorate Superman. It respected some of the canonical qualities of the hero such as the selfless spirit, the combination of the Jesus/Moses origin story and the Herculean strength all while giving us a new interpretation of the character that fit oh so well in a post-modern age. A blockbuster that deserved the description of “epic” whole heartedly yet was so reviled because it delivered on what it promised to do. The film has become one of my favorite superhero films along with another Snyder film Watchmen. It solidified Snyder’s place as one of the most adept directors of graphic novel and comic book films, demonstrating that he understands the text and subtext of these works of art.
6. The Grandmaster
The new film from the great Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar Wai is one of the best martial art films from recent years. It goes without saying that the visual style of the film is intoxicating and gorgeous. The film is a fictionalized account of Ip Man, who is today most famous for being Bruce Lee’s martial arts master. The two leads of the film are played by Tony Leug and Ziyi-Zhang who have never been better. The film is a poetic romance and drama film, like most Wong Kar-Wai films, with martial arts as a backdrop. And the action, though not as prevalent as in the film, Ip Man films, is remarkable; containing less wirework but still retaining beautiful choreography.
The new film from Spike Jonze, the director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, is a beautiful romantic drama that addresses problems of love in the modern age with a profound touch. My fellow CINSSU blogger Lola wrote up a review that you can find here. Her is a delightfully romantic film that manages to create one of the most profound romantic relationships on film this year. As usual, Jonze manages to make the weird or absurd believable. The unique romance and the way the film deals with the pressures of it make this one of the most enjoyable films of the year.
The North American debut of one of the most exciting Korean directors, Park Chan Wook, Stoker was one of the weirdest but most interesting films of the year. One would expect a singular film from the visionary behind the 2004 film Oldboy but Stoker exceeded my expectations and was such a treat to watch that it became one of my favorites. The film alludes to classic gothic vampire stories as well as Hitchcock films, specifically one of my favorites, Shadow of a Doubt. It is a creepy story that is violent at times but that manages to capture everything one would love of the director. All too often, Asian auteurs falter to get their voice and message across in the North American film industry but Stoker showed that this is not always the case.
9. Spring Breakers
This film, directed by Harmony Korine, was one of the most absurd and hilarious movie theatre experiences of the year. A film that looked surprisingly good, had great cinematography and managed to ridicule so much without feeling heavy handed. I am as surprised as anyone that I enjoyed this film so much as I have not been the director’s biggest supporter. Perhaps his most “mainstream” film or, on the flipside, his only good film, director Harmony Korine succeeded in this project.
10. Blue Jasmine
Woody Allen will always be one of my favorite directors, but even I have to admit that Blue Jasmine was a welcome change from his past films. A character study of a deeply deranged and psychologically troubled, flawed character is essentially what the film is. Cate Blanchett, who is always great, gives a performance which makes the film as good as it is. The film manages to be funny but the dramatic elements are so strong that they feel like the more vital parts of the film. It is great to see Woody Allen make another great movie so soon after Midnight in Paris.