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Annual Top Films Lists

Best of 2013: Jordan M. Smith’s Top 20 Films (Picks 10 to 6)

15. American Hustle – David O. Russell
14. The Wolf of Wall Street – Martin Scorsese
13. Blue Is the Warmest Color – Abdellatif Kechiche
12. Gravity – Alfonso Cuarón
11. Spring Breakers – Harmony Korine

Blood Brother poster

10. Blood Brother – Steve Hoover

I must admit that I was never completely won over by Steve Hoover’s music video work, but that was more the fault of his chosen musical collaborators than his keen eye for the alive and his feeling for rhythmically propulsive pacing. With his debut feature doc he expands on these talents, crafting a bracingly vivacious work of soul searching and self sacrifice that sees the American dream traded by his best friend Rocky Braat for the cyclic misery of caring for Indian women and children doomed to die at the cruel hands of HIV/AIDS. Despite their destiny, the children are given love and hope, and in return, Braat and Hoover find within themselves a wealth of passion that bursts from the screen with overwhelmingly affective verve. [October 18th NYC Release – Tugg]

Stories We Tell poster9. Stories We Tell – Sarah Polley

I had so many blown opportunities to see this before its slow American roll-out, which amazingly made it to all the way to Buffalo (in spite of its release just across the border many months before). But, I must say, the unintentional wait was worth it. The question – is the man that raised Sarah Polley her actual biologic father, or did her once vivacious, now deceased mother take a dark secret to the grave? Polley’s ultra personal investigation of her mother’s undisclosed transgressions are delicately wrapped in the faceted context of her brothers, sisters, adoring (maybe real) father, and other possible (maybe real) fathers’ perspectives. Creative genius is found in Polley’s fearless, emotionally treacherous need to interrogate her family. For in doing, she finds a philosophical examination of how we ourselves build and remember stories, and how they might change ever so slightly (or monumentally) with the input of another’s perspective. Funny. Gut-wrenching. Intellectually complex. Across the board brilliant. [May 10th – Roadside Attractions]

Museum Hours poster8. Museum Hours – Jem Cohen

A last minute addition, Cohen’s latest feature is a minimalist city symphony in the form of a loosely stitched narrative of life’s many disparately distinct strokes. In Vienna, within the walls of the prestigious Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, as well as out in the overlooked streets and bars of the Austrian capital, newly acquainted friends from distant lands find themselves sharing life’s reminiscence over art and beer. Often framing conversation around art and our relationships with it, Cohen employs the gallery’s wealth of masterpieces to delve into existential inquiry, often broaching the topic of aging and ever changing generational perspectives. Cohen seems to be suggesting that, despite his love of the erudite museum experience, anything can become a work of art if put into the proper context and seen through the eyes of those most moved. Not everything needs a pedestal to become a thing of beauty, least of all our personal experience. Penetrating in its sobering subtleties and graciously warm sensibilities, Museum Hours just needs a big screen to impart its greatness. [June 28th – The Cinema Guild]

Her poster7. Her – Spike Jonze

Jonze has always had a big, brainy head on his shoulders, but with Her, he displays a big, mushy heart to match. His near future, post marriage, tech-everything love story is the stuff of greeting card fantasy – literally (Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a full time author of personalized love letters). Sappy, silly, passionately intimate and still witty in all the right places, Jonze’s film wholly embraces Theodore’s profession as a sort of tonal thesis statement. Phoenix’s sad puppy surrogate writer metamorphoses into a man madly in love with his newly purchased operating system, self named Samantha, amazingly voiced by the bubbly/sulky toned Scarlett Johansson. In her, he finds a new lease on life, together taking it all in anew à la the growing boys in The Tree of Life, with just as much feeling for wonder. Bursting at the seams with heartfelt emotion and heady ideas about the future ahead, Her is sure to explode upon its wide release in early 2014. [December 18th NYC & LA Limited Release – Warner Bros.]

Short Term 12 poster6. Short Term 12 – Destin Cretton

Some how, Cretton’s brilliantly composed debut feature, I Am Not A Hipster went largely unnoticed to the greater public (It’s now on Netflix!), but his follow-up, an expansion upon his Sundance preemed, prize winning short of the same title, is a much more personal, emotionally devastating work that seems to have left an impression. Like Cretton himself, some of my closest companions have worked in group homes for children, an environment developed to manage troubled youth – domestically abused, runaways, emotionally neglected, you name it – by employing young adults as surrogate parents and teachers to administer pills and keep the peace, all within the cozy confines of a sterile living complex. I’ve seen the emotional toll it takes on those willing to take on such a responsibility, say nothing of those of the poor children condemned to, as delivered so poignantly in the film, “live life not knowing what a normal life’s like.” Months later and that line alone still gives me chills. A remarkable depiction of modern young adulthood in the throes of romance, still reconciling the damages endured in childhood, Short Term 12 is brazenly alive and, for me, intensely personal. [August 23rd – Cinedigm]

Continue here to read Jordan’s top five films of 2013.


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