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Annual Top Films Lists

Best of 2013: Jordan M. Smith’s Top 20 Films (Picks 5 to 1)

Continued from picks 10 to 6….
10. Blood Brother – Steve Hoover
9. Stories We Tell – Sarah Polley
8. Museum Hours – Jem Cohen
7. Her – Spike Jonze
6. Short Term 12 – Destin Cretton

The Act of Killing poster5. The Act of Killing – Joshua Oppenheimer

I don’t know how Oppenheimer managed to find and befriend Anwar Congo and his merry band of genocidal murders, but his mind melting expose of Indonesia’s not-so-distant history of government backed mass murder is as outlandish as the giant fish shaped restaurant that graces the film’s poster. Asking death squad leaders to reenact their self-esteemed atrocities in the style of their favorite American movies seems at first highly inappropriate and possibly dangerous, yet they take up the challenge with glee. In doing, the buried remnants of an empathic human heart begin to surface in the faces of an old man, now a grandfather, whose calloused shell of empty headed pride has finally broken in a profound, remarkable, and ultimately, unreconcilably tragic piece of cinema. [July 19th – Drafthouse Films]

12 Years A Slave poster4. 12 Years a Slave – Steve McQueen

After the one-two punch of Hunger and Shame, what horrors of history could McQueen mine next but the story of Solomon Northup’s abduction from family and freedom, and subsequently, his sale into slavery for the next dozen years before finally being granted his liberty. On the page, the story is already a heartwrenching, yet redemptive work, but being one to burrow in to the bleak recesses of the human soul, McQueen has taken this opportunity to showcase the unjust barbarity that still haunts the American south. Featuring a set of the very best performances of the year by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender and Paul Dano, a broodingly beautiful score by Hans Zimmer and some of the most subtly complex, visually ravishing cinematography of the year by Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave is an instant classic that forces us to bare witness to the heinous acts of our nation’s history. I was left utterly speechless after both of my screenings. [November 8th – Fox Searchlight Pictures]

The Place Beyond The Pines poster3. The Place Beyond The Pines – Derek Cianfrance

There is a lot that I absolutely adore about this film, but nothing more than Mike Patton’s airtight, emotionally incisive soundtrack. That final track that beds the oncoming credits – Bon Iver’s soulful ode to retribution, “The Wolves (Act I & II)” – fills my chest with all the built up tension of Cianfrance’s modern myth of inherited sins and allows them gradual resolve. It takes a lot to forgive, but in this song alone we feel compelled to let go. And yet, there is so much more layered within the three chapters that mark the turning points in the lives of Ryan Gosling’s wreck-loose Luke, Bradley Cooper’s morally torn officer Avery and the individual sons raised in the wake of their mistakes. High speed chases and high risk narrative acrobatics all performed and shot with perfection in mind, and the landing, if not clean, is surely stuck in the mind. [April 19th – Focus Features]

Frances Ha2. Frances Ha – Noah Baumbach

I’ve long been a fan of Baumbach’s cynically soaked brand of ultra dry humor, but I am overjoyed to see him let the pessimism melt away in the form of Greta Gerwig’s hapless, but not hopeless incarnation of post graduate youth. Invoking Woody Allen’s New York City in crispy black and white, Baumbach’s first joint collaboration with the young actress/screenwriter jovially dissects female friendship with an odd blend of simultaneous bohemian whimsy and ever present awkward sincerity. Sharing the same age as Frances and often feeling just as baffled about life and the lives of those around me hits close to home in meaningful, moving ways like few films did this year. And that soundtrack. Damn. [May 17th – IFC Films]

Upstream Color poster1. Upstream Color – Shane Carruth

I think Shane Carruth may be a mad genius. Writer / Director / Actor / Cinematographer / Editor / Composer / Distributor / You Name It, He Did It. Only two films in and he is the living definition of an auteur –’s interpretation sums it up: ‘a filmmaker whose individual style and complete control over all elements of production give a film its personal and unique stamp’. And what a unique stamp it is. Purposefully cryptic in its thematic aspirations, but far less narratively puzzling than his micro-budget time-travelling masterpiece, Primer, Carruth takes us on a journey both disturbing and alluring, through the linked consciousness of beast and biped, and remarkably pulling us through a biological loop hole animated by the incantation of Walden and a mysterious mind control tea. Oh, and it’s also a beautiful love story. Creatively incomparable to anything else released this year, this one demands your undivided attention, and maybe even a handful of viewings, each one more rewarding than the last. Upstream Color is, hands down, without a doubt, my favorite film of 2013. [April 5th NYC Limited Release – erbp]

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