Favorite 15 Films of 2013 (So Far)
From florescent vomit to T&A set to Skrillex

Just like last year, we’re presenting a list of our favorite films of 2013 so far to accompany our recently-published mid-year music list (or, you know, vice versa). While it’s popular to gripe that no good films get made anymore, we had trouble narrowing our selection to just 15. Among stuff we loved that barely missed the cut were Room 237, Hors Satan, Paradise: Love, About Sunny, From Up on Poppy Hill, Pain and Gain, No, Like Someone in Love, Beyond the Hills, Berbarian Sound Studio, In the House, and People’s Park. Phew! And 2013 doesn’t show any signs of slowing down in its second half (two words: Computer Chess). While our staff went totally splitscreen on a couple of the films below (most notably Upstream Color and Post Tenebras Lux, which receive new blurbs here, as does Behind the Candelabra), our tastes generally converged around films that made formal inventiveness and trash indistinguishable — whether through florescent vomit, philosophical romcom, or T&A set to Skrillex. We hope you enjoy these avant-discards as much as we did.


Pieta
Dir. Kim Ki-Duk

[Drafthouse]

“Kim Ki-Duk has been pulling a viscera-strewn vision of life from the slaughterhouse floor of the human condition for years. Sitting atop a mountain constructed from animal cruelty and nihilistic violence, his films over the past decade-plus articulate the moral and spiritual failings of our species via narratives spawned from an unholy marriage somewhere between Schopenhauer and Sade. Electrocute a fish with a car battery? We’re helpless at the feet of capricious gods. Fierce rape prying at the stuff of Noé? We all acquiesce to greater external force. A platitude has accompanied nearly all the shock-and-awe tactics in his films, like a sycophant PR rep tidying up after a pederast senator. In his past films, Kim managed to jar you with his imagery, but he failed to stain the memory with a compelling story or a lingering moral. It’s taken a lengthy career to do so, but the director has finally realized his potential and birthed a haunting, eerily unshakable meditation on violence, philos, and redemption: Pieta. The title is taken from the Italian term describing a depiction of the Virgin Mary weeping over the dead body of Christ, but Kim Ki-Duk skins the concept alive and places it back together in his own image. Pieta revolves around the life of brutal debt collector Gang-Do (Lee Jeong-jin). His presence is similar to other Kim narrative leads: solitary, brooding, and quiet. Gang-Do, however, may be the most violent character in Kim’s cache: his job is solely comprised of crippling loan borrowers in order to collect on their insurance policies, and he silently relishes in the act.” [full review]

Post Tenebras Lux
Dir. Carlos Reygadas

[Strand Releasing]

In one moment in Post Tenebras Lux, the fourth film from Mexican director Carlos Reygadas, a man on his deathbed reflects on his life and seems to find some sort of meaning. As it nears its own end, the film lets us do no such thing. Reygadas meanders without explanation, sure — an AA meeting in rural Mexico; a glowing, 2-dimensional devil invading a home; youth playing rugby in England; swingers in a Parisian bathhouse — but it’s the overwhelming immediacy of the film’s lucid imagery, not the obfuscating tangles of its plot, that lets it so uniquely circumvent narrative modes of meaning-making. Shot in a 1:33 (square) format usually reserved for silent film and Instagram selfies, cinematographer Alexis Zabé and Reygadas have filtered out any vaguely retro associations from the format to create a film that, for all its temporal uncertainty, seems to unfold always in the present: the act of seeing itself, the pleasure it entails. That’s not to say the film’s circling around an upper-middle-class family in rural Mexico is a stream of images outside of story or sequence. Both brutality and tenderness do occur, their consequences rippling across time and characters in an adequate enough approximation of life. But simply, the titular “lux” isn’t metaphorical: the light of these images lingers long after we’ve stopped trying to make sense of them. [original review]

Spring Breakers
Dir. Harmony Korine

[A24]

Spring Breakers goofs off in a way atypical in Korine’s body of work in that it’s a tightly controlled substance. The narrative is a straight shot at noir storytelling — a group of reckless women get a taste of crime and money and want more of it — and each scene leads to the next scene instead of the director’s usual orbs of weirdness that are more focused on presence than anything scripted. But the blackness behind the veneer still shows through with repetitive shots of tits on the beach, skin in slowmo, the whispering mantra of ‘Spring Break Forever,’ and the looping of scenes, which create a sense of ecstatic repetition. Korine’s refusal to be contained within his own constructed narrative is evidenced by the way moments can drift to create spaces entirely their own — like an insane montage of the girls fondling their guns as Alien (Franco) serenades them with a piano-on-the-beach rendition of Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime’ — yet the film always continues its forward motion. […] Korine doesn’t need to create some metaphorical trapdoor shit in order to anticipate and milk our reactions. He can collate a bunch of images from Pornhub, Bang Bros, Daytona Beach, MTV, Disney, Wal-Mart, Tennessee, and throw it all up on the screen and say, ‘Look at this freakshit, isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it poetry?’ And it is.” [full review]

Leviathan
Dir. Véréna Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor

[Cinema Guild]

Leviathan is the cinema of immediacy. Images hit the screen with the force of bricks, albeit sometimes bricks emerging from impenetrable darkness, often gut-wrenching and occasionally shockingly beautiful. The film is an evocation of place through crystalline fragments, except that the word ‘evocation’ is absurd for something so direct, bypassing metaphor and allusion and proceeding directly to the raw power of images: the camera sliding around untethered on a metal floor slick with blood, bumping into fish heads and receding, a large man’s tattooed shoulder moving in and out of focus, too close to the GoPro camera’s miniature wide angle lens, a repeated motion moving from a sea full of blood to a sky full of birds, in and out, the shot achieving a strange complacence in its methodical passage from gore to the sublime and back and back and back. Forgoing narrative for oppressive immersion, the furtive and uncertain progress of cameras provides what drama there is; in the absence of character and narrative, Leviathan places its full weight on the raw power of images and their unfolding, building to an overpowering sense of place and mechanics. It’s not that we’re wondering what ‘happens’ next: we’re anxious about what will appear. A documentary in the strictest sense, Leviathan’s single-minded focus on the power of its tiny digital cameras to record existence (and their inability to do much else) brings the practical, moment-to-moment functioning of biology and technology to the foreground, leaving little else.” [full review]

Sun Don’t Shine
Dir. Amy Seimetz

[Factory 25]

“We meet Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Leo (Kentucker Audley) in the middle of a fight in the middle of a mud puddle in the middle of nowhere in Southern Florida. The ferocity and unpredictability of Crystal is pretty well established by the time the opening credits start to roll, Ms. Sheil excellently imbuing her character with the air of a trapped animal. Leo, on the other hand, presents himself to us as almost totally passive, grief-stricken, and resigned. The two are on the lam, heading South to the Everglades in a barely functioning sedan and generally not getting along that well. It’s fairly obvious that, aside from any sensational criminal naughtiness involved, Seimetz is chiefly interested in exploring the way these two characters act toward each other while under duress.The washed out, sun-bleached and generally gritty environment of Florida is as much a driving force in the action of the film as the two frantic leads. We’re treated to a smattering of sometimes lengthy, rhapsodic shots of the open road and the strangely empty looks on Crystal and Leo’s faces while the previously mentioned voiceovers slowly coalesce into a discernible narrative. The timing at play here is crucial, as Seimetz only makes things clear when she feels they matter.” [full review]

Tabu
Dir. Miguel Gomes

[Adopt]

“In recent years, the notions of memory, nostalgia, and identity, and the various ways they have changed and adapted through the times, have become prevalent topics in the art world, especially in music and film. In this influx of concerns about the past and our increasingly complicated relationship with it, the aesthetic makeup of classic silent films has begun to show its face once again in popular filmmaking. […] Miguel Gomes’s Tabu makes use of this once arcane aesthetic in a […] novel and exciting way, using a bifurcated structure — its first half shot in present Lisbon and the second half 50 years earlier in Africa — to tease out these aforementioned issues through the dialectics of past/present and dream/reality that are created by its creative narrative structure, wildly inventive use of sound (and lack thereof) in its second half, and the various other contrasts between its two parts. […] Tabu is strange, powerfully evocative, playfully experimental, and truly one of the most beautiful films in recent years.” [full review]

Frances Ha
Dir. Noah Bombach

[IFC]

“For all its charm, Frances Ha has edges and is particularly sharp about class. Unlike her friends, Frances lives paycheck to paycheck, not Paris to Tokyo. Sure, she makes bad decisions — like blowing her precious tax rebate on dinner for Lev and buying an impromptu plane ticket while living out of a storage unit — but these decisions seemed to be spurred by shame and frustration that she can’t keep up with the spontaneous, well-traveled, creative New Yorkers around her. And it’s true, she can’t. They play at being low-rent, but their spontaneity and creativity are nicely cushioned by plush bank accounts, while hers send her packing, first home to her parents in Sacramento and then finally to the indignity of an on-campus job at the upstate college she graduated from years ago. But this apex of humiliation seems to cement Frances’ resolve. When she returns to New York, she does so gingerly, mending fences and grateful for the friendship that’s offered in return. It’s remarkable, and I’m very thankful, that Baumbach and Gerwig didn’t tack on a romance at the end of Frances Ha. From beginning to end, the film is perceptive in the way it imagines Frances’ life as her romance not with a lover, but with New York, her work, and herself.” [full review]

Wrong
Dir. Quentin Dupieux

[Drafthouse]

“Quentin Dupieux’s new film Wrong takes a premise and narrative so simple — a man losing his dog — then tailor fits and drapes the story in this implacable absurdity, presenting the spectacle like Buñuel and Dalí in nun outfits on bikes and giving you weird looks for asking what’s going on. Since his days as French electro royalty Mister Oizo on Ed Banger, Dupieux reinvented himself as an auteur with a palate for the surreal. […] When considering not only Wrong but Dupieux’s filmography, there’s clear heritage to surrealist French cinema monolith Buñuel. Dupieux dodges comparisons in interviews (including ours), but the feeling is similar to the pretentious kid at school showing up in an old-ass tweed blazer and swearing up and down it’s not his dad’s. Anyway, his stance on Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie is erroneous here. Wrong constructs a world simultaneously familiar and alien, drops in the main character, Dolph (Jack Plotnick, as the most rational and sane presence in the film), and lets him flail around in the fishbowl for an hour and a half. In Rubber, Dupieux set fire to the fourth wall and touted the relationship of audience to work like a weapon, making you the butt of the joke through the entire experience. In Wrong, he contains and focuses his irrational mechanisms and throws them all at poor Dolph while he haphazardly tries to find his dog. As a spectator, the result is hilarious, like watching a really fucked-up, intricate version of Candid Camera.” [full review]

  

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