2013: year in film

CN&R’s lead film critic breaks down his year of movies

<i>Before Midnight</i>

Before Midnight

Juan-Carlos Selznick’s best of 2013:
12 Years a Slave
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
All Is Lost
American Hustle
Before Midnight
Blue Is the Warmest Color
Blue Jasmine
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
The Place Beyond the Pines
Silver Linings Playbook
Stories We Tell

Looking back at the movies of 2013—I’d say there’s been an abundance of really good things to see, but no one film that stands out as the very best of the best. In the practical terms of top-10 lists, that means at least two dozen of the year’s films seem worthy of inclusion but none can lay absolute claim to the top spot.

But that’s not really much of a problem for me. Without too much trouble, I can narrow my list of the best down to a dozen (or so—see column note), and there’s still a good deal more to be said about the diverse charms and pleasures of the movie-year now nearing its end (I’m writing this the week before Christmas).

Abundance and diversity were the hallmarks of my movie pleasures in 2013, and those values are only partially reflected in year-end lists. So let’s try this as well: Ten or 11 things I liked about the movies in 2013:

Small, smart, lively productions flourished: That includes the multitude of non-blockbusters on my year’s-best list, as well as things like Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (with Greta Gerwig) and James Franco’s adaptation of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying; the offbeat absurdism of David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche (with Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) and the Polsky brothers’ The Motel Life (with Hirsch and Stephen Dorff); the indie westerns Sweetwater and Dead Man’s Burden; the chamber-music drama A Late Quartet (with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener, and not to be mistaken for Dustin Hoffman’s hammy Quartet with Maggie Smith, et al.).

Great day for a game: 42 is concerned with a great story of baseball history and race relations, but it’s not a great movie. But it is good enough to merit special mention here, alongside two distinctive, recently encountered baseball documentaries—Knuckleball (2012) and Ballplayer: Pelotero (2011)—which help make the case for 2013 being part of a good period for baseball movies.

How the West was won and lost: Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) didn’t reach us until early this year; Gore Verbinski’s raffishly Tonto-ized The Lone Ranger arrived right on time. Both worked a little too hard at putting historical urgency and contemporary spin into the old genre, but there were abundant signs of life in both. The previously mentioned modest westerns Sweetwater and Dead Man’s Burden played it straight and still managed to put a contemporary edge on old-fashioned doings. Neither reached a local theater, however.

Foreign affairs: The number of foreign-language films coming our way continued to dwindle. Three gems from France—Amour and Renoir (both released in 2012) and Blue Is the Warmest Color—reached Chico this year, but little else did. Even the video-only pickings were pretty slim, with the lone exceptions being Blancanieves, a silent-movie-style mash-up of the Snow White story from Spain, and a couple of stand-outs from Italy—the Taviani brothers’ Caesar Must Die and Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, both of which I encountered via European DVDs.

Say what? Even some of the year’s more conspicuous misfires had points of exceptional interest. Out of the Furnace has its extraordinary character role for Christian Bale and great work on the sidelines from Sam Shepard and Casey Affleck. The Counselor, from a Cormac McCarthy script, summons up a sense of existential dread that makes it worthy of keeping company with the year’s more prestigious and accomplished “endgame” pictures.

Stoker has a silent argument with Alfred Hitchcock that makes it more genuinely Hitchcockian than either of the films that pretended to be about Hitchcock. The Iceman had the benefit of another smoldering and taciturn performance from Michael Shannon. Antonio Campos’ Simon Killer took the familiar notions of the “American in Paris” and “innocents abroad” and put a nasty but not indelicate spin on them. There too, what is lost may be everything.

First line Giza with a

hanging cap followed by regular CN&R text and end box.