My favorite films of 2013

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Leviathan
  • Leviathan
It might not seem like it, but composing a year-end list is an annoyingly painstaking process. A bevy of unwritten rules dictate what ends up where. Generally, most end-of-year lists are reserved for films that a) had a commercial run for b) at least a week in c) either New York or Los Angeles. This, of course, leaves a lot of worthy films ineligible. What about local independent movies that might not have made it to such incontestable bastions of film culture as New York or LA? What about 2013 festival films that won't be released until next year, or have yet to secure distribution, period? (Indeed, some of the best stuff I saw in 2013 might not ever enjoy theatrical release.)

There are loads of trivial variations from list to list, which makes the annual glut increasingly harder to mull over. But I remain, among many other critics and cinephiles, compelled (and required) to contribute. So here they are, my 10 favorite films that had a week-long commercial release in either New York or LA:

1. Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, 2012)
2. Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski, 2013)
3. The Unspeakable Act (Dan Sallitt, 2012)
4. The Lords of Salem (Rob Zombie, 2013)
5. Viola (Matías Piñeiro, 2012)
6. The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola, 2013)
7. I Used to Be Darker (Matt Porterfield, 2013)
8. Pavilion (Tim Sutton, 2012)
9. Nebraska (Alexander Payne, 2013)
10. Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan, 2012)

2013 was a surprisingly strong year for independent American filmmaking: Matt Porterfield and Andrew Bujalski, two of the most exciting young directors we have in this country, took major steps forward, as did the not-so-young Dan Sallitt, who directed one of the most complex and mesmerizing character studies of the year. Elsewhere, Tim Sutton, with his debut film, presented a tender and poetic account of adolescence that avoids the condescension and histrionics of typical coming-of-age films, and Rob Zombie, who was last seen spinning his wheels with a Halloween franchise maligned by studio interference, went rogue with his latest work, by far the most audacious avant-garde genre film I saw all year.

For good measure, here are ten more I really enjoyed, in alphabetical order:

Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu, 2012)
Drug War (Johnnie To, 2012)
Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
The Last Time I Saw Macao (João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata, 2012)
Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas, 2012)
Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh, 2013)
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2013)
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
The World's End (Edgar Wright, 2013)

As I mentioned above, some of my very favorite films from 2013 technically aren't eligible for a year-end list, including the best one I saw all year, Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie, 2013). (It'll be at the Music Box in February.) Others, like Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang, 2013), Ape, (Joel Potrykus, 2013), Closed Curtain (Jafar Panahi and Kambuzia Partovi, 2013), and The Battle of Tabato (João Viana, 2013), might not ever see theatrical release, but each deserves a mention as one of the year's best. And finally, there's the wealth of experimental work that often goes unrecognized on year-end lists—Concrete Parlay (Fern Silva, 2012), Solar Sight III (Lawrence Jordan, 2013), By Pain and Rhyme and Arabesque Foraging (David Gatten, 2012), Dusty Stacks of Mom (Jodie Mack, 2013), and The Day of Two Noons (Mike Gibisser, 2012) were each a major revelation for me in 2013.

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