Top 10 Movies | Pete Timmermann

bestof moviesIn June, I predicted in my review of This Is the End that it would make my end-of-the-year top 10 films list. I just wrote the list; it came in at #11.

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Frances Ha

Or that’s where I put it, anyway, after a lengthy mental debate about what order to put my films #9–11 in. And this only after a weeks-long mental debate about the order of films #1–3.

The bottom line is that I was a happy moviegoer in 2013; there was a feast of wonderful movies, and a much higher than usual percentage of them were of the sort that haunted my memory long after I saw them. I have an urge here to rattle on and on about all of the great movies that didn’t quite make this list, by sheer virtue of the fact that it was such a crowded year for good movies, but I’ll spare you. Just trust me when I say that it pained me more than usual to write this list, for all of the good stuff I had to leave off of it.

One last thought before we get to the list: The MVP of all of moviedom in 2013 is easily producer Megan Ellison, the founder of Annapurna Pictures, whose name I pointed out in multiple film reviews this year. If you see her name or production company anywhere near a movie’s title, you can trust that it will be a movie worth seeing. She’s responsible for producing numbers 1, 3, and 10 on my list this year, as well as American Hustle, one of the many films on my long list that didn’t make the final 10. At age 27, she is already deserving of a national holiday and maybe also a position in public office or something.

The best films of 2013, in order of preference:

  1. Her | Despite the fact that director Spike Jonze has yet to make a bad film, just how great Her is came as something of a surprise. Most people credit the success of Jonze’s 1999 film Being John Malkovich and 2002’s Adaptation to screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, and while 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are was good, it wasn’t nearly as good as many hoped it would be. Here, Jonze is for the first time directing from a script he himself wrote, and it’s a stunner. (By comparison, one of his few other screenwriting credits thus far is this year’s Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa…huh?) No other film this year is as resonant, as funny, as moving, or as perfect as Her. This is one for the ages.
  2. The Act of Killing | For much of 2013, it looked like The Act of Killing would be my #1 movie of the year, and most years it would have been. A documentary that has the real Indonesian death squad leaders of the ’60s reenacting their atrocities on camera, Hollywood-movie style, is the most inventive documentary in who knows how long. You know you’ve done something right when Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, two unimpeachable masters of the documentary form, come out in public support of your film; you know you’ve done something great when your film is better than either of their offerings that year (Herzog’s was Happy People: A Year in the Taiga and Morris’ The Unknown Known; both wonderful films in their own right).
  3. Spring Breakers | I write about expectations a lot in my film reviews (hell, I’ve done it already in this top 10 list). Spring Breakers was the rare film for which I had high expectations, but it wound up being even better than expected—and then continued to get better the more I watched and thought about it. I’m happy to see it turn up on so many respected film critics’ year-end lists (I wasn’t really expecting that), and am still holding out extreme longshot hope that James Franco can somehow pull off a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work here, in what was my favorite performance of the year.
  4. Inside Llewyn Davis | I have a compulsion to describe the new Coen brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, as being “note perfect,” but that unintentional pun it just a little too awful. So let’s put it this way: Llewyn is a near-flawless film. The music is great, as are the performances, the cinematography, the production design, and the script. You don’t have to like the type of music (folk) that Inside Llewyn Davis celebrates to recognize it as a great film. If you do like folk music, though, so much the better.
  5. Computer Chess | Standing alongside The Act of Killing as one of the most visionary movies on this list, Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess is a movie with which many people will have no idea what to do. For one thing, it’s unlike any of Bujalski’s other (uniformly excellent) movies so far, though he retains his uncanny ability to film awkwardness—just watch the scene in Chess where a young computer programmer gets trapped in a room with a couple of older swingers. Also, this is one intentionally ugly movie. It’s already available to watch via Netflix’s streaming service, but is getting three screenings in the end of January at the Webster Film Series (not to mention having screened once in this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival). It’s the rare movie that actually looks better on your computer than it will on the big screen, but take my advice and go see it on the big screen anyway, if only so that you can witness just how goofy and retro it was intended to look.
  6. Tim’s Vermeer | Tim’s Vermeer bears a lot of similarities to the film that occupied the #6 slot on my 2012 list, Beauty Is Embarrassing: Both are examinations of specific artists and celebrations of art in general, and will have you leaving the theater motivated to go out and create something. The trick here is that Tim Jenison, the subject of Tim’s Vermeer, is by his own admission not an artist. That doesn’t detract from his ability to create great art, and inspire people in the process. This is one of those films that feels like magic; it’s a big crowd pleaser, and very funny besides.
  7. Frances Ha | The second black-and-white film on this year’s list (Computer Chess was the first, not to mention that Nebraska, which was on my long list), Frances Ha is like movie candy: It’s quick, funny, smart, and wants you leaving more. Sometimes movies come along that feel like they’re made especially for me—apart from being a fan of director Noah Baumbach, I’m a sucker for films set in Brooklyn, and Frances feels like someone I’d be friends with, as do many of the other ones in this film. Also, like Spring Breakers, this is an extremely quotable movie: Just try to not describe people as being “undateable,” or that you and your hetero life partner are like “an old lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex.”
  8. The Wolf of Wall Street | Editor Thelma Schoonmaker has been vocal in interviews about how one of the early cuts of The Wolf of Wall Street sat at four hours and that everyone who saw it loved it, but you just can’t market a four-hour movie to a mainstream audience these days. If that four-hour cut surfaces on home video here in a few months, as I’m hoping, this title could shoot up several spots in my eventual mental redo of this list. For now, though, The Wolf of Wall Street is a huge, messy, flawed, great movie that really captured my imagination; at the time of this writing, I had seen it for the first time a little over a week ago, and have hardly thought about anything else since. It’s mind-boggling to think that Wolf might become even more effective in the form of its longer cut.
  9. The World’s End | I said in my intro that I anticipated This Is the End to make my top 10 list this year; in the review for that film, I mentioned that it would be the first time a Hollywood comedy had made my list since 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And then, of course, two months later I saw The World’s End, which bears at least some similarities to This Is the End and was directed by Scott Pilgrim helmer Edgar Wright. After months of thinking and several re-screenings, I eventually determined that The World’s End is a slightly better film: It holds up better on repeated viewings and already feels less dated than This Is the End does (not to smear that admittedly hilarious film). (Side note: In addition to This Is the End and The World’s End, one of my favorite filmmakers, Don Hertzfeldt, released his first graphic novel late this year entitled The End of the World, which is also great. Why so much great fiction this year about the end of the world? It’s kind of alarming.)
  10. The Grandmaster | Anyone who knows me or has read more than one of my reviews will probably not be surprised by The Grandmaster’s presence on this list: I’m a total fanboy when it comes to Wong Kar-wai. My nerddom on the issue is so extreme that it can cloud my judgment—of course I like the new Wong Kar-wai movie, but am I seeing clearly in my positioning of this film among all of the other great releases from this year? Should it be higher on the list? Lower? I don’t know! All I’m sure of is that I love it, and will surely watch it many, many more times in my life.

Parting thought: Being a film critic living in St. Louis, there are always at least a couple of films that don’t screen around here before I have to write this list. The two films I have not caught up with at this writing that I’m most anxious to see are Labor Day and After Tiller, but it’s been such a strong year for movies that they would have to be exceptionally great to break onto this list. | Pete Timmermann

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