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Brian’s Top 10 Films of 2013

Dear 2013,

Way to go. Seriously. Last year my Top 10 list was a dire compilation of films which were just fine, but outside of maybe my top 3 or top 5, I had no strong feelings regarding any of them. This year, I spent upwards of a month shuffling and reorganizing my Top 10 list, and I’m still not sure I agree with some of these placements. My list was initial compiled and ordered by my gut feelings. Then I went through and tried to apply logic to the selections. If I liked a movie based on a particular aspect (emotional resonance, cinematography, etc.) then I tried to think if another movie had surpassed it in that same field.

Well, needless to say at some point you just have to look at the list and go “this just feels right.” So here it is, the list that nearly drove me to insanity, much as Brian Wilson was nearly driven to insanity by Smile.

Blurbs accompany the choices below. For the full review, click the title.

10. (Tie) Only God Forgives/Spring Breakers

God Spring-Breakers-poster

(I know, I know. Bad form, beginning with a tie. However, if I ever wanted to create a double-bill whose sole function was frustrating people looking for an easy viewing of something awesome, this would be it.)

Only God Forgives: You are a chilling and painful tale of the madness at the heart of vengeance, the emptiness and pain that envelopes those who seek to satisfy themselves rather than yield to justice or morality. It is a fight picked by selfish people against the greater powers of good and order, which are equally as savage but justified in the mathematics of punitive justice.

Spring Breakers: There are no shortage of moments both joyous and worrying, real and surreal within your narrative. The best way to see you, I’m sure, is with only the barest inkling as to your plot, the better to lose oneself in the hyperactive madness. That said, even though I’ve seen you already and know all of the twists and turns and surprises in store, I cannot wait to spend another heady, blissfully insane holiday with you.

9. Like Someone In Love


Cowardice and a sense of fairness make us hold our tongues as those around us create more and more elaborate lies for us to live within. We aren’t spinning the web, but we are not stopping the weaving, either. And in the end, that kind of lie-through-inaction could be more damaging than all the falsities and half-truths one could ever speak.

It’s a fantastic film that not only takes that idea as it’s chief theme, but manages to say as much with nuance and subtlety in the midst of a gripping, engrossing story. You, Like Someone in Love, are that film.

8. The Counselor


We love watching tourists in the murky depths of criminality outwitting the people who make their living there.

You are a story that seeks to decimate and rebuke these romantic notions, The Counselor, and you succeed with a ruthlessness and sense of purpose that only adds to the sense of dread and inevitability that pervades your tale. Each line of dialogue is a single thread, each action and reaction the deft and foreboding stroke of the needle. Thus, you craft a great tapestry of ideas, writ in blood and pain.

7. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints


The tangible reality of a memory blended with the beauty and flow of a dream, laden with the honesty of grounded yet impassioned performance, and a narrative with the focus and clarity of a well-honed novella. In a season seemingly bereft of feeling or thought, bloated by needlessly complex webs of plot, and weighed down by scads of CGI and pyrotechnic bluster, what more could a weary traveler across the cinematic wilderness ask for?

6. Upstream Color


I feel as though I could spend hours defining what makes you brilliant, extolling what makes you so moving, and yet here I am already at a loss for words. You are a film that makes me think and feel beyond my ability to articulate. You are a film that demands a second viewing not as a way to clarify plot or themes left obscured, but so that one can luxuriate in so complete, uncompromising, and effective an artistic vision.

5. To the Wonder

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Love in film is often portrayed as a binary system. Love is present, or it is not. Love is reciprocated, or it is unrequited. Love is alive, or love is dead. This system of “yes” or “no” creates in the real world a false sense of security around the idea of love, one that is shattered the moment one finally comes to accept the idea that they are loved, or are in love. It would take a bold, accomplished filmmaker to attempt to create a cinematic perspective of love that approaches the utter bafflement and uncertainty of real world love, and an even more audacious artist to make such a statement work.

Needless to say, Terrence Malick is such an artist.

4. Gravity


You are stunningly, marvelously, exhilaratingly perfect. I cannot wait to see you as many times as I can on as big a screen as I can (and yes, in 3D). More than any film I have seen this year, you are the one which has caused me the most anxiety, driven me to the greatest extremes of emotional response, and elicited in me the most passionate evangelizing of my friends and family.

3. The Wolf of Wall Street

Leonardo Dicaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street

(Review forthcoming)

Holy shit. Hoooooly shit you guys. What did I just see? The sex. The drugs. The energy behind both the filmmaking and the performances. I spent a week after seeing this movie quoting it and telling everyone they had to see it.

And I’ll tell you one more thing. I’m never going to Benihana again. I don’t care whose birthday it is.

2. Her


What makes you so different, Her, is that you find a way to strip away the baser levels of love, allowing the illogical mental processes of attraction to take center stage, leaving the more easily conveyed aspects of physical attraction to wither in the dark. In this way you are able to create a more purely intellectual glimpse at the mystery of romance, while at the same time delivering a pure emotional journey, complete with characters in whom we can fully invest on a level far below skin deep.

1. 12 Years a Slave


Just see it.