Pop Quiz, Hotshot: There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?!
Whoa. Wait. Sorry, that isn’t the question I want to ask – I just got carried away thinking about Dennis Hopper in Speed. What I really want to know is: how many movies have you seen this year?
Me? I’ve seen 89. That’s 89 movies in a little over six-and-a-half months, which means out of the 210 days of the year so far – I’ve spent 7.4 days devouring new movies. With less than six months left in 2013, I decided to do a top ten list of my favorite films of the year so far.
There are still tons of highly-anticipated films on the way – Elysium, Gravity, Ender’s Game, Anchorman: The Legend Continues, The Wolf of Wall Street – but, until then, consider checking out the films below. OK, enough talking, let’s get on with the show. Without further ado, here’s my list of the 10 best films of 2013 so far…
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenwriter(s): Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Cast: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
A sequel to Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), Richard Linklater‘s Before Midnight catches up with Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) 18 years after their first encounter. From Vienna, to Paris, to now Greece, Linklater’s Before Trilogy features some of the most beautiful, picturesque scenery one could ask for in these types of romantic films.
Before Midnight is a series of conversations between Jesse and Celine as they travel through European landscapes. The script by Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater is well-written and overflowing with brilliance – the performances by Delpy and Hawke are brilliant in their authenticity; they disappear into their characters, who seem like very real, three-dimensional human beings struggling with their identity as a couple and as themselves.
The script is brought to life with Linklater’s Steadicam, framing the characters in long takes as they wander through the Grecian landscape. These long, flowing shots feel so natural – informing the performances of Hawke and Delpy as they converse (and argue) at length on a bevy of topics. Before Midnight is a pleasing, heartfelt conclusion to Linklater’s exploration of relationships and one of the year’s best films.
The Spectacular Now
Director: James Ponsoldt
Screenwriter(s): Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler
Directed by James Ponsoldt (Smashed), The Spectacular Now stars Miles Teller (Footloose) as Sutter Keely, a charming high school senior who lives in “the now.” Sutter is the life of the party – a kid with no plans for the future other than holding down his job at the local men’s clothing store.
Sutter’s lack of ambition might have something to do with being an aspiring alcoholic – carrying a flask of the hard stuff with him at all times. He finally hits rock bottom after being dumped by his girlfriend (Brie Larson) and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley) standing over him. Aimee’s the shy, nice girl who reads science-fiction manga and works her mother’s paper route. While Aimee has dreams of escaping her dead-end small town, Sutter lives in the absorbing delusion of “the spectacular now,” and yet somehow, they’re drawn to one another.
Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer), The Spectacular Now is an adaptation of Tim Tharp’s novel by the same name that captures the insecurity and confusion of adolescence. Teller and Woodley are brilliant in Ponsoldt’s film – it’s rare that young actors can portray teens with the maturity that these two display – their chemisty is palpable, and they’re simply phenomenal on screen together.
The Spectacular Now is a wonderful coming-of-age story. James Ponsoldt is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers with his honest and compassionate approach to cinema. John Hughes would be proud.
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenwriter: Simon Barrett
Cast: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Barbara Crampton, Joe Swanberg, Ti West
Directed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, V/H/S), You’re Next had its world premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival only to collect dust on a shelf for two years. Luckily, after a successful screening at this year’s South by Southwest film Festival, Wingard’s home-invasion horror flick will be released by Lionsgate in August.
The movie follows Crispian Davidson (A.J. Bowen, The House of the Devil) as he brings his new girlfriend (Sharni Vinson) along to celebrate his parent’s wedding anniversary. The family’s reunion is derailed, however, when a gang of murders in creepy animal masks begin to hunt the family down one by one with brutal precision.
You’re Next is kind of like Die Hard meets Home Alone meets Them if it was directed by ’80s John Carpenter. Amongst the family is a survivalist expert who does everything right that so many slasher victims do wrong. The expert doesn’t run upstairs – doesn’t trip in the woods – instead they immediately survey the situation and batten down the hatches – rigging up traps and securing weapons for the family as they attempt to survive the attack.
You’re Next is a smart, scary, altogether hilarious take on the horror genre that cleverly subverts expectations and plays with the genre’s cliches to create a love letter to ’80s slasher movies. Wingard’s film is an endlessly entertaining horror-comedy with genuine scares and big laughs. You’re Next hits theaters on August 23.
This is the End
Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Screenwriter(s): Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson
Written and directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, This is the End is an apocalyptic meta-comedy where celebrities play exaggerated versions of themselves on the eve of Judgment Day. Jay Baruchel (Goon, Knocked Up) arrives in L.A to visit old friend and fellow Canadian Seth Rogen, who invites Jay to a housewarming party at James Franco‘s new million-dollar mecca.
Jay feels uncomfortable around Seth’s new Hollywood friends — including Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Emma Watson — so Seth agrees to accompany him to a convenience store for cigarettes. While they’re perusing the candy aisle, beams of blue light shoot down from the sky and abduct a handful of the store’s customers. Frightened, Jay and Seth make their way back to Franco’s fortress amid explosions, car crashes, and mass hysteria as people are beamed up into the clouds.
Now James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, and the nefarious Danny McBride must discover the true meaning of friendship and redemption as the world crumbles down around them.
This is the End feels like the demonic offspring of Superbad, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, and Cabin in the Woods – an uproarious masterwork of horror-comedy that manages to be both obscene and heartfelt. Goldberg and Rogen’s directorial debut is one of my favorite films of 2013, and the funniest, most satisfying comedies I’ve seen in years.
Director: Shane Carruth
Screenwriter: Shane Carruth
Cast: Shane Carruth, Amy Seimetz, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins
In Upstream Color, the latest film by writer/director Shane Carruth (Primer), a young woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) is abducted and brainwashed by a small-time crook via an organic material harvested from a unique flower.
She meets Jeff (Carruth) and after the two fall for each other, they come to realize that he too has been subjected to the same brainwashing process. As the two spend increasing amounts of time together, they begin to occupy the same brain space – sharing one consciousness – and their pasts merge into one. His childhood stories become hers – her insecurities and fears become his. Together they are drawn into the life cycle of a presence that permeates the microscopic world, moving from plant life to worms, livestock, and back again.
Carruth is easily one of the most interesting, original filmmakers out there right now and Upstream Color is certainly one of the more inventive, complexing films to be released this year. A hypnotic, cinematic brain-teaser, Upstream Color will no doubt alienate as many moviegoers as it entrances – but if you enjoy artistic, ambitious, and slightly ambiguous cinema, you should absolutely check out Carruth’s film, which is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Stories We Tell
Director: Sarah Polley
Screenwriter: Sarah Polley
Cast: Rebecca Jenkins
Directed by Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Take This Waltz), Stories We Tell examines the relationship between Polley’s parents, including the revelation that the filmmaker was the product of an extramarital affair.
The film incorporates Super-8 footage re-creations of home movies, in which actress Rebecca Jenkins plays Polley’s mother, Diane. There are extensive, candid interviews with Polley’s siblings and other relatives, and Michael Polley‘s narration of his memoir.
Stories We Tell is an intimate, sometimes painful film – a complex love letter to Polley’s mother and father: retired British actor Michael Polley and Canadian TV personality Diane Polley, who died of cancer when Sarah was 11 years old. Polly plays both filmmaker and detective in this well-crafted documentary that unfolds like a mystery, complete with unreliable narrators and contradictory stories.
Polley’s film is an extremely moving, heartfelt film that explores our nostalgia-tinged memories of the past and the blurred line between fact and fiction. Stories We Tell is one of the best movies of the year – a bittersweet, deeply personal family portrait that will leave you in wonder.
The Way, Way Back
Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Screenwriter(s): Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Cast: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Liam James
Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Academy Award winners for their screenplay of Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, have written, produced, and directed a delightful coming-of-age film with The Way, Way Back. The film stars Liam James as Duncan, a 14-year-old introvert who goes on summer vacation with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell), and his daughter Steph (Zoe Levin).
When we first meet Duncan, he’s riding in the “way back” of a vintage station wagon driven by Trent, who is sizing him up in the rearview mirror. Trent asks Duncan how he rates himself on a scale of one to ten. When Duncan answers six, Trent tells him he’s a three. He expects Duncan to use his time at the beach house this summer to “get that score up.” What a jerk.
Upon arriving at Trent’s beach house, Liam is introduced to the neighbors: Betty (Allison Janney) and her teenage daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) who, unlike the hordes of vapid, self-obsessed girls at the beach, is friendly towards the exceedingly awkward Liam. One day Liam makes another unexpected friend in Owen (Sam Rockwell), gregarious manager of the nearby Water Wizz water park.
The Way, Way Back is a witty, heartwarming, and hopeful movie that soars on emotional authenticity. Rockwell turns in an endearing performance while Carell goes against type as the conceited asshole who projects his own inadequacies onto those around him. Funny, sweet, and completely charming, The Way, Way Back is this summer’s Little Miss Sunshine, a sweet, sentimental film that fills your heart with optimism and floods the brain with memories of summers spent in adolescence when everything felt vibrant and new and endlessly exciting.
Director: Joe Swanberg
Screenwriter: Joe Swanberg
Cast: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Ti West
Directed by Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs), Drinking Buddies follows the complicated friendship of Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), who work together at a craft brewery. As friends, they’re way too close – it’s obvious there’s something more there, but Kate is dating Chris (Ron Livingston) and Luke is with all-around good girl Jill (Anna Kendrick).
The two couples go on a weekend getaway together and things get even more problematic when Jill and Chris go on a hike and find themselves romantically entangled. Meanwhile, Kate and Luke flirt while playing cards and get cozy on the beach. Without giving away the intricacies of the narrative, the four characters struggle to balance their romantic relationships and platonic friendships with the opposite sex – some with success, others with disastrous results.
This movie is an honest, sometimes ugly, depiction of relationships and the moments that force us to consider – or accept – who we will spend the rest of our lives with. Drinking Buddies will be Joe Swanberg’s coming-out party, exposing the filmmaker to larger crowds dying to see something authentic on the screen. While Swanberg certainly isn’t a newcomer (he’s directed 18 films since 2005), he’s an indie filmmaker who has managed to stay indie – but if he keeps making movies as good as Drinking Buddies, his days of mainstream obscurity are numbered.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Screenwriter(s): Guillermo del Toro, Travis Beacham
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman
Co-Written and Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth), Pacific Rim is a spirited love letter to Japanese Kaiju films like Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan. The film stars Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) as Raleigh Becket, a washed-up former Jaeger pilot brought out of retirement by the Pan Pacific Defense Corps to fight monsters once more. Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) joins Hunnam as Mako Mori, Becket’s untested co-pilot who lost her family in a Kaiju attack.
Pacific Rim is the kind of movie that, if seen at the right age, could hook a kid on movies for the rest of his or her life. Star Wars was that movie for me, and Pacific Rim embraces the unpretentious spirit of adventure that made George Lucas’ sprawling space saga resonate with an entire generation.
I’ve been pretty disappointed with this summer’s crop of big-budget blockbusters, but Guillermo del Toro has delivered a movie that makes no apologies for being FUN. That’s right – FUN. Pacific Rim aspires to bring us old-fashioned heroics with awe-inspiring visuals; dares to be a post-apocalyptic science-fiction film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and wants its audience to ENJOY themselves instead of take home some bigger philosophical meaning about the nature of man.
Pacific Rim appeals to the child within all of us – the uncynical child that can still be astonished – the kid that doesn’t want to be grounded in reality. I don’t know about you but I’m sick of reality. I’d give anything to Drift with Mako Mori and uppercut monsters in my skyscraper-sized robot suit.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Screenwriter: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Mud stars Matthew McConaughey as the title character, a charismatic desperado on the run from ruthless bounty hunters.
Like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) and Ellis (Tye Sheridan) are two poor boys on a great adventure through the American South. After investigating a small island on the Mississippi River, the two encounter Mud, a drifter with a gun in his waistband and crosses in his heels – nails in the shape of crosses – that protect him from evil spirits.
According to Mud, his true love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) is awaiting his arrival in the small town of DeWitt, Arkansas, where they plan to make a daring getaway together. Intrigued by the outlaw’s story, the boys agree to help Mud slip past his pursuers and reunite with Juniper. But with each subsequent visit to the island — trips Ellis hides from his parents (Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson) and Neckbone from his uncle (Michael Shannon) — they learn things are not what they seem.
McConaughey delivers yet another tremendous performance after a stunning showing last year in Bernie, Magic Mike, and Killer Joe. Sheridan and Lofland are perfectly cast as the kind-hearted; rough around the edges Ellis and the take-no-shit Neckbone. Nichols’ focus on character and the environment that shapes them elevates Mud above just another fugitive on the run story.
Mud is an exquisite piece of storytelling that is as creatively rich as it is emotionally rewarding and – as of right now – my favorite film of 2013.
Honorable Mentions: Much Ado About Nothing, Stoker, The Kings of Summer, Rewind This!, Zero Charisma, The Place Beyond the Pines.
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