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The Seed&Spark Blog

The Top 20 (+10) Films of 2013

December 24, 2013

• James Kaelan

BRIGHT IDEAS Editor James Kaelan presents his "Top 20 Films of 2013," notably excepting Her and Inside Llewyn Davis—neither of which he's had an opportunity to see yet. But everyone else likes those films, so they probably don't need his endorsement, anyway.

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1. CLOSED CURTAIN — This is the second seditious film Jafar Panahi has made while on house arrest in Iran for making seditious films; enough said.

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2. THE PARADISE TRILOGY — Ulrich Seidl broke his five-and-a-half hour epic into three bracing pieces, each a masterwork in its own right; taken together as a trilogy, this is one of the neorealist triumphs (sorry Dardenne brothers) of the decade.

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3. 12 YEARS A SLAVE — The single-shot whipping sequence climax alone earns 12 Years a “Top Five” spot; and then there’s Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, and all the other masterful actors Steve McQueen directs in the most vital American-set picture of the year.

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4. POST TENEBRAS LUX — With its cartoon devil, auto-decapitation, and inscrutable rugby sequences, Post Tenebras Lux is probably a meditation on the dissolution of the Mexican state; and there’s also that really heart-felt orgy.

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5. THE ACT OF KILLING — This is either an unforgivable exploitation of Indonesian genocide victims or the greatest innovation in documentary filmmaking since Nanook of the North; probably the latter?

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6. KLIP — Maja Milos’ debut is such a raw, dangerous look at growing up disillusioned in Serbia you’ll preemptively ground your children so they can’t follow Jasna’s example; it’s also so graphic that iTunes refuses to host it.

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7. TABU — Miguel Gomes’ black and white masterpiece starts out as some sort of Bela Tarr/Wes Anderson hybrid (you’ll see what I mean), before suddenly changing tone and pace to become a dialogue-free love story set in the foothills of Kenya; prepare to rethink your definition of visual storytelling.)

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8. CAESAR MUST DIE — The Taviani brothers’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy is set in a real prison, starring real prisoners; if you can tell me where the documentary stops and the narrative begins, I’ll give you $20.

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9. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR — Abdellatif Kechiche’s unflinching love story contains the most erotic pasta eating sequences ever committed to film; oh, and no matter your sexual orientation, plan to fall in love with Adele Exarchopoulos forever.

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10. FRUITVALE STATION Let’s all just take a moment to remember that this is a film about a young black man killed by a white police officer, which made nearly $20 million at the box office; if we ever for a moment forget that films sell because distributors choose to sell them, we’re guilty of the same systemic racism that led to Oscar Grant’s death.

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11. FAT SHAKER Yet another Iranian film that nearly got its director, Mohammad Shirvani, arrested, Fat Shaker is worth a watch for its turkey sequence alone; I’ve been trying to figure out how Shirvani made this movie for 11 months, and I still don’t get it.

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12. THE GREAT BEAUTY — Paolo Sorrentino’s follow-up to the post-kleptocratic Il Divo reclaims the astonishing beauty of Italy’s art and architecture from the vapid and self-obsessed Romans who’ve laid claim to it since the rise of Berlusconi; this is everything To Rome with Love wished it could be and wasn’t.

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13. NEBRASKA — Perhaps the least outwardly ambitious film on this list (besides Frances Ha, Alexander Payne’s latest is amongst the funniest—and most moving—examinations of the complicated love between a son and his elusive father ever made; also, even though Bruce Dern is impeccable, Payne’s election of Will Forte deserves the “Stunt Casting of the Year” award.

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14. SHORT TERM 12 — Destin Daniel Cretton’s sophomore feature about troubled youth should’ve been a didactic, self-satisfied, and sentimental “indie,” but turned out to be none of those things; it also cements Brie Larson as one of the most promising talents in her class.

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15. THE PAST — I suppose the only reason I didn’t put Asghar Farhadi’s first film since A Separation higher on this list is that it isn’t A Separation; but that’s an unfair rubric by which to grade anyone—including Farhadi.

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16. THE DIRTIES — If you want to see American microbudget metacinema at its most accomplished, here’s your movie; Matt Johnson’s feature debut also wins the “Most Shocking Ending” prize.

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17. LAURENCE ANYWAYS — When I sat down to watch this three-hour film about Laurence coming to terms with his transsexuality—directed by a 22-year-old, no less—I was more or less dreading it; then I watched it, and became a stalwart evangelist of everything Xavier Dolan.

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18. COMPUTER CHESS — Shot on broadcast Sony video cameras built in the 1960s, Andrew Bujalski’s third feature is an exploration of nascent artificial intelligence and the computer chess program developers who spend a weekend experimenting with the code that has since revised the world; it’s really funny, too.

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19. FRANCES HA — I’m still literally pissed about how much I absolutely fucking loved this movie about a twenty-something, middle-class white girl with twenty-something, middle-class white girl problems dancing her way around New York; ugh, it’s so charming!

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20. THIS IS THE END — If you think making a scene in which two boy-men ascending to heaven fight a CGI lava devil with a huge penis whilst Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” blares genuinely emotional is an easy task, you’re dead wrong; this film is secretly way better than most critics are willing to admit.

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HONORABLE MENTION

The Place Beyond the Pines
Room 237
Gravity
All Is Lost
Spring Breakers
Blancanieves
Nairobi Half Life
Mud
We Are the Best
Upstream Color

NOTABLE OMISSIONS (because I haven't seen them yet)

Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Wolf of Wall Street

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James Kaelan

James Kaelan is Seed&Spark's Creative Director and the Founding Editor of the new <em>BRIGHT IDEAS</em> print magazine launching at Sundance 2014. Look out for it!

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