My top 10 of 2013: Frances Ha (#5)

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More from my Film Stage top 10 list. 

There’s a sequence about thirty minutes into Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha that captures a feeling of real joy. Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, runs down the street, twirling, leaping, and smiling, in a Carax-appropriating scene set to David Bowie’s “Modern Love.” The sequence seems, well, perfect, and in some ways, so is Frances Ha. It’s a simple, funny, moving story that captures the experience of drifting through your twenties, growing apart from friends, and discovering who you are as well as any film I’ve ever seen. A perfect film? It sure feels that way.

My top 10 of 2013: A Touch of Sin (#6)

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More from my Film Stage top 10 list. 

Jia Zhangke’s four-story tapestry is a harsh, epic exploration of modern China, and a study of defeated characters that rewards close viewing. In each story, violence comes quickly, sometimes coupled with absurdity: a villager strikes back against the oppressive powers-that-be, a killer takes aim due mainly to boredom, a sauna worker is pushed past her breaking point, and a young person shuffles from job to job with disastrous results. What does it all mean? For Zhangke, that is the ultimate, likely unanswerable question.

My top 10 of 2013: Bastards (#7)

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More from my Film Stage top 10 list. 

Claire Denis continues to demonstrate why she is one if the world’s most provocative and important filmmakers with this razor-sharp, chilling bit of film noir. Dark, disturbing, and unforgettable, Denis’ film is a brutal shocker. There are images — blood running down a dazed, naked girl’s legs; the inside of a hellish barn; one of the most mesmerizing night driving sequences in film history — as brilliantly composed as any in recent memory.

My top 10 of 2013: Blue is the Warmest Color (#8)

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More from my Film Stage top 10 list. 

The plot is, in some ways, simple: Teenager Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), a college art student, and the two fall in love. During the course of the three-hour film, we see the highs and lows of their passionate relationship. But the film is much more complex, much more involving, much more vivid than that. It is, I think, one of the finest films ever made about young love. Yes, the film features several graphic, extended sex sequences. But they are only a small part of director Abdellatif Kechiche’s creation. The emotion is what stands out, and that is what makes those scenes memorable, not how graphic they are. “I have infinite tenderness for you. I always will,” says Emma late in the film. The viewer feels that tenderness — and shares it. What a great love story this is, and what a glorious portrayal of two unique people.

My top 10 of 2013: Blue Jasmine (#9)

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More from my Film Stage top 10 list. 

Woody Allen‘s finest drama since Crimes and Misdemeanors was a dark, unsettling character study centered around one of the finest performances the director has ever brought to the screen. Months later, it is easy to forget how frantically unhinged Cate Blanchett‘s woman-on-the-verge of a lead actually is; rewatching at home may, if anything, make Blanchett, and the film itself, even stronger.

My top 10 of 2013: The Place Beyond the Pines (#10)

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More from my Film Stage top 10 list. 

Here is an epic American crime drama, one that takes a narrow-eyed look at class, and how the circumstances of our birth dictate the rest of our lives. It’s boldly told, ambitiously plotted, and often verges on collapse. But Derek Cianfrance and his cast keep it together. Ryan Gosling has never been better as a motorcycle daredevil turned bank robber, Bradley Cooper is nicely flawed as the beat cop who finds himself on Gosling’s tale, and Eva Mendes gives her best performance as the woman who gave birth to Gosling’s child, but knows he’s on the road to nowhere. Few films this year matched this one’s verve and ambition

My top 10 of 2013 list, starting with honorable mentions

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I was thrilled to contribute my top 10 list to The Film Stage’s 2013 rundown. It is on the site now, but I’ll also be posting my selections here over the next couple weeks. Let’s start today with my intro and honorable mentions.

This was a rare year in which I could have easily found 15 or so other films to include in my top 10 list, and I’m not sure when that last occurred. In other words, 2013 was stellar, even if some biggies flopped hard, especially during the summer months. This year, even films I would consider modest disappointments — Gatsby, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Dallas Buyers Club — had wonderful moments.

The year was so strong that achievements like Short Term 12, Lore, Before Midnight, Reality, Room 237, Stranger by the Lake, Mud, Upstream Color, The Bling Ring, Spring Breakers, Much Ado About Nothing, Gravity, Fruitvale Station, and The Great Beauty found themselves eclipsed. One note: I have yet to see a few majors, including Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, andNebraska, so put a big asterisk next to my name, sadly. And check with me in a few days, because the order may have changed completely, another sign of a joyous year of cinema. In the meantime, see my honorable mentions and top 10 films below.

Honorable Mentions:

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2013’s Best: Perfect posters for Only God Forgives

This strange, hypnotic image is, well, perfect for one of the most violent, strange works of 2013: Only God Forgives. It’s now streaming on Netflix, but note that it is … not for everyone.

This, however, should even impress the Refn haters:

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Here is another that fits the mood of the film, focusing on mother-from-hell Kristen Scott Thomas:

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And one more, of star Ryan Gosling:

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