Like I’ve said numerous times before, 2013 was a spectacular year for movies, especially with the slate of films that were released in the fall.  It was excruciating to compile this list, let alone conclude on ten films.  Most likely, this list will change throughout the years, but for now, here are my ten favorite films of 2013.


Seeing this film before even knowing what it was about, I was thrown into a dark and morally conflicting world where we dive into child abduction and kidnapping in a painful and humanistic manner.  Denis Villeneuve’s direction, Roger Deakins’ cinematography, and Aaron Guzikowski’s tightly written script works in all manners, creating an thriller wrapped within multiple themes of religion, tragedy, and what we’re willing to do for our own family, even if it’s criminal.  PRISONERS is a refreshing take on cliche genre, and is a multiple viewing considering how dense the film is.  I specifically love Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performances, and this cast works very well together.  It’s a film that deserves more recognition and is an entertaining but an investigation on the relationship between action and reaction.


In simple words, Asghar Farhadi, the director of THE PAST, is a genius.  The way we layers his films, creating an intimate world between a facet of characters all intertwined within difficult relationships.  This film, another dense and pact cinematic experience, is the epitome of careful and detail outlining with the pace moving beautifully and slowly revealing the truth about the overlying situation and the reality of these flawed characters.  It’s an immense accomplishment, surrounding itself with multitudes of conflict, and the infatuation we as humans have with our past and its inability to propel ourselves to progress.  It’s a film many should watch, and can help us understand ourselves in ways that we may never have wanted to discover.  That’s the purity in cinema.


The best documentary I’ve seen this year is STORIES WE TELL created by the talented Sarah Polley, and it’s obvious why I would appreciate a film like this.  The story, being centered around her family’s ill-structured dynamic, it’s another tale of misfortune, reveling in the past, and the ability to let go.  There are multitude of revealings that happen throughout the film, and once they all hit, the message works so well in tune, emphasizing how truth is as fragmented as our own stories, only connecting to what our memory serves us to remember.  It’s a great work of art, and I hope this film moves towards legendary status.


A roller coaster ride of an experience with an emotional punch packed within, GRAVITY, Alfonso Cuaron’s most recent picture, is something to behold.  The visuals on this film will easily be regarded as the best that’s ever been done, but the film doesn’t work just because of its special effects, but it’s hinged on Ryan Stone’s growth into surviving and living, rather than peacefully disappearing from existence.  The entire film is a metaphor to how tragedy can inflict our souls, and how we have two options to make: either to overcome or to wither.  Stone’s surmounting hurdles and obstacles are life’s way of making things never easy, but the power of motivation and the will to live can overcome, and the way it all works together creates a powerful and moving piece of work.


The most polarizing film of 2013, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a grand example of a mastermind and auteur of everything cinema.  Yes, it’s a hypnotic and gratuitous watch, infused with sex, drugs, alcohol, and all kinds of debauchery that posts a lost ability to reflect but more to just witness.  But the film is a satire and a commentary of all things evil, and the methods these scums of the States have used throughout time to steal from whoever they can manage.  But we don’t see the victims because Jordan Belfort doesn’t see the victims.  We don’t see character growth because there is no character growth.  We see only one perspective, the shallow and inconsiderate kind, which of these men, to, at the end of day, realize that this kind of life is fraudulent and unkind to all involved.

5.  HER

This is the love story of our generation, our inability to discover true and human relationships, and rely on our computer screens or iPhones to fulfill the emptiness within our souls.  HER is a reflection on our society’s infatuation with illusion, the mere existence we share with someone on the other side.  Spike Jonze creates a world where this has become the standard, not just acceptable behavior.  The film is based in the very near future, not resembling a vast different skyline of Los Angeles or greater technology.  But the near future is a reflection of how close we are to actually falling in love with our computers, and finding our strongest connection with software.  If we really think about it, the behavior we exhume is awkward and definably questionable, but those who dissociate themselves from it are almost looked at outcasts.  HER, with a simple touch of human love and how conflicted we are as people, is an incredible achievement in story telling.  Hail all parties involved as this film will last throughout time.


Eloquent, graceful, distant, and emotionally careful, 12 YEARS A SLAVE will be the most important film that has come out in the 2000s.  Steve McQueen’s direction is clearly felt, easily having a large creative hand in how the product eventually results.  You’ve got one of the great ensembles piece of the year, with each performance pulling its weight and taking us on this journey of Solomon Northup.  It takes a few viewings to truly understand the grandness of it all, to appreciate the exact execution it took to pull of a passionate, moving, and somber tale one man’s story in a culture that has haunted American history.  It deserves Best Picture, not just for how great the film is, but for important it will be to finally reward this kind of artistry tackling an issue that should’ve been tackled a long time ago.


In my opinion, the greatest trilogy I’ve ever seen, BEFORE MIDNIGHT is the icing on the cake, the completed work of three progressive films that get better and better.  A simple and private story of two people falling in love, it’s a realistic but yet also hopeful take on relationships and how love, as twisted as it is, is the only thing we really have in this world that stays throughout time.  Richard Linklater, with the writing aid of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (who play the leads) have enabled us with a new range of filmmaking, ignoring the cliche rules and standards of new age American cinema, allowing us to divulge in words and their eloquent ways of expression.  It’s a study that should be constantly taught in film schools and all media classes as the epitome of risky story telling.  It works so well, and is one of the best films of 2013.


The battle between #1 and #2 was as difficult as ever, but in the grand scheme of things, both films will be in my all time favorites so it’s really a redundant conversation, but it shows just how good SHORT TERM 12 really is.  It’s a film that nails the honesty and the truth of disturbed and pained children and teenagers, and how the victimization of innocence is what truly ruins this country.  But really, it’s a story of appreciation and finding the good in people.  Stripping away all reputation and background from an individual, and giving each and every person a chance is what’s important here.  Destin Cretton does an invaluable job of displaying these difficult stories where tortured teenagers must find ways to survive, regardless of it being healthy or legal.  The performances from each member of its cast including Brie Larson, Keith Stanfield, and John Gallagher Jr. are all essential components to this vast success of storytelling.  It’s a film that I’ll show my kids, and I hope they’ll show theirs.  It’s a recommendation I’ll always make to people because it’s a true human story, and regardless of what we have or haven’t gone through, we can all understand the difficulties of living with pain, no matter how small or big we think they are.  SHORT TERM 12 is a film you must watch.


It’s hard to really explain my love for this film, from its grand themes of love, identity, individualism, and the road to happiness, but each and every individual that has seen this film has its own personal affection for it and with very good reason.  It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen.  It’s a visual display of the power in sexual chemistry, and how overpowering it can be to find love within our physical hunger and appetite.  It’s a thesis of conversations ranging from the beauty of art, the difficulties of maturity, literature, food, and all things important in our daily lives.  It’s a reflection of relationships, and how there’s always that one person that has captured our breaths in ways that no other partner ever has.  It creates this small, intimate world of Adele that infatuates our need to find and discover.  Not just in our sexual exploration or our human interactions, but within ourselves, and to find what completes us and makes us whole.  To label this film a “sex infused lesbian movie” is unjust and unfair.  The film is so much more than that, and deserves an audience willing to explore these thoughts and ideas that provide great detail of the difficulties of living.

One can only hope 2014 emulates something similar to 2013.  What a great year for cinema.

Easily the Best Film of the Year: STORIES WE TELL Review

Stories are timeless.  Regardless of when they take place, the stories we decide to share with our friends, family, colleagues, or even strangers, live on, even longer than our own lives, as they are what keeps our legacy in existence.  In Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, we see one story, told in several different perspectives, and how it changed many lives in heartbreaking but also fulfilling ways.

Stories We Tell is centralized on the Polley family, specifically Sarah’s mother, who’s bright, innovative, and beautifully expressive.  She’s an individual who lives life in her own terms, moving on from darkness and doing the best she can to make her journey exciting and enjoyable, regardless of her current situation.  The drama surrounding all of this is that Sarah’s father is at question.  The dad she has grown up with and played the father figure has always been Michael, who was married to her mother until her unfortunate death.

As continues to play detective on her own true lineage, she discovers that her real father is someone she completely unexpected, complicating this already complicated story even further.  Sarah’s world is thrown into a whirlwind, making this entire situation life changing.  The realizations that she continues to discover on this path towards the truth affects everyone; her brothers, sisters, her supposed father, her real father, and even friends of the family.

The film in general is heartbreaking, putting the tragedy of the typical American family on full display.  In today’s world, nothing is abnormal with families, and Sarah’s is uncomfortable and unfortunate, but not unfamiliar.  It’s a true reflection of the dramatic turn in regards to the people we love, especially the difficulties and complexities of how life is lived and how that can positively or negatively affect our partners, children, etc.  Polley doesn’t shy away from the conversation, as she presents it with a bright spotlight on a shiny platter.

The struggles for all individuals living in this world is to never disappoint, and love, no matter how powerful it can be, is also the most dangerous feeling we experience.  If you’ve ever witnessed any of Polley’s films, they all surround themselves on the realities of relationships, and how love, no matter how beautiful and graceful it may be, can destroy and demolish your livelihood.  Love doesn’t exuberate peace, but inconsistency and confusion.  Our love for people is shallow 8ucurrent position.  Her films reflect her life experiences, and Stories We Tell is obvious evidence on her personal reflection on the subject matter.

As I try to recommit myself to a review rather than a lecture on family dynamics, I can’t help but express why I love this film.  Similar to Sarah’s situation, my family comes from a difficult background.  Just like the Polley household, the one I grew up in was torn down by pain, suffering, and very unfortunate events.  There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your family disappear as a child.  It’s everything you hold dear, and when there’s nothing to hold on to, you find something else to replace it.

I found comfort through film and movies, sports, food (too much maybe), and friends and good company.  That’s all I’ve ever really needed.  But the effects are endless, and what we see in Stories We Tell is the epitome of a family looking for calm through the storm.  In all honesty, it’s almost a miracle how close and open all of them are considering how much they’ve gone through, and most individuals cannot survive the way the Polley family has.  It’s a nod to them and their relationships with each other.

The documentary plays out like a gorgeous play, slowly revealing more about people, their circumstances, and how it can dictate their future.  The set up is so perfect, as Polley grabs our hand and gently leads us without ever overextending her direction or playing it too safe.  It’s a romantic poem about a tragic and somewhat depressing message, and it all works beautifully.  There were moments where I had to fight back tears, as it strung a very emotional and insecure spot in my life, regardless of all the progress I’ve made.  And that’s when a film reaches ultimate success: by stringing memories and feelings within an individual that makes the experience personal and relevant.

Stories We Tell isn’t necessarily about a family drama, but more so about the importance of truth, and the evolution of the relativity and its impact on our souls.  Stories were once a real-life harrowing experience, and though however personal and difficult it may be, memories are everlasting.  Some may refuse to look back into the past, but a documentary like Stories We Tell exempts any excuses, and we are forced to face with our own mystifying past.  What a beautiful accomplishment.

Stories We Tell receives 4 stars (out of 5).