The Best Films of 2013

by PopMatters Staff

6 January 2014


25 - 21

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The Bling Ring

Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann


The Bling Ring

Sofia Coppola has a way with lost young adults. The characters in The Bling Ring, based on real-life teenage burglars who targeted celebrities (as depicted in a Vanity Fair article), are certainly lost, being either home schooled or in the “dropout school” for past bad behavior. But instead of wallowing in their unsatisfactory home lives, Coppola shows how they’re swept up in everything they don’t have: designer clothes, huge mansions, access to the VIP celebrity lifestyle, and attention from the press. Coppola is able to dramatize this excess—shots of sprawling houses and overstuffed closets (including Paris Hilton’s actual residence)—and use it as both a critique of celebrity-obsessed consumerism and as a way of understanding why a gang of high schoolers would want to break in at all costs to steal of piece of it. She also makes the best use of the a slo-mo walking shot since Reservoir Dogs, only instead of identical black suits her characters wear pilfered couture. Marisa LaScala


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The Place Beyond the Pines

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Rose Byrne, Bruce Greenwood, Ray Liotta, Mahershala Ali, Ben Mendelsohn


The Place Beyond the Pines
Focus Features

For the viewer who approaches The Place Beyond the Pines aware that the film is a triptych, the opening action of three motorcycles chasing one another in a spherical metal cage might seem to portend a narrative structure in which story threads will interweave and collide. However, Derek Cianfrance has made a straightforward film that supports three consecutive plots with a single connective spine, which is the acceptance of responsibility. In the first, Luke (Ryan Gosling) tries to honor his duty as a father by robbing banks to support his son. In the second, police officer Avery (Bradley Cooper) struggles with the perks and regrets of a supposed heroic act but is unable to quell his self-righteousness. The third plot involves the next generation of young men coming to terms with the influences of their fathers, as well as their own roles in a cycle of transgression and retribution. The film joins 2011’s Warrior as a modern American melodrama that expresses what is so often felt (but at times difficult to say) about the bonds of fathers and sons. Thomas Britt


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Computer Chess

Director: Andrew Bujalski
Cast: Wiley Wiggins, Myles Paige, Robin Schwartz, Patrick Riester, James Curry, Jim Lewis


Computer Chess
Kino Lorber

Computer Chess takes place over a single weekend in 1980, in a motel at a competition between programmers of computer chess software, and is shot entirely with vintage analog video cameras. In the hands of a less-graceful director, it could easily have turned into a gimmicky, mean-spirited comedy. But in the hands of mumblecore godfather Andrew Bujalski, it ends up being one of the most absorbing, charming, and uncategorizable indie films of the year. A lot of the viewing pleasure simply comes from Bujalski’s loving and painstaking recreation of the period and its characters: the bad haircuts, the refrigerator-sized computers, and the painfully-awkward interactions between the introverted programmers. But Bujalski is clearly after something more than just nostalgia, and his modest portrait of humans who act like computers trying to teach computers to think like humans is filled with poignant moments of genuine beauty, surrealism, and humanity. Pat Kewley


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Blue Jasmine

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Canavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis CK, Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg


Blue Jasmine
Sony Pictures Classics

Cate Blanchett is so magnificent in Blue Jasmine, that it’s easy to obviate the fact that she is in fact part of an equally great film. A pastiche of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and the Bernie Madoff scandal the film plays like a morality tale the likes of which director/writer Woody Allen excelled at during the late 1980’s (think Crimes and Misdemeanors). Blanchett of course owns the film as the shattered Jasmine, who is trying to find her place in the world after losing her husband and her fortune. With a cast so perfect that you seem to forget they’re acting, and Allen’s tightest direction since Match Point, Blue Jasmine not only serves as a terrifying reminder of the world’s indifference towards our misfortune, it also shines a light on the road to insanity in such a way that we’ll be afraid of talking to ourselves for days after watching it. Jose Solis


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Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver


Fox Searchlight Pictures

You could describe Stoker as a lot of things; a very dark coming-of-age story, a claustrophobically tense thriller, an even more brutal take on Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, the world’s most oblique homage to Dracula, even Park Chan-wook’s English language debut. All true, but none of which really sum up the bracing, off-kilter pleasures of this movie. As the titular family, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman turn in excellently unnerving work; three people related less by blood or appearance (although those as well) as by their fracturing psyches. If I told you the very end of the movie out of context, it might sound outlandish; after the events of Stoker, though, it makes perfect, queasy sense. Ian Mathers

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