The Best Films of 2013

by PopMatters Staff

6 January 2014


5 - 1

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Upstream Color

Director: Shane Carruth
Cast: Shane Carruth, Amy Seimetz, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins, Frank Mosley, Carolyn King, Myles McGee, Kathy Carruth, Meredith Burke


Upstream Color

Whether you view it as an examination of suburban unease, a descent into madness or an analysis of chronic anxiety disorders, there’s no denying that Upstream Color is a masterpiece. Using pigs, hypnosis and Walden to invert the tropes of films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and (500) Days of Summer, Carruth creates a world just to the left of our reality, where the sense of paranoia and fear is palpable, personified in the PTSD-afflicted Amy Seimetz (who had quite the year, career-wise) as Kris. With his second feature, Shane Carruth, the auteur who gifted us with Primer in 2004, gives us all hope for not just the future of filmmaking, but for the unity and understanding of an undivided human race. The most human and humane work of cinematic art since Children of Men. Kevin Brettauer


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The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin


The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street is a choice change of pace for Martin Scorsese, a narrative where gore is replaced with gratuity and the nastiest tricks of the criminal trade swapped with bare breasts and candles up the ass. The hits these men procure are made up of various recreational pharmaceuticals and the only regrets come at the point of a subpoena, not a competing family’s gun. It’s one of his funniest, most frenzied efforts and at nearly three hours, it speeds by like a floor trader on amphetamines. The fact that Paramount missed the boat here means that, yet again, DiCaprio and company will more than likely be left out of the mandatory January through March gold statue brouhaha. No matter, it’s the movie that counts in the end and in the case of The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s a wonder to behold. Bill Gibron


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Before Midnight

Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Prior, Charlotte Prior, Xenia Kalogeropoulou, Walter Lassally, Ariane Labed, Yannis Papadopoulos, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Panos Koronis


Before Midnight
Sony Pictures Classics

Across nearly two decades, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight have observed a relationship in stages. Less scientific than Michael Apted’s Up series, but perhaps as insightful in their own ways, these films have always existed within a sort of fairy tale context of romantic possibility. What distinguishes this particular ongoing tale, courtesy of writer/director Richard Linklater and actor/writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, is its naturalistic use of time and space to reflect the changing circumstances of lives in progress. Before Sunrise was the free-wheeling, city-roaming night of youthful optimism that introduced audiences to Jesse (Hawke) and Céline (Delpy).

The conditions of Before Sunset were more confined, involving less time together, separate professional and familial obligations, and a stolen dalliance in an apartment. The natural result of that trajectory is Before Midnight, a movie in which the shared circumstances of getting married, having children, and aging create an urgency that tests the foundations of Jesse and Céline’s relationship. The initial acts of the film are revelatory for their reorientation of audience expectations. We observe parent/child interactions and discussions of careers as midlife beckons. And while the Grecian setting and relaxed conversations are pleasant, Before Midnight becomes what it needs to be: the final test of the fairy tale romance before the clock runs out. More confined than ever, this time to a single hotel suite, Jesse and Céline experience an eruption of suspicion, resentment, and confession that feels more consequential than most of the year’s action set pieces. An audience invested in the series of films is likely shocked that familiarity has bred such contempt, but by putting the hard work of marriage on screen, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have also created an unforgettable scene of dramatic recognition. Thomas Britt


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Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris  


Warner Bros.

It’s been too long since a bona-fide master filmmaker like Alfonso Cuaron has been able to get Hollywood to cough up the dough for a big-budget, big-idea drama that can play all across the world to all kinds of people without insulting anybody’s intelligence or leaving others scratching their heads. After the already famous 17-minute single-take opening where astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney (both masterful) are marooned after their space shuttle is crippled, Cuaron’s white-knuckler is one survival test after another. There’s big-tent showmanship here in spades, as well as well-honed storytelling and brilliant autuerist touches (those claustrophobic point-of-view shots from inside the astronauts’ helmets). It’s hard to ask for much more. Chris Barsanti


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12 Years a Slave

Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard


12 Years a Slave
Fox Searchlight

Thank goodness there’s British artist turned filmmaker Steve McQueen. After the stellar Hunger (about the IRA and Bobby Sands) and Shame (a film fixated on another kind of ‘bondage’), the UK auteur has delivered the masterpiece known as 12 Years a Slave. Based on the memoir by real life freeman turned indentured servant Solomon Northup and providing an unflinching portrayal of our country’s cruel history, this is, without a doubt, the best film about race and slavery ever conceived or made. It’s light years ahead of such spoon-fed pabulum as The Help, The Butler, and 42. About the closest anyone has come to this level of confrontation is Steven Spielberg with Schindler’s List, or even better, Spike Lee with his incendiary Bamboozled. Bill Gibron

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