Much thanks to Cinema Enthusiast who wrote a similar post that inspired this list.
This year has been pretty satisfying in terms of movie-watching. To date I’ve watched nearly 50 films from 2013 – a feat that I’d usually have done at least a year or two later. However, I’ll save my “best of 2013” list for a different post, as here I’ll be focusing on EVERY film I watched for the first time this year, regardless of when they were released.
From the date that I type this, I have seen 638 new-to-me films this year. This is including short films, although the bulk of my watches (~500) have been feature-length. In the two years prior, I had watched exactly 365 feature-length films (I never logged my short films in those days), so this amount is a pretty big deal for me personally. This was the year that I got more into horror and actively sought out more obscure, overlooked gems. It affirmed my opinions of filmmakers I had previously been unsure about, and also introduced me to some brand new favorites. Like any year with plenty of movie-watching, this was a good year.
As a sort of wrap-up, I’ve decided to count down my personal top 20 of what I watched this year. Once again, date released plays no part in a film’s exclusion or inclusion; thus, be prepared to see a wide variety of stuff! Due to the number of movies covered here, I’ll be typing considerably less than I usually do, to prevent bulk. Also, keep in mind that as I type this, there are still four days left of the year – which, to me, is plenty of time to squeeze a few more films in! If I watch something before 2014 rolls around that would be fitting for this list, I’ll add a note at the bottom of this post (although with the amount of love that I carry for all of these films that have only grown over time, I don’t see that being all that likely).
So without further hesitation, we shall proceed!
20) Roma, città aperta (Rome Open City) – dir. Roberto Rossellini
Fierce and unrelenting. Beautiful, but also far more depressing that I could have prepared myself for. As a predecessor of the Italian Neorealism movement, Rossellini’s bleak portrayal of Rome during WWII captures unspeakable conflicts emotions in ways that I’ve rarely seen matched. Art and tragedy married in the most intricate ways possible.
19) Goemul (The Host) – dir. Bong Joon-Ho
In 2013, I came across a startling discovery: I love monster movies! Another pleasant surprise was that the director of the searing Mother and Memories of Murder somehow figured out how to perfect the genre. Filled to the brim with perfect tension and horror, it is also quite funny at times and unashamedly so. The gargantuan monster is the highlight. Out of the many, many horrors I watched this year, this one is my favorite.
18) Allegro Non Troppo – dir. Bruno Bozzetto
Think Disney’s Fantasia, but with Freudian imagery, meta-commentary, allegories concerning the disintegration of modern human civilization, and essentially a whole lot of mindfuckery. This is the best animation I’ve seen all year, and I truly think it needs to be seen by more people.
17) Hable con ella (Talk To Her) – dir. Pedro Almodóvar
2013 was the year that I discovered the talents of the almighty Almodóvar, but Talk To Her was the film that messed with my emotions the most. It’s heartfelt, yet disturbing. Infuriating, yet kinda funny. But when all parts become a whole, it is simply masterful. His writing is at an absolute peak here, and he’s quickly become one of my very favorite filmmakers.
16) Dear Zachary: A Letter to His Son About His Father – dir. Kurt Kuenne
A film about a parent’s worst nightmare multiplied tenfold. It’s amazing how this film can make you hate the world and everyone in it, while also being incredibly life-affirming. It’s also one of the few times a documentary has destroyed me to a withering, sobbing collection of cells. Mr. and Mrs. Bagby – you have every ounce of my love.
15) Rewind This! – dir. Josh Johnson
On the lighter side of things, this is my favorite documentary from this year. And how could it not be? It’s about a bunch of people talking about VHS and movies they love. More importantly, it’s the film that urged me to be more involved with the preservation of physical media. It’s just so, so full of heart. NEVER FORGET.
14) Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) – dir. Wim Wenders
Wim Wenders and Bruno Ganz – a match made in Himmel. Beautiful B&W imagery and existential themes make for a transcendental experience that is like no other. Distance and proximity pivot across planes of time, space, and even existence. It is a lovely, sad tale. This was my first Wenders, and from one viewing alone, I could tell it wouldn’t be the last.
13) Werckmeister harmóniák (Werckmeister Harmonies) – dir. Béla Tarr
The world of Béla Tarr is desolate, bleak, and sprawling. Absent of the aesthetic pleasantness of the previous entry, his B&W cinematography represents stark emptiness. Thus is the darkest depths of humanity, through which we move to and fro like shadows. Also, Víg Mihály’s score is pretty astounding. This film is too extensive for blanket analysis – and frankly, I like it that way.
12) Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage) – dir. Victor Sjöström
Silent era cinema about death always seems the most eerie to me. Maybe it’s because of the assurance that everyone involved in its conception has passed on. Nonetheless, The Phantom Carriage is in a class of its own, handling the topic with a spiritual flexibility. Covering multiple angles of the intense spectrum of despair, hopelessness, and redemption. It’s no wonder this film has influenced so much; it’s breathtaking.
11) Sick: The Life & Death of Robert Flanagan, Supermasochist – dir. Kirby Dick
Robert Flanagan must have been a great person to hang out with – that is, when he isn’t impaling nails through his various body parts. Sick is truly one of the most excruciating documentaries I’ve ever seen. Never have I been through so many volumes of emotions; from wincing in eternal pain, to sobbing my eyes out. Relentlessly taboo and not for the squeamish, yet also intimate and weirdly beautiful. Supermasochistic Bob has cystic fibrosis…
10) Seul contre tous (I Stand Alone) – dir. Gaspar Noé
This film kinda fucked me over. It grants privilege into the dismal life of a protagonist and sculpts him in a way that makes him impossible not to hate – and deservedly so, I think. Suddenly, it presents an ending that is so beautiful, so life-affirming, yet also completely of the same film. Any film that can infuriate me and also make me tear up is well-deserving of my praise, I feel.
9) The Adventures of Robin Hood – dir. Michael Curtiz
This film is one of the glaring examples of films I should have gotten through a long, long time ago. There’s really nothing that can’t be loved about it. Errol Flynn is perfect as Robin Hood. The color cinematography is gorgeous. The film as a whole is well-paced, adventerous, fantastic, and fun. Undoubtedly, this is one of the best films of the 30’s.
8) Before Midnight – dir. Richard Linklater
There is still a LOT from this year I have not seen, but I’d be shocked if I loved any of them more than this. Capping off the greatest trilogy of romance and heartsickness out there, Before Midnight is everything that is great about Linklater and Delpy/Hawke, and then some. Blatantly lovely, unrelenting, and also quite sad. This film is perfect.
7) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – dir. Peter Jackson
Egad. It was pretty silly of me to skip out on the LOTR trilogy during my childhood. I’m sure all the things I found amazing during my first viewing of Fellowship would have been increased tenfold by the hands of nostalgia. Alas, I can still appreciate it now, at 22, for what it truly is: a fantastic, well-paced, imaginative fantasy adventure with fleshed-out characters, wonderful imagery, and an ambitious world entirely of its own.
6) Lawrence of Arabia – dir. David Lean
Watching this film for the first time in 4k restoration on a large theater screen was one of the best decisions I’ve made all year. The late Peter O’Toole (still can’t believe he’s gone) graces the screen with his own unique brand of magnetism, branding the titular character as his own. Breathtaking imagery, a sweeping orchestral score, well-paced action – I honestly can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said before. Such perfection is obvious.
5) The Conversation – dir. Francis Ford Coppola
This has become my favorite Coppola film, and if you know the types of films I love, it’s easy to see why. This is the definition of character study, brimming with dark complexity and muddled meaning. Gene Hackman gives the performance of his career, and in reference to its concerns on technologies ties with human society and interaction, the film is kinda ahead of its time. An altogether tense, terse thriller that always and never hold back.
4) Viridiana – dir. Luis Buñuel
The corruption of a virgin subject, sexual depravity, critique of the Catholic church, a bunch of homeless men reenacting da Vinci’s The Last Supper – make no mistake, this is certainly a Buñuel film. And it’s also my favorite of his, with its biting dark humor and gasp-inducing imagery. It goes to show that no other director has been quite so consistent in successfully manipulating their unique style over and over again.
3) Paris, Texas – dir. Wim Wenders
Wenders makes my list again, this time with a film that completely blew me out of the water from my very first viewing. The beautiful images from this one are countless. Its story is astronomical, while still being completely rooted in reality. Harry Dean Stanton gives a great performance, and a certain scene in the final third remains one of the best I’ve ever seen in any film. In short, Paris, Texas gave me all the feels. Thank you, Wenders.
2) Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) – dir. Satyajit Ray
As a stand-alone film, The World of Apu is great. As the final installment of Ray’s much-overlooked “Apu Trilogy”, it is phenomenal. The comeuppance of adulthood has never been handled with so much tremendous force, yet also with the utmost delicacy and beauty. As evidenced by this and other films, Ray’s minimalist style of filmmaking is infectious, the greatest of emotions captured in the littlest of gestures. Honestly, though, merely talking about it can’t even begin to do this wonderful film justice. It should be watched – and felt – by everyone.
1) Idi i smotri (Come and See) – dir. Elem Klimov
Words simply fail me when it comes to Come and See. There is nothing in the world that could have prepared me for this wrecking ball of a film. Its nightmarish imagery is like no other; its languid pacing mimicking the slow-burn tension of life during wartime. And wartime, indeed, is represented as a metaphorical monster that takes every shred of innocence and serenity of everyone who dares cross its path, grabs them by their throat, and gnashes relentlessly until only fragments remain. In other words, Come and See represents exactly what Col. Kurtz reminds us of in his iconic final breaths. But once again, words fail me. This is a film that can only be experienced at all costs. It’s the most devastating film I’ve ever seen – yet also a true cinematic masterpiece. Nothing else comes close.