The 10 best Movies of 2013

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1. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
One of cinema’s great love stories is now even richer—full of the complexity that comes with longevity. Before Midnight caps off one of the most compelling, emotionally satisfying trilogies ever filmed. (Whether or not it stays a trilogy nine years from now is anyone’s guess.) Director Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy understand the joys and struggles of aging with someone you love, and have packed several years worth of feelings into 105 minutes. The movie contains more pain than its predecessors, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, but that’s because it’s a wiser, more mature work.—Jeremy Mathews

upstream-color.jpg2. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth)
Upstream Color is by its nature a flawed movie. Carruth is clearly pushing himself both cinematically and emotionally. Every aspect of the filmmaking, from the sound design to the cinematography, stands out in some way, yet the finish line still feels just beyond reach—the story never makes enough sense to come to full fruition. (There is an entire strand involving Henry David Thoreau’s Walden that I can barely pretend to understand. ) But while this is all very fragmented, it creates for itself a certain kind of whole—one in which the audience emerges with more questions than answers, and with the same disoriented notion of time and love and control that Carruth’s characters must feel. What just happened to me? Why do I feel this way? Where do I go from here?—Joe Peeler

mud.jpg3. Mud (Jeff Nichols)
Two years ago, Jeff Nichols turned plenty of heads at Sundance with his second film Take Shelter—as did his fast-rising stars Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon. This year he was back with Mud, a coming-of-age thriller about two young boys who encounter a man on the run in rural Arkansas. Ellis (Tye Sheridan from Tree of Life) lives on the river with his parents, who are on the brink of splitting up, when he and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) discover Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living alone on an island in the river. Mud is waiting on his one true love, played by Reese Witherspoon, and enlists the boys to help. But Ellis has to navigate the oncoming adult world on several fronts at once. It’s a sweet tale that displays plenty of faith in humanity without ever veering into sappiness and always keeping you on the edge of your seat. And Nichols once again coaxes amazing performances from his cast.—Josh Jackson

stories-we-tell.jpg4. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)
With Stories We Tell, actress-turned-director Sarah Polley has proven herself a consummate filmmaker, transforming an incredible personal story into a playful and profound investigation into the nature of storytelling itself. The central mystery of her documentary—that the man she grew up believing to be her dad is not her biological father—is public knowledge and revealed in the film’s trailer. Yet Polley conceals and reveals information—starting with her relationships to her interview subjects—in such a way as to constantly surprise, even shock, her audience. The result is a film that entertains and delights viewers while elevating her investigation to art.—Annlee Ellingson

frances-ha.jpg5. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
Frances Ha is endearing, kind and, in many ways, Noah Baumbach’s best movie to date. One could trace his films, from his debut (Kicking and Screaming_) to his most recent (_Greenberg) and see a slow but steady focus on the individual, as well as his abandonment of an ironic, sometimes caustic stance against the very characters he writes. It is as if Baumbach could only write a certain type of person—the privileged, socially crippled intellectual with either too much self-awareness or none at all—and for a while it seemed like even the writer himself couldn’t stand to be in the same room with such characters. This anger has faded, and what has emerged over his last few films, and culminated in Frances Ha, is an embrace of not only the flaws of his characters, but also his flaws as a filmmaker. He has settled down and created a film imbued with love, fun and melancholy. It feels simple and open, and is a joy to watch.—Joe Peeler

to-the-wonder.jpg6. To The Wonder (Terence Malick)
To The Wonder is at times painfully beautiful, and Malick is a master at finding the wonder in even the most mundane natural phenomenon. He is capable of making a wind-swept prairie in the Midwest look just as remarkable as an ancient Norman castle. As far as the meshing of sound and vision, the film is a marvel, perhaps one that should really be considered more as an experimental, Maya Deren-esque art piece than as a narrative feature.—Jonah Flicker

 

room-237.jpg7. Room 237 (Rodney Ascher)
There exists a rare species of obsessive moviegoer, the hyper-fan who focuses on one film, mentally and emotionally ingesting it dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. Along a certain parallel, there is also a serious breed of conspiracy theorist, compulsive in his or her beliefs, taking things far beyond just watching Doomsday Preppers for fun. Put these two types together, and you get Room 237, the confounding, eye-opening, and often hilarious documentary about individuals whose over-wired brains are devoted to one cinematic masterpiece: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.—Norm Schrager
from-up-on-poppy-hill.jpg8. From Up On Poppy Hill (Goro Miyazaki)
Adapted from the graphic novel by anime master Hayao Miyazaki (Princess MononokeSpirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle_) and directed by his son Goro (_Tales from Earthsea), From Up on Poppy Hillis a lush and lyrical ode to a generation pivoting between the painful past and the promise of the future. Gorgeously animated, with rich color scapes and detailed mise-en-scène, Goro Miyazaki’s sophomore outing incorporates lovely, introspective imagery of, say, a cloud passing in front of the moon or smokestacks shot at a steep angle. Koji Kasamatsu’s exquisite sound design conveys all the delicate ambient sounds of early-morning breakfast preparations and the nuanced layers of noise in a cavernous clubhouse. And Satoshi Takebe’s jazzy period score adds foot-tapping levity.—Annlee Ellingson


like-someone-in-love9. Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami)

Masterfully beguiling, Like Someone in Love is a little gem of a film that explores how relationships and roles change depending on the needs, circumstances and desires of the people involved. Much like Abbas Kiarostami’s previous effort, Certified Copy, his new film has its characters pretending to be people they’re not and in the process, relationships deepen and evolve.—Will McCord

 

 

 

side-effects.jpg10. Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh)
As Steven Soderbergh’s distinguished career winds down—his last word is supposedly Behind the Candelabra—it becomes virtually impossible to not reflect on the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s staggeringly diverse, influential body of work. Just in time, he adds “psychological thriller” (or psychiatric?) to his filmography with Side Effects. Unsurprisingly, the substance of a movie genre is again enriched with his latest, masterfully spare and confident effort.—Scott Wold

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