Where does the time go? It feels like it was only a few weeks ago when I was putting together a list of my most anticipated films of 2013 and now 2013 is halfway over. With half the year in the books it provides an opportune time to reflect on where 2013 films currently stack up. Last year when I created my Top 10 Movies of the Year So Far list I was rather surprised by how many quality films had already come out. By the end of the year only one of those films made my final top ten, but that was more of a product of last year’s crop of movies than the quality of that list. This year…not so much. While there have been a number of solid films, disappointments have greatly surpassed surprises. For me movies like Star Trek Into Darkness, This Is the End, and Man of Steel did not quite live up to the potential they promised. On the positive side, I was able to utilized video on demand this year to check out a number of interesting independent films I otherwise would have missed. While movies like The Story of Luke, Hammer of the Gods, and Upstream Color did not make my final ten they are certainly worth your time. I am still trying to catch up with a few films I missed, but for now here are my Top Ten Films of the Year So Far:
Directed By: Fede Alvarez
Written By: Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci
Synopsis: Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. The evil presence possesses them until only one is left to fight for survival.
Quick Take: (Full Review) When I started crafting this list I did not expect Evil Dead to make the cut. Obviously I enjoyed it, but I figured there would not be room to fit it on the list. In the end there was and I am glad I get to talk about it again. For one I am still surprised by how much I enjoyed my time, especially when this type of horror is not usually my style. The excessive gore and bloody imagery that tends to turn me off worked for me here. I enjoyed how they played with our expectations by twisting elements of the original. It is unquestionably not without its problems, and it doesn’t come close to the quality of the original. Though for horror remakes it is still one of the better ones in recent memory.
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Written By: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, and Scott Bakula
Synopsis: Based on the autobiographical novel, the tempestuous 6-year relationship between Liberace and his (much younger) lover, Scott Thorson, is recounted.
Quick Take: I know it may be odd to include a television movie on a list full of feature films. It made the cut for two major reasons. For one the crop of films this year is not that strong and more importantly the only reason Behind the Candelabra was not released in theaters was due to its content and not its quality. I’m sure this will clean up at the Emmy’s along with the Golden Globes because of that factor. The performances here are all fantastic. Matt Damon and Michael Douglas may have been up for Oscars if this was given a proper release. Steven Soderbergh was on point with his direction as this subject matter really mixed well with his stylistic choices. HBO films have a number of quality movies under their belt, and this may be their best one. For me this wasn’t even Soderbergh’s best film this year.
Directed By: Shane Black
Written By: Drew Pearce and Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Guy Pearce, and Ben Kingsley
Synopsis: When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.
Quick Take: (Full Review) Surprisingly this is the only summer blockbuster to make my list, and even more surprising the only other summer blockbuster I considered was Fast & Furious 6. Though I do have high hopes July and August will yield better results than May and June. That’s not to take away from quality of Iron Man 3. The Marvel movie recipe has been well established by this point. They molded all their films to fit into this one specific cinematic universe. The one element I enjoyed most about Iron Man 3 was it was the first time I felt a director had any input on a Marvel movie since Captain America. Shane Black’s fingerprints are all over this. From the choice to have it take place in Christmas to the obvious buddy cop call backs. It was a nice change of pace to see Marvel try something even a little bit different.
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Written By: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, and Jude Law
Synopsis: Emily and Martin (Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum), a successful New York couple whose world unravels when a new drug prescribed by Emily’s psychiatrist (Jude Law) – intended to treat anxiety – has unexpected side effects.
Quick Take: There has been a lot of talk that this may be Steven Soderbergh’s last film. I highly doubt we have seen the last of Soderbergh in the movie world, but if he does actually choose to retire he has gone out on the right note. With Side Effects Soderbergh designs a thrilling film full of complex moral quandaries. It harkens back to some of the greats like Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder. It is cold, calculating, and you never know where the story will take you. Soderbergh’s ability to churn out movie after movie has always been impressive. This year both of his films are worthy of praise. Even when his films don’t completely work they still offer something interesting and new. Here’s hoping there is still more to come.
Directed By: Thomas Vinterberg
Written By: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, and Annika Wedderkopp
Synopsis: A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.
Quick Take: Most American audiences know Mads Mikkelsen for his work as a Bond villain in Casino Royale or recently his masterful take as the Hannibal Lector in NBC’s Hannibal. His career is further reaching than that as he has done some great work in his native country of Denmark. The Hunt was released last year, but only became widely available to American audiences this summer. It is a powerful tale that is riveting in every turn. Mikkelsen gives one of the best performances of the year as he shows an uncharacteristic softness to him I personally did not expect. It’s a film that is certainty hard to watch at times as it enters into some truly depressing and twisted territory, yet it never stops being captivating. If you have not had the opportunity to check out The Hunt yet you should surely do so.
Directed By: Jay Oliva
Written By: Bob Goodman and Frank Miller
Starring: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, and Michael Emerson
Synopsis: The Batman has returned after a 10-year absence. The Gotham authorities want to arrest him. An old foe wants a reunion. The Feds want the Man of Tomorrow to put a stop to him.
Quick Take: The Dark Knight Returns is the Casablanca or Citizen Kane of the comic book world. It is held at such a high regard it seems like it would be impossible to do it justice in any format that isn’t a graphic novel. Somehow they pulled it off. Putting it in two parts was the right call as it allowed them to take their time with the story. The voice acting and animation are all fantastic. DC has an amazing track record when it comes to their Batman direct to DVD movies, and this might be the best one. It’s strange that the best comic book movie that comes out this year may be a film that never got a theatrical release. The only question is which part is better? For me it is part two by the slimmest of margins. The Superman-Batman epic battle sequence gives it the slight edge.
Directed By: Derek Cianfrance
Written By: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, and Bradley Cooper
Synopsis: A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.
Quick Take: (Full Review) My biggest issue with The Place Beyond the Pines—like most—was the final third act that didn’t quite come to the thematic conclusion Derek Cianfrance was hoping for. As time passes by I find that issue having less and less of an effect on my overall viewpoint of the movie. Perhaps with a rewatch that issue could completely dissipate. Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, and Bradley Cooper are all fantastic. The Place Beyond the Pines combines a lot of what I loved about Drive with what I really enjoyed about Derek Cianfrance’s last film Blue Valentine. If this were to come out later in the year I think there would be good deal of Oscar talk for some of the performances and at the very least the cinematography. Maybe the Academy will prove me wrong and show they do realize films come out before the month of September.
Directed By: Alex Gibney
Written By: Alex Gibney
Starring: Julian Assange, Adrian Lamo, and Bradley Manning
Synopsis: A documentary that details the creation of Julian Assange’s controversial website, which facilitated the largest security breach in U.S. history.
Quick Take: Usually when I do my end of the year lists I separate documentaries into their own separate list. By this point of the year I just haven’t seen enough movies or documentaries to do that. I am a fan of Alex Gibney’s directorial style. You do know what you are getting when you watch his films. Movies like Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, and even Catching Hell all have that talking head format combined with Gibney’s ability to cleverly frame a story. Gibney has a knack for picking stories that are a microcosm of today’s major issues. The story of Wikileaks is one of the biggest in the last decade, and though many may already be well aware of the story this does provide a lot of keen insight. Beyond just that it is full of some rather remarkable characters. Whether you love or despise Julian Assange there is no denying he is a compelling person.
Directed By: Cristian Mungiu
Written By: Cristian Mungiu
Starring: Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, and Valeriu Andriuta
Synopsis: The friendship between two young women who grew up in the same orphanage; one has found refuge at a convent in Romania and refuses to leave with her friend, who now lives in Germany.
Quick Take: If I were to rate these films on a pure cinematic standpoint Beyond the Hills would easily be number one. Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days was one of the best films of the last decade. While Beyond the Hills doesn’t reach quite that level, it does offer a lot to appreciate. You know you are dealing with a cinematic genius when one of the best moments involves a simple task like washing a car window. It shows that payoffs can come in all shapes and sizes. Beyond the Hills is a hard film to quantify—its part horror, part coming of age, part romance, part social commentary, and part serious drama. For a film that has so many elements the passing is relatively mundane, because Mungiu is methodical with how he moves the story along. He provides just enough to keep you interested, then unloads with some really moving sequences.
Directed By: Jeff Nichols
Written By: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, and Jacob Lofland
Synopsis: Two teenage boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love.
Quick Take: (Full Review) I am not sure if any films on this list will make my end of the year top ten, but I do think Mud has a solid chance. It is the perfect counter programing for a summer movie season full of billion dollar blockbusters and large scale special effects. It’s a quiet reserved storytelling that focuses on its characters first. Of all the films I have seen so far this year this is the one I go back to the most. There is something welcoming about its presentation that makes me want to revisit it again and again. Tye Sheridan clearly has a strong career ahead of him, and Matthew McConaughey continues his streak of great performances. If you have yet to check out Mud I advise you do so when it his home media later this year. I think it’s a film that will only see its popularity increase as the years grow older.
Honorable Mentions: Sound City, Upstream Color, Fast & Furious 6, It’s a Disaster, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation