Published on January 2nd, 2014 | by Callen Diederichs


A Wonderfully Random ‘Best Films of 2013’ List

I am a movie lover that lives on a backwater planet on the Canadian prairie, which means that one must make some accommodations for lists like these.  Some films from years past only made it to where I am this year, and a lot of this year’s most-buzzed films haven’t yet — some never will.  (Plus, I try to avoid the multiplex, so if a film has only played there I haven’t seen it).  And thus, I bring you a random best of movies list that you simply HAVE to see.

The Movies

Computer Chess   2001: A Space Odyssey re-imagined as a convention for computer chess programmers in the 80s. The next stage of evolution begins as a computer develops sentience and the nerds get trapped in feedback loops and reborn at the hands of a gregarious self-help cult.

Something in the Air       An autobiographical follow-up to the great Carlos, with breezy cinematography and a psych-folk soundtrack accompanying director Olivier Assayas’ on screen stand-in as he explores the struggle between art and political engagement as means of creating a world worth living in.      

Beyond the Hills   The Exorcist as directed by Tarkovsky? The Romanian new wave continues to impress with its black humour, political allegory, and extended takes (don’t they teach montage in film school there?).

Spring Breakers    A surprisingly sympathetic celebration of vapid pop culture that elevates as much as it offends.

The Hunt      A parable of that dubious foundation of human civilization, the scapegoat; wanting Mads to Hulk-out into One-Eye and kick some ass is probably missing the point.

Amour  A film equally perfect and hard to watch. Spoiler: the pigeon doesn’t die.

Like Someone in Love   Arbitrary shot setups, random plot points, with the most desultory ending in recent memory: leave it to Kiarostami to turn all that into a most specific expression of desire.

Before Midnight    The generation I share with our couple was brought up under the shadow of imminent nuclear war.  We now know that the real Apocalypse happens in a bedroom.

Lore   Gorgeously shaky 16mm photography follows German children fleeing the Allied invasion, as the titular lass discovers that hormones trump ideology and that dear old dad was orchestrating mass slaughter.

Simon Killer    Oddly framed long takes and jarring sound design help tell the tale of an American sociopath in Paris.

Only God Forgives     Possibly the best looking film of the year, it disappointed at first but I’ve warmed up to its gleefully delirious nihilism.

12 Years A Slave       With each film, McQueen moves farther away from the rigorous avoidance of sentimentality and melodrama that made Hunger so resonant.  The most conventional film on this list, it at least displays mastery of those conventions.

And for the hell of it, some older films I watched for the first time this year:

Star Wars Uncut (2009)  Fans recreate every frame of A New Hope in 15 second chunks that capture the goofy charm of the original without the taint of product licensing and  early-onset digital masturbation.  You can’t really beat a Mod Darth Vader making her entrance with go-go dancer Stormtroopers

The Seventh Continent (1989)  Haneke hits the ground running with his first film, featuring a perfect use of formalism in its opening 15 minutes and (no surprise) a devastating ending. ‘Moving to Australia’ has never sounded so morbid.

Taste of Cherry (1997)  Camus wrote that the only serious philosophical question is, should we commit suicide? Our protagonist is thoughtful enough to also ask, how to unobtrusively dispose of my body afterwards?   With the best self-reflexive ‘cinematic’ ending since Two-Lane Blacktop.

All the President’s Men (1976)      Robert Redford-starring 70s paranoia classic, part 1.  Perfect example of bold choices in cinematography and editing being integral to the storytelling and not gratuitous flourishes.

Berlin Alexanderplatz  (1980)   The 15 most melodramatically lugubrious hours of my year, and that’s saying a lot. But the finale is more perversely surreal than anything I could come up with.

Spirit of the Beehive (1973)      A sublimely simple film that combines a child’s gaze into the abyss with a veiled critique of the Franco dictatorship.

Red Cliff 1 (2008)/Red Cliff 2 (2009) Romantic pacifist types can have their 5-hour-kung-fu-epic cake and eat it too.

The Hit (1984) A baby-faced Tim Roth terrorizes the ever-cool Terrence Stamp in this gangster-roadtrip study of macho posturing, whether of the old-fashioned or new age varieties.

Putney Swope (1969)    I was surprised to find out that Robert Downey Sr. made snarky countercultural art films. The commercials created by a repurposed ad agency are brilliant.

3 Days of the Condor (1975)   Robert Redford-starring 70s paranoia classic, part 2.  Ah, the days when action films were intelligent and subversive, not mind-numbing propaganda for the military.

Girlfriends (1978)   Kubrick’s favourite film of that year; would he have loved Girls and Frances Ha as much as Claudia Weill’s groundbreaking indie?

Django Unchained (2012) The sequence from preparing dinner to the gunfight afterwards is vital filmmaking, complete with a touching display of redemption, but it should have ended shortly thereafter.

Here’s looking forward to the new yearHer, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Under the Skin, Only Lovers Left Alive, Inherent Vice, Grand Budapest Hotel,  Adieu au language, Sils Maria, NIght Moves, The Double, When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism

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is a maker of apocalyptic Western films, cinema projectionist, and musician with a bright future behind him.

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