Best of ’13 so far: Critic’s crib sheet

Posted: July 5, 2013 at 2:21 a.m.

James Franco is the chilly Florida gangsta Alien in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, one of the year’s best films (so far).

For a film critic, a year is like an NBA basketball game: The only thing that’s really important is the fourth quarter. But having reached the midway point of the year, maybe it’s time to assess exactly how far behind I have fallen.

I haven’t seen Iron Man 3 yet. I haven’t seen Leviathan - which, from what I’m hearing, may be the most important documentary of the year. I haven’t seen The Place Beyond the Pines or Upstream Color. I haven’t seen Sarah Polley’s The Stories We Tell. There are probably a dozen highly touted foreign language films I haven’t had the opportunity to see yet.

But I pledge that before the year is out, I will have seen and formed opinions about these movies. Even if I don’t write about them, I will have experienced them. But unfortunately I can’t include them in this list of the best films of 2013 so far.

I know it’s kind of a lazy column topic, but it’s sort of helpful for me to periodically review exactly what just happened, because I’ll forget. Even now, when people ask me what the best movie I’ve seen this year is, I tend to draw a blank. Jeff Nichols’ Mud was released in April (and when I wrote this column it was still playing in at least a couple of theaters in the state) but that seems like a long time ago now. Maybe this isn’t what most people mean when they say something has a “timeless” quality, but it applies to how I feel about a lot of movies that I like - they become, as Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim did, unstuck in time. I am unable to pin them to a timeline. Mud is a movie that I wish I could have seen as a boy, and it feels like a lot of movies that I did see as a boy. It just doesn’t feel like the spring of 2013 to me.

Other movies I just plain forget. The Heat, for example, has slid off my mind like a snake into the undergrowth. I’m not sure I could provide an accurate description - I only hope I don’t encounter it again. Most of them are easy enough to forget.

So consider this my midyear checklist, a kind of cheat sheet I’ll refer to at the end of the year when I’m compelled to group and order and establish some kind of silly hierarchy of viewing. These are the best films I’ve seen so far this year (in no particular order):

  1. Mud - I’ve probably said enough about this movie, at least for now. I believe I might have underrated it slightly in my review, but I’ve never liked giving grades.
  2. Spring Breakers - I’m still digesting Harmony Korine’s sunshiny black light neon noir, which blindfolds and spins around all manner of teen sex comedy tropes.
  3. Beyond the Hills - A punishingly long horror movie about real-life exorcism and the dangers of certitude.
  4. Room 237 - Ostensibly about crackpot theories about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, this documentary is really about the pleasures and traps of criticism.
  5. This Is the End - In a way, this would make a nice double-feature with Beyond the Hills; it imagines a literal interpretation of Christian end times. And it is terribly funny.
  6. Stoker - Campy and stylish and obviously not to everyone’s taste, I loved this remake of/homage to Hitchcock’s 1943 thriller Shadow of a Doubt (it also contains allusions to a dozen or so other Hitchcock films), the first English language film by Korean Park Chan-wook.
  7. Before Midnight - I’m pretty much an agnostic when it comes to these collaborations between director Richard Linklater and stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, and there’s an extended table talk scene in this one that feels stagy and preachy, but the final half-hour of this one is genuinely powerful.
  8. Gimme the Loot - A shambling and scrappy indie featuring nonprofessional actors and real urban locations.
  9. Side Effects - Twisty, suspenseful entertainment from Steven Soderbergh. Although it was released in the winter, it’s what a summer movie ought to be.
  10. Dirty Wars, The Gatekeepers, Bridegroom and several other nonfiction films - If anything, 2013 has so far been a great year for documentary film, a subject that’s too large to address here. I’ll write about them in a separate column, either here or on blood, dirt & angels.

I also liked The Iceman, What Maisie Knew, Renoir, 100 Bloody Acres and White House Down (though by no means is this last one a “good” movie).

And on the other hand, there are movies I wish I hadn’t bothered with. And since people ask, maybe I should include a list of the worst movies I’ve seen so far this year? (Understand, I haven’t seen such unpromising titles as After Earth, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters or Movie 43 - the first quarter of the year is such a dumping ground that the studios screen very few of those products for people like me and I’m not masochist enough to seek out bad movies.)

Well, Joe Riddle asked me to so here goes, the worst movies I’ve seen in 2013 (in no particular order): Hyde Park on Hudson, The Heat, Emperor. But the most disappointing - though not ineptly made - was probably Man of Steel.


MovieStyle, Pages 25 on 07/05/2013