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The 10 Best Films of 2013

By The Pajiba Staff | Film | January 3, 2014 |

By The Pajiba Staff | Film | January 3, 2014 |

10. Enough Said — Nicole Holocefner has quietly become one of the most important female voices working in cinema today, her keen understanding of the experience of being a woman and her gentle way of conveying emotion is so well-done as to be deceptively simple. To make something this carefully crafted and drenched in realism isn’t easy, it’s one of the hardest tasks there is. As Truffaut preached, “The film of tomorrow will be an act of love,” and Holocefner is living proof of the truth of that statement … Though there are many laughs to be found in Enough Said, the the film is quite sad at times, made all the more sad by the constant presence of James Gandolfini. I had doubted his ability as a romantic lead, but I take it all back. His acting is exceptional enough to supersede the sad truth of his death, but for much of the film it’s difficult to look at him, knowing this was one of his last films. When an actor dies, it’s all too easy to either attribute too much excellence to their work (no one wants to speak ill of the dead) or to look for hints of foreknowledge in their performances. I study his face in each scene, wondering if his sad, slow, gentle smile holds anything more than what’s needed for the scene. But, no. There’s no way he could have known, and his sad smiles are simple the exhaustion of hope, another false start, another attempt to love someone. — Amanda Mae Meyncke

9. Frozen — There’s no way to blurb the interview I conducted with my son about the movie that stands in for our review, but we’ll just say that Frozen was phenomenal, and here’s another 10 reasons why.

8. Inside Llewyn Davis — Ultimately, Llewyn Davis feels like a smaller Coen brothers film, a small fable revisiting their old wheelhouse of outsiders in an unforgiving world — but it seems to have a more personal touch, with some interesting allusions to Jewishness, death, and creative partnership. The stylistic exercises of music and period recreation are successfully done, but more than this, Inside Llewyn Davis stands out in the brothers’ work as a deeply human and meditative work. — Caspar Salmon

7. 12 Years a Slave — Discussing the slave trade in the late 18th century, William Wilberforce said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” That’s the best way to describe the extraordinary work McQueen’s done here. He’s rendered a stunning film that does what the best art can do: It moves us into new worlds even as it helps us shape our own. 12 Years a Slave is one of those movies that makes you use phrases like “towering achievement” and mean them, even as you know how small and grasping those words feel and how poor a tool they are for pinning the film down. Stripped of melodrama, tricks, and apologetics, the film instead becomes a living record, a testament to love and freedom and death and suffering and every horrible and loving thing we do to ourselves. It’s not for nothing that one of the film’s transitions is simply Solomon in the fields, listening to the world around him, slowly turning until he stares into the camera for a moment before moving on, as if to remind us that we’re a part of everything that’s happened — that’s happening. Solomon’s legacy was almost lost to the ages, too: if not for the dogged work of historians and researchers, his account would’ve washed away, long since labeled fiction by those who sought to rewrite history. But his story is our story, and in telling one man’s life, McQueen gets to tell them all. His film — his brutal, sweeping, uncompromising, beautiful, worthy film — feels as much a summation of who we are as anything else, and it reckons with our past with its eyes open. Watching it, you can hear the chains, and the cries, and the pleas for mercy. Maybe we’ll never comprehend it, not really, but we’re closer. Never say again that you did not know. — Daniel Carlson

6. Frances HaFrances Ha is one of those bolt-of-lightening films, something so modern and tangible, you’re utterly surprised to see that someone has managed to capture the feeling of being alive, right now, so exquisitely. The meandering moment-here and moment-there approach of editing and black and white filming of the story gives one the overall snapshot of one woman’s existence, in a style very much like Woody Allen. And oh my god, is it all so funny at times. Frances Ha is a remarkable, visceral meditation on the power of loving and being loved, and our endless attempts to even understand what it might be to love ourselves. — Amanda Mae Meyncke

5. American Hustle — David O. Russell brings a brisk, darkly comic tone to the film. He scores most of it with bittersweet pop ballads from the era that perfectly capture the feeling of something slick on the outside but rotten underneath, and there’s an inescapable verve to the way he handles the sprawling story. The con artists are working schmucks, and most of the feds are power-hungry bureaucrats. The sole voice of reason — Richie’s supervisor, played by a beleaguered Louis C.K. — is shouted down at every turn. This isn’t a message movie. Crime pays and it doesn’t, the law works and it doesn’t. When bigger and bigger political targets become the focus of Richie’s sting operations, Irving feels sorry for them. They don’t have “larceny in their blood,” as he laments. They’re just out trying to make a buck. They did it before all this went down, and they’ll do it again. Everybody hustles, Russell’s saying, and that goes for him, too. He’s made a slick, entertaining, tricky movie that hangs together even when it almost shouldn’t. That’s the power of intention, as one of his characters might say. Some of this actually happened. — Daniel Carlson

4. HerHer is an amazingly fun film to watch. Inventive, creative, beautiful and interesting. Director Spike Jonze’ vision of the future looks a lot like our modern day life with a few tweaks here and there, product design is different in the future, video games are immersive, cities appear to be so spread out that they are rather sparsely populated. People still look the same, and dress like it’s the seventies, so I guess not too much is different. Everyone seems to work in online environments that still relate to the minutiae of daily life. Jonze’ world is also beautiful, muted colors and grand urban vistas, it’s clear a great deal of thought went into the look and feel of this future … We often speak of having love for others, but to leave someone far better than you found them, to love them so well that you bring them into the fullness of life, seems the truest expression of our humanity. Her is really more the story of them, and in the softest details, the best story of us, the one we tell ourselves can be, if we let it. — Amanda Mae Meyncke

3. GravityGravity is a massive, gripping spectacle that overwhelms through sheer size and scope. It’s a stripped-down, kinetic, exhilarating, fully engaging adventure that makes you want to say things like “big-screen thrill ride” unironically even as you realize how stupid that sounds. And it’s important to stress that that’s what this is: a ride, as blissful and exhilarating as you could want, taking you from initial drop to return dock in a smooth 90 minutes. There’s barely an ounce of fat on it. A film programmer I know refers to Gravity as Gimmick: The Movie. This isn’t pejorative, either, and I feel exactly the same way. This is one of the most kinetic film experiences I’ve had in a while, but also one of the most honestly and appropriately superficial. There is exactly as much here as you see. — Daniel Carlson

2. Mud — More than anything, this is a movie about love. It seems cheesy to just say it like that, but it’s true. The plot is driven by Mud’s love of Juniper. Ellis is a teenager just getting his feet wet in what it means to fall into and out of love, and he’s practically compelled to help Mud because of Mud’s relationship with Juniper. There’s one scene in particular, where Shannon has a conversation with his nephew’s friend about this adventure the boys are on. While it’s about them staying out of trouble, it’s also about how to cope with heartbreak. While the dialogue is delivered in a funny yet touching way, which leads to the funniest line of the whole movie, it’s also really the heart of the film. We all love and, sadly, we all have our hearts broken. But we keep at it, because of the hope of the next love. — Seth Freilich

1. Short Term 12 — Brie Larson’s Short Term 12 is more than just an unexpected delight, it’s an outstanding little movie about the power of emotional processing, about dealing with psychological trauma, and about the ways in which we cope. It is dizzyingly sweet, immensely heart-achey and anchored by one of the most nuanced and beautifully subtle performances in a very long while. It really is a beautifully wistful film, and Brie Larson turns in a performance that will blow the mindhole of the indie world. She is quietly commanding and serene, a damaged angel trying to rescue her flock. — Dustin Rowles