Our Critics’ Top 10 Films of 2013

12/18/2013 4:00 AM |

Photo via rottentomatoes.com

Nicolas Rapold (Unranked)

The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer

Building on Rouch and General Idi Amin Dada, Ophuls and Lanzmann, director Joshua Oppenheimer trains his camera on the “genocidal imagination,” alive and well in the light of day and, painfully, the context of a society.

At Berkeley, Frederick Wiseman

Wiseman’s 40th feature uses the bustling university as a stage for ideas, laying bare its workings but also taking stock at a time when public endeavor and rational discourse can seem in danger. It’s another deceptively plain-sounding film by one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers.

Before Midnight, Richard Linklater

Linklater’s first two Before films made melancholic harmonies over the fading of ideals and the temporal magic of love, and perhaps like Celine and Jesse, we were nervous about seeing them again after so long. The new film shows the harder, sharper-elbowed realities that followed that heartsick play of feelings between two people who hoped/feared they would be larger than life to one another.

Leviathan, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor

Unless you’ve recently half-drowned in darkest night below a dreamlike storm of paper-cut-out seagulls, and tumbled in a tide of fish and brine and chum beset by sloshing waves, you have probably not seen anything like this record of a fishing voyage. A rare successful cinematic attempt at sensory fidelity, Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s movie is a milestone in documentary experimentation.

Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig collaborated sparklingly on this black-and-white film about someone realizing (or growing into the realization) that they’re treading water. Cowriting with Gerwig, Baumbach creates more finely drawn cultural portraiture, with quotably apt lines that capture entire milieus in semi-satirical miniature.

The Grandmaster, Wong Kar-Wai

Maybe it’s time to clear away the mythology that swirls around Wong Kar-Wai like smoke, because sometimes the actual enchantment of his moving images, right there on the screen, can be forgotten. An intriguing 2013 pair with To the Wonder, Wong’s exacting period film orchestrates the ache of memory and impossible romance, and of punches and kicks, with panache.

Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel and Ethan Coen

Building on A Serious Man (and avoiding myth), the Coen Brothers have, in resurrecting a world of folk and its jockeying over authenticity, keyed into a level of expression and empathy all the more potent after the long-form pratfalls they’ve orchestrated in the past.

Let the Fire Burn, Jason Osder

A nightmare comes alive in this seamlessly stitched together account of the 1985 fall of defiant black radical organization MOVE—along with part of their neighborhood, too, in a police-induced firestorm. Suspensefully told through news footage and other archival video, Osder’s documentary puts “the past in the pretense tense.”

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, Terence Nance

Nance’s wonderful hybrid of animation and rumination about a loosey-goosey love that wasn’t was a rare feat and a breath of fresh air, self-conscious and free at once.

A Touch of Sin, Jia Zhangke

Jia’s explosive collection of news-based stories traces bloody forces at work, sounding a warning about the violence close to the surface of a routinely ruptured society that shows signs of the strain. Dotted with incidental portraiture besides its beleaguered protagonists, the vividly painted film rolls out a moral panorama as it spans China.