With June now on its way out the door, it’s time to reflect on what has been one hell of a 2013 so far. Be it the best home video releases or the best theatrical releases, 2013 has shaped up, at least in its first have, to be a truly superb year, and these are a few of the crowning gems. Here are Joshua’s picks for the five best theatrical releases of 2013, so far (click on each title for the full length review):
From legendary Romanian auteur Cristian Mungiu, the filmmaker’s new picture is yet another example of how Romania may very well be the most fertile filmic landscape today. Mungiu’s film is a startlingly bleak look at the concept of isolation and the idea of feeling “whole,” and while it clocks in at 150 minutes, it’s comprised of only 100 shots. Full of beautifully plaintive long takes and a handful of emotionally devastating performances (so assured that they have the ability to interject everything from comedy to bleak drama into any moment), the film feels like a distant relative to the pictures of directors like Bela Tarr, particularly in the type of brooding photography the film gets from DP Oleg Mutu. The film proves once again that not only is Romanian cinema alive and well, but Mungiu is leading the way as one of today’s greatest filmmakers.
Speaking of today’s greatest filmmakers, the very best may be Abbas Kiarostami. A spiritual relatively to Kiarostami’s last film, Certified Copy, Someone In Love is a beautifully plaintive film that isn’t all that far off from the Mungiu film talked about above. With a final sequence that is possibly this year’s best set piece, the film, aesthetically, is as lyrical and thoughtful as a Chantal Akerman picture, but has the kinetic pacing of a summer blockbuster. The breeziest two hours you’ll spend all year, the film is an entrancing meditation on the need for human contact, and is the year’s prettiest film. Featuring superb turns from Tadashi Okuno and Rin Takanashi, the film takes a turn from the playful experimentation found in Certified Copy, instead turning Kiarostami’s eye onto a story that’s a tad colder, and an aesthetic that is polarizing and utterly breathtaking.
There are no films quite like Upstream Color, and truly no filmmaker like Shane Carruth. A film that will confound many and anger others, this surreal cinematic maze is a mystifying blend of breathtaking filmmaking and a maze of themes ranging from love to free will. Currently available on Netflix, that’s important to note, because if there has ever been a film that rewards on second, third, fourth and seventeenth viewings, it is Carruth’s picture. A dense and often times frustratingly obtuse drama that takes as much from Carruth’s previous film as it does the work of directors like Croneberg, this existential romance drama is as brazen a piece of true cinematic art as 2013 has given us so far. With two lead performances that give real emotional power to a film that would otherwise be seen as nothing but an experiment. And thankfully so, as this may very well be the one film from 2013, at least up to this point, that will grow as the years pass.
Capping off Richard Linklater’s definitive film trilogy, Jesse and Celine return once again for this year’s best romantic drama. Linklater’s best film, Before Midnight features gorgeous photography from underrated DP Christos Voudouris, and two performances from the returning Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, making this as powerful a drama as you’ll see from this half of 2013’s slate. Touching on modern romances with deftness not felt in a very long time, the film is both heartbreaking and life affirming, all culminating in a breathtaking meditation on love and how time changes all. Arguably the greatest third film ever, wrapping up the greatest trilogy of all time, this quaint drama holds within its plaintive aesthetic some of the most poignant discussion of love, life and modern romance that we’ve ever seen. As assured as Linklater has looked since the last time we ran into this couple, the greatest thing one can say about this film is that while it’s the third in a trilogy, it is just as good as a stand alone picture for those unfamiliar to the franchise. All in all, this is the perfect film for a generation who has grown through their adulthood with these characters, and the perfect film to re-affirm Linklater as one of today’s truly great filmmakers.
This is simply the most exciting American film in years. From auteur Harmony Korine, the film that pissed off those expecting a Hangover type teen debauchery-fest but thrilled those shocked by Korine’s departure into Gaspar Noe neon-fueled drama is an absolute masterpiece. Taking a note from both Noe and Terrence Malick, this distant relative of Malick’s Badlands is a thrilling meditation on the corruption of an entire generation through pop culture, and is as aggressive a film as we’ve seen so far in 2013. With stunning photography from Noe’s DP Benoit Debie, the picture gets a top notch score from Cliff Martinez and, oddly enough, Skrillex, ultimately becoming a perverse subversion of the American Dream not seen since Korine’s previous film, the equally breathtaking Trash Humpers. As provocative as a Godard film, the film is a bleak look at the loss of a generation and while it may not be what anyone expects, it’s far and away 2013’s best film. And if that changes by the start of 2014, then we’ll be in store for one of the best film years in decades.