This year's top-10 list will be super-easy to do, because I've only seen about 17 movies that came out in 2013. (Hey, I've been busy.) Pretty sure I caught most of the good ones, though. So here we go, more or less in order: the Greatest Movies of 2013 According to Me, So Far.
I'm only putting the top five here for now, because it turns out I'm blabbing on and on about some of them, so we'll probably all need a break halfway through. Watch this space for movies 5 though 10, plus bonus items!
1. Upstream Color
I've never understood precisely how people get into relationships. I know they meet; I've seen it happen. And then later at some point they are a couple. But what goes on in between is completely obscure to me. The mechanism offered in Shane Carruth's second feature -- in which, to put it simply, two people are drawn together because they've both had a weird flower-eating-grub-based hypnotism/brainwashing experience that resulted in their animating spirits being relocated (via worm) into two pigs on a farm -- seems as likely as any other, really.
"I hate even the idea of a synopsis," Carruth told Dennis Lim in a NYT interview awhile back. He's right to, of course. The story operates on an emotional logic that squirms and blurs when examined closely but feels exactly right, entirely reasonable and lovely and poetic, if you just go with it. When Upstream Color came out everyone said it was "cerebral," but although it's very strange and often startling, and contains Big Ideas, it's not confusing or difficult. And on top of being supersmart it's also terrifying, gross, funny, and swooningly romantic.
It's partly about how people react to having their strings pulled by unseen hands with mysterious agendas. Also partly about identity: once together, the lovers are confused about the weird forces that move them (internal? external? we sort of know, but they don't), and they bicker about whose memories belong to whom, fighting for possession of bits and pieces of character, assigning ownership to certain traits, making distinctions and reserving little territories even as they merge their lives. How much of you is you? Who are you when you adjust yourself to someone else? (Does being inspired by another person add to and change you, or simply enhance what was already there?) None of this is even directly addressed in the movie, but a story like this tends to provoke a long, crooked line of questions afterward.
Really you just have to see it. But if you do, I command you to watch it with your full attention, not halfheartedly while thinking of something else or, like, doing the laundry. It demands and rewards total absorption.
(Did you guys see Primer? At the moment they are both available on Netflix. Recommended!)
It's so good. Here's the trailer:
2. The Grandmaster
The combination of Tony Leung and Wong Kar-Wai leads always to perfection. I've gone on and on about one or both of these guys in this glob enough already so I'll refrain for now, but I urge anybody interested in The Grandmaster or in WKW generally to read David Bordwell's essay. Thorough (long), but well worth the time. It walks you through the which-version-am-I-watching question nicely, too, if you're into that.
The US-market trailer is godawful, so here:
3. Frances Ha
Probably a movie that I shouldn't be quite so able to relate to at age 42, but whatever. It's great. I love Noah Baumbach. I love the soundtrack. I love Frances. She's a little lost puppy in a china shop, an utter disaster in every situation, but she's trying so hard to figure out what to do. I mean, it isn't easy, right? You imagine it'll get easier later but it never does. (Sidenote: this movie does what I think that Sheila Heti book wanted to do but with the advantages of craft and care and rigor.) And the whole thing just looks beautiful. Actually I think I'll watch it again right now.
4. Only God Forgives
Did you like Drive? This is weirder! How about Valhalla Rising? That is more like it.
Maybe I'll just go with a general "Um, not for everyone, but WHOA," and leave it at that.
5. All Is Lost
Never go yachting alone.
Stay tuned for deep thoughts on the other five movies I saw this year! : )