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The 25 Best Films of 2013

Reports of cinema’s demise, as it turns out, have been greatly exaggerated.

The 25 Best Films of 2013
Photo: A24

The 25 Best Films of 2013

5. Like Someone in Love

The heartbreak of Like Someone In Love settles in when Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a prostitute, asks her driver to pass around a roundabout for a second time. She’s looking at her grandmother, who’s patiently awaiting her arrival in Shizuoka, and whom Akiko may never see again. It’s a heartfelt gesture, sure, but it’s also a performance, something she does to portray her love for her beloved grandmother and the misery of her station, if only to herself. As with Certified Copy, the semiotics of expression in Abbas Kiarastomi’s latest plunge us into an anxious and wholly unpredictable melodrama, a blind-eyed love triangle of sorts between Akiko, her john (Tadashi Okuno), and her fiancée (Ryô Kase). It’s a mild comical conceit on paper, but Kiarastomi eloquently augments this idea by summoning his own fascinations throughout, particularly the deceptive nature of the image. The john sees romance and innocence in Akiko, while her would-be betrothed increasingly sees her only as a sex worker. The slight act of violence that caps the movie comes from a true realization, but as with all of Kiarastomi’s masterworks, the truth and the “truth” are inseparable in this breathtaking high-wire act. Chris Cabin


The 25 Best Films of 2013

4. Museum Hours

A uniquely crafted hybrid film, incorporating narrative, travelogue, and art-essay conceits, Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours saliently channels the excitement and alienation of traveling. Charting the fledgling friendship between a charitable museum guard and a middle-class Canadian woman who’s visiting her hospitalized cousin in Vienna and passes time by wandering the galleries of the grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, the film insightfully cherishes the act of observation and a peculiar curiosity about life. Exceedingly proving the richness that patience yields, the audience—like the characters themselves—becomes acquainted with backstories and interests of the unassuming protagonists. At once pensive and playful, the film’s most brilliant stroke comes from Cohen’s ability to organically link the characters with the art that surrounds them to illuminate the power of observation and various existential inquiries inherent in art, leading to an understated personal investigation into the lives of these people we’re asked to consider. With a keen eye for detail, Cohen offers the viewer a lens that shapes, and discovers, new ways to view both cinema and the world. Nick McCarthy


The 25 Best Films of 2013

3. Leviathan

Verena Paravel and Lucian Castaing-Taylor’s Leviathan is, first and foremost, a direct reminder of the visceral possibilities of cinema: to submerge us in a churning, nightmarish nocturnal ocean ballet, to mesh nature’s tidal flow with the clanking repetition of machinery, to force empathy with a suffocating fish. Documentary in its purest, most spectacularly observational form, it also functions as both an unspoken rebuke to the staid presentation of most nonfiction films and a reminder of how few movies exploit the full sensory capabilities of the form. Every image presented here feels alien and invigorating, evoking the cold shock of sea water as the camera bobbles about the surface, the utter confusion of usually fixed visual axes being shifted or flipped upside down. Few films have managed to so brilliantly use formal disorientation to elicit both sinking dread and total wonder, results of an insistent focus on immersion and interaction, nature’s primeval power pitted against the mechanistic efficiency of a system bent on its ruthless exploitation. Jesse Cataldo


The 25 Best Films of 2013

2. Inside Llewyn Davis

Steeped in the melancholy born of remorse and irresolution, the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis is a wintry valediction to the Greenwich Village folk music scene of the early ‘60s, whose eponymous man of constant sorrows, not to mention continual social fuck-ups, is a couch-hopping songster caught between the Scylla of selfless devotion to tradition (emblematized by the haunting “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me”) and the Charybdis of crass commercial success (the ludicrous anti-Space Race novelty tune “Please Mr. Kennedy”). Like the timeless music that Llewyn claims “was never new and never gets old,” the Coens transmute historical events and persons into something else altogether, so that the film becomes a surreal odyssey across a desolate landscape of insult and invective where the timeframe soon gets sort of wonky. Being the Coen brothers, it’s not all heavy treading, of course: Inside Llewyn Davis is laced with their bracing sense of absurdist humor, the brunt of it aimed at the conceits and depredations of the music biz, while the gentler bits involve an elusive feline with an unexpectedly apt appellation. In the end, Llewyn seems to glumly accept his anachronistic fate since, for better or worse, the times they are a-changin’. Wilkins


The 25 Best Films of 2013

1. Her

Spike Jonze’s Her begins with a love letter—a misdirect. It’s a billet-doux by proxy, ghost-authored, dictated to a machine. We open on the wide-eyed mug of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), seeming to speak from the heart, recalling fondly a first love that proves, with the reveal of an incongruous anniversary, to belong to somebody else. So the “handwritten letters” of beautifulhandwrittenletters.com are merely approximations of the form: our near-future’s phantom memorandum. But what matters here is that the love is real. Theodore’s letters, in a sense the film’s emotional through line, are never less than deeply felt, swelling with earnest affection. That he’s talking through and to another can’t reduce the depth of feeling in the sentiments. The genius of Her is that it doesn’t ask you to believe in the truth of its speculative science fiction so much as it does the truth of its romance, which is to say that Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) means more as metaphor—for a hard-won connection, long-distance or otherwise remote—than as a prediction of future tech. Her is about “the modern condition,” but not, importantly, in the strictly satirical sense: It tells us less about how we live than how we love. Calum Marsh

“Tell the truth but tell it slant”
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