As promised, my Best Films of 2013 list comes out the same day as the Oscar nominations. It felt right. Now it feels even more right for the sheer compare and contrast factor between my list and what the Academy went for. You won’t need two hands to count the overlap, that’s for sure.
This shocking documentary is all about Sea World’s abusive treatment of killer whales and the danger of housing the massive mammals in tiny captivity tanks. It’s a quick watch, 82 minutes long, but it’s not an easy watch. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite nails the subject with a lot of clarity and effective use of research. The highlight is the brutal middle act showcasing a myriad of injuries and fatalities suffered by whale trainers in captivity. You won’t shake off Blackfish very easily.
Hear me out. Kimberly Peirce didn’t really set out to remake Carrie. The plot points are there–the shower, the inattentive school, the abusive mother, the discovery of telekinetic powers, the bully’s revenge plan, the prom, and the destruction–but they’re used for a radically different purpose. This is not the story of Carrie, a teenage loner who finally finds what makes her special and has it ripped away by bullying. This is Carrie, the story of how society forces young women to conform to certain expectations by any means necessary. It is a horror story about interfering in someone else’s life just because they’re different (for good or for ill) and what happens when a human being is pushed to the breaking point. It’s a fantastic study and commentary on the social constructs that allowed Stephen King to even write a story like Carrie to begin with.
8: The Iceman
Sure, if you want a comedy heist film with mob activities, hop on-board the American Hustle train. But if you want a darker drama about the same time period and the other end of the Garden State, The Iceman is the film for you. The Iceman is the disturbing story of real life mob hitman Richard Kuklinski. He stumbles into organized crime by chance and quickly becomes an in-demand executioner for his quiet efficiency. The acting, production design, and editing are all top notch and really make this a true crime film to seek out for yourself.
Buy The Iceman
Frozen is not a flawless film (the opening act drags, the appropriation of indigenous music and costuming for an almost exclusively white cast of characters is questionable) but it really is a crowd pleaser. The quality of animation is stunning and the voice acting really sets it over the top. Best of all, it’s the rare Disney animated film where family trumps everything else (making…three total? This, Lilo & Stitch, and Dumbo) and, rarer still, the pure Disney (not Pixar) film where the female lead gets to be the action hero (like Mulan and…uh…Mulan II?). The gorgeous score by Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez doesn’t hurt, either.
6: Frances Ha
2013 had two very different films exploring the arbitrary nature of success in the entertainment industry. Frances Ha did it with a lot of style, a dry wit, and a wonderful leading performance from Greta Gerwig. The expressive black and white cinematography is a nod to Neorealism and it really elevates the whole production. Whether or not you personally like Frances, a woman who can’t seem to catch a break as a professional dancer and doesn’t see any other way to earn a living, is beside the point. This is an exploration of the dancer’s quest, not a rallying cry for this particular dancer to be an international superstar.
Buy Frances Ha