Top 15 Films of 2013 – Allen’s Picks
What does it mean to fall in love? What does it mean to be intimate with another person? In a world where technology is quickly connecting and separating people, Spike Jonze’s latest film is emotionally involving while deeply thought provoking at the same time. The idea of a man falling in love with his fully aware operating system (OS) is no doubt strange, but the writing, directing, and acting handles the material with such delicacy that everything unfolds organically. Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore, a lonely, lovelorn writer still trying to get over the breakup of his previous marriage. Scarlett Johansson is the voice of Samantha, the OS assigned to help Theodore pull his life together. But as Theodore teaches Samantha the ways of the world and his personal thoughts about love and relationships, their bond develops in ways neither one could have anticipated. It’s a unique dynamic based on a spiritual connection than a physical one. Jonze has taken a science fiction premise and molded into a funny and heartbreaking romance, where real emotions are at risk and lives are truly changed.
Eighteen years have passed since Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) first met on that faithful day and night in Vienna. A lot has changed in that time. The third film in Richard Linklater’s “Before” series once again examines the relationship between these people. But while the first two presented them as hopeful, starry-eyed lovebirds deep in the magic of their budding romance, this entry has taken a different turn. Real life has entered, and now Jesse and Celine must deal with the responsibilities of being fully grown adults: being good parents to their children, taking care of everyday chores, etc., all while trying to become the people they’ve dreamed of being all those years ago. The screenplay (by Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke) maintains the same thoughtful, philosophical approach as before, but now the characters are at a point in their lives where they wonder if there is anything more to gain. Real questions are asked, and the strain of life begins to take its toll. Whether or not we’ll see another film a decade from now, what has always been great about them is their ability maintain a level of ambiguity. Allowing the audience to fill the spaces with their own thoughts is what has made the “Before” series one of great love stories of this generation.
As soon as I finished watching The Act of Killing, I knew I had seen the best film of the year. There is just simply nothing else like it. This is a harrowing experience, like watching a nightmare come to life. Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn, this documentary tells the story of Indonesian death squad leaders responsible for the mass genocide of communists and Chinese people during a military coup in the 1960s. More than a million people were put to death. Though the squad leaders killed many, today they are considered heroes, celebrated amongst their countrymen. They freely talk about how they murdered others with a sense of disturbing pride. In an audacious move, the filmmakers challenged them to reenact their executions in the form a movie. The squad leaders were tasked to choose a genre, and recreate the scenes as they remembered it. How did the filmmakers gain this kind of incredible access? And how are these men able to live so comfortably with the things they’ve done?
This proves there is true power in cinema. In taking part in their “movie,” the squad leaders come face to face with their past, and they handle it in differing ways. Anwar Congo – one of the squad leaders – shows a strange inner turmoil. He continuously talks about seeing the faces of those he killed, and tries to suppress it through alcohol, drugs, and the party life. He shows visible strain when recreating his murder scenes, yet he boasts about how he strangled people with barbed wire. His friends even urge him to seek counseling to rid himself of his inner demons. That is the contradiction found in the mind of a mass murderer. Does he feel guilty over what he has done? Does he feel anything at all?
The truly frightening thing about The Act of Killing is that it is real. These are real people, not actors, and the horrors they committed are amplified by the fact that they got away with it. I was even worried for the filmmakers themselves, because at any moment the squad leaders could shut the entire project down. Film has the power to showcase humanity through all of its greatness and faults. In this, we’re shown a level of darkness not seen anywhere else before.
Honorable Mentions: Prisoners, Fruitvale Station, Medora, Mud, Upstream Color, Behind the Candelabra, Stories We Tell, Frozen, To The Wonder, Europa Report, The Spectacular Now, Gravity, A Band Called Death, Blackfish, Fast and Furious 6, This is The End, Much Ado About Nothing, The Conjuring, You’re Next, The World’s End.
See ya, 2013! Here’s to a great 2014 at the movies!