Christian's Favorite 25 Films of 2013

As the host of The Third Act Podcast, Christian Estabrook brings a healthy dose of snarky humor and intelligent film critique to the table. He's also pretty fired up about his favorite 25 movies of 2013, listed below in all of their genre-defying glory. Special Jury Prize: VHS 2

VHS 2 was the one film that didn’t quite fit into my Top 25. Since it's an anthology featuring short films of various strengths and weaknesses, the overall product is solid but unremarkable. I must point out, however, the short film that appears third, which is called “Safe Haven” and directed by Gareth Evans. A rare film in which the found footage angle isn’t at all problematic and the chaos that unfolds at cult leader’s complex truly epic, this short is contained in an imperfect product, but by its own merits is a straight up masterpiece.

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25

You're Next

This is the most purely enjoyable horror film I saw all year. It won’t win any converts to the genre, but for those already initiated, it’s hard not to love. Perhaps the film’s only crime is not putting Amy Seimetz in a more prominent role, (though Sharni Vinson is great in the final girl role). Fittingly, my top films of 2013 begin and end with Seimetz. I may just retire this list as “My year with Amy Seimetz.” There’s at least 3 films featuring Amy Seimetz set to come out in 2014, (including one I backed on Kickstarter solely because of her involvement), so hopefully I’ll be able to continue to gush about her this time next year.

24

Frances Ha

Yet another brilliant lead female performance. Sacramento’s own Greta Gerwig has a magnetism that I couldn’t resist. A fun and relatable film for anyone who has experienced the waywardness of a quarter-life crisis, it's also refreshing to refer to a Noah Baumbach film as “fun” since his films usually feature a lot more cynicism.

23

This is Martin Bonner

This is probably the quietest film that made my list this year. Not much happens, but there are very memorable moments from the lead actors that will linger with me because of their tenderness and honesty.

22

Gravity

This film is not without its flaws, but the technical achievements cement Cuaron as a visionary and groundbreaking director. I also didn’t hate Sandra Bullock, which is an achievement in and of itself.

21

Bad Milo

This one features a creature that comes out of a guy’s butt when he gets stressed. It is also what people will likely point to for years in order to discredit my taste in film.

20

Berberian Sound Studio

This is another 2013 film that shows how much the director loves movies. It features and is an ode to giallo films, contains some amazing sound effects as the foley artists work on a bizarre horror picture, and takes a huge departure in the third act which offers great discussion points about what actually happened in the end.

19

Reality

This is an important film in how it depicts the madness that comes when one’s personal life is put on display. The Italian obsession with Big Brother seems foreign, yet the movie seems completely relevant to American audiences. When tallying the best moments of film in 2013, be sure to consider the chilling final shot.

18

Post Tenebras Lux

It's hard to describe what this film is like. Even those well versed in independent cinema will find moments surprising, which could occur as early as the film’s second scene which introduces a naked, cow-headed demon shown in all red that lurks through a house. It certainly doesn’t all make sense, and I can’t be sure of what it all means, but it's certainly one of the year’s truly unique cinematic experiences.

17

Her

Spike Jonze had made 3 great movies before releasing Her, and his winning streak continues as does Joaquin Phoenix’s career renaissance in this sci-fi film set in a world where it’s not that weird to hear about someone dating an operating system. The film’s greatest strength is in its world-building in how even the strangest elements of this near-future world seem believable.

16

Simon Killer

This film calls to mind recent Nicolas Winding Refn, but not in a way that seems derivative. It features a despicable character who does terrible things, but it doesn’t revel in his awfulness, which allows Brady Corbet to embody a complicated personality while giving one of the best performances of the year.

15

Evil Dead

Trying to remake Sam Raimi’s classic sounds blasphemous, but somehow Fede Alvarez was able to find a perfect balance of homage and trying something new. Its humor isn’t quite as evident as it was in the original films, but there's a delirious creativity onscreen that cannot be denied, especially in the film’s third act which culminates in a grotesque symphony of blood and carnage.

14

Wrong

All of Quentin Depieux’s films have a certain amount of surrealism. The dog psychics and raining offices feel right at home in Depieux’s universe, but this is his strongest effort yet thanks to Jack Plotnick, who plays the perfect straight man to all the wackiness on screen.

13

Blue Jasmine

It’s hard to say anything about Woody Allen that hasn’t already been said. This is a return to form for the 78-year-old that's anchored by a dynamite performance by Cate Blanchett, who creates a character that's hilarious, tragic, and despicable in just the right amounts of each.

12

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan is widely considered to be a directing wunderkind, pioneering what some call the “queer cinema” movement. This is easily his most ambitious and successful work yet. The acting and cinematography here are exquisite. Dolan is only 24 and has another film set to debut in 2014 and is absolutely a filmmaker to watch.

11

Blue is the Warmest Color

By the time I saw this in December, I was well versed in all the great female performances I had seen this year, so I was pleasantly surprised to find two more amazing performances here. This film is a huge departure from the graphic novel in that it focuses on more mundane details and also covers a longer period of these characters’ lives. It also has much more to offer than the controversy around it would lead you to believe.

10

Sun Don't Shine

This isn’t the year of Amy Seimetz just because of her acting. We also got her directorial debut; which is a grimy, Southern tale about lovers dealing with a murder. This film has one of the boldest opening scenes of anything I saw this year and an ending sequence that is just as compelling. It also features a great lead performance by Kate Lynn Sheil.

9

Computer Chess

This mockumentary probably shouldn’t work as well as it did, but I found it laugh out loud hilarious from the first scene and rewatched the first 30 minutes as soon as the next day. The nerdiness far exceeds my knowledge, but Bujalski’s direction shines in the retro presentation, and there are a few ridiculous moments that make this the most memorable comedy of the year.

8

The Conjuring

I’ll always remember this film with the theatrical experience I had, which included a packed room full of people genuinely terrified. I don’t think I have ever been surrounded by so many people who were scared at the same time. James Wan is becoming the go-to director for mainstream horror. It’s too bad he’s stepping away from the genre to do a 7th Fast and Furious movie.

7

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen’s most accessible film to date is just as much of a bold, uncompromising look at a difficult subject as his earlier work. It’s also an actors’ showcase in which a recognizable actor like Ejiofor finally gets a chance to shine, a newcomer like Nyong’o gets a great introduction to the big screen, and an all star like Fassbender turns in what is arguably his best performance yet.

6

The Act of Killing

It's still hard to believe that this film actually exists. It is like a small-scale version of what Germany would have been like if the Nazis never lost power and features all sorts of candid moments involving mass-murderers reliving their “glory days” in anecdotes and surreal recreations. It's an important film due to the real life subject, but also a testament to the power of cinema itself, and a must see film if there ever was one.

5

The Wolf of Wall Street

Rather than see American Hustle, go see this twice.

4

Inside Llewyn Davis

If there was any justice in the film world this would make Oscar Isaac a household name for both his acting and musical talents. This seems like it will end up as an under seen Coen Bros. film, which is sad because it is one of their best. There's very little plot, and scenes chasing a cat around probably don’t mean anything, but it's a moody, atmospheric companion piece to Groundhog Day with a great soundtrack.

3

Stories We Tell

2013 had no shortage of great female characters. Perhaps the second embarrassment of riches was in documentaries that broke the mold for what documentaries typically are. This is not the most important doc of the year (that is a couple spots down), but Sarah Polley offers an intimate look into her own family’s past in a way that does not come across as self-absorbed, but rather a surprisingly transcendent look at how families create their own histories.

2

Short Term 12

This was a year in which I was spoiled rotten seeing films featuring strong female characters. A perfect example is Brie Larson’s breakthrough performance as a supervisor of a halfway home for un-adopted adolescents. Director Destin Cretton balances all sorts of heavy topics that would usually come across as melodrama in a way that never feels mawkish. There's not a single person I would not recommend this film to and I hope more people discover it now on home video.

1

Upstream Color

Shane Carruth took 9 years to release this after his debut film, Primer. It's weird, romantic, scary, and confusing, sometimes all at once. It is the best all-around film I saw all year with an amazing score, great cinematography (especially considering the film’s micro budget), and cemented my adoration for Amy Seimetz. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take Carruth 9 years to release his 3rd feature.