And then there were 10. Yesterday, I counted down my first 15 favorites of the year — though to be honest, it was a list that could significantly have changed, both in selections and arrangement, from one day to the next. My top 10 has felt a little firmer to me for some time, but that’s not because these films particularly belong in a league above the rest. Rather, as I mentioned in my intro yesterday, it’s the shape and synthesis of this collective that feels satisfying to me — disparate as the choices may be, they’re unified in my mind by threads both obvious (the list is bookended by the two faces of a single star, for starters) and less immediately apparent until the films are placed side by side.
Taken together, the list might say more about me than it does about the year in film — which is how I prefer it. It was a very good year, by agreement, though as festivals keep mushrooming, while methods and means of global distribution keep expanding, no one viewer’s 12 months at the movies looks quite like another’s.
What does my 2013 look like, then? Well, it was a rich year for female narratives, if not female filmmakers: eight of my top 10 films tangle excitingly with the placement and identity of women in worlds past, present and future, as well as in the industry itself. (One that doesn’t, meanwhile, is directed by a woman.) Outsider identity, whether tied to gender, culture, species or sexuality, is also a recurring them in this list; it’s certainly been a sympathetic year for misfit viewers of any persuasion.
Hollywood, meanwhile, sparked to life from its franchise-induced slumber. My countdown already includes “White House Down” and “The Lone Ranger,” two mainstream entertainments that alternatively honor and subvert genre codes and coding; another two multiplex titles in the top 10 do the same to wildly differing effect. World cinema, meanwhile, felt more constrained than usual, but made its festival showcases count, while juries chose astutely: it’s been a few years since the year’s most gilded titles from the European circuit made my list, and here we have two of them. (Maybe next year, Venice.)
Again, though, that’s just from where I’ve been sitting: I’ve read any number of Top 10 lists in the past few weeks by critics who seemed to see a very different cross-section of cinema in 2013, or at least saw very different things in my own. A number of titles in my top 10 proved fiercely divisive among critics and audiences alike, which is always good news as far as I’m concerned: the ensuing conversation can be as cinematically and social illuminating as the film itself, even if I think it has circled a few too many times in one particular case. Everyone may watch the same film, but nobody sees the same one — it’s a line I’ve found myself repeating on a regular basis in 2013.
Before going into the top 10, I should stress one thing: perhaps this year more than ever, the word “best” feels inappropriate to a personal list. There are remarkable films that didn’t make the cut — ones that my more critical instincts would deem more significant, more beautiful, more complete than others that did, but didn’t necessarily delight, move or provoke me to quite the same extent. There is no objectivity in film criticism, but subjectivity isn’t always a clear-cut thing either.
Anyway, enough from me. Here are my 10 films of 2013. Of course I hope at least some of you love at least some them — but more importantly, I hope you understand why I do. (Forgive me, too, if some of these have yet to come your way from the confines of the festival circuit: think of them as bookmarks for the year to come.) If you don’t, well, that’s okay too. Merry Christmas, one and all. Here’s to 2014.