Scarlett Johansson, Superman, and three different ends of the world in our Runners-up for 2013

12.18.13 3 years ago 110 Comments

Sony Pictures

Tomorrow night, I’ll be posting my final top ten list for 2013. I’ve seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 new films this year, both theatrical releases and festival screenings, and picking ten that represent the full breadth of that year is flat-out impossible.

Even pushing the list out to 20 is incredibly difficult. Every single film on this list is a film that made my year better, more interesting, more entertaining, more surreal, or more hilarious. These are ten films that I would be proud to have on the top ten list, and that could easily have landed there in another year. And if pushed, I could come up with another ten on top of these two that were also equally good, including movies like Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim,” which is already in heavy rotation in my house thanks to the way my kids watch and rewatch the things they love the most, or movies like David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” which I thought was beautifully performed and wickedly funny, or even films like Shane Caruth’s ferociously independent vision “Upstream Color,” a brain-bending game that turns out to be deeply emotional.

I saw great movies all year long, movies like “The Congress” and Johnnie To’s “Drug War” and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Don Jon.” I was disturbed by “Narco Cultura” and “Escape From Tomorrow” and “The Conjuring,” just as I was moved by “The Wind Rises,” “Can A Song Save Your Life?” and the simple, spare “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” I loved the one-of-a-kind “Proxy,” and I was impressed by the sharp and accomplished “Afflicted.”  I loved being introduced to new voices with films like Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s “The Kings Of Summer” and being surprised by an experiment as strange and sly as “Computer Chess.” Jim Jarmusch’s sensual mope “Only Lovers Left Alive” and Ron Howard’s dizzying, delightful “Rush” and Paul Greengrass’s taut and terrifying “Captain Phillips” all gave me nothing but pleasure when I saw them. Any year that features a Woody Allen film as strong as “Blue Jasmine” that I still can’t find room for on my list must be a pretty great year, and when Jeff Nichols takes another step forward with something as sincere and simple as “Mud,” it’s worth noting, even if it isn’t part of some list.

My point is that even in that barrage of titles, that doesn’t tell the full story for the year. I could keep going. “Nebraska.” “All Is Lost.” “Iron Man 3.” “Saving Mr. Banks.” “Stoker.” “Prince Avalanche.” “Hell Baby.” “Blackfish.” “The Last Stand.” “Fast & Furious 6.” “I Am Divine.” “Metallica Through The Never.” “The Wolverine.” “Side Effects.” “20 Feet From Stardom.” “Prisoners.” “Oculus.” “Man Of Tai Chi.” “The Sacrament.” “The Double.” “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.” “Horns.” “Almost Human.” “Labor Day.” “A Band Called Death.” “Elysium.” “2 Guns.” “The Dirties.” “Only God Forgives.” “Frances Ha.” “Pain and Gain.” “I Give It A Year.” “This Is Martin Bonner.” “After Earth.” “Oblivion.” “The Source Family.” “We Are What We Are.” “Muscle Shoals.” “Crystal Fairy.” All of these films are things I’m glad I saw. Some worked better than others, but every one of them contributed to the year for me. Every one of them is part of the overall impression I have of 2013.

So when I say that I went through as many films as possible in my search for the things that I loved the most, I mean it. These are the ones that meant the most to me, the ones that I am going to revisit the most, and the ones that landed on me the hardest.

20. “Tim’s Vermeer”

This is the last thing I would have expected from a Penn & Teller documentary. I have enjoyed their work for what feels like nearly 30 years now, and I never would have guessed that they would collaborate on a story about the way one man’s private obsession managed to illustrate an answer to one of art’s great mysteries. Compelling and funny, the film traces the journey of Tim Jenison, a tech millionaire who got completely pulled into the question of how Vermeer created the hauntingly life-like work that defines him, and particularly the photo-realistic optic effects in the work. I’m not sure anyone else would have had the time, the knowledge, or the money to pursue the issue the way he does, and his efforts bring him in contact with David Hockney and Martin Mull and Philip Steadman, among others. More than anything, I love the way the film documents every step of the process, and the way it makes the point that even if Jenison’s theories are correct (and it certainly looks like they are), it doesn’t make Vermeer’s accomplishment any less amazing. If anything, it is a reminder of how the technical and the spiritual are equally important when it comes to the creation of the beautiful. I got to the point where I couldn’t even watch the increasingly self-amused “Bulshit!”, but this time out, the focus is on what Jenison’s personal curiosity says about art itself, and Penn’s narration sounds like they caught him at that rare moment where he’s not completely off-the-charts manic. The result is a genuine jaw-dropping pleasure.

19. “Under The Skin”

Speaking of jaw-dropping, this film has burrowed deeper and deeper the more I’ve thought about it since this year’s Toronto Film Festival. Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of the Michel Faber novel is hypnotic, dark and disturbing, and it features a performance by Scarlett Johansson that pretty much defines having trust in a filmmaker. Glazer’s film is about an alien who uses a human form as bait to lure men to a place where she can do… something. What that something is might still be up for debate after you see the film, but the imagery itself is not easy to shake. This might be the most original film about alien invasion since Nicolas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” but unlike Bowie’s character in that film, Laura resists assimilation, and she never falls in love with the planet. This isn’t a film about an alien slowly learning about what defines a human, and there’s nothing about her character that follows any sort of conventional arc. Yet, somehow, Johansson clearly plays the troubled journey of Laura, expressing volumes even at her most disconnected. The use of real people who were unaware of their involvement in the film at first makes this all feel even stranger. As the film plays out, it gets more and more upsetting, and in the end, Scotland feels more threatening and bleak than any alien landscape. Glazer remains a singular voice, seemingly uninterested in making anything easy or conventional, and “Under The Skin” is unlike anything else I saw this year, and it pushes the definition of what filmed science-fiction is as much as “Upstream Color” does.

18. “This Is The End”

This looked like one long extended inside joke, a celebration of success that would be hard to swallow, but Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen had something far more sly in mind. Using the Rapture as a jumping-off point, this Apocalyptic vision makes some sharp and brutal points about celebrity, and also about the selfish nature of modern friendships. If civilization crumbles, how many people from your life could you really count on? Is self-interest the only thing that keeps everything from falling apart right now? Los Angeles doesn’t look very good at the end of the film, but the movie suggests that the facade is already hiding something rotten. Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen may be the emotional center of the film, and they play beautifully off each other as things progress, but everyone is at their very best here. James Franco roasts himself better than anyone else could, Danny McBride gets not only one but two of the best entrances of the year, Emma Watson kills it in the year’s most uncomfortable cameo, Craig Robinson proves himself to be the one good man left in Hollywood after the end of the world, and the exorcism of Jonah Hill caps off one of his funniest performances. Even with only a few minutes of screen time, Michael Cera kills his own image dead, and appears to be delighted to do so. If the film was just dick jokes and references to their own films, it wouldn’t work, and it took me two viewings to really appreciate just how tightly written the film is and how well it handles the various themes that it juggles. While the way the guys mix horror and humor would more than qualify them to take over the “Ghostbusters” franchise, this film is so good that it makes the case for why that would be a step backwards for Rogen and Goldberg as filmmakers.

17. “Drinking Buddies”

This is the first time I’ve ever even considered putting one of Joe Swanberg’s films on a list of mine, and it wasn’t a tough decision. The word I’ve been using to describe this one since I saw it near the start of the year is “wise,” and I think Swanberg’s one of those guys who can’t really get a fair shake from many critics. After all, he was one of the pioneers of what has been called “mumblecore,” but what does that really mean? Okay, so he made a string of very low budget films that mainly focus on relationship dynamics… how does that really define a movement of filmmaking? Little by little, he’s been defining his voice, and I think “Drinking Buddies” feels like the culmination of everything he’s done so far. There’s nothing frantic about it, though. This isn’t a case of something straining to make something profound. It’s more a case of someone relaxing enough that their voice finally rings loud and clear. Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick all give natural, relaxed, lived-in performances, and I love that they’re not cast as the expected versions of who they normally play. Kendrick, for example, has been cast as a certain type so often that I’m glad to see a filmmaker give her a chance to play someone else. Wilde is the one who walks away completely reinvented, though, and if more filmmakers gave her a chance to play this kind of character, she’d be a much bigger star. So often, films about heartbreak play more seriously, but this one is very funny, and it is deceptively structured. It seems very loosely told at first, but once Swanberg’s overall plan is revealed, “Drinking Buddies” stands as a very modern take on the things we want from each other at a time where we’re all told to rely on ourselves, and it dares to ask if anything can be built to last in an age where we protect ourselves before we open ourselves up to others.

16. “Man Of Steel”

More than any superhero film in recent memory, this one serves as a defining point in the way expectations and nostalgia can derail enjoyment. I am as fond of the Richard Donner “Superman” films as anyone else, but that isn’t the only acceptable way to make a Superman movie. Zack Snyder’s film is a top-to-bottom re-imagination of the character, which seems to be why the main criticism I’ve heard is “Superman wouldn’t do that” or “Superman can’t do that” or “Superman never does that.” Never mind that he is a fictional character and imposing hard and fast rules on what he can or can’t do seems silly. Even within the tradition of what he has done before, the complaints I’ve heard simply don’t hold up.

While we have certainly had more than our fair share of origin stories, it’s not often that these films genuinely explore what it is that defines someone as a hero. “Man Of Steel” is about one pivotal moment in the life of the person who eventually becomes Superman, but he’s not Superman yet. No film so far has dealt with his struggle to figure out how he fits in our world with the clarity or the urgency that this one does, and it is by far the most character-driven Superman film ever made.

I’m also willing to totally cop to the notion that the film’s ideas about parentage and what it is to be a father hit me dead-center. I’m adopted, and this film grapples with the idea of what it is that we get from our genetic parents as well as what it is we take from those who raise us, and how important both of those roles are. I’ve read complaints that Kevin Costner’s Pa Kent instills fear in Clark as he raises him, but that’s the point. Yes, it’s easy to write a character who does everything perfectly and who is a flawless role model, but it’s more interesting to explore what happens when we try our best for our kids but that best isn’t good enough. It makes sense that Kent would try to keep his adopted son safe and protect the truth about who he is and where he comes from, and he knows full well that revealing that truth will change our entire relationship with the universe. How many things are that big or have been that big in the course of human history? Learning for sure that we are not the first intelligent civilization in the universe would be one of the biggest moments ever, and Kent fears that our reaction would take his son from him, even as he deals with his growing suspicions that his son is meant to change things. His advice is that Clark needs to wait for the right time to reveal himself, and while Clark tries to follow that advice, we also see that he is compelled to use the powers he has. He can’t just sit it out and wait. He does good not because he was told to, but in spite of being warned against it. It is his nature, and that seems more interesting to me than someone who is pressed into service.

Ultimately, when that call to action comes in this film, he is pressed into a moral corner. After all, what Zod wants is nothing less than the rebirth of Krypton, an event which would give Clark a home, a people, a connection to something larger. It would come at the expense of the home where he was raised, though, and it would destroy the people who raised him. Clark has a choice to make in this film about who he is: the person he was born or the person he was raised to be. The fact that his debate on this issue is handled through an apocalyptically-scaled fist-fight that nearly destroys the world doesn’t change the fact that this is the most personal crisis Superman has ever faced on film. And since it is also the first time he has ever been challenged, this isn’t a case of Superman breaking some rule that he’s had set in stone. Instead, this is someone learning why he needs a rule like that in the first place, and having to deal with the hard lessons that lead to those rules.

Perhaps the thing that makes me craziest when I hear people attack the film is this insane notion that he doesn’t do anything heroic in the movie. Never mind that we see that he spends his life anonymously saving lives for no credit and without most people even knowing he had something to do with it. Never mind the fact that he chooses Earth over Krypton, passing up a chance to connect to his heritage in favor of the place he calls home. Never mind that when he flies around the world to the spot where the World Engine is hard at work, he throws himself into a conflict that he can’t know the outcome of, and he steps directly into the path of what looks to be an energy beam strong enough to endanger our entire planet. Time and time again, he earns the right to call himself Superman because of the complete selflessness of his actions. He never hesitates, and he never stops to worry what will happen to him. He does what he does because he has to.

None of this even addresses the way Snyder shows us superhero action on a scale we’ve never seen before. One of the reasons it is impossible to take Fanboy Nation seriously when they gripe is because there’s no logic or consistency to what upsets them. I remember when “Thor” came out and people were grousing about how small the climax of the film was, how obvious it was that they built one small section of one small town to blow up, and how low the stakes seemed to be. Now we see an unnervingly realistic example of what would most likely happen to a major metropolitan area if two beings of unlimited power genuinely clashed in the middle of it. I’m not sure what control people think Clark has over the battle between him and Zod, but simply stating that he should have flown away is ridiculous. There’s nothing in the movie that remotely suggests that Zod is aiming to simply attack Clark. There is a larger goal here, and one of the things I love about Zod as a character is that there is a real sadness to his purpose. He was made to do one thing and one thing only, and when that thing is threatened, he will do anything it takes to make it happen. It’s almost an attack on the notion of “destiny” as it normally gets thrown around in these movies. I can’t think of anything more oppressive and awful than being “the chosen one.” It eliminates anything heroic from who a character is and simply makes them a mechanical piece of a pre-determined course of events. Superman is not Superman because he was pre-destined to be Superman. He is Superman because he makes decisions about what he wants to be to this world, and he is compelled to do the right thing.

“Man Of Steel” dared to take Superman seriously, and to portray him as a real person grappling with the history and the powers of the character that we already know, and it offered Zack Snyder a chance to create some of the most outrageous images of his career. Deeply misunderstood and unfairly maligned, this is superhero cinema on a truly epic scale, and the way it manages to tell a personal story that treats one of the most famous characters in pop fiction seriously in the grandest possible terms is why this one will grow over time. I get why someone might not like this version, but just because it’s not a take you like doesn’t mean they did it wrong. They made big choices, exactly what we claim we want people to do when they work with these giant iconic characters, and those choices are there to help define what it is the character has to say about our world and about who we are. I like the personal journey that Cavill plays in the film, I buy it, and it makes me invest in Superman in a way that I haven’t in the past. It’s that simple.

15. “The Broken Circle Breakdown”

Directed by Felix Van Groeningen, “The Broken Circle Breakdown” is the best adaptation of a stage musical since “Hedwig And The Angry Inch,” and it is just as unexpected a sledgehammer. I’d love to see or read the play by Johan Heldenbergh and Mieke Dobbels to compare it to the film, because this is a completely organic cinematic experience. Using a fractured narrative to tell the story of how Didier (Heldenbergh) and Elise (Veerle Baetens) met, fell in love, had a daughter, shared a life, and were eventually destroyed when illness fell across their family like a shadow. The two of them bond over an affection for American bluegrass music, and when they play and sing together, there is a shocking authenticity to it. The film’s approach to chronology is handled with enormous grace, and it’s used to make everything hurt that much worse. I don’t think I’ve seen a film more dedicated to using a broken approach to time to permanently wound an audience since “Irreversible,” and the thing it gets right is that no matter how linear our lives our, our memories are completely the opposite. We make a million connections between events and sights and sounds and sensations so that when we think back to something, we don’t just get a simple, spare, unaffected playback of something. Instead, we are flooded with all sorts of impressions at once, and that’s why it is so hard to escape our pasts. If awards were genuinely a level playing field, Baetens would be part of each and every conversation about the year’s best performances, and I am an immediate and enormous fan of her work after seeing what she does here. Films about falling in love are often difficult because love has to be reduced to behavior instead of emotion, and this film gets all of it right. We see why these people were drawn to each other. We see the way love blooms between them. We see how they handle the hardest and scariest moments in their lives. More than anything, we see just how deeply things are felt when you’re talking about the bond between parent and child, and just how large a hole it can leave in someone’s life when part of a family is taken away suddenly or by sickness. I can’t imagine what it would do to my family if we faced this sort of situation, and even the strongest marriages can be destroyed by sorrow. “The Broken Circle Breakdown” doesn’t try to offer easy answers or empty platitudes, but instead does its best to just capture the enormity of how these things feel. Faced with what these characters face, the music they choose to sing just makes more sense, and it seems like an act of defiance, a sound made to hold back all those things that tear us apart. There were a number of films this year where music played an important role, but none of them made it feel more urgent or vital or essential.

14. “The Spectacular Now”

“Smashed” was a strong dramatic piece, but it didn’t prepare me for the pitch-perfect way James Ponsoldt brought Tim Tharp’s novel to life. Adapted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, this is a deeply felt look at a young man who lives his entire life in the present tense because the past is too sad to contemplate and the future is too terrifying to face. I’ve known plenty of Sutter Keelys in my lifetime, and each and every one of them has eventually had to deal with the fact that they cannot hold the world at bay forever. Miles Teller gives a preposterously charismatic performance here, and he is matched perfectly by Shailene Woodley, who makes the charming and delicate Aimee Finecky into more than just some idealized high school girl. The chemistry between them is off-the-charts good. It’s the sort of thing that directors pray for, and I’ve got to imagine it feels like magic when you’re on a set and you see it start to come together. Ponsoldt seems to be fascinated by the way love is a type of collision and what it is, both good and bad, that we share when we end up entangled with one another. Sutter is no good for Aimee in many ways, but she’s spent her whole life so sheltered that he ends up giving her the exact sort of experience she needs before she leaves home. And while she’s not the sort of girl he’s ever been drawn to before, she takes him seriously in a way no one else does and gives him permission to finally take himself seriously as well. It’s a lovely piece of writing, and Jess Hall’s cinematography captures that burnished perfect way we remember the hope and the heartache of early love. Kyle Chandler’s devastating supporting performance as Sutter’s long-absent father is just the icing on the cake here, and by the time the film reaches its perfect final moments, “The Spectacular Now” has established itself as an uncommonly thoughtful coming-of-age tale.

13. “About Time”

I am deeply saddened by the way this film simply vanished as soon as it opened. I’m not sure what happened, or why Universal decided to sell this story about fathers and sons and how we spend the time we have with the ones we love as a romantic comedy, but this is far from what we expect when Richard Curtis makes a film. Part of that is his own fault, of course, and Curtis is a victim of his own success. He did such a good job with “Four Weddings And A Funeral” and “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary” that his name is essentially synonymous now with “upscale British romantic comedy.” Curtis has been around a lot longer than just the time he’s been writing these types of films, though, and his earlier triumphs like the “Blackadder” series and “The Tall Guy” reveal a much broader range of what interests him as a writer.

“About Time” has one of the most high-concept premises this year, but it undersells it to such a degree that you almost forget about it as the film unfolds. As he reaches adulthood, Tim (Donhnall Gleeson) is taken aside by his father and told their family’s deepest secret: every male in the family is able to travel back in time, an ability that allows them to correct the various mistakes they make in daily life. Instead of turning this into a story about killing Hitler or saving Kennedy or correcting some wrong that affects the entire world, it instead weaves a story about how every decision in our life sends a million ripples through every other part of our life, and there is no such thing as a simple choice or an idle moment. Maybe only a writer well past the age of 50 would write something that takes this approach to the nature of time, but Curtis crafted a very simple, lovely, profound story here, and he gave Bill Nighy one of his best characters ever. There is one cut in this movie, a transition from one scene to the other, that left me sobbing in the theater, and even thinking about it, I felt that same surge of emotion. People have accused Curtis of peddling cheap sentiment in some of his films, and certainly he loves the big gesture. With “About Time,” though, he manages to avoid anything that feels cheap or easy, and he digs deep. The result is a keenly observed film that makes a real case for all of us to slow down and really savor the time we have, in all of its rich contradictions, and this year in particular, that was something I needed to hear. I can choose to focus on the pain and the frustration and the sorrow, or I can embrace the joy and the hope and the beauty in my life. How I spend the time I have determines what sort of life I have. We all suffer, but not everyone wallows, and learning how to do that may be one of the most important life skills we can cultivate.

12. “The World’s End”

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have written three films together now, and “The World’s End” is the first one that I didn’t immediately love. I didn’t dislike it at all, but I wasn’t sure I felt like it fully landed every single thematic punch it threw, and it wasn’t until I got it home and spent a little more time with it that I started to fully absorb what it was they’d pulled off with the sly, subtle script. Edgar Wright is such an aggressive visual filmmaker that sometimes it’s easy to miss how densely built the scripts are for each of the films in the Cornetto Triad, and “The World’s End” in particular seems to be one film on the surface, but another film altogether once you dig deeper.

I’ve written at length about how I think nostalgia is a dangerous thing in overdose, and it’s been misinterpreted at times. I don’t hate nostalgia as a whole. I get it. It’s unavoidable. We imprint on the art we love, and doubly so when we’re young and it’s the art that defines our tastes from that point forward. You are the sum total of all the influences that have gone into you, good and bad, and nostalgia is part of why those things work on you. It is an unavoidable ingredient in the basic DNA of how we relate to movies. What I have a problem with is something larger than nostalgia itself, and more about the way our generation in particular seems to use it as armor against the world. We are shrouded in nostalgia to such a degree that it’s all we consume. It’s all they’re making for us. When you complain about reboots or sequels or remakes or franchises or shared universes or any of it, understand that every single dollar you have ever spent on indulging your nostalgia has led to this. You have transformed pop culture, dollar by dollar, brick by brick, into this monolithic thing where the show/game/song/movie you loved as a child is now the way you define yourself for life. You’re the 42 year old dude with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tattoo on your neck. You’re the guy who drives a DeLorean you found at an estate sale. You’re the one who has every single $5000 WETA collectible bust ever produced, even though a good third of them are still boxed because you have no room to display them. You are the wierdo who named his first-born son after a Japanese movie star from the ’50s. You have announced that you will happily pay money for the same thing over and over and over and over chasing that heroin high of our first loves, and Hollywood is positively falling over itself to indulge you as many times as you can afford. You complain about it, but you pay for it. And that’s my issue with what nostalgia can do at its worst. It strangles the future. It makes the past impossible to compete with. It is a problem when you take it too far, and Gary King (Simon Pegg) is happy to live in the final moment that he had a handle on life, which just so happened to be this one boozy night when he was 18 years old. That’s a pretty stark place to start a character, and the “boozy” part of the equation has long since become a problem for Gary. When the film begins, you have to really pay attention to his surroundings. This movie starts as dark as it can possibly get, and Simon Pegg is not giving a comic performance here. He’s giving a performance, period. King is as strong a protagonist as we saw in any movie this year, and the entire film is really about his refusal to confront where he is in his life. Rock bottom is a scary f**king place, and Gary isn’t built to handle things when they are too real or too scary. His idea to relive the World’s End pub crawl is a desperate act, an attempt to send himself back to the person he was at that point, back to a time when he still had options.

I think part of the reason “The World’s End” didn’t quite sit right with me the first time is because it hurt. Like “Inside Llewyn Davis,” this is the story of someone coming to the end of something. Beginnings are easy. Endings are apocalyptic. That’s the same thing, the same anxiety, that is an undercurrent in so many of the films on this list this year. Whatever I’m going through in my own life isn’t particularly special. There are a lot of people who feel like they are up against it every moment of every year, and movies are so often about people who overcome their problems that it throws us when we someone onscreen really take a body shot and then not get up. If Gary King stops moving in “The World’s End,” he will die, and maybe not in a metaphorical sense. Maybe this is it for him. Maybe he has to do this because he’s got no other move left. The way he manipulates people in the film, the way he spirals out of control, this is a very sad, very moving film in many ways.

With crazy robot kung-fu fights. Which is why I love these guys. I hope they make a thousand more movies together.

11. “Safe Haven” (aka segment three from “V/H/S 2”)

We already knew that Gareth Evans was one of the most exciting action directors in the business but working with Timo Tjahajanto (co-director of the very upsetting “Macabre”), it turns out he also happens to be absolutely stone-cold terrifying.

“This Is The End” played the Apocalypse for laughs, “Man Of Steel” plays it as a learning opportunity, and “The World’s End” used it to shine a light on one man’s struggle with sobriety, but “Safe Haven” stands as a stark reminder that if the world does actually end and we somehow survive long enough to experience it, it will scare us until we are absolutely barking mad. We will snap because anything less than snapping will be an irrational response. In this, the third segment in the horror anthology “V/H/S 2,” the world ends while a documentary crew is interviewing a doomsday cult leader. And it turns out, he’s right. And they happen to be right there as it all begins. People die. They rise again. And a beast is unleashed into the world in vivid close-up. There is nothing halfway about “Safe Haven,” and watching it unfold, it feels more and more panicked, more and more freaked out, more and more aware that nothing in the world makes sense anymore. It is masterful horror filmmaking, all about tension and release and small bits of information and a mounting sense of dread and payoff after anticipation, and it is executed with a technical wizardry that is both low-fi and very 21st century. “Safe Haven” is not a particularly deep film, but it is a perfect execution of something, craft at such a high level that I would feel wrong not singling it out for attention. I am flat out impressed at how intuitive Evans and Tjahjanto are as storytellers here. The found-footage format of the “V/H/S” series can be restrictive or it can be liberating, depending on how the filmmaker approaches things, and in “Safe Haven,” it is invisible, the highest compliment I can pay to anyone making a film in this format these days. It is at its best when the formal restrictions fade away and all that remains is a harrowing, immersive, first-person run through a waking nightmare staged with lunatic glee.

That’s probably more than I meant to write about those, and there’s more to come tomorrow, so make sure you check back here in the early evening so we can celebrate ten great films that perfectly encapsulate what it is that made 2013 one of my favorite film years in a while.

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