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