Ben Umstead's 2013 In Cinema: Reflections And Favorites

Editor, U.S.; Los Angeles, California (@benumstead)
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2013 was a banner year for cinema. Though really, if one looks hard enough, every year has the sweet, sweet possibility of being a banner year. What I've learned this year is that it is okay to call myself a film critic (though I prefer film journalist). And yet what I do may not always be what we have come to know as criticism. Shall we just say I write about motion pictures then?

The greatest thing I've learned arose from both that metaphysical and philosophical quandary, which is this: the more cinema I take in the less I feel I know about the medium, and yet I become clearer in why I need cinema as a way to filter and reflect the rest of reality around me. Is this a didactic coping mechanism or a continuously miraculous love affair? This also makes me altogether more aware of when I don't need cinema in my life; of when it can become a crux, when I can become obedient and perhaps complacent to its forms, be it mainstream narrative or avant-garde documentary. At the end of the day -- and at the beginning -- I am an infant then; curious and afloat in this sea of sights and sounds. 

So why say all this and then make a top 20 favorite films list in descending order? It seems rather ridiculous, doesn't it? Well, my only hope is that the answers are in the movies themselves. So without further ado... seen at festivals, on VOD, in limited and wide release, my favorite films of 2013.

Click to the right of the curious child to begin...

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12 Years a Slavebefore midnightBest Of 2013diamond on vinylexit elenajr hughtomatt johnsonmiyazakinathan silverNicolas Winding Refnonly gos forgivesrichard linklaterthe dirtiesthe wind rises

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mrgordoJanuary 6, 2014 4:48 AM

No one's a bigger Refn fan than I. I own all his Pusher films (even the remake) Bronson, etc and "Drive" is my favorite film of all time. I believe "Drive" is a masterpiece along the lines of "Pulp Fiction" "Goodfellas" and "Taxi Driver." I also believe it will grow in stature over the years. BUT...."Only God Forgives" is an incredible mis-step. It manages to show all of Refn's bad habits without ANY of his good. I don't hate the film. I just think it's one of those films that "didn't work" but "didn't work" on an incredibly big level.
All the greats have a film like this. Tarantino has "Death Proof" which I feel he HAD to make in order to be able to step up to the next level and give us "Inglorious Basterds" and "Django Unchained."

KurtJanuary 6, 2014 9:24 AM

Deathproof is fantastic. That is all.

Todd BrownJanuary 6, 2014 10:36 AM

Only if by 'fantastic' you mean 'tedious, self indulgent wank'. I loathe Death Proof. Other than a couple Kurt Russell moments and Zoe Bell on top of the car I think it's pretty worthless and BY FAR the weakest thing Tarantino has ever done.

KurtJanuary 6, 2014 11:47 AM

It may not be the strongest Tarantino film, but it is not even close to 'Weak' - there is so much excellence in this 'hanging out' film, dialogue, moments, visuals, etc. that I still cannot process why people 'loathe' it.

I enjoy defending it over beers in pubs, kind of a 2nd career for me.

Ben UmsteadJanuary 6, 2014 12:59 PM

It all boils down to personal preference.

I've had to talk about this before, and I will probably have to again, but for me OGF is Refn at the top of his game. Before this I was only an admirer of his films, never fell in love with any of them, though Drive came close. My experience with his filmography has been as such: with each successive film he's shed a lot of layers, gotten to his bare bones, embraced style and excess and surrealism and color. OGF is what I think Refn does well distilled right down to his essence.

While I'm unwilling to use the words 'bad and 'good' in this context, I've viewed Refn's strengths as a visualist leaning more and more on the surreal, on the painterly, on the operatic. For me OGF gets rid of most of, or strips down, everything else and just leaves these elements. It's why the film worked for me and also why it so clearly did not work for others.