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Nick Newman’s Top 10 Films of 2013

Written by on January 1, 2014 

5. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Alain Resnais)

A twilight masterpiece that gleefully eschews old-man reflection and nostalgia, and through expertly deployed digital cinematography instead strives to contribute toward a future its own maker only has so much time left to see. While the meta-cinematic gambit is best discovered for oneself, narrative (even this, [technically] one of the most studied in human history) is of less importance than the act of observing faces and voices that have shaped generations of cinephilia. I’m immensely glad to know Alain Resnais has one more film premiering in only a couple of months’ time, but, for all intents and purposes, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet is a final statement par excellence.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

The already-high profile of this Martin ScorseseLeonardo DiCaprio collaboration has skyrocketed in the few days since its release, and for as numbingly repetitive (or simply mind-numbing) as so many facets of this wide-reaching “conversation” undoubtedly feel, it’s only proven an angry, uncompromising film to possess qualities which extend far past excessive entertainment value. While much of what I have to say has recently been stated in a longer review, there’s no doubt in my mind that Wolf will only prove conducive to further dialogue in the near-future and beyond; even when slotted at fourth-place amongst this consideration of a terrific 12 months, I feel I may be underrating the thing.

3. Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel)

Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel could have earned a position for no more than the transcendent ballet between underwater glides and soaring seagulls — a show-stopping sequence that forced yours truly to elicit something as awestruck as “oh my God” several times over a few minutes — but, even as a moment of overwhelming beauty, it’s only a portion amidst the most natural (yet entirely foreign) images captured this decade. I have a strong distaste for considerations of “game-changing” cinema — a strong distaste for anything that claims to forecast the medium’s future, really — but Leviathan, a first-person view equal-parts terrifying and ethereal, tests that personal preference to extreme degrees in promising a previously unthinkable terrain for documentary and experimental cinema. I can’t wait to see what follows.

2. Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang)

One of the very best — maybe, even, the second-best, as this ranking would evince — films I saw in 2013 remains without distribution, an unfortunate notice made all the more disheartening in context: an international master angling toward his final statement via fiercely critical examinations of economic disparity and personal humiliation. Words such as “bracing” are thrown around willy-nilly as a means of describing any half-decent film that dares to so much as look social issues in the eye; Stray Dogs, though fully embracing slow-cinema staples (this only further enabled by its use of digital cinematography), is more of an angry howl baffled at and irate with a modern state which none of us are capable of changing. God willing, it’s seen by those outside festival locations within a reasonable amount of time.

1. Bastards (Claire Denis)

Modern-to-the-hilt noir submerged in the unforgiving blackness of digital photography, emotional currents sparked with a tactile cinema appealing directly to the senses. In retrospect, it (sometimes) seems these two edges could sufficiently define Claire Denis‘s Bastards, but her films can never be boiled down to a few descriptors — which might be a tinge ironic, given the immense power of a narrative system that consists of absolutely no more than each crucial component, like a cinematic razor blade slicing its way through all that’s pure. The crescendo would prove unbearable if the pleasures weren’t so extreme, and Bastards’s final moments are the most viscerally shocking of 2013: just as the final piece is about to snap in, the roving, low-resolution images dart away from an act of savagery — not for the sake of respite, but only as a promise that cycles of violence, corruption, and systematic failure are bound to continue. As Tindersticks carry into the end credits, we’re left with no choice but to embrace the darkness.

It stimulated and galvanized in a way like no other film listed above; for this, Bastards earns my place as the best film of 2013.

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