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The Best Films of 2013 So Far

Written by on August 27, 2013 

If this Labor Day weekend goes smoothly, we’ll have made it through the bloated summer movie season relatively unscathed. To celebrate, we’ve selected our favorite films of the year thus far, from January to August 2013. One can think of this as a summer wrap-up, too, although the fact that only one studio release from the season made its way in should indicate our thoughts on Hollywood’s offerings.

While the end of this year will bring our personal favorites, think of the below 25 films as a comprehensive rundown for what should be seen before heading into the promising fall line-up. As a note, this feature is based solely on U.S. theatrical releases in 2013 and many are widely available on home video, streaming platforms, or theatrically, so check them out below in alphabetical order and return next week for our multiple fall preview pieces.

Honorable mentions: At Any Price, Fruitvale Station, Hannah Arendt, Mud, No, Only God Forgives, Pain & Gain, Prince Avalanche, Sightseers, Stoker

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer)

While Hollywood attempts to conjure the latest harrowing characters and situations in their offerings, one documentary this summer proves that nothing can beat the real thing, for Joshua Oppenheimer‘s document of real-life Indonesian serial killers is perhaps the most unforgettable experience one can have at the cinema this year. It’s a true testament to not only the film’s structure, but the bond our director created with these men that, without it, this — especially a devastating third act — could have easily been a superficial look at the events. Instead, its matter-of-fact nature will get under one’s skin and never let go. – Jordan R.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (David Lowery)

If Bonnie and Clyde survived their final stand-off and attempted to live a life after crime, we would have the basic set-up of writer-director David Lowery‘s subdued, deeply felt Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. But that is just the beginning, as the Casey Affleck– and Rooney Mara-led drama skirts around the major peaks one may find in another film of its kind, instead focusing on the quiet, sublime exchanges. After a handful of low-budget features, Saints marks a bona fide break-out for Lowery, a filmmaker who cares as much about the world he creates as the people that inhabit it. The characters of this tragic small-town drama must learn to live with their mistakes and, despite how ill-advised their decisions may be, each step remains as enthralling as the last. – Jordan R.

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)

The first two entries of the Before series offered the comfort of watching two people escape through each other; trading words of their anxieties, lost loves and general uncertainties of adulthood, making those both young and old nod their heads in some kind of agreement. Yet, with the third, that’s undeniably altered, as Céline and Jesse have now (spoiler alert) been together for nine years; their relationship now a circular movement of the same arguments and erotic tricks that, essentially, are what cynically leads to marriage being seen as just routine. But chalk it up to the LinklaterHawkeDelpy trifecta to make this funny, gorgeous, and, even despite an arguably “ironic” happy ending, at least somewhat hopeful about love, no matter how tough it all may be. – Ethan V.

Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite)

A powerful documentary going behind the scenes to expose the truth about SeaWorld’s dirty little secret, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish shows the consequence of hubristic action. Centered on the death of Orca trainer Dawn Brancheau, the film delves all the way back to the 70s to explain the extensive history of whale captivity and its horrific conditions leading to Tilikum earning the name Killer Whale. Everyone interviewed has extensive first-hand knowledge of the industry and/or Tilikum himself to paint a picture of just how dangerous mankind’s ego can become when bottom-line is king and the people in its control are too young and naive to realize what’s happening. One of the scariest films of the year, we’re shown the tragic result of our yearning to control nature. – Jared M.

The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola)

Arriving after her most abstract work, Somewhere, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is a darkly comedic send-up of reality TV and the culture of Twitter (which creates the illusion you can be BFFs with Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan). Starring Emma Watson as the ringleader’s co-hort and Leslie Mann as her mom (who eggs them on with “vision boards”), The Bling Ring perfectly captures (to a literal extent, figuring in the late Harris Savides‘ gorgeous, final work) an American subculture gone too far. – John F.

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