Status at the Half: Best Movies of 2013 So Far

We are now officially half way through the year and so I’ve asked our staff to vote for their favourite films released thus far. Hollywood blockbusters may have disappointed us, but thankfully we can always rely on independent filmmakers to create some truly inspiring films. Rounding out the special mentions is Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, and Cate Shortland’s Lore – all missing the cut by a couple of points.

****

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#15: Iron Man 3 (24 points)
Directed by Shane Black
Written by Drew Pearce & Shane Black
USA, 2013

Fun has become a slightly forgotten commodity in the summer blockbuster, with many studios and filmmakers now inspired by the efforts of directors like Christopher Nolan to be as grim as possible. The modern superhero often has to be angst-ridden or otherwise mentally scarred to make an impact on audiences, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see Iron Man 3 buck the trend while embracing many of those influential ideals. Tony Stark, post-Avengers, is suffering, but he doesn’t wallow too long; with a lively ensemble surrounding Robert Downey, Jr. and a sharp, witty script, Iron Man 3 represents, if nothing more, a welcome return to form… (read the full review)

- Josh Spiegel

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#15: West of Memphis (24 points)
Directed by Amy Berg
Written by Billy McMillin and Amy Berg
2012, USA

Following from the original Paradise Lost film and its two sequels, West of Memphis follows the events of one of the most media-covered American crime stories of the last two decades: The West Memphis Three, a case in which three teenagers (Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin), were arrested for the murders of three eight-year old boys. The case spawned four documentaries, several books, and a campaign from high-profile celebrities such as Peter Jackson, Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder and Henry Rollins. Much like the Paradise Lost films, West of Memphis chronicles the history of the incarcerated men, all the way up to the eventual release. Amy Berg’s film is an ambitious mixture of documentation and investigation. Along with co-writer and editor Billy McMillin, Berg selects moments from almost 20 years of stock footage to retell the story of the crime, the trial and several appeal attempts. Throughout, we witness dozens of interviews, conducted with lawyers, judges, journalists, family members, witnesses and some of the activists who fought to get the case retried. Much like The Central Park Five, West of Memphis tells the stories of wrong men in the wrong place at the wrong time. The film’s conclusion is far from comforting and West of Memphis is yet, another example of social injustice. Unlike Central Park Five, the case remains unsolved, and the guilty still walk free… (read a full review)

- Ricky D

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#14: Stories We Tell (25 points)
Directed by Sarah Polley
Written by Sarah Polley
Canada, 2012

How can a documentary ever satisfactorily tell us the truth? No matter what the topic of debate is, how can the filmmakers relay to us the supposed truth of a situation without any form of bias or creative control poking through? Hell, what is truth? Yes, such heady philosophical notions and questions are present in each moment of Sarah Polley’s newest film Stories We Tell, a documentary of sorts, in that it’s structured around real lives and real people. But the movie is not shy about showing us how certain conversations, meetings, and moments are recreated, or where the boom microphones or the cameras are located, or even the process of recording voiceover narration. As an experiment, it’s absolutely compelling. Its attempts at emotion are slightly less successful… (read the full review)

- Josh Spiegel

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#13: (TIE) Star Trek Into Darkness (26 points)
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelo
2013, USA

The mission of the Star Trek Enterprise is to explore strange new worlds while seeking out new life and new civilizations; but the latest Star Trek movie has a heavy political agenda in mind – and one that is very earthbound. The film takes an opportunity to do what the old Star Trek often did and use a futuristic scenario to comment on contemporary issues – in this case, terrorism and the policy of manufacturing a war to eliminate a perceived threat. J.J. Abrams offers up a surprisingly nuanced critique of American military power and many of the film’s plot points and even dialogue seem lifted right out of today’s political discourse and news headlines. Apparently this approach worked for some, but not for all. Long running franchises like Star Trek survive because they embrace change. The James Bond series is a prime example swapping leads and directors with each instalment. In rebooting Star Trek, Abrams found a way to tie his universe to the pre-existing one where five TV series and ten movies transpired, and we can’t imagine anyone who could have done a better job.

- Kyle Reese

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#13: (TIE) Like Someone in Love (26 points)
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
France, Japan, 2012

Abbas Kiarostami continues to direct away from, but still in the spirit of Iran with his 2012 effort Like Someone in Love. In a film that is visually different but thematically similar to his Iranian-language masterpieceTaste of Cherry, Kiarostami ruminates on obsessive love and, akin to his 2010 film Certified Copy, the art of reproduction… (read the full review)

- Neal Dhand

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#12: Much Ado About Nothing (28 points)
Directed by Joss Whedon
Adapted by Joss Whedon from the William Shakespeare play
USA, 2012

Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is perhaps one of the most delightful romantic comedies ever written. Its tale of sparring and swooning love, betrayal, and redemption is timeless and, when done well, can leave audiences catching their breath and rolling in the aisles in equal measure. Joss Whedon has had a good year, with first the surprise success of Cabin in the Woods and then the smash hit that is The Avengers, but adapting your own work and tackling Shakespeare require very different artistic muscles. Filmed in black and white at Whedon’s home over the course of just two weeks and starring a cast mainly drawn from Whedon’s friends and former collaborators, rather than any sizeable names, Much Ado About Nothing is certainly a passion project. More than that, though, it’s a love letter to storytelling, relationships, and artistic inspiration. It’s the film that reinvigorated Whedon creatively after the grind of The Avengers and, hopefully, it’s only the beginning of smaller-scale filmmaking from a director who’s shown he can work both inside and outside of the system… (read the full review)

- Kate Kulzick

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#11: The Hunt (30 points)
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Screenplay by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm
2012, Denmark

Although director Thomas Vinterbeg’s The Hunt redoubles on well trodden material explicating the dangerousness of convicting without evidence or investigation, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (Flame and Citron, Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising) profoundly visualizes just how excruciating the character assassination of a good man displaced by society’s rush to judgment can be. The role of Lucas, a personable and caring kindergarten teacher gives Mikkelsen the opportunity to spin movingly from a relatively content, ordinary man minding his own business to a man who has had almost every conceivable thing worth living for stripped away. Existing in the absence of any kind of existential meaning behind this punishment, Mikkelsen’s Lucas fights nobly and with what little self worth he can still muster to push back against the overwhelming tide of indiscriminate hate. It’s a harrowing emotional battle that leaves one with a strange sense of reverence for the beleaguered teacher, his integrity intact in spite of the world literally turning it’s back on him… (read the full review)

- Lane Scarberry

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#10: Zero Dark Thirty (33 points)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay by Mark Boal
2012, USA

Zero Dark Thirty is as much about the central character as it is about the hunt for Bin Laden, and director Kathryn Bigelow demonstrates that she is as proficient with human emotion as she is with pulsating action. ZD30 is a compelling contemporary thriller, a political drama, an espionage action flick and above all, an engrossing character study. This is the story of a fearless young woman who becomes obsessed with a mission – overcomes several roadblocks and dodges death in the process of finding the world’s most wanted man. Maya symbolizes America and the countries ten year struggle of dealing with the effects of September 11 and the war which followed. Chastain gives us one of the best performances of the year as the powerful, uncompromising female protagonist who dominates what is traditionally an all male genre, and no matter where you stand in the pro-torture controversy, Zero Dark Thirty is best appreciated not as journalism but as an old-fashioned espionage thriller which interweaves elements of the historical record with fictional accounts… (read a full review)

- Ricky D

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#9: Behind the Candelabra (34 points)

Written by Richard LaGravenese
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
USA, 2013

Call it what you will, but if Steven Soderbergh is truly exiting the cinematic frontier for a while, Behind the Candelabra marks a very fitting and appropriate departure for the director. Adapted from the autobiographical novel by Alex Thorleifson and Scott Thorson, Candelabra is a rather direct biopic shedding light on the private life of Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his 6-year relationship with younger lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). Having known next to nothing about the stage life or persona of the former,Candelabra possesses the sparkling allure we’ve come to expect from Soderbergh, vaulting us backstage and behind the scenes for a closer look at two vulnerable lovers who become masked in their own vanity without a proper road map out…. (read the full review)

- Ty Landis

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#8: The Kings of Summer (36 points)
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by Chris Galletta
USA, 2013

It is a blessing and a curse to be a teenager with a wayward imagination, the former because even the most mundane objects in life can be imbued with some sense of mystery and wonder, and the latter because the more fantastical you make the world, the more let down you’ll be when reality sets in. Joe Toy, the protagonist of the delightful and surprising new film The Kings of Summer, is one such teenager, attempting to assert his masculinity in a world that has become too constricting, too rule-driven. Like most cocksure kids, he’s carefree and overconfident up until the moment that he’s pulled down to Earth once more. Because so much of The Kings of Summer ends up being filtered through Joe’s eyes, there are radical shifts in tone, but shifts that end up making sense even as they wound our lead character… (read the full review)

- Josh Spiegel

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#7: Stoker (37 points)
Directed by Chan-wook Park
Written by Wentworth Miller and Erin Cressida Wilson
2013, USA

South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s first cinematic foray with the English language is a gratifyingly morbid journey, albeit frustratingly simple in its conclusion. The man behind “The Vengeance Trilogy” (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance) doesn’t deliver the level of graphic gore or sadism one might anticipate from him. Chan-wook instead successfully presents us with a meticulously detailed and scintillatingly gothic atmosphere rife with bloodthirsty possibilities. Cinephiles looking for the daringness of the master’s earlier works will likely be disappointed that this provocative project about a morose young woman disturbingly coming of age ends up leaving much to the imagination… (read the full review)

- Lane Scarberry

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#6: The Place Beyond the Pines (56 points)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Written by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder
USA, 2013

There’s something very special about The Place Beyond the Pines, perhaps not in its plot as in its execution. Co-writer and director Derek Cianfrance slowly unfurls a tangled web, starting out simply in crafting a small-town tragedy that only becomes weightier as the film reaches its natural end point. The Place Beyond the Pines deals with characters in wholly realistic situations, toeing the line of melodrama but never tipping over, remaining fully grounded, levelheaded, and low-key even as the reverberations of a handful of actions from one generation topple over into the next, affecting more people with each response from its players… (read the full review)

- Josh Spiegel

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#5: Side Effects (76 points)
Directed By Steven Soderbergh
Written by Scott Z. Burns
USA, 2013

There is no small pang of depression as the credits rolled and yet another finely honed thriller was prescribed, heck I even stayed until the lights came up as a small and quiet tribute to Mr. Soderbergh’s terrific quarter century career. Side Effects isn’t simply a searing indictment of a chemically frayed society, looking for answers and solace in the wonderful sterility of international pharma who perhaps have their eyes on the bottom line and are not even remotely interested in the mental well-being of their hordes of punters, there is also a vague sense of unease with corporate mandated happiness, where even the beautiful and wealthy people find themselves afflicted with a distant and elusive ennui as the intangible pressures of modern life ravage the spirit - you must raise the pefect children, progress the perfect career, have the beautiful and successful partner. It’s certainly a smart exercise in genre manipulation, as a film which begins as a contemporary melodrama before shockingly transforming into a legal drama, then pulling the rug out once again for a left turn down to other nefarious realms which I’ll keep schtum for fear of spoilers, it’s a convincing blend of storytelling styles which Soderbergh transmits without shifting his visual style or palette, and as such it is a neat encapsulation of his entire genre flirting career. I’ve had my issues with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jude Law in the past with some of their occasionally horrendous acting styles and choices, but in Side Effects they convince as fully rounded creatures of their profession, Law in particular transforming from a not entirely likeable ambitious medical professional to a beleaguered and trapped figure, he feels like a shaded character with his own specific qualities and foibles, rather than a simple black or white, good or bad guy… (read the full review)

- John McEntee

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#4: Frances Ha (82 points)
Written by Noah Bambach and Greta Gerwig
Directed by Noah Baumbach
USA, 2012

The Greta Gerwig Charm Offensive continues unabated. Following her star turn in Whit Stillman’s agreeably eccentric Damsels In Distress, Gerwig once again toplines a quirky, affectionate comedy, this time sharing a writing credit with her director, Noah Baumbach. Where Damsels channeled golden-age Hollywood and vintage musicals, however, Frances Ha appropriates the look and feel of early-60s French New Wave in order to channel the restless energy of the character at its center, a shiftless but well-meaning late-twentysomething who finds herself perpetually in the wrong place and time… (read the full review)

- Simon Howell

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#3: (TIE) Mud (83 points)
Directed by Jeff Nichols
Written by Jeff Nichols
USA, 2012

All coming-of-age stories are, really, about the death of innocence, the moment at which each of us realizes that our innate ability to be impressionable has allowed us to blind ourselves to adults’ imperfections. As such, the new film Mud is a welcome entry into the genre, documenting a particularly memorable time for a young boy as he comes to grips with the idea that he cannot bend his world to his will, to make it as perfect as he’d like. As a follow-up to Take Shelter, writer-director Jeff Nichols’ 2011 apocalyptic drama starring Michael Shannon,Mud is a step down, but it’s still a wholly engrossing, shaggy-dog story… (read the full review)

- Josh Spiegel

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#3 (TIE) Upstream Color (83 points)
Written by Shane Carruth
Directed by Shane Carruth
2013, USA

As with his first feature Primer, it helps to go into Upstream Color with a self-assured intellect, but I’ll be the first to acknowledge that director Shane Carruth, math major, former engineer and self taught filmmaker, likely has a few IQ points on most of us. Countering any criticism that his previous effort may have been too dense or overly verbose, Carruth answers with a film that is largely silent. Replacing the heady mathematics and breakneck dialogue is a musicality crafted by an ambient score (also by Carruth) and the lyrical repetition of images. Like the work of composer Phillip Glass, themes in Upstream Color reoccur in a cyclical nature… (read the full review)

- Scott Colquitt

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#2: Spring Breakers (89 Points)
Written by Harmony Korine
Directed by Harmony Korine
USA, 2012

Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is a frenzied cornucopia of sex, drugs, alcohol, and neon hued imagery; further proof that the 39-year-old filmmaker continues to operate under the guise of his own dynamic form. Known for such films as GummoJulien Donkey-Boy, and Trash Humpers, Korine has at once made his most commercial film while also displaying a tangible maturity as a filmmaker – doing so in the only way he knows how… (read the full review)

- Ty Landis

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#1: Before Midnight (108 points)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke
2013, USA

Poignantly upending audience expectations about sentimental movie romance, the power behind Before Midnight is that it is built upon a trust two films deep. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset tugged at the heart strings for how well American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French Celine (Julie Delpy) were able to connect in such brief encounters. They seemed destined for each other even as their separate lives tore them apart. It turns out that from where we left off with them 9 years ago that they indeed did end up with each other. What then comes after the happy ending? It is an utter stroke of brilliance that the couple that fans have longed to be together for nearly 20 years completely skips over the honeymoon phase and is taken straight to enduring the complex, often bitter problems that any relationship is likely to suffer. Defiantly denying conventional satisfaction, director Richard Linklater pulls no punches in dealing with the concrete facts they now know about each other and how they might manage to make it work despite of their failings… (read the full review)

- Lane Scarberry



By Ricky

Ricky D is the editor-in-chief of Sound on Sight and one of the hosts of the Sound On Sight podcast and the Sordid Cinema podcast. He is Sound On Sight's expert on Horror and contributes written reviews when time permits.

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