best film: Ida from Paweł Pawlikowski

  • Pawlikowski’s photographical accomplish in Ida ranks among the best of the decade
  • Arri Alexa 35mm, 1.37: 1 box aspect ratio- influences Paul Schrader’s First Reformed among others

Crisp monochrome  – austere, stark

  • another Pawlikowski trademark- his 80-90 minute running time

Silent montage opening with nuns at the convent—Pawlikowski arranges objects in the frame wondrously—often with the subject/object in the lower plane

the film deserves a frame by frame, composition by composition, examination and appreciation

  • Gorgeous rural road with trees overhanging
  • Actors framed in the doorway

The jazz club scene (and just outside) may be the zenith of the film’s many visual highpoints- the gating outside (here) and streamers and balloons in the mise-en-scene like von Sternberg’s work

  • The level of detail in the compositions—meticulous- very light, every detail in the car
  • The window sequence is haunting


most underrated:    The TSPDT should be commended for largely getting it right when it comes to 2013. There are so many deserving films and they do have most of them close to the right slot. Two notable exceptions are Enemy from Denis Villeneuve. The consensus has it as the #44 film from 2013 and that is a mistake. The slightly larger mistake would be Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives which did not make the 21st century top 1000 list (so at least outside the top 44 of 2013) at all.



  • There is much here to admire formally—the spiders as an ongoing motif and recurring construct
  • Fantastic silent opening—bizarre and erotic—reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut
  • Recalls Cronenberg’s work—particularly Crash—eerie slow-burn (also set in Toronto)– and Cronenberg’s aptly named Spider from 2002
  • Doppelganger, paranoia—largely silent- moody and atmospheric—strong sense of dread the entire film—no narrative drive like most of  Villeneuve’s other work
  • The upside down naked woman with spider head is exactly half-way through the film—not a formal coincidence
  • Love the windshield broken as a spider web

Kafka and Welles’ The Trial

The lighting design is sublime- every frame a visual treat

Wonderful use of urban architecture and the city of Toronto as a character with the establishing shots


Only God Forgives

  • Like 2009 with Valhalla Rising, the most underrated film of the year belongs to Refn. Again, the film is not mentioned among the many from 2013 on the TSPDT 21st century list. This one was also booed at Cannes and has a 37 on Metacritic. It is closer, from a narrative standpoint, to Valhalla Rising than Drive. Drive is a bit of an irregularity for Refn in many ways- it is the only film he has not written- he is not usually so accessible.

The visual achievement in Only God Forgives seems undeniable.

the film is shot by Larry Smith who worked with Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut. Cliff Martinez (Traffic, Drive, Spring Breakers) provides the score



most overrated:  With only one viewing of the film under my belt, the door is not closed on Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake but for now it does sit as the most overrated film of 2013. The consensus has it as the #4 film of 2013.



trends and notables:

  • Both Pawlikowski and the Coen Brothers really deserve to be the story and for different reasons. Pawlikowski is a rising star. The Woman in the Fifth in 2011 hinted at his potential, but it would seem unlikely that anyone saw something the size of Ida coming from him. For Coens it is the opposite. Their staying power since their debut in 1984 is remarkable and Inside Llewyn Davis is one of their best films.
  •  2013’s great depth of quality films is almost more the story of the year in cinema than the two films at the top . Thirteen years into the new millennium at this point, coming up on 100 years since DW Griffith and certainly cinema as an artform is in a fantastic place if films like The Immigrant, Nebraska, Snowpiercer, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Only Lovers Left Alive cannot find a spot in the top ten of the year. These are all quality works made by auteurs with a unique voice.


Jarmusch tackles the horror genre or vampire sub-genre with full confidence in his mood-piece style, formal aesthetic and relaxed approach—much like his take on the crime genre in The Limits of Control, gangster genre in Ghost Dog or western in Dead Man. Very nocturnal and urban like most of Jarmusch’s work. Formally impressive- we get the 360-degree aerial shot paired with the vinyl record spinning—it is a wow of an opening and it dissolves and bleeds into the two protagonists. We get this again later with Tilda Swinton’s character dancing in circles (making for a great match dissolve with the record) and Tom Hiddleston’s character jamming out on the guitar— yet another later with them both together now in Detroit dancing. Hipster cool- Pabst Blue Ribbon, gloriously dilapidated Detroit and lines like “I’m sure she’ll be famous. I hope not. She’s way too good for that.”

color design in Spike Jonze’s Her. This is an important film for Jonze to prove he can impress without Charlie Kaufman.

long before Parasite, Bong Joon-ho was working in genre while simultaneously delivering a meditation the class struggle- here from Snowpiercer.

each train car or room is an opportunity for Bong to set and design the mise-en-scene…

…many making for some of 2013’s strongest images

from James Gray’s The Immigrant – another feather in the cap for Gray and stars Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix


  • The Coen Brothers and Linklater are extremely prolific- but 2013 features films from those that rarely make films like Alfonso Cuaron and the ever-increasingly reclusive Jonathan Glazer. Gravity is Cuaron’s last film since 2006. Under the Skin is Glazer’s last film since Birth in 2004 and last film of the 2010s decade. Cuaron would add one more of course- Roma in 2018.

Under the Skin is a major coup for Glazer, Scarlett and for Mica Levi who composed the hypnotic musical score

  • with all the unofficial and official trilogies out there it is difficult to keep track of and rank the best- but, undoubtedly, Linklater’s “Before” trilogy (Sunrise in 1995, Sunset in 2004 and Midnight in 2013- all nine years apart) ranks needs to rank near the very top.

For at least one moment in time in 2013 it felt like David O. Russell was taking over- and with American Hustle, he outduels Scorsese. Russell doubles down on his 2010 and 2012 lead actor pairings. In The Fighter he has Christian Bale and Amy Adams. In 2012 with Silver Linings Playbook he has Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. American Hustle is larger, more ambitious, and there is more than room enough for all four of them

  • Denis Villeneuve is heating up with two archiveable films in 2013: Prisoners and Enemy- but his run is really just getting started.
  • As far as first timers in the archives, Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan feel destined for greatness and pair together here in 2013 for the first time in Fruitvale Station. Miles Teller lands in the archives for the first time in The Spectacular Now and LaKeith Stanfield got his start in 2013 as well with Short Term 12, which is his true debut.
  • As far as box office in 2013 it is all Iron Man (continuing the Marvel dominance) and Hunger Games (Jennifer Lawrence is getting awards and box office love now in back to back years) but for cinephiles- it is Cuaron’s Gravity that is both an artistic feat and a big-time moneymaker.

Gravity features an artistically transcendent display of camera movement- here the choice for the floating camera and long take perfectly match the narrative. The jaw-dropper is the 12 ½ minute opening take. This is also the Emmanuel Lubezki era. He already has served as cinematographer for Children of Men and The Tree of Life– two of the best films of the 21st century- but in 2013 he starts his three year run of winning the Oscar (justifiably) for best cinematography.

  • In 2013 it is also worth pausing to appreciate the start to Steve McQueen’s career. From Hunger (2008), to Shame (2011) to 12 Years a Slave (2013) this is a meteoric rise.

McQueen’s films are rigid, punishing films that are equally depressing and artistically realized. McQueen uses long takes and duration for affect (the scene of Ejiofor getting flogged, the scene of him hanging on his tip-toes). He makes us uncomfortable. He is editorializing and it is potent. The comparisons to Spielberg’s Schindler’s List are apt – and a compliment to both films.


gems I want to spotlight: Sticking with a color theme here in the two titles- Blue Ruin from Jeremy Saulnier is one that is not terribly close to the top 10 of the year but I revisit and recommend to people often. Blue is the Warmest Color from Abdellatif Kechiche deserves this slot as well. 2013 is a year of incredible depth in the world of film- there are not many years where Kechiche’s film does not land in the top 10 of the year.

Léa Seydoux as Emma and Adèle Exarchopoulos as Adèle – two of the strongest performances of 2013



best performance male: In 2010 it was Natalie Portman in Black Swan. In 2011 Michael Fassbender in Shame- and, undoubtedly in 2012 it was Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. Well, in 2013 it is Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis ahead of the rest. Isaac is a revelation—a young Pacino in the making. He could go on to be the best actor of a generation and could still never top this. His Davis has heavy eyes—“I’m tired”… “I thought I needed a night’s sleep but it’s more than that”- tragic. He is quick to give up- beaten down by the death of his partner, the cold winter, and…it is the Coen’s world of course… fate (or bad luck). Isaac is one hell of a musical performer as well and the film does not work if he cannot both act and sing. Leonardo DiCaprio deserves mention in 2013 for his work as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. DiCaprio is a tour-de-force. He makes the character and film so much more complex because of his inarguable charm. It is a prime role, lots of speechmaking, drug use, and DiCaprio shows off his comedic (especially physical) talents as well. I do not like going off the top ten films of the year to grab a worthy performance for this category but DiCaprio sort of had a mention he was due here for being left off in 2012 for Django Unchained. Toni Servillo pairs with Paolo Sorrentino again in 2013’s The Great Beauty. Servillo and Sorrentino burst onto the scene in 2008’s Il divo and The Great Beauty marks their finest work to date as both director and actor. This is their Fellini/Mastroianni La Dolce Vita. Christian Bale is a chameleon- but his work in American Hustle is more than just bad hair and a big gut. Bale is one of the greatest actors of his generation and this is certainly one of his best performances. He apparently gained over forty pounds for the role (going the other way from his previous collaboration with Russell where he lost a bunch for The Fighter in 2010).  Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender are both terrific in McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. Ejiofor is empathetic and intelligent– and Fassbender is horrifically mesmerizing- akin to Ralph Fiennes work in Schindler’s List.  It seems that there were doubters of his talent for decades, but Ethan Hawke continues to prove he is one of Generation X’s finest with his work alongside Linklater and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight. The final mention goes to Jake Gyllenhaal for his work in Enemy. Gyllenhaal was omitted here in this category back in 2005 for Brokeback and he is also strong in 2014’s Nightcrawler so this feels like a fitting spot to reward him for three years where he is just on the fringe (and he is excellent in Denis’ other 2013 entry as well Prisoners). 


best performance female: This is the best year in this category since 2000 or 2001 and even those years did not have the depth of great acting performances 2013 does. There are years where we are scratching and clawing to get two to three names listed. There are ten very worthy mentions here in 2013.  Ida starts off 2013 and showcases phenomenal acting turns from both Agata Kuleza (as Wanda) and Agata Trzebuchowska (as Anna).  These are complex characters wearing the baggage of their history. Wanda is a skeptic, an alcoholic, nihilistic. She is angry (and justly so). Wanda (with Trzebuchowska’s soft, black eyes) is naïve and sheltered yet goes through quite a transformation. Every decade or so now (every nine years to be exact) both Hawke and Julie Delpy show up in the “Before” films remind us all that no list of the best actors is complete without them. This is their Scenes from a Marriage film.  Sandra Bullock has been a star for nearly two decades by 2013 but turns in easily her finest work in Cuaron’s Gravity. In the film she serves as the driving action in the story- and also have a heartfelt emotional breakdown an hour into the film.  Lupita Nyong’o has to be here for her work (her film debut) as Patsey in McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.   Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux unquestionably deserve spots here for their work in Blue is the Warmest Color Scarlett Johansson quieted what few doubters she left in 2013 (Lost in Translation was a decade in the rearview) when she triumphed again in Under the Skin. Amy Adams is in familiar territory in this category again in 2013 for American Hustle after appearing here in 2012.  Adams is on a roll that will continue through 2016. The tenth and final mention is for Marion Cotillard in James Gray’s The Immigrant. Cotillard could get a mention either here or for her work in The Dardenne Brothers’ Two Days, One Night but probably not for both- so this is as good a spot as 2014.


the long take flogging of Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave. This is her debut and she wins the Oscar in this scene alone . It is a masterful shot- both for technical reasons and it would not have this affect if McQueen had cut it up or shot it differently.

Scarlett in Under the Skin- a bold, avant-garde performance and film- one has to admire not only her work as an actor but her choice in taking on the part/project as well


top 10

  1. Ida
  2. Inside Llewyn Davis
  3. Gravity
  4. Before Midnight
  5. The Great Beauty
  6. 12 Years a Slave
  7. Enemy
  8. Under the Skin
  9. Only God Forgives
  10. American Hustle



from Inside Llewyn Davis – the period detail is impeccable- the lighting- The Coen Brothers showing they do not have to work with Deakins to create a film that looks like this (doubtful they ever have actually). The director of photography here is Oscar-nominated (for this) Bruno Delbonnel who worked on Amelie and A Very Long Engagement among other films with Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

A washed out look- like a cloud- is hanging over the entire film. Everyone looks pale, very wintery, waiflike, haunting– chilly. there are shots of Isaac’s Davis being oppressed by the city and world around around him, walking up the stairs, the narrow hallways in the tragically small apartment building. The film wonderfully bookends with the same night at the Gaslight—you need to see the full film (and probably at least twice) to fully take it in but the night he splits the basket (divides money from the crowd) with Bob Dylan is the night Dylan becomes a star and the night he gets a punch in the face- devastating. The Coen brothers and their obsession with fate—true auteurs.

from Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. Sorrentino makes films with striking imagery- but The Great Beauty is the one film he has made so far that is a cut above the rest.

another from Sorrentino’s- one of 2013’s finest cinematic paintings

a stunner from Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby

Over the years (Stay Dogs is his tenth feature)- Ming-liang Tsai seems to have crystalized his style. The camera is almost always static (a few slow pans here and there), long takes, silence (I bet the “screenplay” here if there is one is no more than a few pages long and we are over two hours here). There is rain –I believe this connects not only to the melancholic mood—but a sort of end of days biblical parable or armageddon (there’s a story here about the house crying). An impressive formal work– Apichatpong Weerasethakul it a good comparison. The final shot (here) is easiliy the best in the film- much like The River– ending on a high note. Here we have a mural shot for the last six minutes.

from WKW’s The Grandmaster– sadly this would be his last archiveable film of the 2010s decade

Tom at the Farm from Xavier Dolan- it may not have the highs of I Killed My Mother (2009) or Laurence Anyways (2012) but this is still such an artistically fertile period for young Dolan



Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Touch of Sin- Zhangke Jia R
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints- Lowery R
All is Lost- Chandor R
American Hustle – D. Russell HR/MS
Before Midnight- Linklater MS/MP
Behind the Candelabra– Soderbergh R
Blue Is the Warmest Color – Kechiche HR/MS
Blue Jasmine- Allen R/HR
Blue Ruin – Saulnier R
Captain Phillips- Greengrass HR
Dallas Buyers Club- Vallée R
Enemy – Villeneuve MS
Enough Said- Holofcener R
Exhibition – Hogg R
Fruitvale Station- Coogler R
Gloria – Lelio R
Gravity – Cuaron MS/MP
Hard To Be a God – German R
Her- Jonze HR
Ida – Pawlikowski MP
Inside Llewyn Davis – Coen MP
Joe- Gordon Green R
Locke- Knight R
Nebraska- Payne HR
Night Moves- Reichardt R
Nymphomaniac- von Trier R
Only God Forgives- Refn HR/MS
Only Lovers Left Alive – Jarmusch HR
Out of the Furnace- S. Cooper R
Philomena- Frears R
Prince Avalanche- Gordon Green R
Prisoners – Villeneuve R
Rush- Howard R
Short Term 12- Cretton R
Side Effects- Soderbergh R
Snowpiercer- Bong HR
Star Trek into Darkness- Abrams R
Starred Up- Mackenzie R
Stray Dogs – Ming-liang Tsai R
The Bling Ring- S. Coppola R
The Conjuring – Wan R
The Grandmaster- WKW R
The Great Beauty- Sorrentino MS
The Great Gatsby- Luhrmann R
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Jackson R
The Immigrant- Gray HR
The Past- Farhadi R
The Spectacular Now- Ponsoldt R
The Tale of Princess Kagulaya – Takahata R
The Wind Rises- Miyazaki R
The Wolf of Wall Street– Scorsese HR
The World’s End- E. Wright R
The Zero Theorem – Gilliam R
Tom At the Farm – Dolan R
12 Years a Slave – McQueen MS
Under the Skin- Glazer MS
Upstream Color – Carruth R
We Are the Best! – Moodysson R


*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives