So, it’s nearly the mid-point of the year. And you know what that means. With our penchant for making lists it’s about time we took on the big one: the greatest films of the year so far.
There have been many divisive films already this year (Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder, Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines) and admittedly a lot of us here at Grolsch Film Works haven’t always seen eye to eye. But one thing’s for sure: our selection below proves that 2013 has already been a mammoth year for genuinely interesting movies from both first-time filmmakers and veteran auteurs. And there’s undoubtedly more to come.
So without further ado, here are our picks for the year’s best so far. Let us know yours in the comments section below.
Frances Ha (dir. Noah Baumbach)
[UK readers note: this film will be released on July 26]
I know when Lena Dunham's Girls hit TV screens, everyone declared that she had magically captured the twentysomething experience. I know I did, but only to a certain extent. Because, honestly, how much do I relate to Hannah & co.? First off, I've never been to a warehouse party or worn a plastic dress. But, just like the heroine of Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha (Greta Gerwig), I have left a dinner date hanging in the restaurant while I ran miles to find an ATM.
Beyond the superficial fact that I'm just too much of a dork to exist in the world of Girls, the central concept of Hannah's self-entitlement and narcissism comes from a woman so desperate to leap into the security and confidence of adulthood. However, Frances is my anti-Hannah, she's the other side of the twentysomething; the one who feels left behind by adulthood and is frankly terrified by the thought of it. She still clings onto her old college best friend Sophie because she can't bear to live without the familiarity and the thought that everyone's lives are in such a forward motion. She's the girl that, while everyone around her greets each other by a kiss on the cheek, still regularly says hello by screaming “SUP GURL”. To put it succinctly, Frances Ha is my favourite movie of 2013 so far because I think it might be about me.
Follow Clarisse on Twitter: @clarisselou
It’s Such A Beautiful Day (dir. Don Hertzfeldt)
This is Bill, a stickman with great pathos in the dots of his eyes, molded by family, society and nostalgia with familiar details to his days that make him universally relatable.
His activities are narrated by Hertzfeldt at a frantic emotional pace for condensing a life into 62 minutes of rich concentrate has to be a sure-footed sprint.
Though a master of animation, Hertzfeldt also uses photography, recognising it as the most evocative medium to show water rippling or the wind blowing its hushed message through a tree. Nature is shown to dignify Bill’s sheer drop through everything. Why do good people suffer? There are no sentimental answers, just extraordinary understanding married to marvelous storytelling.
At the core of ISABD is an enveloping love that transforms what should be a depressing ride into something artful, unique and breathtaking. There’s much to soar on from the classical score to the deadpan humour to the inventive animation to the transcendent ending. Recommended for those interested in original talent and essential to those seeking a port in the storm of big questions. Rapturously overwhelming.
By Sophie Monks Kaufman
Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)
Think for a second of the logistics behind Before Midnight, a film of one-shot scenes devoted entirely to talking. Think of the script, the ability of the actors, the agility of the cameraman? Yet it somehow feels unseemly to talk about the film in these terms. Since our first introduction on the train through Vienna, we have invested so much in Jesse and Celine. We have grown with them.
Before Midnight revisits them now married and settled with kids. No longer are they strangers meeting or reconnecting; now they're together, frustrated in their intimacy and made complacent by familiarity.
Richard Linklater conceived of the series after he met a woman on a train; she died, he later came to know, and he never met her again. With these films, he has gifted us a parallel dimension; an imagined world of could-have-been, in which meaning and truth and love remain just as elusive as ours. Beyond the walking and the talking and the small exchanged glances, those feelings are there, almost close enough to touch, as potent as ever, but as protean as the night air. It makes for beautiful cinema.
Follow Tom Seymour on Twitter: @TomSeymour
Gimme The Loot (dir. Adam Leon)
I saw Adam Leon’s fresh and funny New York comedy Gimme The Loot at the London Film Festival in October 2012 and spent the best part of the next eight months (until its general release in the UK) banging on about it to friends. What got into me? First and foremost, I think it’s probably the film’s beautiful simplicity. Its tale of a pair of hardscrabble teen graffiti artists caroming around the city looking for cash isn’t a complicated one, but Leon pulls it off with real confidence and charm, making it look like it ain’t no thing.
Gimme The Loot’s pleasures – packed into an almost comically short running time – are legion: rounded, relatable characters, breathtaking urban locations, a great soundtrack, and, crucially, a total absence of sentimentality. Many critics (including me) have been keen to draw comparisons with vibrant NYC classics including The Warriors, Do The Right Thing, Wild Style and Style Wars, and it’s not a stretch to say that Leon’s film is good enough to take its place among those hallowed names. It sits alongside Noah Baumbach’s monochrome wonder Frances Ha as the year’s most energetic, empathetic glimpse at what it’s like to be young and caught under the glare of the Big Apple’s unforgiving stare.
Follow Ashley Clark on Twitter: @_Ash_Clark
Beyond The Hills (dir. Cristian Mungiu)
I adored Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days (2007) as much as it is possible to adore a bleak tale of illegal abortion and inhuman abuse under Ceausescu. One of the first swells in the Romanian New Wave, this film managed to be all at once national parable and tensely tangible thriller. So news of Mungiu's follow-up Beyond The Hills, focused once again on two young women in increasingly dire straits, had me very excited – even if I did wonder just how exorcism (and lesbian nuns! and a 'two-way anus'!) could be made to motor state-of-the-nation allegory.
The truth is that on paper Beyond The Hills looks like pure exploitation – and knowing that it's drawn from a real-life scandal hardly dispels this impression. Yet in fact the film unfolds an unorthodox love triangle between a devoted young nun, her infatuated (not to mention secularised) best friend and the remote God that comes between them. Bringing all manner of Romanian institutions – the Church, childcare, healthcare, the constabulary – into awkward collision, it exposes a nation caught between ancient superstitions and encroaching modernity. All judgment is suspended from the compromises and contradictions that emerge in the face of such unseasonable change, making Beyond The Hills less racy nunsploitation than slow, contemplative morality play, shot at a distance as though from God's own bemused point-of-view.
Follow Anton Bitel on Twitter: @AntBit
Simon Killer (dir. Antonio Campos)
The exotic allure of Antonio Campos’ Simon Killer should not be overlooked. Paris is depicted as a beguiling world of gorgeous prostitutes, unexpected encounters, romance, kinky sex and dangerous living.
Mati Diop is excellent as Parisian working girl Noura. Is she the classic hooker with a heart of gold or a vulnerable woman eager to believe in a relationship that's built on complete lies? The film, for all its shiny veneer and striking photography, is really about the ugliness of people’s actions and their struggles to connect. Simon (Brady Corbet) turns up in the city of lights a bit downbeat after a relationship back home ended badly. Or did it? Simon, we soon learn, tells massive fibs and seems to be hiding something. Can we trust anything he says or reveals about himself? His subsequent adventure on the streets edges further and further into pure cold-heartedness. He certainly kills relationships.
Campos’ cool and calculated visual aesthetic matches Simon’s persona perfectly. Some might find this ‘Paris after dark’ odyssey a bit manky or downright sordid, but therein lies its very edge and what makes Simon Killer a very satisfying slice of cinema.
The disco dancing sequence, set to LCD Soundsystem’s 'Dance Yrself Clean', is easily the film’s highlight, along with a particularly fruity sex scene.
Follow Martyn Conterio on Twitter: @Cinemartyn
The Place Beyond the Pines (dir. Derek Cianfrance)
I could be on my own here, but screw it. I’m going to go with my gut reaction and say that The Place Beyond The Pines is by far the most thrilling and profound cinematic experience I’ve had this year (so far).
Director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) re-teamed with Mr. Abs Gosling for this ambitious and refreshingly unpredictable film set over a period of 15 years, following the interweaving stories of a daredevil stunt motorcyclist, his son, a cop, and his son. Suffice to say there are pines, bikes and biceps aplenty.
Pines is an epic triptych, feeling more like three films rolled into one. And despite its far-fetched narrative and convenient plot coincidences, I found Cianfrance’s assured filmmaking style, together with Sean Bobbitt’s romantic 35mm cinematography, the outstanding performances and the haunting score (provided by Mike Patton), all so overwhelmingly seductive that I couldn’t help but fall under the film’s hypnotic spell.
Follow Oliver Lunn on Twitter: @OliverLunn
Something In The Air (dir. Olivier Assayas)
As a nostalgic portrait of the years of his adolescence, Olivier Assayas’ latest offering is a stirring combination of two of his previous films: the serene beauty and charm of 2008's Summer Hours and the global political undercurrents of 2010's Carlos.
Authentically decorated with trinkets, fashions, music and politics of the liberal movements of the early '70s, Assayas chronicles a young group of activists who attempt to juggle their attempts to continue the revolution with their heart’s desires and the fast approaching reality of adulthood.
With a fine cast of teens – in particular Lola Créton who, following on from her performance in Mia Hansen-Løve’s equally personal Goodbye First Love, is already cementing herself as a magnetic screen presence – Something In The Air displays an effortless ability to pull the audience into this iconic moment in counterculture's history.
Despite the pretentious chain-smoking, endless pencil-sketching, constant reciting of Trotskyist politics, as well as a frustrating ambivalence displayed by most of its characters to finding a job, Something In The Air leaves you swooning at the age of Syd Barrett’s music, flared jeans and free love.
Follow Jack Jones on Twitter: @JackJonesFilm
Side By Side (dir. Christopher Kenneally)
Christopher Kenneally’s Side By Side, produced and fronted by Keanu Reeves, is catnip to film fans. Refreshing, comprehensive and visually appealing – it’s got it all. Detailing the shifting landscape of film production and what the future holds, this is essential viewing if you want to understand the impact of digital.
Boasting big names (David Lynch, Lena Dunham, Martin Scorsese), indie and international directors, you can’t help but warm to the typically bland Keanu Reeves who conducts the interviews, and who comes across as surprisingly astute (forgive me, Keanu, I thought your range stretched from '80s surfer-cum-crime movies to wearing sunglasses indoors and saying ‘Whoah’).
Follow Joseph Walsh on Twitter: @JosephDAWalsh