Well, I don’t feel the need to double my list this year like I did last year, but there were plenty of films that are well above average. It wasn’t a chore to find enough for my Dozen, though I can’t say there was a large surplus that I wish I could have included. The films I do include, however, are sterling. I suppose my grade for the year would have to be a good, solid B.
I should point out that I make no claim that these are the best films of the year, but rather the films I am most comfortable recommending and commending.
So here they are, the films you may not even know you’ve been waiting to see.
- Life of Pi – A Hindu/Christian/Muslim teenager crosses the ocean in a lifeboat with a tiger. The film tells us that Pi has a story that will make you believe in God. Well, maybe not, but it certainly makes it clear why some people do.
- Ruby Sparks – Calvinism 101 (with critique) in the form of a romantic comedy. An author creates a character who comes to life. This is a very close #2. I could have easily named it my top film of the year.
- Monsieur Lazhar – An Algerian immigrant takes over a school class after a teacher’s suicide. A story of alienation and community, injury and healing.
- Holy Motors—Trust me. You haven’t seen a film like this. Following a man around as he goes to his “appointments” as different people. There is a sense of a divine hand in all this.
- The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel—In my review I suggest it should be rated NC-50. You younger folk may not be mature enough to understand.
- Moonrise Kingdom—I thought of combining this with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel—two visions (at opposite ends of the life cycle) of searching for joy. Twelve year-olds find love and happiness in spite of what adults do to stop them.
- Where Do We Go Now?—Lebanese women, tired of the violence that comes from the Christian-Muslim divide in their town, find a creative way of putting an end to it all.
- Searching for Sugar Man‐I’m a bit surprised it took me this long into the list to include a documentary—but it is a wonderful one. A story of fame delayed. Sometimes a phoenix rises from the ashes of failure.
- The Intouchables—An unlikely relationship between a quadriplegic and his caregiver brings the chance to experience life to them both.
- Silver Linings Playbook—What? Two romcoms in my list in one year? Two people trying to recover their sanity. There is a love story, ballroom dancing, and football.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild—Sort of Tree of Life after Hurricane Katrina, but with magical realism. I’m amazed it’s this far down on my list.
- Café de Flore—Two parallel stories decades apart. One about “a man who has every reason to be happy and the lucidity to realize it,” the other about “a man who has every reason to be unhappy, but not the lucidity to realize it.”
And of course there are a few films that need to be mentioned because they are just as good, but I only have 12 slots. Alphabetically they are: Amour, Anna Karenina, I Wish, The Invisible War, Lincoln, Robot & Frank, and Queen of Versailles.
I’d also like to lift up a few films that I’ve been able to see that you may never get the chance to see. I saw them at festivals or on screeners and as far as I can tell they have no U.S. release planned at this point. Maybe they’ll show up on Netflix, maybe not. That’s too bad because they are all quite good. I encourage you to seek them out if you get the chance. (Again, alphabetically. Links may be to reports from festivals.) Antiviral is a Canadian film that skewers our celebrity culture and asks some questions about medical ethics. The Clown was Brazil’s submission for Oscar consideration. It is a touching story of finding oneself. Drought is one of the finest docs I have ever seen. It shows life in a Mexican community that literally lives and dies on the presence of water. (If I thought there was a likelihood you could see it, this might well have made the Dozen.) Stella Days features Martin Sheen as a priest in Ireland just as electrification is coming to his parish. He longs for the joys of cinema that he knew in Rome. Tey, is a Senegalese film about a man who wakes up on his last day to live. He and everyone else know this. Well, back into the darkness to find the treasures of 2013.