Looking Back on the Best Films & Filmmakers of 2013 Thus Far

I’m not quite sure which cinematic hole of sand I have been burying my head under, but it appears that 2013 is already halfway behind us. And although many of the films which had their premieres at this year’s festivals that have been lauded as the best of the year have yet to be released, the movies that we have been enjoying in theaters since January proved pretty damn incredible. From Shane Carruth’s confounding metaphysical beauty Upstream Color and Harmony Korine’s Skittles-lit nightmare party Spring Breakers to Richard Linklater’s decade-spanning classic love story Before Midnight and Joss Whedon’s absolutely charming take on a Shakespearean tale Much Ado About Nothing, there was surely something for every cinematic appetite. So as we await the next six months of premieres, let’s take a look back on my picks for the best films of 2013 thus far, plus, read our extensive interviews with the filmmakers behind the picture. Enjoy.

 

1. Upstream Color, Shane Carruth

I love narrative and how it exists and why it exists and how it’s meant to be used. You can come up with a paragraph full of some truth, something that’s universal, some exploration, and it can be really informative, but it’s likely to not be that interesting. But you can spin a story, you can tell a narrative, and you can infuse it with this stuff, and if you’ve done your job right, you haven’t just captured somebody’s attention long enough to take them on this journey, you’ve also figured out something about the exploration through the act of the story because that’s what we key into. So I love narrative and I think that film is the height of narrative, and I don’t know what 100 years from now looks like, but from right now, to be able to communicate non-verbally but still explore, I don’t know what would be better than that. That’s what I love about it. It’s like you’re feeding right into the main line of how we experience things. READ ON

 

 

 

2. Simon Killer, Antonio Campos

We knew we wanted this very brash, loud soundtrack to the movie and it was part it from the beginning—it was always going to have these musical interludes following Simon. Then the score came about when we felt like the soundtrack needed a counterpoint—something more primal and stripped down, whereas the soundtrack was so spruced and poppy. Design-wise, we do this quite a bit: getting tones that capture something about the character. We tried to give those visual interludes a sound that was more of a frequency or a pulse. But it was all, again, a way to get closer or inside Simon’s mind without every directly saying it. READ ON

 

 

 

3. Before Midnight, Richard Linklater

I’m very interested in the reality of these actors on the screen, so I know you can’t just say lines that are written by someone else. The script, the text, has to work its way through the person, and so by having Julie and Ethan kind of work with me in rewriting that script, and personalizing it and demanding they give a lot of themselves, I thought that was the only way that film could ultimately work the way I wanted it to. The script was really a first step, but for it to give the effect that I wanted, I was looking for the two most creative young actors to fill those shoes, because I knew what would be asked of them.

   

 

 

4. The East, Zal Batmanglij

We’re like gardeners, we come to the garden and dig the soil, plant the seeds, and water it. Then we tend together. But it’s also about being kind to each other, you know, when  ideas are first starting they’re so weak, they’re like these little single cell organisms, they’re like amoebas and they’re gelatinous and you have to hold them really delicately like this little jelly fish creature and it goes from my hand to Brit’s hand. You just have to hold it and and it’s a very soft enterprise—it’s something that if you do with someone you don’t really trust it feels silly. And also, if you feel a lot of push back that little character or idea will die, so you have to create a space where you can do that back and forth with each other. It’s funny how it just starts growing and pretty soon it’s not in your control anymore. READ ON

 

 

 

5. Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine

I never try to do anything or speak to anything specifically; I never try to prove a point. But at the same time, it’s definitely of that world. It’s the idea of that world, that sort of post-everything. I wanted the filmmaking style to be very much of that. There was no real conscious referencing of other films, just more the idea: now things just live inside of me and of people and images and sound coming from all directions and falling from the sky. I wanted the film to never stop moving; I wanted it to be floating and falling and breaking apart and coming together and then smacking the shit out of you and then disappearing. And at the same time, there’s a world that’s created—the way things look and feel—that I want people to identify with that and say, "I’ve been to those places and have experienced those things." READ ON

 

 

 

6. Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon 

We were certainly not attempting something highbrow and sophisticated, this was not a reproduction of Elizabethan theater, and we’re not attempting to present poetry to people. We wanted to get under the skins of these charters, and bring them to life, and find a journey through these relationships, and bring a real contemporary authenticity to it, but still respecting the fact that this was written 400 plus years ago. Some of it is very poetic, but we wanted to let the audience find that poetry rather than present it to them. So it’s very conversational and we took a very relaxed approach with the language. I think the roots go back to the readings at Joss’ house where we would have fun with plays and you could do whatever you want and weren’t’ necessarily cast in a role that you would ever play—but who cares, it was a reading and a glass of wine. READ ON

 

 

 

7. Mud, Jeff Nichols

But not wanting to make a simple getaway film about a man on the run, Nichols thought about young boys finding Mud, and who those boys were. "A girl had broken up with me and I was feeling defeated and pained," he admits. "I started thinking, yeah, what if this kid’s going to get his heart broken and there’s this guy who always gets his heart broken, but for some reason always keeps coming back. All the sudden I had what ended up being the core of the story." And that core being love–first, unmerciful love. "A lot of the time we look down on that young love we had and think, oh wasn’t that cute or puppy love and all, but its kind of the fiercest love there is," he says. "You don’t have your hands up yet, which makes the fall so hard because you’re fully committed to it, you’re all in. And oh man, it hurts." READ ON

 

 

 

8. Sun Don’t Shine, Amy Seimetz

Sometimes you get in situations where love seems like the most important thing, whether or not it’s hard and upsetting, and you suddenly feel like it needs to be solved right now. You’re stuck with this person or you want to figure it out with this person, and so the voiceover is another metaphor. I know they’re trapped in the car most of the time and they’re trapped it these situations where it’s just them, but its also like in love. There’s this idea that as long as you just don’t leave the bed or the bedroom that you guys are going to be totally fine, and then once you start thinking about society and introducing all of these other elements and these other people into the equation, it starts to unravel. READ ON

 

 

 

9. Something in the Air, Olivier Assayas

The early ’70s in France—the way I experienced them—were obsessed with politics, it invaded the whole space. There was very little left for anything else, even when you were a teenager or a kid there were questions about your place in the world. Of course it has to do with France because of the aftermath of May ’68; because that was a historical event, it was something that exploded like a bomb within the fabric of French society and it echoed profoundly. It was a failed revolution in many ways in the sense that it didn’t overthrow the government, there was no major change overnight, so it was perceived as a failure. But again, there was a sense that a successful revolution would be coming. And although that revolution never happened, the echo completely changed the values in French society. Kids are extremely sensitive to change, sensitive to what is happening in the present, they are like echo chambers. So yes, now it seems crazy looking back how focused we were on politics and how much we knew about politics. We really were extremely educated in Marxist theology and we knew about the social history of the 20th century. I don’t think it was good or bad but an interesting factor, and I don’t think anybody really ever made a movie that even remotely tried to capture that. READ ON

 

 

 

10. Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan

I do believe a relationship is a mix of the relationship you have with your parents and the relationship you have with your best friends. And for me, the way to have access to relatable truths is to base it on some of the closest relationships I had to my best girlfriends or best boyfriends, as well as the tenderness of a mother to her son. I think the goal of Laurence Anyways is to invite the audience in the story and because it’s so long and spans a decade, to make people feel like they’re part of that love story. So that’s why they’re introduced to so many things about these characters and their rituals and inside jokes. And then sometimes there are bigger cinematic manifestations of those rituals, as if it took such volume and importance and the life itself was acknowledging their love and granting them permission. READ ON

 

 

 

11. Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach

I’m interested in how psychology becomes behavior. Takes Frances. What she accomplishes at the end of the movie, out of context, is relatively minor in that she takes a desk job and she finds an apartment. But in the context of the movie, it’s kind of heroic. And, to some degree, it’s always trying to find the context for these things, these little movements we make in life. Like the end of Greenberg, where he goes and picks her up at the hospital, this sort of little thing for these characters means a lot. I’m always thinking of those things as cinematic and big and I see no reason why they shouldn’t be.  READ ON

 

 

 

12. Leviathan, George P. Cosmatos

It’s sort of a 90-minute blow up of all the fear and trembling and beauty that we ourselves witnessed, but not in a narcissistic way. It’s an experience that we had and we shared but we also felt we shared with the fisherman, even though they had a much more long-standing experience than we’ll ever have. So I don’t think there’s an easy way of dissociating our experience from their experience but we didn’t ever have the presumption that we’d come up with some dispassionate portrait of their experience that was disassociated with ours at all. And I think we always constantly improvising and experimenting with technology and style and how can we do justice to this world.  It’s a world in which we had our experience, the fisherman’s experience, the fish’s experience and the—completely overwhelming acoustically as well as visually overwhelming—unremitting presence of the boat, the noise of the boat, you cannot get away from the boat. You’re out there in this sublime seascape, you’re in the middle of the Atlantic at night, and you suffer from agoraphobia in the unbelievably claustrophobic space of the this boat. So we wanted to bring into play— everything: the elements, the birds, the fish, all of the crustatians, and all of the death and blood. READ ON

 

 

 

13. Stoker, Park Chan-wook

Yes, absolutely. The fact that Stoker is a coming of age story about a young girl, it’s actually an extrapolation or a continuation of the themes I explored in I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK. Also, the fact that I have a daughter that’s exactly the same age as the protagonist, and as a father, that has to be a subject matter that sparked my interest in the first place. And because of this, I actually focused more on this aspect of coming of age and expanded it from what he had found originally in the script. But rather than to say that I was interested in sexual awakening itself, in this film India’s sexual awakening is very much linked to her violent urges and what this has to do with, you know this cathartic feeling of allowing yourself to be drawn to something that’s evil? That’s acutely true of those young girls and boys who are going through their teenage years and he wanted to depict and describe the kind of chaotic state that you go through. READ ON

 

 

 

14.  Room 237, Rodney Ascher

It’s one of the big questions of the movie and I don’t think 237 set out to answer that but how much of this is intentional—of course a fascinating question but unanswerable. I think he was trying to do something much more ambitious than the story of three people trapped in a haunted hotel but he would also never want to explain that kind of stuff in an interview. But some of the research he did and the places he went, like Freudian ideas of the uncanny and the research he had already done about WWII and themes, moments in The Shining that seem evocative of his earlier films—the ghosts seem to have a kinship with some of the characters in Barry Lyndon or Paths of Glory and that sort of corrupt ruling class. But since he would never explain it in an interview and if he said something it might not always be thoroughly reliable. People can often work subconsciously, make a thousand little decisions without ever exactly thinking why—I get kind of lost in exploring the area around it. READ ON

 

 

 

15. The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance

I couldn’t make Blue Valentine for 12 years and I just sat on the bench and thought about what kind of films I wanted to make and thought about the failings of my first film. That was a very formalist film; it was very much, look Ma, no hands!  It was very fancy and tricky and in those 12 years, in order to keep moving as a filmmaker, I started making documentaries. And in doing so, I just fell in love with people and embraced true characters, human beings. In that time, I was able to formulate a new way of seeing movies—which was to try to approach them with just an honesty and approach every one of my characters as a human being and every one of my actors as a real person, not as an actor, but the same way I would treat someone I was shooting a documentary about. So when I make films, I’m trying to make pure, human, honest, stories that get at some sort of emotional truth and respect the audience. I’m trying to challenge too. Structurally, what this film is doing, it’s definitely trying to tread new ground. I think part of the job of the filmmaker is to tell new stories in new ways and provide new images and ways of seeing things. READ ON

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