It was a good year for the ladies, many of whom helmed pictures which had very little to do with fairy tale romance.
Her – Spike Jonez isn’t the most prolific filmmaker, but what he lacks in quantity, he makes up for in quality. His first script is just as rich, unique and thought-provoking as anything Charlie Kaufman or Dave Eggars has written and this late entry into the 2013 ring dominates the competition.
Stories We Tell – Sarah Polley is a brilliant filmmaker with an extremely unique style. Her third film is less a biography about the mother she lost when she was 11 and more a visual poem about memory, perspective and legacy.
The Place Beyond the Pines – Cianfrance assembled the perfect cast (including but not limited to Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper) for his follow-up to Blue Valentine. It’s a gripping meditation on paternal identity and fuzzy morality.
Don Jon – Exceedingly smart script, pitch-perfect performances and the tightest editing this side of a music video. Joe Gor-Lev is a true Renaissance man.
The To Do List – Too long we have settled for either the John Hughes romantic version of adolescence or the horn-ball sex romps like Porky’s in which women are nothing more than set pieces and plot devices. Writer/director Maggie Carey’s vastly underrated debut shines a light on an under-represented female archetype: the intellectual oddball who just wants to get laid already.
The Punk Singer – Sini Anderson’s rock doc is more than just a portrait of Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna. It’s also a feminist history lesson and a passionate polemic on cutting society on its bullshit.
Spring Breakers – Harmony Korine has never been one of my favorites, but his version of Girls Gone Horribly Wild is a fabulous exception. It’s part social satire, part XX chromosomal companion piece to the parental nightmare, We Need to Talk About Kevin. I loved every squirm-inducing minute. Perhaps ironically, this film also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.
The Heat – Writer Katie Dippold brings the same balance of witty wackiness and heart that she employs on TV’s Parks and Recreation to Paul Feig’s follow-up to Bridesmaids. Perhaps someday, The Heat will prove a mediocre example of female buddy cop films. But seeing as how it’s currently the only entry, it automatically rules.
In A World… – Writer/director/star Lake Bell’s film is the hilariously satirical and well-constructed story of aspiring voice-over actress struggling for recognition in the male-dominated field.
Teddy Bears – Debut black comedy from writer/director Thomas Beatty, co-directed with his wife, Rebecca Fishman with a script that is loosely based on an event in their pre-marriage relationship. Though the plot resembles a broad sitcom premise, the resulting film is anything but broad. A group of extremely capable actors (many of whom have done sitcoms) play it straight, and find the humor in grief-inspired downward spirals.
As usual, I haven’t gotten to see everything on my list. So here are some films I’m 90% sure I will love, even though I haven’t seen them:
Nebraska – Alexander Payne is usually quite competent and I will watch anything Will Forte has had a hand in. Bonus: grizzled old man protagonist!
I Am Divine – It would be hard to fuck up a documentary about John Water’s #1 Muse.
Inside Llewyn Davis – The Coens have only one transgression to their name thus far: 2004’s The Ladykillers. I have no reason to believe this will be anything other than great.
Read the rest of the top 10 lists here!