The Best (Overlooked) Movies Of 2013

January 17, 2014

Since Oscar nominations just came out, it’s time for our yearly reminder about the people who vote for the Academy Awards, and thus help dominate our collective pop culture consciousness: They are overwhelmingly old, white men.

No, really, see for yourself.

At last count, Oscar voters were 94 percent Caucasian, 77 percent male and had a median age of 62. In fact, only 14 percent were under 50.

Why is this important? For one thing, because it explains why “The King’s Speech” would beat “The Social Network.” After all, how many of those old, white guys use Facebook, let alone want to watch a movie about it?

It also explains why “The Artist” won Best Picture win in 2011 — because, well, old guys like old things and what’s older than a black & white silent film?

The real tragedy of all of this though, besides the painfully obvious, is that great, important movies get overlooked simply because they might not fit what the voting demographic is looking for. They will always play it safe, which results in many of the best films of all time and some of the truly great cinematic artists getting completely snubbed (See: Stanley Kubrick, Roger Deakins, et al.).

And so we come to the 2013 Oscars. While it might be the best damn crop of films in many years, the ones that got nominated yesterday barely even scratch the surface of great movies in the past year that merit conversation as being one of “the best.”

So the list below is a small attempt to rectify that. This is a not a list of films that got “snubbed.” Although, if there was any justice in the world, they would get nominations. Rather, this is a list of the best films of 2013 that would never, ever get an Oscar nomination in any year because, well, those old guys just wouldn’t be into them.

In short, it’s a “go see them now” list.

 

stories_we_tell

Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley (“Away From Her”) directs this pseudo-documentary exploration into her own family’s history to examine the narratives we pass down through generations and how they impact us. It’s a stunning, personal work that puts herself and her family in front of the lens to unpack how their mother’s affair impacted their own lives and the stories they told themselves to make sense out of it.

The film weaves fiction and reenactments through the documentary to make the audience question the truth of the narrative the same way Polley and her family did. It’s inventive, haunting, and one of the best documentaries in years. If you can even call it that.

 

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Short Term 12
Maybe the most heart-achingly beautiful movies to come along in years, writer/director Destin Cretton’s debut focuses on a short term group home for troubled teens. The drama could have easily veered quickly into “after-school special” territory, but instead it becomes something that breaks your heart one second and then fills it up with more hope than it can stand the next.

Brie Larson’s performance as the leader of the group home trying to put the pieces of these kids’ shattered lives back together, should have got a best actress nomination but because the film was so small, she was tragically overlooked. She and the rest of the characters that populate the film are so deeply flawed and human, you can’t help but absolutely fall in love with them.

While Cretton isn’t afraid to delve into the darkness, he leaves us with the overwhelming sense that, in the end, love makes everything work out for the best.

 

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Upstream Color
Certainly, this one isn’t going to be for everyone. Shane Carruth’s long awaited follow up to his 2004 time-traveling Sundance hit, and one of the best independent film’s of the decade, “Primer,” is dense, impenetrable, and meticulously crafted.

At it’s core, it’s a love story about two broken people who share some past experience they can’t quite figure out and how they try to help each other repair their emotional and physical scars. It also prominently features a pen full of pigs and the swallowing of medicinal worms.

I don’t want to give too much away, or say anything that might ward anyone off, but it is as textured, accomplished, moving, and wholly original movie as any this year. Just like he did with “Primer,” Carruth once again plays ultimate author and one-man-band. Not only did he write, direct, and act in it, he also produced, edited, shot, scored, marketed, and released the film himself. The film is lyrical, visually stunning, and grand in it’s ambition. Absolutely, without question, the most singular movie of the year.

 

Greta Gerwig

Frances Ha
A movie about post-college malaise that opens with a girl dancing to ukulele, could have easily been too eye-rollingly treacly too watch. In fact, it should have been if it weren’t for director Noah Baumbach and a gangly, lovable, precocious Greta Gerwig. They take the post-college experience of white girls in New York City out of the exclusionary realm of, well, “Girls” and they make it universal. Something anyone who watches can relate to.

In that way, it’s a better Woody Allen film than Woody Allen has made in 25 years. It’s awkward, emotional, and stumbling but in the end you see Frances grow on screen. You root for her success and you find a part of yourself, even if it’s small, in the monochrome of her misadventures. Seeing her get the last laugh is a joy to watch, even if it is cringe-inducing at times.