In the lead-up to the unveiling of our definitive Top 50 Films of 2013 list, we’ve asked some friends of Paste to tell us their favorites of the year. Tune in for a different list each day. Today’s contributor is director Megan Griffiths, who directed this year’s Eden (pictured) as well as The Off Hours and next year’s Lucky Them.
1. Short Term 12
I wandered into a screening of Destin Cretton’s previous film, I Am Not a Hipster, at the Seattle International Film Festival last year, not having read a word about it. I was completely blindsided by how much the film, and the style in which it was made, resonated with me. After that experience Short Term 12 had a lot to live up to, and it fulfilled that promise and then some. Cretton and his team have created something that manages to feel rich and layered yet stripped down and unadorned all at once. Brie Larson is deservedly getting a lot of love for her lead performance, but the cast is superb from top to bottom. John Gallagher Jr’s natural effervescence allows the film to go deep on some dark topics without ever feeling overly bleak, and Keith Stanfield’s stoic Marcus and Kaitlyn Dever’s wounded Jayden are utterly believable. I grew up the daughter of a social worker, and it’s rare to see a film that captures the reality of this corner of the population. This film did it in a way that was heart-breaking and hopeful all at once.
(David Gordon Green)
I’m actually not sure what the release plan is for this film, so I’m including it in this list potentially a year early. As a longtime fan of David Gordon Green, this movie really satisfied something deep within me. What initially drew me to Green’s work was his emphasis on mood and character and the embrace of the occasionally surreal nature of the world. And while I’ve definitely enjoyed some of Green’s more mainstream efforts, I have missed the singularity of the voice I first fell for. So Joe, a Southern gothic character study with stellar performances by both its leads and the large team of non-professional actors in the supporting roles, was a pleasure and a relief to see. I caught a screening in Toronto and was lucky enough to see a Q&A with Green and stars Nicholas Cage and Ty Sheridan, which yielded one of the best moments of my year. In response to an audience member commenting that Cage’s performance was, shall we say, more grounded than much of his recent work, Cage replied (paraphrasing here): “I like to describe my style in those other movies as ‘Western Kabuki’. Let’s just say when you’ve got a flaming skull, it gives you license to go a bit broader.”
3. Sun Don’t Shine
If you know my work, you’ll know that Amy Seimetz played the lead in my film The Off Hours (which premiered at Sundance back in 2011). After observing her at close range on my own set and having since watched her in so many other films, I happen to believe Amy is one of the best actresses working today. My theory on what makes her so damn good is that she possesses a truly keen mind—one that churns with a combination of intelligence, inquisitiveness and stubborn independence. She has a staunch commitment to scrutinizing every moment in every scene to ensure that it is organic and honest. Watching her feature directorial debut, it’s clear that these qualities have translated seamlessly as she stepped into this new role. Sun Don’t Shine is a brutal, forceful, uncompromising, messy, and beautiful film, featuring raw performances that feel like they were pulled out of a Cassavettes movie and plunked down in a sun-soaked Florida nightmare. (Available on iTunes)
I’m not sure this film officially counts, as it was made for British TV and I don’t think it has seen a US release yet, but I saw it as a special presentation at the Toronto Film Festival and was moved, inspired, and shaken by it. It deals with the lead-up and aftermath of a mass shooting in a small British town. Durkin’s non-linear approach gives the viewer a great deal of credit and I must say it’s nice to see a filmmaker take his audience’s intelligence as a given. He weaves a broad portrait of humanity together in a purposeful and powerful way, and in the process he manages to paint every character with a lack of judgment rarely seen in films dealing with this subject matter. It’s a film that starts a conversation, and one that we as a culture truly need to engage in.
5.The Immortal Augustus Gladstone
This film is squeaking in under the wire, as their small web release just began in late December. It was made by Robyn Miller (who co-created the seminal video game Myst back in the day) and has been criminally overlooked by festival programmers this past year, in my humble opinion. It’s an unconventional documentary about Augustus Gladstone, an eccentric man born in the South and now residing in an abandoned hotel in the Northwest. Augustus believes he is immortal. In fact, he believes he is a vampire. Augustus is fictional, a character fully fleshed out and inhabited by director Robyn Miller, but the film never states this outright. The filmmakers never mock the character or wink at their audience. Instead they take an earnest approach as they follow Augustus in his search for human connection, exploring the pathos of his desperate quest to maintain the elaborate world he has created as a refuge from the difficult truths in his past. It’s the kind of film that is near impossible to market, since the vampire fans that might be its easiest demographic would likely fail to appreciate its layers and complexity, but it is well worth seeking out for anyone who has ever struggled to come to terms with their own secrets. (Available at http://www.augustusgladstone.com/)
6. Before Midnight
I really appreciated this film’s dedication to embracing the messiness implicit in human relationships. Given the history of this trilogy Linklater is uniquely positioned to do this, having spent almost two decades following these characters and allowing his audience to grow truly invested in their fate. It feels as if each player’s perspective—Delpy’s and Hawke’s in addition to Linklater’s—is being respected and aired fairly, and the film ultimately allows you to leave the theater with a rounder perception of humanity in all its flawed glory.
7. Touchy Feely
Full disclosure: Lynn Shelton is one of my closest friends and I’ve worked with her on many projects, including this one (as a post-production sounding board and general cheerleader). But I can’t let friendship get in the way of listing this film among my favorites of the year. There aren’t many directors out there who are as adept as Lynn at mining nuance and emotional meaning out of seemingly insignificant gestures. Every actor involved delivers moments of depth, humor and truth, culminating in a gorgeous montage set to a song written for the occasion by Seattle treasure Tomo Nakayama (who also makes his big screen acting debut in the film). There’s a scene near the end where Ellen Page and one of my other favorite actors (and humans) Scoot McNairy perfectly capture that wrenching and awkward moment when one confesses feelings that are destined to be unrequited. It is quiet, unassuming and beautifully rendered by all involved. (Available on Netflix)
Although this movie didn’t take me quite as far emotionally as I would have liked it to, I still can’t deny its power as a cinematic experience. It is the first movie I’ve ever seen about space that made its vast emptiness and isolation so visceral and terrifying. And though I wish it wasn’t an unusual enough occurrence to warrant special mention, kudos to Cuarón for making the decision to focus his story on a female lead, and big ups to Bullock for pulling off such a nuanced performance in what I would assume to be an extremely artificial environment. I felt the script left a bit to be desired, both in the dialogue and the fairly one-note back-story of Bullock’s character, but for once (and as a total slave to character, I never say this) the power of the filmmaking was able to transcend the script issues and deliver something wholly engrossing. If they’d spent as much time perfecting the script as they did the effects, I can only imagine what this film may have been.
9. Enough Said
It has always felt to me like you can get a glimpse of the life that Nicole Holofcener is currently living by observing the life of the characters in her most recent film. These days it’s looking like that life is pretty comfortable, at least financially. But what I think is so special about Holofcener as a writer and as a filmmaker is that she is able to portray an often elite world that might not reflect the lives of everyone in her audience, but infuse it with such humor, honesty and insight that it feels like she’s speaking to a much more universal experience. Julia Louis Dreyfus and James Gandolfini (portraying someone refreshingly vulnerable after a career of tough guys) are charming and complicated and a pleasure to watch.
10. Electrick Children
This magical realist, coming-of-age film is quite odd and a little rough around the edges, but it’s filled with so much charm and inventiveness of narrative that I had to include it. Julia Garner plays Rachel, a young Mormon girl who finds herself in a family way, and due to the naïveté brought on by her incredibly sheltered upbringing she suspects that she was impregnated by a recent and uncommonly intense reaction to a song (a cover of Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone”). It’s a strange set-up and what ensues is an unconventional journey, but it is made imminently watchable because of Garner, who plays her character with both innocent wonder and determined strength. It is, at least in my book, one of the most solid and winning performances of this year. Electrick Children is the debut from director Rebecca Thomas, and I’m excited to see what she does next. And let’s be real, anyone who can get such a grounded and quiet performance out of Billy Zane (playing Rachel’s father) is definitely doing something right. (Available on Netflix)
And for good measure:
•Movies I didn’t have a chance to see that I suspect may have made the cut: AFTER TILLER, IT FELT LIKE LOVE, HER, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, FRUITVALE STATION, ACT OF KILLING, AFTERNOON DELIGHT, THIS IS MARTIN BONNER and AINT THEM BODIES SAINTS.
•And movies I loved, but couldn’t fit on this list: BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, A TEACHER, GIMME THE LOOT, MUD, WHAT MAISIE KNEW, STOKER, 12 YEARS A SLAVE and …IN A WORLD.
Lists from other friends of Paste:
Director Lynn Shelton
Producer Natasha Giliberti
Author Kayli Stollak
Actor Josh Radnor
Author Anna Goldfarb
Director Dan Mirvish
Director Paul Rachman
Director Karin Hayes
Producer Anne Hubbell
Director Stacie Passon
Actor Sophia Takal
Actor Beth Grant
Actor Tallie Medel
Director Adam Leon