While the filmic landscape of 2012 A.D. was characterized by apocalypses, our favorite films this year pointed toward a triumph of the real, reveling in our fucked up world instead of imagining its destruction. Directors turned their lenses (usually warped ones) to the immediate and the present — or at the very least, the rippling continued effects of the past (12 Years a Slave). Sure, our list includes some fantastical films — most obviously ones about robots (Pacific Rim and World’s End), but also mind-controlling worms (Upstream Color) and nearly everything else (Wrong, The Rambler). But overwhelmingly, in 2013, shit got real.
More documentaries (a half dozen!) ranked in our favorite 30 than any previous year, with two in our top five (Act of Killing, Leviathan). And whether dismantling documentary veracity in search of personal truths (Stories We Tell), foregoing narrative altogether (Bestiaire, Leviathan), or limiting themselves to found footage (Let the Fire Burn), all the docs (not to mention Everything is Terrible’s found-footage collage double feature) on our list manipulated form in search of new ways to represent our world.
Meanwhile, the dismembered scraps of traditional documentary techniques littered our favorite fictional films, which employed found footage, mockumentary, non-actors, vlogs, and voyeurism to show us such horrors as the wreckage of post-tsunami Japan (Himizu), school shootings (The Dirties), sex tourism (Paradise: Love), economically stagnated suburbs (Pavilion), nerds (Computer Chess), and Florida beach culture (Spring Breakers). Even in the films that fell solidly within the formal confines of fiction, subject matter was immersed in large-scale contemporary concerns (Drug War, Mud, Frances Ha), while the generic conventions of realism were reworked for contemporary audiences (Sun Don’t Shine, Before Midnight).
As always, we had a difficult time narrowing our list down to 30 films: Hors Satan, Pain and Gain, Beyond the Hills, and Escape from Tomorrow all deserve honorable mentions. But this year, our staff had more consensus than ever about the films we loved. Maybe it’s just that we live in a weird time, both IRL and filmically, and our list reflects that. I mean, a release with no press became one of our favorites (Black Box), a Harmony Korine film played in nearly every multiplex, Pacific Rim’s kaiju washed ashore, and, amazingly, we actually laughed at stand-up comedy (Everything is Terrible: Comic Relief Zero). –BENJAMIN PEARSON"
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