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For movie lovers and movie critics, the end of the year brings an avalanche of "best of" lists to analyze, pick apart, and argue over. Here at CT Movies, knowing that every critic and every movie lover brings different tastes, interests, and perspectives to the table, we've decided to take a different approach.
Each of our regular critics came up with a list of "best" films in categories of their own choosing, and we'll be running them over the next week. These aren't necessarily the year's best films, nor even the best movies these critics saw all year—just a sampling of the riches of 2013. We hope you'll find something to love.
Five Most Complex Examinations of Evil
Films that in some way wrestled with the reality of evil in a manner that went beyond simply villainy or horror tropes.
This biopic of philosopher Hannah Arendt focuses on her controversial New Yorker reporting on the 1961 trial of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann. The film, which incorporates actual footage from the trial, explores the origins of Arendt's now-famous concept of the "banality of evil," the notion that Holocaust perpetrators like Eichmann were not monsters but simply bureaucrats thoughtlessly following orders. The movie is an intellectual rather than visceral treatment of evil, but affecting nonetheless.
(Rated R for disturbing violent content, language and brief drug use)
Inspired by the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks that spread fear throughout a jumpy post-9/11 United States, Blue Caprice is less about a documenting the events as much as understanding the psyches of the killers. Its portrait of snipers Lee Malvo and John Muhammed is intimate, challenging, and chilling.
(Rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout)
Denis Villeneuve's labyrinth of a film recalls David Fincher's Zodiac both in its contemplative tone and unsettling atmospherics. Like Zodiac, Prisoners is less about the heinous acts of evil perpetrated by villains as much as the insidious ways their darkness infects the souls and systems around them. (Brett's review for CT.)
The Bling Ring
(Rated R for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references)
At first glance Sofia Coppola's ripped-from-the-headlines film about adolescent Hollywood hoodlums seems to be a film about celebrity and social media culture. But at its heart this is a film about millennial morality, or lack thereof. The ease with which these otherwise "good" kids morph into criminals, seemingly out of middle class boredom (and/or narcissism) is truly disturbing. (Brett's review for Mere Orthodoxy.)
The Place Beyond the Pines
(Rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference)
Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to Blue Valentine is about fathers, sons, and the woes they bestow on each other through inherited sin. It probes and challenges our assumptions about cyclical violence and the curse of our forebears, exploring evil as a reality we can't escape but can in some sense control. (Alissa Wilkinson's review for CT.)
Five Best Films About Growing Up
Films that captured, in some way, both the pain and beauty of aging
(Rated R for some language)
Alexander Payne's black-and-white film focuses on an elderly man (Bruce Dern), his crotchety wife (June Squibb), and kindhearted son (Will Forte). A road movie about going home to the places of one's upbringing, Nebraska poignantly captures the way the world around us changes, faster — but not by much — than even our own aging. (Brett's review for his blog.)
The Spectacular Now
(Rated R for alcohol use, language, and some sexuality – all involving teens)
This is the most realistic high school love story I've ever seen, not only because the acting is pitch perfect, but because the weight of ephemerality—that feeling at the end of high school that life does move beyond the "spectacular now" —is so beautifully drawn. (Alissa Wilkinson's review for CT.)
(Rated R for sexual content/nudity and language)
"We appear, and we disappear," says one character in Before Midnight. "We are just passing through." Third in Richard Linklater's "Before" series, Midnight drops in on a few hours of the lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they negotiate the challenges of commitment, family, and the pangs of time lost, regretted, wished for and not-yet-had. (Ken Morefield's review for CT.)
The latest entry in the every-seven-years Up documentary series, 56 Up is a powerful look at how we change and don't change over time. It's quite something to watch a collection of people grow up in seven year increments, from age seven to age 56. The series, which Roger Ebert famously called "an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium," truly does maximize cinema's innate ability to confront the viewer with the reality of passing time.
(Rated R for sexual references and language)
Noah Baumbach's black and white, French New Wave-esque portrait of a twentysomething (Greta Gerwig) in New York City is a funny, insightful look at the pangs of a quarter-life existential crisis. It's a film about that unsettled place where liberal arts fantasyland collides messily with the realities—jobs, rent, bills—of surviving adulthood. (Brett's review for CT.)
The One Movie I Wish Everyone Would See
To the Wonder
(Rated R for some sexuality/nudity)
It's easily Terrence Malick's most elusive and difficult film, yet patient, contemplative viewing is thoroughly rewarded. Wonder is a work of Christian art, an examination of Christ-like love through partially autobiographical episodes from Malick's life. The final ten minutes, essentially a recitation of St. Patrick's Lorica, is one of the most spiritually direct sequences I've seen in contemporary cinema. (Brett's review for CT.)
Brett McCracken is a Los Angeles-based writer and journalist, and author of the books Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker, 2010) and Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty (Baker, 2013). You can follow him @brettmccracken. His list of the best films of 2013 is here.