Film Feature: The 10 Best Films of 2013, Part Two

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

CHICAGO – The year caught up with me. 2013 was characterized by a soft start and a strong finish, but overall there were impressive contenders throughout the year and some fine examples of great storytelling and filmmaking. Risks were taken, some truth emerged and even in more “mainstream” films, there were flashes of promise.

This is the second set of top ten 2013 films on, as offered by film critic Patrick McDonald. Please also sample my colleague Brian Tallerico’s Top Ten. The following films are a testament to the experiences they gave me, what they made me think about afterward and how they fulfilled that feeling – for me – of what makes a movie great.

For every film in those ten spots, there are a number of other films coming in tied at number 11 – Joe Swanberg’s sublime “Drinking Buddies” and the anarchy of “Escape From Tomorrow”; the gutsy honesty of “42,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Before Midnight”; the more independent film expression of “Some Velvet Morning,” “C.O.G.,” “What Maisie Knew” and “Disconnect”; and the ensemble spectacles of “August Osage County,” “American Hustle” and the Shakespearian “Place Beyond the Pines.”

With that, here are The 10 Best Films of 2013, through the critic’s filter of Patrick McDonald,…

Star10. “Be Good”

Be Good
Be Good
Photo credit:

This is from writer/director Todd Looby, a local filmmaker who I’ve admired throughout his career. What is remarkable about the film is that it’s “ripped from the headlines” of Looby’s own life. In an expressive fictional treatment of his first months as a new, first-time father, Looby created a simple story about that process and the changes that occur behind the scenes. There is such longing in the film, both from the mother Mary (portrayed by the breakout actress Amy Seimetz), who is stuck going back to work soon after her delivery, and the father Paul (Thomas J. Madden), who is upset that he now cannot give all his attention to his budding film career. And in a nice twist, Looby himself plays the clueless best friend who interacts with and observes the couple. This micro-budget gem is a perfect example of what can be accomplished with a great idea.

HIGHLIGHT: The “Daddy Cameo” from the King of Chicago Independent Film, director Joe Swanberg.

Star9. “Running from Crazy”

Running from Crazy
Running from Crazy
Photo credit: OWN

This documentary snuck in at the end of the year, with little notice or acclaim, even though it took on the mental illness history of one of the most famous names in the 20th Century – Hemingway. This film isn’t specifically about legendary writer Ernest, it’s more about his bloodline and the struggle through the subsequent generations with their genetic bipolar disorders. Director Barbara Kopple focuses on the trials of actress Mariel Hemingway, as she forthrightly relates a harrowing tale of family dysfunction, mental incapacity and suicides – including the suicide of her sister, supermodel and actress Margaux Hemingway. The title is ironic, Mariel runs toward the crazy and frees herself through the truth, by confronting the darkness associated with the Hemingway history.

HIGHLIGHT: Kopple used several scenes from an unfinished documentary that Margaux Hemingway had begun regarding her famous grandfather, and the clips painfully revealed more about the state of Margaux.

Star8. “Don Jon”

Don Jon
Don Jon
Photo credit: Relativity Media

This is the case of a film sticking with me after the credits rolled. This directorial debut from rising star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote the story and portrayed the title character, is remarkable for its reflective maturity. What seems like an examination of an online porn addict – and a Jersey Shore-style mook nicknamed Don Jon – is more about the journey of transition from extended adolescence to adulthood. Significant performances from Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Glenne Headly (as Don Jon’s mother) spoke to Gordon-Levitt’s precise direction of the film – and themes regarding religion, coupling and women exposed a skill as a storyteller. This also anticipates what Joseph Gordon-Levitt the filmmaker will do next.

HIGHLIGHT: Like director Kevin Smith’s “Silent Bob” persona, Gordon-Levitt had a silent character in “Don Jon,” who only spoke when the morality of the situation made it necessary.

Star7. “Spring Breakers”

Spring Breakers
Spring Breakers
Photo credit: A24

Like the James Franco thug character in this achingly audacious mind trip by filmmaker Harmony Korine, you may be apt to say, “it seems like a dream.” Four girls go on Spring Break to Florida, two end up in the middle of a drug lord feud. And what casting! Besides Franco, there are former clean image types Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens as two of the four girls. The story is impossible to describe outside its full context, except to say it has highly symbolic doses of extreme anarchy, counterintuitive to the roles of women in society. James Franco absolutely loses himself into his rapper/lord Allen, and infuses all of his scenes with welcome danger. The most grateful thing that can be said of writer/director Harmony Kormine is that he will never make the same film twice.

HIGHLIGHT: The length of time each of the four women Spring Breakers spend in their bathing suits, which conveys vulnerability rather than voyeurism.

Star6. “Stories We Tell”

Stories We Tell
Stories We Tell
Photo credit: Roadside Attractions

Actress/Filmmaker Sarah Polley fashions a unique documentary essentially about herself – and structured it in a way as to reveal as much as she can about the subject. She delves deeply into family secrets and uncovers more than she might have bargained for, but tells the story so directly and passionately that all forgiveness and freedom derived from these truths are realized. The story also has such a fluidness and rhythm that even the twists and surprises seem natural to how it flows. The honesty that Polley displays with her own story is indicative of a maturing filmmaker, one who is on a path to a major work of cinematic art.

HIGHLIGHT: The use of archival footage from old family home movies, which keeps expanding the story up to a breaking point.

Noel O's picture

Patrick McDonald's Top Ten of 2013

I was surprised to see Spring Breakers on Patrick McDonald’s top ten list, so I checked it out. It was not what I expected at all. Much darker and funnier. Thanks for letting me know it would be 90 minutes well spent.

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