We're halfway through the calendar, if not the film year exactly given the backloaded release schedule. So, let's take stock as to where we've been. Herewith my choices for Best thus far... which means I'm hoping that AMPAS and all awards groups will give them a try before the mad traffic jam of year-end Oscar vehicles.
Disclaimer: But first of all... did I miss anything? Sure. You can't see everything though I see my share (full list). My biggest 'oops' for 2013 is definitely Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley's docudrama about her family history which most people I trust at least like and some love. But I also wish I'd seen the Israeli Oscar submission Fill the Void which didn't compete for the foreign film Oscar but did win a release and great reviews.
BEST OF THE YEAR... THUS FAR
To say that Director/Muse collaborations so tight they're sharing screenplay credits are having a good year is an understatement: All the Light in the Sky (which I fear will not get a release given its exceedingly miniature scale), Frances Ha, and Before Midnight are all memorable gems. Small enough to be intimate true-feeling experiences but resonant enough to be shared ones. I keep wanting to go back to all three. As for auteurs -- and the truest definition of that overused tag would have to be writer/directors rather than directors, This is Martin Bonner is a shocking rarity in the cinematic landscape. This story of a divorced older man and the ex-con he befriends (sort of) is a tiny dual character sketch but not a simplistic one. Oh, and also: I like Mud.
For the purposes of this "so far" list I'm counting Behind the Candelabra (based on the autobiography by Scott) primarily because it was supposed to and should have been a theatrical feature rather than an HBO movie, but if I wasn't counting it I'd sub in the bull-fighting themed silent-movie riff on Snow White called Blancanieves (Spain's Oscar submission last season) which I recommend and still find myself thinking about months later. Otherwise, have a tub of popcorn for Iron Man Three (based on the Marvel Comics), a clever subversion of what you'd expect from a "really?this again?" superhero franchise and, no small feat, funnier than most movies billing themselves as comedies out there. It isn't out yet but The Spectacular Now (based on the novel) is a quality oasis in a sea of depressingly popular but empty/inept YA movies; Only Sofia Coppola could have made an entire feature out of the Vanity Fair article "The Suspects Wore Louboutins" but she did just that with The Bling Ring, and other than Spring Breakers its the year's most articulate display of empty-headed inarticulateness. The homogenized vocal cadences of these shallow Hills-loving teenagers were so funny to me and a great reflection of the subject matter -- think Paris Hilton's "that's hot" and multiply it over a whole movie. And finally, I know I've begged everyone to see the Chilean Oscar nominee NO multiple times already. It's based on the play by Antonio Skarmeta and it's just fantastically smart and entertaining.
Best Ensemble Performance
We'll look at the Best Individual Performances in Pt 2 of this Halfway Mark Review but for now let's talk about group acting. Behind the Candelabra, Frances Ha and even Mud, sound like star vehicles in synopsis and are in some key ways but all three benefit immeasurably from a smartly assembled supporting cast who understand that their job is too play off of, rub against (sometimes not pleasurably), and reflect back at the "Star Turn" while delivering little pleasures all their own; I'm So Excited sees a cast of Pedro regulars and newbies having campy fun with their outrageous roles;
Finally, though, I'm not here to name "Winners" so much as note FYCs for later, if I could have chosen only one film for this paragraph it would have been The East. There might not be a "great" performance within it per se but everyone from its major cult trio (Skarsgard, Marling, Page) to the one or two scene tertiary characters does really engaging work as befits a movie that buzzes around a hive mind.
And finally, though it might feel anticlimactic given how often the films have already been named...
Direction & Pictures
The three films I'd almost guarantee you'll see on my top ten list come year's end are Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, and Pablo Larrain's NO. With the second tier there's a handful of pictures I like to about the same degree which is to say that FYC: BEST PICTURE feels like desperate "fill slots!" measure. But those three? Just wow. I recognize that in the case of NO, the FYC is in vain even though its well deserved; it's not eligible for Oscars this year having won a Foreign Film Nomination last year. I also want to honor two original distinct voices that made two films only they could have made. I'm not sure Sofia Coppola took The Bling Ring deep enough and I'm still not sure what to make of Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers but what dazzling exteriors those films both hypnotize with.
Have you seen most of these pictures? And if so which FYCs would you like to co-sign?