1. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)- Jean Marc Vallee's sobering portrait of a heterosexual playboy (Matthew McConaughey in the capstone performance of his recent re-invention) struggling with his diagnosis of HIV handles everything with no overt sentimentality and genuine restraint. Jared Leto, as his cross-dressing partner in crime, also delivers an achingly real performance, none more so devastating than when he goes to visit his father. One of the year's finest.
2. Death of a Killer (1964)- Robert Hossein stars and directs in this French noir-western hybrid of a recently released crook trying to find out who double crossed him. Yes, this has all been done before (and better) with certain Melville films, but one has to enjoy Hossein's blending of genre. The wordless stretches, crossed with close-up then long shot, echo Sergio Leone. Hossein is such an interesting filmmaker whose works are all but extinct on domestic video release.
3. Computer Chess (2013)- Andrew Bujalski's black and white indie about an early 80's computer chess convention not only overdoes it in dress- butterfly collars and short ties in excess- but it brandishes a VHS camcorder visual style that feels as cliche as its rambling, uninteresting topic. I've admired some of Bujalski's films in the past, but this one (and really the whole mumblecore movement) is becoming an inverse joke about itself full of shoddy acting and stuttering hipster emotions.
4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)- I somehow missed this one in theaters last year, and with the second part soon to arrive, I needed to catch up. The zealous sheer of Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy has worn off, it seems. I found myself pretty dis-interested in this one from the start, whether it was the needless scenes of dwarfs and hobbits singing along or the pretentious, on-the-nose narrative that features none of the thrilling adventures of the Rings films.
5. Whores Glory (2011)- Simply tremendous documentary by critical darling Michael Glawogger examining the daily rituals of women in three brothels located in Thailand, India and Mexico. Once one gets past the salacious and frank material, what emerges is a terrifying portrait of the way men sublimate women and the hopeless cycles they endure with each other. The moment one Indian prostitute goes from simply explaining her role to the sobbing rhetoric of "there must be another way to live", "Whores Glory" transcends its unwavering, patient documentarian eye into something more poetic.
6. Oldboy (2013)- No doubt director Spike Lee and actor Josh Brolin were faithful to the original source material, but as with all remakes of previously great films, why?
7. Nebraska (2013)- As a bit of a resistant towards Alexander Payne films, I do have some exceptions with his latest film, yet it still works well as a muted character study. Although I'm not as enamored as most with Bruce Dern's stoic performance as an old man limping his way towards a pie-in-the-sky reward, the real revelation is Will Forte as his in-tow son. Bob Nelson's script hits a few skid marks along the way, including a very uneven rendition by actress June Squibb as Dern's wife, but "Nebraska" winds up a gently affecting drama.
8. Top of the Lake (2013)- Originally aired on Sundance earlier this year as a seven part miniseries, filmmakers Jane Campion and Garth Evans create an atmospheric mystery that's as much about a time and place as it is the disappearance of a young girl. Elsabeth Moss, as the young detective brought home to assist the local police due to her experience with young children, is fierce and intelligent. Bring into the mix a very intense Peter Mullan as the missing girl's father, a female hippie commune led by gray haired Holly Hunter and lots of psychological history throughout the whole town and "Top of the Lake" is the most idiosyncratic series since... "Twin Peaks"?
9. A Bullet For the General (1968)- Watched this one for the great Gian Maria Volonte and came away awestruck by the performance of baby-faced Lou Castel as a pin-stripe suit wearing assassin.