The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) Written by Isao Takahata & Riko Sakaguchi Directed Isao Takahata
When people talk about Studio Ghibli, you will most often hear them talk about it in the context of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. That’s completely reasonable as the studio’s most prominent work started with Miyazaki before becoming a collaborative effort. However, he was only the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, with his partner being Isao Takahata. Takahata was the director behind films like Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, and My Neighbors the Yamadas. Takahata’s take on animation was quite different than Miyazaki, but both men worked to push the medium in ways it never had been, both artistically and thematically.
After Earth (2013) Written by Will Smith, Gary Whitta, and M. Night Shyamalan Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
The best movies are conceived while watching Discovery Channel docudramas. This is apparently what went through the heads of the creators involved because After Earth was inspired by a show Will Smith watched on that basic cable channel. From this humble roots came a story about a father and son lost in a remote region after a car crash with only the son able to travel out and search for help before his father died. Then Smith decided to set the story a thousand years in the future and make it a science fiction venture. Also, this was supposed to be the first of a trilogy. The basic skeleton of this film isn’t horrible, but the individual decisions made about its presentation turned it into an awful mess.
Snowpiercer (Directed by Bong Joon-ho) South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho delivers a unique take on the class struggle by putting the remainder of humanity on a train that is speeding around the globe. A climate crisis occurred resulting in an ice age but Wilford, a forward-thinking billionaire industrialist, had a train constructed that contains all the amenities needed to keep a relatively small population of humans alive. Over time, the underclass passengers in the back of the train develop a plan to break out of their ghetto and get access to the privileges of the front car passengers. What follows is a bizarre odyssey that examines a lot of contemporary social and economic issues through this filter of a visually absurd high paced action film. Captain America Chris Evans is the protagonist, but even that gets subverted by the end of the film. There’s plenty of great twists and an impressive action sequence involving masked men wielding shiny silver axes. What Snowpiercer does right is balancing the somber and relevant themes with a fast-paced plot and intriguing characters.
April and the Extraordinary World (2013) Written by Franck Ekinci & Benjamin Legrand Directed by Christian Desmares & Franck Ekinci
April Franklin is a woman living in a world where history took a markedly different turn than our own. During the reign of Napoleon III, a scientist is charged with creating animal-soldier hybrids. He creates two hyperintelligent beings that escape and soon after the world’s greatest scientists and engineers begin disappearing. This impediment to progress leads to a mid-20th century where energy is still based primarily in coal and steam power. April’s parents and grandfather vanished years ago during a government crackdown, and she has been fending for herself alongside her genetically altered cat friend Darwin. The two uncover a plot to destroy humanity and the secret solution for the ultimate formula, a serum that would make all life impervious to harm.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2013) Written & Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
In the decaying Iranian spot of Bad City, The Girl wanders through the night, a vampire clad in hijab and chador, feasting on the not so innocent denizens. Arash is a young man struggling to make ends meet, taking care of his heroin-addicted father who owes money to local drug dealer Saeed. Arash and The Girl’s paths meander around each other for a while before their fateful meeting. A connection is felt between them, and she withdraws, scared to feel connected to a human. No matter how far she runs, invisible forces are intent on bringing them together, weaving a story of comedy and tragedy.
The Selfish Giant (2013) Written & Directed by Clio Barnard
In a rundown northern England city, young teenagers Arbor and Swifty consistently find ways to get trouble whether it’s getting into fights at school or cursing out a parent. They cross a new line when they start stealing copper wire from local utilities and sell it to scrap dealer Kitten. Swifty finds himself drawn to the horses and Kitten owns and the scrap dealer can see the young man’s skill with the animals. Arbor feels the distance growing between him and Swifty, with the latter moving towards a better future than the deeply emotionally trouble Arbor seems capable of having.
The Great Beauty (2013) Written by Paolo Sorrentino & Umberto Contarello Directed by Paolo Sorrentino
Jep Gambardella has just turned sixty-five and has spent decades in Rome as a journalist, mingling with an aging crowd of partygoers, washed-up celebrities, and wannabe artists. He’s suddenly forced to face reality when he learns that his first love, a slightly older woman he met as a teenager has died. Jep begins to reevaluate his idea of beauty and becomes lost in nostalgia for a time that may have never been at all. Along the way, he encounters the wealthy, and the holy all seem unable to answer his question or give him meaningful guidance.
Fruitvale Station (2013) Written & Directed by Ryan Coogler
On New Year’s Day 2009, Oscar Grant was on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train with his girlfriend and their friends returning home to Oakland after an evening of celebration. A prisoner who served time with Grant recognized him on the train, and a fight broke out. The train was stopped and Grant and several other men, but not the prison acquaintance, was pulled off. A tense argument ensued with the transit police which escalated to Grant being pinned to the floor, a knee driven into the back of his neck. As he was pinned an officer pulled his firearm and shot Grant in the back. The wounded man would be taken to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead later that morning. The officer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, sentenced to two years, but was released after less than a year served.
Upstream Color (2013) Written & Directed by Shane Carruth
We follow a man who harvests a strange larva from plants with a blue-glittery powder on their leaves. He ends up stalking a club, waiting for someone wandering past by themselves. This comes in the form of Kris, a young woman. After being tased, she wakes as this nameless man forces her to ingest one of the larvae, immediately making her easily susceptible to his suggestions. Kris brings him to her house where he goes about making her empty her bank accounts and liquidating her home equity. He leaves her once he has all this money and she finds wormlike creatures are wiggling around under her skin. The subsonic speakers of another man lure Kris into a field where he helps remove the worms and places them in a pig. Kris attempts to go on with her life until she meets Jeff. Some mysterious force draws them together, and they slowly realize they have been victims of something new and frightening.
12 Years a Slave (2013) Written by John Ridley Directed by Steve McQueen
In 1841, freeman Solomon Northrup, a resident of Saratoga Springs, New York was tricked by two white men into joining them as a traveling violinist. With his wife and children away for work for three weeks, Northrup sees an excellent opportunity to make a little money on the side and travel. Instead, his companions drug the man and sell him to a slave ring. A journey begins that brings Northrup to New Orleans and into the ownership of a plantation owner where our protagonist experiences just a taste of the hell that his life will become. From there he ends up at the cotton plantation of Epps, a drunkard and a brute who sexually abuses one slave in particular, Patsey. Northrup tries to keep his hope alive while watching those around him become brutalized and eventually murdered in some instances. Eventually, he will be free again but forever changed, terrors and evils scarred into his mind that he will never forget.