Michael Kirchhoff

The Best Films of 2013 (6-10)

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Director: Thomas Vinterberg

You don’t always need zombies or monsters to make a truly frightening horror film. Mads Mikkelsen gives a heartbreaking performance as a mild mannered kindergarten teacher in a close-knit Danish village whose life implodes when he is falsely accused of an unimaginably heinous crime. A disturbing example of how everyone believing they are doing the right thing for the right reasons can still lead to chaos and misery.

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Director: David Lowery

This moody character study about a pair of doomed criminal lovers separated by their bad choices could have been a disastrous bore in the wrong hands. Instead, Lowery’s debut feature is elevated by its gorgeous, poetic visual design, as well as emotionally raw performances by the two young leads, Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. Also, Ben Foster suppresses his natural intensity in a surprisingly somber and affecting supporting turn as a small-town sheriff.

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Director: Steven Soderbergh

This cunning slice of nastiness presents itself as a fictionalized examination of the exploding influence of the pharmaceutical industry on medicine, but slowly reveals its true intent as a wry thriller with a black heart. Anchored by a beautifully subtle performance by Rooney Mara, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite young actresses (also see my #7), Soderbergh’s frosty, no-nonsense direction even makes Jude Law interesting, which is no mean feat for any filmmaker.

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Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez

David is a pampered, smug, East Coast grad school student who flees to the ass-end of Oregon out of boredom, disgusted at a life where he feels he has no choices, and possibly wanting to avoid a confrontation with himself about his sexuality. He takes a job he knows is beneath his intellect, picking and sorting apples, and tells people his name is “Samuel” as his own private joke. Jonathan Groff anchors the film as David, a hipster who thinks he is a jaded intellectual, but soon has his ironic veneer stripped away from him to reveal the true vulnerability at his core. The supporting cast is terrific (Dean Stockwell, Corey Stoll, and Casey Wilson all have distinct moments), but Denis O’Hare gives one of the very best performances of the year as a born-again Christian war veteran with anger issues who is desperate to save souls, including his own.

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Director: Andrew Bujalski

Shot with vintage Sony video equipment that the filmmakers acquired on eBay, Computer Chess starts as a low-key, black-and-white mumblecore comedy about a small collection of game enthusiasts who gather in a squalid motel and pit chess-playing computer programs against one another. As the film progresses, though, it becomes increasingly surreal, as the lines between machine and human blur, and the world these characters inhabit becomes something that only superficially resembles what we recognize as reality. If David Lynch tried to make a Christopher Guest comedy, it would very likely look something Computer Chess, which also happens to culminate in one of the most bizarre, “WTF?” final shots of any film this year.

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