A “favorites list” of 2013 movies at the halfway point

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As we head into July we have once again reached the halfway point of 2013 meaning many film critics and journalists have compiled a “best of” list of what has been released at the midway point, thus far. Many of their choices I noticed were films that were seen at top tier film festivals (Sundance, SXSW, Berlin, Cannes, etc.) and have yet to be released in the states or will not be opening until the fall or even in December for Oscar bait purposes. I have noticed a lack of commercial films on these lists too. (I doubt anyone has Broken City, Oz the Great and Powerful or Gangster Squad on their list, at least I would hope not, as these are on the bottom of my list of 2013 film entries I have seen.)

Many of my favorite choices would fall into the category of “seen at Sundance” too, but in the 140+ films I have watched in the first half of 2013, I have not seen too many commercial releases in 2013 either. It is also somewhat difficult to choose some favorite films now, as there are still so many more to be released including this week’s 4th of July holiday big releases, The Lone Ranger and Despicable Me 2. Or what about the September release of the highly anticipated documentary, Salinger, based on the life of reclusive author J.D. Salinger to the November release of the new Martin Scorsese film, The Wolf on Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCapiro and how can you not be excited for the Christmas release of the new Coen brother’s film, Inside Llewyn Davis. What does this all mean? There is still plenty to be excited for (about another 175+ films to be released), even if we have to wait patiently for another five to six months to hopefully, be included in the more important list at the end of 2013 “the best of 2013.”

In any case, here are some of my favorite films at the halfway point of 2013 and if they are available on DVD/Redbox, on-demand, in theaters, or yet to be released:

Directing his last theatrical film, “retired” director Steven Soderbergh’s, Side Effects, is by far the most commercial film I have enjoyed, however it did lose me a little in its wildly ridiculous third act, but for most of its slick running time, Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum all turn in solid work in this highly entertaining suspense thriller, as Law’s psychiatrist prescribes a new drug to depressive Mara and all hell breaks loose among all four of the chief characters. Side Effects is available on DVD, on-demand and Redbox.

Having already come and left the Twin Cities, British director Ben Wheatley’s dark comedy, Sightseers, at times is a flat out hilarious journey and at other times, a brutal horror show. When new couple Chris and Tina (Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, who also co-wrote the screenplay) travel the England countryside in Chris’s caravan their joyous trip turns into a “Bonnie and Clyde” killing escapade leaving no tourist safe in their path of their perfect vacation. Wheatley’s third film is his finest yet, although, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but is one of the more daring and original features in 2013. Sightseers is scheduled to have an expected fall DVD release date.

No film has left more of an impression on me in 2013 than director James Ponsoldt’s coming of age dramedy, The Spectacular Now, which will have an advanced screening at the Walker Art Center, Thursday July 11 with director Ponsoldt (an interview with Ponsoldt forthcoming to TCDP) and co-producer Billy Rosenberg in attendance. Based on Tim Tharp’s novel, when recently dumped senior high “cool” student Sutter (Miles Teller) falls unexpectedly for the reserved and quite Aimee (Shailene Woodley) they spark a surprised romance. While he is living in the now, she is looking toward the future of college and being with Sutter. One of the best and most honest teen romance stories, I have seen in years. The Spectacular Now opens theatrically at Landmark’s Uptown, Friday, August 16.

Not being a huge fan of director Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s 1980 freak show, The Shining, but earlier this year a documentary about the fans who are fanatical with The Shining film and its (supposed) hidden agendas, Room 237, wowed me like very few “film on film” documentaries ever have. Director Rodney Ascher experimental take uses film footage from The Shining and rather than taking the approach of having a bunch of people talking to the camera, he incorporates a voice-over mechanic with each subject telling their theories about the mysteries that lie in the film and their obsession with it. Room 237 had a week-run in early May at St. Anthony Main theater courtesy of the Film Society of Mpls/St. Paul and currently is not available on-demand but a fall DVD release is expected.

Canadian actress Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter, Go, Exotica) has gone behind the camera directing more lately, than she has been acting in, brings an unique approach to her most recent directed film, Stories We Tell, an astonishing take on Polley interviewing her own family secrets about her parents and when the truth comes out it is not only memorable but almost unbelievable. Told in a Rashoman structure of Polley speaking with her siblings, her father, and friends of her deceased mother, discovering difficult stories, secrets and revelations about her family from every point of view. Polley’s take on opening the “skeletons in the closet” is exceptional, heart-breaking and truly profound moments of understanding your family history and sometimes digging up the past, can haunt your future. Stories We Tell is currently playing at the Landmark Edina theater and will be available on DVD, September 3.