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The Best Movies of 2013

The ones you saw — and the ones you didn't.

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Six horror pics we couldn't get out of our head: Jim Mickle's We Are What We Are; Andrés Muschietti's Mama; James Wan's The Conjuring; Xan Cassavetes' Kiss of the Damned; and a pair of superlative remakes: Kimberly Peirce's Carrie and Fede Alvarez' Evil Dead, with Sam Raimi producing.

Let's hear it for the Danes. Some interesting cinematic treats came out of Denmark (including Only God Forgives): Tobias Lindholm's A Hijacking, a much more satisfying Somali-pirate adventure than Captain Phillips; Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt, with actor Mads Mikkelsen as a man wrongly accused of a sex crime; Susanne Bier's frothy romantic comedy Love Is All You Need, and Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg's oceangoing adventure doc Kon-Tiki.


All the films in the Ten Best list have been shown in East Bay theaters sometime this year. The big-screen, advertised, scheduled, ticketed, popcorn-littered, shared-entertainment way of "going to the movies" has been around a long time, but it's in the middle of a major shift. The event-driven process of waiting until a movie "opens" near you in an auditorium is steadily giving way to a bewildering array of platforms. Web-based delivery systems and home video software in all its forms now compete with theatrical movie events, and suddenly the flicker fanatic is swimming in a vast ocean of choices stretching from the beginning of the art form more than one hundred years ago to the latest YouTube meme. No one critic could possibly see every new movie released in 2013. There are hundreds of new (and old) movies we might enjoy that simply will never get an East Bay booking. It's time to think outside the 'plex. Just for fun, here's a list of five titles that almost made it to local theaters this year but which can still be found if you dig hard enough. Call them Five Excellent Films You Didn't See This Year (Yet):

Capital (directed by Costa-Gavras): The maker of Z and Missing remains one of the world's most incisive directors of politically charged dramas, in this case a rapid-fire 2012 meditation on the international financial octopus, centered on a French bank exec (Gad Elmaleh) who lucks into a powerful job and proves more ruthless than the rest. A hit at the Mill Valley Film Festival, it never got an East Bay booking.

Far from Vietnam (various directors): A group of angry auteurs put together this anthology combo of doc and narrative in 1967 as an anti-Vietnam-war statement, and it's still giving off heat. Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, Joris Ivens, William Klein, and Agnès Varda, among others, contribute to the outcry. New on DVD from Icarus Films.

I Am a Ghost (directed by H.P. Mendoza): The San Francisco-based writing/directing talent behind Colma and Fruit Fly is responsible for one of the best indie horror movies of the year, the story of a tormented soul (actress Anna Ishida) trapped inside an old dark house. Simplicity itself, and hella frightening. Showed only at CAAMFEST, aka the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, and other one-offs.

In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey (directed by James Cullingham): The cult of influential acoustic guitarist John Fahey gets examined by experts in a roots-rich DVD from First Run Features, loaded with performances by the late Fahey and tributes from such admirers as Chris Funk of The Decembrists and The Who's Pete Townshend.

Le Joli Mai (directed by Chris Marker): The re-release of Marker's 1963 free-form documentary portrait of Paris belongs with the best of the "city symphony" docs for its flaneur-like approach to the metropolis and its denizens — including a complaining menswear merchant, the inhabitants of a slum overjoyed to be moving to a public housing project, the inmates of a women's prison, and a man who doesn't realize he has a spider living in his suit. It opened and closed at Landmark's Opera Plaza in San Francisco.

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