Top Ten Films of 2013

Below is a list of my 10 favorite new films to first play Chicago in 2013. For each title I’ve written a new capsule review. I’ve also included a list of 30 runners-up titles. Readers should feel free to include their own best-of lists (or provide links to them) in the comments section below.

10. Upstream Color (Carruth, USA) – Music Box. Rating: 8.9


“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” This is a well-known passage from Thoreau’s Walden, a book that serves as an important reference point (and prop) in Upstream Color. But it could also be the manifesto of the film’s defiantly independent writer/director Shane Carruth. A work of blazing originality, his second feature is a difficult-to-categorize sci-fi/thriller/romance that uses fragmented close-ups, a super-shallow depth-of-field, zig-zagging editing rhythms and heightened natural sounds to create a portrait of two damaged souls (Carruth and Amy Seimetz) who come together as a couple and forge a new collective identity. But the way this begins as a kind of intellectual horror movie before slowly and surprisingly transitioning into a touching love story will likely mean something different to every viewer who sees it. What’s not in doubt is the masterful filmmaking, a clear advance over Carruth’s cult-classic debut Primer from nine years earlier. This is low-budget independent American filmmaking at its finest — ambitious, fearless, smart, and very, very personal. Full review here.

9. Bastards (Denis, France) – Siskel Center. Rating: 9.2


If The Immigrant is, as I note below, a tragedy, then perhaps the word “tragedy” is inadequate to describe the all-encompassing blackness of Claire Denis’ latest, a loose adaptation of Faulkner’s Sanctuary. There is after all a small measure of redemption for some of James Gray’s characters. In Bastards, everything turns out as badly as possible for everyone involved. Yet unlike the case with miserabilists such as Michael Haneke or Kim Ki-duk, there is nothing fashionable nor cynical about Denis’ vision. This is a genuine, utterly convincing howl of despair over the way some men will use their power to victimize others for their own pleasure. Vincent Lindon is Marco, an oil tanker captain who takes a leave of absence from work when tragedy befalls his sister’s family (her husband has commited suicide and their underage daughter is at the center of a sadistic sex-ring scandal). His opposite number is Laporte (Michel Subor), the bastard-businessman who brought the family to ruin, and the personification of human evil. But Marco’s desire for revenge is complicated by the fact that he is also having an affair with Laporte’s wife, Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni). Across her career, Denis’ great theme has been colonization — whether of countries or individuals — though the complicity between victims and abusers on display here leads to a stomach-churning finale that is more disturbing than anything else in her filmography. As Bob Dylan once said, “Some things are too terrible to be true.” If an artist is going to document them, we should all be grateful that it’s one of Denis’ caliber.

8. Neighboring Sounds (Mendonça, Brazil) – Siskel Center. Rating: 9.2


I somehow completely missed even hearing about this gem when it briefly turned up at the Siskel Center in February but caught up to it later on home video thanks to the enthusiastic recommendation of my friend Alan Hoffman. Neighboring Sounds, set in the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, tells a series of episodic stories about the tensions between the yuppies who inhabit a high-rise condo building and the resentful working class characters who serve them — especially the members of a shady security firm hired to patrol their block. How incredible is it that such a superbly orchestrated slab of sight and sound (the use of offscreen space and the dense soundtrack often recall Jacques Tati) also manages to explicate class divisions in such an unsettling and yet non-didactic way? The film’s ominous theme, at once specific to Brazilian politics and universal, has to do with the past sins of the upper class returning to haunt them (with interest) but this assured debut by Kleber Mendonça Filho also contains a welcome dose of dry, absurdist humor: the only thing that made me laugh harder than the scene of the bored rich housewife using her washing machine as a masturbation aid was when the same character later scores weed off the guy who comes to refill her water cooler.

7. Computer Chess (Bujalski, USA) – Music Box. Rating: 9.2


Regardless of how one may feel about the past efforts of indie writer/director Andrew Bujalski — and I have decidedly mixed feelings myself — it’s hard to deny that this unexpected masterpiece of American comedy represents a quantum leap forward in terms of his artistry. In a shabby motel in the early 1980s, a group of socially awkward computer programmers (including Dazed and Confused‘s Wiley Wiggins and film critic Gerald Peary) meet for an annual computer chess tournament. Simultaneously, a new age cult — as “in touch with their feelings” as the programmers are out of touch with theirs — meets for a convention in the same location. As he cross-cuts between members of the ensemble cast with the assurance of Robert Altman at his finest, Bujalski unnervingly posits that an unholy marriage between these binary opposite groups is what somehow gave birth to our modern-day “social media.” But there’s more, much more: the film’s audacious narrative and structural innovations call to mind everything from the Godard of Alphaville to the Pynchon of Gravity’s Rainbow and will undoubtedly take many viewings to unpack. Bujalski ingeniously shot this in lo-fi black-and-white video on vintage Sony camcorders, and the resulting ghostly images, along with the expert production design (the assemblage of Coke-bottle glasses alone is awe-inspiring), effectively conjures up America in the 1980s better than most films actually produced during that time.

6. The Immigrant (Gray, USA) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 9.3


James Gray’s fourth and best feature film is a period tragedy chronicling one Polish woman’s harrowing experience immigrating to America in the early 1920s. Shortly after arriving at Ellis Island, Ewa (Marion Cotillard) is virtually blackmailed by a pimp (Joaquin Phoenix) into prostituting herself in exchange for being able to stay in the country and freeing her tubercular sister from the hospital where she’s been “quarantined.” Does salvation lay in the overtures of a charming magician (Jeremy Renner) who also happens to be the pimp’s cousin and rival? The golden-hued cinematography and early 20th-century New York setting will undoubtedly cause many lazy critics to compare this to the Godfather films upon its release next year but Gray has cited opera and silent movies as his primary sources of inspiration. This makes sense because the revelatory Cotillard, whose voluptuous figure is atypically concealed and downplayed, comes across as waifish, doe-eyed and as soulfully expressive as any silent film heroine; and Gray’s commitment to her plight is heart-wrenching without ever crossing over into the terrain of melodrama. The Weinstein Company purchased the distribution rights to The Immigrant at Cannes last May (probably believing that it had good “awards chances”) but apparently lost confidence in it somewhere along the way. Whoever is responsible for not giving this the marketing push it deserves should rot in hell. More here.

5. Before Midnight (Linklater, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 9.4

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Richard Linklater cemented his status as the best and most interesting American director of his generation with this near-perfect third and final installment of his celebrated “Before” trilogy. It has been nine years(!) since Before Sunset, which closed with Celine (Julie Delpy) telling Jesse (Ethan Hawke) he was going to “miss that plane” while she seductively danced to Nina Simone and the screen slowly faded to black. To say that cinephile expectations were high after that sublime tease of an ending is an understatement. That Linklater and his lead actors and co-authors Delpy and Hawke were able to not just meet but exceed expectations with Before Midnight is something of a miracle. It helps that they didn’t merely repeat the formula of the first two films — this is not a romantic comedy centered on a chance meeting or unexpected reunion featuring a suspenseful deadline-structure. Linklater instead drops in on the now-married characters while they vacation in Greece with their children, allowing him to show the realities — joyful as well as painful (as in the incendiary climactic hotel-room fight) — of being in a long-term monogamous relationship. His models Eric Rohmer and Roberto Rossellini would no doubt be proud. Full review here. More thoughts here. Director profile here.

4. Tabu (Gomes, Portugal/Mozambique) – EU Film Festival. Rating: 9.6


This lyrical and entrancing black-and-white movie, which boasts an intriguing two-part structure, announced the arrival of a major talent in the person of 39-year-old Portuguese writer/director Miguel Gomes (who had worked as a film critic and made just two features previously). The first half, entitled “Paradise Lost,” concerns the death of Aurora (Laura Soveral), an old woman and compulsive gambler suffering from dementia in contemporary Lisbon. The second half, entitled “Paradise,” flashes back to Aurora’s youth when she was the beautiful wife of a colonialist-farmer, living on “Mount Tabu” in Africa, and having an affair with Ventura, another Portuguese ex-patriate and the drummer in a rock-and-roll band. I loved everything about this movie: its dreaminess, its eroticism, and its extended poetic reflections on time and memory. And this is not to mention that it also pays homage to F.W. Murnau’s classic 1931 film of the same title and features a bitching Portuguese-language cover of The Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby.” Oh yeah! Full review here.

3. Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 9.8


Has it ever been less intellectually fashionable to love a movie that was so critically and commercially successful? Or, to put it another way, has there ever been a case where the vociferous objections of cultural commentators generated way more noise than anything film critics had to say in shaping how the dialogue about a movie played out in the public arena? I saw this astonishing film, director Kathryn Bigelow’s best, three times in the theater, then gladly watched it again after purchasing the Sony Blu-ray, and felt shaken to the core after every viewing. It depresses the hell out of me that I know some smart cinephiles, even some who liked The Hurt Locker, who nonetheless stayed away from this dark and brooding meditation on the cost of our “invisible war” out of fear that it was spiking-the-football propaganda (to borrow a phrase from President Obama). Remember, folks: torture isn’t morally wrong depending on whether it does or does not get results for those who practice it. It’s morally wrong, period (as Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal do actually show). Jessica Chastain, who puts a human face on — and provides an emotional center for — the very public and global story of the decade-long manhunt around which these debates swirled, gives a performance that is nothing less than phenomenal. The final, ambiguous close-up of her face, tears streaming down her cheeks, haunts me to this day. Full review here. More thoughts here and here.

2. Stranger By the Lake (Guiraudie, France) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 9.8


Alain Guiraudie’s film begins on a beautiful sunny day in an idyllic lakeside park populated by frolicsome gay men, and ends a little over an hour-and-a-half later on a note of existential terror as a single character stands alone in the nearby woods engulfed in pitch-black darkness. In between, sex and death are inextricably intertwined as one of the “cruisers” commits murder while another witnesses the act but doesn’t report it, mainly because of his sexual attraction to the killer. Adventurous viewers will find many dividends to be paid from the way the rigorous construction of the Hitchcockian-thriller elements meets a fascinating, near-ethnographic view of a very specific queer subculture, but in the months since I first saw it I keep thinking about it mainly as a sly cautionary tale: who hasn’t been guilty of rationalizing the obvious, potentially dangerous faults of a person to whom one is physically attracted? While much ink has been spilled about the movie’s Hitchcock connection and the explicitness of the sex scenes, there hasn’t been enough discussion about just how funny this is. My favorite example of Guiraudie’s humor is the pesky police inspector-character, who could’ve almost stepped out of one of Claude Chabrol’s daffier efforts, repeatedly popping up at the most inopportune moments. More here.

1. A Touch of Sin (Jia, China) – Music Box. Rating: 9.9


Mainland China’s greatest contemporary filmmaker, Jia Zhang-ke, made what is arguably his most vital film to date with this angry, occasionally shocking work of social criticism, in which four loosely connected stories are used to show how the collaboration between the Chinese Communist government and big business is wreaking havoc on the lives of ordinary Chinese citizens. Each story culminates in an act of tragic violence (all of which were apparently based on real events) while also paying deft homage to the “honor killings” that permeate the wuxia classics of yesteryear (beginning with King Hu’s A Touch of Zen, from which Jia’s movie derives its punning title). Shot by Jia’s longtime cinematographer, the great Yu Lik Wai, these stories unfold in long shot/long take tableaux that dazzle with their cinematic sophistication while also reinforcing the notion of tragic inevitability suggested by the circular narrative structure. Out of all the films I saw this year, this is the one that I suspect will be of the most interest in a few decades time when future cinephiles want to know what the year 2013 was like. Full review here.

And the runners-up:

11. Stray Dogs (Tsai, Taiwan) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 9.1. More here.

12. Dormant Beauty (Bellocchio, Italy) – EU Film Festival. Rating: 9.0. More here.

13. The Grandmaster (Wong, Hong Kong/China) – Wide Release. Rating: 8.9. Full review here.

14. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen/Coen, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 8.9

15. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Resnais, France) – EU Film Festival. Rating: 8.9. Full review here.

16. The Wolf of Wall Street (Scorsese, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 8.8

17. Top of the Lake (Campion/Davis, New Zealand/Australia) – The Sundance Channel. Rating: 8.7. Full review here.

18. Barbara (Petzold, Germany) – Landmark. Rating: 8.7. Full review here.

19. Drug War (To, Hong Kong/China) – Siskel Center. Rating: 8.6

20. Frances Ha (Baumbach, USA) – Landmark. Rating: 8.5. More here.

21. Spring Breakers (Korine, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 8.4. Full review here.

22. Things the Way They Are (Lavanderos, Chile) – Chicago Latino Film Festival. Rating: 8.4. More here. Director interview here.

23. The World’s End (Wright, UK) – Wide Release. Rating: 8.3

24. Laurence Anyways (Dolan, Canada) – Facets. Rating: 8.2

25. Stoker (Park, USA/S. Korea) – Landmark. Rating: 8.1. Full review here.

26. The Last Time I Saw Macao (Rodrigues/Guerra da Mata, Portugal/Macao) – EU Film Festival. Rating: 8.1. More here.

27. Soul (Chung, Taiwan) – Chicago International Film Festival – Rating: 8.1. More here.

28. The Unspeakable Act (Sallitt, USA) – Siskel Center. Rating: 8.0. More here.

29. The Conjuring (Wan, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 7.9. More here.

30. Museum Hours (Cohen, USA/Austria) – Wilmette Theater. Rating: 7.9

31. Sun Don’t Shine (Seimetz, USA) – Siskel Center. Rating: 7.8. More here.

32. A Love (Hernandez, Argentina) – Chicago Latino Film Festival. Rating: 7.7. More here.

33. Grabbers (Wright, Ireland) – Facets. Rating: 7.7

34. American Hustle (Russell, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 7.7

35. Faust (Sokurov, Germany/Russia) – Music Box. Rating: 7.6

36. Closed Curtain (Panahi/Partovi, Iran) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 7.6. More here.

37. The Bling Ring (Coppola, USA) – Landmark. Rating: 7.6. More here.

38. Hannah Arendt (Von Trotta, Germany) – EU Film Festival. Rating: 7.6. More here.

39. Wadjda (Al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia) – Siskel Center. Rating: 7.5

40. Trapped (Shahbazi, Iran) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 7.3. More here.


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

55 responses to “Top Ten Films of 2013

  • michaelgloversmith

    Titles that made a lot of other “Best of” lists that I didn’t like enough to include: 12 YEARS A SLAVE, AT BERKELEY, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, BLUE JASMINE, GRAVITY, TO THE WONDER.


  • Susan Doll

    Very impressive list. The only thing I really miss about living in Chicago is having access to all the different movies available to see. It is especially hard to see Asian genre films here.

    • michaelgloversmith

      It’s the sad truth that if you live in America and really want to keep abreast of international trends in cinema, you have to live in Chicago, NYC or LA.

      Out of my top 40 films:

      10 played at the Gene Siskel Film Center (including all of the titles tagged w/ “EU Film Fest”)
      8 played either the Chicago International Film Fest or the Chicago International Latino Film Fest
      5 played at the Music Box
      2 played Facets
      and quite a few more played at the Landmark (which, of course, is an “arthouse chain”)

      I’m never leaving Chicago!

  • John Charet

    Michael, thank goodness you are never leaving Chicago. You are just an awesome voice for cinema knowledge in the state of Illinois:) I love you Top 10 list of the year. True, I do wish you loved Gravity more, but each to his own:) Interesting choice for number 1. Jia Zhang-ke’s A Touch of Sin. I have seen that and I have given it * * * 1/2 stars (Out of * * * *) for the time being. I hope to upgrade it to * * * * one of these days. The thing is I am still thinking about the film and their are rare films that makes you think for a while on how one should feel about it. Maybe that is part of Zhang-ke’s genius? I love your choice of Before Midnight at number 2. Ditto for Zero Dark Thirty at number 4. Landmark Century Cinema theatre in Chicago has been showing Spike Jonze’s Her since December 25th, even though it opens in a wide release around the country on January 10th. P.S. I hope you had a Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year as well:) P.S. I should have my Top 10 list sometime this week:)

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thank you for the compliment. I’m looking forward to HER, which my wife and I should be seeing sometime this week. I’m also looking forward to your top 10 list. You’re even more of a compulsive list-maker than I am!

  • John Charet

    Correction: I meant to say “I love your Top 10 list of the year” not “you Top 10 list of the year”

  • Daniel Nava

    Terrific list Michael, which really was to be expected. And great call on highlighting films screening specifically to the Chicago-land area. Stuff like ZERO DARK THIRTY and the wealth of films that screened for the EU Festival at the Siskel Center slipped my radar because I defaulted them as “2012” films – a fumble on my part.

    And yeah, let the guy who dropped THE IMMIGRANT’s distribution rot 🙂

  • drew

    and after all your preaching, Before Midnight doesn’t make number one…

  • jpreskitt

    Sadly, I’ve only seen 5, most with you! So only one, Upstream, was I excited to see. Glad to see Seimetz made it on two of your picks. I’d like to hope she is the future of females in Hollywood. ‘Cause she’s force!

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks for replying, John. I’m going to try and organize a student-run independent film festival in Des Plaines this spring. My dream is to book a double feature of UPSTREAM COLOR and SUN DON’T SHINE. P.S. – I’m sad you won’t be at our NYE party tonight!

  • Johnny

    Zero Dark Thirty is a terrible film, it glorify torture, fascism and American imperialism, you can’t just enjoy a film for mere entertainment, if one to have a consciousness, one should think beyond the entertainment value as to what the film is trying to implant in the viewer’s mind, if one to glorify this film, one might as well glorify the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the never ending of the so called “War on Terror”, with each years, thousands of innocent civilians paying its toll, watch Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty War, that should be on your list, that is what real war and torture is, and not Zero Dark Thirty, a shameful piece of propaganda than many falls for it.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Johnny, thanks for recommending DIRTY WARS. I had never heard of it but will try and see it when I can. I recommend that you read my original review of ZERO DARK THIRTY (as well as my follow-up posts about it – all of which I’ve provided links to in my capsule review above), as I argue that not only does the film NOT glorify torture but it actually condemns it. I believe that the people who claim ZDT somehow endorses torture either haven’t seen it or are angry about the fact that the film doesn’t condemn torture in a more explicit and didactic way. The same phenomenon is currently occurring with critics of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET: they say it “glorifies white-collar criminals” but what they really mean is they’re worried about stupid viewers getting the wrong message.

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  • Annie Oakley

    This is a nice list I have those films on my watchlist but have nit yet seen them. There are so mamy that I have not yet seen. I was wondering how the immigrant went and am also looking forward to enemy. I have to watch whatever jake gyllenhaal is in. I didnt like inside llewyn davis or zero dark thirty but I saw that one last year. I think our lists will end up fairly similar once I have seen everything. You have good taste 🙂 but must learn that their is a distinct difference between new zealand and australia. (Not the same country) 😉

  • Beer Movie

    Great list. A lot of these films have not opened in Australia as yet, so plenty to keep an eye out for. My list is here:

  • Neil Chisholm

    I didn’t know what to expect with “Neighboring Sounds,” but I liked it very much. I appreciate the opportunity to see how people live in other countries and cultures, and this movie gave me some insight into the coastal city of Recife in Brazil. The action is on a fairly upscale street that none the less has poor neighborhoods not far away. Doors are predictably secured with locks and gates in front of them. A team of shady security men are paid to patrol and chill under a jerry-rigged shelter. It looks like Brazilians are inclined to have affairs at the drop of a hat, but I know their sexy music so that’s not surprising. One could almost breath in the humid ocean air and smell the plentiful limes. Everyone, regardless of race or class, spoke and moved about in a languid and sultry manner. They may be Latin but they do not appear to get easily agitated.

    As for the plot, we know there are myriad threads which ravel together when Clodoaldo and his brother presumably murder Don Francisco, the real estate mogul and sugar baron. We see hook-ups, a mom smoking pot and paradoxically a dryer getting her wet, an educated rich kid who has no excuse to steal things except boredom, the security guys swapping stories, and other slices of life. We also see Joao and Bia visiting Don Francisco’s mossy mansion in the interior. Strange things happen: a waterfall turns to blood, a ghostly boy walks in a hall in a presumed deserted house, and a girl dreams of intruders into her house. Are these echoes of Brazil’s past police-state government and its crimes? That is a possibility. Kleber Mendonca has written and directed a film both realistic and strange, which is very original and not easily classified according to type.

  • Athena Rodriguez

    This Brazilian film was very distinct as opposed to other films I have watched. As the film was going on between the apparently amiable watchmen, the patriarchal well respected landlord and his extended family and a bored pot-smoking mother, and all their various staff, dealers and service providers, we get a fascinating social overview. The overview of the different characters we are presented with were obnoxious as points such as the mother of the 2 kids. She’s a stay at home wife who’s bored with her life that the only interesting thing going on in her life is the dog who lives across from her that won’t stop barking. She drugs the dog to make him stop barking and the next morning she is anxious and worried about the dog not waking up. Her obnoxious behavior leads to her making dog noises to get the dog to wake up. I found this very interesting. There are ominous soundtrack noises, depictions of the tenants’ nightmares, intimations of the not-too-distant colonial past. Violence feels just around the corner, and we’re kept guessing where it might come from.

  • Jeremy Sebastian

    “Neighboring Sounds” is an experience that forces you to lower your expectations of seeing a plot-driven film. This film has an acquired taste by presenting “episodic” perspectives of Brazilian locals living in the city of Recife. From a housewife who is annoyed by a barking dog next door to young lovers who are in a relationship and a boy who just wants to play with a soccer ball, the city of Recife open us to a community filled with petty crime, drugs, and daily struggles of living. The film throws in elements of off-screen sounds that raise the bar in suspense. But as you view further it was only just something mundane as flushing a toilet.

    The film seems to allude to a nuanced message that movies don’t have to have a plot that drives an underlying message. Movies usually have scenes laid out and all contribute to where the film is heading. “Neighboring Sounds” offer a different approach. They ask the viewer, “Why not throw in a scene where someone is smoking at a dining room table?” The person decides to go to the bathroom, and the audiences will then hear the person
    urinating in the toilet.

    My interpretation of “Neighboring Sounds” is it’s a film that presents a pure stream of consciousness from different angles. It is a reflection of daily life for all of us. Life is not like a movie where everything we experience or do results in something very profound or leaves a large milestone all the time. We live a life where we wake up, drink coffee, go to work, go home, go on social media, and then go to sleep. Sometimes we have emotional days and sometimes we have mediocre or atrocious days. Life is filled with neighboring noises and bustling uncertainty that you’re just living like everyone else. Neighboring sounds wasn’t telling me a message like a normal film. It was showing me something to watch and react casually. The movie reminds me of free-flowing jazz music, spontaneous in nature and showing a variety of everything. If you come into this film with expectations of something, you will leave confused or disappointed. An open mind and willpower to endure through the slow scenes will teach you how to be patient and through uncertainty. This movie had me feel uncertain, fearful, and in the struggle like these people in the show.

  • Charles Andre Castro

    At the beginning of the movie they showed pictures like it was a slideshow it was black and white then turned into colorful (present). I really don’t get it in the beginning about when the guy was selling the house, and somebody died there, and it was a bad luck, the sister attacked her sister over a TV and a guy was giving the lady a hand, but she rejected it because he might be asking for money and then he scratched the car. Those situations I don’t know what to expect about it. The actors and actresses, in my opinion, they are acting like real like there’s no camera. It just their lives are like, simple, normal like just regular people, and kids who play outside, delivery of water with illegal stuff.

    This Brazilian film was phenomenal it makes you expect something, but that expectation won’t meet your expectations because maybe because maybe our high expectations like some movies from Hollywood that always have a question on how they are going to solve the problem and they will answer it, how.

    The movie is based like our lives right now, we can have some nightmares, we use our wealth to boast to other people, we used the past to use it against to other people and sometimes annoying environment like dogs who bark all night. Also, the clothes they used are just casual with flip-flops.

    The movie effects they transition from the slideshow of pictures from the past and used the yellowish style effect. And turned to clear and good resolution. The music when they put it in an intense situation they make it more intense.

  • Carli Romanek

    Neighboring Sounds is a really interesting movie. It gives people a view as to what life is like in another country, which is interesting because I had no idea as to what Brazil would be like until I saw certain parts in this movie. It is interesting because my take from the movie was that they wanted to convey that life is slower in different countries because most times it seemed as if the days dragged on and you saw the Brazilian people doing the same stuff every day. This could quite possibly be why there is so much crime because in remote areas there really aren’t many alternatives for things to do and sometimes boredom leads to crime.

    A perfect example of this is the housewife with two children, who was also an avid pot smoker. She seemed bored, unfulfilled, and seemed as if she was yearning for something better to do with her time. She sat around so much that the dog next door who was barking all time became her number one interest in trying to make him quiet. She did have a lot of time on her hands, therefore it made sense that she put her time into that. Even though she had a lot of time on her hands, she was still an amazing mom and has a great relationship with her kids.

    Another thing I would like to point out is that I really liked the black and white slideshow at the beginning of the film. I feel as if it was interesting that they wanted to show old-fashioned pictures of poverty in Brazil to outline that this issue has happened for generations and sometimes it manifests into different things as the times modernize.

  • Sebin Puthenthara S

    Neighboring Sounds (2012), is the directorial debut by the Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho, which tells the story of the city of Recife – or of one particular street in the city occupied by middle class people. The story isn’t a plot-driven or character-driven one, but instead it tells the story of what happens in that area of Recife through the loosely-connected lives of its residents and visitors in a limited time frame of a few days.
    As movies go, Neighboring Sounds is a realistic one. The story might be fictional and ambiguous, but the slices of life portrayed in the movie are very realistic and immersive, showing you problems in the life of real people – like the barking dog who is the biggest problem in the life of a bored housewife Bia, who tries to make her life less boring by smoking weed and masturbating with a washing machine. Almost all of her whole story arc revolves around the barking dog, who she tries to silence by drugging it, and then later worrying she might have killed it, using a high-pitched noise making device to scare and silence the dog away, then angrily going off on a maid who accidentally broke the device. Funnily enough, she is more upset and angry about the machine being broken than on another instance when a crazy neighbor woman physically attacks her for owning a bigger TV than she does.
    There are various problems present in the lives of the people, such as a potential apartment buyer haggling for a lower price for an apartment because of a recent suicide in the building, and ultimately refusing to get the apartment, leaving Joao, the owner of the apartment, disappointed. There’s another scene with Joao, in which he retrieves a CD player stolen from his lady friend. When it is revealed that that wasn’t the original CD player stolen from her, the question of the actual thief of the CD player isn’t asked but instead they decide this is a better one and settles with that player. The movie doesn’t offer any solutions of the problems arising, and comfortably settles down with the problem or chooses to live with it.
    Another instance of realism in the movie is how boring moments in the film are filmed in a way that’s excruciatingly boring to the viewer. When a Cladoaldo, a private security person, is waiting to meet Seu Francisco, the landlord who owns the majority of the buildings of the street, he ends up having to wait for a very long time for Francisco to show up. The film spends maybe a whole minute simply alternating between the bored face of Cladoaldo and his employee, and the still and motionless waiting room of Seu Francisco, with only the background noises of the street and the maid walking in the house, to keep the viewer “entertained.” The scene is boring (in a good way) for the viewer as much as it was for the characters to be in that situation.
    The movie doesn’t use the traditional method of telling a story that an average audience member might be used to. There are topics that are touched upon by dialogue or visuals, such as the suicide of an apartment resident, love letters/messages graffitied on the roads with white paint, and Bia buying and using some firecrackers to scare the barking dog in a final attempt to scare it away while a potential murder could be happening in the neighborhood. Viewers might expect the story to expand more on these events and causing an effect on the story later – such as the suicide being of someone important later, the graffiti messages having more of a backstory than a character simply mentioning “someone’s heartbroken”, or the firecrackers to end up muffling the sounds of a potential gunshot in the neighborhood. But the Mendonça chose to leave it at that, painting these events as the tiny strokes of details in the big painting of the story of the street – while showing that the Chekhov’s Gun doesn’t always have to go off.

  • Mark Badel

    I don’t recall ever watching a film that did not have a continuing plot, so before watching Neighboring Sounds, I had lowered my expectations. In hindsight, I should have not done this because the film was better than a lot of the other movies I have watched. The way Mendonça managed to make me feel on edge the entire time watching the film, was spectacular. There was always this sense of tension, as if a fight could just break out at any moment. The film also felt very creepy at times like when the security firm were patrolling the streets at night, all the way to the blood waterfall scene. The use of sound throughout the film was spectacular. When you hear all these noises in the background like a dog barking or construction, it really makes you feel as if you are there standing with the characters.

  • Jose Colon

    Neighboring sounds. A movie that really played on your emotions. The movie had a very ominous tone to it throughout the whole film. Mendconca Filho did an excellent job with the portrayal of class division, social injustice and women’s rights, to name a few. I enjoyed the choice of music and the times he decided to play the music, which made the scenes all the more intense.
    I would have to agree with the some of my other classmates on the security firm that was hired having a creepy or untrusting vibe about them. Every scene that they were in seemed like something bad was about to happen or they were up to no good. The funny thing to me was that they were actually doing their job but the way Mendonca portrayed them in the film was phenomenal.
    In my opinion, Bia was the star of the film, even if she technically was or wasn’t. She made the movie interesting and even though she didn’t have a spontaneous life, her life was portrayed in such a way that it made it feel like she was living an exciting boring life. I feel as if she tries to live on the edge but cant fully live her life to the fullest because of her own personal obstacles.
    Overall NEIGHBORING SOUNDS was a great film. It is very a abstract film compared to your everyday holly wood films. It did not have an action filled plot that always kept you on the edge of your seat, guessing whats going to happen next, but it sure as hell felt like it.

  • Kenta Kume

    Neighboring Sounds is a film directed by Kleber Mendonca Filho, a Brazilian director. Released in 2012, it’s story centers around a neighborhood in Recife, Brazil, a middle-class community. The film follows how life in the community changes for the better and the worse after a independent private security firm, basically neighborhood watchmen/bodyguards move in and start offering their services. The neighborhood seems to be dominated by a rich man and his family who also own property around the area. The plot follows their family and their small internal struggles, as well as the life of Bia, a normal housewife who tries to deal with the mundane daily life of a housewife as well as a barking dog that won’t stop.
    This film definitely felt more like an art film rather than a traditional Hollywood production. A typical theme of hollywood films are large upswings and downswings, lots of tension and action. Neighboring sounds is basically a sequence of scenes that all fit together like a puzzle to depict this typical middle class neighborhood in Brazil. In order to accurately showcase that, it doesn’t really seem to have a lot of drama, positivity, or climaxes in terms of plot. I thought that there was a lot of realism incorporated. The characters are portrayed pretty intimately, from Joao’s everyday life with his maid and her family and his girlfriend, and their mundane conversations over a meal, to Bia masturbating using electronics and using various methods to quiet down a neighborhood dog.
    Overall, personally, I didn’t find it that enjoyable of a film. It’s not that I need the big action scenes and explosions typical of a hollywood film, but I didn’t really understand the real point of the film. The general plot is that a security firm moves into the neighborhood, but I don’t really see them do anything or accomplish anything, and the film just moves on sleepily, all the while not developing any of the character’s story. It might be a good aesthetic film artistically, but it didn’t have enough excitement to keep me riveted to my seat.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Well, as I said in class before the film began, it’s neither a plot-driven nor a character-driven film – so to expect character “development” is to bark up the wrong tree. Having said that, the security firm does certainly accomplish something – they commit a murder in order to avenge past socio-economic wrongs that stretch back for decades. 8/10

  • Jonathan Tapper

    Neighboring sounds is a fascinating film. There are conflicts, but no real resolutions. If anything it really is just a movie about life. It is about small conflicts and big conflicts, both with no ends in sight. None of the conflicts by the end have met their resolution, leaving the film very open ended. We see this in almost every conflict. The bored housewife and the neighbors guard dog, the son of the property owner trying to find love. Even the underlying conflict between class is left very open ended. It very much feels like small conflicts experienced in life. It shows not how these lives intertwine but how they are different. The rich son of the property owner is unable to find love, the middle class lady has a dog next door that barks too much, but the lower classes problems are with everyone above them. The use of Chekhov’s gun is quite funny. We see these characters all doing weird things, however, they all lead nowhere. There is no answer given as to what these characters are doing, rather they are just living their lives. There is no real over-arching story in this movie being told, just that we as the viewer have been conditioned that everything most lead into something else. That we take note of every little detail because it could become part of the story later, but it doesn’t. Not in this film. Each of these questions goes unanswered, such as the old baron going swimming in shark infested water very early in the morning. We’re never given an answer as to why he does it. Which really seems to be a part of the theme of this movie, that there are really no true answers. The woman tries almost everything to stop the dog next door from barking, from drugging to a high frequency noise maker, but in the end, she resorts to fireworks. The man looking for love, breaks up with his girlfriend.

  • Nick Haynes

    Neighborhood Sounds was very unique as far as films I’ve watched. There almost wasn’t enough emphasis when it was prefaced as a film that wasn’t plot driven. Overall it was more of a sensory experience than a typical movie, and a fairly fascinating one at that. Not everything they showed in the film had to add to any overhanging themes, sometimes the meaning behind events were that they just… happen. As you mentioned, the film centers around the class and political shifts within Brazil, and that made for a strange outside perspective. I could relate to many of the actions that we saw happening in the film, but I’m not sure how many went over my head since I’m so disconnected from any of the cultural issues in Brazil.

    I think this film would have been more enjoyable had I gone into it with a bit more background about Brazil’s political and cultural history. Without that, I have no idea how realistic the events in the movie actually are. It seems like they’re doing things I can relate to, but all I have to go off of is this film. I’d be very interested to know how someone in Recife would react after watching Neighborhood Sounds.

  • Robert Shaf

    When I first heard that Neighboring Sounds didn’t have an actual plot, I was a little worried. However, after watching it I was very surprised. Often movies with plots are very predictable because there are many clues that hint at what is going to happen next. With Neighboring Sounds, I had no idea what was going to happen to next because there wasn’t much of a plot. The unpredictable element of this movie made it very interesting to me.
    I also really liked how the pacing was more nonlinear. The story followed multiple people on this street and even though they all never really had a true connection to each other by the end, it still flowed really well and had a great ending.
    Another thing I enjoyed is the use of sound and its soundtrack. The director, Kleber Mendonca Filho, did a great job at building tension in scenes by gradually increasing the volume of a specific sound. One example that stood out was when it showed a street and the rain kept getting closer and louder as the rain went towards the camera. Usually tension is built through dialogue or a certain act, but in this movie it was by the use of sound. I thought this worked very well even though it was something I wasn’t used to.
    Lastly, I just liked how it was realistic. Neighboring Sounds just felt like something that can happen in real life. Not everything in the movie was foreshadowing and the script felt like real dialogue. This caused the movie to be a little slower, but I was okay with that because it made it more real.

  • Kevin Sudie

    The absence of a plot was in fact the plot itself in the film Neighboring Sounds, a movie set in a middle class neighborhood in Brazil. Every climactic action turned out to be a dream and there was no character development. Instead of keeping the audience on the edge of there seats anticipating motives and consequences, this film unapologetically plops along, keeping the audience in the moment by using interesting soundscapes and beautiful camera shots. The initial boredom I experienced towards the middle of this film was probably a withdrawal symptom due to the fast paced tempos of American films I am accustomed to. As I grasped the intention of this plotless movie, I found myself enjoying the Seinfeld-esque themes of bourgeoisie boredom and melancholy madness. It was a polar palette cleanser for the Bollywood movie we last watched, defying the type of entertainment we have come to expect from movies by doing the complete opposite yet somehow still being enjoyable.

  • sdecen

    Neighboring Sounds was a great art film. In this film, we were taken to each character’s everyday mundane life which I greatly appreciated. It isn’t common to watch a film or movie that focuses solely on ordinary, day to day tasks. By doing so we are given a chance to be more intimate with the characters.

    Watching this film made me realize the importance of the present moment. It made me think about how time and space can always coexist in such extremities and coincidences. In one scene, we are watching a family put out fireworks, yet we hear the sounds of gunshots. Having two different moods in one scene was quite a brilliant undertaking.

    Another thing I noticed was the common theme of symmetry within this film. The way the camera acted always seemed like a mirror to another person or object. For example, in the beginning, we see a girl roller skating and the camera smoothly curves around in the same motion as skating. This made me feel like I was part of the film as I always felt like I was in the background, especially when characters would brush right past the camera.

    There was so much I got out of this film that I definitely need to rewatch it in order to get a more fuller perspective of its experience.

  • Sana Lalani

    Neighboring Sounds was a very interesting and distinct film that brought me out of my comfort zone. I am used to films having a plotline and a specific character/protagonist to follow, however, Neighboring Sounds followed multiple characters and did not go into much depth with them. The film also did not have a plot line, but rather multiple stories that followed the lives of the characters. To be honest, at the beginning of the film, it was hard to pay attention to it because I am just so used to always looking for a plot to follow or characters to root for. As the movie progressed, I became more interested in the film due to the many connections each of the characters had with each other. It all somehow tied together in the end which I liked. The film also started to become more suspenseful and mysterious as it went on. I think that is what peaked my interest, the mystery around why the grandfather went swimming with the sharks, what was the security’s hidden motive. Certain aspects of the film like these to peaked my curiosity.
    In response to the reading, I agree that the film reoccurring themes. The theme of the past sins of the rich coming to haunt them can be seen in many scenes. One of the scenes was when João was under a water fountain with his grandfather and girlfriend, and instead of water, it was blood crashing down on him.
    I was trying to describe the comedy in the film, but your words, “dry, absurdist humor” is the best way to put it. The humor was absurd and dry like the battle the housewife was having with the dog to her dealings with the man who refills her family’s water cooler. They were both eccentric ways to evoke humor, but it worked. I would say the humor is pretty dry because it does not evoke immense laughter, but a slight laugh here and there. I also think these scenes were put there to make the characters more relatable and to show the situation that the housewife was living in. She was pretty well off, so her biggest problem was dealing with the dog. She was so bored with nothing to do, that she would take weed.

  • Abbas Jafri

    Neighboring sounds is an interesting thriller pack movie that revolve around many characters, who are connected to each other in one way or another. The movie is consist of stories of many characters that portray the lifestyle of a neighborhood in a Brazilian city. That all lead up to the real story behind the scenes which was the assassination of Francisco. To me it feels like it has a similar vibe as the movie “The Departed”, a brilliant movie by Martin Scorsese. Where a cop played by Leonardo Dicaprio went undercover into a mob to dismantle it and Matt Damon’s character into police department as an internal informal of that mob. The movie is shot in a slightly different way than regular movies. In the movie we see long scenes with very little to no dialogues but the visuals were enough to tell what is going on in those scenes. such as when Joan and sofia were roaming around in an abandon cinema. The movie seems like it has a wild tonal shifting component as many Bollywood movies. The movie does not carry a straight narrative or stick to a particular mood. It rather jumps around changing the direction of the movie. Such as when Joan and Sofia were having lunch with Francisco at his countryside house. They all looked as a very happy family having a nice lunch but all of a sudden the couple went exploring that abandon cinema and we could hear the screams in the background portraying the cruelty done by Francisco. Then the scene cuts to them standing underneath the waterfall happy and cheering then it cuts back to a scene where the waterfall turns red on Joan as a metaphor that how much of the blood were shed by the hands of his family. Later on in the movie Bia the housewife seen standing in front of her washing machine staring at it shaking so bad (from the way that machine was shaking and the intensity of that scene, I thought for a moment that she trapped that barking dog inside) but then her hand seen going inside her pants completely shift the tone. And at the end when Francisco invite the suspicious looking security guards to hire them as his security but they end up killing in the name of revenge.

  • Zophia Ruetsche

    Kleber Mendonca Filho’s “Neighboring Sounds” was a film that, although visually and aurally surreal at times, kept a natural and realistic focus on the study of the Brazilian upper and lower classes. The film, at its core, is narrative-less. We see both the upper class and working class characters, partaking in everyday activities, dealing with simple everyday problems, and interacting in the most candid way. For example, a portion of the film is spent examining the life of a bored housewife, reminiscent of Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman”, as she deals with her children and neighbors and channels her extra energy into various vices. This character, among the others whose daily lives we view, hardly progress throughout the film. Like the characters, the plot of the film, too, remains generally static.
    “Neighboring Sounds” is straightforward in its storyline, or lack thereof. Because of this, the film was able to experiment in other ways. A main quality of this film, one featured in the title, is its usage and execution of sounds. We hear familiar and unfamiliar noises throughout the course of the film, construction, machinery, dogs barking, the source some of which are only revealed until minutes after the noises appear. In the beginning of the film, the camera follows a group of upper class children, riding their bikes through the setting of the city block. The simple and joyous image is contrasted with the anxiety-inducing sound of what is revealed to be the familiar noises of construction workers. Our subconscious, regardless what of the images on the screen may convey, will have panic sparked within it due to the terror of unfamiliarity. Mendonca shows that the audience can be easily manipulated without plot-twists, or other basic cinematic cliches.
    The way Mendonca masterfully takes sounds in and out of context throughout the film is what truly makes this art film special. As the audience is engulfed in a familiar scene, the sudden shock of a sound, whether it be the neighbors dog or something entirely unexplained, is something that leaves an impression on the viewer.

  • Dorian Pimpernel

    Just curious, but did you somehow miss “Blancanieves?” And for that matter, Neil Jordan’s masterpiece “Byzantium?” It’s rather dispiriting to see both of these neglected gems missing from a list that includes 40 films. I’d defy anyone to name a picture from the past decade that’s better than “Blancanieves,” which has the emotional pull of Truffaut coupled with the visual wizardry of an Abel Gance or Orson Welles. I’ve sifted through so many best of lists from 2013 and, for me, it’s utterly bewildering to see these two pictures omitted every time. Certainly no offense intended; truly enjoyed sifting through your blog and lists; and I especially loved The Top Ten Home Video Releases that you’ve assembled over the years. But it’s a life long goal for me to turn more cinephiles on to these criminally neglected pictures. Peace and love from the twin cities, and if you’ve haven’t seen either, they are obligatory viewing indeed.

    Worth a read:

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