What follows are, for better or worst, the best individual moments so far in 2013 (Technically the year's halfway point of June would be a more apt time for this list, but January and February are so useless to cinema, lets just combine them. Also I'm lazy and put things off). These moments don't necessarily represent the best that 2013 has to offer. 2013 as a whole barely represents the best that 2013 has to offer. But if you work for the Academy Awards (and I just assume some of my readers do) and need to make a montage, this is a decent place to start.
Note: You'll notice a distinct lack of SMURFS 2. Such is the tapestry too intricate to chop up.
"The Place Beyond The Pines," Jason and Avery ride to the woods
Symbolism is a dicey trick. Go too obvious, it's ridiculous. Go too subtle, and it could look like an accident. The best use should be embedded just deep enough to make you feel like you discovered it on your own. For all its faults, one thing "The Place Beyond The Pines" does not lack is ambition. Here's a movie that woke up, heard the phrase, "Go big or go home," and knew what it had to do. By the end of this tortured tale of fathers and sons, paralleled fates, and being born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else's past (to borrow a Springsteen-ism), the symbolism arrives with the obviousness of someone who planned their own surprise party. Yet it's oddly powerful just the same. This movie lays its emotions bare. And this scene represents how moving it can be if you allow it.
"Spring Breakers," the Britney Spears serenade
"Spring Breakers" toyed with its audience while wearing a smirk. Was it an ironic take on beach movies? A sincere tale of good girls gone bad? Some weird melding of both? As far as the movie was concerned, it's your own fault if you couldn't get on board. But this scene demonstrates how it coulda been so much more than a failed experiment. As James Franco and the girls croon Britney Spears' "Everytime" over a piano, it bleeds almost unnoticeably into the real song on the non-diegetic soundtrack, kicking off a montage of robberies. It's ironic. It's weird. But there's no-fooling tragedy lurking beneath. It makes you mourn the youth these girls just kissed goodbye. That's how you have your cake and eat it too. They could play Britney Spears music at her own funeral, and it wouldn't be as oddly affecting as this.
"The Conjuring," two hands clapping
We're in this house, and we're pretty sure it's haunted. Little things have happened like temperature dropping and strange noises, but nothing more than garden variety Stuff You Probably Imagined. No concrete evidence. Little girl asks her mother to play a game we've already seen them play once. Mother stays blindfolded while the kid runs away, and the mother can request three hand claps to track her down. Slowly, agonizingly, she inches down the hall, tripping against some furniture, into a bedroom. She requests another hand clap. It sounds pretty close. The door to a wardrobe creaks open. The mother smiles, thinking she solved the game. But we see plainly there's no one there. One final clap, the mother wants. And without the customary horror musical strike, in eerie silence, two long, pale arms reach from behind the clothes - CLAP CLAP. Cue the goosebumps. When a director earns a scare by two simple hands clapping, he's done his job. This is masterful utilization of all we in the audience knew thus far while blowing the door open to what's ahead.
"This Is The End," the party sequence
Self-indulgence sounds bad. But really, it's only bad when it sucks. "This Is The End" got it exactly right. Ultimately the movie showcased the biggest combination of heart and general disgust this side of a transplant ward, but before the sweetness kicks in, it launches with exactly what everyone feared the movie would be: people more famous than you hanging out and having more fun than you. Except it's funny. Gut bustingly funny. Everyone gets the chance to play up their image to varying degrees, while their shared friendships actually inform the jokes rather than just becoming the jokes. Later the movie remembers it probably needs a plot. But before that, it laid waste this almost awe-inspiring assault of jokes, with so many moving parts you can't help but marvel.
"Before Midnight," the entire hotel room fight
Even a fly on the wall in this sequence would have the decency to leave. Modern American movies aren't supposed to be this intimate. Not this personal. They're supposed to take us to the edge of the canyon, peek over, then return safety. "Before Midnight" wants none of that nonsense. Barring themselves both emotionally and physically (my friend Daniel Johnson points out that we barely notice Julie Delpy spends almost the entire scene topless because it's organically present), our two leads trade barbs with a ferocity, anger, and incisiveness that feels like life happening and life ending. Calling on all the history we know of the two leads, it's the culmination of the entire series up to this point. All the romance and idealism we thought was the standard comes apart at the seams, and it hurts like hell to watch. For so long, these characters felt like our's. Of course they later reconcile, albeit by simply accepting that fights such as these are part of their marriage now. But in this sequence, director Richard Linklater asks the brutal question, "This is what love leads to. Now is that really what you want?"