Best of Seattle International Film Festival 2013

Best of Seattle International Film Festival 2013

The 2013 Seattle International Film Festival screened 272 feature-length films from more than 85 countries around the world. Even with 25 days to see as many films as possible, I was only able see 24 films. Although this equals roughly 48 hours of movie watching, it's still less than 10 percent of SIFF feature lineup.

I went in expecting great things from the films I couldn't wait to see ('Much Ado About Nothing') but was pleasantly surprised by several films that were well below my radar ('A Band Called Death' or 'Lil Bub & Friendz').

With that in mind, here are my top 5 films from SIFF 2013.


#5 'Much Ado About Nothing'

 "Much Ado About Nothing" screened during SIFF 2013.

"Much Ado About Nothing" screened during SIFF 2013.

A sprawling cast of characters, great comedic elements, strong dramatic turns and sharp/witty banter - this was the Shakespearean adaptation director Joss Whedon was born to craft. (watch the trailer)

The cast nails their respective roles, in particular Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, who effortlessly exchange barbs and glances. Nathan Fillion is perfectly cast as the 'ass' Dogberry.

'Ado' is sly, cool, fun, romantic and tense.


#4 'The Way Way Back'

 "The Way Way Back" screened during SIFF 2013.

"The Way Way Back" screened during SIFF 2013.

Most coming-of-age stories rely on any one of several crutches: big adventure or personal loss story, usually with a sarcastic/way-too-witty teen at the center.

'The Way Way Back' has a refreshing simplicity: an awkward teen spending the summer with his mother and her jerk boyfriend. (watch the trailer)

This teenage boy walks, talks and acts in a way that reminds us all how we were as teens. He's not cool or particularly funny or brilliantly talented in any specific way.

The genius of 'Way Way Back' is it allows a normal teen to grow and mature using basic character conflict. While newcomer Liam James does a remarkable job carrying the central story, he is surrounded by a stellar cast - including Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, Toni Collette and Steve Carell - who contribute wonderfully in their supporting roles.

'The Way Way Back' will be in theaters July 5.


#3) Cheap Thrills

"Cheap Thrills" screened during SIFF 2013.

'Cheap Thrills' promises to disturb and unsettle audiences. And it does so while also telling a meaningful and entertaining story of how far desperate people will go to win a bet. (watch the trailer)

This darkly funny, unnerving film never betrays the audience by forfeiting story for easy shock value. The story always escalates the stakes, questions character value and does not disappoint in the 'hard-to-watch' department.

'Cheap Thrills' is tentatively scheduled for theatrical release in early 2014.


#2) 'Frances Ha'

"Frances Ha" screened during SIFF 2013.

Think of 'Frances Ha' as a more focused, smarter cinematic cousin of the popular HBO series 'Girls.' (watch the trailer)

This is an artfully composed, offbeat comedy that allows its main character to drive her story forward. Few, if any, conventional story devices interrupt Frances's journey as she chases her dream in Manhattan.

'Frances Ha' one of the great examples of a script that could have easily morphed into an unoriginal movie, but was realized as an intelligent, honest and beautiful film.


#1) 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints'

"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" screened during SIFF 2013.

'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' is a masterpiece of cinema and storytelling.

This film is a piece of visual art. Its screenplay is a poetic marvel. Its performances are captivating. (watch the trailer)

The narrative is simple: a man escapes prison and travels across Texas to runaway with his wife and child. This simple framework allows the complex emotional tensions of hope, expectation, regret, forgiveness, sacrifice and endless love to weave a rich story in a textured world.

'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' will be in theaters Aug. 16 and on demand Aug. 23.

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