Wednesday, 1 January 2014

My Favourite Films of 2013

A personal list of the films that excited me, moved me and stuck with me this past year...

1. Museum Hours

One of the most wonderful examinations of the intertwining relationship between life and art that I've seen, Museum Hours also provided me with the most eye-opening "wow" moments of the year as it delighted in matching scenes from both those worlds.

2. Her

Spike Jonze takes a sci-fi concept (about artificial intelligences so advanced, you can fall in love with them) as a springboard to look at human relationships, what we need from our partners/friends and how crippling loneliness can truly be. There's also plenty of humour, great performances all around and some wonderful detail built into the not-to-distant-future world that's been rendered on screen.

3. Before Midnight

If I didn't like or respect every choice that Jesse and Celine made during the course of the film (or, for that matter, all 3 films), I completely believed that each of them would make those decisions. A practically perfect and complete realization of complex characters that frustrate you as they also endear themselves to you. And the opening car ride is easily one of the best scenes of the year.

4. Broken Circle Breakdown

Through its use of music (American folk to die for) and a broken narrative structure, this Belgian/Dutch film by Felix van Groeningen (The Misfortunates) heightens and emphasizes each and every little moment, shows the pointlessness of each little argument and really does invoke the old saw that you should "live every moment to its fullest".

5. Upstream Color

This movie is tactile. I could almost feel it. It immersed me into its sound field & visuals and enveloped my senses like few other films have. There's more to it, but the visceral feelings I had throughout are more than enough reason for me to love it.

6. Starred Up

There was a palpable sense of authenticity about this British prison story (my favourite film from TIFF) that helped bring a sense of unease and unpredictability to each and every scene. Its characters are extraordinarily flawed individuals that you felt could explode at any given moment, but who could also surprise via their cunning, logic and occasional ability to see the bigger picture and not just the end of a shiv. The film is nigh on perfect in its depiction of not just the brutal life of the slammer, but of the different ways men desperately crave respect (in all its forms) and the lengths to which they will go to get it.

7. Like Father Like Son

Like most Kore-eda films, this one excels in its little moments - in particular just about every moment either of the two adorable 6 year-old boys is on screen. No matter what subject or theme Kore-eda considers, he always manages to bring real and interesting people to his stories with whom you kind of want to stay in touch. Even if they may be terribly misguided at times.

8. Mud

I'm not sure any other story this year engrossed me more in its narrative details. Everything gelled perfectly: the pacing, the sense of place, the characters. Jeff Nichols has now made my list of "anything he does, I'll watch".

9. Twenty Feet From Stardom

When Merry Clayton (the female vocalist in the Rolling Stones classic "Gimme Shelter") ferociously rips into Neil Young's "Southern Man" with her killer backing band and glowers straight through the camera lens to her audience, it gave me my number one goose-bump raising moment of 2013. It's goddamn glorious. The rest of the film ain't too shabby either as it introduces numerous other incredibly talented yet rarely acknowledged backup singers from a variety of rock genres and does them a great deal of justice.

10. Short Term 12

Brie Larson gives one of the best performances of the year in an affecting story of damaged young people that never once hits a false note or feels like it was pleading for an emotional response.

11. Blue Ruin

A consistently surprising and suspenseful revenge film with a confused, complex, imperfect protagonist makes for a messy moral landscape - and I can't wait for more people to get a chance to see it.

12. The Wolf Of Wall Street

I'll admit I'm still a bit conflicted about Scorsese's latest...I hear the criticism - a lack of a moral centre, the fact that it might actually bring more fame & money to the story's real-life slimeball and how much of it is "Scorsese-retread" - and I can even agree with some of it, but it doesn't change the fact that it also contains numerous memorable scenes and was 3 hours worth of engaging entertainment. And Kyle Chandler's FBI agent provides just the right amount of humanity at the end to bring me back out of the cesspool.

13. The Battery

A novel take on the zombie movie with two former baseball players doing the best they can to avoid the roving hordes while also trying not to kill each other. Refreshing, original and gorgeous looking to boot.

14. Stoker

I can't help but love a movie that dives headlong into a lurid morass and then just revels and bathes in it (this may explain why I really did enjoy The Wolf Of Wall Street). A great example of what modern day melodrama can be - I can't help but think that Douglas Sirk would've been impressed.

15. Intruders

A film that shifts tonally on a dime (It's a comedy! No, its a mystery! No, it's a thriller! No, it's a satire of modern day Korean...Wait, what kind of movie is this?!), but never lets go of you or your interest in where the story is going.

16. Gravity

For all its technical marvel and beautiful images, Gravity is at its core a thrill ride and more intense than most any amusement park ride. It probably took me about an hour to regain my legs afterwards.

17. Muscle Shoals

If it only succeeded in reinforcing the genius of Wilson Pickett's cover of "Hey Jude" (and Duane Allman's role in it), Muscle Shoals would be a great music documentary. It's much more though, as it tells several bittersweet stories revolving around the overflowing amount of classic soul and rock that came from this tiny corner of Alabama.

18. Valentine Road

I've rarely been as angry walking out of a movie as I was after seeing this documentary about the murder of an 8th grade student by one of his classmates. It's a useful anger though - one that makes you want to ensure nothing like this could happen anywhere within your reach. The systemic failure at every turn by every adult to help either of these children is shameful and tragic.

19. 12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave never shies away from showing you the horrific nature of the lives of slaves, but it also never purposely tries to wring every last tear from you. The emotion it earns at the end of the film is completely honest.

20. The World's End

As funny as expected, but also a look at the dangers of living in the past. I'm not sure anyone expected a movie about a pub crawl could be this mature.

15 Honourable Mentions:

We Are The Best!, Much Ado About Nothing, Spring Breakers, Side Effects, Drinking Buddies, A Story Of Children And Film, Metalhead, The Lunchbox, Under The Skin, Sound City, Rewind This!, 15 Reasons To Live, Motivational Growth, Cheap Thrills, Enough Said


Andrew said...

wow. Honestly, while I enjoyed Intruders it's a film that's left little on my mind from TIFF. Nice list man. 2013 was a great year.

Nick Prigge said...

"I'm not sure any other story this year engrossed me more in its narrative details. " Such an insightful point about "Mud', and Nichols in general. He's just a born storyteller, isn't he?

Love your #1. I enjoyed it greatly on my first watch but also looking forward to the re-watch. Feel like it will open up so much more.

Dan said...

Really strong list, and I still have a lot of them to see. I've been hearing lots of great things about Museum Hours, so it's on the list.

Really glad to see Mud on the list; I just caught up with it a few weeks ago, and it was gripping. No arguments from me on Before Midnight, which might be my favorite of the year.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Andrew...Thanks for commenting! It's interesting you mention that about Intruders since I don't think I heard much at all about it coming out of TIFF. I was a big fan of the director's previous film (Daytime Drinking) and this one took a similar concept (lost city boy - both physically as well as mentally - stumbling around the North in the winter) and spun it into something very different. Even the title takes on different connotations. I was hooked right from the start, but I guess I'm one of the few...

But yeah, we certainly agree that the year had some great films...

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Nick! I have a copy of Museum Hours on BluRay and I still haven't cracked it open - I'm dying too, but I want to ensure I have a full uninterrupted couple of hours to just savour it...

Same for Mud actually, but in that case I want to make my son also has a couple of hours to focus on it. He's expressed interest, so I need to find the right time to show it. I was surprised but quite delighted to hear that Nichols has another film coming out in 2014 (Midnight Special). I am so there.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hey Dan! Thanks for stopping by...I'll be curious what you think of Museum Hours once you've had a chance to catch up to it.

Just looked at your own list and I'll have to seek out Go For Sisters. Sayles is someone with whom I'm woefully inexperienced, so what better place to get acquainted than his latest? I wish I had a similar reaction to The Way Way Back (and I seem to be one of the few who didn't), but it felt stale and rehashed. Not terrible at all (many strong elements to it including Rockwell), but I have little interest in revisiting. Maybe I missed something...

Dan said...

Bob, I thought Go For Sisters was great, but I'm not sure it's the best way to dig into Sayles.

If you haven't seen much of his work, I'd go with Lone Star, Limbo, Eight Men Out, Passion Fish, and Matewan as a starter course.

Alex Withrow said...

A great list. LOVE seeing Upstream ranked so high. That film is so special to me. I watched Twenty Feet From Stardom last night and loved everything about it. What a fantastic doc.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi again Alex & Dan...Fancy meeting you here again! B-)

Dan, the only Sayles I've seen are Brother From Another Planet and Eight Men Out, so yeah, I need to fix that. Been meaning too...Hmmm, maybe I should consider for my blindspots - I'm about to put together my 2014 list, so we'll see if I can sneak one in.

Alex, my top 5 could probably be shuffled randomly - I think I had every single one of them at number 1 at some point. Upstream was there for much of the year. It's fascinating and beautiful.