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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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