Last year, I seemed to miss most of the movies I actually wanted to see on the big screen. I saw some good things, some not so good things, but overall I think it was a pretty interesting year. You had some directors taking gambles (Refn), some releasing long awaited films (Cuaron, Carruth), and others (Scorsese) releasing an epic that has found itself with two opposing sides who cant seem to agree if its a masterpiece or a failure. We had two doubled up movie genre releases this year – we were lucky enough to get TWO The White House gets attacked movies and TWO end of the world comedies. Iron Man 3 and Pacific Rim proved that you can make a big blockbuster that is actually well made and entertaining without having to dumb down just to cash out. And most importantly, McConaughey continued his new career as an actor.
So after all that, and in no particular order, heres what I actually enjoyed.
This year in film was filled with a lot real life horror, a container ship captain gets taken hostage by pirates, a man with AIDS struggles to buy himself and others more time, a free man gets sold into slavery, and George Clooney found himself lost in space with Sandra Bullock (raw deal). However one of the most terrifying films I saw last year was THE HUNT, which follows a kindergarten teacher who gets falsely accused of inappropriate behavior with his students. As the whole town and all of his friends turn on him, his once quiet and menial existence is turned into a nightmare. Even as he continues to try to prove his innocence, you can’t help but also question whether or not he may have been guilty for something similar, which only adds to the terror. Mads Mikkelsen hands in an absolutely devastating performance as the unfortunate teacher in this story, it’s really a shame he is on Hannibal and not busting out more great film work year round.
THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN
Continuing on with our uplifting movies of 2013 we have a Belgian drama about love and death. The film follows two lovers over seven years as they raise a daughter whose sudden cancer diagnosis exposes their ideological differences. The movie felt really organic in the way it handled the central relationship, but one of the more interesting aspects was watching the father try to explain to his dying daughter that since he’s an atheist he doesn’t believe in the afterlife. Like I said, really uplifting.
Woody Allen delivered another great addition to his ever growing body of work. What more needs to be said at this point about Woody? Cate Blanchett of course delivers a stellar performance, but I honestly thought it was one of her best and one of the best overall performances I’ve seen on screen in a while (she’s not my favorite actress for no reason). With a cast that is rounded out by Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew DICE Clay, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard and Bobby Cannavale, it’s hardly a movie to miss. The story is fairly simple, but the editing is tight and the acting is fantastic, especially from DICE since no one could have predicted that he would be receiving praise for an appearance in a Woody Allen movie in 2013.
BAD GRANDPA, yes, BAD GRANDPA, why? Glad you asked. I think that what Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine and crew were able to do with this extension of the Jackass series was quite brilliant actually. It’s not merely a bunch of dick jokes and skateboard accidents cut together, they actually craft a story here. But that’s not the only interesting bit. What is really interesting is how they tell the story. Knoxville has to take his 8 year old grandson to his deadbeat father, but during their journey they interact with unsuspecting people in towns they pass. What I thought was great about this is that instead of just pranking these people like they do in most Jackass skits, or damning them for being terrible people like a Sacha Baron Cohen flick, Knoxville and crew actually allow these people to enter the story and take part in something they didn’t realize was being fabricated. It’s like live interactive theater that you didn’t know you were in. If you feel like they might have taken advantage of these people, just watch the end credits and see their reactions when Knoxville reveals himself.
POST TENEBRAS LUX
Carlos Reygadas’s fairly autobiographical film has some of the most beautiful cinematography I saw last year. Having the chance to see this on a big screen was fantastic as many of the shots have a scope so large that without a big place to display the images, you may miss out on some of their beauty. The film jumps around from his childhood homes, however most of the time is spent in the Mexico countryside. Beyond being autobiographical, there also seems to be a certain amount of rich guilt Reygadas appears to be expressing,which is interesting when considering the themes of separation and distance on display here.
THE WORLDS END
Of course THE WORLD’S END is on the list, isn’t it on everyone’s end of the year list at this point? Easily the superior of the two doomsday comedies that were released last year. As the earlier THIS IS THE END attempted to shred celebrity culture for laughs, THE WORLD’S END went for something much deeper. Edgar Wright’s film isn’t just an enjoyable and funny end of the world movie, it also manages to talk about the actual end of the world that comes with growing old, complacency in life, addiction, and the dangers that come with denial. I’ve never seen a movie that has made me both want to drink and quit drinking so badly.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES
After Refn’s big success with the pop synth filled violent epic that was DRIVE, he comes back with a movie that was guaranteed to rid him of many of his newly found fans. All of the girls who love Gosling and the Drive soundtrack (and the bros that bought Scorpion jackets) didn’t tune in for this one. This Freudian character study under the guise of a Thai gangster flick is one of the darkest movies I saw last year, just real bleak stuff. The violence is over the top in a Takashi Miike way at points, which actually helps to bring some bizarre sense of levity to such a heavy and quiet movie.
Kevin Smith calls it “The most important film you will see all year” but he’s also one of the movie’s distributors so maybe he is a little biased. However it is one of the more unique films I saw last year. It’s a mockumentary about bullied teenage filmmakers who decide to take their ambitions to the next level. The film begins simply enough with the two guys shooting and editing a movie about taking out all the bullies at school all while recreating and referencing their favorite movies. However after the bullying continues and their movie gets panned by the other students they jokingly (or not?) decide to up the ante and actually make a movie where they really kill the bullies. THE DIRTIES found its way onto this list for a few reasons, first of all, the main actor Matt is also the writer and director, and he does of a hell of a job in all three phases at such a young age. And secondly, bullying is as persistent as ever and not many movies have ever portrayed the everyday suffering of kids as accurately as this one does. Lastly, I’m really sick of the found footage genre, however I think they do a solid job of handling it and give good reasons for the camera to be on in most circumstances unlike others in the genre. I’m surprised this movie hasn’t gotten more play yet. Maybe Kevin Smith’s attachment is actually more of a detriment than a benefit at this point in his career…
12 YEARS A SLAVE
At this point, I’ll get down with anything Director Steve McQueen touches. I’m a huge fan of both HUNGER and SHAME and he doesn’t let up here. I was worried by some of the trailers that his brutal realism would be softened by Hollywood, but this is certainly still his vision. Chiewetel Ejiofor is fantastic as Solomon Northrup, a free man who is tricked into being sold as a slave. His performance only gets better as the movie goes on and he struggles with the realization that hiding his intelligence and identity will allow him to survive longer. Michael Fassbender is really upstaging everyone here though, a McQueen veteran at this point, starring in all three of his feature films. Fassbender’s Epps is one of the nastiest villains ever to appear on screen, and the fact that this is a true story makes him only more terrifying.
Ever since director Shane Carruth’s PRIMER blew everyone’s mind with its smart time travel story, fans of his have eagerly awaited the arrival of his next film. Finally, 9 years later, he gives us UPSTREAM COLOR, an even more difficult film with fewer entry points. I honestly couldn’t explain the film to anyone who hadn’t seen it, the best I could muster up was, a man and a woman bond over a similar trauma they experienced and try to recover some truth about themselves. That’s the basic narrative, but due to the film’s experimental nature and disconnected visuals, it enters into late Lynch territory, and I’m talking Inland Empire weird. However, unlike Inland Empire, I feel like there are keys to unlocking this movie. I’ve actually only seen it once, but I look forward to revisiting it again and again to explore more of the themes and figure out what Shane Carruth is trying to share with us.