What I’ll Remember About the Films of 2013: A Personal Sampling


So I started doing this last year and I’m kind of in love with it. It’s a personal snapshot of my takeaways from the year in film. It’s more of a surface level kind of thing, less about what films are doing or not doing, and more about immediate pleasures or displeasures both broad and specific. Hope you enjoy! What were your takeaways from this year?

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Wishing we could live in a world where all blockbusters could star Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor (The Conjuring)

Discovering the music of Death via A Band Called Death

One step forward for films about female relationships (Frozen, Frances Ha, Byzantium etc.) and one step kind-of-back for having said characters spend most of their screen-time separated. 

It’s a Disaster for making me crave more low-budget chamber piece ensemble comedies

Marisa Tomei overacting like nobody’s business with her interpretation of Marilyn Monroe writings (Love, Marilyn)

For endless American Dream think-pieces and accompanying films (Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring, Pain and Gain (haven’t seen), The Great Gatsby, Wolf of Wall Street)

In which further proof came to light that Paul Dano continues to get the shit kicked out of him, completely with weasel-squeals (can’t forget the weasel-squeals), in Every. Single. Film. (12 Years a Slave, Prisoners)

Everyone proclaiming 2013 was a great year for film; while I think every year is a great year for film depending on what you see, this year actually brought far more disappointments than normal (Sightseers, The Place Beyond the Pines, Gravity, From Up on Poppy Hill, American Hustle, Antiviral, You’re Next, Stories We Tell, Prisoners, Much Ado About Nothing, Room 237, Blue Caprice, etc.)

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Seeing a better ‘silent film’ (not to mention more attuned to formalistic trends of the time) than The Artist (Blancanieves)

Berberian Sound Studio using sound effects to squishy and crunchy effect

The breakdancing scene in The Way Way Back for winning the title of worst five minutes in 2013 film

Drug War and New World putting other action/crime films in their place for different reasons

Proof that Caleb Landry Jones is my generation’s Crispin Glover (Antiviral)

Juno Temple’s silky and out-of-body hypnotized dance in Magic Magic

Thinking that if Pacific Rim was refreshing to people (clearing the bar for original franchise piece and refreshingly diverse cast aside) then I give up on life

New sides of Michael Cera (Magic Magic, This Is the End)

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So…the bigger the asshole Leonardo DiCaprio plays, the more attracted I am to him? Is this the trajectory I’m working with? OK; just checking (The Wolf of Wall Street)

The year Ryan Gosling’s presence and acting abilities bored me into oblivion (The Place Beyond the Pines, Only God Forgives)

Because it always bears repeating; Olivier Assayas has better taste in music than anyone working in film. I will pay you heaps of cash to make me mixes Good Sir. Abba Zaba Zoom (Something in the Air)

The outrageously entertaining archival footage that populates No

Being okay with having only one foot on the Spring Breakers bandwagon; ever-so-close to love with reservations regarding its pedestal-placement-outweighs-the-text status

Last year was the year Léa Seydoux became one of my favorite actresses with Sister and Farewell, My Queen respectively. This year was the year I became head over heels attracted to her from her general appearance and character in Blue is the Warmest Color.

Brutal post-breakup denouements in Blue is the Warmest Color and Laurence Anyways

Two films, two wonderfully inventive films, shot on period accurate video! (Computer Chess, No)

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Being reminded that nobody does composition like Cristian Mungiu and Abbas Kiarostami (Beyond the Hills, Like Someone in Love)

Suzanne Clément making the entrance to end all entrances, accompanied by new wave, sparkle, wind machines, and revolving floors in Laurence Anyways

Catching up with familiar faces (56 Up)

Existential film lover crisis in the form of my ambivalence towards Leviathan. Does it make me a shitty cinephile? (Answer: no)

Jena Malone as Johanna Mason being the most electric presence onscreen this year and making me want her in everything from now on (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)

Seeing enough of Lola Creton and Caleb Landry Jones to consider them new favorites of mine (Bastards, Something in the Air, Antiviral)

Being reminded that Katharine Isabelle is severely underrated and deserves to be a full-fledged star (American Mary)

Finding Only God Forgives to be the most visually captivating film of the year, while frustrating in its macho-art-gore-study (and yet my feelings towards it are still more complicated because there’s a lot I liked about it) 

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Can Mary McCarthy come back to life and be my best friend? (Hannah Arendt)

Being unable to figure out why Computer Chess and Upstream Color held me at an unaccountable distance despite liking them both

You know a movie is bad when your favorite character is a monkey voiced by Zach Braff (Oz the Great and Powerful)

Jake Gyllenhaal’s slicked back hair that always manages to somehow be in his face in Prisoners

The woefully misguided and naïvely executed student protest captures by Frederick Wiseman in At Berkeley. Eek. Eek. Eek.

My first visit to Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn (saw Spring Breakers with my sister and her friend)

Matt Damon’s physique in Behind the Candelabra. Oh, and his performance. Yeah, that too

Wishing that Byzantium was an adaptation of a highly acclaimed novel so I could gobble it all up

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More feminist noir please! (Top of the Lake)

Peter Mullan proving once again why he is one of my favorite working actors with his portrayal of Matt Mitcham, perhaps the most compelling performance and work in the whole of 2013. Everyone should still be talking about it, and we’re not (Top of the Lake)

The near-futuristic portrait of insular experiences and soothing pastels in Her

The most indelible image of the year; Lola Créton, naked but for a pair of click-clack heels and streaked blood, haunting the streets of Paris in Claire Denis’ Bastards

Living in a world where the term guerilla filmmaking is reduced to rubble, pitifully tacked onto the existence of Escape from Tomorrow

Having the honor of seeing James Gandolfini as a romantic lead in Enough Said

Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #131-137


Hello everyone! Sorry it has been quite a while since I last posted. I go through spurts of writing a lot and then corresponding ebbs. I’ve shifted my focus a bit to reading and trying to learn some German so films have taken a backseat as of late. Plus, in effort to save some money I’ve cut back on certain monthly expenses. Meaning no more Hulu Plus and only Netflix streaming for me. But I’ll certainly keep up with some viewings and posting output. For one thing, I plan on participating in next week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot for Mary Poppins.

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#131. Berberian Sound Studio (2013, Strickland)

A meticulous tribute to giallo and the inextricable subconscious effect that sound contributes to the moving image. It’s made for a very narrow but appreciative audience and is more of a fascinating academic-like exercise that I primarily admired. I’ve gotten much more interested in the role of sound in film this past year so it is a treat to see something that uses this crucial but often underappreciated and little understood aspect of filmmaking as its almost essay-like focus. Isolation and cultural dislocation lead the way with Toby Jones as Gilderoy. He might as well be trapped in the sound studio.. The setting plays like a psychological prison and Strickland explores the power of sound through its surrounding inescapable nature. Visuals are something we can look away from. Sound has the capacity to drown us, drive us into dismantling states.

We never see the film Gilderoy is working on, titled The Equestrian Vortex, but we hear a great deal of it. As everyday objects are used to fill in our imaginative aural gaps, the film builds up a jarringly uncomfortable atmosphere. No blood is shed, no violence seen. But watermelons and the like suddenly have squeamish associative power, made all the more complex through its effect on Gilderoy who becomes uncomfortably complicit in helping create horror by indirectly taking part in it. The film-within-a-film seems to be an extension of how the beautiful but mistreated women in the studio inhibit the space. It may not seem like a lot happens in Berberian Sound Studio, because to be sure this is true, and yet its purpose is clearly multi-layered.

Random Observations:
Interesting that we the audience get an advantage over Gilderoy re: subtitles for spoken Italian while Gilderoy has an additional disadvantage over us re: he is seeing both the footage and the sound of The Equestrian Vortex while we only hear the audio.

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#132. Antonio Gaudi (1985, Teshigahara)

Putting another layer of artistic endeavor between us and the fantastical undulating work of Antonio Gaudi, Teshigahara’s near-wordless documentary is like a poetic context; the gift of heightened consideration. The way his work is shot runs the gamut, from close-ups where detail is abstracted to far away in order to place his creations within the context of Barcelona. What about this angle; or this angle? How to best extrapolate the ever-changing notions of his shapes and constructs? The camera considers his work from every angle, caresses the curves and even considers the world outside as his buildings would hypothetically see them as sentient beings, thereby treating them as such. This film was also a big influence on my decision to save up and travel to Barcelona for a week this November.

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#133. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987, Hara)

From the moment a wedding celebration becomes an awkward self-indulgent confessional moment of radicalism as Kenzo Okuzaki denigrates the concept of family and drops reference to his committed murder and jail time you know this is going to be a bonkers documentary. And it is. There are no easy answers; Okuzaki’s tenacity is something to behold but his methods, which yield some result, are fidget-inducing. It’s the most excruciatingly uncomfortable film I’ve seen in some time. You kind of feel like you’ve crossed into another dimension once Okuzaki hires his wife and friend to impersonate the brotherless siblings who rightly jump ship on their journey towards truth. His interrogation methods are so relentless and so narrow that the film is a dive into one man’s post-war psyche just as much as the partial truths of specific WWII atrocities dug up. And then there’s the role of documentarian in all this. Truly a bizarre trailblazing documentary of dangerous and volatile investigative parts and you’ll never forget Kenzo Okuzaki. Not something I ever want to see again but that’s okay because it’s burned into my brain.

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#134. Before Midnight (2013, Linklater)
Review in separate post.

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#135. Love, Marilyn (2013, Garbus)

A really informative cliffnotes info dump about her life. Considering how loaded and complex her life was, it is impressive how much ground is covered. Having a chunk of her written material be the context for the documentary was lovely, centralizing her voice. If only it had been presented differently. Most of the male actors got the job done. The women on the other hand are often forced, over-emotive and theatrical. It was like being at an unfortunate casting session. It didn’t help that the fake backgrounds and constant camera movement further distracted from the reading sessions. But overall well worth watching if someone wants a sense of the basic puzzle pieces of her life as well as an introductory sense of her mindset.

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#136. The Bling Ring (2013, Coppola)

Like a vapid anthropological study, Coppola ponders the mindset of these entitled criminals as they nonchalantly rob the houses of the rich and famous. What drew me to The Bling Ring is the way Coppola focuses on the entitlement of the entitled. That is to say, these teenagers act as if they are merely going to a friends house while they are away. There is never a sense of doing something wrong. No worrying about implications and consequences. They shared the same space as celebrities at various clubs and bars. Tabloids and gossip blogs allow people to track their every movement so anyone can know where a celebrity is on any given day. So it’s like they feel naturally entitled to break into their homes and take their things. It’s treated as blase, and the materialism brings them superficially closer to fame. Coppola is more interested in the frame of mind, specifically the lack of it, that would make one do such things. Being that close to fame, allowing one’s life to be made up entirely out of superficial concerns. And taking the next step.

We might not be like the characters in the film, but it’s indicative of larger fact that many of us obsess over and talk about famous people with a inordinate level of familiarity. And this is something that has certainly blown up with the advent of internet culture. These girls are on the farthest end of the spectrum but the fact of the matter is that a lot of people invest too much time and energy and thoughts into what their favorite famous people are doing or wearing or fucking day in and day out.  Between tabloid culture and real-life shipping within fandom, which I personally find uncomfortable, there are may facets of becoming far too involved with famous people. I see it every day on tumblr and pretty much everywhere else within fan culture. The broader implications aren’t addressed in The Bling Ring, but they certainly exist and the film depicts one extreme example of unwarranted attachment.

These characters are wildly privileged and clearly have zero sense of the concept of earning, of private space or of remorse. Coppola took an interesting approach that I largely admired, staying true to her initial fascination, sacrificing the development of ideas for mere contemplation. It doesn’t make for as great film, but it certainly makes for a good one.

Watching several episodes of ‘Pretty Wild’, the short-lived Alexis Neiers reality show to prep for the film added a wonderfully horrifying layer of context to everything. As a result, Emma Watson saying ‘kitten heels’ had both of us cackling.

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#137. Monsters University (2013, Scanlon)

A riff on the college buddy comedy, Monsters University might not pack the kind of next-level emotional wallop of some of Pixar’s output or have the kind of ambition we crave from them, but this is flat-out the most entertaining film I’ve seen this year. That anyone could have walked out of this unsatisfied boggles my mind. As much as I want to accept and be open to all responses people may have to any given film, ‘soulless snob’ automatically springs to mind in regards to anyone who was impervious to its considerable charms. It’s heartfelt, hilarious and carries a wonderful message on its back. It hits every note it tries to, every joke lands on-target (anyone who lived on a college campus will appreciate a lot of the humor) and Crystal and Goodman lend their top-notch voice work in reviving their Mike and Sully characters. Far exceeded my expectations.