Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #225-234


Playing a bit of catch-up as I’ve fallen behind in transferring these from tumblr to this site but I should be caught up in a couple of days, which means lots of capsule reviews coming your way.

AP FILM REVIEW THE WAY WAY BACK A ENT
225. The Way Way Back (2013, Rash, Faxon)
The Way Way Back gets the awkwardness of teenage male introversion, the kind where simple sentences and basic social interaction is debilitating and near impossible. It’s that time in their lives where some kids struggle to have a personality. BUT! That ends up being the problem, because turns out that our protagonist Duncan is a total blank slate. There is nothing to this character. He has yet to start having any kind of identity and the film tracks the beginning of that change. And so kudos for trying to go past the more put-upon attempts of awkward adolescent characterization. But what makes it all so much worse is the weak script, which is packed from start to finish with cliches that are not supported by much quality or strength. We’ve got the shitty stepdad, the angsty-but-beautiful romantic interest, the carefree male mentor, the summertime job, the kooky side characters, the caring but equally stuck mother, etc. If the film had a stronger script which worked with archetypes instead of lazily playing into them, this could have been a much better film. There is a scene where Duncan has to ask some hip-hop dancers to disburse and the only way they’ll comply is if he dances in front of all the waterpark patrons. It’s a scene that of course ends in applause and a nickname. It is without a doubt one of the worst scenes I’ve seen in a film from any year. The first and last scenes are strong and Carell and particularly Rockwell get a lot of mileage from their characters but this mostly annoyed and grated on me.

The Iceman
#226. The Iceman (2013, Vroman)
So much potential here. A hitman who kills because he likes it, who finds himself having a human connection for the family he helped create. Two ruthless hitmen (the other being Chris Evans) who start out  as competitors and end up a freelance team. There’s a lot to like and Shannon makes the film largely compelling. But it’s too by-the-book, too focused on story when it purports to be a character study, losing sight of itself in the process. The one-scene Franco casting is incredibly useless and distracting. Winona Ryder is unforgivably wasted as ‘the wife’ though she is able to slip in some ambiguity as to what her character may know when she got the chance. It all comes back to what Kuklinski’s family meant to him and how they fit into his life yet they are too often shoved into the background in favor of the more immediately ‘crowd-pleasing’ antics of violent mob politics.

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#227. The Hunt (2013, Vinterberg)
That a film like this is an easy potshot of ‘look how useless people can be’ in a herd mentality scenario doesn’t lessen its impact as heralded by Thomas Vinterberg and powerhouse star Mads Mikkelsen. I had been waiting to see this for quite some time and it did not disappoint. Links back to the director’s seminal Festen by looking at another accusation of sex abuse, this time a decidedly false one. Vinterberg never lets go of his grip on seeing the constant gears of the snowball effect setting up and going into motion. Standard narrative manipulation aside, everything about this feels like an eerily plausible train wreck you can’t stop from happening. Everybody is depicted as well-meaning individuals whose reactions are understandable (Fanny assailants aside) given the circumstances yet still avoidable. It reminded me of Beyond the Hills in that way. It’s one of the more successfully frustrating ‘audience-can’t-reach-out-and-set-things-straight’ experiences. Its study in mob mentality, importantly a mob mentality rooted in genuine search for justice borne out of rightly placed protection, offers no easy answers as it mourns the loss of innocent and pure interactions between adults and children. Those early scenes can’t even exist in their purity because we know what’s coming.

Mikkelsen is really who brings all of this home with his kind and giving character, his respectable stiff upper-lip slowly giving way. That church scene is UNREAL. Some of the best work I’ve seen from him, some of the best work I’ve seen from anyone in a long time. Vinterberg directs assuredly, constantly getting behind the eyes of characters, always tracking those gears. A highlight that comes to mind is the way with absolute clarity we come to understand how Klara comes to her made-up confession. This reminded me that I need to seriously re-watch Festen, a favorite of mine, and also see his supposedly failed English-language efforts which definitely have pockets of appreciators. Its ending is a far more interesting a place to leave off than where the depressing descent of the Danes would leave you to believe we’d land. Also giving really memorable work are Thomas Bo Larsen and young Anika Wedderkopp.

Computer Chess
#228. Computer Chess (2013, Bujalski)
This is actually the only film I’ve seen from ‘mumblecore’ helmer Andrew Bujalski, and it’s an ambitious undertaking. In the simplest of terms it’s a lo-fi analog comedy (but it’s a lot of things, a muted philosophical curio) that sets itself up only to purposely deconstruct at every single turn. It strides off to little side streets, to seek out late-night wanderings. It goes full-on in its public access period piece look, using an old 60’s Sony video camera to catch a flat and fuzzy landscape, ugly and kind of eerie. Bujalski keeps this going with hiccups and a form that defies normal rhythms and expected framing. This is a film that could easily be of one-note existence but Bujalski has so many heady things on his mind and wants to touch on them. Looking back at the pioneers of late 70’s/early 80’s technology who are looking ahead, and not in a nudge-nudge way either. The oddness of the act of computer chess. Possible sentience. Conversations with creations. Cultural movements crossing paths. Getting stuck in filmic loops. Everything is slightly off and it’s hard to put your finger on its brand of off-kilter ‘reality’. It sifts through the steady monotony and looks for real meaning in a gently comedic and deadpan way. It’s sneaky and unexpected, a film that I liked quite a bit even if I don’t have the adoration for it that many do. Wiley Wiggins is just the most.

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#229. No (2013, Larrain)
A wonderful and consistently engaging film on many levels. Fuses form with the visual language at hand. Embraces the absurd humor inherent in the concept of selling democracy to people through advertising language and branding without ever feeling like it side-sweeps what is at stake. Hot diggity all that archival footage is gold. Tells story through assumedly fictional central figure Bernal who strides through the film freely aware that philosophy and political discussion sadly don’t have the market appeal of say, a jingle. The film’s very focus further supports this idea as does its aesthetic low-def 80’s form. Bernal makes his enigma of a cocky wunderkind full stop captivating. So yeah, I really loved this. Brings back vague memories of learning about Chile in my Latin American history class.

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#230. Would You Rather (2013, Levy)
I hope someone remakes this someday because it has a deliciously gruesome concept that is just jackhammered into the ground by a redundantly unimaginative script and some of the worst and clunkiest direction I’ve seen in some time. Levy is at a loss with even simple camera blocking and there’s a jammed wheel-turning to the editing and framing that feels rudimentary. There are also desperate editing techniques that splice in earlier conversations with the present happenings that are meant to keep flow. Still, you’ve got Jeffrey Combs chewing scenery as if his life depended on it and it’s reliably enjoyable to watch him try to single-handedly make up for the entire cast. Oh Sasha Grey. I want to like you but you have maybe six lines and manage to give the worst performance ever with that little. You can tell she had a bigger part but that she’s been edited to shreds in hope to salvage something kind of convincing. But no. I did kind of enjoy Brittany Snow though. But yeah no, this is a big skip.

A Band Called Death
#231. A Band Called Death (2013, Covino and Howlett)
Another doc case of love the subject matter, not the delivery. It’s a more-than-worthy story blandly told. More concerned with surface-level narrative than actually going deep into anything. Which is a shame because deceased brother David seems a tricky figure worth further exploration. Then it spends far too much time on recollections of rediscovery. I don’t need countless people detailing their reaction to hearing this music to know it’s good. The last section is dedicated to that rediscovery and yes, it’s definitely fascinating to see how the internet brings people together and bridges these threads until it gets all the way to Drag City. But full circle with the next-of-kin is a point to hit, not to dwell on to the degree this does. Fabulous and vital music though.

A nos amours
232. À nos amours (1983, Pialat)
The first film by Maurice Pialat I’ve seen. This resonated with me a lot. The way time is handled and depicted reminded me a lot of another recent viewing, Blue is the Warmest Color; in both, time moves at an unacknowledged but somewhat speedy rate. Like a steady speed train through late adolescence filled with exploratory sex and a severe and almost perverse family dysfunction. The whole thing is held in by Bonnaire; resilient, removed, testing the waters, always looking for a way out of whatever the current situation. She is impossibly young here with a wholly distinctive set of features.

The last act and that show-stopper of a dinner scene is the highlight. What rises this above other coming-of-age sex dramas (complete with baby ingenue-of-the-moment) is how Suzanne grappling with who she is and what she wants is equally tied into a domestic situation where surreal hysterics, and other complex forms of familial desire and function, are brought together under one roof. She becomes a scapegoat of blame but is also trying to fill in an emptiness, to prove herself wrong. The brother character is one of the most awful lecherous creatures ever. The scenes between Bonnaire and father (played by the director himself) are particular highlights.

Christmas in July
#233. Christmas in July (1940, Sturges)
Capable of igniting a ‘why don’t they make films like this anymore’ inner monologue. I tend to grapple with Preston Sturges quite a bit but this hit every checkbox of ‘things I enjoy’. Fuck ‘minor’; firing on all cylinders, this breezes by at 67 minutes as ambitious do-gooder Dick Powell is catapulted to false success by a simple prank that inspires reverence in all, simply because an advertising contest supposedly verifies a person’s importance and abilities. There’s quite a bit here about what success is predicated on and how it ties into capitalism and the American Dream. And there’s something striking about the image of a bunch of tired, smoking, arguing white guys pent-up in a meeting room sifting through shitty slogans while 2,947,582 hopefuls wait to hear their fate.

Powell’s slogan is something awful but he’s hedged all his bets on it and we are never allowed to forget it. It’s a zippy, biting riot of a film from start to finish. Powell is excellent but Raymond Walburn is the standout here. His initial conversation with Powell is a HOOT. “I can hardly wait to give you all my money” goes in the Line Deliveries Hall of Fame.

the clock
#234. The Clock (1945, Minnelli)
Proto-Before Sunrise (to be seriously reductive) as made through the studio system. Romance set in an urban landscape where an idealistic but heartfelt depiction of NYC reigns supreme. A city defined by and littered with chance encounters of whirlwind romance and milk runs. Robert Walker and Judy Garland sparkle through their (offscreen) mutually assured destruction. Minnelli’s camera glides through the masses to settle on the meant-to-be pair, further emphasizing how important setting is despite none of the film being shot in NYC.

A couple of the chance encounters fall flat such as Kenneth Wynn’s sloppy drunk and just how honeydew and on-the-nose the milkman and his wife are. And The Clock really loses something when it becomes all about the rush to get married. But it comes back around for a coy morning after sequence that is sexy, sweet, and dialogue-free. The wedding ceremony is an almost comically ugly affair and while my modern eyes wish that Garland’s tears had been about the aftermath of absurd decision-making instead of the makeshift ceremony, that’s nowhere near the kind of film this is, and The Clock remains an infectiously fated romance-drama all the same.

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Top Ten By Year: 1983


March 14th, 2015 edit: Looking back at this list, I’d switch out Local Hero for Star 80 at #10.

My second Top Ten By Year feature took significantly longer than the first. Why? Well between Halloween viewings, a short trip away, and 2013 films creeping up, the last months of the year are a very busy time for film enthusiasts! But here it is!

1983 was a more slippery slope than 1935. For one thing, there were more films to choose from; 20 first-time viewings, 7 re-watches, and 40 films total. The lingering powers of many of 1983’s releases also took me by surprise. I imagine these obvious factors are going to prove a Sophie’s Choice dilemma quite often in future endeavors. I guess what caught me off-guard is that while I wouldn’t think of calling any decade in film a weak one, comparatively I don’t find the 80’s as rich (at least on a scale of quantity) as many other decades.

A balance I always try and strike as a lover of film, especially important to a list I post, is staying loyal to my own taste whilst continuing to develop a keen understanding of what I respond to the most. And something you learn as you watch more and more films, that can’t be overstated, is how important long-term reaction is, even over initial reaction. I like to refer to it as how a film ‘sits with me’, like a heartily digested meal. More intelligent and analytically-minded bloggers/film writers would have this time be about expanding on a film’s purported success or failure. For me, it’s a much more instinctual and intuitive process.

For those unaware, I pick years that are weak for me re: quantity of films seen. I’m using listmaking as a motivation to see more films and revisit others. And I always make sure to point out that my lists are based on ‘favorites’ not any notion of an objective ‘best’. Before embarking on this list I had seen 16 films from 1983, many of which I was not too fond of. It had been a struggle to come up with ten films I felt positively towards. Of course now it’s a different story. The year saw directors making major stylistic and tonal breakthroughs (Scorsese, Reggio, Allen), late career and/or final films from masters (Bresson, Tarkovsky, Fosse), the beginnings and ends of franchises (the Vacation series, Star Wars, Project A, Sleepaway Camp), Stephen King adaptations (The Dead Zone, Christine) and David Bowie (Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, The Hunger)

I’d like to pay tribute to films that didn’t make the cut but have left a palpable impression on me. So here are some that more than earn a mention (many would be likely to show up on anyone else’s list and with good reason). Because as much as this is a ‘top ten’, I’d like to get a broader view of what I took from the collected viewings.

Star 80 (Fosse) in which Eric Roberts gives one of cinema’s great performances, a portrait of sociopathic self-hatred while Bob Fosse caps off his career by looking at the shady line between fame and the endless outskirts.

Sleepaway Camp (Hiltzik) in which the jolts come through in the final shock-moment, otherwise settling in for a campy brand of do-it-yourself non-scares which finds its horror in the impossible-to-navigate waters of puberty and adolescent cruelty. Desiree Gould wins the award for Greatest Bit-Part in a Film Ever.

À nos amours (Pialat), which memorably blends the tropes of the French coming-of-age sexual exploration film with the breakdown and slightly perverse criss-crossing desires of collapsing family dynamics. All anchored by the furrowed brow of ingenue-of-the-then-moment Sandrine Bonnaire.

Mr. Mom (Dragoti), a nostalgic favorite which I’ve seen countless times and still enjoy the hell out of, outdated gender politics aside. Michael Keaton is the most handsome father of all the fathers and manages to make his purely unsympathetic arc unbelievably entertaining. Woobie, Schooner Tuna, “South to drop off moron!”

Nostalghia (Tarkovsky) Often referred to as one of his more austere films, certainly not a place to start with Tarkovsky, but his controlled and painterly compositions of puddles and ruin, of hotel rooms and hallways, of an unresolvable purgatory between place and cultural identity, held me in its grip almost entirely. It is one of a couple of films that just as easily could have made this list.

Pauline at the Beach (Rohmer), my first joyous venture into Rohmer, where romantic bouts reveal a lack of self-awareness and an abundance of pontification in youth.

Biggest Disappointments: 
Silkwood
The Dead Zone
The Dresser
Valley Girl 

Some Blind Spots (films I have not seen and were thus not considered):
The Fourth Man (one of the reasons I chose 1983 and turns out it’s nearly impossible to get ahold of), Entre Nous, The Store, Angst, El Norte, Educating Rita, Ballad of Narayama, House of the Long Shadows, Tender Mercies, Gorky Park, Bad Boys, Rumble Fish, Trading Places, Sugar Cane Alley, El Sur, Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, Streamers

Full List of 1983 Films Seen:
A Nos Amours, Barefoot Gen, The Big Chill, The Boxer’s Omen, A Christmas Story, Christine, The Dead Zone, The Dresser, The Entity, Eureka, First Name: Carmen, The Hunger, The King of Comedy, Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, L’Argent, Local Hero, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Mr. Mom, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Nostalghia, One Deadly Summer, The Outsiders, Pauline at the Beach, Project A, The Right Stuff, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Sans Soliel, Scarface, Silkwood, Sleepaway Camp, Star 80, Terms of Endearment, Three Crowns of the Sailor, Valley Girl, Videodrome, WarGames, Wend Kunni, Zelig

Eureka (1983)
Honorable Mention:

Eureka (1983, Roeg)
There are many other films that should probably get the honorable mention; films I enjoyed more on the whole, that felt far more cohesive, successful and visionary. But when Nicolas Roeg aligns with my sensibilities, he does so in a revelatory way, filling me up with life, shock, and a sense of mysticism. Downhill career trajectory and all, and even with his ‘masterworks’ that didn’t gel for me, he is a favorite of mine. Eureka is bar-none one of the most inconsistent films I’ll ever see. It never comes together the way you want it to; leaden narrative strands topple the whole thing over, Joe Pesci sticks out like a sore thumb, and it’s undercooked for long stretches of time including a courtroom epilogue that refuses to end.

But, to blatantly reference the film, it strikes gold in the most provocative and staggering of places including the opening 20 minutes which ranks among the best that cinema has to offer, period. At its best it comes together as an atypical progression from Citizen Kane on its way towards the eventual existence of There Will Be Blood. Riches leave Gene Hackman a hollow hateful thing surrounded by self-made family dysfunction. It contains perhaps the most horrific onscreen death I’ve ever seen, and no I’m not even talking about the one in the opening sequence. This and a ten-minute bacchanal orgy that smacks of dark sexual chaos are not the easy shock value they may seem. Roeg uses his innovative way of throwing avant-garde sensibilities into narrative film through elliptical editing, creating thought-provoking patterns of imagery which support an nightmarish and off-kilter worldview.

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10. Local Hero (UK, Forsyth)
When I first finished Local Hero, it’s placement here was a sure bet. But as time went on, a lot of what stayed with me were its arguably twee aspects, a kind of preciousness I tend not to take to. I had a similar after-stewing with Frances Ha recently. Despite that, Local Hero makes a memorable connection with its enchanted comforts. It is so odd and disarmingly charming. The village of Ferness is a slightly surreal place where anything feels possible but where said possibilities reveal themselves drolly and without announcement. There is a story, with goals to be achieved, but the film is so relaxed and so loose in the way it soaks in the village and its people that we spend the runtime taking a slow stroll along the beach to our destination. It’s so funny, often in ways that take you by surprise (in every way I’d describe Local Hero as a surprising film) but it’s also quite somber. This film is so many things. I fell for it hard (even though the women are just the perfect unattainable voids of male fantasy) and was glad to be spending my time in this world with these people. Peter Reigert plays the perfect existential rock. Perhaps most enjoyable is Peter Capaldi who, at the tender age of 25, could not be more adorable.

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9. The Boxer’s Omen (Hong Kong, Kuei Chih-Hung)
Hong Kong black magic squish-fest ranks alongside Hausu and Freaked as the pedal-to-the-metal craziest and most demented films I’ve ever seen. Peculiarly, The Boxer’s Omen is extremely over-the-top and silly but gradually accumulates in a deeply unsettling way as it spotlights goo, slime, sludge, ooze and the like in relation to the body. There isn’t a ton of blood in the film (relatively speaking; I mean yes a crocodile gets cut open, its entrails taken out only to be replaced by a mummified woman which they then stitch into the carcass to reanimate it), but the constant fixation on the hard and soft bodily categories of gook and the skeletal gets under the skin after awhile. It recalls an article I once had to read (what it was and what it was for I don’t remember) which discussed these kinds of liquids in relation to the body, mortality, and decay; why these kinds of images get at something indescribable and irreconcilable. The film suffers from a rinse-and-repeat structure but The Boxer’s Omen gets at this notion through bizarre sliminess with its hokey anything-and-I-mean-anything goes credo. And it’s the midnight movie you’ve been looking for. Trust me.

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8. The Right Stuff (USA, Kaufman)
A film that has grown even more in my estimation since watching it weeks ago. There’s a mysterious quality to The Right Stuff; it floats around time, characters, and innovators with the same sense of legend and heroism it wants to examine without ever oversimplifying. Philip Kaufman seemingly packages the film in the conventional model of the rah-rah USA historical film, but it’s really not that at all. It astutely starts in at the roots with the test pilots and with Yeager, who is portrayed as the incomparable forefather of everything that follows.

The Right Stuff looks at the the mythmaking hero by contrasting the idealized and unrecognized sage cowboy with the manufactured boyish build-up and media frenzy (the press are portrayed as a pack of fiendish animals complete with snake hissing and rattling on the soundtrack) of the Mercury Seven (miraculously without actually denigrating the men or their accomplishments). I often found myself amazed by the way it takes on different sections of story, not worrying so much how it relates to the rest but concentrating all energy on making said section seem front-and-center. I think of, for example, how much time is spent on the testing for Mercury Seven candidates. The sequence is treated as its own entity, seemingly without the before or after in sight (of course it is), so you get distinctly wrapped up in each portion on its own terms. So during the testing section, while there a concentration on the ongoing theme of the childish one-uppmanship between comrades, there is also a vignette-like dynamic between Dennis Quaid and the cold nurse in charge of testing. It bears no storytelling drive to anything but itself, and for those ten minutes it becomes the entirety of content within the film. And this is a wonderful thing.

I’ve come to realize that nobody does vulnerability better than Dennis Quaid in his heyday. Or at least what I pick up on as vulnerability. His hotdog hotshot persona and endless face-covering smile, whether in roles squeaky-clean or rough around the edges, belies an open heart I often find myself extremely moved by. I’ve come to think this is because in a weird way I see him as a completely transformed and idealized version of my father, so it really all ties back into this loaded personal connection. See also; Breaking Away. Those last moments with Quaid are majestically earned.

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7. A Christmas Story (1983, Clark)
I am one of those who have had A Christmas Story in my life for the whole of time. Someone who has seen it in numbers that likely approach the 300’s and could probably replay the entire film in my head with moderate accuracy. Someone whose family consumes it with either complacent loyalty or never-gets-old fervor. I’m firmly in the complacent loyalty camp. There are some films that are early favorites which you move on from and some you never ever will. A Christmas Story is somewhere in the middle and its yearly endless consumption makes it a unique case. It offers no new pleasures but its old pleasures are a comfort even in their mild staleness, a staleness which, to be fair, would come with most films viewed this many times. It’s about wistfully recounting childhood from the perspective of adulthood. But what makes it special is that Ralphie rarely narrates the film with an all-knowing removed perspective. He recounts it in-the-moment, as if it is something that, hilariously florid looking-back prose aside, he is experiencing all over again. What makes it such a relatable tale of childhood nostalgia is that it’s growing and overexposed status in pop-culture means that Ralphie’s childhood, in essence, became part of ours in the long-run. And that is something I’ll cherish forever.

barefoot gen

6. Barefoot Gen (Japan, Mori Masaki)
In a simplistic effort to express just how crushingly agonizing the experience of Barefoot Gen is, I say that it makes the much more oft-cited WWII-from-a-child’s-perspective anime Grave of the Fireflies look like a relaxing stroll through the park. I’m only half kidding. I remember watching this for an Anime class I took and being bowled over by the sweep of decimation and its hot-and-cold depiction of the bombing of Hiroshima. Based on a manga series, it’s a film that deserves to be much more widely known than it is. And what’s more, the source material is based off author Keiji Nakasawa’s actual experience as a child who went through Hiroshima, losing almost all of his family and left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of atrocity.

Barefoot Gen employs a cold fact-based narration from the skies where everything looks removed and small, only to cut in as deep as deep goes. Only the art of animation and illustration can create the kind of expressionistic horror needed to convey such unspeakable events. And unflinching only begins to cover the melting zombie world of decay, darkness, emaciation and loss that Barefoot Gen conveys. It starts out as a touching drama of a struggling family with characters who are able to find moments of joy and wonder with each other as they scrape by. Once the bomb drops, the film, as well as the characters, work their way to sustained survival through unity under impossible circumstances. Each little victory comes at a further price, and it ends on a heartbreaking note that pays respects to those lost while looking towards a persevering future. The film is a singular one; it leaves me shaken and mortified, overwhelmed and moved in a way few films have done.

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5. Terms of Endearment (USA, Brooks)
To me, Terms of Endearment represents the ideal American middlebrow film. I remember when I first saw it, back in high school days during a “Tearjerker Marathon” I was having with my best friend, and how struck I was by its entirety. It may get the ‘tearjerker’ label, but those developments only appear in the last 45 minutes. I was unprepared for its uncommon liveliness, its well-observed humor, and the fact that it passes briskly thorough life with such ease that its third act never feels worked toward. Like in life, Winger’s diagnosis comes out of nowhere, like the film itself is completely caught off-guard by it.

Before that, it’s about a mother and daughter going separate ways, falling into the same old traps of life, and some new ones too. James L. Brooks’ adaptation of Larry McMurty’s novel never shows constrains of story; it feels like we are watching life itself. A lot of this goes to the tone which shifts from wry comedy to just-enough sentiment to brushes of melodrama with ease. And a lot of this goes to the performances which all feel beautifully lived-in. The developing relationship between Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson is a favorite; his prime-past astronaut Lothario is the perfect foil for Aurora Greenway; I can’t even think of them without smiling. Speaking of perfect, that final moment, which in a lesser film would have been hitched up another fatal notch, epitomizes the unexpected ways people can come through for you the times one needs it most. Last but not least, it lives up to that tearjerker status as far as a tear count is concerned; I’ve seen it twice and I was in a puddle of my own sobs by the time it was over.

Christine

4. Christine (USA, Carpenter)
Without a doubt the biggest surprise of 1983, one of the biggest surprises of the entirety of my 2013 viewing (as its placement reflects). Christine is not a film I ever had much of an interest in seeing outside of the fact that John Carpenter was at the helm. A killer car movie? No thanks. Color me shocked; I fucking love Christine. It isn’t one of John Carpenter’s most acclaimed works and yet it seems to have become my personal favorite from him.

Christine accomplishes the seemingly impossible in that it plays its ridiculous concept relatively straight. Carpenter seems to think he took the film lightly, but I don’t see it that way at all. Apparently in the book, the spirit of the car’s previous owner is attached to it, explaining its power. Screenwriter Bill Phillips audaciously gets rid of that entire notion, suggesting in the first scene that the car was born evil. This abstraction is not only far more interesting, but it allows for Carpenter and Keith Gordon to push the presence of a sexual connection between Artie and the car, an idea that is pushed just enough and is anything but laughable; it’s completely fucked up and goddamn entrancing. In that way it also bears a similarity to the next film on my list. That moment (and music cue) when Artie says “Show me” leaves me speechless.

Christine is a horror film based in its characters. It’s about friendship, feeling out of place, change, the more frightening aspects of adolescence, and the wedges that can be driven between friends. And the performances are spot-on. Keith Gordon plays up his initial nerdiness making his transformation that much more jarring. I immediately became enamored of John Stockwell’s endearing Dennis. Their friendship grounds the film, a pair cemented in a loyalty and unlikeliness that it smartly never comments on.

Carpenter’s use of Panavision is full of expert touches and his music cues are consistently effective. His camera is touchingly lyrical, roaming at the perfect moments. Dennis seeing Artie and Leigh at the football game is a favorite (plus again with that music cue placement! That entire scene is moviemaking kismet). And the use of 50’s and 60’s rock n’ roll is creepily trance-like. You guys; I love pretty much everything about this, clearly to the point of unbridled gushing.

Videodrome

3. Videodrome (1983, Cronenberg)
There’s a prescience at play in Videodrome and its concerns with TV, media, and the trafficking of images that is completely rooted in of-the-moment 80’s technology. David Cronenberg is one of my favorite directors and this is my second favorite film from him (behind Dead Ringers, a veritable masterpiece). It stays true to the director’s fixation on practical effects for visual metaphor and a decidedly 80’s brand of genre storytelling. It’s all about sex and hardware and the perversities of each; it reminds me of Crash in that way. It has a funky little combination of being plot-driven but making little sense; it reminds me a bit of The Big Sleep in that way. When does video influence, with its beaming streams of image, penetrate in a literal way? Hallucination and reality become one. Flesh and hardware become one. It all becomes interchangeable.

In Videodrome, influence and possibly subliminal power reach a peak when combining sex and violence. This is TV as catharsis, ultimate power, communicator, and mirror. Max Renn becomes an assassin for both sides, losing control of his body. A VHS tape and gun get put inside of a vaginal opening on Renn’s stomach. The TV throbs and has the ability to respond with sensuality. Videodrome combines body horror in a new and inventive way by having transformation, interactive brainwashing, and sex run both ways, meeting in an uncertain messy middle. This is something that really resonated with me. What is our ultimate relationship with images in a box, in this case a sexual and sentient box with fleshy insides? 2 years before David Cronenberg pushed body horror as far as it could go on both a physical and emotional level with The Fly, he uses Rick Baker’s unforgettable work to envision a frightening upside-down world where TVs and tapes are made flesh and where people are drones – transmitted beings with a purpose and cause undecided by themselves.

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2. The King of Comedy (USA, Scorsese)
This had been a major blind spot for quite some time and I couldn’t be happier now that I’ve finally seen it. 80’s Scorsese is without a doubt my favorite Scorsese era. Anything dealing with celebrity/fame obsession tends to read as more perceptive today no matter when it was made and the same goes for The King of Comedy. A satire shot with a decidedly restrained camera for the filmmaker, all the more emphasizing its dark tone. Nothing should distract from making us feel De Niro’s performance as Rupert Pupkin, a beaming open wound unwilling and/or incapable of touching ground for even a second. Similar to some other De Niro performances in its extremity, but fueled for entirely new purposes, he is relentless here, making sure the audience feels as uncomfortable as possible. Scorsese glues reality and fantasy together with a matter-of-fact fluidity, making that final scene all the more ambiguous.

Sandra Bernhard is to die for. Her scenes with Pupkin were particularly enjoyable as they play two delusional fanatics sparring with each other in the streets of NYC. There are so many quotable moments, so many unsettling undercurrents. It’s a mix of unease, sorrow, truth, and desperation. These sort of anomalies within Scorsese’s filmography are the ones I find myself most attracted to as years go buy. And this is a new favorite.

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1. Sans Soleil (France, Marker)
Like 1935, there was never any doubt what my #1 would be; in this case, the indescribable Sans Soleil. I lack the capabilities to describe this film so I’ll resort to a short spout of hyperbole supported by urging anyone who hasn’t seen it to seek it out immediately. It’s one of the few films I’ve seen that feels life-altering in some vague sense, in that it gives you the tools to momentarily see the world around us differently, with unique voice and insight. It’s not a documentary and it’s not a narrative. It’s rather a new blended form of filmic essay and of intimate observational prose, combining Marker’s (at least the majority of footage) otherworldly travelogue under the guise of a ‘fictional’ narrator with philosophical musings.

As we switch back-and-forth mainly between Japan and Guinea-Bissau with side-trips to other locations, we are asked to think about memory, experience, the imprints of time, cultural tradition and ritual from a poetic perspective. Like Videodrome, it fixates on the effect of the TV image in both content and consumption; but it’s also seen as another world where image becomes stripped synthesized abstraction. Sans Soleil is unlike anything else, at once grounded in cultural ritual but drawn to technical innovation, all wrapped up in a singular package that feels real and surreal and contemplative in the richest and most spellbinding of ways.

Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #189-202


Lots of horror films in this latest chunk as my (and many other fellow film freaks) seasonal Halloween viewings come to a close. Tragic, I know. Another year where I’m reminded that October is my favorite time of the year, not just for that transition into the autumnal bliss that is late-year New England, but because everyone in the online film community is watching, considering, and discussing horror films with the consideration and passion the genre deserves.

This Is the End
#189. This Is the End (2013, Rogen & Goldberg
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Completely outlandish in its very existence, this is self-indulgence done largely right, a grand scale look at the raunchy things that amuse these actors. It’s also very much about their relationship to fame and friendship. Unsurprisingly, this was not a film I was looking forward to (though I actually really like Seth Rogen and most of these guys for that matter), because as if we need more of this kind of exclusively male club of comedy. It sold me because these guys know how to construct, depict, and exploit their own dynamic for laughs. It even uses an Emma Watson cameo to boldly reveal just why there is no room for women within the group (hint: they can’t see past their own vanity) Simply put, I laughed harder during this than any film I’ve seen in a long time. But it crumbles to pieces in the final third. From stellar set-up to entertaining down-time, the last third goes into spectacle mode, drowning out any of its humanistic remnats with bawdy effects-driven broadness. I don’t like spectacle-driven comedy so unfortunately Rogen & Goldberg’s experiment in meta-examination crosses the finish line in overblown fashion.

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#190. Opera (1987, Argento)
Features some of the most memorable kill scenes in any horror film I’ve seen, made further abrasive through its unconventional use of metal to contrast a soundtrack otherwise filled with opera. One moment in particular, a gunshot through a keyhole, reaches a state of rare brutal divinity that left me beside myself. Notable for the way Argento reaches into his more experimental side, (about half this film is a playful and genuine accomplishment about the act of seeing) unfortunately leaving the lame non-stories that often accompany giallo on fuller-than-normal display.

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#191. The Boxer’s Omen (1983, Chin-Hung Kuei)
Hong Kong horror that ranks alongside Hausu and Freaked as the full-stop craziest and most demented films I’ve ever seen. Absolutely loved this because it attains a very peculiar level of being at once extremely over-the-top and silly but also deeply unsettling in the way it spotlights goo, slime, sludge, ooze and the like in relation to the body. There isn’t a ton of blood in The Boxer’s Omen (relatively speaking; I mean yes a crocodile gets cut open, its entrails taken out only to be replaced by a mummified woman which they then stitch into the carcass to reanimate it), but the constant fixation on gook, and then the skeletal, in relation to the body really gets under the skin after awhile. It recalls of an article I once had to read (for what I don’t remember) which discussed these kinds of liquids in relation to the body, mortality, and decay; why these kinds of images get at something indescribable and irreconcilable. In its truly out-there and awesome way, The Boxer’s Omen gets at this with its hokey anything-and-I-mean-anything goes credo.

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#192. Magic Magic (2013, Silva)
Deserving of far more than its unfortunate direct-to-DVD fate, Chilean director Sebastian Silva makes an uncomfortable fray into mental collapse. It toes the line between treating Temple’s mental illness as such, staying true to her experience without embellishing too much for genre convention. What I love about Magic Magic is the way that it depicts the group of young people she is surrounded by as assholes. Her experience of them is paranoiac and completely different, and yet the components are all there; her initial isolation justifiably felt. The way Silva balances the social aspect of these off-putting folk and the way Juno Temple (in a fucking great piece of acting) distorts her mindset in relation to them is a different kind of subtle concoction than I’m used to seeing. Michael Cera performance is genuinely creepy-crawly. His natural ineffectual awkwardness is tilted left-of-center for an extremely unsettling character named Brink who seems at the start like he is either one extremely annoying/creepy individual or an outright sociopath. He makes the performance extremely naturalistic and seemingly on-the-fly which is what makes it so effective. But the last third takes a completely nosedive and undoes most of what came before for a blunt and distancing climax that is thrown in with all sense of control removed from every character, not just Temple, resulting in most interest lost. It’s a shame because the first two-thirds features some really strong material, acting, and dynamics through atmosphere and subjectivity created by Silva and Christopher Doyle.

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#193. Valley Girl (1983, Coolidge)
I was so hoping to love Valley Girl, but I didn’t even like it. It really all boils down to the fact that there was nothing for me to grasp onto, even in a superficial sense. Except for E.G Daily who should have been in every 80s teen film ever. I expect more craziness from an early Nic Cage performance. Peggy Sue Got Married clearly spoiled me on that front. The soundtrack is great and I find it compelling as a cultural touchstone (was the ‘valley girl’ subculture widespread at this point? still regional? It also seems to both occupy an exaggerated stereotypical space as well as a fairly grounded one) but this was uninteresting in its vapidity.

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#194. Zelig (1983, Allen)
A delightful yet somber high concept anomaly from Allen that pushes its themes of neurosis and Jewish identity completely outside of the box. It may deal with ideas of cultural assimilation but that wanting to fit in urge makes it universally relatable. It’s a curious piece of work; not one I fell head over heels for, but one I spent most of my time admiring.

The technical achievement of Zelig is, well, to be facetious, fuck Gravity. I’m going to spend my time being in awe of what Allen accomplished 30 years ago. He and cinematographer Gordon Willis spent years perfecting a wide variety of techniques getting the newsreel period footage to look accurate from the cameras they used, bluescreen technology, applying damage, etc. It’s absolutely seamless. On a final note, Mia Farrow channeling Liv Ullman is just a lovely thing.

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#195. Gothic (1986, Russell)
Gothic never comes together as a compellingly over-the-top take on what inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein during her famed stay in Geneva but it does scar you in the way logic quickly disappears from the evening, replaced by Freudian fears and imagery which feel inescapable. There are a lot of images that are going to stay with me from Gothic, none more than the entirety of Timothy Spall as Dr. John Polidori in a feverishly repressed performance that becomes more and more revealingly skinned.

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#196. The Dresser (1983, Yates)
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen two more exhausting performances in a film. And I don’t mean this in a good way. The craft of the work is impressive in a sense, with Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay getting double lead actor nods at that year’s Oscars. But both are dialed up to ‘11’ from start to finish. This is ACTING in the most thespian of manners with both playing to the nosebleed sections at all times. It makes for an ineffectively abrasive experience with side effects that include not being able to hear myself think and an inability to appreciate the macabre tone of the piece and the meat of the story. They feed off each other and the basic components of storytelling such as dialogue, direction, and build-up so all that is eventually left is a collection of raving, screaming, hand-wringing, crying, and ineffectual mannerisms.

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#197. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984, Zito)
Surprisingly enjoyable, especially considering I don’t care for this franchise at all. Basically it comes down to Crispin ‘dead fuck’ Glover, whose presence elevates every single scene with the group of teenagers to something damn near holy. I also greatly enjoyed Corey Feldman and his origin story-of-sorts as well as the family unit in general, all of which makes for a relatively fun slasher.

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#198. From Beyond (1986, Gordon)
Say hello to one of my new favorite films because From Beyond is kind of the greatest. A follow-up to Re-Animator with outrageously disgusting (and thus awesome) practical effects work, a purple-pink color scheme you won’t soon forget, the perfect lead trifecta of Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Ken Foree and so much more. These are the kinds of films we have to cherish because they don’t really exist in this particular combination anymore. You feel the work and the personal touch amidst and within the way the story’s limits are pushed on. It is at once ridiculous yet darker in tone than Re-Animator. I love the Combs/Crampton role reversal and the ways in which each embody their characters. Lastly, the ending is a perfect moment to close on, one of a series of stellar endings in the horror films I’ve been watching lately. Basically, yes to everything about From Beyond.

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#199. Asylum (1972, Baker)
Silly anthology film with an absurd, and thus fantastic, framing story. Most of the vignettes are flat and undercooked and at least one is outright boring (despite the presence of Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland). However, there is something to latch onto for each segment whether the crinkly sound of a head wrapped in paper, the empathy Peter Cushing is able to bring to anything, or Herbert Lom’s army of automatons.

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#200. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982, Wallace)
One of those horror films that seems like it would improve exponentially in a crowd setting. I really love Carpenter’s idea about making Halloween an anthology franchise. It’s something that should have been implemented right after the first one. I’m weirdly fond of this even though I can’t say I liked it all that much as a whole. The leads are laughably miscast (oh Atkins and your manly man ways) and there are whole sections that fail to stir the imagination or even the basic attention a film asks of a viewer. But then there is a moment or a shot that would take me by genuine surprise every fifteen minutes or so. These bursts of creative or, at the very least, violent flair uprooted me enough to feel oddly fond of it. It is completely removed from the rest of the franchise with a Twilight Zone-esque story that is deceptively offbeat. Its best moments genuinely fucked with my head and it ends on an impossibly high note, a horror movie capper for the ages, that I walked away from it giddy, severe warts and all.

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#201. The Right Stuff (1983, Kaufman)
Looks at the the mythmaking hero by contrasting the idealized and unrecognized sage cowboy with the manufactured boyish build-up and media frenzy (the press are portrayed as a pack of fiendish animals complete with snake hissing and rattling on the soundtrack) of the Mercury Seven (miraculously without actually denigrating the men or their accomplishments). It takes a conventional model of the rah-rah USA historical film and does something very astute with it.

This is a surprising film in so many ways. I often found myself amazed by the way it takes on different sections of story, not worrying so much how it relates to the rest but concentrating all energy on making the section at hand seem front-and-center. I think of, for example, how much time we spent on the testing done for all Mercury Seven candidates. This section is treated as its own entity seemingly without the before or after in sight (of course it is), so you get distinctly wrapped up in each portion on its own terms. So during the testing section, while there a concentration on the ongoing theme of the childish one-uppmanship between comrades, there is also a vignette-like dynamic between Dennis Quaid and the cold nurse in charge of testing. It bears no storytelling drive to anything but itself, and for those ten minutes it becomes the entirety of content within the film. That’s just one of the many reasons and examples on why The Right Stuff gathers impact as it accumulates history, moments, and the idea of myth within American history. It smartly starts at the roots, with the test pilots and with Yeager, portrayed as incomparable forefather of everything that follows.

I’ve come to realize that nobody does vulnerability better than Dennis Quaid in his heyday. His hotdog hotshot persona and endless smile, whether in roles squeaky-clean or rough around the edges, belies an open heart I often find myself extremely moved by. See also; Breaking Away.

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#202. In the Mouth of Madness (1994, Carpenter)
Truly the most inescapable fictional scenario of them all. There are many ways to interpret this film, because its events are so tenuous and loopy. But I took it as the meta-trap it presents as the very non-existent reality. Characters have no agency in the sense of their fiction and creation. In the Mouth of Madness throws this in the mix which is an inescapable mind warp for everyone involved. Carpenter filters his deceptively simple methods into something increasingly unnerving. It has stuck with me really well and the end (completing my streak in incredible endings) is one of the best ever. Ever. EVER.

List: Top 30 Fall Films to See (September-December)


We are two weeks into the Fall Movie Season; that lovely time of year when theaters are crowded with anticipated releases big and small. I have to admit that there are not a ton of films I’m dying to see these last several months of the year. My Top 30 is a strong group indeed, but this is the first year in a long time where I didn’t have about 45 films clamming for a spot on the Top 30. To put it simply, several of the bigger fall releases I’m feeling ambivalent towards. These include Flight, Promised Land, The Impossible, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Hyde Park on Hudson and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I’m really looking forward to On the Road, Therese Raquin, Skyfall, Frankenweenie, Detropia, This is 40 and The Sessions but not enough to earn them a spot on the list.

If all of those highly anticipated films do not appear on this list, the question begs; what does? These are the 30 films I am most looking forward to. What are yours?

30. Barbara (Germany)
Synopsis: A doctor working in 1980s East Germany finds herself banished to a small country hospital.

Germany’s official submission for this year’s Oscars. I have yet to see a film directed by Christian Petzhold although I always meant to see Jerichow. I’m always going to be a sucker for films set in East Germany.

29. Lincoln
Synopsis:
As the Civil War nears its end, President Abraham Lincoln clashes with members of his cabinet over the issue of abolishing slavery.

The recently released trailer for Lincoln felt admittedly stuffy and anticlimactic. But I have faith in this film, despite the actors playing historical dress-up vibe and not caring about Spielberg’s 2011 one-two punch of War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin. But look at this cast! Look at it! Daniel Day-Lewis appears in one film every few years, so any opportunity to see him on screen must be seized immediately. Especially since his last film role was the start-to-finish miscalculation known as Nine.

28. Dredd 3D
Synopsis:
In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.

Out of nowhere, Dredd 3D is getting really solid notices. Like, ridiculously solid review. In a world where the film industry deals in remakes and comic book adaptations as a daily ritual, I don’t think anyone had this on their radar. For the countless middling forgettable release and anticipatory disappointments, there aren’t as many ‘where did this come from’ surprises. Alex Garland wrote the screenplay, whose credits include Never Let Me Go, Sunshine and 28 Days Later. Color me intrigued. But if the notices are to be believed, this is more than worth checking out.

Bonus: Olivia Thirlby sporting blonde hair while kicking ass and taking names.

27. Sister (France)
Synopsis: A drama set at a Swiss ski resort and centered on a boy who supports his sister by stealing from wealthy guests.

This sibling drama doesn’t seem to fit too comfortably into any easy box (outside of the aforementioned ‘sibling drama’) which is what draws me to it.  Lea Seydoux continues to stamp her presence as a French arthouse bombshell with her second release of the year after Farewell, My Queen.

26. Smashed
Synopsis: A married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of alcohol gets their relationship put to the test when the wife decides to get sober.

I have had my eye on Mary Elizabeth Winstead for a while now. Forget Scott Pilgrim. We’re talking the days of Final Destination 3, Death Proof and Black Christmas. Yes that’s right; Black Christmas. Last year she got a starring role in the remake of The Thing, walking away with all of her dignity in a film as forgettable and rote as they come. I think what most people are excited about in regards to Smashed, is Winstead finally gets a chance to show us what she’s got. And by all accounts, it was worth the wait.

Bonus: Aaron Paul, people. Aaron Paul. Aaron Paul: that is all.

25. How to Survive a Plague
Synopsis: The story of two coalitions — ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) — whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.

This documentary has the subject matter and the kind of upcoming exposure to really get some attention. It looks like the type of inspiring impassioned history lesson that I look for in this type of doc.

24. Killing Them Softly
Synopsis: Jackie Cogan is a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game.

I have to admit that the trailer for this left me really underwhelmed and relatively uninterested in the story. However, the pairing of director Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt has me salivating for this. Considering that The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is in my top 10 of the 2000’s, you best believe this earned a spot.

23. Argo
Synopsis: As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.

Ben Affleck’s first two films managed to impress me enough without bowling me over. But it’s clear the man’s got a sure and efficient directorial hand. The cast, the based on a true story concept and 70’s period detail are all promising, not to mention its warm reception on the festival circuit.

22. Zero Dark Thirty
Synopsis: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osams Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy SEAL Team 6 in May, 2011.

Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker, chronicling the hunt and kill of Osama Bin Laden. I can’t wait to see how the film depicts its subject matter and how functionally rooted in factual reconstruction it is.

21. The Other Dream Team
Synopsis: The incredible story of the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team, whose athletes struggled under Soviet rule, became symbols of Lithuania’s independence movement, and – with help from the Grateful Dead – triumphed at the Barcelona Olympics.

Been hearing a lot about this documentary (one of only 3 on this list since the majority of documentaries come out during the Spring and Summer months). This is a truly fascinating subject, ripe for potential exploration, and it looks genuinely educational and uplifting to boot.

20. Sleep Tight (Spain)
Synopsis: An embittered concierge at a Barcelona apartment building plots to make one happy-go-lucky resident completely miserable in this psychological thriller from [REC] and [REC 2] co-screenwriter/co-director Jaume Balaguero.

I feel pretty confident that this is going to be a reliable, solid slice of horror. It looks like the kind of low-key, suspense ratcheting creepfest that focuses on its antagonist over other characters. And Spanish directors certainly know how to deliver the scares: The Orphanage, The Devil’s Backbone, REC, The Others and last year’s The Last Circus to name a few obvious examples.

19. V/H/S (seen)
Synopsis: When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for.

I’ve already seen this one but this is where it would have been placed. Horror anthologies are always worth a watch and these directors take the stylistic experimentation that videotapes inherently offer, with its glitchy worn-down visuals and static white noise, and channel it through the possibilities of the genre. That alone makes this worth watching. For all the mediocrity of the stories themselves and the fevered gender-based discussion it has incited, V/H/S has a DIY aesthetic that makes its mark.

18. Keep the Lights On
Synopsis: In Manhattan, filmmaker Erik bonds with closeted lawyer Paul after a fling. As their relationship becomes one fueled by highs, lows, and dysfunctional patterns, Erik struggles to negotiate his own boundaries while being true to himself.

This looks emotional and moving with strong lead performances. It has been impressing audiences since Sundance.

17. Bachelorette (seen)
Synopsis: Three friends are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman they used to ridicule back in high school.

Another film on the list I have already seen, this is where Leslye Headland’s self-adapted mean streak of a comedy would have been placed.

16. Sinister
Synopsis: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

Since premiering at SXSW in March, I have heard nothing but good things about this one. Good horror films that get wide releases are far and few between, but this looks like it will garner Insidious levels of attention with the buzz I’ve been hearing.

15. Silver Linings Playbook
Synopsis: After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

Winning the Audience Award at Toronto today is a huge signifier as to how this film will be received. The trailer didn’t do much to impress, looking too by-the-book with empty quirk thrown in. But all signs point to David O. Russell having a huge hit on his hands post-The Fighter. Russell is one of my favorite directors working today so I cannot wait to see him working in the comedic realm again.

14. Girl Model
Synopsis: A documentary on the modeling industry’s ‘supply chain’ between Siberia, Japan, and the U.S., told through the experiences of the scouts, agencies, and a 13-year-old model.

The second of two documentaries on this list, Girl Model looks like a chilling and illuminating look at the international modeling industry.

13. Seven Psychopaths
Synopsis:
A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.

Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges reunites him with Colin Farrell as well as Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell, both of whom starred in his play “A Beheading in Spokane”. McDonagh a master of the kind of dialogue that knows it’s clever, a Snatch-like trait that I usually veer towards not liking. Somehow he pulls this style off with aplomb and if it’s anywhere near as good as In Bruges, we are in for a treat. Oh, and Tom Waits people. Tom. Waits.

12. Wreck-It-Ralph
Summary: A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.

This is the only children’s film I really can’t wait to see this Fall. The trailer had me full-on cracking up in a way no trailer has in ages and it has got a golden goose of a high concept. Add in the voice work of John C. Reilly at the helm and the smorgasbord of video game references and this looks like a guaranteed winner.

11. Looper
Synopsis: In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.

A brainy sci-fi headed by Rian Johnson? The amount of hype going into this one is considerable, but it looks like it will live up to expectations. I’m a huge fan of Brick and Johnson has directed two of the best “Breaking Bad” episodes in existence (“Fly” and “Fifty-One” respectively). So to see him get the opportunity to headline a considerably mounted genre film with its own world and rules is sure to impress. It is already well on its way to its own spot in the pantheon of great sci-fi flicks.

10. Wuthering Heights (Seen)
Synopsis: A poor boy of unknown origins is rescued from poverty and taken in by the Earnshaw family where he develops an intense relationship with his young foster sister, Cathy. Based on the classic novel by Emily Bronte.

I got the opportunity to see this at the Independent Film Festival of Boston and this is where Andrea Arnold’s adaptation would have been placed had I not seen it. It would have been one of my favorite 2012 films had the last hour not been entirely unbearable. Here is my review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/review-wuthering-heights-2012-arnold-iffboston-2012/

9. Django Unchained
Synopsis: With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

I realize that it looks like Quentin Tarantino’s latest gets a pretty low spot. Surely this is Top 5 material, right? Well, while I’m sure this is going to be fantastic, I’m also feeling ready for the director to do something else besides revenge across different genres. But this promises memorable characters, references galore and the type of crackling two-person dialogue scenes we love from him. I think I’m most interested to see how Leonardo DiCaprio fares in one of the auteur’s films and as a villain at that. It’s a much-needed and refreshing step out of his comfort zone.

8. Perks of Being a Wallflower
Synopsis: An introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world.

I’ve had high hopes, really high hopes for this, for a long long time. A lot of us have been waiting forever to see if Stephen Chbosky seminal coming-of-age novel was ever going to be adapted, and lo and behold, the day is almost upon us. It has a remarkable trio of actors in the lead roles. I am particularly amped for Ezra Miller, who quickly climbed his way onto my list of favorite young actors. There hasn’t been a memorable high school flick in a while. And this soundtrack, which takes from the book, is to die for. To. Die. For. The fact that Galaxie 500’s “Tugboat” is going to be in this film is a fact that single-handedly earns ‘Perks’ a spot on the list.

7. A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Synopsis: A young queen, who is married to an insane king, falls secretly in love with her physician – and together they start a revolution that changes a nation forever.

This is shaping up to be a great year for Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. He won Best Actor at Cannes for The Hunt (which will hopefully get a Spring release for 2013), he is set to star in a TV series as Hannibal Lecter and he received excellent notices in the very well-received historical drama A Royal Affair. This looks like an intriguing much better-than-average historical drama that is right up my alley. It also stars Alicia Vikander, a young actress to watch out for who also will appear in Anna Karenina.

6. Rust and Bone (France)
Synopsis: Put in charge of his young son, Ali leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Ali’s bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.

This being the latest from Jacques Audiard (A Prophet and Read My Lips) with a reportedly stellar lead performance by Marion Cotillard gives this a very high anticipatory spot. Cotillard has been relegated to pretty thankless roles since catapulting to the Hollywood A-List. It’ll be nice to see her in a meaty lead once again.

5. Holy Motors (France)
Synopsis: From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man…

All I heard during this year’s Cannes coverage was Holy Motors, Holy Motors, Holy Motors (well, that and a certain other film to appear on this list shortly). By all accounts, this is a surreal whackadoo head trip in the best way possible. It seems well on its way to earning a cult status and I intend on checking it out the moment it comes near me.

4. Cloud Atlas
Synopsis: An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

What will likely be the most divisive film to come out this season, I for one am counting down the days until this film gets released. The 6-minute trailer is a thing of beauty, bringing tears to my hypersensitive eyes. We can attribute a lot of this to the inspired use of M83’s brilliant “Outro”.  And I am over halfway through David Mitchell’s novel as we speak.

The way I see it, whether the film turns out to be a disaster or a triumph (or both at the same time), these filmmakers are going for it. The Wackowski’s and Tom Tykwer have together tackled what is widely thought to be an unadaptable novel (more so than most novels given the unadaptable label). It’s weaving six stories in one film, all in different time periods, with the same actors with the tired old theme of interconnectedness. No matter what the outcome, the film will be discussed for years to come. Without having seen it and going on gut instinct, it feels like the type of film that will possibly be reassessed for the positive as decades pass. As you can see, I’m preparing myself for the bashing to come. I can already see that Cloud Atlas is going to bring out the worst in the blogosphere, Prometheus-style. But no matter what the outcome, this is going to be an ambitious, epic and challenging work that nobody can fully write off. It may end up becoming a flop, but it sure as hell will go down swinging.

Ridiculous Bonus: Bae Doona, one of my very favorite actresses working today is going to get some serious international exposure here as Sonmi-451.

3. Amour (Austria)
Synopsis: Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple’s bond of love is severely tested.

New Micheal Haneke. That not enough for you? It won the Palme D’Or. That still not enough for you? Haneke regular, and my favorite actress, Isabelle Huppert appears. Want more? This is Haneke doing a tearjerker about the elderly with two lead performances that supposedly devastate. My common sense tells me that Amour is going to stomp out my soul. Part of me has been mentally preparing myself for this film since this year’s Cannes.

2. Anna Karenina
Synopsis: Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.

Another film that is sure to divide. Joe Wright’s decision to set the Tolstoy adaptation on a stage and to use theatrical stylization is sure to distract some. But frankly, if all we are left with are the visuals evident in the trailer, this will still likely land a spot on my favorites for the year. The costumes, production design and overall look of the trailer is sickening. Joe Wright is one of my favorite directors working today. He pushes himself into challenging and creative directions that breathe new life into familiar tales. Wright reteaming with Keira Knightley, surely one of modern cinema’s most rewarding director/star collaborations, is always thrilling. The way his camera illuminates this woman (who is already stunning to begin with) is beyond my ability to comprehend. We’ve got a screenplay by the great Tom Stoppard, cinematography by the great Seamus McGarvey, music by the great Dario Marianelli and costume design by the great Jacqueline Durran. So basically what it comes down to is that lots of great people are involved in this. I plan on reading this monster of a novel before the film comes out. Now that’s anticipation for you.

1. The Master
Synopsis: A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future – until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.

I honestly feel like I don’t even need to put reasons here. It’s at the top of everyone’s list. Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite working director. It’s been 5 years since his last film. This was very close to not getting financed. It’s a near miracle we even get to see this. His films engage me more than any other director. They make me feel things that are unrepeatable, unfamiliar and challenging. His films are dense, complex, elusive, pretentious and indefinably uncomfortable.  I live for his films. And on Friday I will finally be seeing his latest in 70mm. Oh, and welcome back to Joaquin Phoenix. It’s been too long. And if the trailers are any indication, this performance is one for the books.