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.)

Blancanieves

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

Top of the Lake

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

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List: Top Fives of 2013 (in which I dole out a boatload of superlatives)


Welcome to the 3rd annual Cinema Enthusiast Awards! I started this, and the personal remembrance post to go up tomorrow, in an effort to encapsulate the odds and ends of a year in film. The purpose is to pay tribute and recognize the rankable elements of films great, decent and unfortunate in a given year. Each year I seem to be adding more and more categories because, well, why not! It’s my blog! Normally I have an individual song usage post as well as a posters post. This year I’m condensing them and throwing them in here. Next year I’ll get back to extrapolated posts for them, especially because people seem to enjoy them. It’s just that they are particularly difficult to do after the fact.

The Conjuring

Use of Title Card/Opening Credit Sequence:
1. The Conjuring (title card)
2. Top of the Lake (opening credits)
3. Stoker (opening credits)
4. The Spectacular Now (title card)
5. The Bling Ring (opening credits)

Bastards Creton

Beginnings: 
1. Bastards (Creton haunting the streets)
2. Laurence Anwyays 
3. Spring Breakers
4. The World’s End
5. Inside Llewyn Davis 
Honorable Mention: It’s a Disaster

Bastards

Endings: 
1. Bastards 
2. 12 Years a Slave 
3. Before Midnight 
4. It’s a Disaster
5. Prince Avalanche 
Honorable Mention: Her

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Ensemble Cast:
1. The Wolf of Wall Street 
2. Top of the Lake 
3. The Spectacular Now 
4. The World’s End 
5. Blue Jasmine 
Honorable Mention: This Is the End 

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Underappreciated Films:
1. In the House 
2. It’s a Disaster
3. Byzantium 
4. New World
5. The Pirogue
Honorable Mention: Monsters University (well known, but unfairly catches abundant amounts of slack within cinephile circles. It’s one of my favorites this year)

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Films That Started Strong But…:
1. Magic Magic (blunt and distancing climax that undoes everything that came before)
2. This Is the End (unfortunately settles into spectacle mode for last third)
3. Stories We Tell (runs out of steam and Polley neglects to place herself within her own story)
4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (once again, the games are not nearly as interesting as the rest)
5. The World’s End (those last 20 minutes are pretty rough and yet it’s still got a high spot on my  year-end list) 
Honorable Mention: Side Effects (that twist…)

Gravity

Disappointments: 
1. Gravity
2. The Place Beyond the Pines
3. You’re Next 
4. Much Ado About Nothing 
5. From Up on Poppy Hill
Honorable MentionLeviathan 

Patsey

Newcomers: 
1. Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
2. Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color)
3. Saskia Rosendahl (Lore)
4. Ernst Umhauer (In the House)
5. Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) (he’s been around for a while but this is a breakout role for sure so I’m putting him in)
Honorable Mentions: Cosmina Stratan (Beyond the Hills), Conner Chapman (The Selfish Giant), Macarena Garcia (Blancanieves)

New world
Underappreciated Performances:
1. Hwang Jeong-min – New World
2. Gemma Arterton – Byzantium 
3. Michael Cera – Magic Magic 
4. Elizabeth Debicki – The Great Gatsby 
5. Katharine Isabelle – American Mary 
Honorable Mention: Caleb Landry Jones – Antiviral, David Cross – It’s a Disaster, Jane Levy – Evil Dead

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Bit Parts/Smaller Roles: (goes up to minor supporting parts) 
1. Kyle Chandler – The Wolf of Wall Street
2. Matthew McConaughey – The Wolf of Wall Street 
3. Lola Creton – Bastards (integral to film, 5th billing, but very little screen time)
4. Michael Cera – This is the End
5. Adeporo Oduye – 12 Years a Slave
Honorable Mentions: Nathan Fillion – Much Ado About Nothing, Tom Hollander – Byzantium

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Scores: 
1. Prince Avalanche – Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo
2. Only God Forgives – Cliff Martinez
3. Spring Breakers – Cliff Martinez and Skrillex
4. Bastards – Tindersticks
5. Stoker – Clint Mansell
Honorable Mention: Prisoners – Johann Johannsson
Note: Even though I haven’t seen Nebraska, I’m addicted to Mark Orton’s “New West” track which is featured the trailer.

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Favorite Characters:
1. Llewyn Davis – Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis 
2. Johanna Mason – Jena Malone – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
3. Gong Er – Zhang Ziyi – The Grandmaster
4. Amy – Amy Adams – Her
5. Mako Mori – Rinko Kikuchi – Pacific Rim 
Honorable Mentions: Clara – Gemma Arterton – Byzantium, Andy Knightley – Nick Frost – The World’s End, Aimee – Shailene Woodley – The Spectacular Now, Samantha – Scarlett Johansson – Her

Brad Pitt 12 Years
The ‘Why Are You Even Here’ Award:
1. Brad Pitt – 12 Years a Slave (OK, we all know why he’s there but ugh)
2. Countless Celebrity Cameos in the climax of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
3. Justin Timberlake – Inside Llewyn Davis 
4. Sasha Grey – Would You Rather? (also pick for worst performanc of the year)
5. Isla Fisher – The Great Gatsby 
Honorable Mentions: Paul Dano – 12 Years a Slave, Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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This Performance Isn’t Working For Me: (miscastings/performances that didn’t work for me; must be at least strong supporting parts)
1. George Clooney – Gravity 
2. Ryan Gosling – Only God Forgives
3. Ryan Gosling – The Place Beyond the Pines
4. Carey Mulligan – Inside Llewyn Davis 
5. Hugh Jackman – Prisoners
Honorable Mention: Everyone in Oz the Great and Powerful, Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Antiviral
Great Performances in Not-So-Great Films:
1. Caleb Landry Jones – Antiviral 
2. Jane Levy – Evil Dead
3. Sam Rockwell – The Way Way Back
4. Steve Carrell – The Way Way Back
5. Isaiah Washington – Blue Caprice
Honorable Mention: Fiona Dourif – Curse of Chucky 

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Worst Films:
1. Pieta (Kim)
2. Escape from Tomorrow (Moore)
3. The English Teacher (Zisk)
4. Phil Spector (Mamet)
5. The Truth About Emmanuel (Gregorini)

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Character Dynamics:
1. Gary King and the Gang (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman) – The World’s End
2. Anne and Johann (Mary Margaret O’Hara and Bobby Sommer) – Museum Hours 
3. Alvin and Lance (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) – Prince Avalanche 
4. Theodore and Amy (Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams) – Her
5. Ashburn and Mullins  (Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy) – The Heat 
Honorable Mentions: India and Charlie (Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode) – Stoker, Takashi Watanabe and Akiko (Tadashi Okuno and Rin Takanashi) – Like Someone in Love

before-midnight-ethan-hawke-julie-delpy
Romances/Couples:
1. Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply) – Before Midnight
2. Sutter and Aimee (Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley) – The Spectacular Now
3. Theodore and Samantha (Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson) – Her
4. Adele and Emma (Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux) – Blue is the Warmest Color
5. Eva and Frank (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and James Gandolfini) – Enough Said
Honorable Mentions: Liberace and Scott Thorson (Michael Douglas and Matt Damon) – Behind the Candelabra, Laurence and Fred (Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clement) – Laurence Anyways

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Villains: 
1. Encarna/La Madrastra – Meribel Verdú – Blancanieves
2. Jordan Belfort – Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
3. Uncle Charlie – Matthew Goode – Stoker
4. Kristen Scott Thomas – Crystal – Only God Forgives
5. Danny McBride – Danny McBride – This is The End
Honorable Mention: Edwin Epps – Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave

The Selfish Giant

Welcome to Sob-Fest 2013: (Films I had the biggest emotional response to in regards to tears shed, because yes, films make me cry a lot)
1. The Selfish Giant
2. 12 Years a Slave 
3. The Grandmaster
4. Blackfish 
5. Her
Honorable Mention: Before Midnight 

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Song Usages: 
1. “Fade to Grey” – Visage – Laurence Anyways 
2. “Please Mr. Kennedy” – Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver – Inside Llewyn Davis
3. “Put Your Love in Me” – Tindersticks – Bastards
4. “Every 1’s a Winner” – Hot Chocolate – Frances Ha 
5. “Looking for the Magic” – Dwight Twilley Band – You’re Next
Honorable Mentions: “Everytime” – Spring Breakers, “Shiloh” – Neil Diamond – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, “Live and Let Die” – American Hustle 

Blue-is-the-Warmest-Color

Scenes: 
1. Restaurant Heartache – Blue is the Warmest Color (picture above is not from the scene listed)
2. Parking Garage/Elevator Ambush – New World
3. Lemmons – The Wolf of Wall Street 
4. Piano Duet – Stoker
5. Ball Entrance (“Fade to Grey”) – Laurence Anyways 
Honorable Mentions: House Party Fire – Something in the Air, Church – The Hunt, Train Fight Scene – The Grandmaster, At the Club – The Heat, Split-Screen Self-Homage – Passion, Pre-Apocalypse Party – This Is the End

Posters: (pictures features below) 
1. Laurence Anyways
2. Kiss of the Damned
3. Stoker
4. Frances Ha
5. Spring Breakers
Lots of honorable mentions, however it’s hard to signify which poster I speak of per film so I’m letting it lie.

laurence_anyways_ver210257878_gal stoker-poster francesha SpringBreakersContentsPosterwhbig4

 

Review: Pacific Rim (2013, Del Toro)


Pacific Rim

This review contains moderate spoilers:

To start off, I prefer my action to involve actual human beings; hand-to-hand combat, chase sequences, and the like. Executed poorly, as they often are, and it can be just as tedious as anything else. Executed well and there’s a chance I’m watching in awe. Big-scale action set-pieces involving monster and machine (or Kaiju and Jäger), all conceptualized and constructed with CGI can only interest me so much. Once the human element goes chances are, so does my investment. This is not to disregard the countless men and women who poured their sweat, blood and souls into these special effects. Because I want to be clear; the special effects work on Pacific Rim is often stellar and all-encompassing. Creature design, machine logistics and how the two meet and try to destroy each other on the battlefield is top-notch from a technical standpoint. My aforementioned preferences make it tempting to write Pacific Rim off as an ‘it just wasn’t for me’ miss. But there are far too many fumbles, including piss-poor writing and combative redundancy, for that to be the case. Putting it simply, too much is too much; at a certain point Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em overkill renders everything onscreen null and void.

To very simply sum up the story, Pacific Rim is set in the near future where Kaiju, Japanese for strange creatures, have come through tectonic plates in the Pacific to attack major cities. The bulk of the film takes place in Year Seven of the attacks which show no sign of stopping. By this time, mankind has responded by building giant machines, or Jäger, which are manned by two co-pilots who must build a neural bridge, or handshake, so they can physically operate the machine. There’s a cast of characters headed by Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam), a has-been who hasn’t piloted in five years.

The groundwork for something worthwhile is here, spearheaded by Guillermo Del Toro’s giddy reference-littered boyhood passions. Del Toro’s obsession doesn’t quite transfer to the screen (though it’s concentrated in the Charlie Day character) instead existing in sheer volume, a staunch unwillingness to let up or trim the fat. The idea of the anticipatory build-up is not a concept that appears in Pacific Rim, making everything we see unearned. He gives the audience what they want right out the starting gate and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. This kind of structure simply does not work. Everything we see gets appreciated less as a result and any sense of trajectory for the audience is lost. When the fighting does let up, it’s only for table-setting and painfully lazy character arcs and dynamics.

An example of necessary fat-trimming: the fifteen minute prologue sequence featuring Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) and his brother doesn’t need to be there. Keeping the initial voiceover narration and saving other world-building elements for later would have yielded the same result. It is clear from the first moment how this will end. All that time is poorly utilized, failing to establish any investment in Raleigh and his brother. We could have learned about his past the same way we learned about Mako; during the drift. Mako’s flashback is far more effective than Raleigh’s prologue sequence even though it substitutes the predictability of revenge motivation for character development. It also helps that the girl they cast as young Mako has freakish emotive abilities.

Back to the original point; extract the emotional essence of that first sequence and save it for later as a memory. Then we’d first meet Raleigh on the wall. When Stacker (Idris Elba) helicopters in to see him, it could have been an intriguing introduction for both characters. Make us wait for the first battle. There is no difference between the opening set-piece and the next couple outside of the prologue’s use of editing to demonstrate the necessary cohesive teamwork between co-pilots and Jäger. But Del Toro has such an itchy trigger finger, immediately laying everything out on the table. Instead of a gripping opening set-piece, it is a trailer for what is to come, the answer of which is more of the same. And then, then the title appears. We’re supposed to think, ‘I can’t wait to see what else is in store’. But my thought was ‘Good Lord, we’ve only just begun and I’m already staving off waves of disinterest.’

Most of the fights lack interest due to a blandly monochromatic color palette which makes movement, sense of space and action murky to look at. The Kaiju and Jäger often fight in the rain and in the ocean, giving everything we see onscreen a dark blue-grey tint. It may help the effects work smoothly blend in with environment, but it washes over design detail and makes the causal effect of fighting blurry and therefore uninvolving. The later set-pieces improve on this. One set-piece late in the film, which takes place on the emptied streets of Hong Kong, is legitimately fantastic. Awash with a reflective neon rainbow backdrop, the Kaiju and Jäger become color-hued monstrosities that interact with their environment on a level other than destruction. It is no coincidence that the meat of the fighting becomes easier to discern as well as far more engaging to watch.

What is so upsetting about Pacific Rim, is that Del Toro clearly fancies this a humanist film. Believe it or not, he actually does care about the emotions behind these characters, what drives them and brings them together, the teamwork and completely underexplored connective tissue of the drift and how the Kaiju affects humanity on a global scale. But such a harmful imbalance of priorities leads to far too much of what could have been a good thing and far too little humanism, clearly meant to be a major contributing factor. What we get are cardboard archetypes led by a bland-as-can-be-lead, apologies to the talented Charlie Hunnam who is unable to turn nothing into something here, and some unforgivably stilted dialogue. I’m not looking for great characters in a film like this; but archetypes need to be well executed and these decidedly are not. The surrogate father-daughter bond between Idris Elba, who is unsurprisingly able to get a lot of mileage out of his character, and Rinko Kikuchi has a lot of potential (what’s there is quite good) but is given short shrift. The script uses characters as a delivery service for packaged up largely artificial emotion and it is too little too late.

There’s no doubt that Guillermo Del Toro world-builds like a master. But his sense of proportion leaves Pacific Rim a mostly hollow sluggish experience despite having an excellent director, a wonderful diverse cast of actors, top-notch effects work and a solid premise. With so much talent on display everywhere you look, it is a shame I was fully unable to appreciate its more successful elements (production and creature design, effects work) because I was too busy being suffocated by redundant cacophonous destruction.

Little Details:

– Rinko Kikuchi’s introduction is memorable
– The consistency in sound work re: Ron Perlman’s spur-sounding golden-tipped shoes.
– “1. Don’t ever touch me again. 2. Don’t ever touch me again” Also, Elba’s reaction to being touched was pure gold.
– Of course I really enjoyed Kikuchi’s try-out scene.