List: Top 30 Favorite Films of 2013 (#30-16)


I have to admit, 2013 hasn’t quite impressed me the way it’s impressed others. But you have to take that with a grain of salt. I think every year in film is special. I don’t think any one year in film is weak, and when people have stated it in year’s past I just want to pish-posh them away. If you’ve said this, you just haven’t seen enough! But 2013 did, quite simply, herald more disappointments than most years. But I still found plenty to love. I’ve got some major blind spots, the biggest of which I’ll list below. At a certain point, it’s just time to make the damn lists. I tried to see the majority of the films that held the most interest for me. Eventually I’ll catch up with the ones I missed. My top 15 goes up tomorrow.

My other 2013 film lists:
Top 25 Performances https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/list-top-25-performances-from-2013/Top Fives of 2013 (in which I dole out a boatload of superlatives): https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/list-top-fives-of-2013-in-which-i-dole-out-a-boatload-of-superlatives/
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 2013: A Personal Sampling: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/what-ill-remember-about-the-films-of-2013-a-personal-sampling/

Some Major Blind Spots: The Act of Killing, The Great Beauty, Nebraska, Captain Phillips, A Touch of Sin, We Are What We Are, The Square, In a World…, Post Tenebras Lux, All is Lost, Gimme the Loot, Wadjda, To the Wonder, After Tiller, Twenty Feet from Stardom

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Honorable Mention:
Bastards (Denis) (France)
For my honorable mention I’ve chosen a film that has unexpectedly haunted me since viewing it. I like Claire Denis’ latest a lot, but felt it became trapped between her opaque poeticisms and having to fulfill noir tropes left lingering after the dust settles. That being said, I haven’t been able to shake the thing since seeing it, in such a way that the film bares an honorary mention just on that that, let alone its other considerable achievements.

The Selfish Giant
#30. The Selfish Giant (Barnard) (UK)
Clio Barnard’s second film, an outgrowth of and companion piece to her first (the experimental documentary The Arbor), continues to explore life in Bradford where post-industrial environments harbors dire below-the-line living conditions. It also confirms her as a new voice in British cinema. The social consciousness is rooted in drudgery specific to the area where the hum of electricity, and fate, loom over the characters. We see how and why kids would take part in the illegal and lucrative scrap-dealing world as an immediate answer and sole misguided carrier of hope. This is a hankie movie everyone. Big. Time. Hankie Movie.

The catharsis and release that comes at the end, after a period of unerring focus and shock, is sort of soul-shattering. And it illustrates why the film works so well. It often seems hopeless, and there is little good depicted in this world, but The Selfish Giant is punctuated with moments where compassion is a form of exchange between two people. Barnard is also thankfully far more interested in the daily existence, of seeing Arbor and Swifty in their natural habitats than in point-to-point storytelling. I’m absolutely struck by the work of the two lead children, both non-actors who came from the area. Falls in line with British social realism films of yesteryear. Hopeless yet humanistic. Powerful but not plodding.

Byzantium
#29. Byzantium
 (2013, Jordan) (Ireland/UK/USA)
There were a number of films I became very fond of this year that almost made the cut. But time and time again I kept coming back to Neil Jordan’s succulent and underappreciated return to territory the likes of The Company of Wolves and Interview with the Vampire. Byzantium is a tell-tale yarn fraught with dicey dynamics and the eternal past. Saoirse Ronan stands at the center but it’s Gemma Arterton who most captivates. You feel the weight of time and the world on Clara’s shoulders even though she likes to pretend it isn’t there. Moira Buffini, who I’ve come to expect wonderful things from, concocts a vampiric story about women staking a claim for themselves in a male-dominated construct. The lush imagery is supported by the notion that female characters can take control of their own narratives. It has the feel of a successful adaptation, a film about where people land within their own story when their fantastical tale is all said and done.

No Barnal
#28. No (Larrain) (Chile) Fuses form with the period visual language at hand. No’s greatest success is the way it embraces the outlandish humor inherent in selling democracy to the public using advertising language and branding without ever feeling like it side-sweeps what is at stake. It is heavily populated with riotous and invaluable archival footage. The story is told through the assumedly fictional central figure played by Gael García Bernal who strides through the film freely aware that philosophy and political discussion sadly don’t have the market appeal of say, a jingle. It’s very focus further supports this idea as does the low-def 80’s format. Bernal makes his enigma of a cocky wunderkind full stop captivating. It also brings back pleasant yet vague memories of learning about Chile in my Latin American history class.

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#27. The Heat (Feig) (USA)
Melissa McCarthy dusts off one-liners like she’s dealing cards as well as creating a well-rounded character within a comedic framework. McCarthy and Bullock create the best onscreen duo to hit the multiplexes since Hill/Tatum in 21 Jump Street. Not coincidentally, both are buddy-cop films. And unlike 21 Jump Street, which falters in its last third, The Heat manages to stay consistent, its weaknesses trickle in throughout (including a mean-spirited streak) without hindering it too much at any given time. I had such a blast with this, and Feig’s direction really comes through in how he extracts the most laughs out of chaotic situations. Two examples include the scene at the club and the drinking montage.

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#26. It’s a Disaster (Berger) (USA)
Todd Berger’s low-key apocalyptic comedy nails the awkwardness of being thrust into new social entanglements and the weird and thoroughly under-explored dynamic embedded in the dreaded third date. The ensemble have great rapport, and the chamber piece is kept up in the ways characters take off in various amusing reactionary directions. If some of the characters never become interesting or move past their introductory vibe, it’s a relatively minor detractor in what is one of the most consistent and enjoyable comedies I’ve seen in some time. More people need to see this. The final scene is spot-on.

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#25. 12 Years a Slave (McQueen) (USA)
Steve McQueen somewhat inverts his psychological studies from outside-in/how the body inherently relates as vessel between what we see of people and what goes on within. It’s all recognizably McQueen, with suffering as the nucleus. One man’s story, which remains prioritized, is used as a catalyst for taking in, if not directly on, the larger whole, all stemming from the centrality of Solomon. There is an indirect blanket focus on the broader sets of societal and ideological circumstances through character behavior required for atrocities to be normalized. It’s a story of perverse realities, realities that reinforce the importance of always continuing to confront history, to reexamine, to not forget.

McQueen presents the material, with a no safety setting intact. Long takes, shallow focus, the pain showing on the face and being inflicted on the body. I do wonder about the unerring focus on brutality, and if maybe it’s sort of an easily blunt method of addressing the institution of slavery that slides the aforementioned blanket focus I mentioned earlier into the shadows. It’s a complicated topic to be sure, but I have largely appreciated the folks willing to question the film’s merits as opposed to blindly accepting them, even if I feel there’s a lot more going on in the film than the more narrow ways detractors have read it.

And that ending. Solomon is lifted out of hell, and the film comes to a close with a quiet reunion. As Solomon looks on at his family, both familiar and unrecognizable, apologizing for the state of his appearance, the impact of the film hits you all at once. It’s like an unspeakable tidal wave.

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#24. New World (Park) (South Korea)
Mob movies have to work a little extra to earn my commitment. I’m not adverse to them, and there’s actually quite a few I like or love. But it’s not a genre I automatically care about. New World, written and directed by I Saw the Devil scribe Park Hoon-Jung more than earns my commitment. It pulls you in from the word go. It’s more about the characters and how their long-standing relationships go hand-in-hand with the choices that are made than strictly adhering to mob tropes. There is an unforeseen ripple effect that the characters can’t quite define, but they all know it’s there. The parking garage fight scene is a kinetic stunner that I’m still wrapping my mind around. I seriously cannot stress that enough. All of the performances are incredibly strong, none more so than Hwang Jung-min, his doofy swagger acting as a posturing veneer. This is swift, smart, and impressive all-around. It felt like a kind of unspoken love story between two ‘brothers’; the curious coda falls in line with this reading.

Frances Ha
#23. Frances Ha (Baumbach) (USA)
Here’s the thing with Frances Ha. Saw it, loved it, continued to love it, and then a few weeks after seeing it, it left a slightly dissatisfied taste. I’m confident that a re-watch will rectify this strange faded feeling, but for now it gets a lower spot than it otherwise would have. But I’m still in the minority for preferring caustic Jennifer Jason Leigh-collaborative Baumbach over bubbly Greta Gerwig-collaborative Baumbach.

Noah Baumbach revisits the comical sharpness of his roots and the result is a youthful and delectable collaboration with new squeeze Gerwig. It is about the intricacies and intimacies of female friendship and the slow emergence of self-aware maturity. And it ties the two together beautifully. I love its flighty makeshift structure, completely coated in French New Wave sensibilities. It’s equal-parts comprised of full scenes and montage where exchanges and moments are pared down to their minimum for maximum essence. It paints a fairy tale-like picture where the underlying sadness can be overcome because let’s face it, the only thing holding Frances back from putting her best foot forward is herself. She makes some poor decisions along the way in order to live in the past and retain a sense of control but they are ill-advised. Has there been a more pitiful Paris excursion in film?

This would make an excellent double feature with Walking and Talking. Dean and Britta show up again here and this time they have lines! Major bonus points there. I know we all justifiably fawned over the usage of “Modern Love” (though knowing there’s another usage featuring Denis Lavant out there makes me salivating for the latter), but can we stop for a second and appreciate the more memorable multiple usage of Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner”?

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#22. Enough Said (Holofcener) (USA)
Nicole Holofcener tends to deal with wayward women in some sort of semi-self-inflicted crisis. Here, she skillfully observes a woman whose inability to trust her own judgment and have her own experiences gets her into some uncomfortably sticky situations. Enough Said works so well in part because the script openly acknowledges that these characters have a lot of life both behind and ahead of them. It deals very honestly with the fact that budding relationships which come in middle age carry baggage and a past that both must reconcile. Each have daughters, ex-spouses, their own experiences and acquired defense mechanisms. In Hollywood, middle-aged romance is a sort of hazy hiccup in life that must be overlooked or ignored completely, despite being far more interesting for its mature perspective. That attention to relationship history is both the possible savior and destroyer for Eva and Albert’s relationship.

It has its stumbles (rom-com polish, unsubtle reminders, and a corny score) but Holofcener gets at the loss parents experience when their children leave the nest, and the parallel terror of new relationships in middle age when the past lingers and the future is mined with vulnerable uncertainties.

Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/review-enough-said-2013-holofcener/

The Hunt
#21. The Hunt (Vinterberg) (Denmark)
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. 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’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. Reliable great Mads Mikkelsen brings all of this home with his kind and giving character, respectable stiff upper-lip slowly giving way.

Drug War
#20. Drug War (To) (China/Hong Kong)
2013 seems to be the year where the film community has collectively taken on To’s intimidating filmography with rigor. It’s an exciting development largely triggered by Drug War’s Western success. Not including Drug War, I’d only seen a couple of To’s films (everyone needs to see The Heroic Trio because it has amazing Hong Kong lady stars becoming superheroes and kicking ass!) and Drug War definitely left me pining for more of his work.

This is rigid, disciplined, alive. Entirely driven, on a content level, by its economic plot mechanics, making up a serious and twisty crime/action film laced with politics of Mainland China where rigidity is a false pretense because everything feels like it can go bust at any second. And oh boy does it ever. On its surface it may on first glance look like a really solid action flick, but when you watch it, it doesn’t quite feel like others of its kind. It’s hermetically sealed and about the illusion of order. Everything is slick (what glorious sound!); not supported by the notion of ‘cool’ so much as the notion of pure craftsmanship. There is an immaculate tracking of space and place. You can tell this is special just in the way it goes about introducing all the key players at the beginning. It doesn’t dumb down character intros but it’s a casually intricate map rooted in clarity. Drug War gets more compelling by the minute and is contains a pretty fantastic female detective played by Huang Yi.

Behind the Candelabra
#19. Behind the Candelabra (Soderbergh) (USA) (aired on HBO)
My favorite Soderbergh film since Traffic, Behind the Candelabra is biographical, campy, comedic, showbizzy, heartwrenching, bizarre and poignant all at once. You could watch it once and latch onto any one of its parallel modes of design. Watch it another time and give yourself over to a different thread. It takes the conventional rise-and-fall relationship trajectory and uses it to explore how toxicity and devotion intermingle. Douglas lets us see a little slime underneath the bedazzle, just enough to really grey things up. This is in the running for Matt Damon’s best work. His Scott is also genuine on one level, but subtly duplicitous in the perks of living the life and the downward spiral he allows himself to go on.

The glitz, cosmetic surgery, PR work and pills make up this fragile veneer where everyone is going big or going home in a constant effort to keep up a transparent lie in more ways than one. Oh, and kudos for Cheyenne Jackson who kills every second of his tiny role. On a final but crucial note, the Matt Damon eye candy is at ridiculously high levels.

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#18. Blue is the Warmest Color (Kechiche) (France)
A seminal relationship, the search for identity, heartbreak and hope all in extreme close-up, all mapped out on faces. Largely free of narrative commitment, Blue is more tethered to an almost verite-like observation which captures intense personal experience. There is a ruthless commitment to the vigorous lifeblood of a young woman which is embedded in everything from the extratextual unpleasant filming experiences to the naturalistic self-discovery and epic fumbles that belong to Adele. She has a lust for life in eating, dancing, masturbating; the basics of living are depicted through that stumble towards an uncertain identity and sense of self.  Problematic claims aside, there’s an audacity and animalism to the much-talked about sex scenes (our culture’s general prudishness is as much to blame for this as is textual and extratextual context) that is so pulsing, vital, sweaty and real to the relationship that the idea of them, nature of the male gaze and actors experience aside, is important. It’s the kind of stark eroticism and explicitly frank depiction of sex I think we need more of. We stay with them to the point where, for better or worse, it feels like we enter another realm and it fits with the film he is making, exploitative or not (to which I say both yes and no).

I was especially taken with how meaninglessly Adele fucks up. It’s so spot-on to actual experience. We never see her trying to communicate to Emma how she feels, and her all-too human fuck-up is driven by inexperience with relationships and how to handle their downs, and a general restlessness. Unbearably palpable is the diner scene towards the end, a wrenching depiction of can’t-go-back heartbreak, regret and pain on both sides. The journey we go on just in that scene is mind-boggling. Blue is also responsible for turning my adoration of Lea Seydoux into full-blown crush territory.

More thoughts here: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/films-seen-in-2013-round-up-235-239/

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#17. Monsters University (Scanlon) (USA)
I have no idea what this film did to catch the amount of undeserved slack it received within the film community upon its release. Aren’t most movies been-there-done-that? Doesn’t execution count for anything? Has Pixar pitted itself into a hole of unreachable expectation? A riff on the college buddy comedy, Monsters University might not pack the kind of next-level emotional wallop of some of Pixar’s output or have the kind of ambition we crave from them, but this was flat-out one of the most entertaining films I saw this year. That anyone could have walked out of this unsatisfied boggles my mind. It’s heartfelt, hilarious and carries a wonderful message on its back that I wish had provoked more discussion.

I find it fairly unconventional for an all-ages film to be this realistic in its message. This isn’t “Reach for the Sky”. This is “Reach for the Sky” but realize it’s okay that you might have to start at the bottom. There’s something bold in stating (in a kids film no less!) that desire and natural talent don’t always have matching levels. Mike wants to scare more than anything in the world. But he’s just average. And that’s okay.  It hits every note it intends to, every joke lands on-target (anyone who lived on a college campus will appreciate a lot of the humor) and Crystal and Goodman lend top-notch voice work in reviving Mike and Sully.

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#16. The Spectacular Now (Ponsoldt) (USA)
Indie darling coming-of-age romance based on a YA novel? Doesn’t sound like my cuppa. Oh, but in this case it was. We are brought into the characters lives on their own level of experience; first loves, mistakes, conflicting flutters, people letting them down. In the process, we come to care so deeply for Sutter and Aimee, separately and, for better or worse, together. Ponsoldt makes us feel like part of the story; we feel as they feel. The uncertainty, the butterflies, the ways people change and don’t change and the self-doubt.

I’m über-picky with romance. But I was struck by the maturity with which this story and these characters, even the secondary ones, are crafted. People are neither wholly good or bad, everyone is flawed and capable of weakness, ill-advised coping and the hardships of living with oneself. It’s an obvious truth, and one that films tend to forget in service of tropes. I guess what I’m saying is that The Spectacular Now doesn’t view its characters as characters, it views them as people. And I responded very positively to that. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are revelatory.

More thoughts: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/capsule-reviews-films-seen-in-2014-round-up-1-5/

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Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #131-137


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

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#131. Berberian Sound Studio (2013, Strickland)

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

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

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

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#132. Antonio Gaudi (1985, Teshigahara)

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

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

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

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

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#135. Love, Marilyn (2013, Garbus)

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

Bling Ring
#136. The Bling Ring (2013, Coppola)

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

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

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

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

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#137. Monsters University (2013, Scanlon)

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

Review: Brave (2011, Chapman & Andrews)


Is it a crime to be a minor Pixar film? Apparently so. While it is fair to have high expectations for the animation studio’s output, which has reached great heights in the past, Brave seems to have been hit with backlash that suggests that this is forgettable fare that plays it entirely too safe. Brave has its weaknesses, but overall this is a gorgeous female coming-of-age story about independence, maintaining identity in the face of tradition, and the complicated bond between mother and daughter. It takes the Disney Princess formula in a fundamentally progressive direction if not nearly radical enough in execution.

At first, the story follows a familiar structure. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a princess and her mother Eleanor (Emma Thompson) has spent her entire life slaving to get her daughter ready for the responsibility of being a queen. This goes against everything Merida wants. She has devoted her life to archery, riding her horse and exploring the endless forest around her. She lives for these days. It is apparent that the conversations between the two have long taken a repetitious route of rejection and scolding. When the day comes, Merida rejects custom by boldly claiming her own hand via an archery competition. A particularly intense fight between the two sends Merida off into the woods devastated, and from there…well you will have to see the film and discover its developments yourself.

Female protagonists in children’s films can and have been feisty, independent and true-to-themselves. Yet, despite several of these films being outstanding achievements, at some point we must remove the fact that these stories are all being filtered through romance. This does not have to go away, but there must be additional contexts with which we deal with female characters and their stories. Brave goes a long way in setting us in the right direction. It is easy to take for granted how meaningful it is to see this kind of story being told.

Merida jumps out at the screen from frame one; her fiery red mop-head hair, her rambunctious nature, her obstinacy and passion. She may be an adolescent, but she knows who she is. She does not want to be forced into a marriage and life that do not feel true. It goes past not being in love with the three particular boys. It is the principle of the thing; this is not what she wants. Not only is she not ready, but for the unforeseeable future, she holds no stock in this as an eventuality. Between Kelly Macdonald’s voiceover work and the Pixar animation team, Merida is fully realized. Her movements, mannerisms and speech patterns all have a specificity and spontaneity that make her, without a doubt, one of the most memorable characters the studio has produced.

Brave is ultimately about the relationship between mother and daughter, an under-explored arena in children’s films to say the least. We always seem to be dealing with father and daughter, with the mother often long deceased.

This is where Merida’s character arc lies. She must learn to listen and see through Eleanor’s eyes and vice-versa. The film stresses the lapse in communication between them throughout, and the film’s central event forces them to build the way they communicate with each other from the ground up. Part of growing up is learning not to take your mother for granted. The journey their relationship takes is where the heart of the film lies as well as its strongest bits of humor. The marketing, at least what I was exposed to, was smart in that it managed to keep its central event a surprise.

Many of the complaints against the film are not unfounded; they are just not enough to derail what Brave is doing. It does not make the most of its time. By having a tendency to draw out and repeat scenes (such as the men fighting), it loses a chance to do more with its runtime. I wish it strived for a deeper whole, though it has sections that reach that level. A sharper execution was needed for some of the humor. It never falls flat, but it does not often stick the landing.

The magical aspects are confusing and feel like a rough draft. Suspending my disbelief is one thing, but how the hell do we come to the conclusion that fixing the tapestry will solve everything? Finally, the supporting characters could have been more distinct and were underwritten. When I think of how many memorable characters Finding Nemo has, still a shocking number to process, surely the characters surrounding Merida and Eleanor could have had a bit more to them. Although, the way the film shows the three brothers and the other men shamelessly making fools of themselves as a representation of the kind of behavior men can get away with was a nice touch.

Brave is about a young woman staying true to herself and maintaining the courage to be who she is. It is about the bond between mother and daughter and the evolution of communication and understanding between them. Pixar is always at the top of its game from a technical standpoint and here is no different; the Scottish highlands are endlessly rich and watching Merida’s hair is alone worth the price of admission. Brave is entertaining and heartfelt and a step in the right direction for the types of children’s stories about girls being told. Its only crime is that it is not a masterpiece; I would hope we can forgive Brave for being merely accomplished.

Screening Log: June 16th-30th, 2012 – Films #193-213


All grades are arbitrary and subjective; they are there for posterity.They reflect on what level the film worked for me personally on a first viewing and are not reflective of their ultimate worth. Obviously a film like Casque D’Or is not B- level work, but the film failed to fully cast its spell on me, thus a B- grade.

193. A Man Escaped (1956, Bresson): A/A-

194. High Art (1998, Cholodenko): B

195. Floating Weeds (1959, Ozu): B+/B


196. Les Enfants Terribles (1950, Melville): A-

197. The River (1951, Renoir): B-/C+


198. Casque D’Or (1952, Becker): B-

199. Le Plaisir (1952, Ophuls): B+/B

200. Night of the Demon (1957, Tourneur): B+

201. The Band Wagon (1953, Minnelli): A-


202. The Grey (2012, Carnahan): B/B-


203. Les Cousins (1959, Chabrol): C

204. House on Haunted Hill (1959, Castle): C

205. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, Sturges): B+

206. Headhunters (2012, Tyldum): B-

207. Brave (2012, Andrews & Chapman): B+/B

208. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Anderson): A/A-

209. The Intouchables (2012, Nakache & Toledano): B-

210. Sudden Fear (1952, Miller): B-


211. The Wrong Man (1956, Hitchcock)
: B-


212. Chronicle (2012, Trank)
: B

213. Mon Oncle (1958, Tati): B

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

List: Top 30 Summer Films to See (May-August)


This is a list of the 30 films I most look forward to seeing. As far as I can tell, all of these films are set for summer releases. I’m sure more release dates will be announced throughout the months. The ones I am eagerly awaiting to get release dates are Shut Up and Play the Hits and Alps. Both have distribution, with LCD Soundsystem’s final concert show doc acquired by the late great Adam Yauch’s Oscilloscope Laboratories.

There are several films on this list that I have already seen due to IFFBoston. I included them where I would have placed them before seeing them. Those will be bolded. I’m feeling pretty passionate about these 30 films as a whole. After the 30, I have a massive list of films that are on my to-see list and it should be kept in mind that they range from films I really want to see (Farewell, My Queen, Lovely Molly and Whores’ Glory. The latter would be on the list if I weren’t too lazy to shuffle it around) to films like Men in Black III (for Josh Brolin) and Dark Shadows (Burton completist) which I am largely unenthusiastic about but would still see at some point.

What films are you most looking forward to this summer?

First, an honorable mention:
G.I Joe: Retaliation. Why you ask? That looks positively idiotic. Well, first because the trailer makes it look like some honest-to-goodness fun. But really truly my reason boils down to this:

If you can deny the sexiness of Lee Byung-hun then I put forth that you are soulless. The promise of shirtless Lee Byung-hun is enough to get me to pay and see this.

30. Marvel’s The Avengers
Kicking off with a film I and the rest of the world have seen, this was at the top of most lists of this kind. I was looking forward to The Avengers, but as a Joss Whedon fan, not as a Marvel fan. I’m not a superhero film person or at least, I’m a tough sell in most cases. Thankfully, I thoroughly enjoyed The Avengers, more so than most films in this genre.

29. Untouchable (aka Intouchable)
Summary: After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caretaker.

Reasons: It is hard to overstate the cultural phenomenon this film has been in France. It is the second most successful of all time at the French box office. Looks like a hearty crowdpleaser and it has Francois Cluzet, one of my favorite French actors. Color me curious.

28. Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
Summary: A documentary that follows the Serbian performance artist as she prepares for a retrospective of her work at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Reasons: I know nothing about Abramovic outside of having heard of her and knowing of her importance. So this seems like a great opportunity to get some insight into her and her work.

27. Compliance
Summary: When a prank caller convinces a fast food restaurant manager to interrogate an innocent young employee, no-one is left unharmed. Based on true events.

Reasons: The most controversial and divisive film at Sundance. Reason enough for me.

26. 2 Days in New York
Summary: Marion (Delpy) has broken up with Jack (Two Days in Paris) and now lives in New York with their child. But when her family decides to come visit her, she’s unaware that the different cultural background held by her new American boyfriend Mingus (Rock), her eccentric father, and her sister Rose who decided to bring her ex-boyfriend along for the trip, added to her upcoming photo exhibition, will make up for an explosive mix.

Reasons: Saw this at IFFBoston (embargo prevented review), but this would have been placed here because of Julie Delpy’s directing/acting/writing involvement.

25. Sleepwalk with Me
Summary: A burgeoning stand-up comedian struggles with the stress of a stalled career, a stale relationship, and the wild spurts of severe sleepwalking he is desperate to ignore.

Reasons: Really strong response everywhere it has played, starting with Sundance at the beginning of the year.

24. Kumare
Summary: A documentary about a man who impersonates a wise Indian Guru and builds a following in Arizona. At the height of his popularity, the Guru Kumaré must reveal his true identity to his disciples and unveil his greatest teaching of all.

Reasons: A doc about deception on a mass scale. Acquired by Kino Lorber. Interested to see what kind of perspective it takes.

23. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Summary: Faced with her father’s fading health and environmental changes that release an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy leaves her Delta-community home in search of her mother.

Reasons: The film that took this year’s Sundance by storm. Haven’t seen the trailer in my newly implemented effort to abstain from most trailers but the buzz surrounding it is more than enough to pique my interest.

22. Snow White and the Huntsman
Summary: In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.

Reasons: As if we need more takes on fairy tales. However! This one actually looks entertaining even if it is preposterous that Theron would not be the fairest of them all against Kristen Stewart. Most people mean this as a knock on Stewart, but I don’t. Don’t get me started on the nonsense insults heaped onto her. It’s a testament to Theron. My main two reasons are: 1. Charlize Theron who looks like she is chewing some delicious scenery. 2. Look at some of the cast list for the dwarves: Ian McShane (!), Eddie Marsan, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost. Case closed.

21. Collaborator
Summary: A playwright whose marriage and career are in a free fall has an explosive run-in with his former neighbor, a right-wing ex-con.

Reasons: Olivia Williams in a starring role = I’m there. Martin Donovan’s first directorial effort.

20. The Loved Ones
Summary: When Brent turns down his classmate Lola’s invitation to the prom, she concocts a wildly violent plan for revenge.

Reasons: Ever since this Australian horror film was released back in 2009, I have been hearing about it. This will be the first time I will actually get to see this oft-talked about work. It is finally being released in the US.

19. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Summary: AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY is the first feature-length film about the internationally renowned Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei. In recent years, Ai has garnered international attention as much for his ambitious artwork as his political provocations. AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY examines this complex intersection of artistic practice and social activism as seen through the life and art of China’s preeminent contemporary artist.

Reasons: This doc, like many on this list, has been getting a lot of attention and I’ve been hearing about it for a while now. I think its pretty obvious that this sounds completely fascinating.

18. The Queen of Versailles
Summary: A documentary that follows a billionaire couple who live in a 90,000-square-foot mansion inspired by Versailles, built on the success of the time-share industry.

Reasons: Saw at IFFBoston. You may ask yourself why you should care about these people, but the film allows you to feel disgust and empathy without compromising itself. I had wanted to see it since the buzz surrounding it started and I can tell you it is well worth seeking out.

17. Pink Ribbons, Inc.
Summary: Breast cancer has become the poster child of corporate cause-related marketing campaigns. Countless women and men walk, bike, climb and shop for the cure. Each year, millions of dollars are raised in the name of breast cancer, but where does this money go and what does it actually achieve?

Reasons: Another doc that looks like it is asking some imperative questions and is able to come up with some telling information. I cannot wait for this.

16. Lawless
Summary: Set in the Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by authorities who want a cut of their profits.

Reasons: I expected this to be a lot higher, especially considering this was directed by none other than John Hillcoat and boasts a screenplay and music by Nick Cave. And take a look at that sick cast. The last time these two teamed up we received the gritty existential western gift that is The Proposition. I have high expectations for this, but I admit that the trailer (which in hindsight I should not have watched), presented a more conventional looking film. I keep in mind though that the business of trailers is to make things look conventional. The one thing that really stuck out to me was Guy Pearce who looks creepily searing. I’m still highly anticipating this. The Proposition is one of my favorite films.

15. Polisse
Summary: A journalist covering police assigned to a juvenile division enters an affair with one of her subjects.

Reasons: Been waiting for this since it premiered at last year’s Cannes, precisely one year ago. Word has been strong. Oh and it has the beauteous Nicholas Duvauchelle.

14. Beyond the Black Rainbow
Summary: Despite being under heavy sedation, Elena tries to make her way out of Arboria, a secluded, quasi-futuristic commune.

Reasons: Seeming to blatantly and proudly take from Cronenberg, Kubrick and an endless amalgam of mind-bending influences, this seems crafted with cult status in mind, which tends to make me weary. But I cannot deny this looks awesome and I cannot wait to see if it can deliver and earn the status it desperately wants.

13. Searching for Sugar Man
Summary: Two South Africans set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock ‘n’ roller, Rodriguez.

Reasons: Like the majority of the films on this list, there’s been a lot of strong buzz surrounding this one. I don’t know what else to say besides it shooting up to the top of my to-see list since reading about it.

12. I Wish
Summary: 12-year-old Koichi, who has been separated from his brother Ryunosuke due to his parents’ divorce, begins to believe that the new bullet train service will create a miracle when the first trains pass each other at top speed.

Reasons: New Hirokazu Koreeda. Need I say more?

11. The Dark Knight Rises
Summary: Eight years after Batman took the fall for Two Face’s crimes, a new terrorist leader, Bane, overwhelms Gotham’s finest, and the Dark Knight resurfaces to protect a city that has branded him an enemy.

Reasons: I don’t really need reasons here. This is clearly the most anticipated film of the summer along with one or two more on this list. Admittedly, Nolan’s Batman work is my least favorite stuff of his and I merely like The Dark Knight. The last third left a bitterly dismal taste in my mouth that I’ve never been able to wash out. But I trust in Nolan; its obvious he’s remarkable at what he does and we can justifiably expect a lot from him. But I’m still not sold on Hathaway.

10. Indie Game: The Movie
Summary: Follows the dramatic journeys of indie game developers as they create games and release those works, and themselves, to the world.

Reasons: Talk about this has been really prominent (don’t you love my original reasons?) and to get an inside look at what it takes to be working on the fringes of this industry is sure to be rewarding on multiple levels.

9. The Invisible War
Summary: An investigative and powerfully emotional documentary about the epidemic of rape of soldiers within the US military, the institutions that perpetuate and cover up its existence, and its profound personal and social consequences.

Reasons: A topic that makes for essential viewing, this is a problem that needs to be brought to the forefront of conversations. Hopefully this film will help this happen. From Kirby Dick, director of This Film is Not Yet Rated.

8. Paul Williams Still Alive
Reasons: Saw at IFFBoston. Basically you should see this because its a documentary about Paul Williams. And Paul Williams is a genius. And if you don’t like Paul Williams I don’t want to know you.

7. Brave
Summary: Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.

Reasons: Um…a new Pixar film that is not part of the Cars franchise? That’s just for starters. My two main reasons are the following. First, it is the first Pixar film featuring a female protagonist, and it looks like a refreshing rejection of the traditional expectations of women. The sprightly and flame-haired Merida looks like a much-needed role model for young girls that can counteract the toxicity they are exposed to on a daily basis. Second, this looks to be the most visually stunning Pixar setting since Finding Nemo. Every time I see a picture or trailer for the film I am blown away by how absurdly gorgeous this looks. I want to live on this world already. I want to escape into this film and I haven’t even seen it yet.

6. Killer Joe
Summary: When a debt puts a young man’s life in danger, he turns to putting a hit out on his evil mother in order to collect the insurance.

Reasons: And the list takes a turn as we transition from Pixar to the NC-17 rated film from the bunch. William Friedkin and Tracy Letts collaborating again, adapting one of Letts’ plays, after 2005’s claustrophobic Bug which is one of my favorite films of the aughts. I’ve been dying to see this for a while now. It looks brutal, funny, and brutally funny.

5. Oslo, August 31st
Summary: One day in the life of Anders, a young recovering drug addict, who takes a brief leave from his treatment center to interview for a job and catch up with old friends in Oslo.

Reasons: I admit I’m not the biggest fan of Joachim Trier’s Reprise, although I won’t deny its status as one of the more assured pieces of debut filmmaking I’ve ever seen. Still, I’ve been anxiously awaiting this since last year’s Cannes debut. Its placement should indicate just how much I am looking forward to this one.

4. The Imposter
Summary: A documentary centered on a young Frenchman who convinces a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who went missing for 3 years.

Reasons: Saw at IFFBoston and it’s going strong as my favorite 2012 film so far. It would have been this high on the list regardless. I’ve been hooked since reading the one sentence summary above. Don’t read any reviews. Don’t watch any trailers. Just see The Imposter.

3. Take This Waltz
Summary: A happily married woman falls for the artist who lives across the street.

Reasons: Written and directed by Sarah Polley, I am counting down the days til this film’s release. The summary sounds like this story has been done a million times. But all signs point to a uniquely honest and complex telling of the grey areas of relationships, feelings and monogamy. It looks challenging and uncompromising. And it’s named after a Leonard Cohen song.

2. Moonrise Kingdom
Summary: A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.

Reasons: New Wes Anderson. Case closed.

1. Prometheus
Summary: A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.

Reasons: To me, the trailer for Prometheus is the advertising equivalent of dropping the mic and walking off the stage. Every time I see this trailer in theaters, my thought is that everyone should just pack it on up and go home. I’m trying to avoid Ridley Scott’s contradictory and increasingly distracting comments. I’m trying to go into this as blind as I can outside of that first full trailer and general unavoidable information about the film. I’m also trying to keep my anticipation to a controlled level as I tend to be let down for films I get this excited about. But damn if this doesn’t look like its going to own the summer movie season.

The rest unordered:
The Woman in the Fifth
Klown
Farewell, My Queen
5 Broken Cameras
Lovely Molly
Savages
Lola Versus
Where Do We Go Now?
The Good Doctor
Planet of Snail
Side by Side
Your Sister’s Sister
The Awakening
The Dictator
Paranorman
Safety Not Guaranteed
Easy Money
Magic Mike
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
To Rome with Love
Elena (Russian)
First Position
Dark Horse
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Jack and Diane
Bel Ami
OC87
Mother’s Day
God Bless America
Dark Shadows
The Bourne Legacy
360
Hope Springs
Hick
The Pact
Hysteria
Virginia
Ruby Sparks
The Expendables 2
Chicken with Plums
Premium Rush
Unforgivable
Chernobyl Diaries
Men in Black 3
The Watch
Little White Lies
Red Lights
Trishna
Total Recall
Neil Young Journeys
Whores’ Glory

Weekly Screening Log: June 24th-30th



215. Les Bonnes Femmes (1960, Chabol): B+


216. The Powerpuff Girls Movie (2002, McCracken): D+


217. Cars 2 (2011, Lasseter): C


218. Super 8 (2011, Abrams): A


219. Another Country (1984, Kanievska): C


220. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985, Frears): A-


221. Boys Don’t Cry (1999, Peirce): A