As a matter of note, know that beyond the top 3 films in that order everything else is grouped together with the idea of a thematic flow. If there is some sort of theme to this list it would be interesting composition from auteur directors to explore well worn genres like the crime and romance. With the inclusion of The Wolf of Wall Street, the amount of "American Dream" searching is quiet evident, which is funny I can't really tell you what that is - that's the point. 2013 was an extremely good year for film (just look at my honerable mentions) the very goods are still worth looking at and heck my most disapointing film of the year is half a intereasting failure.
It has been truly awesome to have the chance to write reviews for Screened and figure out it is I want to write and talk about.
The longest running and lowest grossing film trilogy has arrived. Richard Linklater pops in on his now middle aged characters Jesse and Celine as they make their way through a Greek vacation. At personal crossroads the former soul mates are not so sure that’s enough in the reality they find themselves in. Before Midnighthas my favorite scene all year in it, “the fight”, such a raw display of fear and emotion. Reminding me that man Ethan Hawke can be really good in the right picture. What more could you want than true love? What more do you need than this movie?
The Grandmaster(Chinese Cut)
Director Wong Kar Wai’s fictional biography of the Chinese folk hero is filled with all the typical Kar Wai-isims mixed with beautiful fight choreography from master Yuen Wu-ping. The film opens on a rainy brawl as Ip Man dispatches a horde of rival martial artists; they actually shot that sequence twice. After finishing it Wong Kar Wai felt actor Tony Leung needed a hat, and that makes all the difference. A beautifully rendered story of unrequited love and the passage of time (those playing Wong Kar Wai bingo checkem off) under the guise of martial arts and the second Sino-Japanese War. By all means watch the original Chinese Cut of this film, you can get it on region free Blu Ray, the American Cut is just a pale imitation of greatness.
Of all the flms I’ve seen this year, Upstream Color might be the most “filmy” film I’ve seen all year. That crazy sentence is also a good indicator of how crazy this metaphysical quasi-romance is. Did I mention this is from the man who directedPrimer. Ostensibly the story of Kris and Jeff, a pair of star crossed lovers drawn together by forces beyond their imagining in a film linked to each other and the world in the ways that make film what it is (sound, editing, color). This is a heady dizzying film to be sure but there is real beauty in its craft. It is Art.
The Wolf of Wall Street
This movie, an exercise in excess and debauchery, amoral to the not so bitter end and you can’t really look away from it. I’d say that’s a win for a 3 hour film. It would be reductive to say Martin Scorsese made the Goodfellas of Wall Street, while the film has some obvious roots and touches man Ray Liotta still had someone to listen to and hide from. As with the following films on the list, the morality enroute to the “American Dream” is dirty and non-existent. An indictment on the jerks who messed everyone over in 2008 and rampant capitalism with little thought for now “can” but “should”.
This movie is not for everyone. It holds you at arm’s length, goes on crazy existential monologues about the nature of life and cause an effect, is fatalistic from frame 1, and features Cameron Diaz riding the window of a car. On the second watch however, The Counselorbecame more than a novelty and may become one of the more interesting entries in Riddley Scotts film cannon as he jumps between doing historical epics. The composition of the shots mixed with the dialog are striking and beautiful.
Only God Forgives
Like the film above it, Only God Forgives isn’t for everyone. Coming off of Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn had all types of mainstream commercial films thrown at him (possibly Bond and a superhero film). Consider Forgives his double finger reply to that. Showing all these new fans what it is he is about. Where Drive was the emasculated male fantasy, Forgives is the emasculated male nightmare. Julian (Gosling) is trapped in a story he never wanted to be a part of, a cycle of violence between his drug lord ice queen Mother and a righteous Angel of Vengeance, Lt. Chang(Vithaya Pansringarm). Vithaya Pansringarm performance is commanding and haunting, surprising for his initial outward appearance, embodying the Theodore Roosevelt idea of speak softly(but not during karaoke) and carry a big stick (in this case a sharp ass sword). Forgives isn’t a crime story told from the villains perspective, Lt. Chang is the “hero” in this after all, Julian has no agency to become a villain or to think himself hero or even anti-hero. Forgives is a visual tour de force and exercise in style and symbolism as a way of composing and telling narrative.
Pain & Gain
Hey guys, I really love Michael Bay’s work, ok not all of it but The Rock and Bad Boys are the foundation for modern action and buddy comedies for me. Pain & Gain is a legitimately good film; Michael Bay actually made a film! It’s him at perhaps his most realized, mocking his too muscled for their own good “heroes” as they murder and steal their way to the “American Dream” (a common theme in this list). All of this set to a vibrant cartoonish rendition of the 1980’s Florida.
Yes the man who made Trash Humpers is on this list, I’m just as surprised as you are. Spring Breakers is one big “F-U” to vapid teen culture, consumerism, and a couple other things all wrapped in a modern sexploitation film starring former Disney tween stars and James Franco as someone who may or may not be legally speaking based on rapper Riff Raff. Director Harmony Korine backs up all these rather vulgar ideas with equally stylish and beautiful cinematography, making it even more a shame The Bling Ring has to compete against this. Spring Breakers has a wholeness to it that The Bling Ring stylistically chooses to forgo.
Park Chan-wook managed to keep all his artistic styling in his first English language feature Stoker. Elevating what is a solid Hitchcock inspired script, with well composed shots and one of the best scenes all year (the shower scene (the piano duet is also kinda cool)).Stoker is dark, twisted, and blunt.
Iron Man 3
Now this is what the future of Super Hero cinema should be! An artist given the picture to color by the studio and filling in the colors himself (staying inside the lines is optional). Shane Black went and made a Shane Black movie that just happened to feature men in metal suits and men who grow back and breathe fire. All the while critiquing the genre he is currently playing with. Yes, Iron Man 3forcibly yields to the same excesses of all blockbuster filmmaking but this one at least tried to say something.
Honorable Mention: The Wolverine, Pacific Rim, The Bling Ring, Drug War, All is Lost, Blue Caprice, The Place Beyond the Pines, American Hustle
The Channing Tatum Award - Dwayne "The Rock" Jonson
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was never going to really fail in Hollywood. He had the physique of throwback action heroes made for direct-to-video ventures that’d make him a pretty penny. His charisma is infectious (making the times where he was back as The Rock on WWE programming so groan inducing and juvenile) you can’t help but pay attention and root for the guy. He’s the perfect foil for guys like Vin Disel and the Fast franchise or kick in the behind for franchises like GI Joe. InPain & Gain as Paul Doyle, Johson shows some real acting muscle as the repent (and coked out) muscle man chasing after the American Dream with Lugo and Doorbel. Besides as all nominees for the Channing Tatum Award are required HOW CAN YOU SAY NO TO HIS EYES?
Best Moment in a Theater – That Time the Sword Arm came out in Pacific Rim
I’d really wanted to put Pacific Rim in my top list but it would’ve been in the 11-15 spot and man 15 is just too long. So here is a bit of recognition. Pacific Rim knew what it wanted to be and where it came from, lovingly composed of other bits of mecha anime. The entire Hong Kong fight is perhaps one of the best things I’ve seen all year but man that time the SWORD ARM came out my entire theater erupted in uproarious laughter and applause, that moment was played perfectly.
Not the Worst Just the Most Disappointing
I try not to watch “bad” movies and none of these movies are technically bad, they just disappointed me when they had promise. OK, maybe not The Mortal Instruments but 4/5 aint bad.
Man of Steel – This movie has a TON of problems mainly the fact that Superman is not a character. Making the moment he kills Zod justified on a logical level, but ultimately the hollowest moment of the entire film.Tonal inconsistency and David Goyer’s pulpy attitude toward spectacle, all veiled 9/11 imagery, ruin the films back half. Up to the Smallville fight, you could argue that it was a flawed but interesting attempt to examine what it means to be a Superman (or is it Jesus/Moses). Zack Synder has a great eye but when you rely on extra textual reference to imbue a character with traits you are doing it wrong.
I would highly recommend reading Film Crit Hulks excellent take on the film HERE.
The Grandmaster (American Cut) – The American cut of The Grandmastercontractually obligated to be under 110 minutes, is a perfect example of the power of editing. Yes, Wong Kar-Wai likes to make different cuts of his movies but that doesn’t mean they are all created equal. This version of The Grandmaster over contextualizes with unnecessary title cards that stop the film from working as a film: a visual piece of media that can give objects mythic and archetypal characteristics in seconds. We don’t need to have a title card for a thing or person, if the thing is going to be explained not 5 seconds later.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – Your telling me that Harry Potter fanfic refracted into a YA novel series further refracted into a YA film franchise is going to be bad? Color me shocked. The Mortal Instrumentsfirst film adaptation isn’t bad, it’s utterly wretched, managing to squander an interesting germ of an idea in the name of “genre” convention…even though it’s clear that writer Jessica Postigo Paquette and director Harald Zwart do not understand it.
Star Trek Into Darkness – We all knew it was Khan, how could it not be Khan? Cynical studio directives might not have been so bad had director J.J. Abrams not used the script from Ortiz and Kurtzman and shown some want to mix things up. Ortiz and Kurtzman take one of Star Trek’s great villains is a hollow one made marginally watchable by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Worst of all Abrams seems content with using extra textual knowledge from the audience to have any semblance of “emotion” on screen once he reenacts the scene from Wrath of Khan. All of which is unearned and misses the point of what makes that film an enduring great. Let’s not even begin to think about how Ortiz uses Into Darkness to insinuate that 9/11 was an inside job and other such conspiracy lunacy.
Great Gatsby - Tobey Maguire, SHUT THE FUCK UP! The Great Gatsby is one of the great works of literature, and director Baz Luhrmann does his best translate from page to screen. His strengths shine through with excellent production design; Gatsby’s lavish parties are excellent representations of the roaring 20’s and the Hollywood spectacle. The only problem is Tobey Maguire not shutting the heck up! Shows don’t tell in film, which isn’t to say you can’t ever have VO monologues, case and point: Goodfellas. Scorsese used the VO for post modernist purposes. Luhrmann doesn’t do any of that, just constant set up and narration of what was to come. In the end Gatsby tells first shows its greatest and worst sin is.