Friday, 31 January 2014
Whether you want to call it homage or straight up borrowing, P.T. Anderson's great Boogie Nights certainly shows off its influences. Altman and Scorsese figure prominently, but another inspiration is Mikhail Kalatozov and his film I Am Cuba (which also happens to be a big Scorsese favourite too). Aside from being drop-dead gorgeous and a remarkably poetic piece of propaganda, I Am Cuba is known for several incredible long takes that, as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, will still take your breath away. One of them starts 2 minutes into the film as a camera roams through a decadent hotel party and bathing beauty contest, moves down several stories, through a crowd of people and into the water of a pool to capture the swimmers under the surface. Anderson states in his commentary on Boogie Nights that they not only wanted to try the same thing, but have the camera come out of the water too.
It's a showy scene for sure, but it also ties together numerous threads and characters from the story and emphasizes how these lost souls are all together in this porn "family" - whether as complete avoidance of the real world or as a temporary waystation. We see Buck Swope's (Don Cheadle) search for an identity continue as well as Maurice TT Rodriguez's (Luis Guzman) pleading to Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) to be included in one of their films. Midway through the scene, Buck and Maurice go inside the house together as the camera picks up another character, but we reconvene with them a few minutes later in another scene that closes on Amber's newly discovered fascination with Eddie Adams.
My favourite part of the party scene, though, is the last part of the clip above and comes right after the first cut that follows the long take into the pool. Eddie (who hasn't yet become full blown pornstar Dirk Diggler) is asking his new buddy Reed Rothchild if his just completed pike dive into the pool looked awesome. Reed is looking to play a mentor role for the young lad and decides to reign in his confidence a bit. "I'll show you what you did wrong." Reed lines up a full flip, but only manages about 75% of it and lands flat on his back. As Eric Burdon and his sexy sounding female vocalist continue to pulse on the soundtrack, there's a great edit underwater to Reed's pained expression as he slowly floats to the surface with his back arched. It's one of the funnier moments in a film teeming with them (as much as it's also terribly dark at times), but it serves a purpose too - once Reed pops above the surface and Eddie says "You gotta brings your legs all the way around!", that mentoring relationship has ended. Reed's final "I know...I know.." comment is a realization and acceptance that he'll be playing the supporting role to the star that Eddie will become.
Once we see Amber hoover a line of coke and then gaze intently at Eddie landing a full flip properly (in slow motion of course), we are fully prepped to dive headlong into the downward spirals that lie ahead.
Tuesday, 28 January 2014
One of the reasons why you may not often hear as much about plot or character when discussing musicals is that they tend to use age old stories at their core. More often than not it's all about those tunes and performances, so those familiar tales are used to provide a familiar landscape from which to launch the song and dance routines. As I sat down to catch up with a couple of classic musicals with well-worn structures - a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet set in the big city and a backstage look at the lead up to a performance's premiere with a big break for a young ingenue - I wondered if either of these tales could be given new life via more than just their music and production numbers...While each brought moments of wonderful creativity and sparkling entertainment (in different amounts), the stories were, for the most part, still born.
That's not enough to dismiss either film though. In particular, West Side Story is a monument to production design and choreography. Just about every shot in the film is packed with colour from mixed pastels to bright primaries to everything in between in just the right combinations. As a series of stills it would make for an incredible photography exhibit. Of course, much of the secret to the film is its motion in the form of Jerome Robbins' choreography (he's also credited here as a co-director along with the master of many genres Robert Wise). It feels novel and exciting even 50 years down the road. It's sharp and quick and powerful - in short, it's incredibly physical. It's an expression of the character's youthful energy and their inability to find a place to put it, and so it ends up working perfectly during the confrontation and fight scenes where the dancing is essentially the fighting itself. If not every tune fully landed with me, the vast majority did and mostly kept me with the 2 and a half hour runtime. Mostly.
42nd Street, on the other hand, barely kept me focused for its first 75 minutes with a mix of occasionally cute, but mostly dull characters and situations. But then, the final 15 minutes came to life and I was left wanting more. Much more. Again, a great deal of this is due to the brilliant choreography and staging - this time by Busby Berkeley as he opens up the musical within the film (the premiere everyone has been working towards in the previous 75 minutes) into a space that would blow out the walls of most theatres. It's a surreal shift from the blandish happenings we've seen behind the curtain, but since the players are suddenly playing to the camera as their audience, it's an easy shift to make. Berkeley starts with a bride and groom off to Niagara Falls on the back of a train as it splits open to reveal its insides and numerous passengers. From there we move to a stage full of well-attired male and female dancers working through geometric patterns on a revolving stage and then on to a full city street scene (42nd that is), complete with buskers, a subway and even a murder. It's a bit of wonderful fantasy thrown onto the end of the banal.
It's a shame too. The backstage story starts off decently enough by focusing on the tyrant director Julian Marsh (played by a fine Warner Baxter) and his attempt to make one more hit play to get back in the black before his doctor stops him from doing any more. His cast infuriates him, the dancers have no rhythm and he needs to make sure his starlet keeps her attention on the man with the money and not her secret boyfriend. Meanwhile a duo of wise-cracking dancers (played with sharpness by Una Merkel and Ginger Rogers) befriend a first-timer (the flat and, frankly, rather dull Ruby Keeler) as they all get put through their paces. But whenever Baxter, Merkel or Rogers aren't on screen, there's such a lag in spirit that everything feels in slow motion - even if you decide to fast forward. Plot ideas are left by the wayside, characters stranded and dialogue left dangling as it fizzles. There was a template here - an old comfortable one to be sure - that could have yielded some nice surprises or nuggets of gold (especially when you have several of the cast members willing and able), but it's rather perfunctory overall in bringing us to those final 3 musical numbers. But what numbers!
Over on the West Side, the big set pieces and routines are spread much more evenly throughout the film, but the star-crossed lovers drama (one from the Puerto Rican neighbourhood, the other from the Polish district) is half-baked from the get-go. The film handles the visual aspect of "love at first sight" in great fashion (when the two see each other for the first time, the entire rest of the dance floor is blurred on screen except for themselves as the whole world melts away), but once either of the couple gets the focus of the camera (outside of any singing) time slows to a crawl. Tony is as uninteresting as uninteresting gets and Natalie Wood (as lovely and charming as she has been elsewhere) doesn't quite deliver the spunk one would hope from Maria. The rest of the cast is game though - Rita Moreno almost rips her skirt off during her fireball dancing in "America", Russ Tamblyn sets the tone with athleticism in "Jet Song" and a whole mess of those Jets knock the best number ("Cool") right out of that underground parking garage with a few random exclamations of "Pow!". It's damn invigorating actually. Which is helpful while you're watching Tony and Maria coo at each other and waiting for the next number. At least there's always some fine scenery to gaze at in the background.
Despite its failure to do anything of note with the Romeo and Juliet plot, West Side Story manages to impress with a unique, engaging and artful approach to transporting a stage play to the widescreen. And while 42nd Street did similar things to alter the audience's notions of what a musical could be on a big canvas (albeit in 1.33:1 and in black and white), it ultimately fails by pushing almost everything of interest to its very last act. Of course, that last act (and even bigger stage-defying fantasies Berkeley created in later films like Footlight Parade and Dames) enabled West Side Story to exist in the first place, so I guess it did provide some new life in the end.
Tuesday, 21 January 2014
Just like the year before, my quest to do monthly Blind Spot posts came up just a bit short - counting yesterday's post as part of last year's set still left me one shy of an even dozen. That's OK though...And since I watch 2 per month to bundle into a single post, I still managed to see and jot down a few things about 22 movies that have been stalled on my "To Watch" list. Also, the vast majority of what I saw was well worth the wait and confounded expectations that had been in place for years. Even the ones that didn't gave me something to consider. So this whole idea behind the Blind Spot series (kicked off 2 years ago by top notch Toronto blogger/writer dudes James McNally and Ryan McNeil) is perfect for me - it pokes and prods us into finally getting around to those films that we not only feel are classics we should see, but are ones we really want to see. In other words, it helps push slackards like myself to get to those titles that have sat unseen.
I'll probably try to write some shorter posts this year since one of my big stumbling blocks is approaching a task of writing and then finding it a bit daunting. If it becomes a chore, then I probably shouldn't be doing it. We'll see how that plays out, but I'm hopeful I can actually stay with it, see all 24, capture a few of my thoughts on a monthly basis and actually submit them on time too (each Blindspot post is "due" the last Tuesday of each month). I really have enjoyed the process of finding commonalities and differences between the movies in each paring and have definitely hit some surprises along the way, so I expect more of the same.
So here is my initial cut at the parings I'm looking at for 2014. Of course, I reserve the right to scrap them and alter my choices based on nothing more than a whim...
Breaking The Waves (1996)
Shanghai Express (1932)
One of the pairings I didn't get around to last year, so let's give it another shot. Almost 65 years separate these two stories of women and their sacrifices - it just takes one of them exactly twice as long as the other to tell its version.
Best Years Of Our Lives (1946)
Ashes And Diamonds (1958)
The other pairing I didn't do last year was Best Years Of Our Lives and From Here To Eternity since I replaced them with a couple of Westerns. On rethinking that skipped pairing for this year, I still want to get to Best Years, but this time out I thought I would match it up with another post-war story. I'm expecting the view from Poland to be in sharp contrast to the one from the U.S. though.
West Side Story (1961)
42nd Street (1933)
Busby Berkeley's flights of imagination seem to be a good match for the colour and choreography of West Side.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Coming Home (1978)
It took awhile for bigger budgeted American films to recognize the Vietnam War, but when they did there was a plethora of titles that rolled out. Here are two of the more well acclaimed ones.
Last Temptation Of Christ (1988)
Last Tango In Paris (1972)
Temptation and sin. This struck me as a decidedly interesting combo.
Coal Miner's Daughter (1980)
Two struggling female singers find different routes to success, both fraught with consequences.
The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin (aka Shaolin Master Killer) (1978)
Five Deadly Venoms (1978)
Late 70s kung-fu is still a sadly unexplored region of film for me. I've seen a few - some epic and some plain silly - but I'm hoping these two hit the spot nicely.
A Night At The Opera (1935)
It's A Gift (1934)
I'm still surprised at myself for not having seen this particular Marx Brothers film. I think it's because it marks the transition to their latter period where they lost some of the spark of their earlier films. I fully expect this to be of equal caliber to those first anarchic comedies, so who better to pair up with the brothers than W.C. Fields.
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
Lost Highway (1997)
Surrealism, fractured timelines and a world of confusion await me here. I can't wait.
East Of Eden (1955)
Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf (1966)
Brother against brother, husband versus wife - let's see how these family battles turn out.
Ride The High Country (1962)
Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973)
OK, I'm getting a little lazy in my matchups at this point by simply picking two Sam Peckinpah Westerns. I don't care - I've been meaning and wanting to see both of these for years. Even if Sam isn't my favourite filmmaker, I have always found his choices to be interesting.
Sansho The Bailiff (1954)
An Autumn Afternoon (1962)
Again with the easy pairing - two classic Japanese films that I've oddly not found time for...In truth, I've only seen a single Ozu. And though I've seen plenty of Mizoguchi by now, I've somehow avoided Sansho. Time to rectify this matter.
Monday, 20 January 2014
As pre-WWII statements of America, Mr Smith Goes To Washington and The Grapes Of Wrath both warn against allowing the powerful elite control over the little common man - a call to arms often heard on the cinematic landscape and relevant to today's political and economic climate as well. But even though they were filmed within a year of each other (1939 & 1940 respectively), they reach much different conclusions about the country via very different storytelling methods. Their biggest commonality might actually be that each film was a showcase for a blooming star - a 31 year-old Jimmy Stewart looking perfectly young and naive as a hick junior senator in Mr. Smith and Henry Fonda, still with boyish good looks at 35 and piercing eyes that illuminate the black and white landscapes of Grapes, bringing some more mature depth to the strength of Tom Joad. They had each been in the business for about 5 years, had each recently come off star-making lead roles for the first time (Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life and Fonda in Young Mister Lincoln) and then never really looked back. They became Hollywood staples now destined for big things, gorgeous starlet co-stars and future best-of lists.
Looking at these films for the first time almost 3/4 of a century later, only one film stands out for me with a story that equals its message - John Ford's The Grapes Of Wrath. A big reason is Fonda's focused take on Joad, but it may be mostly to do with the film's staged approach to releasing its message about the rights of workers. It's not that it's always subtle mind you, but the plight of these migrant farm workers builds throughout the story and allows you to feel more than just sympathy for these poor homeless people. Particularly since Tom becomes someone you can respect and even attempt to emulate as he learns different ways of disarming volatile situations. The junior senator Jefferson Smith, on the other hand, starts out naive as the day is long and - though his intentions are good and "wholesome" - seems to flail against whatever he can't immediately break through. Early on after his move to Washington, the press make fun of his hick background and Smith reacts by going around and punching every writer in the face (including an old man getting into a car). This transition from friendly aw-shucks yokel to rage-filled vengeance seeker doesn't really endear him to you, so when he gets frustrated that his lone idea and cause is threatened due to a bill allowing the creation of a dam (on the property earmarked for his boys camp project), you can't help feel that the day long filibuster that results is mostly a temper tantrum. He ends up on the right path fighting corruption and greed, but he stumbles into it and needs help to navigate the terrain.
Fortunately, the help he receives is from the wonderful Jean Arthur. As Smith's assistant, she brings verve to the film when she's on screen (even if it's just reacting to those around her with her unparalleled timing) and is a gleaming shining light. Otherwise, I had little connection to the story or characters (apart from the great character actors Eugene Pallette, Thomas Mitchell and William Demarest who pepper the film). Jefferson Smith simply isn't interesting. Oh sure, his eyes are opened to the corruption in government, but there's no arc to his character. Again, he goes from one end of a spectrum to another - being in awe of his surroundings to a cynic in a blink. That awe, by the way, is shown in a cheesefest of a montage showing the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials backed by "Glory, Glory Hallelujah" and topped by a child reading "Four score and seven years ago...". It's an obvious setup for his fall, but director Frank Capra is so heavy-handed with it that I expected Yankee Doodle to come riding by...Oh, did I mention that Yankee Doodle Dandy was played over the opening titles? Also, I have to be honest and state that Smith simply irritated me - not just with his black/white reactions to everything, but also due to his male-centric views. Granted, this was 75 years ago, but Smith goes from publishing a boys magazine to flogging the benefits of a boys camp and states that his main desire is to "make the Capitol come to life for every boy…". He does appreciate the value of his assistant though and lets her know that "for a woman you've done very well...". If it sounds like I'm being harsh on a beloved classic, it's because my frustrations with the film lie mainly in its black and white perspective. The cronies are bad, the politicians and newspaper folks are cynical, etc. It leaves no surprises for the story and frankly makes his "impassioned" filibuster rather dull.
By contrast, Tom Joad starts out having just left prison (with the simple hope of not having to "knock anyone down") and eventually gets to a position of optimism even in the face of hardship ("we're the people that live...") - but he does this in a gradual fashion through difficult circumstances and by listening to others and learning from them. It's immediately easy to react against all the land owners forcing out their farming tenants, but Joad realizes that not all of them are necessarily evil. It's the system that's broken and the owners are actually having their own hands forced by the banks. This is one of the areas where Grapes shines as it acknowledges that not everything is cut and dried. Though the film certainly puts Tom and his family through some pretty rough paces as they travel to California and end up in the migrant farmer camps, it never feels like plot is being dumped on them to drive home any points. Their travels end up not just highlighting the history of these farm workers, but view the variety of opinions and people across the land. When Tom's family pull out of their homestead, they offer to bring along Preacher even though they are all but destitute. It's a lovely moment, but it's quickly followed by Tom's mother taking a last look at her home and stating "never had to lose everything I had in life...". The film wants you to see both sides of the country and everything in between. Later in the film Preacher tells Tom that he can't be a preacher any more since a preacher has to know - and he simply doesn't anymore. "I gotta ask."
Grapes Of Wrath and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington try to show "both sides" of America - the good and the bad - but only Grapes seems to understand that there is a pretty large grey area between the two.
Saturday, 4 January 2014
For the 4th year running, good friend James McNally (also the founder and curator of the great short film screening series Shorts That Are Not Pants) has polled a disparate group of Toronto film writers/bloggers/cineastes for their 10 best films of the past year. The resulting final CAST (Cinema Appreciation Society of Toronto) awards provides not only a fine looking Top 10, but also allows you to walk through all the individual lists (including mine) to get a glimpse of a wide variety of taste and hopefully garner a few ideas for additional films to watch.
The full list with additional stats and individual member's votes can be found here. Below is the top 15:
- 12 Years a Slave
- Before Midnight
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- Frances Ha
- The Wolf of Wall Street
- Upstream Color
- Dallas Buyers Club
- Blue is the Warmest Color
- The Broken Circle Breakdown
- Museum Hours
- Spring Breakers
Except for Blue is the Warmest Color (which I haven't yet seen) and Frances Ha (which simply never connected with me), I'm kinda in love with this list. My entire top 5 is represented within it and 10 of my top 20 make it. I don't know what that says about me and my taste, but it sure means a lot of great cinema was appreciated this year.
Friday, 3 January 2014
Going through several lists of upcoming 2014 movies today (while putting off writing another post I should finish up), I began to gather a few titles to add to my ever growing list of Movies To See. It didn't take long for that number to crest over 50, so I stopped digging for more new titles and thought I would try to cull them down to a manageable 20. These, then, would be my most anticipated.
But first, let's review last year's list...Of the 13 titles I mentioned, I've seen 8 of them (2 of which even changed names before I got to see them) and all but one of them met or exceeded my expectations (the less said about the Kurosawa the better). The 5 I didn't see were all pushed back to 2014 (at least as far as North American releases goes), so they kick off my list below - everything after them is in random order so that I can properly space out the few stills I could find. No matter how you frame it though, it's looking like a pretty exciting 12 months ahead...
Mood Indigo - Michel Gondry
As I stated last year, I'll always be curious what Gondry does next...This still looks to have a great sense of wonder to it, so I'm equally as excited to see it as I was 10 months ago.
A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence - Roy Andersson
Beyond the moon for this...It's been over 6 years since he gave us the extraordinary You, The Living and this is (I think) the 4th year in a row that I hope it finally arrives.
7500 - Takashi Shimizu
I fully expect this will be sapped of any of the chills and creep of Shimizu's best J-Horror work, but I can't deny that I'm still eager to experience some genuine atmospheric horror on the big screen. Fingers and toes crossed he can deliver at least a bit.
Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson
I had avoided all trailers and as much info about this as I could - I mean, I'm going to see it no matter what, so why spoil anything? But just last week the trailer showed up in front of Inside Llewyn Davis and, well, I'm only human...I couldn't turn my eyes away. Of course, it made me even more anxious to experience Anderson's world again.
Foxcatcher - Bennett Miller
The delay on this concerns me, but I still think a dramatic turn by Steve Carell could be of interest.
Boyhood - Richard Linklater
The movie that Linklater has been working on for 12 years (with the same cast members, including a young boy who has grown up throughout the shooting) should finally make it to the screen this year. It sounds like the title may be changed, but I expect you'll be hearing about it no matter what it's called.
Inherent Vice - P.T. Anderson
Yep, I'm one of those P.T. Anderson fanboys...If his last two still don't quite reach the apex of Punch Drunk Love, they are still fascinating works of art.
The Brothers Lionheart - Tomas Alfredson
From vampires to spies to a Scandinavian children's story. I have supreme confidence that Alfredson could be randomly assigned a genre and story and make it all work.
Eden - Mia Hansen-Love
Though the big pull for most people will be Greta Gerwig, it's Hansen-Love who will get me in the seats. Both of her previous films (The Father Of My Children and Goodbye First Love felt effortless in building the casts of characters and their relationships. Which of course meant great attention to detail was given every step of the way.
Interstellar - Christopher Nolan
Non-Batman Nolan films are tremendously fun and engaging for me. I hope that his reach doesn't extend past his grasp here, but I trust that the popcorn sci-fi treat he's bringing to the multiplex will be exactly what I ordered.
I, Origins - Mike Cahill
Though I quite enjoyed Cahill's previous effort (Another Earth), I'm more interested in the story here - "A molecular biologist and his lab partner uncover startling evidence that could fundamentally change society as we know it and cause them to question their once-certain beliefs in science and spirituality." It could all come crashing down in mumbo jumbo, but I appreciated the thoughtful approach given Another Earth so the hope remains for a "thinking person's" sci-fi film.
Life Itself - Steve James
Who isn't looking forward to seeing the life of Roger Ebert brought to the screen by one of the greatest documentarians alive?
The Lobster - Yorgos Lanthimos
As much as I liked Dogtooth, Lanthimos' second feature ALPS is what did it for me. He brings a unique sensibility and rules to his stories and characters and I'm wondering where he's going to bring us next.
The Imitation Game - Morten Tyldum
The story of Alan Turing cracking the Enigma code in WWII by the director of Headhunters. Yep. Most definitely.
Midnight Special - Jeff Nichols
Didn't I just finished saying (in my list of favourite films of 2013) that Jeff Nichols has jumped up to the ranks of directors who can get me to watch anything they make? So I don't even need to know what this new one is about. I'm going to see it, so no further info is required. As a matter of fact, I'm going to attempt to avoid any information about it entirely. Nothing. OK, so it's about a father and son going on the run after the dad finds out the boy has "special powers" and stars Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst, but that's all you'll get from me...For now.
22 Jump Street - Phil Lord, Chris Miller
If this is half the fun of 21 Jump Street (so, 10 1/2 Jump Street?) it'll still be one of the best comedies of the year. Word is they are looking to play up every sequel cliche in the book. Maybe they should call it 42 Jump Street...
The Trip To Italy - Michael Winterbottom
A sequel of sorts to The Trip - the road movie (initially a 6-part TV mini-series) which allowed Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon to bicker, complain and do a variety of impersonations while visiting restaurants and eating remarkably appetizing food. Apparently this is more of the same, but now in Italy. Take my money.
The Cut - Fatih Akin
Five years since his last narrative film, so expectations are high as Akin returns to drama after the fun comedic tone of Soul Kitchen. I haven't dug out any further details about the story yet, but no matter...
Knight Of Cups/Voyage Of Time/anything else Malick wishes to project on a screen - Terence Malick
There were rumours that Malick has had a couple of different movies on the go since Tree Of Life (another was called The Burial I believe), so who knows what will show up, at what point and with who in it. Regardless, I await any and all of them with bated breath.
The Young And Prodigous T.S. Spivet - Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Jeunet is not one for subtlety, so I worry that this young boy's adventure tale might get away from him on a 3-D canvas. But I'm still an unabashed fan of his French language films (with Amelie having settled in quite close to my heart), so why not be positive about what he might be able to do here?
And here's a grab bag of other titles expected within the next 363 days. My interest is mostly based on the directors involved...
- A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn)
- The Congress (Ari Folman)
- Cyber (Michael Mann)
- Gone Girl (David Fincher)
- Land Ho! (Aaron Katz, Martha Stephens)
- Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
- Life Of Riley aka Aimer, Boire Et Chanter (Alain Resnais)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
- Phoenix (Christian Petzold)
- The Raid 2 (Gareth Evans)
- The Rover (David Michod)
- Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho)
- They Came Together (David Wain)
- Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas)
Wednesday, 1 January 2014
A personal list of the films that excited me, moved me and stuck with me this past year...
1. Museum Hours
One of the most wonderful examinations of the intertwining relationship between life and art that I've seen, Museum Hours also provided me with the most eye-opening "wow" moments of the year as it delighted in matching scenes from both those worlds.
Spike Jonze takes a sci-fi concept (about artificial intelligences so advanced, you can fall in love with them) as a springboard to look at human relationships, what we need from our partners/friends and how crippling loneliness can truly be. There's also plenty of humour, great performances all around and some wonderful detail built into the not-to-distant-future world that's been rendered on screen.
3. Before Midnight
If I didn't like or respect every choice that Jesse and Celine made during the course of the film (or, for that matter, all 3 films), I completely believed that each of them would make those decisions. A practically perfect and complete realization of complex characters that frustrate you as they also endear themselves to you. And the opening car ride is easily one of the best scenes of the year.
4. Broken Circle Breakdown
Through its use of music (American folk to die for) and a broken narrative structure, this Belgian/Dutch film by Felix van Groeningen (The Misfortunates) heightens and emphasizes each and every little moment, shows the pointlessness of each little argument and really does invoke the old saw that you should "live every moment to its fullest".
5. Upstream Color
This movie is tactile. I could almost feel it. It immersed me into its sound field & visuals and enveloped my senses like few other films have. There's more to it, but the visceral feelings I had throughout are more than enough reason for me to love it.
6. Starred Up
There was a palpable sense of authenticity about this British prison story (my favourite film from TIFF) that helped bring a sense of unease and unpredictability to each and every scene. Its characters are extraordinarily flawed individuals that you felt could explode at any given moment, but who could also surprise via their cunning, logic and occasional ability to see the bigger picture and not just the end of a shiv. The film is nigh on perfect in its depiction of not just the brutal life of the slammer, but of the different ways men desperately crave respect (in all its forms) and the lengths to which they will go to get it.
7. Like Father Like Son
Like most Kore-eda films, this one excels in its little moments - in particular just about every moment either of the two adorable 6 year-old boys is on screen. No matter what subject or theme Kore-eda considers, he always manages to bring real and interesting people to his stories with whom you kind of want to stay in touch. Even if they may be terribly misguided at times.
I'm not sure any other story this year engrossed me more in its narrative details. Everything gelled perfectly: the pacing, the sense of place, the characters. Jeff Nichols has now made my list of "anything he does, I'll watch".
9. Twenty Feet From Stardom
When Merry Clayton (the female vocalist in the Rolling Stones classic "Gimme Shelter") ferociously rips into Neil Young's "Southern Man" with her killer backing band and glowers straight through the camera lens to her audience, it gave me my number one goose-bump raising moment of 2013. It's goddamn glorious. The rest of the film ain't too shabby either as it introduces numerous other incredibly talented yet rarely acknowledged backup singers from a variety of rock genres and does them a great deal of justice.
10. Short Term 12
Brie Larson gives one of the best performances of the year in an affecting story of damaged young people that never once hits a false note or feels like it was pleading for an emotional response.
11. Blue Ruin
A consistently surprising and suspenseful revenge film with a confused, complex, imperfect protagonist makes for a messy moral landscape - and I can't wait for more people to get a chance to see it.
12. The Wolf Of Wall Street
I'll admit I'm still a bit conflicted about Scorsese's latest...I hear the criticism - a lack of a moral centre, the fact that it might actually bring more fame & money to the story's real-life slimeball and how much of it is "Scorsese-retread" - and I can even agree with some of it, but it doesn't change the fact that it also contains numerous memorable scenes and was 3 hours worth of engaging entertainment. And Kyle Chandler's FBI agent provides just the right amount of humanity at the end to bring me back out of the cesspool.
13. The Battery
A novel take on the zombie movie with two former baseball players doing the best they can to avoid the roving hordes while also trying not to kill each other. Refreshing, original and gorgeous looking to boot.
I can't help but love a movie that dives headlong into a lurid morass and then just revels and bathes in it (this may explain why I really did enjoy The Wolf Of Wall Street). A great example of what modern day melodrama can be - I can't help but think that Douglas Sirk would've been impressed.
A film that shifts tonally on a dime (It's a comedy! No, its a mystery! No, it's a thriller! No, it's a satire of modern day Korean...Wait, what kind of movie is this?!), but never lets go of you or your interest in where the story is going.
For all its technical marvel and beautiful images, Gravity is at its core a thrill ride and more intense than most any amusement park ride. It probably took me about an hour to regain my legs afterwards.
17. Muscle Shoals
If it only succeeded in reinforcing the genius of Wilson Pickett's cover of "Hey Jude" (and Duane Allman's role in it), Muscle Shoals would be a great music documentary. It's much more though, as it tells several bittersweet stories revolving around the overflowing amount of classic soul and rock that came from this tiny corner of Alabama.
18. Valentine Road
I've rarely been as angry walking out of a movie as I was after seeing this documentary about the murder of an 8th grade student by one of his classmates. It's a useful anger though - one that makes you want to ensure nothing like this could happen anywhere within your reach. The systemic failure at every turn by every adult to help either of these children is shameful and tragic.
19. 12 Years A Slave
12 Years A Slave never shies away from showing you the horrific nature of the lives of slaves, but it also never purposely tries to wring every last tear from you. The emotion it earns at the end of the film is completely honest.
20. The World's End
As funny as expected, but also a look at the dangers of living in the past. I'm not sure anyone expected a movie about a pub crawl could be this mature.
15 Honourable Mentions:
We Are The Best!, Much Ado About Nothing, Spring Breakers, Side Effects, Drinking Buddies, A Story Of Children And Film, Metalhead, The Lunchbox, Under The Skin, Sound City, Rewind This!, 15 Reasons To Live, Motivational Growth, Cheap Thrills, Enough Said