(Far and away the best poster of the year. Like a demented Hitchcock profile)
“One of the things that’s wrong with pictures today, I think, is that so many of the people making them started out wanting to.” – Peter Bogdanovich
“There is a language that can only be conveyed through cinema. I think most of the films we see are just illustrated narratives. Remember something: Most people just half-watch TV. They watch TV while they are doing many other things in the environment of their home. So what they are doing goes through their ears as much as through their eyes. In television, the narrative and characters are in the foreground of everything, because you are watching TV as you do other stuff. You’re following the narrative. And when it’s great, it’s amazing. When you’re doing a film, narrative is your most important tool, but it’s a tool to create a cinematographic experience, to create those moments that are beyond narrative, that are almost an abstraction of that moment that hits your psyche.” – Alfonso Cuarón
Another day, another dollar. Another year, another four hundred dollars spent at the movies. 2013 has come and gone. Here at Grain&Noise (I say that as if it’s more than just me) we not only seek out 70s crime dramas only available on region 3 DVDs, we also try to see everything new. The good (This Is The End), the bad (Haunted House), and the ugly (Christian Bale’s wrist fat in American Hustle). And what better way to drum up traffic for an inconsequential blog than with an easily digestible, slightly snarky list. So here you have it, the “best” films of 2013*.
It’s no coincidence that my two of my top three films were shot in black and white, hell, the top three since Inside Llewellyn Davis might as well have been. 2013 was a spectacular year at the movies. It topped 2012 which was no easy feat. It was a year of across the board excellence, every genre, every style. And it was great because filmmakers, with even more competition from television, online streaming, and whatever text you just got, have been forced out of their comfort zone. They’ve gone back to basics to try to re-ignite the fire that made film the most influential art form of the 20th century (suck on that music!). So whether it’s Gravity going full on spectacle and making you squidget (word?) in your seat, or Nebraska examining generational divide on the stark plains of a defeated heartland, this year was a doozy.
(*I’m fully aware a lot of excellent films are still coming out. I’ve yet to see Her and Wolf of Wall Street but since everyone else is already publishing their lists I figured I would as well. Here are two favorites: Brody and Zacharek)
1) Inside Llewyn Davis: I’ve always respected the Coen brothers but this is the first film of theirs that I loved with a capital L. It leaves you in that sweet spot between hope and remorse, hot and cold, light and dark, naked and famous. Every detail is so realized and every piece fits so expertly together. The music, the photography, the performances, the tail of that cat as he glides down the hallway. A film that gracefully confronts the inevitability of our true self.
2) Nebraska: In previous movies Payne has tried to sneak in empathy under sarcasm and sex jokes but in Nebraska he gets them to work hand and hand. Can anyone think of a recent movie where the old people are so…real? A film where you can see characters communicating simply through the way they share space, how they sit across from one another, how they sit around a table, how they walk beside one another through a graveyard. Nebraska also features the darkest exchange of the year when David (Will Forte) says “My father’s one of those people who trusts what others tell him” and a secretary replies “Oh, poor guy”. Ummph. (Also, that exchange was from memory so probably not exact.)
3) Frances Ha: Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig took the skeleton of mumblecore, stripped it of the navel-gazing, and deep fried it in this leaping, bounding, effortless joy. It’s so specific to this moment and so perfectly captures a certain kind of idealism. On the surface it’s the quirky tale of a young woman figuring out her twenties, underneath it’s the quirky tale of a young woman realizing the world can’t only be made up of artists and dancers. Sometimes you have to work. Everyone has dreams, not everyone will achieve them. That doesn’t mean you have be unhappy.
4) Spring Breakers: Korine has said he’s less concerned with plot than with collecting images that pool up in your mind. If great cinema is oneiric then Spring Breakers should be number 1 because it’s the closest I got all year to dreaming with my eyes open. James Franco’s like a southern ghetto Physchlo (that dreaded alien thing that John Travolta played in Battlefield Earth). The music is suffocating. The colors are garish. It’ll take multiple viewings to unpack.
5) The Place Beyond the Pines: I hope The Place Beyond the Pines isn’t forgotten. It’s cops and robbers on an epic scale anchored by excellent performances. There are so many small moments of truth (when Ryan Gosling dances with that dog) juxtaposed against this multi-generational sprawl. The choices we make in the heat of the moment end up defining not just our lives but the lives of our children and our children’s children.
6) Gravity: The year’s strongest argument in favor of going to see a film at an actual movie theatre. Cuarón made something as elemental as GRAVITY, or lack thereof, the scariest villain of the year. That’s like building a horror movie around clouds. The 3D is so immersive I was sweating in 60 degree AC.
7) Mud: Like Italy in the 1400’s Matthew McConaughey is having a renaissance and Mud is his Pietà. He’s all swamp and bravado. When Sam Shepard shows up at the end to blow away those bad guys, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Forget Martin Scorsese and David O. Russell, it’s time for a new generation of filmmakers to get their due. Everything Jeff Nicols does is worthy of consideration. In five years he’ll be bigger than them all.
8) American Hustle: Sure, in superficial ways it’s similar to Goodfellas, or Boogie Nights, or any movie that features a lurching camera and pop music. But it’s the best ensemble of the year and I could watch it over and over and over.
9) Blue Jasmine: Does anyone still doubt that Woody Allen should be on the American cinema Mt. Rushmore? I love the way he shoots interiors. I love the way characters just get up and walk out of frame. I love that’s it’s detailed enough to feel real and vague enough to be parable. When Alec Baldwin says “You’ll do just fine” to that blonde fitness instructor I almost cracked a rib.
10) Captain Phillips: A lot has been made of the final scene where Tom Hanks breaks down during a routine examination by the ships’ doctor. But that scene only works if the preceding two hours make you feel every bit as trapped and tortured as anyone in his situation would be.
11) Side Effects: I’m a sucker for pulpy thrillers. Soderbergh’s direction is always interesting. The whole thing looks like a Lunesta commercial which makes perfect sense given the subject matter. Nobody does zombie eyes like Rooney Mara. Sometimes you just gotta give it up for a bizarro sexual plot twist.
The “Oh man, it’s could’ve been awesome” award: Elysium
Finally, I thought, a science fiction film that will simultaneously entertain and confront the predominant political issue of our time, income inequality. Finally, a film that will capture the absurdity of unrestrained capitalism as well as feature kick-ass robo-men shooting shit up. Well, it did all those things. It just didn’t do them very well. Bummer.
The “I don’t care how good it is, I’m never seeing it because the trailer is so cloying and they played it in front every damn movie I went to see this year” award: Saving Mr. Banks
“Who can say they’ve ever been to Disney World with Walt Disney?”.
The “Foreign film that if it had been made in English would only be seen as mediocre” award: Blue is the Warmest Color
The same people who think French wine is better just because it’s French think this movie is great…just because it’s French. Yes, good performances. Yes, well written. But its’ lasting impact can be summed up by an overheard conversation as I left the theater: ” I fell a sleep for a bit in the middle and when I woke up it seemed like I didn’t miss anything.”
The “If nothing else, it exposed me to this” award: No
The political ad to vote Pinochet out of office. Brilliant.
The “I don’t know how to feel, but it haunts me” award: 12 Years a Slave
If they weren’t wearing period costumes, you’d think it were Saw II. Guy wakes up in a dark cell and is tortured for the next two hours. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important that a film illustrate how utterly disgusting slavery was. It’s important to understand that, paraphrasing James Madison, slavery was “America’s original sin”. But did anyone walk into 12 years a slave not knowing that slavery was awful? As mesmerizing as the performances are, and as artistically rendered as 12 years a Slave is, I couldn’t help but feel a creeping sadism. A whiff of cold and calculated manipulation. Kind of like the kid who has a little too much fun rubbing gross out pictures in your face. Still, the images haunt me and it’s a film I’ll never forget.
The “Freddy Adu of films” award: Pacific Rim
Remember when Freddy Adu was on TRL bouncing soccer balls off his head and dating Jojo? Everyone said he was going to be the next big thing. Turned out he was overrated and underwhelming. Everyone tried to make Pacific Rim the next Star Wars. But the characters were too basic, the world too hollow. It was an exciting film with “bitchin” (seems like appropriate word choice for this movie) effects. It featured a lot of guys talking to one another while standing sideways (What is that by the way? I guess so we can see their profile.). I thoroughly enjoyed myself… but I also enjoy eating Domino’s pizza and trampolines.
The “Good God, why hadn’t I seen this sooner? Why isn’t this better remembered? Thank you Film Forum.” award: Let’s Get Lost
Whoa. If you want to weep for an artist you’ve come to the right place. Let’s Get Lost is a black and white documentary about Chet Baker that jumps the neeedle on the self destruction Richter scale. It’s also a perfect companion piece to Inside Llweyn Davis. There’s a fleeting moment near the end where some kids are running along the beach at night. A girl in the center of the group turns around and gives the camera this look that’s at the same time heartbreakering and arousing and curious and weary and it was the definition of a HOLY MOMENT. Do yourself a favor and scrounge up some money, buy an old movie house, then buy a print of Let’s Get Lost, wait until winter, then invite over some friends, then pour yourself a glass of bitter liquid and WATCH THIS FILM.
Alright, well, that about sums it up. See you, dear reader, in the new year. Have a beautiful 2014.