Thursday, January 30, 2014

2013: Year in Review

I live in a world of dreams. I sit and watch images pass by me as they find their way into my memory and my heart. I vicariously live through their suffering, heartache, triumph and desires. I latch onto the images and stories of people I wish I could be and the people I wish I could know without this boundary of screen, but I find myself there while it lasts and for moments I am with them and they are a part of my world. It’s not just the power of escapism that draws me to cinema, but the power of seeing entire worlds created and finding a connection to those people living within them. I live my life through the scope of everything I experience within the world of cinema. It has been the one constant in my life for as long as I can remember and those experiences I had with this sacred art in 2013 were immense and unforgettable.

Best Films
1. Top of the Lake (Jane Campion): Campion’s mini-series seems to play out like a 21st Century reimagining of the cryptic small town setting and abject weirdness of Twin Peaks, but turns out being much darker than one could have imagined. The difference between something like Peaks and Lake is that Campion never shrouds the evil of humanity in a metaphorical evil spirit. She plays everything much closer to reality and the evil that Top of the Lake confronts is rape culture.  It’s pervasive, creeping and around every corner of the world these characters live in, and I’m not sure if a more poignant film came out this past year.
2. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach): A film about Female friendship as platonic soul mates, economic frustrations, arrested development and dance all wrapped up in a nice French New Wave inspired package. This film lives and dies on the strength of Greta Gerwig and luckily she’s at a career best. It’s telling that so many people relate to Frances. I think in part it’s because she serves as a kind of mascot for the current generation of post-graduates who are trying to find their way in the world. Baumbach and Gerwig capture those feelings of plowing ahead through uncertainty perfectly. Although there should have been more dance. More dance in movies in 2014 please
3. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine): I’m convinced Spring Breakers is a film of contradictions, and an endlessly fascinating one. Feminism exists within surface level male gaze, Terrence Malick’s ethereal templates are grafted onto Spring Break culture, Korine shows affection for his characters while simultaneously damning them. All these things together create something that is ridiculously compelling from a purely interpretational viewpoint, and when you add onto that the pop art aesthetic being baptized in the waters of Malick and Mann you have something truly unique.
4. Drug War (Johnnie To): Johnnie To’s brand of film making has often been compared to Jazz at times (especially in the case of something like Sparrow, and rightfully so), but in Drug War it’s a little different and I’m more prone to compare his work in action to thrash metal. The way everything is so tightly constructed, the way the action viscerally moves from one scene to the next without losing the rhythm of the movement. It’s anything but rigid, and like thrash metal it moves over you like a machine and pummels everything in it’s way.
5.  Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen): It's not entirely difficult to make the claim that this is the Coen’s Ulysses to their Odysseus (O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Filled to the brim with the kind of darkly comic tragedy we’ve come to expect from them and punctuated by an incredible soundtrack. I still have Please Mr. Kennedy stuck in my head. Someone please send help.
6. The Unspeakable Act (Dan Sallitt): A film dedicated to Rohmer that echoes his influence on cinema. The way Sallitt has a control of the rhythm of dialogue calls upon the late director’s work and the transgressive look at incestual desire always feels respected and not presented as taboo. It's just a facet of this young girls blossoming sexuality. Tallie Medel is astounding and the therapy sessions are something of a marvel in the way he makes sitting and talking feel vibrant and alive.
7. White Reindeer (Zach Clark): For a little while White Reindeer held the top spot on my year end list, and I still love it deeply. Zach Clark’s picture absolutely floored me when I watched it earlier this year, and captures spiraling depression in a really human and loving way. Anna Margaret Hollyman also gives the best performance I’ve seen all year. The film is really funny too.
8. Wolf Children (Mamoru Hosada): Making me cry is a common theme of the films I tend to fall in love with and it was no different this year. Wolf Children left me in a pool of tears. The melodrama is incredible and the single parent-motherhood narrative mixed with it’s identity politics really hit close to home.
9. Bastards (Claire Denis): There is something deliriously evil about this film. Claire Denis and Agnes Godard’s collaborations have never been this bleak and pessimistic. Every ounce of her usual sensual-bodies in motion- style is demonized and repurposed to chill instead of sensualize. Like my #1 of the year Top of the Lake it takes you down the rabbit hole of a pervasive culture and like that film as well it’s horrifying to find out what lies at the center.
10. Lesson of the Evil (Takashi Miike): This may very well be the most nihilistic film of the lot, but I can’t help but fall in love with Miike’s craft, the colours he uses and the black comedy inherent within slasher films to once again show everyone who the best in the world is at making horror films. (This might have been undistributed. It had a NY festival date so I'm counting it)
The other films I loved this year
11. The World's End (Edgar Wright)
12. Fast & Furious Six (Justin Lin)
13. The Punk Singer (Sini Anderson)
14. Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan)
15. Viola (Matías Piñeiro) 
16. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)
17. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
18. Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski)
19. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
20. The Heat (Paul Feig)
21. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
22. The Grandmaster (Wong Kar Wai)
23. Leviathan (Lucien Casting-Taylor, Verena Paravel)
24. Frozen (Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck)
25. The Past (Asghar Farhadi)

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (Pain & Gain)
Anna Margaret Hollyman (White Reindeer)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Suzanne Clement (Laurence Anyways)
Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)
James Franco (Spring Breakers)
Zhang Zyi (The Grandmaster)
Simon Pegg (The World's End)
Amy Acker (Much Ado About Nothing)
Nick Frost (The World's End)
Julie Delpy (Before Midnight)
Sun Honglei (Drug War)
Emma Watson (The Bling Ring)
Adam Driver (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Adepero Oduye (12 Years a Slave)
Mattew McConaughey (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Melissa McCarthy (The Heat)

*I would have liked to have written something about their performances, but I quickly realized that is not my forte and it would have quickly devolved into cliche acting buzzwords so I'll spare you all from that.

Best Direction: Johnnie To: Drug War
Runner Up: Claire Denis: Bastards

Best Cinematography: Benoit Debie: Spring Breakers
Runner Up: Emmanuel Lubezki: To the Wonder

Best Screenplay: Dan Sallitt: The Unspeakable Act
Runner Up: Joel and Ethan Coen: Inside Llewyn Davis

Best Usage of Music (this means ALL music): Laurence Anyways
Runner Up: Inside Llewyn Davis/Bastards/Spring Breakers

Best Undistributed Film: Blind Detective (Johnnie To) *Sammi Cheng gives maybe my favourite performance of the year as well. Here is hoping it gets a 2014 release

Most Quotable Movie: Frances Ha (Ahoy, Sexy! Frances Undateable)
Runner Up: The World's End (Oh, Fuck Off! You Big Lamp! Smashy Smashy Eggman)

In closing I just want to say I had a great year, and each year in cinema always opens itself up to more viewings and reworking your favourites over the years. Life through cinema is a never ending journey and this post is only a checkpoint, a timestamp of my opinion at this moment, because I still have so much more to see and to discover and I can't wait to find out. I know 2014 will bring just as many riches.

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