Friday, January 03, 2014

My favorites of 2013

No pronouncements on the state of the industry or the inside of my head this year. Let's just get to my 10 favorites, the runners-up, the interesting failures, and the other shit. The rules: These are my highly subjective favorites, based on my aesthetics, personality, and irritability. I'm a form and structure guy and a performance and character guy and a framing and lighting guy, not a plot guy. The movies that speak to me are a marriage of painting, photography, music, and personality/point of view, not just a vehicle for storytelling or plot (though I do enjoy a good story). To be eligible for my list, the film had to open in my city of Austin, Texas between January 1 and December 31 of 2013, and I had to see it, which eliminates Smurfs 2 from contention. I wrote about some of these movies already, and I will (slowly, eventually) get around to writing about the rest. I'm not ranking them in order of preference, because that changes daily. About half of my picks got the royal screwjob from distributors and the media and were unfairly ignored, hidden, or marginalized because expensive corporate product needed all that airtime and theater space, but that's a tiny speck of an injustice in the much larger screwjob we receive every single day from the corrupt, monstrous power structures that run this planet. Happy New Year! (Don't let anyone tell you I'm not full of good cheer.)

My 10 Favorite Films of the Year (ranked in the order I saw them)
Not Fade Away (David Chase)
Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami)
The We & the I (Michel Gondry)
Mud (Jeff Nichols)
Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas)
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
Bastards (Claire Denis)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen)

Close Runners-Up, or movies that would be in the top 10 if it was a different day and I was in a different mood
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
The Grandmaster (Wong Kar Wai)
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (Olivia Mori & Drew DeNicola)
Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green)
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)
Amour (Michael Haneke)

The B-Team, or movies I can easily support and recommend that nevertheless have some minor annoyances or fall short of excellence
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (Dmitry Vasyukov & Werner Herzog)
Stoker (Park Chan-Wook)
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro)
The World's End (Edgar Wright)

I Love You, I Hate You, I Love You, or movies full of transcendent visual splendor, breathtaking beauty, and irritating narrative elements that hit my pet peeve button
To the Wonder (Terrence Malick)
Please, no more childlike women twirling their skirts, jumping on beds, making snow angels, or rubbing their faces on vegetation to a voice-over soundtrack of vague Christian mysticism. Yes to everything else.
Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron)
Please, no sentimental backstory for Sandra Bullock. You didn't need it and it stopped the movie dead every time it came up. I would have been more emotionally engaged if the actors spoke less and I didn't know anything about their lives on Earth. Yes to everything else, though. This was a gorgeous movie to see on a big screen. Finally, a blockbuster that's not visually cluttered, spatially incoherent, or assaultive.

Wafer-thin, but likable 
American Hustle (David O. Russell)
Glenn Kenny already covered this on his excellent blog, but all the critics who have been holding this up as a better Scorsese film than The Wolf of Wall Street are delusional. I liked it, especially the performances by Louis C.K., Christian Bale, and Amy Adams, but this is surface flash, a dessert instead of a meal. Entertaining as hell, but it didn't stick with me very long after I finished it.
Promised Land (Gus Van Sant)

Most misunderstood movie
Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)
Most of the puffed-up controversy was in 2012, but it didn't open in Austin until 2013. I was tired of the argument almost before it started, but I didn't see either the pro-torture propaganda film condemned by lefties or the love letter to Obama some right-wing pundits managed to find here. Bigelow's unsatisfying defenses in the press did her no favors with the Glenn Greenwalds of the world, but I saw a very different film than most political journalists and opinion columnists on either side of the spectrum. I wrote about it here.

Biggest disappointment
At Any Price (Ramin Bahrani)
I liked Bahrani's first two films, and I loved his third, but this one was ill-conceived and poorly handled.

Favorite revival and film society screenings
A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes)
Husbands (John Cassavetes)
Ms. 45 (Abel Ferrara)
A New Leaf (Elaine May)
Taking Off (Milos Forman)
The Connection (Shirley Clarke)
The World's Greatest Sinner (Timothy Carey)
I didn't enjoy Pretty Poison (Noel Black) as much as I did the first time I saw it, though I still love Anthony Perkins' and Tuesday Weld's performances in it. My memories of the screening may have been marred by the minor fender bender I was in with a crazy man and his expensive car after the movie. He threatened to break my jaw and shoot me, which puts a damper on your night. Fortunately, he didn't do either of those things and blamed his behavior on a migraine. A movie would have to be a masterpiece to overcome that kind of evening, though, and Pretty Poison is too inconsistent to be a masterpiece, despite its fantastic leads.

Worst thing to happen to film this year
The death of James Gandolfini.

R.I.P.  Roger Ebert, Bigas Luna, Les Blank, Karen Black, Dennis Farina, Ed Lauter, Taylor Mead, Mario Montez, Antonia Bird, Joan Fontaine, Peter O'Toole, Julie Harris, Bernadette Lafont, Ray Harryhausen, Richard Griffiths, Kumar Pallana, Haji, Otto Sander, and Nagisa Oshima. And I'm probably forgetting some others.

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