So, with the caveat that, there's always a strong possibility that this list will probably be subject to change in the future, it's time to discuss the TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2013, at least, as of, whatever the hell today is. And it's a solid list by the way, there were some great films this year, lots of them, just a lot that personally I wasn't particularly attracted to.
THE TEN BEST MOVIES OF 2013
10. What Maisie Knew
I'm gonna admit that I overall had a very difficult time trying to figuring out how to fill this list, and where to rank everything, in fact this was probably the toughest time I've ever had trying to figure out where to rank films. "Frozen" was in here for awhile, "All is Lost" came close to making this list; I only gave "Short Term 12" 4 1/2 STARS, but I thought about placing that one in here for awhile after that film had grown in relevance to me. "20 Feet from Stardom", "The Crash Reel", "More than Honey", "Stories We Tell", "The Square", and a few others documentaries were considered however for the first time since I started doing this blog, no documentaries broke my Top Ten. It took awhile, but after a lot of self-observation, the one film that felt right being here was "What Maisie Knew", from Scott McGehee and David Seigel, a story about a complicated divorce, seen through the eyes of a child.
From my original review:
A reinterpretation of the Henry James novel, "What Maisie Knew", is one of the better movies I've seen about divorce and separation, especially from the kid's perspective. And it sticks with that kid's perspective, as the title indicates, the main character is Maisie (Onata Aprile, in her feature-film debut) the seven-year-old daughter of Susanna and Beale (Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan). He's some sort of music executive who's job requires constant overseas travel, and Susanna is a rock'n'roll singer, and before I go any further there's a few things I have to praise about this film. First, the script, is spectacular. The way this scripts write the dialogue of the characters, and the way and moments when the Maisie character, hears these outpouring of anger and random flippant-ness and, just the tone of, those moments when a kid first realizes that the parents talk and treat you differently, then maybe they actually are or behave, is really spot-on. This begins with the script, moves secondly into the directing for knowing the ways to shoot some of these scenes. The directing team of McGehee & Seigel.... there are four great performances in this film, by the main supporting characters. Beale, quickly marries the family's nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham) a move that Susanna isn't even aware of until Maisie goes to Beale's house for the week, and she's living there, and they're talking about a cruise honeymoon. In a quick response to Beale marrying a trophy wife, Susanna marries Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard), a nice bartender, who was hanging out at one of those parties adults try to throw when the kids are supposedly in bed. I don't know whether to give too much away going forward here, but essentially what's happening to Maisie is that, there's two parents who do love her, but for really aren't capable of taking care of her, despite their best efforts. Beale travels too much to even take care of his new wife, much less a kid, and Susanna's preparing a new tour. What I really liked about how good the film is that, Maisie isn't used as a pawn here. The parents are in fact, fighting each other, and sabotaging each other if possible, but Maisie's merely a witness, who doesn't fully understand what's going on, and the two parents are trying to do what's best, but failing badly, and Maisie can only understand so much of these developments, between these four characters. And they are characters, everybody gets moments to shine as actors here, yet they are all supporting, and the way the movie does has certain character seem prevalent, then leave the movie, and brings new ones in...- There's a lot going on, and it's a great film!
This is a great film, and it kinda, got swallowed up at awards time, but this really one of those where so much has to be done perfectly, or else, the whole film completely falls apart. It has to be the correct tone, it has to be completely believable in it's setting, you need really good actors in the right roles, including the role of Maisie, 'cause this little girl Onata Aprile, she is in pretty much every scene, or at least from her perspective, so she has to be good, and this script,- let's talk about this script for a second, 'cause this is a such a tricky script to write, it really is. First, you have a subject, like divorce, and remarriage where we've already got some pretty good films and images of that, that are already, well-placed in our minds, and a lot of cliche involved in those, and the screenwriter Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, find a way not necessary evade them, but find an approach them that makes sure we're completely engrossed in the film, that they come off not as cliches, and really organically, and stays in this child's perspective, and gives all the other actors enough to work with to really do some of their very best acting. This story's been adapted once or twice before on film, in the wrong hands, this story can go really, bad, Nancy Myers, Nora Ephron romantic comedy, and it never comes close to feeling that way, it's really quite an accomplish, "What Maisie Knew" and that's why it deserves to find a place on this list.
9. A Touch of Sin
The first thing I wrote when I reviewed Jia Zhangke's "A Touch of Sin" was that, it was the first film I had seen from the controversial Chinese director, and that I would probably need a second viewing. By the time I finished writing the review, I did see it a second time, and my star rating kept climbing and climbing the more intricately I paid attention, and that will probably be a common theme when I look back upon this year, as this analyzing the numerous levels of self-conflict that are involved as China continues to suffer from the growing pains and consequences of it's embrace of Capitalism.
From my original Review:
Catching people offguard by getting the film approved by the Chinese board for theatrical release in the country, barely, "A Touch of Sin", won the Screenplay Award at Cannes, and it requires quite an patient and observant eye, and probably more knowledge of the intricacies of Chinese geography and culture than I have, to fully contemplate it. The film is based on four distinct true stories that occurred in China recently, each involving sudden explosions of violence, each about the disenfranchisement of the Chinese worker, and each taking place in a different distinct part of China, andalthough there is a degree of interconnection between the stories, it's probably best to think of them as separate so that they're easier to follow. (This isn't a "Pulp Fiction"-type film that gives us a new heading to obviously informs us of a change in the story, we often have to figure it out for ourselves.) The first tale is in Northern China where a respected worker Dahai (Wu Jiang) is frustrated with the owners and village chief of the town, 'cause of they're corruption and deals, and the way they've slowly started gaining material wealth, and turning their backs on their workers after promises of raises and deals....The second story takes place in a growing southwestern town where Zhou San (Baoqiang Wang) arrives on his motorcycle. He's already killed people that we know of, and he's home with his family, none of whom are particularly happy to see him, and his menacing presence puts a shadow over everything as seemingly no one's sure exactly what he will do next, all this, while the shadow of one of the largest hydroelectric project is starting to undertake the town and change not socio-cultural and environmental ecosystems of the area.... The Third story involves Xiao Yu (Tao Zhao) a drifter who gets a job working as a receptionist at a massage parlor, until a customer starts insisting she be bought by him; she seems to somehow be protected with the image of snakes like Eve. (There's animalistic references throughout the film) The next, involves Xiao Hui (Lanshon Luo) who's a disenfranchised factory worker quits his job shortly after injuring himself, and finds himself working as a waiter in an upscale brothel that seems run more like a Vegas hotel, complete with suits, detailed instruction and even a floorshow with the girls coming out in unison in costumer, and then to another job, that gets and gets more and more disenfranchised from job-to-job.... The film is about the current situations in China, the way the Communist ideals are now in direct conflict with the continued influence of the west capitalist culture, and the personal effects it's having on the people. These are stories about people losing their identity and then resorting and falling into acts of violence as the only means of self-expression, and angry outbursts. I've seen it twice now, and the more I watch it, the greater it effects me, and the more I learn about the current state of China, in practice and mind. It shows a country in flux, trying to contemplate finding places for the old with the new, and focuses on those few people who can't seem to be able to navigate this new modern China. "A Touch of Sin" is incredibly insightful, and at times unnerving. It's a challenge to get through, but the more you dive into and digest it, the better it gets....
"A Touch of Sin" was definitely one of those films, that will try your patience, and there were a few this year, where I needed, or sometimes forced myself to watched something a second time, to fully see I grasped it, many times I didn't time for a second viewing, I was so swamped, and I still am, but yeah, there were a few films that shouted and grabbed you by the collar, we'll talk about a few of them, but there were a lot more than normal this year. "A Touch of Sin", was of the ones, that really forced me to sit it a second and then a third time, and it makes you do it in a very interesting way, where it forces you to concentrate on things, or you will miss everything, and then just as suddenly you're in a whole other world, and that was the metaphor of the movie and the critique of China as a whole, and it's really quite a journey. There's a certain elegance to it when you think about. Great film.
Ron Howard's made quite a few good and sometimes great films over the years, and the funny thing is, not only do we never really think about him as one of today's great directors, but when he manages to come up with something really special like "Rush", we're almost caught off-guard, 'cause I think we have tended to pigeon-hole in terms of his style, but if you really look closely at his filmography, you'll see many different inspirations and choices, and a lot of them came together in "Rush". It's one of his very best films, and in many ways, it really encompasses and brings full-circle much of Howard's director work and career.
From my original review:
Something that Ron Howard never gets credit for as a director is how he is an expert when it comes to telling a story through the details and minutia of the world, especially when it involves either cars or mechanics. I touched on this a bit in my review of "The Dilemma", how cars is actually a motif of Howard's,... and how this refers back to his very first feature, "Grand Theft Auto" about demolition derby, but it even goes beyond cars. The wonderful technical work when showing Russell Crowe's thought processes in "A Beautiful Mind", or the paced way we get to enjoy ever little detail of those moments of going to the moon, like the ice cracking off as the rocket goes up, or even the less glamorous moments, of showing how the helmets and gloves of the astronaut suits get put on. He's fascinated by the mechanics, and in turn, he uses these to tell a story, and this attention to the minor details makes "Rush" arguably his greatest achievement, if not that, I bet it's one he considers his favorite. For those fans of Formula-1 racing, the story might be familiar to you, it focuses on the rivalry being British driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austria Nikka Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), complete opposites who happened to be the best at their very dangerous sport at the same time, as they battle for the '76 Formula-1 Cup. Hunt's the arrogant risktaker, who loves the spotlight and.... Lauda's a technical master, who works at eliminating risk as much as possible and wins races through skill over speed, and impresses his wife Marlena (Alexandra Maria Lara) with his practical and intellectual approach to life, racing and love. The story itself, strangely is probably the weakest part of the film and the script from the great Peter Morgan, but what really separates the film is the details. There's a subtle story at the edges of the frame, about just how reckless and deadly the sport is, and even worst, the way the sport was run, almost intentionally to promote it's death-defying nature, often allowing for races to be run in horribly unsafe conditions, and on unsafe tracks, in order to see them cheat death (or not) as much as they are to race. I had a friend who attended the... the race killed former IRL and multiple-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon. It was determined after that the track, known for it's annual NASCAR races shouldn't have been clear for IndyCars to race, and they've since cancelled all future planned races they had for the track, and have no plans to return. Howard's goal is to show the kind of sport Formula-1 was at the time, and how to was run then (And to some extent how it's still run now out of the remnants of that era.) the league and the races, and this is what really separates the film. Not only is this some of greatest car racing scenes in cinema history, but the editing, the production design, getting and recreating the cars and the tracks, and getting the era right, the amazing cinematography by Anthony Dodd Mantle, these technical arts that recreated the era, and the way he shot this film, are spectacular, first class filmmaking. It's truly amazing that they actually went to such lengths to recreate this world, and still manage to do it in a way that still makes it feel like it's accompanying, and is apart of telling the story, and not just showing off the incredible work.... It really might be his best directing achievement so far, incredibly impressive filmmaking on every level here....
You know, I'm not 100% sure if, somebody who might not really completely gets filmmaking will understand what Ron Howard was able to achieve with this film. They might watch it, and realize it's a good movie and a great story, but from a filmmaker perspective, "Rush" really is an amazing accomplishment. This was a lot technical aspects, from production design, cinematography, a lot of actors, just creating this world of Formula-1 racing, in the '70s, none of it is extra, or unnecessary, and all of it, helps tell the story. Actually, the story, is the weakest part of the film and it's a pretty good story, it's a sports story, it's a rivalry/friendship, and some people already know the ending and whatnot, but the dedication and work involved in Ron Howard, making sure this story is told the best way possible- It's not just about having the money and the tools to be able to do it, you gotta be able to put it together also. He really put this film together, incredibly well, more than most would've thought of expecting, frankly.
7. Inside Llewyn Davis
The thing that really took "Inside Llewyn Davis", eh, sorta over-the-top for me was that,at least for a Coen Brothers movie, this is basically a similar structure from them, take a character, and continuously, beat the living crap out of him, metaphorically, and literally sometimes, make sure every decision they do is wrong, and make Murphy's Law applies to everything they do, unlike some of those other great films they've done, you got the sense, that there was something different at stake her for them. They almost treated this character of Llewyn Davis, the struggling folk singer, for lack-of-a-better-word, with a certain amount of tenderness and care, that I really hadn't seen from them before. It's such a bizarre contradiction, especially from the Coens of all people, but that's what made the film so fascinating.
From my original review:
To a certain extent, the Coen Brothers love to be complete sadists to there characters, and in turn, to it's audience, and that's a good thing, because they look at a scene or a movie and wonder sometimes, "What would the audience expect to happen here?" and then, immediately give us the opposite. There was at no point a moment where I thought "Inside Llewyn Davis" gave me the satisfaction of what I expected or wanted to see happen, and that is such a relief. No, it's not always satisfying, but that's life. Well, it's certainly life in a Coen Brothers film if nothing else. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a New York folk singer in '61, right before the big folk revival movement was about to hit. He used to be apart of a folk-singer duo, but his partner committed suicide, and since then, he's got a crusty old-time manager Mel (Jerry Grayson) who seems nice and friendly like Broadway Danny Rose, but still basically is a crook who promises more than he's capable of providing. Llewyn is not like by many, and most of them shouldn't. He housesits for the Goldsteins (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett) but is constantly losing their cat. He doesn't stay in one place very long, and his current back-up residence, with a folk duo called Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan) but they have someone else on that couch, and it wouldn't matter 'cause Jean hates Llewyn most of all, not the least of which is because she's pregnant, and now must get an abortion because she doesn't know if it's Jim or Llewyn's kid. Llewyn can barely get a playing gig on good days, as he's antagonized most of the local folk places in town, but he's able to get a couple hundred working on a recording with Jim, and hopefully a place to stay for a day or two with another local musician/session player Al Cody (Adam Driver, who should definitely be the star of the next Coen Brothers film). As Llewyn stumbles through this parade of characters and places, literally on the road, sometimes hitchhiking, sometimes sleeping on the side of it, he finds out that a former girlfriend who's abortion he paid for two years earlier, actually had the kid instead, and he decides to make an impromptu road trip to Chicago, hitching a few rides, including a memorable one with Roland Turner and Johnny Five (John Goodman and Garrett Hedland) in order to take his one shot with a big-time producer Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham).... All Coen Brothers films are strange combinations of a few different genres,... but one thing that's rarely so clear in "Inside Llewyn Davis" is the constant conflict between the pure randomness of events, and the destiny of free will of choice. Things seem to come up and happen, almost at random, for Llewyn, even he seems capable of acting randomly,... but then he's confronted with numerous personal and moral choices, and he never makes the ones that we instinctively think he'd make based on our familiarity with movie plotpoints and patterns, but the fact that they give Llewyn the choice is bizarre..... I can't think of too many other times they've done that, everything their characters do is usually completely logical in their minds and ways of thinking and/or absolutely out of their control and at the will of destiny. Now, one not only get choices, we never know what he's gonna do in those moments. This is a strange clue to the movie, that they actually like and care about Llewyn Davis, and even at his most hateful, there's a humanity in him. There's a scene where they tenderly show him in a diner, after he was walking and having one of his feet fall through the snow, and he takes his foot out of his wet shoe to try and warm it up. There's no callback or emotional connection to the shoe or the foot to be made, or even a reason for the incident or the shot, other than to show him caring tenderly for his foot. Why do they do it? I think... secretly they care about them and have a deep emotional connection to them. And I suspect that they care about Llewyn Davis, probably more than most, if not all of their other characters.
The Coens Brothers always have this strangely innate sense of Americana about them. There's not a film where they don't have that to some degree, and you simply never where or why they decide to go with something. They come across, a place, an era, a period, something kind of twists in their minds, and kinda connect to it. The strange thing that I think they kinda connected to with this period, was hope, oddly enough. This whole film, they're presenting you with a character, who lacks it completely, and yet,we get the sense, that it could actually work out for him. Even the trailer, if anybody's seen it, it conflates this sense, much more than the film really does actually, and while much of it, we really find ourselves not looking and thinking of the film, for it's laughs, then even tell us his fate at the end, at the beginning, and yet, it's open-ended. I don't want to give anything way, but when you think about the movie, it's mostly New York, and there's some traveling to Chicago, Llewyn Davis is a folk singer, it's 1961, and if you know you're music history you know what's about to happen. Yet, despite everything that happens to Llewyn Davis, with the cat, with the trip, with snowstorm, the pregnancy and whatnot, they leave that doubt, that possibility that something good can still work out for Llewyn. Part of that, is the amazing Oscar Isaac performance, and part of is, the Coen Brothers, kinda letting us leave with that possibility. It might not end up the way Llewyn would want or prefer, but something good could still happen. It's a unique and unusual amount of care and emotions from the two people we except anything but that from. The Coens surprised me, and they made another spectacular film.
Spike Jonze's "Her", is one of the most beautiful contradictions in recent cinema history. A science-fiction parable about the dangers of how technology is handicapping our ability to have real connections with people, while also being a beautiful poetic love story, that happens to be between a man, and an operating system.
From my original Review:
I'm now on my third viewing of Spike Jonze's "Her". It's not necessarily as original as some are making it out to be; it's clearly got influences. "Lars and the Real Girl" comes to mind for a recent film about a guy who has a relationship with something that isn't, for lack of a better term, alive. It's also got some of the insouciant wit and whimsy that the writer of Jonze's earliest features Charlie Kaufman,... I even suspect that the personal poetry in his ex-girlfriend Sofia Coppola's work like "Lost in Translation" probably had an effect on him as he was writing this. Don't get me wrong, this is definitely a most unique and original film, and a truly great and perfect script. Maybe too perfect, but it works here.... It's technically a sci-fi film, taking place somewhere in a near future. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) works at a surprisingly popular and busy job as a hand-written letter writer, where he is hired to basically play a Cyrano and write letters for other people, expressing their true emotions which most people don't seem to be able to do in a modern world where video games curse and talk back to you. Theodore is going through a tough divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara). He's become mopey since, barely able to even go out and talk to his friend Amy (Amy Adams) and her husband Charles (Matt Letscher). He signs up for an O.S., and Operating System that's designed to meet his friendship needs. She names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and they start developing a relationship and then later a romance. It's hard to explain exactly why this works so well. Communication is a common theme, or the lack thereof. When Amy's husband leaves her, he becomes a Buddhist monk and vows six months of silence, choosing to refuse to communicate rather than accept his own failures and tribulations, or discuss them with a significant other who wants more. Theodore struggles with video games and porn, two other replacements for human contact, but only resorts to the O.S. when he loses all interest in human contact. And Samantha, the machine isn't treated as a machine. She's highly advanced, and the ying-yang of Samantha's new-found life, inspired by every new experience, and capable of machine learning and adapting, this is a tricky performance, but more than that, it's these incredibly thought and observantly well-written strings of dialogue, particularly between Theodore and Samantha that make the film truly special. You can actually just listen to this movie, like a radio play and be entertained. And while, much of the romance, doesn't actually tread into unexpected or new territory, it carefully observes a future world where relationship with O.S. or other digital people can be plausible and in some ways, a new a booming form of relationship surrogacy.... It earned an Oscar for Spike Jonze's screenplay, and he deserved it, 'cause the script is so intricately written it managing to turn this sci-fi romance, practically into a Linklater-esque subtle piece of banal poetry. Some movies take a premise and do nothing to it; "Her" takes it seriously, and yet still makes it fun and enjoyable....
There's so many different aspects to "Her" that really make it special. This amazing mix of very disparate genres and influences, and this is really the movie where the script is the real reason to watch the film. I mentioned that this was like a radio play, and I gotta admit-eh, as amazing as things like, the production design, the cinematography, the music, the special effects were, the acting, but more than any other movie this year, you really could listen to it, and be entranced with it. Some people thinks a drawback, I actually admire films like that, without needing all exposition either. I watched it multiple times, and I found it most fascinating, that it worked so well at that level, it almost overshadows everything else, but Spike Jonze is such a talented and innovative director, he knows he created something amazing, and he knew exactly how to build upon it.
5. Blue is the Warmest Color
The highest-ranked foreign language film on my list was the controversial and provocative Abdellatif Kechiche epic love story, "Blue is the Warmest Color". This film was a three-hour film that still felt, incomplete to me, At three hours in length, my biggest complaint with this film was that it still felt incomplete; I wanted to see what happens next, and that's quite a rare accomplishment.
From my original review:
It seems strange at times that there's hardly a scene that goes by in Abdellatif Kechiche's "Blue is the Warmest Color", especially in the first half of the film, where is seems like he's able to get the camera off Adele's (Adele Exarchopoulos) face. Her face, her mouth, other body parts occasionally, sometimes the whole body when needed, her hair which she's constantly debating about whether to tie up or let flow, but much of the time, it really is just the face. I'm more familiar now with the two little indentations under Adele Exarchopoulos's nose, than I am mine. Based, believe it or not on a graphic novel, "Blue..." is an epic tale of a love story,.... I call it an epic, because it not only spans time, but it also because the scope of the story is long and arcing, an everchanging character piece that can skip years as much as it can focus itself on the literal day-by-day. It's also one of the sexiest movie I've seen in years. Yes, there's graphic sex, lots of it, and I'm sure I'll get some complaints and arguments from some lesbian friends of mine about how the sex scenes seem to have been from a male fantasy perspective.... I don't necessarily disagree, but I think the more crucial point he was making with these scenes was that sex, when you're in love with someone has a more fantastical emotional feel than sex without love. The movie begins in high school, Adele is in a young teenager, all of 15. She's quiet and inconspicuous although she has a clique of girlfriends she hangs with and talks to guys occasionally. She's starting to date a Senior hard rocker, Thomas (Jeremie LaHuerte) who's nice and charming. But before that, she sees a striking young girl with blue hair crossing the street, under the arm side-by-side with her girlfriend Sabine (Aurelie Lemanceau). That night, after her dates goes well, she masturbates to and imagines sex with that girl who she just got a fleeting image of.... Eventually she meets the blue-haired girl that rocked her world, a college of Fine Arts student named Emma (Lea Seydoux) She's in a relationship, and on some level, she knows that Adele is way too young for her. I don't know the legal age of consent in France, but 15 has to be pushing it, especially when you're in college,... but sometimes there's a connection that can't be ignored. That rare kind that's not just physical. The relationship is hidden from many. Adele's parents aren't fully aware at first. Emma's are probably more accepting. Adele becomes a pariah to many of her classmates, especially when they get a look at Emma. There's lots of gatherings of large people actually. Parties, a couple protests, collections of kids at school, both with Adele as a student and then later when she starts teaching, a job that makes Emma worry about her happiness. Yet, we constantly focus on Adele's face. Following her with incredible attention and intimacy....
Despite winning the Palme D'Or at Cannes, one of many awards it received, the film was not eligible for the Foreign Language Oscar because of a technicality regarding it's release date, as the buzz was so big on the movie, that the producers decided to release it early both in France, and then in the states; some hypothesize that it would've clearly won. I'm not as sure on that, but I mentioned the movie's length, and the movie needed to be this long. In America, I think our ideas of romance in film, tend to be, simply the meet cute, the getting together, you know, the putting up of obstacles essentially, in order to get the two characters to realize they're in love. Yes, it's a lesbian couple, but that's hardly a factor in what I'm talking about, it's about a loving relationship between two very distinctive young people that last for a very long time, a quite a few years, five years I believe, and how they meet, fall in love, evolve from those young people, struggle with the love in their youth, and how that love adapt, struggles, survives, and then falters over time, as the two young women continue to grow and evolve. The big complaint was that the sex scenes, were more male fantasy than realistic; I have plenty of lesbian friends, I'm not gonna pretend I know anything about their sex lives, it works metaphorically to me at least, but you take away those moments in the thrusts of lust and passion when we all act and behave a little differently than our normal selves, "Blue is the Warmest Color" is one of the most realistic portrayals of love and romance, ever put onscreen, and I wasn't kidding, I really hope that someday we see another part of this story and find out what happens exactly to Adele later.
4. American Hustle
Now we're really starting to get into the really special films from 2013, and number 4 on my list, is David O. Russell's return-to-form, "American Hustle", probably the most fun movie I saw this year, and for the first time in a long time, we finally get back to that sense of kinetic inventive sense of irony that first made us think of Russell as one of the most talented young directors out there. It's also just a really great movie about con artists conning other con artists, this piece of classic movie pulp that everyone can enjoy.
From my original review:
Finally! I've been waiting for this film from David O. Russell and here it is. Russell's been a good filmmaker, but lately, while many might have an opposing view, I've been underwhelmed with his recent films. I thought "Silver Linings Playbook" was good but overrated, and I barely recommended "The Fighter" at all; and I'm still a little surprised by that one's acclaim, but consider those projects for a moment. "Silver Linings..." was a personal project of his, and adaptation of a book, which he got into because Russell's kid suffers from bipolar disorder, so he's adapting another's work, admirably so, but it was a project that he felt more to do outside of himself. While, "The Fighter", was almost the exact opposite, that film's script was bounced around Hollywood for over five years, before Mark Wahlberg talked David O. Russell into the project, and he was basically a director for hire, working from a script that frankly had flaws that helped get Christian Bale and Melissa Leo Oscars, but ironically gave us an uninteresting lead character. They weren't his visions, and it had been so long since his masterpiece "Three Kings" and his breakout feature "Flirting with Disaster," that I had forgotten what I had loved about him to begin with. He's a comedy director, who loves kinetic action, but enjoys giving us constant an unsuspecting twists in his films changing the plotline halfway through, changing the story at times, switching genres....... For "American Hustle", the inspiration was the ABSCAM sting operations in the '70s that took down several New Jersey politicians, including a Senator for accepting bribes. It begins with two con artists, Irving and Sydney. (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) I don't say, that he's a con artist, who brings her in, because if you pay attention, she's in the con game too before they eventually start working together. (Hint: con artist is the second profession her character has that requires a stage name) He owned a chain of dry cleaners legitimately, and dealt with stolen and forged art, outside of conning desperate men from having them give thousands of dollars in the oldest scam in the book. The one where you give me five thousand now, if we accept you as an investor.... Once Sidney finds out about this, she immediately develops a British accent and persona, to make the part about royal investors seem more believable, and they even upgrade their business. That is, until they get caught by an FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who convinces his boss Stoddard Thorsen (Louis C.K. in one of many strange and unexpected pieces of casting) to start setting stings up to catch politicians accepting bribes. It's the late '70s, and Atlantic City has just legalized gambling and New Jersey need more to start building casinos and start rebuilding it's once prominent tourist trade. This effort is lead by formed Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) whose name sounds like he may have had a few people whacked in his day, but he's actually just doing whatever it takes to help out his state.... it's somewhat ironic that most of the politicians in the film, seem to legitimately fall into these scams, in order to help out others. They must've been ecstatic when they heard an arab sheikh was interested in investing in building up the Jersey shore. This unsettles Irving, who took pride in scamming only those who truly deserved it. He's a good guy himself who married a sexy but wasted wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and even adopted her young kid as his own, and despite his affair with Sidney, he doesn't want to leave her. I'm only giving you, some of the essential plot, the richness in the film is in the deconstructionist detail of what happens, and how things change and are improvised. This is a good movie for writers to study on how to create strong superobjectives for their characters, and actors to study how to use them to influence their character. Arguably, all five of the main performances are Award-worthy, and I think a few will get Oscar nomination; I personally like Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence's turns the best in Lead and Supporting categories respectively. I don't think it's quite perfect, but it's the return-to-form we've been waiting for from David O. Russell, or at least I have. I've heard some say this is his Scorsese-style movie, and there are influences, but this is truly his original vision, using all of his unique strengths and skills. In some ways "American Hustle" is just a classic con film, fun, flashy, and full of misdirection, constantly making us ask who's conning who. Those are harder to make than films that just passively tell a story, much less one that happens to be so entertaining....
I've seen the film a couple times since, and I think it's more closer to perfect than I originally gave it credit for. This film is so good in so many ways, just pure fun, entertainment. And I want to say, it's not like David O. Russell's been making bad films, he hasn't been, he's incredibly talented, and his films keep winning awards as they should, but he hasn't been making David O. Russell films. I don't see the Scorsese comparison that everybody makes. If this had come out, two years after "Three Kings", or even, like two years after "I Heart Huckabees", we'd be talking about how cool and fresh David O. Russell's style is, and how it stands out, even among great young contemporary filmmakers like P.T. Anderson and Spike Jonze that he came up with.
The greatest theatrical experience of the year lands at my number 3 choice, it's Alfonso Cuaron's 3-D sci-fi masterpiece, "Gravity". Visually, in a year of spectacular visuals, nothing came close to "Gravity", and just from a pure thrills standpoint, it was the movie that kept me clutched on the edge of my seat the most. While "12 Years a Slave", won Best Picture, let's not forget "Gravity" won the most Oscars including Best Director, it deserved every one of them, and frankly the screenplay should've been nominated too btw; it might be a classic formula, get your characters in a situation they can't get out of and have them struggle to get out of it, and it's as a bare a version as you can get, and the fact that it's still this exciting, is really a true accomplishment.
From my original review:
....The story is simple as all hell, two people are stuck in a situation they can't get out of, and now they have to get out of it. The situation, two astronauts drifting alone, in outer space. One of them is an expert astronaut on his last space mission, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who's got a ton of stories he tells Mission Control (Voiced by Ed Harris, who else could it be) to pass the time that all begin with "I have a bad feeling about this mission", and all of them, Mission Control has heard before, as he's disappointed that he won't break the spacewalk record, despite it being his last visit. The other astronaut is Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, in the best performance of her career), a first-time astronaut who's designed the new system they're installing, when disaster strikes. They were all outside when the Russians sent a missile destroying one of their own rockets, caused a case of runaway debris and shrapnel, sprinting through space, and right to their mission. The rest of the crew is dead, and from here on in, the film is a survivor's story, as they have only a jetpack running out of jet, and astronaut suits, running out of oxygen. What happens next is the movie, and I will not describe, other than to say, that for much of the film, we look at the movie, with amazement. We get a truly horrifying feeling of space, and the dangers of bodies, being flung and bounced around abandoned space station and exit pods. We never think about it from watching things like "Star Trek" and "Star Wars", but space travel is exhausting work, and with all hope being lost.... There are incredible visuals, and the 3-D is used to great effectiveness, even if at some times, maybe it's overused, the effect is jaw-dropping. A sequence of Bullock, coming out of her spacesuit and floating in a fetal position, as she gets in one abandoned rocket, recalls both "2001...", and "Alien" in our mind. Bullock is perfectly cast here, so is Clooney for that matter. This is the kind of movie where it's critical that we know these actors immediately. Clooney is playing a Clooney role, and Bullock, always so likeable in even the worst of rom-coms, helps us care about her character, when she literally has no one else to care about her. "Gravity" was directed by the great Alfonso Cuaron, and was co-written by his son Jonas, his directing is really key. Where he positions, moved, and changes perspectives in the camera, is even more critical than one would think, even in this kind of film. Hard enough, shooting this kind of movie, but the directing is incredibly smart, and creative. There isn't a single wrong angle here, and there wasn't a lot of noticeable editing in this film, 'cause of the way he floats the camera, like the astronauts are floating through space,- you know, it was so seemless, I don't think I even noticed the cuts, until, after he did them. He's always loved long takes anyway, remember that incredible sequence in "Children of Men" that starts inside a car, where Julianne Moore and Clive Owen are passing an egg, and then there a car crash and shootout, I think, but it's all ten minutes without a cut! What he's doing here, seems like that shot, over and over again, which is just so hard to do. This is really a special film; the more you think about it afterwards, the more special gets, on all aspects.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
From my original review:
I don't remember the exact source or study, but sometime after housing bubble burst in 2008, and The Great Recession started had started, somebody figured it out that people act get addicted to earning excessive amounts of money. Seriously, the Wall Street bankers and stock brokers who were screwing over the country left and right through deregulation as well as outright illegal and shady activity,... they found that their was a chemical reaction in the brain, a release of endorphin of some sort, secretes in the addiction center of the mind, and it's like, I don't know how much, but it's a certain number of times more powerful of a secretion than cocaine produces, and it dilutes the mind into not wanting to do anything other than make these incredible amounts of money. I thought about that, rather briefly during Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street", very briefly, it was in those rare moments of the three-hour film where there wasn't any debauchery going on. It seems like you could almost freeze-frame the moment it happens.... The movie is a Faustian tale filled with- no, overflowing with sex, nudity, drugs, violence, money, outlandishly expensive items and lifestyles and just full-on unabashed sick-to-your-stomach excess and overindulgence, to the point of make Sodom, Gomorrah and Las Vegas, blush and step away in amazement, shock, and repulsion, and I'm almost certain that it's the best film of the year. Titled from his autobiography, after a notorious article about him, the film tells about Jordan Belfort (Oscar-nominee Leonardo DiCaprio), a poor Long Island kid, who went to work on Wall Street with a Jersey wife Teresa (Cristin Miliotti) and gets taught the art of the con very quickly by his new boss and icon Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey in a memorable cameo, one of many in this film) unfortunately right as Black Friday hit in '87, but he goes back through Long Island penny stocks and scams and he soon starts to simply build his own empire, with a group of ragtags with nicknames that the hoods of Scorsese's "Mean Streets" would've thought we're dopey. Belfort is power-hunger and corrupt and enjoying every minute of it. He quickly becomes addicted to drugs, alcohol, women, sex, and inevitably the lifestyle of the uber-wealthy, which isn't much different but there's a better chance of getting rarer Quaaludes. He upgrades his wife, with a former beer commercial model, Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie) his life, by continually growing and expanding his empire multiple times over. To describe the exact actions in the movie, would be trivial 'cause it's so episodic, like most of Scorsese's best, (And this film's style has many glaring similarities to "Goodfellas" and "Casino", only exponentially taken to the nth degree.) but also because it would deprive us of Belfort's narration of his excesses, adventures, and misdeeds. He inevitably gets 18 months after turning in most everybody who worked for him after a D.A. agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) a former stockbroker himself gets on the case, and both men know it's only a matter of time. How much now, and when to get out, and even then, just as Belfort starts a new career as an informercial pitchman, does everything hit the fan. We are sickened and despised by these people, and yet, when their riches are so vast, enough that millions of dollars can literally be taped to people, that you have to laugh at this-, yes, comedy, almost so we don't scream with anger. Belfort is actually the consciousness of the group, even when his howling pep speeches builds up his cult-like team of buyers and sellers, filled with greasy hair and last night's blue chip prostitute perfume, all over the phone banks, and then hum a war cry like at a college football game. His most trusted and erratic employee, Donnie Azoff (Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill) is a buck-teeth, overweight, overconfident slob of a man, who quit his job to work for Belfort after seeing his paycheck.... He's a disgusting visual representation of all the worst aspects of Jordan Belfort, which he can hide on his yacht, or escape through the yacht's helicopter pad in case he's too wasted to drive home. The lengths they go in the movie are just so unbelievable that you almost have to believe it couldn't be made up. Scorsese and screenwriter Terrence Winter, the creator of "Boardwalk Empire" pull no punches, at least I hope they didn't; I'm not sure what else would be left if they did, although the film was famously reported to be cut from a four-hour running time to just three by Thelma Schoonmaker for release. The filmmaking is as abundant and excessive and the content and it far exceeds almost any other level of debauchery that could be put onto film, it seems to be here. This is balls-to-the-wall and every other piece of furniture filmmaking, that only a Martin Scorsese could handle much less accomplish. "The Wolf of Wall Street", maybe the most succesful gangster Scorsese's ever made a film about.
1. Before Midnight
When I was finally talked into posting my Top 100 Films of all-time List earlier this year, I went against my own rule and included one film from 2013 on the list, and that film was Richard Linklater's third entry in "The Before Trilogy" "Before Midnight". Part of it, was that I felt the trilogy should be represented on the list, and it's the best one of the three so far, and that's saying something considering the other two. The other reason, was that it was that great a movie. Actually believe it or not though, like I didn't plan on putting it on that Top 100 Films list then, I didn't plan at all on making it number one here either, in fact, I had the first, second and third films switched places about ten or twelve times on this list, I even once thought about "American Hustle" being one for a few minutes even, but while I think cinematic achievement of "Gravity" is spectacular, and that the outlandish, exuberance of "The Wolf of Wall Street" both have to be commended for their sheer bravura and immense filmmaking execution, the one movie that's gonna most stick with me, and the one I'm gonna think about the deepest and most often, and the watch I want to watch again one more time, the most, was "Before Midnight", therefore it's the number one film of the year!
From my original review:
At the airport in Athens, a man has that one final, awkward, emotional conversation with his teenage son, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) before he leaves on the plane to go home to his Mom in America. In a normal movie, this would be sad and emotional, but coming into "Before Midnight" the third film in what's now been deemed the "Before Trilogy", although I'm going to call the set of films what they really are, "The Ballad of Jesse and Celine" (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) this scene has more poignancy and emotional pull than most other similar scenes. That is of course, assuming you've seen "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" previously. If you haven't, well, do it now! And while you're at it, you might stop reading this review. Yes, you can watch "Before Midnight" without having seen them but, God, why would somebody devoid themselves of not having seen such special films,... In "...Sunrise", they were two strangers on a train, who spent their one dreamlike day and night on the streets of Vienna, talking, about life and falling in love, and in "...Sunset" they reconnect nine years later in Paris, after Jesse wrote a book about the encounter, continuing where they left off, but older, wiser, and with commitments. Oh, now the troublesome part of my review, just how do I or should I reveal and discuss of "Before Midnight"? The details keep spinning through my head, and all I really tell you is to watch it, and watch it again, and again, and again. I'm not going into the argument of which film is better anymore. A. they're all great, and they're all different, yet, they're not separate films so much as they are different chapters of a single story that we're being told. How have they changed over the years, what are they doing now, what's their situation, and all the small details. How they talk differently on the same subjects as before, or not, or how they're not talking about them at all, and have instead moved onto different topics, and how we discover them slowly. Almost like voyeur's, we're peeking in on them. Delpy and Hawke's naturalistic dialogue continues. Besides that B. Whichever one I feel most towards in the moment is the best one, and that can change often, the way the characters themselves change. They've been together since we last saw them, and now they have two twin daughters, Ella and Nina (Jennifer and Charlotte Prior). It's the last day of their vacation in Greece, where Jesse, was invited to stay from an old-time writer Patrick (Legendary cinematographer Walter Lassally, in his first acting role) at their magnificent villa, along with a bunch of other writers and their mildly-eccentric families.... The next part of the film, is them alone, walking through Greece like they did Vienna and Paris. Patrick has arranged for their final night, to let them have a hotel room and a romantic night alone without the kids, and most of the rest of the film, in the hotel room. What happens there, more talking, and arguing and discussion, and revelations.... It's the first time, we meet them, together as a true couple, and those romantic days in Vienna and Paris, have been replaced by the realities and consequences of their actions and decisions, and their thoughts and emotions, are at play. I really can't go into specifics, but there are a lot of specifics, and we can talk about them all night. For these two characters, the way we've grown up with them, they're all specifics now, and yet, we still can interpret and listen, to these two adults now, talking about their real adult problems. The first film ended with the promises of youth. The second, ended with a choice, one that both of them, and many more people have to live with. This one, ends, with a mystery to us, and them. The inconclusiveness and fragileness of adulthood. . As of this exact second, I've seen six films from 2013, so it isn't saying too much so far that "Before Midnight" is right at the top of the best so-far of the year, but it is, and if gets knocked off, you better believe it's a great film that did it.
You know, there were a few films that came damn close to knocking it off, and I think I kept trying to trick myself into finding a better ones, and this was a really good, let's not ignore that, but "Before Midnight" really just takes everything to such a different level. Yes, it works best within the context of the trilogy, but that doesn't dilute, "Before Midnight" as a great film in of itself. Eh, many different people can watch this film, and get many different things out of it. We can discuss who's right or wrong, we can talk about whether they'll stay together or not, or what's gonna happen to them in the future, one of a hundred different things, really. The subtexts and the interpretations of those subjects, there's nothing here that doesn't get multiple levels deeper than the page, and then, "Oh by the way, we've been following these people for eighteen years." The more I thought about it, the more my initial instinct is the correct one, and "Before Midnight is the best film of 2013!
Well, that's the Top Ten, but we don't leave it at that. There were a lot of great films in 2013, and many are worth noting and recognizing, so like we do every year, here's an alphabetical list of plenty of the Special Jury Prize winners, separated by live-action and animation and documentaries, along with their directors, each of these films are quite memorable and special, and definitely worth watching.
LIVE ACTION AND ANIMATED
12 Years a Slave-Steve McQueen
All is Lost-J.C. Chandor
August: Osage County-John Wells
Berberian Sound Studios-Peter Strickland
Bless Me, Ultima-Carl Franklin
Blue Jasmine-Woody Allen
The Broken Circle Breakdown-Felix von Groeningen
Captain Phillips-Paul Greengrass
Computer Chess-Andrew Bujalski
Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012-Sebastian Silva
Drinking Buddies-Joe Swanberg
Enough Said-Nicole Holofcener
Ernest & Celestine-Stephane Auber, Vincent Patar & Benjamin Renner
Fill the Void-Rama Burshtein
Frances Ha-Noah Baumbach
Frozen-Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Fruitvale Station-Ryan Coogler
Ginger & Rosa-Sally Potter
The Great Beauty-Paolo Sorrentino
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete-George Tillman, Jr.
The Invisible Woman-Ralph Fiennes
A Hijacking-Tobias Lindholm
Now You See Me-Louis Leterrier
Our Children-Joachim Lofasse
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty-Terence Nance
The Past-Asghar Farhadi
The Place Beyond the Pines-Derek Cianfrance
Saving Mr. Banks-John Lee Hancock
Short Term 12-Destin Daniel Cretton
Thanks for Sharing-Stuart Blumberg
To the Wonder-Terence Malick
Una Noche-Lucy Mulloy
The Way Way Back-Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
20 Feet from Stardom-Morgan Neville
The Act of Killing-Joshua Oppenheimer
A Band Called Death-Mark Covino and Jeff Howlett
The Crash Reel-Lucy Walker
Inequality for All-Jacob Kornbluth
Let the Fire Burn-Jason Osder
More than Honey-Markus Imhoof
The Missing Picture-Rithy Pahn
Narco Cultura-Shaul Schwarz
A Place at the Table-Kristi Jacobson and Laurie Silverbush
The Punk Singer-Sini Anderson
Red Obsession-David Roach & Warwick Ross
The Square-Jehane Noujaim
Stories We Tell-Sarah Polley
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks-Alex Gibney
There's a few others too, worth looking up but this is a good start, and overall, this was a fairly good year for film.
That is, until you look at the very bottom of the barrel, the real pieces of garbage, Ugh! Seriously, folks, avoid, "As I Lay Dying", "Big Sur", "Charlie Countryman", "Dark Touch", "Europa Report", "Epic", "Filly Brown", "The Girl" (Riker)", "It's a Disaster", "Jack the Giant Slayer", "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa", "The Host (Niccol)," "Jayne Mansfield's Car", "John Dies at the End" "The Lone Ranger", "Movie 43", "Oblivion", "Pawn Shop Chronicles", "Snitch", "Starbuck", "Stoker", "Turbo", and "Upstream Color". Now, why I did I just give an alphabetical list of the worst movies of the year? Well, I didn't! There were so many shitty movies, that I saw all of those, and none of them made my Worst Films Lists! And there were a few good directors responsible for some of them, I'm looking at you, Michael Polish, and you Andrew Niccol, but consider yourselves, very, very, lucky that I happen to find ten worst films this year. And you're not the only ones either, but here we go, let's piss in the bottom of the barrel, real quick, the Ten Worst Films of the 2013
TEN WORST FILMS of 2013
10. "Pandora's Promise"
A blatantly misleading documentary about the benefits of nuclear energy, and I'm actually an advocate of nuclear energy, but this movie pissed me off the more I thought about it.
9. "The Purge"
The sequel for this godawful piece of shit, is already out, but the people I'd most like to purge were the filmmakers. Take the fake pretentious artistry and story out of "The Hunger Games" and "Battle Royale", and just let everyone slaughter each other. Ugh.
8. "Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?"
Michel Gondry's animated conversation with Noam Chomsky. I love Gondry, I really admire Noam Chomsky, but what the fuck was this unwatchable, boring piece of shit.
7. "Pulling Strings"
I almost forgot about this Mexican romantic-comedy; I wish I had. The setting was Mexico, that was about the only thing that wasn't a horrible cliche.
6. "Somebody Up There Likes Me"
This movie is everything wrong and bad about quirky, independent films right now. Even the main characters, basically do nothing but sleepwalk through their aimless, plotless, pointless lives.
5. "After Earth"
Oh, don't think M. Night Shaymalan's the reason for this one, Will Smith, produced, the movie, did much of the directing, extended the original concept, cast his kid, etc etc. Hey, I'm okay with him doing a vanity project if he wants to, he's rich enough to make this movie, and I'm for family spending time together, but this is the result, except to show up here.
4. "Dead Man's Burden"
A post Civil War Western that wouldn't be good enough for the Hallmark Channel, by a first-time writer/director known for producing "Storage Wars: New York". (To his credit, that actually was my favorite version of "Storage Wars" until it was canceled.)
3. "How I Live Now"
Saorise Ronan had a few bad movies this year, but the pointless teen romance-turned-apocalyptic "Grave of the Fireflies"-story. And from a good director, Kevin MacDonald of all people, ugh! Meandering meaninglessness.
Oh, is this movie lucky, it's not number one. There was one interesting supporting character that this film about idiots at an insane college party where dobblegangers of the idiots show up had, and they did absolutely nothing with her, and that's the saving grace from it being the absolute worst film.
1. "You're Next"
This disgusting horror film took three years to finally get a theatrical release, and if I gave any other feature ZERO STARS this year, this movie was thankfully so bad, that I have blocked out those films but now I only remember this piece of shit, home invasion-gone-wrong-in-so-many-ways film.