BEST NEW(ISH) FILM 2013
We watched a lot of new films this year, but most of them remain in the one-and-done category. Entertaining for the duration, but nothing you’d need to see again. Yet for new films (made in the last few years), there were two that stood out as a pair which my thoughts have consistently returned to. One of them is a great film, the other a great experience.
Le Quattro Volte is a great film. The idea of it sounds ponderous and pretentious, but the film is anything but. It has no stars, almost no dialogue, it plays almost like a documentary except that it’s carefully planned. At under 90 minutes it beautifully covers life as we know it on Earth, and specifically near a small village in Southern Italy. From an old goat herder, to a baby goat lost in the woods, to a big old pine tree, to the process of making coal, the film covers the four ‘turns’ of life: human, animal, plant and mineral. The film is moving, funny, and it showcases in a small way how wonderful cinema can be if you just apply thought and care to it.
Gravity is not great cinema, the characters are rather contrived, the situations obvious, and there’s at least one peril too many… but all that is obliterated by the experience of seeing the film. I responded to the film on an emotional level, ignoring all that was wrong with it, and allowed its handicaps become virtues. It has the virtues of a great martial arts film, in that the propulsive movement and choreography became the focal point, anchored by its extravagant locale. Gravity is edge of your seat excitement utilizing the latest technology, with a fine message at its core. It was nothing like 2001, beyond being set in space, but as far as entertainment goes it was light years above all the superhero and cgi-saturated turds floating in the entertainment pool this year.
Amour is a much better film than Gravity, but it’s not a film I’ll be revisiting any time soon. I’m happy to have seen it, it features beautiful performances, it’s intelligently and defiantly made, and you should see it, if only once.
Life of Pi was another cgi spectacle that had a great story, well told, and utilizing modern technology to a spectacular effect.
BEST DOCUMENTARY 2013
Like Werner Herzog, it looks like Wim Wenders needs to redirect his efforts into documentaries. He hasn’t made a great feature film in the last 25 years or so (I’ve not seen all, so can’t say for sure, but I’m still probably right in my assumption), but this is a wonderful documentary, and it follows on the footsteps of Wenders’ excellent episode in the Martin Scorsese presents the Blues series of documentaries. Pina is all about dance and movement, and it uses narrative film techniques to enhance the story which could have been a parade of talking heads. Poetic, energetic and moving.
Black Power Mixtape
New documentary culled from old film shot between 1967 and 1975 by a group of Swedish journalists, featuring interviews with the likes of Angela Davis, Bobby Seale, Emile De Antonio. It’s overlaid with modern interviews with many other luminaries involved with the Civil Rights movement. A consistently fascinating overview of the era.
BEST OLD FILM 2013
Letter Never Sent is a little known Russian film from 1959, directed by Mikhail Kalatozov. It’s a fairly simple story of a small group of geologists looking for mineral deposits in the Russian wilderness, who make a significant find only to be trapped by a massive forest fire, which they then spend the rest of the film trying to escape. Intelligent, moving and entertaining, this is a gorgeously photographed and wonderfully acted little film.
Purple Noon by Rene Clement is the first filming of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Unlike the cluttered modern version, this 1960 film is moody and poetic, and unfolds much more naturally in its spectacular mediterranean setting. The sailing sequences are magnificent, the acting hits all the right notes, and despite having been forced to water down the book’s ending, it suffers not a bit for the way it’s handled.
We finally caught up with wonderful classics, like Antonioni’s first color film, Red Desert. Moody and gorgeously drab. Late Spring was the first Ozu film we’d seen, and surely not the last. Slow and moody like Antonioni, but far less formalized and more human. Mario Monicelli’s Organizer was about the struggle of Italian textile workers to organize and improve their terrible situation. Sounds fairly miserable, but not in the least as it’s all handled with a wonderful sense of character and humor. Finally, of the few Bergman movies we watched, Summer Interlude was probably the best. Much as his films are about human interaction, this one — shot at the Stockholm Archipelago — would be wonderful to view just for the scenery. Sweet, beautiful and moving.
BEST B-MOVIE 2013
While I’d seen Andrei Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train before, and loved it, it’s a rare piece of action cinema from the 80s that truly still delivers. Set in the Siberian wilderness for most of its duration, it follows Jon Voight and Eric Roberts as they break out from a gulag, only to be followed by their tyrannical warden as played by John P. Ryan. Using an old Kurosawa script he never filmed, this is a spectacular howl of a movie, with a final image that still gives me chills thinking about it, months after seeing the film.
William Friedkin still comes out with fantastic little films. Killer Joe being another prime example, after Bug a few years back. It’s a complicated chamber-piece, laced with pitch black sense of humor, hard to watch at times but so full of energy that it seems like the first film of a young filmmaker hellbent on making a name for themselves. Wonderfully acted, carefully directed, and ingeniously written.
Good Day to Die Hard
It’s not that I expected it to be good, but it’s rare that I can’t even finish a film because it is so terrible. I made it through first 30 minutes of this drivel.
I was hoping for a great new Bond film this year, but Skyfall was the least engaging of the Daniel Craig films, all of which are fine entertainments but hardly Bond films in anything but name.
Zero Dark Thirty was fine for what it was, but I wish Bigelow would get back into narrative fiction instead of these quasi-military-documentaries. A good episode of Homeland, but a big whopping disappointment.
Mud started out as a great film, but was drowned by a poorly telegraphed ending. It’s all the more aggravating when a film has the potential for magnificence, and then surprises you by making pedestrian turns.
Wuthering Heights was another film that starts absolutely wonderfully, suggesting the best adaptation to date of the novel, but then loses control halfway through and never regains the spark that made it shine.