2013: The Year In Film



Although a few dissonant voices are now claiming the opposite, there’s a certain consensus on declaring 2013 a vintage year for cinema. And a quick look at what it has brought cannot but confirm that statement.

From the early months, when perhaps due to the gap created by the Olympic Year, a bigger than usual backlog of fine festival titles hit our screens gave that usually dry period a welcome qualitative boost. Critical favourites such as Romanian religious drama Beyond The Hills; Jeff Nichols’ Mississippi rites of passage tale Mud; Francois Ozon’s farcical In The House; Austrian miserabilist Ulrich Seidl’s notable Paradise Trilogy; controversy-friendly Harmony Korine with his hyper real look at teenage debauchery in Spring Breakers; Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach joyous portrait of arty,twentysomething New Yorkers hoping for a break in Frances Ha or the charming debut of Iran’s first female director with Wadjda, a censor-beating look at female inequality in Arab society, camouflaged under the deceptively simple story of a girl who defies the rules by saving to buy a bike.

Also part of that backlog, a record number of documentaries certified 2013 as another remarkable year for the ever expanding genre; the likes of veteran Italian siblings the Tavianis who filmed the representation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in one of Rome’s toughest prisons to terrific effect in Caesar Must Die; Ken Loach making a wakeup call to the British political left by exploring the circumstances that shaped Britain as the prosperous nation it is Today in Spirit Of ‘45; Sarah Polley digging among the skeletons in her family’s closet through her excellent Stories We Tell; the evolution of Egypt’s Arab Spring was well documented in The Square, an unfinished project still being filmed in order to capture the historical developments that troubled country is going through; master documentarist Alex Gibney gave us not one, but three top-notch pieces of work; the best of which, Mea Maxima Culpa ,timely explored the wall of silence and corruption surrounding the Catholic Church covering up thousands of child abuse cases around the world; best of the lot was Joshua Oppenheimer one of a kind The Act Of Killing in which perpetrators of the Indonesian massacre, now turned national heroes, were given the chance to re-enact and film their war crimes with jaw-dropping results.

In the festival calendar, Sundance didn’t come up with anything of the calibre of ‘Beasts Of The Southern Wild’; but minor gems such as the mumblecore gone nerdy Computer Chess; Shane Carruth long awaited follow-up to his mind-blowing Primer, Upstream Color, an even more puzzling narration about a bizarre circle of life where people fought against nature, society and the elements to preserve their soul or Ryan Coggler’s accomplished debut Fruitvale Station, kept the indie flame alive.

The Berlinale brought more optimistic and a number of female fronted works including that celebration of women’s maturity that was Chilean favourite Gloria; more Romanian harrowing drama with Child’s Pose and the surprise final instalment of Richard Linklater’s celebrated trilogy Before Midnight, with Jessie and Celine now married and with children of their own, without having lost any of their ability to over intellectualize every little detail in their relationship.

Cannes managed to ensure for their several programmes the cream of Today’s world auteurs, showing another unbeatable cinematic crop. A jury presided by Spielberg rewarded Nebraska; Inside Llewyn Davis; Like Father, Like Son and historically gave the event’s biggest honour not just to the director but also to the two lead actresses of Blue is The Warmest Colour, whose detailed account of the sexual awakening and first, same sex relationship in the life of teenage girl has been a constant source of controversy since. Left empty handed, but ending up widely acclaimed among the year’s best , Cannes also gave us the latest and best ever work by Paolo Sorrentino, The Great Beauty, a clear favourite for the Foreign language Academy awards, and Clio Barnard’s superb adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s tale of childrens work exploitation, The Selfish Giant.

Cannes was also the launching stage for Steven Soderbergh’s work for television, wisely released in theatres everywhere but the States, the HBO-produced Behind the Candelabra was a master class on how to avoid the typical clichés linked to biopics, with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon giving career best performances as the flamboyant Las Vegas pianist Liberace and one of his most significant lovers. Soderbergh whom had dramatically announced his retirement from the film industry due to the increase difficulty to finance his work, gave an insightful and pessimistic lecture about the current state of film making in the States. Whereas his alleged retirement meant he is now working for TV instead and he’s joined the growing exodus of directing, writing and acting talent to the increasingly prestigious small screen is yet to be seen. In the meantime, there are hints of TV channels such as HBO, or powerful streaming websites such as Netflix, courting a producer role in the film market, the latter following its successful commission to its own series House Of cards and Orange is the new black.

The biggest, and perhaps only disappointment of the year, came with the Blockbuster season, whereas the endless appetite of the international public for a constant supply of superheroes, reboots and sequels have proven to be resiliently profitable, it has started to take its creative toll during the most popular time for movie going, with many of us already suffering from a severe case of superhero fatigue. Most of the few films based in original material (The Lone Ranger; After Earth; World War Z; etc.) flopped notoriously in their local box office, with the global markets, particularly the fast growing Oriental ones, coming to the rescue of their balance sheets; all of which made Spielberg to predict the implosion of the current studio system, due to the increasing cost of delivering the spectacular, FX based productions flooding the aestival market, has turned them into investments of enormous risk. Considering the amount of reworks and franchises coming to a screen near you in the next couple of years, Spielberg’s words resonated as scarily prophetical.

The summer did offer its share of surprises, even if our favourite multiplex hits (Elysium; Pacific Rim; Star Trek: Into Darkness; The Heat) didn’t reach the heights previously achieved by its creators, they were still fairly enjoyable oasis in a desert of predictability. Making the case for clever adult counterprogramming, Blue Jasmine became another huge success in Woody Allen’s rehabilitated career, with a towering performance by Cate Blanchett piling up the raves all the way to the Oscars.

But if Hollywood let us down during the summer, it more than over compensated with its prestige production over the most competitive awards season in recent memory. Since Gravity wowed audiences and critics alike in Venice and a few days later 12 Years a Slave was declared by the critics in Toronto this year’s Oscar winner, the awards season turned into a tight two frontrunners race, spiked up by a higher than usual number of excellent releases, from the thrills of Somali hijacking drama Captain Phillips, a perfect companion for its humbler, if equally compelling, European counterpart A Hijacking; to the dramatic heights of Dallas Buyers Club or Philomena, establishing themselves as formidable contenders.

The Christmas latecomers included celebrated new works by Martin Scorsese, whose brave satire against the excess of the financial world in The Wolf Of Wall Street has generated no little amount of friction; Spike Jonze’s Her, an unique romantic comedy wittily explored the changing relationship between man and technology and David O’Russell entertaining caper American Hustle boasted another ensemble cast to die for ; they helped dividing the critical precursors and adding a healthy dose of suspense to the race, which by then had expanded to a three way one, with Hustle quickly matching the former two favourites. On this climate of things, there was no much chance left for average bait to filter through the cracks, and the less celebrated of the contenders (“Labor Day”; “Mandela: Long Way To Freedom”; “The Fifth State” soon ran out of gas). But the season also saw some of the most legendary and Academy-friendly candidates for consideration (Robert Redford; Tom Hanks; Emma Thompson; Saving Mr, Banks; Prisoners or Sarah Polley) being sidestepped by stronger rivals.

From now and during the whole of the Oscars weekend we’ll be reviewing the highlights of this extraordinary time for film. Our traditional sections for disappointments, surprises and the Top 50 favourite movies will shortly follow and will hopefully reaffirm our belief that we have enjoyed the most rewarding twelve months of cinema in decades.