2013 Film Review: The Surprises

witching and bitching

Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2013 was the notoriously high quality and quantity of the films on release, which has pushed out of our Top 50 countdown recent works by such acclaimed directors as Baz Luhrmann, whose flamboyant take on The Great Gatsby opened Cannes to critical approval and audience acclaim; Carlos Reygadas, adopting full experimental mode in the challenging Post Tenebras Lux; Matteo Garrone, who followed up his acclaimed ‘Gomorrah’ with a satirical study of our obsession with celebrity in Reality; Andrzej Wajda’s epic account of the life of influential Polish Union leader Lech Walesa; Abas Kiarostami re-enacting the rules of romance in the witty Like Someone In Love or the mix of social realism with over the top goth in Basque genre master Alex De La Iglesia’s latest, Witching & Bitching.

Less accomplished, but not without their merits were Neil Blomkamp raising questions about the future of health care in his latest politically-tinged sci-fi epic Elysium; Olivier Assayas going back in time to May of 68 with Something In The Air or Nicolas Winding Refn’s Cannes panned Only God Forgives, where neither its slick cinematography, nor a exotic Thai location or Kristin Scott-Thomas show-stopping turn as evil matriarch on her way to avenge the killing of one of her sons, made us forgot about ‘Drive’. Stephen Frears’ Oscar baity Philomena has taken Judi Dench and Steve Coogan’s screenplay to the Academy gates, unlike Saving Mr Banks, which despite a cast of traditional Hollywood favourites headed by Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks in top form and the self-referential story of the difficult process to take ‘Mary Poppins’ to the big screen, became this year’s biggest Oscar snub.

Among the year’s best curios, the adorably vintage French animation of Ernest and Celestine whose old fashioned charms have granted it a nomination for the Oscar; Yoji Yamada’s faithful remake of Ozu’s classic ‘Tokyo Story’, now called Tokyo Family; Guillermo del Toro dusting the also Japanese Kaiju film tradition in the uneven, but enjoyable Pacific Rim; Dexter Fletcher’s musical based in the songs of The Proclaimers Sunshine On Leith, and the latest from the Bridesmaids team pairing Sandra Bullock, who must be having the time of her life, against Melissa McCarthy in the hilarious cop buddy flick The Heat.

All of them worthy of mention, but pale in comparison to our Top 10 biggest surprises of 2013:

leviathan1- LEVIATHAN (Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel) In Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab a revolution in documentary making was forged thanks to this totally immersive viewing experience, where the innovative camerawork and the lack of a linear narrative took us right to the middle of all the work taking place inside a boating fish, with a numbing accumulation of sensations coming from the struggle between man-made machinery versus nature’s own processes. One of the most amazing visual challenges of the year.
bernie2- BERNIE (Richard Linklater)
Richard Linklater’s hilarious fake documentary about the camp funerary assistant who conquered the hearts of every member of the small community he went to, becoming the companion of the village’s rich widow and ended up in jail accused of her death arrived late to our shores and passed unnoticed, but was among 2012’s crop of Spirit nominees, boasted a career best performance by Jack Black, the welcome return of Shirley Maclaine and an early indicator of McConaughey’s career shift to quality.
the stone roses3-THE STONE ROSES: MADE OF STONE (Shane Meadows)/ BEWARE OF MR. BAKER (Jay Lorber) The musical documentary had a bumper year with all sort of artists, from the imprisoned Russian punks Pussy Riot, to the influential Big Star being the subject of some brilliant ones. Standig out among them were Jay Lorber’s portrait of hell raising drummer extraordinaire Ginger Baker or Shane Meadows releasing his inner fan when given access to The Stone Roses’ reunion tour to brilliantly emotional effect.
drinking buddies4- DRINKING BUDDIES (Joe Swanberg) Mumblecore, one of the most refreshing independent subgenres in recent US cinema, reached its majority of age and began courting with the mainstream, appealing to young Hollywood stars without losing an inch of its original easy going tone . Swanberg, one of its fathers and an increasingly popular actor himself, recruited Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick for this warm and humorous exploration of the boundaries between intimate friendship and romantic relationships.
broken-circle5- THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN (Felix Van Groeningen)/ SHORT TERM 12 (Destin Daniel Cretton) These two small productions, one an Oscar nominated Belgian tale about a couple of Bluegrass musicians whose daughter is diagnosed with leukaemia; the other a Spirit favourite US indie dealing with life in a foster home, managed to reassess the melodramatic nature of their subjects by finding the right balance within their touching storylines and superb performances.
aint them bodies saints6- TO THE WONDER (Terrence Malick)/ AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS (David Lowery) As if it was a case of master and disciple; the veteran auteur, now in the middle of a very prolific phase, released ‘To The Wonder’, a reflection about love boasting another top-notch cast and refining his unique visual poetry , whose slow-burning, contemplative style proved more influential than ever when Lowery’s atmospheric, crime-ridden love triangle was treated, since its launch at Sundance, as its deserving heir.
in a world7- IN A WORLD (Lake Bell)/ DON JON (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) / INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR (James Franco) Crowded times for actors venturing behind the camera; Franco began re-enacting the rejected footage from Pacino’s 70’s gay crime thriller ‘Cruising’ and hasn’t stopped since. Gordon-Levitt crafted a notable comedy about porn addiction, giving Scarlett Johansson, currently doing a McConaughey –like career makeover, one of her recent quality roles, and Bell's hilarious tale of voiceover actors' rivalry was one of the year's best debuts.
compliance8- COMPLIANCE (Craig Zobel) /FRUITVALE STATION (Ryan Coogler) Based in true stories, two indie reminders of what this cinema was invented for. Zobel’s Compliance raised questions about the corporative chain of command’s dehumanizing effect through the story of a phone prankster who, passing for a policeman, humiliated fast food assistants; Coogler conquered Sundance with the controversial case of the police killing an innocent black guy. Veteran Anne Down and freshman Michael B Jordan were both robbed of an Oscar nomination.
nobody's daughter9- NOBODY'S DAUGHTER HAEWON (Hong Sang-Soo) It’s taken nearly two decades and fifteen feature films for prolific Korean art house veteran Sang-soo to hit our screens. His deceptively simple, low-budget films share a cosy look at ordinary relationships, often revolving about very mundane situations. A fixture of the festival circuit and heavily influenced by the French nouvelle vague, he’s collaborated in two of his recent projects, ‘In Our country’ and this one, with Isabelle Huppert. Once discovered we hope he'll become an acquired taste for European audiences.
a field in england10- A FIELD IN ENGLAND (Ben Wheatley)
Establishing himself as the most unique voice in the current British Cinema, Wheatley followed-up his dark comedy ‘Sightseers’ with this black and white psychedelic tale set during the English civil war, where a group of deserters are persuaded to search for a hidden treasure, eating some hallucinogenic mushrooms in the process. Instantly reaching cult status, this original piece of work also challenged the conventional rules of distribution with its successful all platforms release in the same day.