2013 Year in Review Part 2 – Top 25-11

January 3, 2014



25. Byzantium 

Neil Jordan’s sometimes brilliant, sometimes awful career has made anticipation for his work…difficult.  So it’s with some amount of shock that his vampire movie is effective as it is.  It shouldn’t be too surprising, since he famously made the intriguing-if-silly Interview with the Vampire oh those many years ago.  A refreshing feminist take on vampire lore – without, thankfully, ignoring its deep Christian roots – sees Gemma Arterton (often underrated) and Saorsie Ronan as mother and daughter vampires, somewhat duped into becoming vampires after a nefarious British officer essentially forces Arterton’s Clara into prostitution.  It’s a smart, beautifully cold film whose modern day story nicely intermingles with the flashback structure, demonstrating the ways in which, for women, the present isn’t all that different than the past.  There’s more to it than that, and though a whole post could be written about nails replacing teeth in the mythos, suffice it to say that it raises itself above the heap of Twilight-inspired vampire mania and stakes (ugh) out its own identity.  It also includes a waterfall of blood, which is far more gorgeous than it is possible to describe.


24. The Past

“Not as good as A Separation” is probably the most common response to Asgar Farhadi’s follow up to his Oscar Winner, and while they’re essentially right, the comparison is unfair.  Farhadi’s style and interests might invite the comparison, but whereas A Separation was interested in a spirally melodrama caused by the forces of context and culture, The Past deals with a more direct “original sin”, if you will.  It might not seem as thrillingly horrible because of it, but get to the final 30 minutes and you’ll see this is not only one of the finest melodramas of the year, it is one of the finest character studies too.  Berenice Bejo plays a woman finalizing a divorce so she can marry her new boyfriend, whose wife is inconveniently in a coma after a botched suicide attempt.  There are reveals after reveals, sure, and sometimes it feels like you can see the plot engine work a little too hard, but it’s still a damn fine exploration of that old “Past may be through with you…” chestnut.




23. This is Martin Bonner

It’s the tiniest and, maybe, the slightest of things, but this 83 minute gem involves two men, one a divorcee who has moved his life across the country and the other an alcoholic just out of jail for vehicular manslaughter.  They don’t become great friends, and very little “big” (or, anything at all, really) happens, but it’s a superb, delicate work anchored by Paul Eenhorn and Richard Arquette, both quietly finding notes to play while uncertain people make tiny stabs at dignity.  It’s so sure-footed that when the climactic diner sequence comes around, even with its relative smallness, it feels huge.  The very definition of a “minor gem”, it’s a reminder that the former aspect doesn’t diminish the latter.



22. The Wind Rises

One of the greatest directors of animated features, Hayao Miyazaki, has retired, leaving us this final film, which is oddly enough perhaps the most conventional work I’ve seen from him.  A loose biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the creator of the famed Zero fighter planes used in World War II, it follows a pretty standard path from youthful dreaming to hard work and invention, and makes some time for a genuinely endearing romantic tragedy to boot.  The design and the visuals are as amazing as you’d expect, and though fantastical creatures are largely absent, the dream sequences and incredible airplanes supply ample wonder.  An affectionate portrait of a man attempting to realise his passions despite Japan’s rather backward place in the industrialised world, some have come down hard on Miyazaki for lionizing a man whose machines would go on to kill so many, but that aspect is hardly ignored.  It is, at its core, about the thrill of invention and the passion of the engineer to create.




21. All is Lost

Though less heralded than that other story of human survival in the harshest conditions, J.C. Chandoor’s unexpected follow-up to the talky banking crisis film Margin Call is damn near wordless as we follow Robert Redford’s unnamed man use everything in his skillset to solve the problem of staying alive on the ocean with a sinking yacht.  Struck by a fallen shipping container (there’s a subtle-enough metaphor here about the casual destruction and collateral damage left by uncaring capitalism), Redford’s boat has a big hole in it and things just get worse from where.  Perhaps the best use of traditional star power of the year, Redford’s calm face betrays the whirring of the gears in his mind as he attempts to deal with one problem after the next.  Sparingly scored and quietly terrifying, it is damn near the opposite of Gravity in every way, and though both films are good, All is Lost gets the edge for sheer resourcefulness.  Less a thrill ride than a meditation on human perseverance in a thankless world, Chandoor demonstrates a completely new side to his abilities in only his second feature.  The film is also notable for the most well-earned (and well-delivered) expletive of the year.



20. Her

One of those films I’m not sure will hold up on a second viewing but could equally rise in my estimations, Her is both an intimate portrait of love and connection and a sprawling near-Twilight Zone sci-fi parable.  The potential pitfalls are many, and there’s a huge potential to be cloying, indie introspective (Spike Jonze has the ideal aesthetic for that kind of thing), but it’s incredible how fair Jonze seems to be playing it.  Awkward as hell at points, genuinely endearing at others, Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly pulls off the soulful sad sack routine without it ever feeling like an affectation or a cheat.  He is helped immeasurably by Jonze and cinematographer Eric Zumbrunnen’s style, which is gently satirical of an app-heavy world while still maintaining an odd beauty and a supportive mood (the owl shot might be too on the nose if it wasn’t was so damn well executed).  Scarlett Johansson probably gives the best performance of her career, and as the sad comedy plays out to its intriguingly inevitable end, she sells the reality of the absurd situation with her voice as much as Phoenix does.  It has the distinct feel of a Lost in Translation – a film that swept me away with its beautiful moodiness and understated performances but quickly soured in my mind as time wore on.  Dammit if Her isn’t a great watch the first time through though.




19. Frances Ha

It’s hard not to see this as some kind of love letter to Greta Gerwig from newly divorced boyfriend Noah Baumbach, but if that explains the odd sense of positivity injected into the work from the oft-pessimistic director, then it’s fine by me.  An odd but fitting companion piece to his last film, Greenberg, which envisioned a disaffected 40 year old whose constant frustrations were a result of his inability to compromise in an unforgiving world, France Ha‘s titular protagonist (about 30 years old) struggles with compromise and, of course, change  (especially when it comes to her best friend drifting away), but instead of being defeated finds something to push forward.  It’s a tough road, of course, and there are alternating sad and funny sequences where she’s forced to live in her old college dorm as a waitress, have dinner with far more successful peers, and go on the most pointless Parisian excursion in the history of cinema.  Gerwig pulls it off, never becoming a caricature of a thoughtless waif or a frustrated suspended adolescent.  It is, in the end, a romantic fantasy and celebration of a life and a city (who couldn’t think of Woody Allen’s Manhattan with that gorgeous black and white widescreen – fittingly recognizing that Brooklyn and Tribeca are what that island once was).  The title reveal in the last shot is perfect and kind, and what might have seemed like a small deal 30 years ago seems like a huge one now.




18. Upstream Color

Shane Carruth’s follow up to his cult hit Primer is as bewildering a cinematic experience as you could have all year.  His film in every sense (he wrote, directed, produced, shot, edited, stars, and self distributed), it has the feeling of a personal vision that might only make total sense to its creator.  Yet another film I’d like to see again because of its seeming impenetrability (not that I think it’s a film that needs to be “solved”), it is no doubt a stunning and fascinating work.  It’s full of ideas and emotions and, memorably, bodies (in motion and not).  Carruth and co-lead Amy Seimetz play it with a contemplative dourness that is necessary for the maintaing of the films very specific milieu.  As it becomes more and more about lost souls finding a connection, even if that is partly because their souls have been placed in pigs (?), the narrative makes even less sense but the emotional core reveals itself.  I won’t even hazard a guess right now as to what it is about, precisely, but I can feel what it was like to experience it, and that’s surely enough.




17. The Lone Ranger

Not just a Western, Gore Verbinski’s thrilling, bizarre pastiche has the feel of all Westerns.  The Lone Ranger takes on villainous outlaws and, more importantly, corrupt government officials and military men under the pay of capitalist expansionism.  It’s goofy as hell, of course, and Depp’s Tonto works better than his Jack Sparrow’s jokester if only because there’s a reason for the insanity this time.  Brutal tribal massacres have left a scar, and by the end of the (perhaps too) long journey, one gets the impression that the Ranger and Tonto aren’t fighting to uphold an ideal under threat, but attempting to patch up an inherently broken system wound by wound.  Beyond all of the funtime pastiche (this is very much a follow-on from Verbinski’s animated Rango, both leaps and bounds above everything else he has ever done), there’s a hell of a romping action picture here, and the final duel train chase is the best tentpole action setpiece of the year.




16. The Wolf of Wall Street

Scorsese’s 3 hour, madcap screed against the shallow assholes who have found a way to take advantage of a decrepit, leaky system to gain power, wealth, and the ability to express their damaged ids to their heart’s content is probably closer to King of Comedy in theme than anything else he’s done, but we’re now dealing with a different kind of delusion: one that’s accepted as the cultural norm.  It’s drawn criticism for its catalogue of antics without regard for its victims, which strikes me as odd considering through all the jubilant hedonism we get the pain tucked away on the sides – the secretary who is humiliated by a head shave for $10,000 comes to mind.  People who watch it and want to be Jordan Belfourt and his disgusting cronies are total assholes, so I’m not sure why their reaction should be a valid criticism.  It is quite funny, that’s true, but beyond the “frat” humour that pervades its early sequences we have Jordan attempting to get home on some particularly strong qualludes that is clearly played as slapstick farce.  The joke is, always has been, and always will be on the denizens of adolescent pursuits and destructive greed.




15. Enough Said

I’ve found Nicole Holofcener’s work too smug at times in the past, and though parts of Enough Said flirt with that – Keener’s character is a total caricature, sure – there’s such a genuine sweetness and honesty at the center that it doesn’t matter.  So the plot is contrived and “sit-commy”, but I don’t see a problem with that.  That is what rom-coms do, and as with any genre, when done well there can be a real stab at truth.  Julia Louise-Dreyfus’s middle aged divorcee hang-ups feel real, and the influence of others on a situation is about as universal as scenarios go.  James Gandolfini’s genuinely decent guy who’s mature enough to accept what others perceive as faults without totally giving up on “improving” himself one day is about a rich a portrait of middle age masculinity as you’re likely to find in any genre.  There’s humour and warmth oozing from every scene, and at the heart of it is Holofcener’s witty, urbane perspective, and this time it’s not contaminated with that smugness I was talking about.  It’s a genuine joy to watch, and it’s nice to not have to resort to Nancy Meyers to find romantic comedies about middle aged women for once.




14. Computer Chess

Andrew Bujalski’s latest starts out as what seems to be a quirky one-joke film.  Filmed using outdated period black and white video cameras, Computer Chess starts out as a mockumentary about a tournament in a bad hotel in 1980 where various programmers bring their computers to play chess against other computers.  Big glasses and pocket protectors are there at every turn, and the sad nerds at the heart of the enterprise take everything far too seriously.  It then does something strange: it expands its scope and its interpretation of reality to become a funny glimpse into a collection of strange characters, from the young man eager to figure out why his computer isn’t playing well to the lone nut job without a room who constantly foists himself on the hapless programmers and taking their drugs.  There’s a group of self-help spiritualists sharing the hotel, the only female at the tournament whose arc doesn’t go quite where you’d expect, an aging prostitute, and computers that are becoming, well, just plain moody.  The weekend gets stranger and the participants begin to question themselves and, well, the universe in their own little way.  Not just an exercise in quirkiness, Computer Chess stakes a claim for Bujalski as a genuine talent with a unique voice and, rare for someone from the oft-slandered “mumblecore” tribe, something to say.




13. To The Wonder

I won’t belabour this, for you all know I am an unashamed Malick stan, and even if this film flirts with self-parody, it’s still a dazzling experiment in beauty and mood that considers love to be akin to religion, and follows through equally in both parts.  Malick and cinematographer Emmanuelle Lubezki once again raise middle America (this time, completely contemporary and, yes, it’s weird to see a Sonic with this aesthetic) into a setting worthy of existential introspection.  It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, even more so than Tree of Life, but if you can allow yourself to be taken it, it’s as thrilling and beautiful as almost anything out there.



12. Like Someone In Love

Abbas Kiorastami continues his world trek, this time in Japan to tell another story of (mis)communication between two people.  This time out, however, there’s a slightly absurdist comic feel to the story of retired professor (Tadashi Okuno) and his relationship with a college student who moonlights as a prostitute (Rin Takanashi).  After staying over (not for sex, it seems, but just to have someone there), things spiral and spiral as a boyfriend mistakes the professor for her grandfather, and asks for his permission to marry her.  The relationship between the two grows in fits and spurts over the short time span, and it all leads to one of the most shocking endings of the year.




11. Spring Breakers

After Scorsese, Malick, and Kiarostami, it might seem like a list of “old favourites”, but here’s a shock: I highly rate a Harmony Korine film, which I have never ever done before.  Breaking from his junkyard low-grade aesthetic into one of the most accomplished cinematographic achievements of the year (Benoit Debie’s work is just plain incredible – a flurouscent flurry of day-glo dreamy beauty).  Interpretations vary wildly, and many take the film as straight up satire, which I guess it is in parts, but unlike Michael Bay’s similarly themed non-satire satire of American excess, Pain and Gain (supporters of both films are vehement about the emptiness of the other), it has something approaching a heart or, at least, a thought process.  Yes, it’s the wild excess of youth (brilliantly scored by that generator of excessive nothingness, Skrillex), but lurking beneath the bikinis and former child stars and James Franco’s corn rows there’s a tinge of sadness at where the tsunami of pop culture has carried everyone.  The central sequence built around Britney Spears’ “Everytime” might seem like a cheap gag that runs too long, but pay attention and you’ll find 5 people finding meaning in art, as cheap as that particular instance of art might be.  Class differences, race relations, material excess, and the humiliation (and empowerment) of the debauchery of youth are all touched upon to varying degrees, but really it’s a sensory experience anchored by an extraordinarily watchable supporting performance by Franco that sets itself apart as one of the most “now” movies of the year.  Maybe it won’t be a time capsule for years to come, but there are aspects of it that speak to the contemporary world far more than most anything else.


15 Responses to “2013 Year in Review Part 2 – Top 25-11”

  1. Greg Says:

    Somewhat surprised to see Her and Wolf of Wall Street so low but I’m kind of with you on Wolf. It seems like a movie where if you get it then you get it but if you don’t (like the Wall Street types who cheered at a screening) then it kind of feeds into the excess. Like how Oliver Stone always said that Wall Street was meant as a critique but people seemed to have learned the wrong lessons from it. I fear Wolf has the same potential.

    • chiaroscurocoalition Says:

      It probably does (I remember stories of brokers putting framed photos of Gekko on their walls), but that’s going to happen anyway. Somebody was talking about Wolf as a film that believes you have to be seduced by the lifestyle to critique it, and that’s far too complicated a notion for money-obsessed assholes to comprehend. Funnily enough, I walked out of Wolf not feeling much about it – some good scenes and often quite funny, but it felt kind of “been there done that” – but it was only in the following days that I began to wrap my head around it, which is strange for such a surface-level visceral experience. Both it and Her could raise greatly in my estimations if I see them again.

      • Greg Says:

        Eh, I feel like that’s letting them off a little too easily. I know an entire generation of men who don’t say “greedy is good” ironically. They actually meant it and maybe they were always destined to be money grubbing assholes movies like Wall Street didn’t help. And men like Stone and Scorsese can’t just say they’re creating art in a vacuum and keep it moving. At least we shouldn’t let them.

  2. Hey Chiaroscurocoalition,
    Very interesting, It was pretty good introduction to see yours blog. I actually enjoyed it. good job keep it up bye dude tc

  3. Dwayne Says:

    Good day! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site?

    I’m getting sick and tired of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform.
    I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  4. I do trust all the ideas you have offered for
    your post. They are very convincing and will definitely
    work. Still, the posts are very brief for newbies.
    Could you please prolong them a little from next time?

    Thanks for the post.

  5. This piece of writing is really a fastidious one it assists new web users, who are
    wishing in favor of blogging.

  6. Guadalupe Says:

    My brother suggested I might like this website. He
    was entirely right. This post actually made my day.
    You cann’t imagine just how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  7. Jacklyn Says:

    I delight in, lead to I found just what I used to be looking for.
    You have ended my four day lengthy hunt! God
    Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

  8. Willie Says:

    I’m gone to inform my little brother, that he should also
    visit this website on regular basis to take updated from
    hottest gossip.

  9. Nate Says:

    I’d like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this blog.
    I am hoping to see the same high-grade content from you in the future as well.
    In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own website now ;

  10. Eugenia Says:

    Undeniably imagine that that you stated. Your favorite justification appeared
    to be at the web the simplest factor to understand of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while
    other folks think about concerns that they plainly don’t
    understand about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as neatly as outlined out the whole thing without having side-effects ,
    other folks could take a signal. Will probably be again to get
    more. Thank you

  11. Lavada Says:

    Hi there, all is going nicely here and ofcourse every one is sharing facts,
    that’s actually good, keep up writing.

  12. Lenore Says:

    Hello I am so delighted I found your webpage, I really
    found you by error, while I was looking on Aol for
    something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say thanks a lot for a
    marvelous post and a all round entertaining blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to
    read through it all at the minute but I have saved it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the great work.

  13. Just desire to say your article is as amazing.
    The clarity on your put up is just nice and i can assume you are a professional in this subject.
    Fine together with your permission let me to grasp your RSS feed to
    stay updated with imminent post. Thanks one million and
    please keep up the rewarding work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: