A funny thing happened on the way to the asylum. I saw 666 movies by December 24 and my mind was opened to yet new possibilities of assembling and disassembling images. Which is to say I like the breakdown of how violent sequences are shot as much as I like idyllic romance. I like gore and the horrific as much as I like serenity and the calm of quietude. In the 20th century truth was 24-frames-a-second (thank you Jean-Luc); while in the new millennium truth is 48-frames-a-second and usually in 3D (hats off to James Cameron and Peter Jackson).
No good movie is too long and no bad movie is too short (rest in peace Roger Ebert). I find as much comfort in the arms of indie, navel-gazing filmmaking as I do big budget extravaganza. I may watch films with my own personal political ideals locked in place but I don’t approach films with my own political agenda. To whittle a list of literally hundreds of films down to a top ten list can be an exercise in absurdity.
Even the Academy has a list of 289 feature films that are eligible for 2013 accolades. Add another 100 or so docs, indies and imports. If a top ten list is the top ten percent of films in a given year then that concept covers approximately two-point-five-percent of total films released. That would be like tipping your server $2.50 on a hundred dollar tab. Good tippers like your humble scribe bump 20-percent, so why shouldn’t a list of the year’s top movies not be at least 20 to 35 films in depth.
Here are a couple of my favorite lines in movies this year: “Goddam buddy I love you the death but sometimes you can fuck up a free meal.” (Jayne Mansfield’s Car) “Ain’t a minute to luxuriate on the work Patsy’s done.” (12 Years A Slave)
Here are a couple of my favorite actor’ quirks in movies this year: The way Jake Gyllenhaal winces his eyes throughout Prisoners, or the way Christian Bale touches his glasses in American Hustle. And in the same movie the way Jennifer Lawrence clicks her fingernails on a Formica kitchen top or seems to have an accent that suggests a diabolical doppelganger of Barbra Streisand’s character in What’s Up Doc?
If we’re talking camera shots how about the complicated camera and character movements for one-take shots in the movies Gravity (all over that film) or 12 Years A Slave (the whipping scene).
Audiences like to be surprised when they watch the drama unfold, and how unexpected was it when De Niro pops up uncredited in the middle of American Hustle. Anchorman 2 isn’t anybody’s idea of an award winner but imagine the wonder when the ending includes cameos of over a dozen well known thesps, including Oscar® winner Marion Cotillard.
Below are three lists: best features, documentaries, and foreign films.
Inside Llewyn Davis
12 Years A Slave
Escape From Tomorrow
The Place Beyond the Pines
An additional list of films could easily expand the count to more than a couple of dozen titles. Those would include some of the usual suspects of acclaimed cinema like Dallas Buyers Club, Francis Ha, Mud, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Conjuring, Nebraska, Blue Jasmine, Before Midnight, August: Osage County or the taunt thriller Prisoners. It would also include under the radar flicks like Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share, John Sayles’ Go For Sisters, and Belgium helmer Jaco Can Dormael’s Mr. Nobody (from 2009 but released domestically in November 2013).
Nobody churns out documentaries like Alex Gibney and 2013 saw his Mea Maxima Culpa premiere on HBO as well as two theatrical releases including We Steal Secrets and The Armstrong Lie. Many critics simply went gay for The Act of Killing, a doc that puts Indonesian death squad leaders from a generation ago center stage. As for myself, it was a good sit but I can’t say I ever want to see it again, which is not something I feel about the following films.
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
Seduced and Abandoned
The Unknown Known
20 Feet From Stardom
A category that encompasses many genres and languages, foreign films don’t always skew the same audience as indies or mainstream cinema. For my taste I didn’t see a better film last year than Johnny To’s Drug War, a seamless procedural that makes good guys out of bad guys and vice versa and has a startling ending you won’t soon forget. Also note that one of my choices The Patience Stone will be showing at the MFAH later next month (January 23) as part of the annual Iranian Film Festival. Another choice selection, The Wind Rises, I was fortunate enough to see in its Japanese version, however this swan song of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki will be released stateside next year dubbed in English.
Drug War (Du Zhan)
Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle)
The Hunt (Jagten)
The Past (Le passé)
The Grandmaster (Yi dai zong shi)
The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)
As always please remember that a great night at the cinema is one where the concession lines are efficient and the bathrooms are clean. See you at the movies.
- Michael Bergeron