Friday, January 3, 2014

Top Ten Films Of 2013

6th Annual Southland Tales Award For Film I Liked For No Damn Reason: The Great Gatsby:
In all fairness this one could also have easily slipped into Overhated. While Luhrman’s take on Gatsby is certainly, if we are to be generous, a misinterpretation (Psst… Daisy is not supposed to be a good person). There is more than enough here to make it worth watching. DiCaprio himself makes a fine Gatsby his boyish charisma changed to boyish insecurity, his natural charm a thin veneer. But the complaints about the film’s style crossed the line into bizarre. Luhrman is an acquired taste and his take on the material is certainly distinct but what the hell did the people complaining about the gaudiness expect? I’d just as soon watch a staid, restrained Great Gatsby as I would a staid, restrained Titus Andronicus. Luhrman’s Gatsby may not be perfect, but at least it’s not embalmed.

Overhated: Man Of Steel: No it wasn’t the perfect Superman film we were all promised but like all of Zack Snyder’s films The Man Of Steel was just eccentric and weird enough to make me really like it. Prog Rock Record Cover Krypton was fun. Digital Jedi Russell Crowe was fun. General Zod as played by 70’s Christopher Walken as portrayed by Michael Shannon was fun. The ending was apocalyptic but caused more genuine dread than anything I’ve seen in a blockbuster that comes to mind. As for the neck crack heard round the world, look I didn’t hear you all complaining when Christopher Reeve straight up tossed three people into a bottomless pit.

Underrated: Elysium: Sometimes it just plain feels like no one had as much fun with a film as you did. But how that was possible when the film in question involved a Cyborg Hobo Samurai played by Sharlto Copley, the most impressively realized Sci Fi world this side of Children Of Men and gore that would make Dead Alive era Peter Jackson blink, I am still not sure. It might not be subtle but then again neither was Metropolis.

Most Pleasant Surprise: Oz The Great And Powerful: With words of reshoots and a few iffy trailers I walked into Oz full of apprehension. But while Oz might be a second tier Raimi film, never quite reaching the emotional depth it’s striving for, it is a Raimi film through and through. A PG Army Of Darkness driven by an eccentric sense of humor, a genuine generosity and doesn’t skimp on its horror imagery. As pleasing and unexpected as a china girl with a butcher’s knife.

Most Disapointing: Carrie: The only movie of 2013 that left me genuinely heart sick. A waste of potential on every level so flagrant that it’s downright criminal.

Worst: Parker: Nearly as criminal as reimaging Donald Westlake’s consummate sociopathic motherfucker of the ages as a cuddly robin hood type with a strict list of moral rules. Fuck you.

10. Much Ado About Nothing: Call it slight, so is the play. But Joss Whedon’s noir restaging plays to his strengths. All of them. From his affection for his cast and characters, only matched by his love of putting them through the shredder. Simply put, Much Ado About Nothing is tailor made for Whedon and while it can be argued that all he does is get out of the plays way, that’s A) infinitely better than getting in the play’s way (see Branaugh, Kenneth)  and B) It’s Shakespeare what else does he need to do? Call me undiscerning but I can’t help but be thoroughly happy watching a great filmmaker pull off one of my favorite love stories with this level of ease. “Get thee a wife,” indeed.

9. A Band Called Death: I cannot imagine anyone who has ever tried to create any kind of art walking away from A Band Called Death without being enormously affected by it. Not so much a recording as a redress, A Band Called Death is a funny, moving portrait of the joy of creating music, fraternal love and that of a man who never lost faith  that he had created something worthwhile even as he lost his grip on himself. If you’re not smiling when the end credits role I think there might be a part of you missing.

8. Pacific Rim: No film plastered as sloppy of a smile on my face as this one. Del Toro once again unleashes his imagination on the biggest canvas he’s gotten to play with yet and the results are as always spectacular and singular. Genuine imagination and heart are rare qualities in movies, and nearly extinct in blockbusters. Del Toro has told a story that digs up your inner twelve year old and gives it a high five, and does so with more exuberance than seems strictly possible.

7. Lords Of Salem: It’s been a strange mixture of bizarre and gratifying watching the response to this film. For every Noel Murray, Tim Brayton, Kevin Olson, and Bill Ryan (though he may deny it) who has gotten behind it, there have been people whose response has been downright hostile. I’ve had not one but two people literally insult me to my face for daring to recommend a Rob Zombie film to them. It’s been strange.

Which is fitting because as I said in my review Lords Of Salem is one weird fucking movie. To quote the aforementioned Mr. Brayton it does genuinely feel like Dario Argento suddenly remembered how to make movies again and tried to atone for Mother Of Tears with a fourth“Sisters” movie. It’s a film with its own queasy unique energy that burrows under your skin and stays there.

6. Before Midnight: Even with all of the praise that has been heaped upon it I still think Before Midnight has been underrated. People haven’t acknowledged just what a risk it really was. As lovely and true as the first two films in the sequence ring they’re both idealizations to the point of being fairy tales. Before Midnight takes that idealization and dumps on fifteen pounds of reality stuffed in a twelve pound bag. Creating one of the most caustic relationship movies this side of Husbands And Wives. It could easily have fucked everything up. Instead in a way that feels damn near alchemic Before Midnight doesn’t just work well on its own, it makes Before Sunrise and Before Sunset into better movies. It’s bitter, but never hopeless and all the more moving for being so hard won.

5. To The Wonder: A lot of people came down hard on this one and while it is the least of Malick’s films I cannot help but be still be overwhelmed by it. In part the frustration is understandable, at its core To The Wonder is a story of failed grace, and that by definition is going to be frustrating. And yet it’s such a beautiful and moving portrait of an attempt, anchored by a performance by Javier Bardem so naturalistic that I am fairly certain that most of the cast was simply not told that he wasn’t actually a priest. Make no mistake, this one is going to endure.

4. Gravity: I’m pretty sure that the breath I inhaled during the opening credits of Gravity is the same one I exhaled as the final credits began to roll. It’s as pure a visercial experience as I’ve had in a film, as if Cuaron somehow extended the car chase sequence in Children Of Men to feature length. Yet those dismissing it as such are missing the point. Like To The Wonder, Gravity is a work of poetry not prose. It doesn’t need any justification, it justifies itself.

3. The World’s End: I’ve talked to people who have had fairly uncomfortable reactions to this movie and that’s kind of why I love it. Make no mistake The World’s End is bleak. A movie that starts at rock bottom and continues to tunnel until it explodes like a depth charge and starts the stunning comic anarchy of its last two acts. That bleakness never leaves the film, few lines have rung as bitter and true as “Nothing happened.” (one of the exceptions being “I fucked up my life because I like the way you sing.”)

Like all of Wright’s films The World’s End functions both as a parody of its genre and a superlative example of it. Ending with a kind of brazen pride in the fact that humanities defining attribute might be its ability to fuck things up. Now please tell me that Roger Moore has a part in Ant Man.
2. Upstream Color: Remember the first time you saw a David Lynch movie, before you were exposed to endless repetition, parody and attempts to ape his style. Remember the pervasive wrongness of it all and the horrid intractable logic behind it. Now take that feeling of unease and make it absolutely heart broken as two people try and rebuild in the aftermath of what can only be described as a mental rape, and you’ll maybe start to get why Upstream Color is among the most remarkable experiences I had in a theater this year.

1. The Wolf Of Wall Street: This is a film that’s almost hard to write about given just how infuriating some of the willful misinterpretations of it have been. Suffice to say if you cannot tell that Scorsese holds Belaforte and all that he represents in complete contempt, even after showcases a room full of men in five figure suit beating their chests and yowling like the apes at the beginning of 2001 before the monolith civilized them, even after he casts himself as Belaforte's first victim, even after he has them recreate part of Dryer’s Joan Of Arc, even after he has them repeat the Freaks chant for the love of Christ, then I’m not sure how you’ve found your way to the internet to deliver your opinions. Make no mistake this is Scorsese's depiction of hell no less than Shutter Island, with Matthew McConaughey serving as a cornpone Mephistopheles.

It is Scorsese’s genius that he doesn’t treat Belafortes story with any kind of dignity or gravitas but warps it into a degenerate farce. This is Scorsese’s most Felliniesque film (he would have loved the midget tossing) with displays of degenerency that would be at home in a surrealist film if they weren’t, you know, real. 

As far as I'm concerned at this point DiCaprio's collaboration with Scorsese is every bit the equal to Scorsese's with DeNiro. They both dig into to playing a character with no redeeming facets, nor any interest in acquiring them, DiCaprio in particular throwing himself into the role with such abandon that it makes the days when he passed on Patrick Bateman because he was afraid it'd look bad for his image seem like a surreal memory. Whether it's having a lit candle jammed up his ass, or the already legendary Quaaludes scene, a work of extended physical comedy that makes the most outlandish of Jerry Lewis and Jim Carrey look restrained and dignified there's a dedication that's stunning.

71 years old and Scorsese still hits harder, more creativity and with better accuracy than filmmakers half his age can dream of. As long as he's making movies I look forward to many more years as good as this one.