Saturday, January 18, 2014

CineCritical's Picks O' the Year 2013 - Matt's Picks

As I sit here watching Doctor Who and trying to build my list of the film films of 2013, I realize that Siobhan is not so wrong in her dwindling cinephilia. 2013 had a lot of decent films, but there was also a lot of pure crap.

I am not as in love with one specific film this year unlike the past few years. 2012 offered me Rust and Bone with Marion Cotillard astonishing work. 2011 gave Tilda Swinton's career-best work in We Need to Talk About Kevin. 2010 was a tie between Black Swan and Mike Leigh's Another Year. Any of these four films would easily be my favourite film in 2013.

Consider that the only truly original film to be amongst the ten highest-grossing films of 2013 is Gravity. All the others are sequels, with the exception of Disney's Frozen, based on a Hans Christen Andersen story that has been adapted no fewer than ten times (even a 3D animated Russian film released in 2012!).

I am slightly disappointed with the foreign films released in North American markets this year. Usually a French film makes its way to my heart, but Blue Is the Warmest Colour, while a great film, could not crack the top ten.

Enough bitching, let's celebrate my top of ten of 2013!

10. Nebraska 
I have been a fan of Alexander Payne since Laura Dern's thrilling performance in 1996's Citizen Ruth. Seventeen years later Payne is working with Dern's father Bruce. The result is the beautifully filmed and told black and white story of a father and son venturing from Montana to Nebraska. Dern's Frank believes he has won a million dollars while his wife (June Squibb) thinks he is a senile idiot. His son (Will Forte) relents and agrees to drive his father. Dern's performance is gaining the lion's share of praise, but it would be impossible without Forte's genuine performance. Check out my initial review here

9. Fruitvale Station
Unfortunately Ryan Coogler's film could not sustain its moment after winning the Grand Jury and Audience prizes at the Sundance Film Festival last January. The film was released into theatres in July and I was immediately struck by Michael B. Jordan's performance as a man wrongfully shot at an Oakland metro station in the early hours of New Years Day. Heartbreaking and shameful, the film is anchored by an emotional performance from Octavia Spencer. Read my initial review here

8. Frances Ha
Maybe because all his films seem to be referencing Woody Allen or simply because Greta Gerwig offers such a flawless performance, Frances Ha must be included as one of my favourite films of the year. Beautifully shot in black and white and set in New York City, the film practically begs to be compared to Allen's 1979 masterpiece Manhattan. Noah Baumbach collaborated with Gerwig to create Frances, a nearly thirty wannabe dancer who flits and floats through life in a way that is similar to Lena Dunham's Hannah on Girls (without the strong themes of mental illness). It could just be that I am close in age to Frances, but I fully empathized with her plight. Read my initial review here.

7. Inside Llewyn Davis
Inside Llewyn Davis is not your typical Coen brothers film. It is much more melancholic with a central character that is almost unlikable. Is this why the film, a supposed front runner for major categories, only received two Academy Award nominations? For me, it is one of the best films of 2013 but it would not get many votes for their best film. That honour goes to 1996's Fargo, followed by No Country for Old Men (2007) and then The Big Lebowski (1998). Oscar Isaac is terrific as Llewyn Davis, but his character is not as strong as the Coens have previously created. They are flawless storytellers, but I do wish the film had been more substantive. Read my initial review here

6. Her
Different to Inside Llewyn Davis, Spike Jonze's Her is my favourite film that he has directed. Only his fourth feature after amazing audiences with his eccentric 1999 debut Being John Malkovich, Her is set in a near future where a very lonely man (played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). In a time where Internet romances are more prominent than ever, Her is almost uncomfortable to watch in its sincerity and honesty. My only criticism is the added-on feel to Amy Adams role. Read my initial review here

5. The Hunt
Sadly The Hunt, a Danish film starring Mads Mikkelsen, is the only foreign film on my list. It is a terrific and terrifying film about a kindergarten teacher's life being torn apart after being wrongfully accused of sexual misconduct with a student. Mikkelsen, who first burst onto the international scene as a Bond villain in Casino Royale won the 2012 Cannes Best Actor prize. Unfortunately, it took well over a year for the film to be released in North America. It is the only Best Foreign Language film nominee that I have seen this year. It is shocking and disturbing and truly a joy of a film to watch. Read my initial review here

4. Before Midnight
The third, and likely final, in Richard Linklater's collaboration with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke did not disappoint. Before Midnight reunites us with Jesse and Celine seven years after meeting again in Paris. This time they are married with twin daughters and spending the summer in Greece. Their relationship is more strained and their repartee is more acidic, but their love is undeniable. The film series is remarkable in that it relives heavily on conversation. The beautiful setting is simply the location for the words to be said. Read my initial review here

3. 12 Years a Slave
Before 12 Years a Slave won praise at Telluride and TIFF, Lee Daniels' The Butler was all but guaranteed to win numerous awards. Thankfully the Oscars saw The Butler for what it was, an inflated piece of fluff. 12 Years of Slave is a powerful film young but accomplished British director Steve McQueen. Chiwetel Ejifor may lose the Academy Award to Matthew McConaughey, but he is truly the Best Actor of 2013. It is a superb and stunning achievement that should be watched and appreciated. Read my initial review here.

2. Blue Jasmine
This evening Cate Blanchett won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress. She is the main contender to take home her second Academy Award. It would be only the second time that an actress won the top acting prize for a Woody Allen film - the first for Diane Keaton in 1977's Annie Hall (Allen's films have four other Oscars for Best Supporting Actress). Blanchett and Allen are a winning combination, but the film would be less successful without Sally Hawkins (a surprising but deserved nominee for Best Supporting Actress). Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen's best film in a number of years - though I struggle to compare it to Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). Midnight in Paris may have won over more diverse audiences, but Blue Jasmine is a far better (and more Allen-esque) film! Read my initial review here

1. Gravity
I have been dismissive of Sandra Bullock's performance in Gravity. How can I rank it the best of the year when I wholeheartedly believe that Cate Blanchett gives a better performance in Blue Jasmine? All the credit must be given to visionary director Alfonso Cuarón and the stunning visuals he and his team created for this jaw dropping space odyssey. The fifteen minute opening sequence was enough for me to be left speechless. At a short ninety minutes, Gravity leads audiences through a life and death attempt to return to Earth. Only three actors are ever seen on screen, but at least an hour is spent with only Sandra Bullock. She delivers a strong performance, but I would never dream of calling it Oscar-worthy. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has been nominated for six Academy Awards in his career, but Gravity is a career-best achievement. Read my initial review here.

And now a few extras!

Most Overrated Film of 2013
CineCritical loves Jennifer Lawrence, but American Hustle (here and here) has to be the most overrated film. It just won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble when Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper do nothing but sport terrible hair. Amy Adams' breasts are on screen more than Jennifer Lawrence! It will be a real shame if David O. Russell wins Best Picture.
(Runner-up: Wolf of Wall Street)

Worst Film of 2013
I can be thankful that I avoided a lot of crap this year, but I was pained to see many writers pick Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers (review) as one of the best films of 2013. I just could not stomach the film. James Franco may have been the best part, but I spent at least half the film playing cribbage on my phone in the back row. 
(Runner-up: The Great Gatsby

Most Disappointing Film of 2013
Expectations were high following Nicolas Winding Refn's 2009 film Drive. He reunited with the delicious Ryan Gosling for the Thailand-set Only God Forgives (review). The film shows us that having your principle actor not speak for most of the film is not always the best choice. Not even Kristin Scott Thomas could save us

Best Performance of 2013
Cate Blanchett as Jasmine French in Blue Jasmine
(Runner-up: Chiewtel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave)

Most Overrated Performance of 2013
Tom Hanks as Richard Phillips in Captain Phillips
(Runner-up: Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff in The Wolf of Wall Street)

I only hope that 2014 brings us stronger performances in a more eclectic batch of films. Where is Tilda Swinton when I need her? Only Lovers Left Alive screened at TIFF, but has not officially been released in 2013. It was a great film, but not quite as cohesive as I would have liked. 

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