Monday, December 16, 2013


2013 was a year of strong documentaries (Stories We Tell, Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer, Leviathan, Central Park 5), New York City (Frances Ha, Newlyweeds, Gimme The Loot, Mother Of George), more comic book & graphic novel adaptations (Ironman 3, Thor 2, Wolverine, Man Of Steel...Blue Is The Warmest Color), "True Stories" & Bio-pics (Dallas Buyers Club, Behind The Candelabra, The Butler, The Grandmaster, 12 Years A Slave) & frustrating mindfucks (Upstream Color & Outside Satan). Rich people took to kickstarter for handouts they didn't need, Steven Soderbergh had the audacity to challenge filmmakers to do something different yet he gave us Side Effects, two of my all-time favorite filmmakers (Denis & Jarmusch) returned with solid works and we finally got a break from Jessica Chastain for a year.
But once the smoke settled, 2013 was a strange year for cinema overall. There were only a small handful of films that really stood out to me. After that, everything seemed so uneven & disappointing. Some movies started out great but completely fell apart in the 2nd half (Star Trek: In To Darkness) while other movies did the exact opposite (Fruitvale Station). Other films brought things to the table like great cinematography and an excellent ending but the story could have used some tweaking (Mother of George). More than half the stuff I liked this year had some additional baggage or needed an explanation to go along with it; "it was really good, but..." (Bastards) or "personally, I liked it, but..." (Only God Forgives).
Even my top 10 this year had to be broken down in to categories as I honestly couldn't come up with a list of 10 definitive films that were just simply great.

*I've already covered a lot of the movies listed below throughout the year so just click on the titles highlighted in blue to read about them more in depth*

So, in no particular order & broken down into four categories, my top 10 movies of 2013 are...

1-4: The Exceptional
These are, in my humble opinion, the absolute best films of the year that require only a minimal amount of criticism (12 Years A Slave, Before Midnight & Blue Is The Warmest Color) or no criticism at all (Stories We Tell)....
Top: Stories We Tell  /  Before Midnight

5. Under The Radar: Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer
With all the attention documentaries got this year (in my opinion, documentaries were way better than fiction films in 2013) it sucked to see this one not included in with stuff like Stories We Tells, Leviathan & The Act Of Killing.
Not every great film gets a wide release (or any kind of a release at all for that matter). Some films are only shown here & there at special screenings or don't have the budget for promotion so they end up in a strange kind of movie limbo where they exist but not that many people really know about it. I was fortunate enough to catch this documentary, on the life & work of iconic hip-hop photographer; Jamel Shabazz, at a screening at The Brooklyn Academy Of Music. Even if you aren't big on the history of hip-hop culture, Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer offers a somewhat personal glimpse into a different side of Brooklyn than what we're use to seeing in films these days along with some history about the famous borough. This may eventually become a time capsule as the Brooklyn we see in this documentary may be almost non-existent 10-15 years from now...

6-9: Frustrating But Rewarding
These are the films that may have had a serious flaw or two (...or three or four) or may have been dismissed by the general movie-going audience because they seemed "artsy", slow or unappealing. But these movies were still somewhat challenging, slightly different and provided an alternative to a lot of the mainstream films that came out this year...
Top: Leviathan  /  Upstream Color
Bottom: Camille Claudel  /  Outside Satan*

Is it possible to have a film in your top 10 that you find somewhat morally wrong and a little twisted? This is something I'm not completely sold on personally but there's no denying that this is an original work and it's been on my mind since I saw it well over a year ago at TIFF (I missed the last 30 minutes of it and had to watch the rest this year). Unlike the critics at The Christian Science Monitor, I'm able to see the great & challenging qualities The Act Of Killing offers. This movie is so frustrating yet incredibly rewarding that it transcends the previous category and gets its own. Part of me feels like a conservative prude when it comes to my issues with this documentary about former Indonesian death squad members who participate in strange reenactments of the murders they committed years ago. I mean, there's no denying that sounds incredibly original but I honestly think we're getting a little too close to making something like Man Bites Dog (a mockumentary about a murderer) a reality. I know that may sound dramatic (and no one actually gets murdered in The Act Of Killing) but this documentary makes likable characters out of very real murderers (but this isn’t the first documentary to do that).
At the end of the day this is probably the most original & unique documentary of the year which counts for something.


Honorable Mention
No matter how much of a letdown 2013 was overall, it wouldn't be right to sum up an entire year with just the few movies listed above. Below are a few more that I thought were solid, pretty entertaining or just deserve to be mentioned...
Top: Frances Ha  /  Newlyweeds
Bottom: Her /  Nebraska

Honorable Honorable Mention
Here's an interesting group of movies that had some serious problems but contained moments of greatness, carried an important message or provided good entertainment up to a certain point...
Top: Mother Of George  /  The first hour of Star Trek: Into Darkness
Bottom: The last half hour of Fruitvale Station  /  Bits & Pieces of The Place Beyond The Pines

THE PINNLAND EMPIRE SPECIAL JURY PRIZE: films I personally loved but can't include in my top 10 because they honestly don't belong there and I don't wanna get called out on favoritism...

Peter Weller in Star Trek: Into Darkness
Is there a Sci-Fi movie hall of fame? If so, I'm gonna make the assumption that Mr. Weller has already been inducted. Given his surprise supporting role as the other villain in this years' Star Trek: Into Darkness and the Robocop remake right around the corner, I thought I'd take the time out to honor an unsung icon of modern science fiction cinema. 
Besides being the original Robocop (Robert John Burke did a pretty good job after him) AND Buckaroo Banzai (still waitin' on that sequel) this is also the same man who blew up the giant sea monster at the end of Leviathan (1989) and played William S. Burroughs in Cronenberg's adaptation of Naked Lunch (if that isn't science fiction then I don't know what is). I mean honestly - what would modern science fiction film be without Peter Weller?
So in honor of his illustrious career, PINNLAND EMPIRE would like to award him with its first ever lifetime achievement award...

FILMMAKER OF THE YEAR: BRUNO DUMONT (Camille Claudel, 1915 & Outside Satan)

I know half of you are going; "...who?" while the other half of you are going; "HUH?!", but just hear me out...
While everyone from Sarah Polley to Steve McQueen impressed me this year, it's difficult to name a filmmaker in 2013 who topped Bruno Dumont. I know Outside Satan is almost two years old but it didn't get a U.S. release until the beginning of this year so that counts as a 2013 movie as far as I'm concerned. It's one thing for a movie to come out in January/February, which is essentially a death sentence, but a two year old art house movie with an extremely limited release is even worse. Outside Satan was set up to fail in America. This is why I've been such an advocate for it throughout the year. Then a few months after Outside Satan came out, Bruno Dumont was back in the art house spotlight again when his underrated collaboration with the wonderful Juliette Binoche was released in the form of Camille Claudel, 1915.  Simply putting out two movies in a short period of time is a novelty that only goes so far but when you put out two challenging & unique films in the same year that counts for something. Bruno Dumont, who is an acquired taste and a filmmaker I'd be extremely hesitant to suggest to some people, managed to channel the spirit of Fassbinder & old Soderbergh by releasing two great films in the same year. True, both; Outside Satan & Camille Claudel are made for a specific audience but religion & mental illness are still broad topics that affect so many people.
With Outside Satan, Dumont continued to get unique performances out of the non-professional actors he almost always works with, as well as explore themes of faith, religion & good vs. evil without coming of preachy and/or overly religious. He also drew up on the cinema of Carl Theodore Dryer without coming off as a copycat. With Camille Claudel, 1915 he gave the non-professional actors a rest and showed that he can work with well known professional actors like the great Juliette Binoche & Jean-Luc Vincent (dare I say Vincent stole the show from Binoche?)
It would've been nice if Steve Soderbergh had acknowledged the few filmmakers outside of Shane Carruth that are actually making an honest attempt at trying to do something new & different for the art of cinema during his state of the union address at this year's San Francisco Film Festival. Dumont's work will never reach a huge audience and his work will also never be 100% original as he's a student of Bresson, but right now very few directors outside of Carlos Reygadas, Lucrecia Martel, Apichatpong Weeresethakul and a few others are as challenging as him.

A pretty good year for alternative black cinema...
For those of you tired of stuff like The Butler 42 or even 12 Years A Slave & Fruitvale Station to a certain extent (I absolutely hate grouping those last two films in with the first two but I can understand if folks, especially black folks, aren't ready to sit through heavy movies like that) 2013 offered quite a few alternatives to American mainstream "black cinema" more than any recent year I can think of. Black skin seemed to be "in" this year which makes me satisfied for now. If you aren't interested in tales of the first black person to do something or butler/maid stories, films like; Mother Of George (a dramedy centered around an African community in Brooklyn), Gimme The Loot (a coming of age graffiti film with an emphasis on a New York City borough that isn't Manhattan or Brooklyn), Newlyweeds (a stoner comedy/relationship drama), Big Words (a hip-hop film about a has-been underground rap group) offered slightly different stories concerning black people...
Top: Newlyweeds  /  Gimme The Loot
Middle: Mother Of George  /  Big Words
Bottom: Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer  /  A Band Called Death

A few words on Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club, Inside Llewyn Davis & American Hustle...
I didn't dislike Gravity at all. It was good. Entertaining in fact. But that's about it. I'm really not trying to be the movie-snob who hates the big-budget blockbuster. I'm a fan of Alfonso Curaon for the most part (I think it's pretty awesome that the same man responsible for Mexican art house films like; Solo Con Tu Pareja & Y Tu Mama Tambien is also responsible for Children Of Men & Gravity). But Gravity is the perfect of example of how hype can really work against a film. Before I even saw Gravity I felt like it was pushed on me more than any other movie I can think of this year. It's like I was supposed to love it which is enough to make anyone slightly annoyed & defiant.
I guess it comes down to personal preference. There's no denying that Gravity was a "game-changer" in terms of special & visual effects but I guess I'm just not very wowed by that as much as I should be. If there's one great filmmaking aspect about Gravity it's that Cuaron really did a great job at conveying that tight/claustrophobic feel but hardly anyone talks about that. All anyone seems to care about is how many people worked on the film or how long it took to render each frame of the movie. If that's all most people have to say (which was certainly the case with Gravity) then all I can do is shrug my shoulders at that.
Gravity / Dallas Buyers Club
Dallas Buyers Club put a slightly different face on HIV & AIDS; a Texas rodeo cowboy. Ron Woodruff (as interpreted by Director Jean-Marc Valle and played by Matthew Mcghounehey) wasn't your typical "good guy". He wasn't even all that good. He was an unpleasant homophobe more concerned with business first and the well-being of his "patients" second. I appreciate that we weren't given an average run of the mil good guy that we had no choice but to root for. But at the same time, Dallas Buyers Club was filled with so many clichés that you almost had to laugh at certain points (the sassy gay/transsexual junkie sidekick whose estranged from his disapproving father, the evil pharmaceutical company, the condescending doctor, the homophobe who has a change of heart in the end, etc). I also thought there were way too many scenes that put an emphasis on how much weight the two lead actors lost as opposed to how sick their characters were supposed to be. Furthermore, the phrase "based on a true story" is becoming more & more stretched these days to the point where all bio-pics need to just have a tag line that reads; "some of this stuff actually happened" (like David O. Russell did at the beginning of American Hustle). From Malcolm X to Public Enemies, no movie that's "based on a true story" will ever be completely accurate but in learning about Ron Woodruff's actual life, I couldn't help but be slightly disappointed in Jean-Marc Vallee's take on the story.
But at the same time this was definitely the role Matthew McCougnuhey was born to play more than Killer Joe, Magic Mike, Mud or any other recent film that's turned his career around in the last few years. I can't say the same thing about Jared Leto. All his over-the top cliché mannerisms and sassy gay sidekick one-liners were just silly to me.

American Hustle / Inside Llewyn Davis
In the case of Inside Llewyn Davis & American Hustle, I just wasn't impressed like everyone else in the world clearly was. To be quite honest, I crammed at the last minute and watched both of these this past weekend just to say I saw them (it wouldn't sit right with me making an end of the year review without seeing everything I possibly could). Neither of these were bad but they didn’t really do a whole lot for me either outside of Bradley Cooper's hilariously obnoxious performance & Jeremy Renner's slightly complex character in American Hustle as well as the cinematography of Llewyn Davis (even though something tells me early 1960's New York City didn't look that clean & glossy)
I think if I knew (or cared) more about folk music I'd have more of a connection to Llewyn Davis. But like I'm Not There (Todd Haynes' Bob Dylan film) I felt like the Coen's latest film was filled with a bunch of folk music references & inside jokes that I just didn’t get and it made me feel like an outsider. And was it just me or were parts of it really boring?
American Hustle delivered the most out of all the overhyped films of 2013 but it still felt like a stolen page out of the book of late 90's Scorsese. The more it went on, the more I just felt like watching Casino.

Highlights, Lowlights & other random movie moments from 2013...

Surprisingly good performance: Andrew Dice Clay (Blue Jasmine)

Surprisingly bad performances: Brad Pitt (12 Years A Slave) & Jodie Foster (Elysium)

Underrated Performances: June Squibb & Stacey Keech (Nebraska), Colman Domingo (Newlyweeds), Jean-Luc Vincent (Camille Claudel, 1915), & Kristin Scott Thomas (Only God Forgives)

Andrew Dice Clay (L) in Blue Jasmine, June Squibb (R) in Nebraska
Solid Performances: Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt) Tom Hiddleson (Thor 2), Juliette Binoche (Camille Claudel, 1915), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) & Matthew McCougnuhey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Great performances: Chewital Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender & Lupita Nyong'O (12 Years A Slave), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Adele Exarchopoulos & Lea Seydoux (Blue Is The Warmest Color)

Best weight loss: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Why are you such an asshole?: Jean Berkley (Carey Mulligan) in Inside Lllewyn Davis

When did Oscar Isaacs transform into David Krumholtz? (Inside Llewyn Davis)

Ulysses the cat (Inside Llewyn Davis)

Inside Llewyn Davis
Everything I hate about American independent film: Somebody Up There Likes Me

Everything I hate about art house cinema: The Unity Of All Things

A good year for film scores: Upstream Color, Bastards, Berberian Sound Studio, Only God Forgives, Maniac, The Place Beyond The Pines, Only Lovers Left Alive

Ray Liotta's short but memorable presence in The Place Beyond The Pines

Louis C.K.'s presence in American Hustle & Blue Jasmine

Didn't see it but the premise alone almost makes me wanna give up on cinema: Grudge Match

The sex scene (if you wanna call it that) in Outside Satan

This movie had no business being that good: Maniac

Not coming out 'til next year but read about now: Only Lovers Left Alive

Literally gave me a headache: Pacific Rim

The cure for insomnia: Stoker

Mad that I missed: The Immigrant & Paradise: Hope

Indifferent about missing: Man Of Steel, World War ZOldboy Captain Philips

Not sure if I'm mad about missing or indifferent about missing: Don Jon & Drinking Buddies

Completely fine w/ missing: way too many to name...

Barton Fink Award: Berberian Sound Studio

Woody Allen award: Frances Ha

Good movie but you did literally steal a scene right out of Leos Carax's Bad Blood: Frances Ha

Cinematography award : Mother Of George

I missed the first 30 minutes or so but I liked everything else I saw: Behind The Candelabra & The Central Park 5

Adele & Emma walk past each other for the first time (Blue Is The Warmest Color)

Lea Seydoux's eye contact in Blue Is The Warmest Color

What was the point of that?: Leonard Nimoy's cameo in Star Trek Into Darkness

Terrence Malick award: Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Only God Forgives
Ghost Dog award: Vithaya Pansringarm (Only God Forgives)

"Wanna fight?" - Ryan Gosling (Only God Forgives)

“I have just traveled ten thousand miles to see the corpse of my first-born son. I haven’t slept in thirty hours. And this BITCH says I can’t have my room.” - Kristin Scott Thomas (Only God Forgives)

"Just go fuck yourselves!" - June Squibb (Nebraska)

"I just wanted to leave you boys somethin'" - Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

Have we gotten all these out of our system now?: The Hangover 3

"good connection" scene in Prince Avalanche

I wanted to. I really wanted to, but 4 hours?: At Berkley

Best 3D movie that wasn't even 3D: Leviathan


Great but strangely overrated at the same time: Leviathan

Great ending: Mother Of George

WTF ending: Bastards

Black & White is trending: Nebraska, Computer Chess & Frances Ha

Can you go back to making good movies already?: Wong Kar Wai

If you're gonna retire, then just retire already: Steven Soderbergh

Guilty pleasure: The Internship

The Internship

Who knew there were so many New Yorkers living in San Francisco: Blue Jasmine (seriously, why didn't you just set the movie in New York if half the cast was going to have New York accents?)

Can we please see more of you in 2014?: Will Forte, Bobby Cannivale, Jeffery Wright, Lola Creton, Viggo Mortensen, Sarah Polley, Ray Liotta, Ray Liotta's laugh, Mads Mikkelsen, Ageliki Papoulia, Alice Houri, Adele Exarchopoulos, Lea Seydoux, Xavier Dolan, Samantha Morton, Cecile De France, Laura Dern, Vincent Cassel, Broken Lizard!

Can we please see less of you in 2014 even though that probably won't happen?: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, James Franco, Jonah Hill, the cast of Stoker, Denzel Washington, Amy Adams, Robert Deniro, Mark Wahlberg

Can we see just as much of you in 2014 as we did in 2013?: Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Mackie & Bob Odenkirk

I'm not sure how I feel about you: Rooney Mara

Ok, we get it: The Butler & 42

Just in case you think my picks are bullshit, read what some past PINNLAND EMPIRE contributors chose as their favorites of 2013...

Laurence Anyways
12 Years A Slave
The Act of Killing
Stories We Tell
Room 237
Beyond the Hills
The Grandmaster*
World's End
Honorable Mention:
ByzantiumThe Counselor
Blue Caprice
Movies from 2012:
Night Across the Street
This Is Not A Film

IAN LOFFILL (Notes & Scriblings)
Blue Jasmine*
Garden of Words
Only God Forgives
The Strange Little Cat 
A Touch of Sin 

Spring Breakers
Upstream Color
Berberian Sound Studio*
Post Tenebras Lux

DOUG FRYE (The Schlock Treatment)

Looking over the list of films released in 2013, I realized that I’ll have to make a top four list, because that’s how many I’ve seen, and half of those in one sitting on an airplane. My year consisted of many episodes of Columbo and whatever turd fell in the Schlock Treatment punchbowl. I can’t add Argo or No, can I? Those are both 2012 releases, but I saw them in January. Sorry, Marcus: in 2014, I will take you up on some of those invitations. I’m just so lazy.

The World’s End* - My review of this is still pending on overcoming the aforementioned laziness, but suffice to say that any of the “Cornetto Trilogy” releases is going to be the film of that year for me. Fantastically conceived, brilliantly executed, and the most direct in expressing the key ideas of the three, The World’s End was just the best. It also featured the first “Human Torture Rack” I’ve seen in years, so style points for that.

Machete Kills - Rodriguez manages to top the over-the-topness of his first feature with Danny Trejo, and make the whole outer space vibe viable. This review is also pending, but this movie basically is style points for 90 minutes. It was a fun ride, but that’s what you have to consider it.

Iron Man 3 - The bronze isn’t that high an award when you get to the last one on this list. Luckily for me, I had this to wash its taste out of my mouth as the second feature on a cross-country flight. You had the usual suspects, good performances by Guy Pearce and running cameo from Ben Kingsley as *SPOILER* himself. It ends on a good note to close that trilogy for Robert Downey, Jr., and we’ll have to wait and see what Avengers 2 holds.

Man of Steel - This one—yeah. I’m still debating whether to write a review or just a list of complaints. Twenty minutes of Krypton to set up the ridiculous reason Zod needs to capture Superman. Thirty minutes of throwing each other through skyscrapers? Wrap it up, guys. Some of us have places to be. That goes for you, too, Peter Jackson. Three movies out of one book? Knock it off.
So, in summation, I have to get out more next year.


12 Years A Slave - Amazing performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, and virtually all cast members made this powerful slave narrative one of the most brutally honest portrayals of white supremacy during the pre-Civil War era. The only issue I have is Brad Pitt’s seemingly forced white saviorism interjected into an otherwise perfect film.

Fruitvale Station - The choice to make the film about Oscar Grant’s final day built a noticeably ominous tension for viewers that was extremely well executed. I only wish more people would have seen it while in theaters.

The Place Beyond the Pines - Thoroughly enjoyed the unique story and I have to admit that scumbag-circus stuntman Ryan Gosling solidified my view that he might be more than zoolander blue steel.

Elysium - I’m a big fan of grimy post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies, especially when they have relevant social commentary and, while Elysium isn’t the greatest film of 2013 it definitely has a rather poignant take on social stratification, the intersectionality of race and class, techno-humanity, exploitation of workers and class struggle, access to health care, as well as a frightening portrayal of citizenship rights and immigration. Although most films can get bogged down in their preachy-ness about social justice, Elysium packages these nicely with enough elements of classic sci-fi and action films to keep the story moving forward.

Valentine Road - HBO’s documentary about the murder of a young transgender/transvariant girl was extremely difficult to watch especially scenes of jury members and teachers participating in victim blaming and sympathizing with her murderer.

Star Trek Into Darkness - Star Trek as an action film just works better for me and purists be-damned, but JJ Abrams has my support in this as well as Star Wars.

The Wolverine - Orientalism and cheesy one-liners aside, it makes my list because it wasn’t X-Men Last Stand or Wolverine Origins.

Behind the Candelabra* - Matt Damon’s coked out eviction scene and Rob Lowe’s role made this already fascinating bio-pic all the more entertaining.

Man of Steel - Even though I really wanted to hate this film, mainly because superman happens to be my least favorite of all superheroes, it turned out to be surprisingly good. It was great to finally see a story about the complexities of being an orphaned alien on an existential journey. I also thought the whole undocumented-alien turned earth refugee vs genocidal intergalactic general bent on eradicating the inferior human race was an interesting choice for a franchise that is usually mired in boring story telling (enough with Lex Luther already!).

To the Wonder*
O Gebo e a Sombra
Spring Breakers
Only God Forgives
The Grandmaster
Like Someone in Love
Upstream Color
As I Lay Dying
Berberian Sound Studio
We Have a Pope
The Great Gatsby
Behind the Candelabra
The Bling Ring
The Conjuring
Before Midnight
Computer Chess
Post Tenebras Lux
Not So Guilty Pleasure:
White House Down

Most Powerful Movie Moments of '13 according to Nathaniel: The Rachel McAdams sequence in To the Wonder; the opening of Post Tenebras Lux; the final scene of We Have a Pope; the Britney Spears montage in Spring Breakers

Reasons to look forward to 2014...
Cyber (Michael Mann), The Unknown Known (Errol Morris), Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch), The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos), Maps To The Stars (David Cronenberg), Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt) Captain America: Winter Soldier, Carol (Todd Haynes), JMW Turner bio-pic (Mike Leigh), Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer), Expendables 3


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...