With the Oscars coming up this weekend, and with me being stuck at home with the flu, I thought it was a good time to do a roundup of my favourite films of the past year. I was originally inspired by my friend Natalie's great review of her top films of 2013 for S Magazine. While I was staying with her in Berlin, she also introduced me to the podcast Filmspotting, which has been partly to blame/thank for the recent rekindling of my love for film. 2013 was really a great year for films, or maybe it's just been that my hibernation method of getting through the winter was more conducive to watching them. In any case, here is my list.
1. Her - I already mentioned how much I liked this film. Spike Jonze and his art direction team did an amazing job of creating an entire aesthetic for these characters to live in, which makes it so much more believable. It's the perfect mix of nostalgic and futuristic, a pastel version of a Jetson's like world. Scarlett Johansson's performance really surprised me since I've found her style of acting often jarring but here her rawness worked so well as the voice of Samantha, the operating system that Joaquin Phoenix's character falls in love with. As someone who spent a long time in a long distance relationship, the movie definitely struck a chord about how connected yet separate we can be. It felt especially fitting to be watching this on my laptop with my headphones on while Mark was next to me working away at something completely different on his own computer.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis - The Coen brothers can do no wrong in my opinion. This film is especially great, with all the characters so well written and flushed out - even the John Goodman cameo character. Like most of their films, this one is darkly funny and often painfully honest and bittersweet. It's such a classic and timeless story, of the starving artist looking for creative fulfillment and authenticity in a commercial world. The soundtrack and the gritty, melancholic cinematography adds another layer of depth to the work that leaves an almost haunting impression. It's also fitting in some ways that this was so obviously overlooked for an Oscars nomination this year...
3. Mud - I liked this film way more than I was expecting. As someone who is mostly known for taking his shirt off, Matthew McConaughey has been hitting it out of the park lately with his acting. This film has a nice mix of themes, but is mainly a coming of age story that brings up questions about masculinity and loyalty, as well as the nature of good and evil. The slow unravelling of the story fits so well with it's setting on the Mississippi river, and has just the right touch of Southern Gothic that I love so much (which is probably also the reason why I am already hooked on True Detective).
4. Before Midnight - I had been meaning to see the Jesse and Celine trilogy for ages, so before the last one came out I took the time to watch Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. This film doesn't have the same rosy glow as the first two, but it is just as beautifully earnest, if not more so. I love that the connection between these two is so specific and visceral yet their dialogue is at the same time so universal and relatable. I often find films that deal with the topic of marriage to be either bitterly pessimistic or in the Hollywood vein of romantic so it was nice to see this one strike a much more realistic balance.
5. The Stories We Tell - I already wrote a little about this one here, so I won't repeat myself too much, but I'm still really enamoured by it. I've noticed a reoccurring use of metanarrative in a lot of films coming out recently, and I think this documentary is a great example of working within that successfully. It's as much a story about stories, and filmmaking, as it is about family.
6. Blue Jasmine - This film felt like a really refreshing departure from Woody Allen's usual repertoire to me. No matter what your views are on the resurfaced controversy, his voice is so strong that I often find it overpowers the characters in his films. Cate Blanchett is more than able to hold her own in this one though, the rest of the film is almost just a nicely constructed frame to support her incredible performance. There were a lot of obvious parallels to A Streetcar Named Desire, which is one of my all time favourites, and probably just made me like this modern version even more.
7. Nebraska - I am so, so glad this film was shot in black and white. The Midwest landscape plays such an important part of grounding this film and gives that background of the contrasting values of humbleness and hard work versus the American Dream. Bruce Dern as a aging, slightly demented man who thinks he has won the sweepstakes was just the right blend of heartbreaking and aggravating. I had a bit of a hard time taking Will Forte seriously in his role as the son though and felt like he was a little out of place. I heard rumours that Casey Affleck was being considered, which I would have loved to have seen instead.
8. Cutie and the Boxer - This is a documentary about contradictions. The artist couple it follows are at once quiet and loud, loving and hateful, humble and egotistical. I loved the mix of footage, from cinéma vérité style scenes, old family videos and Noriko's soulful comic book-like illustrations. Similar to other movies I've already mentioned, it's a meditation on art and how creating can consume you.
9. The Hunt - This is one of the best Danish films I've seen in years, about a wrongfully accused man living in a small town. It's easy to draw parallels to The Crucible, which also plays with the themes of mob psychology, albeit as an allegory as McCarthyism. It's also especially fitting for use in a Danish context though, with the cultural tradition of homogeneity and Law of Jante. Plus, Mads Mikkelsen is a fantastic actor and the Danes always do dark, moody cinematography so well.
10. Room 237 - This is another film about a film; or specifically a documentary about The Shining. It mainly details various theories and/or conspiracies about hidden meanings in the original film, some more outlandish than others. While it is in a way exploring film geekery itself, it's also about the Indiana Jones-esque feeling art historians, film critics and others get when unpacking symbology and metaphors as well as the importance of architecture in creating a psychological sense of place in a film.