Trying to tell you of this year's favorites, mine, you understand, has nearly destroyed me. It's not some other guy's list, one that dutifully lauds INSIDE LLEWYN as a masterpiece, not that I'm not glad the brothers Coen have found a muse in T-Bone Burnett and made themselves a Nashville Skyline of a MacDougal Street freak-out, but I liked it better when it was called O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU and everyone hated it. And 12 YEARS A SLAVE is I'm sure really great, but I'm still recovering from DJANGO and that at least had catharsis. Films in this list fit the Acidemic parameter: subversion of the norm, man. Some are nowhere near in the same league as GRAVITY or even CAPTAIN PHILLIPS but this site isn't Leonard Maltin. Why would it want to be? Do you know he only gave DJANGO **1/2?
Oh and FRANCES HA... I love the director Noah Baumbach, I love Greta Gerwig, and I love black and white, so why is this movie so unbearable? Is it that the writer doesn't know his subject or that the subject doesn't know itself? As someone who's dated them, I can assure you that girls here are not this air headed and vapid. Most of them are total sharpies, not these crumpled bags blowing in the leafless trees. Why make a movie about such unrealistic idlers? They would never last a month in NYC. (see BROAD CITY instead, those girls rawk). Maybe I'm wrong about FRANCES HA. People loved JUNO and I hate that film too, yet love Ellen Page and love the Diablo Cody-scripted JENNIFER'S BODY.
As one who hates piety and second thought morality in otherwise badass films, a genuine subversive influence like Harmony Korine or David Lynch is an automatic in. They remain the sole chroniclers of the myriad ways drugs and dreams and reality can collapse into one another to create cinema, the way Marion Crane's pupil collapses down the drain, or Bill Pullman collapses into the son of a Nolte in LOST HIGHWAY.
I focused as much as I could on films that aren't on anyone else's list, rescuing my personal favorites without regard to 'importance' or 'artistic merit.' I am taking a cue from Danny McBride's burn-the-money performance of the year as himself in THIS IS THE END, Rather than some good safe white elephant of a film or a smutty feel-bad historical repressionist masterpiece, these are films that have escaped the maze of cliché with moxy, wit, and nutz. They all deliver something that makes me feel about movies like I used to feel, all wild-eyed and inspired watching OVER THE EDGE or THE BIG SLEEP over and over again with a drink in one hand and the other hand over my right eye to stop seeing double, faith restored as if wading in the sludge of an overflowing holy fountain.
1. THIS IS THE END
2. ROOM 237
ROOM 237 is a lightning crack to the head. All is illuminated, and terrifying: first because paranoid psychosis is very contagious; two, because the film is terrifying in and of itself; three, because it mirrors all our film deconstruction / analysis, from the ur-dry Bordwellian breakdowns (as in "before getting started, we all have to agree what we mean by a film") to the ultimately meaningless doctoral theses of nonwriters in a publish-or-perish deadlock, all the way to the gonzo freaks like me who see what we want to see through magic glasses; four, because we tend to forget that since we're a nation conditioned to 'recall' movies with an ever-dwindling series of studio-sanctioned iconic images--which in THE SHINING's case means the "Heee-rree's Johnny!" grinning Jack Torrance peering through his bathroom axe crack-- the SHINING's power is that it's just crazy enough to resist any attempt. Forget about being reduced to a simple icon, the SHINING is all about losing all connection to icons, all signifiers, until objective consensual 'meaning' vanishes into the fog of the purely subjective. ("Lick Danny's Dopey Decal Off, Baby)
3. MAGIC MAGIC
Dir Sebastián Silva
4. SPRING BREAKERS
Hard to believe that the most disturbing image of 2013 is a little British sound engineer breaking up lettuce heads while staring in dismay off camera, towards some unseen screen, from whence issues agonized female screams. Sure it can be hard to stick with this enigmatic fusion of Antonioni-esque ambiguity, Argento stylistic anti-misogyny, Bergmanesque post-modern meltdowns and Lynchian "no hay banda"-ism. But it's on streaming so you can take your time over several sittings. Sooner or later all elements merge in a deeply unsettling visually (and most importantly aurally) seductive post-structuralist fantasia wherein a reserved Brit sound mixer is hired for some reason to work on a horror film in 70s Rome. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO!
We never actually see the film they're working on, which just adds to the unsettling frisson. No visual violence can really match our sickening imagination, aptly mirrored in the sickening dead-inside feeling overtaking Toby Jones as he rattles the chains and drenches the bone crunches in echo (from the fractions of script and scenes the film seems one part Argento's SUSPIRIA, one part Soavi's THE CHURCH, and one part Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). Director Peter Strickland trusts his expert blocking and cagey actors and actresses in and around the studio's tight places, and though the rudeness and misogyny of some of the male filmmakers got on my nerves this is a masterpiece of enigmatic self-reflexive horror, with all the ingredients of an average Italian trash classic reassembled like a collage into a making-of fantasia that puts broader stuff like SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE or A BLADE IN THE DARK to shame, and approaches the greatness of IRMA VEP.
6. BEFORE MIDNIGHT
Certainly also - the sight of Delpy's middle aged body gone slightly to frumpy but still comfortable and flowing and sexy packs such a punch when they finally start making love (they don't get far) it's a tonic to the other big sexy actress flesh display of the artsy year, Lohan's in THE CANYONS (See "Lost Without Yr Text"), a joyless chronicle of compulsive sexual distraction, vanity, aloneness in the exhausting need to be perfect, even in the midst of an orgy. In MIDNIGHT at least is something like genuine connection, hope that sex in the cinema might still mean something other than titillation or distraction. It's painful without them but it's truth pain. It's a gift, from Linklater and his actors to us. They don't seem to be doing this for awards, it seems impossible to single out individual accomplishment vs the collective whole. Instead it masters the art of refusing to follow one's inclination to run away from a burning car.
Maybe it's the cast: Lili Taylor's marvelously over-the-top possession and homey vibe, and Vera Farmiga's very real embodiment of demonologist-clairvoyant Lorraine Warren. Sure it's not the best movie ever, or the scariest, but I admire its chutzpah even if it denigrates one of my relatives, the real-life Mary Easty, who here is reimagined as a real witch who hung herself after sacrificing her young daughter to the dark lord. The real Easty was hung all right, in the Salem witch trials, an innocent victim in a land dispute with her false witness neighbors. Whatever, you can spot the real Lorraine in the audience at one of the Warren's slideshow lectures. Some critics are including STOKER as one of the best of the year, but I'll take this. For life!
8. ONLY GOD FORGIVES
The tale of an Oedipus complex writ large by white people across the dirty expanses of Bangkok, it's almost more of a Jim Jarmusch-meets-David Lynch on an Argento film set horror film than a revenge thriller. Then again, everything is a horror film for Sweden's dark lord of the Seijun Suzuki-esque macho melt-down post-modernist gangster genre, Nicolas Winding Refn, and GOD is his special love letter to those Angelica film snobs who saw his earlier films DRIVE and VALHALLA RISING and said, very good, Sven, but maybe slow it down a bit. Maybe don't have a protagonist who's such a chatterbox. There has to be one such film snob... somewhere. Maybe it's even me, for I'm keenly aware (since I'm Swedish) that to stand out from the legions of 'corrupt but honorable cop vs. redeemable but doomed gangster' Asian vengeance pics currently idling along the blighted "Dark Foreign Revenge Thriller" avenues of Netflix, Refn has to import his own brand of ice and snow onto the eternally wet floors of the Bangkok Dangereuse. We Swedes know that Thai swordsman cops can outfight us, so we have to outstare them and more importantly to stand firm against the severing of our hands, our dying of our flesh without a flinch, without a care, with no betrayal of despair. That's from NIGHT OF THE IGUANA. Like that film, GOD lives in the moment, you feel almost like the actors are making it up, moment to moment, and trusting somehow it will mean something. It doesn't, but at last we have a hero who might not even survive a real fight, the way real fights end far faster than the loser even thinks--one good shot to the head and you punch like a girl... (Suspiria for Men)
Redresses a gaping hole in my heart's that been there since I missed the rooftop Bushwick loft barbecue of the season to drag my sneering prominent grunge band bassist girlfriend to the Emmerich Godzilla on a sunny summer Saturday in 1998, and having it suck and hearing her hiss and sneer under her breath the whole way through, and reproach me forever after. So that's 15 years it's been there, that hole. Every time Godzilla comes on cable I watch it and feel her chiding resentment and my own shamefaced disappointment in Broderick, Emmerich, and myself, and especially Hank Azaria. Now that the hole is closed, the resentment is canceled, because for the first time someone's bothered to capture the draggy feel of the actual gigantic size in question. The Japanese with their Kaiju monster suit fights in old shows like ULTRAMAN, JOHNNY SOCKO, SPACE GIANTS and the later POWER RANGERS all had a gonzo greatness but could only use slow motion and landscape miniatures to create the feeling of behemoth size. No more. I love that this film kept the name Kaiju for the monsters and for the robots came out with the "Jaegers" - hand-crafted in a green bottle the size of 20 story office buildings, their every rippling metallic joint step creating huge gravitic pulls in the soundtrack, the titanic Kaiju creating huge thudding steps and extraordinarily detailed gushes of ocean and urban destruction. You really, literally, feel some sense of how big these fuckers are, and if, like me, you had some doubts about Guillermo del Toro as being little more than a Tim Burton with a better sense of narrative, wit, and darkness, then those doubts are as squashed as Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay trapped in a city bus underneath a Jaeger-Kaiju slapdown.
10. THREE-WAY RUNNER UP:
ON NETFLIX STREAMING
ON NETFLIX STREAMING
It's not for dopey films no more. In fact, because of the incredible cost of distribution more and more the stream has become to the 21st century what the drive-in and grindhouse were to the 20th. While Marvel continues to release its entertaining repeat-viewing ready franchises, and Mexicans like del Toro deliver where once Spielberg alone did trod, now we have up-and-coming talents, often working from Kickstarter campaigns, real grassroots stuff, like BOUNTY KILLER, ABSENTIA, IRON SKY, and JOHN DIES AT THE END. If they were released in the 80s they would be considered classics today. But there's so many options on streaming, its harder and harder to 'discover' something just because it's say, on one afternoon on HBO or UHF and you're not really playing attention or expecting it to be any good and then WHAM - awesomeness, the way so many of us first discovered BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Well, here're my BIG TROUBLES of 2013. Some of them are officially from 2012 but that date often just means festival debut, or Helsinki or something, so fuckin' whatever!
10.a. BOUNTY KILLER
If you think it's easy to put a good Corman-esque babes-n-guns action film together then you've never seen SUCKER PUNCH or TANK GIRL or AEON FLUX or ULTRA-VIOLET or BITCH SLAP or CAT RUN or Luc Besson's less noted pictures, or the hundred other so bad they're not even good bad just inert movies that figure all a movie needs is a girl with a gun and rote mcguffin money packs and bald mobsters wearing suits that look like they have to be back at Men's Warehouse by five PM. That's why I'm giving a special place here to IRON SKY, JOHN DIES AT THE END and this, because they all use their under-the-radar leeway to do more than just make dick jokes and edit together video game carnage with sex scenes and hope no one's paying focused attention. Instead they hope someone is. They hope someone is looking for them, the right reader for their own handcrafted message in a bottle. In this one, I got the message. Christian Pitre stars Mary Death; Kristanna Loken shows up as the corporate ex-wife of the young Mel Gibson-ish Drifter. It's apparently based on a Kickstarted graphic novel. Stick around on the credits for bloopers like it's frickin' Jackie Chan. I love it.
10.b. JOHN DIES AT THE END
10.c IRON SKY
... if at first this seems way too-dependent on CGI to create elaborate but cold, almost-SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW-style steampunk moon base panoramas with Metal Hurlant-style weaponry, stick it out. IRON SKY will take you some really bizarre places and in doing so eclipse nominal fuzzy sci fi cult-intended efforts like BUCKAROO BANZAI. Clearly a major labor of love for all involved, six years in the making, it's directed by Finnish industrial singer Tomo Vuorensola and it reminds me in a way of another under-rader meisterwerke, the Norwegian-directed prequel to THE THING (my praise here).
Bigger Budgeted Runners-up
(Partly successful or one great element)
Spike Jonze's ten years-after apology letter to LOST IN TRANSLATION, this film will be a quick bolt to the heart of anyone who fell in love with a series of words typed from another person who, if only for a moment, captured exactly the shade of empty their unconscious archetypal animus/anima wanted to project on. Dating in the age of the internet is fraught with paradoxes few of us understood in those heady days. Now we know... and aside from being way too emotional, this little rose-tinted masterpiece is of its time, and in refusing to judge or decry even the most dubious of choices it's a quiet little testament to the power of forgiveness, and the necessity of setting free any bird whose wing we mend, even if we built that bird ourselves from fucking scratch. And it's how everything really does look, literally, rosy, rose-tinted, when we are in the rush of love and finally free of fear and doubt and living in the pure joy. I had forgotten that rosiness, so thanks, Spike, on behalf of disembodied voices everywheren't.
It hopes nakedly and unafraid that America's doomsday prepper mentality might one day be exchanged for a more inclusive humanism and that a budding teen romance can infect the whole world as quickly as AIDS. Maybe love is a kind of alien anti-virus, a collective warm fusion, deliberately reaching across lines not only of gender, but class, race, dimensions, and now living/dead status. Like me you may have scratched the entry wound on your forehead at the glowing reviews. I grudgingly rented it. Lo! I was a crying mess by the end. Is it the most beautiful film I've seen all year or did I just need sleep? Weird. I certainly don't intend to see it again and find out... best leave it. (more)
It's got clothes and style of the 70s but there's tons missing from this tale of hucksterism and everybody playing everyone else but what it really is is a good bookend with the latest HUNGER GAMES in showing Jennifer Lawrence as the current reigning goddess of crazy, doing effortlessly what Sharon Stone in CASINO expended too much visible effort at, i.e. weaving around the coasting acting titans around her like they're Times Square tourists. Lawrence reminds us that all the great actresses make their characters feel genuinely dangerous. Amy Adams always feels like she's protecting the weaker men around her, propping them up, but Lawrence climbs on their backs and rides them to ground. And the last thing we need are more CASINO-era Sharon Stones putting gold patinas on their over-emoting. We need more BASIC INSTINCT Sharon Stones, for theirs is the kingdom and the power, even if other women get the glory.