We realized it would be way more fun to get our friends on board with our Top Lists. Because everything is way more fun with friends, don't you think? Of course. Only a weirdo would think otherwise. Or maybe Hitler. Nah, that's ridiculous. Of course Hitler had friends.
Anyway! Without further ado, here are four Top Films of the Year lists from a handful of our very talented friends. We'll have another post later this week with even more. Huzzah!
GREGORY BENNETT || CINEMATOGRAPHER
(My list comes at things from a cinematographer's perspective. And I use the word 'bleak' several times.)
A weirdly entrancing film reminiscent of Malick in it's visual and existential poetry.
Remarkable for the fact that director Shane Carruth directed, shot and acted in the film.
A series of moments and observations.
I like films that don't explain everything but take you on a visual journey.
I have to include Roger Deakins in this list because, well...he's one of my inspirations and he chose to work with Denis Villenueve.
Deakins is a master of using source lighting and subtle camera movement in ways that aren't flashy but always support the story.
Here he moves between the warm cocoon of home life to rain-soaked and cyan-tinged scenes of fear and foreboding.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Ok, I'll admit that this wasn't my favourite Coen Brothers film, but I think it's grown on me...just a bit.
The Coen's asked for "a slushy New York" and referenced Dylan's album cover for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and I think French DP Bruno Delbonell has successfully created the muted, bleak wintery landscape that supports the pervasive pessimism of the film.
Another in my string of bleak films, Nebraska captures the loneliness of small towns and wide open spaces.
And I'm a sucker for hauntingly rendered black and white road films and we need one of those once in a while.
Shot by another Frenchman, Philippe le Sourd -- over three years in the making including an action sequence that took two months to shoot!
The filmmakers contended with extreme weather at times and during production Fuji delivered their very last roll of motion picture film to the set.
Exquisite and sumptuous -- a riot of colour and movement.
KATIE BOLAND || ACTOR, WRITER
For me, this was the most beautiful and moving film of 2013. I felt it communicated so much about loneliness, the fantasy of relationships and our societies closeness to and dependence on technology. I loved that Joaquin Phoenix’s character sometimes resembled an android, where Scarlett Johansson’s character often felt human. In my opinion, this was a brilliant and wonderfully detailed movie, from the high-waisted pants to the soundtrack. I felt lucky to have seen it and shared it with a close friend.
STORIES WE TELL
Sarah Polley is my idol, and I think this is her strongest film to date. I was completely captivated by the narrative of her family, and it made me think of the “stories” that are accepted as gospel in my family, in every family. I loved how she weaved so many versions of the truth into the film. I thought she handled very sensitive subject matter with a lot of honesty and respect, balancing humour and heartbreaking truths about family.
James Gandolfini was one of my favourite actors, watching him in this made me feel so much sadness for all the performances we won’t be able to see. In this film, he is at his best; masculine, raw and shockingly sensitive. I really related to the humanity of all the characters and the essential questions of the film. Don’t we all want to talk to our lover’s ex, try to not make the same mistakes they did and save ourselves from hurt? Louis-Dreyfus is the best I’ve ever seen her, neurotic and funny but real, something I so often find grating and false in ‘offbeat’ or ‘interesting’ female characters. (Ahem, FRANCES HA aka FRANCES NAH.)
This is my most favourite film trilogy. I was so excited to see how my beloved Celine and Jesse fared for the past nine years. I marveled at the incredibly long takes in this film and how not vain and raw Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke allowed themselves to be. It goes without saying that Linklater is a genius. I saw my past relationships and myself in these characters as they fought about small, petty things. The conflict was really about the big things wrong between them, things that might never be solved. I think what is most moving about all these movies is how universal the desires of the characters are. We all think about someone from our past, we all have fears and in our own way, want to find a person who will fight with us to overcome them.
I think this was the most fun movie I saw all year. I loved the costumes, the performances, the colour correct, the hairpieces, Amy Adam’s cleavage and Jennifer Lawrence’s nails. David O. Russell is consistently making movies with life bursting out of them, and the world he created captivated me. I found Christian Bale truly likeable for the first time here. Watching, I kept thinking about how much fun they all must have had together. Jennifer Lawrence has such intelligence as an actress that studying her performance I wonder if she is channeling other beings.
I am a fan of the mumblecore film movement and I think director Joe Swanberg’s latest entry is both polished and confident. I liked the exploration of a friendship that really isn’t a friendship. I thought it was interesting that through the course of the movie you see why the characters teetered on romance but never jumped together. It made me realize that there’s a reason why people who aren’t together aren’t, that there are actual reasons and incompatibilities that keep people apart and we know that, even if it is subconscious. Olivia Wilde is fun to watch and Jake Johnson is a warm screen presence with surprising depth.
In my opinion, Cate Blanchett’s performance in this film is one of the best of all time, let alone this year. The panic and unease I felt watching Jasmine was palpable and lingered. In some ways, I feel Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s harshest and most brutal film to date. Blanchett’s performance was so savage, so intelligent and so multifaceted, I couldn’t look away. I found the harrowing and hilarious portrayal of mental illness painful to watch, like it cut too close. This is a film that has stayed with me and will continue to do so for a long time.
I thought this movie was remarkable as much for as boldness as its insights. I found it at times difficult to watch because the bullying scenes felt so real. I think Matt Johnson and his friends made a brave and assured film rooted in layered, naturalistic performances. I look forward to what they do next. I think they made something new and surprising which is what we need more of in Canadian film.
THIS IS THE END
I laughed more than I had all year at this sweet yet raunchy look at these comedians’ real-life relationships. I also found it a surprisingly suspenseful look at the apocalypse. I think this crew of men is redefining love in male relationships in many ways, as well as creating much of the most watchable, non-threatening comedy of today. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would recommend this film to anyone.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Jean-Marc Vallée is my favourite Canadian filmmaker so I was not surprised at how much I loved Dallas Buyers Club. As usual, Vallee creates a world sucks you in and holds you tight. Delicately treading the line between fact and fiction, Vallee’s light touch balances comedy and tragedy to a mesmerizing effect as homophobia turns to hope. I think Matthew McConaughey’s weight loss is the least interesting part of his outstanding performance. Jared Leto was born to play a drag queen.
MATTHEW DONAHUE || PRODUCER
1. The Wolf of Wall Street
3. Captain Phillips
5. Blue Jasmine
6. Computer Chess
7. Only God Forgives
8. The World’s End
9. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
10. This Is the End
JESSE FISHER || WRITER, DIRECTOR
The “Peter Travers DVD Case Quote” Top 10 of 2013
1. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuarón) “It knocked my socks off—of EARTH!”
Gravity is that clip of the train racing towards the audience at the turn of the last century that sent our dopey fore-bearers running for their lives. It’s the purest form of cinema: it’s true spectacle. It’s a testament to the ingenuity and talent of Alfonso Cuarón who took over five years to create, in concept, a fairly straightforward space survival thriller using effects that have existed for decades and two of Hollywood’s most (arguably, detrimentally) recognizable stars (one who I fucking despise and clue #1: it ain't Clooney) and turn in my favourite film of the year. It’s tense and dizzying and engrossing and frightening and after seeing hundreds of films and having a solid understanding of how movies are made, left me wondering how I was seeing what I was seeing. It’s a movie for the masses in the best possible sense as it knows how to tap into your sense of wonder and awe without forcing it down your throat with a spoonful of nostalgia. This is why I love movies.
2. The Wolf of Wall Street (dir. Martin Scorsese) “It’s Goodfellas meets jokes!”
I had no idea that Martin Scorsese had a “funniest movie of the year” in him and though it’s essentially just a darkly comedic Goodfellas, mirroring story arcs, editing techniques and music cues, that’s just fine by me. The fastest paced three-hours I’ve ever spent in a theatre largely due to the career performances of Leonardo DiCaprio who truly has never been better and Jonah Hill who is on a fucking roll. It trades in Scorsese’s signature explicit violence for explicit sexuality and his relentless language for....well, that’s pretty much the fucking same. Cunt. (Bends down and blows a line directly into a hooker’s gaping butt-hole.)
3. The Act of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer) “I dry-heaved ‘til I puked!”
As much a social experiment and a weird form of karmic punishment as it is a documentary. It’s a film that only exists as itself. The story is not the same without the film. Director Joshua Oppenheimer clearly and often crosses the oft discussed line as a documentarian and appears to lie to and deceive his subjects to get them to re-evaluate their choices for the benefit of the film and if possible, themselves. The Act of Killing gives you the bear minimum of facts regarding the historical details of the subject and then immediately throws you into the lion’s den. It’s beautifully conceived and shot, at times hilarious and at times gut wrenchingly disgusting. The access and luck Oppenheimer has is, I think, unparalleled in documentary filmmaking history. This is a movie that sits down next to living evil and asks you to evaluate its choice of pants.
4. Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater) “The Return of the Jedi of existential mid-life relationship melodramas!”
The movie series that ages with us continues by digging into the minutiae of the relationship 10 years on, kids, jobs, warts and all. Linklater somehow makes routines, boredom, resentments and uncertainty seem as magic and important as your first true love and discovering oneself. When I didn’t feel that warm comfort of being with people I love, I felt like I was being nagged by my wife. It was slice of life Linklater-style as funny and painful and honest as he’s ever dared to go. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are and will ever be Jesse and Celene. Hopeful and/or heartbreaking, it is really your choice how to take this movie and it undoubtedly reflects how you look at life itself.
5. Her (dir. Spike Jonze) “He (I) loved it (her)!”
Superficially only, Her is the nicest looking film of the year, has a concept and grasp of a possible future like nothing I’ve ever seen and is timed perfectly with the God-like rise of the iOS to be so topically satirical as to be a mirror to ‘the now’ as anything I’ve ever seen. Underneath all this though is the saddest and most heart-wrenching film of the year. Scarlett Johansson makes you fall in love and then get pushed back out of love and is never physically on screen for a second (if you don’t count the really clever surrogate concept). I want to live in the future of fashionable mustaches, nipple high pants and casually robot flings.
6. Stoker (dir. Chan-wook Park) “Does for gothic, Hitchcockian, incest-thrillers what my uncle did for regular incest!”
I saw this a while ago, so this is the best I can do: It’s beautiful looking. The production design is fantastic and veers into fairy tale territory from time to time. Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman are doing the best work they’ve ever done. It walks this line between trashy/campy and artful that few movies successfully can. The score was fantastic. The clever and suspenseful direction is assured and high concept at times(re: almost every single scene transition). It’s very sexual and sexually off-putting. This film is as bipolar as it’s characters and it just really, truly works.
7. You’re Next (dir. Adam Wingard) “You’ll be next...in line...for tickets...to this movie...what? I’m at seven?”
This “home invasion movie” was shelved for a couple of years and finally saw the light of day this summer in a relatively small release. This is not my usual cup of tea as (presumably) only British people must say, but is was the most fun I had in a theatre all year. It’s goofy and violent, cheesy and inventive. The cast is made up of a lot of old bit players and director’s director friends (Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Amy Seimetz) and the whole production has a refreshingly un-pretentious, “let’s make a movie!” feel about it. A really fun movie.
8. Frances Ha (dir. Noah Baumbach) “Finally, a GIRLS for boys!”
I was looking forward to the new Noah Baumbach but had no idea that it would easily become my favourite of his films. When it wasn’t hitting upsettingly close to home when destroying the vapidity of the self-important 20-something, it was making me guffaw like a biscuit with brilliantly funny character moments and one liners. Greta Gerwig gives the best female performance of the year as the optimistic (but for how much longer?) titular character who blissfully goes through the paces without having a clue about herself. The black and white feels so inexorably linked to this film, unlike in say, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska where it just seems like a choice. An amazing soundtrack, though mentioning the Bowie moment would seem redundant at this point, I just did anyway, asshole. It’s sort of like, if Woody Allen was the cool art kid, instead of a panty-sniffing dweeb, he would have made movies like this.
9. Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth) “Pixar has outdone itself. You are gonna go nuts for this rat!"
All I can, or want to say about Upstream Color is that I think it might have re-defined film language. I don’t mean like when that douche Peter Travers calls 12 Years a Slave, “a real game-changer” (re: How? What game? Film? Slavery? Did this movie change SLAVERY!?), but I really think that it’s possible that in 60 years from now, this movie could be discussed and studied like Citizen Kane. It uses the film medium to it’s maximum potential, letting visuals and sound drive the narrative as much or more than any dialogue or story. Look, I get how this might look like pretentious horse shit to the discerning man, but I feel like whether you think the story is good or not, it’s the way the film tells the story with a sometimes Clockwork Orange style visual collage that is the real “game-changer” (re: eat shit, Travers).
10. Inside Llewyn Davis (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen) “A folking trip, man!”
Whatever you expect from the Coen brothers at this point, forget about it. While it stays true to many of their trademark verbal exchanges, colourful characters and killer soundtracks, this film has more in common with the challenging A Serious Man, then O, Brother, Where Art Thou? (as the soundtrack and ads might mislead you to believe). A film about talent versus luck, integrity versus responsibility. On it’s surface, its a riff on the age old battle of art versus commerce explored through a realistic portrayal of the new york folk scene in the 60’s. The scene is ripe for references and in-jokes and loving and or scathing parody. The movie has an sad ethereal glow and Oscar Issac is fantastic as the hard to love, complicated, beaten down and tired Davis. I really think this movie is going to move up the list on a re-watch.
Honorable mentions / Fat Losers:
11. Spring Breakers (dir. Harmony Korine)
12. Captain Phillips (dir. Paul Greengrass)
13. Behind the Candelabra (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
14. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (dir. Declan Lowney)
15. Iron Man 3 ( dir. Shane Black)
16. Side Effects (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
17. Nebraska (dir. Alexander Payne)
18. This is the End (dir. Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg)
19. Frozen (dir. Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee )
20. Blue Jasmine (dir. Woody Allen)