DUSTIN ILLINGWORTH”S FAVORITE FILMS OF 2013
The Creator of Wildlord.com Lists His Favorites
By Dustin Illingworth
It is one of our great ironies that the more connected we are, the more isolated we feel. Technology–the great connector–often has a way of amplifying loneliness rather than relieving it. Spike Jonze”s marvelous and gentle Her explores that fundamental loneliness with a probing uncertainty that felt instantly familiar to me. Joaquin Phoenix continues his staggering run with another fantastic performance: his Theodore Twombly is boyish, sensitive, hurt, but almost never overly precious. Where does love begin? Where does humanity end? How do we connect as humans and lovers? Jonze presents these questions with a searching elegance that challenged me to think and feel in profoundly new ways. Her is a strange and wonderful stunner–my favorite film of 2013.
The Coen brothers have created a melancholy odyssey that pulses with their brand of dark American magic. Greenwich Village”s folk-milieu is wintry, bruised and beautiful (kudos to cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel), and handled with a deft touch by the Coens. Failure is at the heart of this story–failure of relationships, failure of ambition, failure of family. But the door is left open for moments of quiet redemption through the grace of art (dig that chills-inducing rendition of “The Death of Queen Jane”). Another gem in the brothers” catalogue.
Andrew Payne”s Nebraska could have easily come across as something austere and bleak–a Learesque rumination on the futility of age. But Nebraska“s intimate portrait of a man and his son has too much heart and humanity to be overcome. This is not to say the movie is without darkness: it is, at times, spare and haunting. But the heart of human connection beats at its center: the warmth of possibility amidst life”s quiet desolation.
San Diego representing. Short Term 12“s depiction of a social worker and her charges brims with compassion and (dare I say it) real conscience. Brie Larson gives a pitch-percect performance (the best of the year, in my opinion)–she is funny, strong, flawed, and utterly believable. Destin Cretton”s film may feel hyper and even uncertain at times, but its insight into troubled lives feels so rich and true that I easily forgave its excesses. A beautiful film.
Scorsese”s kinetic black comedy was a polarizing achievement–where some saw a grandly debaucherous take on moral abandon, others saw ugly and empty spectacle. I found myself firmly in the former category, thanks mainly to the utter delight the film takes in its own depravity. While it certainly does not endorse the hedonistic world of Jordan Belfort, it”s not exactly a pure critique either–Scorsese makes it too goddamned enjoyable to follow his protagonist”s hedonistic exploits. I didn”t want the man to experience a comeuppance. I didn”t want him to learn anything or reach a moral turning point. I was content to be carried along by Dicaprio”s manic charm and underrated comedic chops.
A heartbreaking and masterful take on one of America”s original sins, 12 Years a Slave delivers a haunting reminder of the blood and darkness of our national disgrace. The tale of Solomon Northup (a brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor) is the tragedy of one man; where 12 Years achieves greatness is that, through one story, we see the tragedy of millions. This is a harrowing achievement and the best movie about slavery ever made.
7. Room 237
Nothing fascinated me more than Room 237 did this past year. A meditation on film theory, obsession, and the power of reproduced media, Room 237 is really about Stanley Kubrick”s The Shining; more to the point, it”s about the supposed hidden meanings embedded in the film, as explained by a growing cult of devotees. Kubrick staged the moon landing; The Shining is actually an allegory for the genocide of Native Americans; Kubrick used The Shining as a way to deal with the Holocaust–in the end, it doesn”t matter how far-fetched the theories are. Accuracy is irrelevant. This is a celebration of our uniquely human ability to create new meaning, even where none previously existed.
8. Frances Ha
I went into Frances Ha expecting a piece of navel-gazing hipster ephemera, something for rich Brooklyn kids to name drop as cultural currency. I expected to like it while also rolling my eyes early and often. What I received, to my surprise and delight, was a beautiful, rambling picture of youth in stages of disintegration and transition. Frances (Greta Gerwig) has charm for days–her coming-of-age is frazzled, confused, and funny. And there”s even an instantly iconic scene, something that has stayed with me all year: Frances running and dancing down the streets of New York while Bowie”s “Modern Love” plays.
Ryan Coogler”s intimate and assured Fruitvale Station was so successful for me because it embraced its protagonists flaws as much as it did his strengths: Grant is a work in progress, and we care about him all the more because of it. There is a feeling of dread that permeates the events as we approach its inevitable ending. The tragic finale filled me with anger, sadness, and a reeling confusion. Beautifully acted and directed, the Oscar”s snubbing of Fruitvale Station (ZERO nominations) is a tragedy in its own right.
Nothing on this list feels as grandly cinematic to me as Gravity. While it had its flaws (ham-fisted monologues, some pacing issues), I felt dizzy and elated by the end of the film. There is a visual poetry here that works because of its scale: fragile human lives floating in the immensity of space, our earth displayed in ways we”ve never seen it. It is also an exhausting, physical experience, something that lives uneasily between wonder and terror.
Dustin Illingworth is a writer, musician, and artist. He recently founded the website Wildlord.com
Written and Compiled by Dustin Illingworth
Photography Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures
Design by Mina Darius
Film Still from Her, Photography Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures