TYLER MALONE”S FAVORITE FILMS OF 2013
PMc Magazine”s Editorial Director Lists His Favorites
By Tyler Malone
Her, Spike Jonze”s nuanced depiction of love and technology and one man”s interaction with both in the not-too-distant future, blew me away from opening to closing credits. The main character Theodore Twombly is brought to life by the extraordinarily gifted Joaquin Phoenix, who was robbed by the Academy when they overlooked him for an Oscar Best Actor nomination for this subtle portrayal. Twombly”s pants are as high-waisted as the film is high-minded. It”s got so much going on that I could talk about it for ages, but those high-waisted pants get at exactly what makes it the best film of the year: the attention to detail is staggering. Everything about the world Spike Jonze creates doesn”t just pass the somewhat low threshold of “suspension-of-disbelief-style” plausibility, but actually feels entirely of the real world we live in today. To me the film was more real and more genuine than all the other Oscar best picture nominees (all but two of which are ironically “based on actual events”). I absolutely love this movie, and am glad we now have definite proof that even if Spike Jonze isn”t working from a Charlie Kaufman script, he can still craft movies of a Kaufman calibre.
Spring Breakers–a Terrence-Malick-through-the-looking-glass tale of excess on the palm tree lined beaches and seedier back alleys of St. Petersburg, Florida–was my frontrunner for favorite film of 2013 for most of the year. James Franco as white rapper and gangster Alien gives the performance of his career. And director Harmony Korine makes the movie of his career by combining the fluorescent color palette of Lisa Frank and the poetic cinematic stylings of Terrence Malick to look at his usual cast of unusual characters, exposing a poetry of surfaces in the underbelly of America. Her may have eked out a victory as my favorite film of 2013 in the final days of December, but that doesn”t diminish my unwavering love and respect for Korine”s unique vision of Disney-girls-gone-wild in a topsy-turvy world that looks alarmingly like our own (just with a little more vibrant color palette).
Abbas Kiarostami”s Like Someone in Love, like its predecessor Certified Copy, was woefully underappreciated. As with Certified Copy, Kiarostami used the film to explore ideas of artificiality and illusion. Notice that the film isn”t called Someone in Love but Like Someone in Love. It”s in the “like” that one can find the best entrance into Kiarostami”s new “romance.” As the director said at Cannes, “It’s better to say that we are like someone in love rather than asserting that we are in love. Death or birth are definitive; love is nothing but an illusion. We have in this film four people who are like some people in love.” The other important thing to glean from the Like Someone in Love title is the reference to the jazz standard of the same name. This film is the freeform jazz reply to Certified Copy“s operatic aria.
Though it came out in the UK in 2012, Peter Strickland’s surreal and creepy Berberian Sound Studio didn”t cross the pond til early 2013. American audiences unfortunately didn”t pay much attention to this psychological thriller about a British foley artist on the set of an Italian giallo horror movie, which manages to be horrifying without showing much horror and gruesome without presenting any real gore. This is mostly because of Stickland”s exquisite use of sound. Berberian Sound Studio is undoubtedly one of the more original and inventive movies I”ve not only seen but heard in the last year.
It”s somewhat sad that it took a British filmmaker to make the best film yet on American slavery. Steve McQueen”s 12 Years a Slave is violent, heartbreaking, beautiful, and honest. Everyone”s favorite contrarian film critic Armond White called the movie “torture porn” (comparing it to the Saw franchise among other things), but the depravity showcased on screen by McQueen is real, not imagined. To depict slavery in any other way would be to lie or to shy away from truth. As this film shows so brilliantly, the brutality and debasement of American slavery was a poison to everyone and everything in the entire country–white and black, man and woman, North and South–and remains so today, long after the institution was abolished.
The Coen Brothers” Inside Llewyn Davis takes place around the Greenwich Village of 1961 in the not-so-glamorous world of the early “60s NY folk scene. It”s not exactly the milieu in which I”d expect to find fodder for a Coen film, and yet haven”t we learned to expect the unexpected from these brothers? And what better place to explore the relationship between art and commerce than the “60s folk scene? The film focuses on Llewyn Davis, a couch-surfing folk musician, failing in every sense of the word. There is artistic talent in him, to be sure, but various people “don”t see a lot of money here.” The title character is played by the wonderful Oscar Isaac, who, like Joaquin Phoenix, deserved a Best Actor nom more than most of those nominated. But the star of the show isn”t Oscar Isaac or the Coens, but instead cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, whose beautiful subdued blue-grey-brown palette paints the picture in the intimate light of fading old photographs and worn album covers. “If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it”s a folk song,” says Llewyn Davis in the film. Either that, or it”s Inside Llewyn Davis–not quite new, not quite old, not quite familiar, not quite foreign, not quite realistic, not quite surrealistic, not quite played straight, not quite taken to the realm of satire or parody, just the Coens at their best, working in a milieu that you wouldn”t expect, but one that feels just right in retrospect.
It”s hard to make a movie that is unlike anything else that came before it, and harder still to do so while making a documentary, but Joshua Oppenheimer”s thrilling doc The Act of Killing is just that: a completely new kind of non-fiction movie that allows a group of men behind a mass genocide in 1960s Indonesia to film and relive their killings in various cinematic styles. A set-up like this could have gone so wrong, but instead it goes so right, as one of the mass murderers begins to reconsider his own legacy and question what his past says about himself and his deeds. It”s a fascinating exploration of what it means to kill and what the act of killing can do to a person.
If Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick had co-directed a film, I”d like to think it”d have ended up looking and feeling the way Upstream Color does. Since I have the utmost respect for those two filmmakers, there are few compliments I would consider higher praise for a director who has only just this year released his sophomore effort. Shane Carruth, in the follow-up to his equally intriguing debut film Primer, made a mysterious movie that it took days for me to really get my head around and to fully recover from. It was the kind of experience I go to the cinema in hopes of feeling, but so rarely actually get to feel.
I”ve mentioned director Terrence Malick a few times already on this list, as I really think his influence was felt pretty dramatically this year. Malick wasn”t just felt this year through his influence though, for he released his own film To the Wonder which I think was a wonder in its own right. Even though it has now been distilled down to the point of near-tedium, Terrence Malick”s formula still manages to move me in ways I”m never quite prepared for. When To the Wonder came out, some joked that the only way to tell the difference between a Malick film and a perfume ad was by the length. Maybe that”s true. But if the film does feel like a perfume ad, the scent Malick is selling is the fragrance of life itself, which is a scent perhaps too au natural for some, too faint for others, but which left me intoxicated with the aroma of existence–exhilarated and exhausted in the same ways that life exhilarates and exhausts us all.
I had a few other films that I gave a 5/5 to this year, and I wasn”t sure which one I”d put in my #10 spot. I ended up giving this final place on my list to Philomena because it was such a pleasant surprise. When you see as many movies as I do in a given year–125 films released in 2013–you tend to be able to guess what you might think of a given film before you even see it. I don”t know what it was about Philomena that had me skeptical–considering I”m a huge fan of actors Steve Coogan and Judi Dench, and think pretty highly of director Stephen Frears–but I just had that feeling that it”d disappoint. I”m happy to say that it did not. Steve Coogan”s script finds the comedy in a story that could have easily been written as a treacly melodrama. Even more surprisingly, it addresses the complications of religion in a way that didn”t disappoint an atheist like me nor my Christian parents. All three of us walked out of the theater moved, and feeling that our core beliefs had been reaffirmed by the film we had just seen. It takes a light touch, a delicate balance, and a negative capability to be able to pull a trick like that off.
Tyler Malone is the Editorial Director of PMc Magazine, where he also writes the film reviews in The Reel Deal column and contributes various interviews and articles. He also writes for numerous literary magazines, and teaches English.
Written and Compiled by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures
Design by Mina Darius
Film Still from Her, Photography Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures