2013: Smaller Films


by Ron Swanson

Last year saw new films from Wes Anderson, the Dardenne brothers, Paolo Sorrentino, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Werner Herzog, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, Steven Soderbergh, Andrew Dominik, Mia Hansen-Love, Bela Tarr, Leos Carax, Giorgos Lanthimos, Ben Affleck, Michael Haneke, Jacques Audiard  Thomas Vinterberg and Rian Johnson.

How does 2013 compare?

Let’s start with the film I’m fairly certain will be my favourite 2013 release, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s charming, life-affirming I Wish. It confirms Kore-eda as the finest director of children currently working, and as a superb essayist of ostensibly small lives. He’s as comfortable with the internal desires as the external pressures. It’s a glorious film, an achingly modern Stand by Me, only far more accomplished.

The first part of the year, as always, sees the release of several films with designs on the major awards. We took a look at Les Miserables, a strong contender, yesterday. This year’s Oscar™ race has several contenders that have already been released (Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, The Master, Life of Pi), so it seems like January is less over-stuffed by worthiness

Of the January releases, the stand-out is Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, a film which has caused some controversy in the US for its supposed glorification of torture. Bigelow’s follow-up to the Oscar™ winning The Hurt Locker (2008) follows the Intelligence Community’s attempts to track down bin Laden in the aftermath of 9/11. At the centre of the film is a terrific performance from Jessica Chastain as an agent whose dogged reluctance to move on to other targets leads to the operation in which bin Laden is killed.

Several reviewers and columnists have written about the torture scenes in the film. Some of them have even seen the film. It’s hard to know exactly how the film could have satisfied its critics. The torture scenes are horrific, dehumanising and unflinching in their brutality. One can only imagine the outcry if Bigelow had decided to not show American soldiers and agents not carrying out acts of torture.

The facts, as the film presents them, are as follows: the US search for bin Laden saw American agents torture detainees for information. It is not this information that leads to the location of Bin Laden. To see anything else in the film strikes me as an attempt to make it fit an agenda for your own purposes. Still, even without the controversy, Zero Dark Thirty is a superb thriller. It fits the season’s fashion for extended running times (2 hours and 40 minutes), but the film is so strong and the story so compelling that it could have filled double that. In fact, the film really reminded me of Olivier Assayas’ truncated Carlos (2010).

Another lengthy and forensic examination of one of the United States’ seminal moments comes in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. The director’s best film since Munich (2005), at least, has an astonishing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, as well as superb support from Tommy Lee Jones. Both Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty are released on 25 January. If planning to make them into a double bill, I’d recommend bringing a cushion, and would suspect that in Chastain and Day-Lewis, you’ll be seeing the winners of the lead acting Oscars™.

Less likely to be winning many awards, but equally endowed in the running time stakes, is Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. It’s a departure from Tarantino’s norm, in so much as it’s a film with one story told via a straightforward narrative. It’s less of a departure in every other way, feeling like a slavery-inspired companion piece to Inglourious Basterds (2009). It’s trashy and pulpy, but if you got a kick out of his historical re-imagining of World War II, you should definitely get a kick out of this, which features another superb performance by Christoph Waltz.

Someone who recently turned down an award is People’s Treasure™ Danny Boyle. He returns for the first time since his triumph at the Olympic opening ceremony with his latest film Trance, an art-heist thriller starring James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson (who needs a knighthood when you’re dating Rosario Dawson, anyway?). The film will release in late March.

Meanwhile, Judd Apatow’s fourth film as director, This is 40 – a kind-of sequel to Knocked Up (2007), will no doubt provide humour, honesty, super performances and a sturdy running time. Francois Ozon returns with the playful, but insignificant. In the House, while 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) director Cristian Mungiu adds a second masterpiece to his resume with the brutal, oppressive and beautiful Beyond the Hills.

You may have always thought it was bad news that Hollywood wanted to remake Oldboy (2003). There’s significantly less chance of them smoothing over the perverse edges of Park Chan-Wook’s masterpiece now that the film is directed by Spike Lee and stars Josh Brolin, than in the original stages where Steven Spielberg and Will Smith were linked to the project. With Elizabeth Olsen and District 9’s Sharlto Copley playing the other lead roles, there’s quality on board. Whether they can recreate the shock of Park’s film will go a long way towards deciding whether or not this is more than a redundant remake.

Several of the year’s blockbuster stars have smaller, more personal projects also due for release. Michael Shannon, before starring as General Zod in Man of Steel, plays a New York hitman in the excellent thriller The Iceman. Thor, aka Chris Hemsworth, plays James Hunt in Ron Howard’s 1970s F1 opus Rush, alongside Olivia Wilde and Daniel Bruhl. James Franco goes from playing the lead in Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great and Powerful to playing himself, alongside several of his buddies in This is the End.

Two of the biggest movie stars in the world headline fascinating projects in the autumn. Matt Damon takes the lead in Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9. Elysium is another dystopic sci-fi actioner, with Damon supported by Sharlto Copley, Jodie Foster and the great William Fichtner. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks takes the lead in Paul Greengrass’ based-on-a-true-story pirate thriller Captain Phillips. For a less-starry take on similar material, the Danish thriller A Hijacking is one of the spring’s best films.

Ryan Gosling reunites with his Blue Valentine (2010) and Drive (2011) directors, Derek Cianfrance on The Place Beyond the Pines and Nicolas Winding Refn on Only God Forgives. Cianfrance’s film sees him star alongside Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper as a thief, with some motorbike skills, in an epic crime thriller, which received largely positive reviews at its debut at the Toronto Film Festival last year. Only God Forgives is a brutal revenge thriller, which will no doubt have a zeitgeisty soundtrack, long takes, an implacable leading man and be punctuated by short bursts of bloody violence.

There’s plenty more star power beyond Damon, Hanks and Gosling, though. Steve Coogan hits the big screen as Alan Partridge in the yet-to-be-renamed The Alan Partridge Movie. Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron star in the sure to be divisive The Paperboy, Naomi Watts takes the lead role in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana, telling the story of the final two years of the Princess of Wales’ life, while you can see Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender together in both Ridley Scott’s The Counselor (based on an original script by Cormac McCarthy) and Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave.

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are reunited in The Wolf of Wall Street, based on a book by Jordan Belfont, whom DiCaprio plays in the film. Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey play supporting roles, as does Joanna Lumley, who I never expected to see in a Scorsese film. We may see Gravity and The Grandmasters, the new films from Alfonso Cuaron and Wong Kar-Wai, respectively in 2013, but, then, I remember thinking the same things about 2012…

Spike Jonze returns after the underwhelming Where the Wild Things Are (2009) with Her, an offbeat and quirky romance, starring Joaquin Phoenix, whose character falls in love with his computer operating system (guess he must not be using Windows ’95, am I right?). Jonze’s one time collaborator Charlie Kaufman’s latest film, a musical satire about Hollywood, Frank or Francis, starring Steve Carell and Jack Black, should be seen in 2013, while Noah Baumbach, fresh from script work on Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012) and The Fantastic Mr Fox (2009), brings out his first film since Margot at the Wedding (2007). Early reviews for the Greta Gerwig-starring Frances Ha are extremely strong.

Nine long years after Shane Carruth’s debut Primer beguiled and bewildered me, I’m just about ready for his follow-up, Upstream Colour, which looks, as you can see from this trailer, equally thought-provoking. It’s one of the standout titles at Sundance this year, and could debut at Sundance London in April. I’m So Excited is the new film from Pedro Almodovar, seeming like a much lighter film than The Skin I Live In, and a welcome return to a more comic tone from one of the most consistently entertaining filmmakers around.

Finally, we are truly living in privileged times. To The Wonder is the second Terrence Malick film to hit cinemas in just under two years when it’s released in February. The reviews from Venice weren’t as strong as they had been for Tree of Life when it debuted at Cannes in 2011, but it remains unmissable. Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko and Javier Bardem lead the cast.

Happy New Year!

1 thought on “2013: Smaller Films

  1. “(who needs a knighthood when you’re dating Rosario Dawson, anyway?).”

    This works just as well without words 5-9.

    “Meanwhile, Judd Apatow’s fourth film as director, This is 40 – a kind-of sequel to Knocked Up (2007), will no doubt provide humour, honesty, super performances and a sturdy running time.”

    If the trailer is anything to go by, I certainly agree with the last one of those.

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