Best of 2013 – so far

At the halfway point of the way, MOSTLY FILM writers pick their front-runners for the film of the year.

Indy Datta:

1. Django Unchained – QT reprises Inglourious Basterds’ fantasia on the effects of propaganda, proposes that the identity of black American men is a construct of propaganda designed to keep them down and pit them against each other, and understands and honours the resulting rage. Django doesn’t have any scenes as indelible as the best in Basterds, but its scope is grander, and nobody else is making radical pop entertainment like this.
2. Gangs of Wasseypur – Anurag Kashyap’s 5 hour Indian gangster epic doesn’t end satisfyingly, but nothing else this year has been such a ride. That scene with Faizal and Fazlu out Refns Refn.
3. I Wish – Kore-Eda goes deep but small, as usual. I wish his focus and modesty was more appreciated. The climactic memory montage tips the needle from diverting to piercing.
4. No – the grandly entertaining conclusion of Pablo Larrain’s trilogy of Pinochet-era Chile celebrates the end of that era while wryly noting that the battle was won on Pinochet and Chicago’s terms, and the centre ground never shifted back.
5. Something in the Air – Set two decades earlier than No, the irony of the English title of Assayas’ film is that the revolution wasn’t here – or at least not any revolution led by bourgeois artists. Great country house party scene, obviously.

Gareth Negus:

In no particular order:

Before Midnight
Post Tenebras Lux
Lore
To the Wonder
Robot & Frank
Byzantium
Frances Ha
Bernie
Much Ado About Nothing

Before Midnight is my definite film of the year, but as I’ve already written about that on I thought I’d put in a word for Richard Linklater’s other 2013 UK release. Bernie did make it into cinemas, but not for long. It’s easy to see why it didn’t set the multiplex tills ringing, though on paper it could be mistaken for a commercial proposition: a black comedy, based on a true story, starring Jack Black.

It’s the story of a single (and probably gay) man, a beloved pillar of his community, who marries a bullying older woman (Shirley Maclaine) and later murders her in moment of blind rage. The particular twist is that even once his crime has been uncovered – after months of covering it up – the local community rallies around him. The sheer unpleasantness of Maclaine’s character means the film is sometimes uncomfortable to watch, and it is a bit slow. But against that, there’s the way in which the dramatic scenes are interspersed with actual residents of the town of Carthage sharing their memories of the real Bernie and his story. Speaking to an unseen interviewer (presumably Linklater) their stories and (sometimes contradictory) recollections are far more natural and entertaining than the performances of the professional cast. Bernie is likely to infuriate as many people as it entertains, but some of these ‘real’ characters are a joy to watch.

Matthew Turner:

My favourite film of the year so far is French romantic comedy (or
Fromcom) Populaire and I don’t expect that to change. I was hooked
from the synopsis alone: Deborah Francois stars as a 1950s secretary
whose boss (Romain Duris) trains her to enter a speed-typing
competition. What’s not to love? Writer-director Regis Roinsard
effectively combines romantic comedy, sports movie and 1950s pastiche
and makes them all work brilliantly. In particular, I loved how
Roinsard directed and edited the competition sequences, making them
genuinely exciting to watch without ever feeling repetitive. It’s
basically the Rocky of typing movies.

1) Populaire
2) Wadjda
3) The Paperboy
4) Frances Ha
5) Before Midnight
6) Compliance
7) Mud
8) Sleep Tight
9) Stoker
10) The Sessions

Niall Anderson:

1. The Act Of Killing: I wrote about this at some length in January, having caught it more or less by accident at a special screening. While being broadly laudatory at the time, I expressed some reservations about it. Those reservations haven’t exactly gone, but no film has stayed with me as long this year – or for many years. An extraordinary documentary in which American filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer asks members of former Indonesian death squads to reenact their crimes in a variety of cinematic styles, it is both didactic and completely free of pretension. I’ve never seen a film like it, and I never will as long as I live.
2. Après Mai (Something In The Air): A languid follow-up to his Carlos: The Jackal mini-series,  Après Mai is almost Olivier Assayas’s personal riposte to his own prior pretention. Instead of an international terrorist, the protagonist here is somebody very like Assayas: moneyed, over-sexed, politically driven but not quite politically motivated. It’s a story of disillusionment that manages not to look like it. Taken together with Carlos, it caps an unprecedentedly full view of what an interesting decade the 70s was.
3. A Hijacking. Pirates! In Danish! Featuring everyone from The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen! But a deviously clever thriller all the same.
4. The Giants. Not as good as Bouli Lanners’ previous film, Eldorado, but a lovely and natural coming-of-age film with hard edges you never quite expect. It feels like growing up.
5. No. The only funny film you’ll see about anti-dictatorial politics.

Ron Swanson:

1) I Wish
2) Like Someone in Love
3) Before Midnight
4) Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
5) Beyond the Hills
6) Django Unchained
7) Fast and Furious 6
8) Broken
9) Zero Dark Thirty
10) A Hijacking

I’ve written about I Wish before on this site, so it’s another Japan-based film that I’m going to ramble on about: Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love is the weirdest, most arresting and unsettling film I’ve seen (and enjoyed) this year. A beautiful, confusing and hypnotic opening couple of scenes give way to something surprisingly both tender and tense. He’s a brilliant filmmaker, and this step away from the familiar is further evidence of that. It won’t end up as my favourite film of the year, but it’s an absolute marvel.

Paul Duane:

1. The Act of Killing: Jawdropping, indescribable in the impact it makes on the viewer, this film about old men trying to retrospectively understand their role in Indonesia’s 1965 mass murder of at least 1.5 million supposed Communists leaves you to fill in the blanks (why does goofy, pudgy Herman choose to wear drag in their improvised movies? Why is dignified executioner Aswan so fascinating and charismatic despite his unrepentant confessions of garrotting & torture?) The final scene – staged or not – is horrifyingly cathartic.

2. Leviathan: A fishing trawler travels through a long, hellish night, and we experience its journey through a myriad of tiny cameras positioned all over its hull and on its crew, our viewpoint more and less than human. Non-narrative, anthropological in its approach, the film has a physical effect on the viewer that Gaspar Noe could only dream about. A return to the avant-garde notion of cinema as pure sensation, an industrial Koyannisquatsi, a documentary that demands to be experienced in the cinema.

3. Stories We Tell: Canadian actress Sarah Polley’s documentary about her search for her parentage seems so earnest and humanistic next to these landmark films of pain & human insignificance, but it will stay with me because of its dogged insistence on making sense of a ragged and painful family saga, refusing easy interpretations and allowing us to slowly come to understand the dignity and kindness of her adoptive father Michael Polley, whose stoical acceptance of things put me in mind of my own father. You’d probably come away with a whole other interpretation, which is why it’s a great film.

4. Upstream Color: A hypnotic science fiction romance that comes off like early Cronenberg filtered through the sensibilities of Terrence Malick at his most transcendent, the story’s intricate patterning presents itself as a puzzle to be solved: but my feeling is, don’t understand it too quickly. It’s not fucking Inception. It’s constructed with intuitive poetic logic, a thing to be felt, examined from different angles, re-watched and thought about for a long time.

5. Good Vibrations: At last! A conventionally-structured narrative! It’s in the list because it’s the most sheerly entertaining, inventively-told, audience-pleasing film of the year. Without stars, with no clichéd redemptive story arc, it tells the complicated story of Belfast punk rock legend Terri Hooley – anti-capitalist, anti-entrepreneurial, anti-your idea of success – a saga that most films would sanitise and tidy up, this one shoves the ragged edges in your face. The result? The best rock & roll movie in many years.

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