Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Subtlety Guide to Shit You Should Have Seen in the Year of Our Lord, 2013!

Let’s cut right to the chase. 2013 was a god-damned rootin-tootin’ high-falutin’ unbelievable year for movies. I mean, man, I don’t know exactly what happened, but somebody must have sacrificed the right thing to the right movie gods, or maybe it’s just ol’ Roger Ebert puttin’ in a good word for us from the other side. Whatever it was, this year was such an embarrassment of riches that I barely know where to begin. But before I give it a try, first I wanna say that there were so many fantastic-looking movies this year that between an active social life and watching 55 horror movies in October alone, I didn’t even get to see them all. So none of the following were considered in the final tally; hopefully I’ll see them and update this post throughout the year as I did in 2011 and 2012:

Nabraska, Drug War, Simon Killer, Post Tenebras Lux, Computer Chess, To the Wonder, Passion, Side Effects, The Wind Rises (Shame on me), Leviathan, Fast and Furious 6, Pain & Gain, Zero Charisma, Escape from Tomorrow, The Fifth Estate, We Steal Secrets, Mandela, Oldboy (remake), 47 Ronin, Frozen, Escape Plan, Bullet to the Head, The Counselor, Dallas Buyer’s Club, The Butler, Metallica: Through the Never, The Family, The Grandmaster, Fruitvale Station, The Canyons, Monsters University, 42, Byzantium, Wrong, Kiss of the Damned, What Maise Knew, A Good Day to Die Hard, Oz the Great and Powerful, Philomena, Captain Phillips, Before Midnight, The Conjuring (saw INSIDIOUS 2 instead, whoops), Blue is the Warmest Color, Blackfish, Anchorman 2, Prisoners, A Hijacking, All is Lost, The Impossible (which it turns out is not the sequel to THE INCREDIBLES like I had assumed) Thor 2: the Dark World, Rush, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, The Way Way Back, Much Ado About Nothing, A Field in England, Kill Your Darlings, Behind the Candelabra, Frances Ha, Stories We Tell, Don Jon, Filth, Mud, Bling Ring, Warm Bodies, Saving Mr. Banks, About Time,  and especially Short Term 12 which I hear is super amazing.

But despite missing out on all those pictures which at least have some chance of joining this list at some point (I’m particularly optimistic about KILL YOUR DARLINGS), I saw a whole bunch of great ones this year. From Ryan Gosling looking attractive in a Metallica t-shirt to Ryan Gosling looking attractive in a well-tailored suit, from Ryan Gosling being a terrible father to Ryan Gosling having a terrible mother, 2013 had it all. Giant Robots. Giant Monsters. Giant Robots fighting Giant Monsters. A 200 million dollar zombie movie starring Brad Pitt. Like a hundred weirdo roles for Matthew McConaughy. New action movies for Stallone and Arnie, and Stallone AND Arnie. Korean geniuses Park Chan-Wook and Kim Jee-Woon making their American debut (we would have got Bong Joon-Ho too, except the Weinsteins have the distribution on that one so they can’t release it until they cut out half of it and have the guy from Linkin Park re-score it). Also: Christian Bale with a pot belly and a truly luxurious comb-over. A scene where we find out what phone sex with Scarlett Johansson would be like. Shane Carruth finding his soul pig. George Clooney being handsome in zero-g. Discussions of the Science Oven. Ti West getting killed by an arrow. Dave Grohl interviewing Neil Young. Slavery, genocide, crimes against humanity, cannibalism, and Lindsey Lohan sex movies. OK so it wasn’t all fun and games. But so much for the prelude, on to the show! Without further ado, here are my 12 most loved movies of 2013, in NO PARTICULAR ORDER.

The Top Twelve:

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES: Derek Cianfrance (BLUE VALENTINE) crafts an intriguing film here, telling three stories about different protagonists who at first seem only tangentially related. As the movie progresses, however, the powerful and invisible threads which bind people together across the time begin to become more clear. A dreamy sense of heightened reality adds an unexpected element of poetic lyricism to the proceedings and helps to make some of the script’’s less plausible deus ex machina feel mythic rather than contrived. More than almost any other movie I can think of, PLACE BEYOND THE PINES highlights the ethereal web that binds the past to the present, and examines what that means to the people struggling between the two. This sense of connectedness quietly strengthens each segment of the film (some even retrospectively), and bolsters each performance with piercing but subtle meaning, made all the more powerful by the fact that its implied rather than overt. And of course, fabulously complex performances from Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Dane HeHaan make certain that the experience is never anything less than absolutely riveting. Epic, multi-generational crime dramas are difficult enough to get right on their own, and Cianfrance is clearly aiming for something even a little more ambitious than that. That this movie has lingered in my mind all these months later is a strong testament to his success.

STOKER: Korean genius Park Chan-Wook (the VENGEANCE trilogy) makes his American debut with something a little more restrained than the imaginatively depraved shockers that made his name. But his restraint is only a cover for something equally devious: a sly, subversive thriller in the Hitchcockian vien. But imagine if Hitch was as sumptuous a visualist as he was a relentless one. And that he was freed to more explicitly vent the depraved psycho-sexual violence that lurks in the quiet implications of his best work. I’m not sure this loose remake of SHADOW OF A DOUBT has a ton of psychological depth, but its prickly, sometimes perverse insinuations are just as irresistible now as they ever were, and the film’s dreamy, symbolism-laced production is so effective you can hardly help but be swallowed up into Park’s dark world.

UPSTREAM COLOR: When a thief uses a bizarre parasite harvested from orchids to hypnotize a woman and steal all her belongings, a chain of events is set in motion which seems to link the minds of various humans to each other, and to pigs living in a farm under the care of a mystery man who looks like Albert Brooks. And that’s about as much as I could explain from the plot. But the narrative here isn’t the point: the important thing is the hazy, muted spell the movie weaves and the powerful and complex emotions swirling just below the distorted surface. There’s an undeniable sense of undefined yearning here, which pulls you in more surely and more simply than any literal story ever could. While I imagine this film, like Shane Carruth’s previous effort PRIMER, has an underlying logic which could be unravelled with many closer viewings, I personally prefer the pleasure of experiencing the film’s potent symbolic and emotional immediacy without any cumbersome explanation to get in the way. Whatever it all means, UPSTREAM COLOR is powerful, mysterious, and compelling.
WEST OF MEMPHIS: This infuriating, riveting, moving story --about three high school kids railroaded by an uncaring justice system and a self-serving media into a false conviction for murder-- would be the most howlingly outrageous movie of 2013 if it were a work of fiction. As a retrospective documentary, it’s close to mind-blowing; packed full of jaw-dropping human drama, pathos and absurdity, and directed with a precise balance between hard-nosed journalism and lyrical expressionism. (See the full review HERE).

TRANCE: Perhaps the single strangest film in a year full of enormously strange films, TRANCE takes the cake for never once appearing aware of how startlingly depraved it is. It’s a caper film wrapped up in a surreal headtrip and lightly dusted with horror movie, bathed in gaudy candy colors and spiked with short bursts of explicit sex and shocking violence. While the film’s plot is straightforward enough (for a mindfuck film, anyway), it’s full of sudden and violent shifts in our perception of the characters and their world, hallucinogenic fever dreams, and odd but unmistakable symbolism. In some ways it reminds me of Gilliam’s deeply underrated IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSES in its extreme blend of cheerful fun and startling viciousness. Mental, emotional, and sensory overload are par for the course here, but the potency of director Danny Boyle’s filmmaking is undeniable, making this an essential --if decidedly queasy-- bad drug trip worth the taking for any serious cinephile.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES: One of the most hated films of the year, and it’s easy to see why. With its glacial pace, aggressively unlikeable characters, brutal violence and deliberately frustrating anti-narrative, the thing practically dares you to like it. This is definitely from the mind of the same director who considered shooting VALHALLA RISING 100% in slow motion just to annoy you. I was going to write “if you can get past all that…” but actually that would be dishonest. There’s no getting past the fact that ONLY GOD FORGIVES is actively working to be infuriatingly unrewarding to the casual viewer. But it’s not for them, it’s for those with a different kind of cinematic desire. This is a film that delivers a very specific, meticulously crafted experience. The droning, aggressive soundtrack, the intense colors, the slow pace, the coldly symmetrical Kubrickian framings, the long stretches of silence punctuated with brutal bodily harm. They all lull you down the rabbit hole into an eerie, nauseous nightmare world where all your comfortable assumptions about what a film should be will be bluntly and obscenely dashed. Don’t get me wrong, there is both story and meaning to be found here, complete with its own complement of unique and unsettling imagery. But much more important is the immersive experience of the film, seductive and repulsive in equal measures but too compellingly crafted to look away from.

THE WORLD’S END:  In a year this full of complex and challenging movies, WORLD’S END stands out as a rare example of a classically structured, hugely entertaining movie which is fastidiously constructed enough to be every bit the equal of its peers of loftier artistic ambition. As with SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, Edgar Wright again demonstrates his stunning abilities as a craftsman, fine-tuning every detail until the thing just sings. There is not a wasted line, an uncalculated movement, a single plot point which is not expertly placed to pay off later. The proof of his mastery is that it all looks so easy: nothing feels labored or designed to impress. Instead, Wright has done all the work ahead of you so all you need do is sit back and enjoy the breathlessly energetic comedy, the ever-escalating tension, and the subtle but genuine emotional notes. A cast packed with great actors all find near-perfection here, and as a bonus, it may well also have the most elaborate and invigorating action sequences of the year. Hilarious, heartfelt, relentlessly inventive, and with all parts executed with a laser-like precision, this may well be Wright’s best work yet.

THE PAST: A welcome antidote to some of the more esoteric films on this list, THE PAST is a film --from Asghar Farhadi, director of last year’s A SEPARATION-- deeply rooted in the real world, and in real people. It concerns an Iranian native, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), returning to his wife in France after a period apart. What he finds upon his return, though, is a complicated domestic situation, fraught with raw emotions that have their origins in recent history and the more distant past. The movie is filled with astoundingly vivid performances and deeply realized characterizations, but its most interesting tool is a structural one: it’s a rare drama which plays almost like a mystery. As Ahmad navigates the familiar-yet-subtly-altered avenues of his life in France, layers of meaning are gradually added in ways which sometimes radically change the nature of what we assume we’re seeing. Sensitive, heartfelt, and surprisingly gripping, THE PAST is one of the most affecting and intriguing dramas in a very long time.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS: This small-scale, unassuming tale of a NYC folk musician in the early 60s is, for my money, one of the Coen Brothers’ very best films ever. The Coens have done a lot of different kinds of films over the years, from tense thrillers to broad comedies, but they’re at their best when they do something a little harder to define, something like this delicate blend of gorgeous music, mundane heartbreak, painful comedy, and enigmatic lyricism. From its muted palette of steel blues and murky grays to its cryptic, seemingly circular chronology, this isn’t a film designed for bombast, but rather a film of rich, human details which are at the same time elusive and evocative. Llewyn himself --as brilliantly played by Oscar Isaac-- is a genuinely unique movie character, someone we’ve never quite met before. He’s full of human complexity and contradictions, deeply flawed but still somehow relatable enough to not lose our hope that he’ll someday get things right. There’s a mythic quality here quietly informing the wisely-observed minutiae of the real world, and the result is a film which feels at once universal and deeply specific, sad and funny and surprising. Bolstered by a stellar cast and a beautiful soundtrack of folk tunes curated by T-Bone Burnett, this one pushes masterpiece status.

GRAVITY: 2013 was a year of films which strenuously sought to cultivate an immersive cinematic experience. Several of them made this list. But all pale in comparison to the almost frightening power of GRAVITY, one of the most inescapably immersive cinematic experiences since Cuaron’s own CHILDREN OF MEN, and as such almost certainly in the running for that honor in all of film history. There’s a philosophical, human heart here to buoy the visuals, but all that takes a decidedly back seat to the main event: a breathless (sometimes literally!) nonstop roller coaster ride which forcefully and commandingly hurls you into the film’s world and makes certain you don’t emerge until the credits role. It does what so very few films do: takes you somewhere, somewhere you’ll probably never be able to go in your human body, and lets you --forces you to, really-- experience it as if you were there. No film in a long time has done so with such intense discipline and ambition. I’m not certain this one will have the staying power of some of the films on this list, but it absolutely demands your attention at least once.

HER: Lovely, riotously funny and thoughtful, Spike Lee’s Sci-Fi “Love story” is one of the best and most focused things the director has ever done. What could have been a treacly and shallow postmodern throwaway instead becomes lush and constantly surprising, a movie which dares to push into some serious philosophical ideas without needing to be flashy and overbearing about it. Pitch-perfect performances and subtly gorgeous cinematography make this a truly special and distinct take on the genre of near-future speculative fiction. (See the full review HERE.)

THE ACT OF KILLING: This was an amazing year for movies in general, and there are several from this year which may well become all-time favorites of mine. I mean, I wanted to keep my “top” list to 12, but there are probably 6 or so more movies I saw this year that would have made the list almost any other year. It’s been an embarrassment of riches. But ACT OF KILLING is better than them all.
Simply put: one of the most stunning, horrifying, and powerful films I have ever seen, ever. A rare perfect constellation of unbelievable subject, powerful artistry, ingenious conception and pure, random luck. At my age, it’s a very rare thing for a film to truly allow you to look on the world with new eyes, but it is not exaggeration to say that Joshua Oppenheimer (and his anonymous Indonesian collaborators) have done exactly that with their brilliant, deeply human portrait of the perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide, decades later. The genius of the film is not in its condemnation of these people --which would be a simple matter-- but rather its frightening portrayal of the human souls trapped within a seemingly inescapable system of denial, which gradually implicates everyone, including the troubled murderer at its center. Be warned: watching this is not easy. It will take you places almost too painful to be believed. But a work of art this profound, piercing and utterly unique is too rare a thing to miss. You owe it to yourself as a human being to watch this; just don’t expect to walk away from it lightly. This is true art: bruising, mesmerizing, and transformative.

Honorable Mention:

AMERICAN HUSTLE: I know we’re all totally sick of movies calling themselves “American [noun]” in an effort to seem deeper than they really are. But this one avoids that by pretty much ignoring the political and social elements on the surface and instead having fun with a bunch of great actors playing entertaining, over-the-top characters. It flirts with parody, but the cast and director manage to keep just the faintest wisp of genuine humanity in there to keep it from being a completely hollow experience. Fun, outlandish and brimming with color, makes it easy to forget the flaws. One of the best ever lessons about why you should never put metal in the science oven.

GATEKEEPERS: A trenchant, provocative documentary that examines the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by interviewing the six living former heads of the Shin Bet, the Israeli security service. Even though the perspective is completely one-sided (all Israeli security guys) the film emerges as a surprisingly thorough and nuanced examination of the issue, and the reasons that it never manages to get resolved. By turns shocking and depressing, the film’s focus on only six men proves its saving grace: it puts a human face on the decades of follies which have led to today’s sorry state without resorting to painting anyone as a clear hero or villain.

THE EAST: Yet another remarkable film from Brit Marling and Zack Batmanglij (ANOTHER EARTH, SOUND OF MY VOICE), and another testament to their unmistakable discipline, focus, and imagination. This one is something along the lines of an environmental thriller, a tense adventure film which leaves plenty of room for gray area (and gray matter) while still not chickening out on a strong message. Ballsy and engrossing.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET: This absolutely outrageous, manic slapstick comedy from Martin Scorsese doesn’t have a whole lot to say about Wall Street skullduggery, but it is an indisputably wild ride, until the end when it isn’t anymore. Undeniably a bit empty, but irresistibly kinetic and involving for the majority. (See the full review HERE.)  

DECEPTIVE PRACTICE: THE MYSTERIES AND MENTORS OF RICKY JAY: A fine documentary about the renowned illusionist and sometimes-actor, which mostly talks around the outskirts of his personal life in favor of examining his mentors and the history of their profession. Like any good magic trick, it has bountiful style and wonder enough to easily overcome that slight lingering feeling that you’ve been hornswaggled.   

THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST: Though it ever-so-slightly shies away from the provocative suggestion in its title, this is nonetheless a deeply felt, seriously prescient look at the “global war on terror” and its effects on people from across different cultures. If it is reluctant to push quite as far as the premise might allow, it compensates with sharply drawn characterization and a clear-eyed portrayal of the world’s complexity. Mira Nair (THE NAMESAKE) manages a tale which is both deeply relevant on a socio-cultural and personal level, and her lush, sharp cinematography makes certain it looks good, too (and markedly different from all those other bozos who would shoot this with shaky-cam to make it feel “authentic”)

DIRTY WARS: The documentary synthesis of journalist Jeremy Scahill’s book of the same name delivers stunning revelations galore, but gets caught up too much in Scahill’s own journey, when it ought to focus on the amazing things he’s revealing. Too many cheesy reenactments and a compulsion to ape a Hollywood thriller lessen the impact of the enormously important reporting at the film’s center. Knowing this stuff should be mandatory, but if you get the book you can probably skip the movie. Still, credit is due for putting this in theaters, and there’s footage here which will absolutely devastate you.

THE LAST STAND: Arnie’s return to the big screen didn’t do much at the box office, but thanks to his larger-than-life charm and the masterfully deft direction of Kim Jee-woon, this one remains a personal winner. Outrageous, funny, utterly charming. (See the full review HERE.)

JOHN DIES AT THE END: Don Coscarelli’s first new film since BUBBA HO-TEP back in 2002 is messy, a bit unstructured, and its snarky tone can get a little grating. But if you can look past that, there’s enough crazy ideas, surreal images, and uproarious madness to fill a few dozen hours, all packed into a 99 minute runtime. Sublimely silly, but with some genuinely fun sci-fi concepts that linger just long enough for you to appreciate them before the movie zips on to the next monster.

SOUND CITY: As a piece of cinema, this thing’s a mess, an unwieldy mish-mash of tones, ideas, anecdotes and tangents that never really coalesce into a focused whole. But if there is even a single ounce of childlike fun in your worthless cynical body, I fucking dare you to try and resist the hyperactive, rock n’ roll giddiness that is Dave Grohl’s* cinematic love letter to a classic studio, and a mixing board, and being in a band, and Paul McCartney, and pretty much any little thing that pops into his head that he thinks is great. What, you’re gonna tell Dave Grohl he needs to focus? Hell no. You’re going to sit back and enjoy the ride wherever the fuck it is that Dave wants to take you. Plenty of great rock n’ roll tunes and stories abound, but the film’s secret weapon is Grohl himself. His enthusiasm is more infectious than herpes, and as such for anyone with even a little love of rock music, walking away from the experience with anything less than a gigantic stupid grin plastered on your face is absolutely inconceivable. Expect to buy the soundtrack within minutes of the film ending.

12 YEARS A SLAVE: I have some problems with the narrative structure of this film, which I still feel short-changes the main character in favor of the (white) antagonists. But only a fool would deny the extraordinary power of director Steve McQueen’s work here, which delivers scenes of nearly unbearable intensity and lavish detail. Chiwetel Ejiofor --who has been quietly amazing for years-- ought to be a shoo-in for the Best Actor Oscar this year, and he has heartily earned it. Beyond its technical accomplishments, though, this one is worth it not simply for its boldness in subject matter, but its boldness in approaching that subject matter with nuance and complexity and still not shying away from a wider, more sweeping perspective. Flawed, but fearless and unforgettable. (See the full review HERE)

BLUE JASMINE: Another supremely assured, sophisticated, and rich film from Woody Allen (BANANAS) this time featuring an extraordinary high-wire performance from Cate Blanchett (ELIZABETH II: THE GOLDEN ARMY AGE) portraying the title character, a middle-aged woman suffering a breakdown as her identity slips away with her wealth. There are subtle notes of comedy here, but mostly this is a tragic tale of the dangers of self-delusion and constructed identity. Emotionally rough, but also warm, sensitive and surprising, with a great cast (including the dream team of Louis C.K. and… Andrew Dice Clay?).

PACIFIC RIM: Giant Robots fight Giant Monsters. A bit sloppy considering Guillermo del Toro’s formidable talent, but delivers the goods with an enthusiasm that will inevitably win you over. The multiracial/multinational/multilingual cast adds a pleasing bit of contemporary texture, even if we still have to follow a white guy. And did I mention Giant Robots fight Giant Monsters? For, like, 70% of the film? Stop pretending, you can’t resist that kind of pandering any more than I can.

WE ARE WHAT WE ARE: Classy, patient tale of a family of rural folks with some fairly unsavory dinner habits. Sumptuous country cinematography and splendid performances (including an excellent turn by the great Michael Parks (FROM DUSK TIL DAWN 3: THE HANGMAN’s DAUGHTER, RED STATE) help ensure that the low-key horror vibe gets under your skin and stays there. Perhaps a little too staid for its own good, though. (See the full review HERE)

LORDS OF SALEM: I cannot in good conscience recommend this laughable mess of anti-narrative and goofy shocking imagery to anyone, but I also cannot deny my love. (See the full review HERE)

THE LONE RANGER: This year’s JOHN CARTER. Audiences avoided this one in droves for reasons no one seems entirely able to pin down, though everyone seems to have their own pet theory. But it was their loss, because Depp (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) and director Gore Verbinksi (Bad Religion’s American Jesus video) bring a hyperactive, exciting and funny madness to this superficially old-fashion tale. Absolutely over-stuffed with cheerfully absurd craziness, the final sequence featuring a battle which wanders back and forth between two parallel trains (set to the William Tell Overture, natch!) is maybe the most exciting and best choreographed action sequence of the year. If you are the type of person who enjoys movies which are fun, this should be at the top of your list.

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO: Having misread the title, I assumed this was a documentary chronicling the making of teen pop star Justin Bieber’s new studio album, but it turns out to be slightly less horrifying than that. Instead, it’s the story of a tightly-wound British sound engineer (Toby Jones, Karl Rove in W) suckered into working on a violent Italian Giallo. Existential dread is the order of the day here, as the sensitive engineer gets a taste of the darker side of Italian film culture and begins to lose his grip on reality. Tense, phantasmagoric, and troubling, but with just a touch of postmodern fun, too.

KINGS OF SUMMER: Touching, funny coming-of-age tale with a bevy of memorable characters (particularly the inimitable Biaggio played by Moises Arias) may be a little scattershot, but has a shaggy charm which forgives a lot. May not quite reach the level of emotional honesty it seems to be yearning for as a whole, but many individual parts ring profoundly true, and the film is shot with a startlingly beautiful eye for nature.

MAN OF TAI CHI: Earnest, focused martial arts film from director Keanu Reeves (PARENTHOOD) isn’t quite unique enough to distinguish it from others of its ilk, but it’s tight, streamlined, and features plenty of splendidly choreographed, crisply shot action.  “A Fight you shall have,” Reeve’s character promises. The movie delivers exactly that.

ADDENDUM 4/2: See the full Review of BLACKFISH here. Depressing, manipulative, but effective and elegantly constructed.

ADDENDUM 4/2: THOR 2: THE DARK WORLD: Our second dish of Thor as a main course is about on par with the first, a good-hearted trifle. Too unimaginative to reach greatness but too far amiable to grump about, this one delivers plenty of monsters, spaceships, and one-liners to keep you in good spirits. As before, Hiddleson's Loki is their secret weapon, and here they finally strike the perfect balance between the character's tragic history, cheerful villainy, and gleeful puckish charm. Eccleston is kind of a cold fish as the main villain here, but the plot builds a good momentum and strikes that perfect tone of cheerful ridiculousness that Marvel has been so successful at capturing lately. This universe feels cohesive and familiar now, and it's always fun to get a chance to play in it, even if this entry is on the minor side.

ADDENDUM 4/2: SHORT TERM 12: A sensitive and painfully realistic depiction of the workaday young adults charged with maintaining order in a short-term home for displaced kids. Its strength is in the powerful and deeply human portrait it draws of these young people stuck in a kafkaesque surreal limbo as wards of the state, bringing warmth and humor to a story which is rife with stark tragedy. And little do the kids know it, but the young adults (barely older than their wards) trying to keep it all together may be even more fucked up than the kids they're trying to help. Towards the end, the film unexpectedly lurches from intimate slice-of-life to something a bit more dramatic in a way that may strain credulity for some viewers, but to me it fits perfectly with the gradually ratcheting tension and pain which slowly takes shape as we learn more about the characters and their lives. This is a small film, but its insight and sharply drawn, naturalistic characters give it an absolutely riveting power. One of the year's best.

ADDENDUM 5/21: THE WIND RISES: Master animator Hayao Miyazaki's (supposedly) final film is unambiguously one of the year's best, a rich and meditative concoction of elegiac despair and wild imagination married by the quiet melodrama of a single human trying to find joy and love in a strange and sometimes horrible world. People claiming the film downplays Japanese wartime atrocities miss the point: Miyazaki is not celebrating wartime might, but lamenting the cruel waste of passion and creativity that was squandered on it, while still reminding us that even amid the big issues of our day, ordinary life is what truly defines us. Powerful, achingly human, and simply stunning to look at, my one regret with THE WIND RISES is that I saw the subtitled version without realizing Werner Herzog is in the dubbed on. Oh well, just more incentive to watch this masterpiece again.

Also Worth Seeing
“The” Wolverine
Hobbit 2: This Time We Definitely Almost Get to Some Actual Plot Points.
Iron Man 3
You’re Next
This is the End
Europa Report
A Band Called Death
The Purge

Dedication and coda:

If I may end this novel on a sadder note, I’d just like to say that this is the first year I’ve had to go though as a serious movie watcher without the wise imput of a great hero of mine, Roger Ebert. Roger, your great love of life, of film, of people, and of humanity has taught me so much over the years. Your writings --always lucid, thoughtful and (crucially) humane and warm-- will be sorely missed; no matter how much I like a movie in the future I’ll always feel a little cheated not to have the chance to read your take on it. I’d like to dedicate this to you, even if you were wrong about THE RAID.

I miss ya, Roge.

*Nirvana Drummer, Foo Fighters front man, and runner-up World’s Greatest Man for over two decades running (as long as Slash lives the number one slot will belong to him and only him).

1 comment:

  1. Whoa, THE LAST STAND? Remember when we saw that? I totally forgot about that delightful movie. That was 2013?! That feels way long ago for some reason.