Discoveries of 2013

Dredd

This film still baffles me. It’s bizarre aesthetic and aggressively anti-Hollywood style results in the most memorable action film I saw this year. I’m not sure if I love it, but I like it now and it’s certainly worth the time of anyone who’s interested in action or pulp. There’s tons of eye candy despite how grungy and bleak the world looks, something I can’t say for many of 2013’s action blockbusters.

The House is Black

A poem in film form, a rumination on suffering, and a contemplation on religion. The film certainly challenges the audience with its subject matter, which is so overpowering and sensational that one is likely to forget how much beauty the film finds in the midst of the horror.

Irma Vep

Olivier Assayas writes films that tear at the seams of cinema and get at these primordial ideas. Irma Vep is this strange exploration of acting and identity in a fictional attempt to remake a silent film. The actual production becomes secondary to Maggie Cheung’s weird journey into the identity of her character.

Journey to Italy

When you cast George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman as a married couple, greatness is bound to happen. The film’s look at a vacation heading towards disaster is a great piece of filmmaking and the final moments are beautiful.

Lars and the Real Girl

The film gets a lot of mileage out of the disconnect between the perverse and the puritanical. What’s remarkable for a film so funny is how it plays it straight while recognizing how absurd it all is. Its sincerity leads to an ending that ends up having a lot of emotional weight despite how silly it should be. It’s a story as much about the artifice of acting as its themes of love.

Munyurangabo

This film takes its time revealing what is going on and where it plans to go. A majority of the film might seem derivative to what the film is actually about. However, the story of two boys who should hate each other and what one of them ends up doing is a powerful examination of the legacy of hate and the power of love amid an all too real feud.

The Muppet Movie

I would have sworn I saw this as a kid, but once I sat down and watch it this year, I realized that I’ve never seen this. How have I never seen this? From the wonderful Paul William’s soundtrack to the signature Muppet sense of humor, I loved every moment of this film. And that ending is brilliant and subversive for a family film. Love it.

Offside

There are a surprising number of films in Iran that put us in the shoes of women, so much so that they collectively made up a spot in my list last year. This one might be the best at giving us their perspective. It’s a film the completely depowers the audience alongside its female characters and a politically audacious piece of filmmaking. Jafar Panahi risked his life making this film, and he’s still making films today against the commands of his country.

Orpheus

Jean Couteau’s blend of modern France with fantasy creates an enthralling juxtaposition. Some of the special effects in this film are so elegant and bizarre, haunting visions of light. The entire film feels like one of those dreams you have where everything makes perfect sense even though in the back of your mind something tells you things are off. Few films can capture so perfectly that feeling and Orpheus is one of those rare titles.

Pina

Motion is a central part of cinema. Of all the films I saw this year, this film did the best of capturing the magnificent and beauty of motion. While it could have been a straightforward recording of dances, Wim Wenders found a way to make each sequence come alive as filmic as well as create interludes that makes Pina much more than a dance film.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

It only took me two years to see this film after reading the book. As a big Joe Wright fan, it’s obviously the visualizations that speak to me in this film and he finds a great way to get into some of the character’s head without a word. It’s able to keep the wit of the book while still being cinematic.

A Scene at the Sea

This is one of those films where you simply enjoy going along with the characters, which is quite strange for this film since neither of the leads say anything. There are a lot of simple still shots and I could see most people finding this film dull, but I found every moment riveting.

Scenes from a Marriage

What impresses me the most about Scenes from a Marriage is its naturalism. Ingmar Bergman is such a formal director that I often find his films suffocating in their constructed. This feels like the antithesis, a personable, down to earth and natural film that completely won me over in the opening moments. Bergman’s signature sympathy makes for a powerful story about an evolving marriage.

The Thin Man

Who knew murder could be so fun? The playful relationship between Nick and Nora Charles makes for a lot of fun scenes, especially the party sequence. Also, the scene where Nick gets shot is great. I was surprised by how grimy this film felt for the time and then I went back and read the book and wow, this was a cleaned-up adaptation. Also, that dog is super cute.

Top Hat

I usually love musicals for their music. Here, I love everything outside the music just as much, if not more, than the musical bits. It’s a fun, witty love story filled with a lot of clever bits of miscommunication. Plus, the butler is quite possibly the most awesome characters to ever inhabit a musical.

Trouble in Paradise

From the opening scene, Trouble in Paradise sets itself up as something a bit deceptive. The game of cat and mouse that results from the strange romance between two thieves ends up being a blast to watch. They steal each other’s keepsakes and each other’s hearts.

True Heart Susie

You think D.W. Griffith’s stitch of casting Lillian Gish as the pure, innocent woman would get tiring, but Lillian Gish is so convincing in the role that I fall for it every time. This time, the love story between the two leads is so pure and innocent, but as time goes on, trouble begins to brew and we see how good intentions can lead a good man astray. At least she still has the cow.

Woman on the Beach

Because if you can’t actually drink, watching people drink is the second best thing. Another one of those films where hanging out with characters is a blast. The story exists within recurring spaces that become more and more meaningful as the film progresses. Probably my favorite Hong Sang-soo film.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

I’m not the most patriotic or sentimental person, so it surprises me how much I love this film. James Cagney’s talent goes a long way. I’d put him up against Astaire and Kelley in the singing and dancing department and he’s a better actor by a wide margin. The songwriting is also superb, the scene where Cagney shows his sister “Mary’s A Grand Old Name” is one of my favorite scenes of any film I saw this year.

TV

Television isn’t movies, you say? Well, this is my list and I can do what I want and break all the rules because I didn’t watch that many movies this year, anyway. And part of the reason why is that I was watching these shows.

Cowboy Bebop

I’ve had people since high-school telling me to watch this show. I finally saw it and, yes, it’s as good as everyone said. There’s a magnificent level of craft to the quality of animation and the music consistently elevates each scene. It’s so damn cool without ever being showy. Everything feels like it comes together effortlessly.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

I finally finished it! Deep Space Nine is one of those shows that consistently gets better as it progresses (well, except for a slight dip in the last season). It pioneered the season structure of storytelling that practically defines serious storytelling in TV today and its themes were way ahead of its time. It’s probably the most potent piece of post-911 fiction made before 911 happened.

The Wire

This show got me out of a big writing rut. Each season so far has ended up inspiring about as many words as I wrote for a paper in school. The amount of depth of thought in each episode is mind-boggling to me and when it comes together for an entire season, you end up with what’s probably the best TV show I’ve ever seen. And I still have two more seasons to go.

© 2014 James Blake Ewing

  • http://www.ptsnob.com/ Dan Heaton

    I loved Trouble in Paradise and am hardly an expert on Lubitsch. Just brilliant. Irma Vep is a tricky film; I found its style to be really interesting, though its last act threw me for a loop. The Muppet Movie is so great. I loved it as a kid and get a lot more of the jokes now. Yankee Doodle Dandy is so blatantly patriotic, yet I agree that it’s a lot of fun. Cagney is the main reason.

    I’ll be checking out Dredd in February; I’ve heard some interesting things!

    • James Blake Ewing

      Irma Vep does have an interesting third act. I actually really like that element of it, but I can get how it could be off-putting.

      • http://www.ptsnob.com/ Dan Heaton

        I still liked it a lot overall, but it was just trickier to wrap my head under the last section.

  • http://thevoid99.blogspot.com/ Steven Flores

    Offside was one of my formal introductions to Iranian cinema a couple of years ago and it’s still one of my favorites. I hope to do more Iranian films in the years to come as I have a Kiarostami film on my DVR queue.

  • http://tipsfromchip.blogspot.com/ Chip Lary

    A lot of good films here. I’ve seen most of them, but I won’t take up space commenting on them all. I’ll say that I really loved the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, too, and that Lars and the Real Girl really needs a wider audience. I think some people are put off by the concept, thinking it’s something lurid. Trouble in Paradise is also one of my best discoveries from doing the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. And I agree that Yankee Doodle Dandy is a fantastic role for Cagney. Did you know he adlibbed the dance down the stairs at the end and the filmmakers kept it? Okay, I am starting to go overboard here. It sounds like you had a good 2013 watching films and I hope 2014 is the same for you.

    • James Blake Ewing

      I felt like I had heard the bit at the end of YANKEE DOODLE DANDY was improvised. I believe I watched a documentary where Scorsese was talking about the film. I would have been pretty young, though.