Favourite Films of 2013

22 December 2013

From the 300+ feature films I saw this year, these are the films that most excited, inspired, moved and challenged me – restricted to films that got a theatrical release in Melbourne, Australia, where I am based.

Top ten favourite films of 2013

Amour: Anne (Emmanuelle Riva)
1. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)
By stripping back any aspects of film style or narrative that feel false or constructed, Haneke ensures that everything that happens between Anne and Georges is an act of intense kindness and personal sacrifice shared by people who love each other unconditionally. Full review

Gravity

2. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
Not only is Gravity a celebration of what cinema in the current era can achieve, but it is a celebration of what humans are capable of. Full review

Frances Ha
3. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012)
A genuinely heartfelt, gorgeous and beautiful celebration of youth, friendship and grappling with all the contradictions and challenges that life throws at us. Full review

Mystery Road
4. Mystery Road (Ivan Sen, 2013)
An effective neo noir film that uses key characteristics of the genre to  critique the abuse of power and how it affects vulnerable and innocent people, especially in a culture of gender, racial and class inequality.

The Rocket: Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe)
5. The Rocket (Kim Mordaunt, 2013)
An extremely rewarding and entertaining film made all the stronger for the integrity and cultural details that underpin it. Full review

Broken: Skunk (Eloise Laurence) and Archie (Tim Roth)
6. Broken (Rufus Norris, 2012)
By framing such universal issues such as the power of forgiveness, redemption and love through a coming-of-age narrative of a generous and kind 11-year-old girl, Broken delivers a moving and thoughtful cinema experience. Full review

No
7. No (Pablo Larraín, 2012)
An extremely perceptive and intriguing examination of the effect that media hype and spin have on the political process. Full review

Blue Jasmine
8. Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013)
One of Allen’s cleverest and most compassionate films, making it also one of his greatest. Full review

Stoker
9. Stoker (Park Chan-wook, 2013)
Not everything is what it seems in Stoker and its strength lies in how much it undermines expectations by taking a revisionist approach to gothic fiction conventions. Full review

kinopoisk.ru
10. The Paperboy (Lee Daniels, 2012)
The film has both an old fashioned yet otherworldly feel, in keeping with its subversion of film noir style and themes. Full review

Honourable mentions

Every one of the following ten films (and a few others) were close contenders for my favourite ten list. I’ve simply listed these ones alphabetically as it was hard enough to order the previous ten by preference.

The Act of Killing
The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)

Behind the Candelabra
Behind the Candelabra (Steven Soderbergh, 2013) Review

Django Unchained
Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012) Review

The Hunt
The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012) Review

Life of Pi
Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012) Review

Oh Boy
Oh Boy (Jan Ole Gerster, 2012) Review

ParaNorman
ParaNorman (Chris Butler and Sam Fell, 2012) Review

Spring Breakers
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012)

Stories We Tell
Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012) Review

Stranger by the Lake
Stranger by the Lake (L’inconnu du lac, Alain Guiraudie, 2013)

Favourite ten films not given a full theatrical release

The following films were screened publically in Melbourne, Australia, in 2013, but not given a full theatrical release. And to the best of my knowledge at the time of publishing this list, these films are not yet confirmed to get a theatrical release in 2014. Listed alphabetically.

Bastards
Bastards (Les salauds, Claire Denis, 2013)

Blue Ruin
Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier, 2013)

Cheap Thrills
Cheap Thrills (EL Katz, 2013)

The Day of the Crows
The Day of the Crows (Le jour des corneilles, Jean Christophe Dessaint, 2012)

The Interval
The Interval (L’intervallo, Leonardo di Costanzo, 2012)


Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, 2012)

Nothing Bad Can Happen
Nothing Bad Can Happen (Tore tanzt, Katrin Gebbe, 2013)

Starlet
Starlet (Sean Baker, 2012)

The Weight of Elephants
The Weight of Elephants (Daniel Borgman, 2013)

What Richard Did
What Richard Did
 (Lenny Abrahamson, 2012)

Special mention

The following is a television miniseries, but it is one of my favourite things that I saw this year:

Top of the Lake
Top of the Lake (Jane Campion and Gerard Lee, 2013)

And that’s what I loved most about cinema in 2013! I feel this was a really strong year for films and there were several titles that I fell bad about leaving off these lists, not to mention the titles that don’t get released in Australia until early 2014, which I have to hold off on listing until this time next year.

As always, I’m happy to hear your thoughts via the comments, just please focus on the positives as the spirit of this list is celebratory!

Thomas Caldwell 2013

This list was originally compiled for the Senses of Cinema 2013 World Poll


Film review – Frances Ha (2012)

19 August 2013
Frances Ha: Sophie (Mickey Sumner) and Frances (Greta Gerwig)

Sophie (Mickey Sumner) and Frances (Greta Gerwig)

Contemporary cinema that is genuinely joyous and uplifting is surprisingly rare. Films that tug at the heartstrings or can be described as bitter/sweet are reasonably common, but there are not that many films that can be regarded as feel-good without the trappings of cynicism or overly manipulative schmaltz. Frances Ha is a rare example of a modern film that leaves you on a high without you feeling suspicious that you have yet again been fed a beautiful lie that you will eventually start to see through. Instead, this is a genuinely heartfelt, gorgeous and beautiful celebration of youth, friendship and grappling with all the contradictions and challenges that life throws at us.

The film is a collaboration between director Noah Baumbach, who is also one of the film’s producers, and actor Greta Gerwig who plays the lead character Frances Halladay. The pair wrote the script together and it feels like a culmination of both their careers. It is a return to the comedic and youthful focus of Baumbach’s début feature film Kicking and Screaming (1995) while containing the observational qualities that distinguish his ‘second coming’ as a filmmaker that began in 2005 with The Squid and the Whale. For Gerwig it is her most pronounced and definitive role to date, and it evokes her earlier mumblecore films rather than her recent mainstream success.

Gerwig brings to the film a slightly nervous yet constantly charming energy that is expressed through Frances’s lust for life that is only threatened by her concern that, ‘I’m not a real person yet.’ While Baumbach typically looks for the comedic potential in his scripts the subject matter often leaves his films feeling wry. However, with Frances Ha the subject matter of an enthusiastic young woman trying to find her way in the world results in a natural expression of humour and fun.

Crucial to the success of Frances Ha is that the focus is on how Frances relates to the world rather than how she relates to the world through the prism of being somebody’s romantic interest. Her love and sex life are not ignored – there is a reoccurring joke about her being ‘undateable’ – but the main relationship explored in the film is her friendship with roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Indeed, after setting up how close and similar Frances and Sophie are to each other, the main narrative drive (what little of it there is) concerns how the pair drifts apart as they start to make different life decisions.

This storyline concerning Frances and Sophie’s ‘breakup’ gives the film its emotional depth and facilitates the central theme of what it means to enter adulthood. Does growing up involve becoming realistic and practical, or is it about compromising your dreams? What is the difference between being a free spirit and being frivolous? Frances Ha does not preach one way or the other, but it presents Frances attempting to wrestle with these ideas in a way that is identifiable, endearing and ultimately uplifting.

In order to capture the barrage of life choices thrown at Frances during the film, Baumbach adopts a range of stylistic devices to highlight the importance of one of the few tangible aspects of her life: a sense of place. While her dancing career and personal life are full of unknowns, Frances at least can hold onto the physical places she occupies, so Frances Ha is segmented with title cards containing the addresses of the places she inhabits. Mostly these places are addresses in New York City and Baumbach films in black-and-white to not just evoke Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979), but also the early work of pioneering American independent filmmaker John Cassavetes, especially the New York set Shadows (1959). The mythology of New York as a place of opportunities, creativity and potential is essential to who Frances is.

Also significant is how much Baumbach’s visual style evokes the youthful and rebellious energy of the French New Wave, particularly the films of François Truffaut, which Baumbach also uses music from to score parts of Frances Ha. It is appropriate that a segment of Frances Ha is set in Paris, although true to the tone and attitude of the film Frances does not have any great revelation or life changing event – she just lives (and oversleeps) in the moment.

If there is one scene to define Frances Ha then it is the obvious one of Frances running and dancing through the street of New York to David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’. It is a homage to a similar moment in Mauvais Sang (1986), fittingly by French New Wave inspired director Leos Carax, as well as being the type of non-narrative moment that characterised loose narrative films by Cassavetes and Truffaut. More importantly it expresses Frances’s endless enthusiasm and love of life in a film not defined by a romantic interest or an obvious goal. Her euphoric dance through the streets is an act of gleeful defiance against convention, just as the film is itself. There are no simple life lessons or morals here. Frances’s dance is saying that modern life, like modern love, ‘terrifies me’ but it also ‘makes me party’ and that is what Frances, the film and the audience embrace.

Thomas Caldwell, 2013

MIFF 2013 recommendations part 3

24 July 2013

Melbourne International Film Festival 2013

Here is my final batch of MIFF 2013 recommendations before the festival kicks off. Don’t forget to check out part 1 and part 2, and I hope my thoughts on the films below are helpful. In fact, you could do a lot worse than seeing the first three films on this list, which make a sort of unofficial indie trilogy about 20-somethings adrift in three of the greatest cities in the world (after Melbourne of course):

Frances Ha

Frances Ha

This energetic celebration of friendship and the awkwardness of modern life provides one of the most  joyous cinema experiences in years. A feel-good film with substance and integrity.

2 Autumns, 3 Winters

A formally playful French indie about love, friendship and the dramas of life, which uses its self-awareness to draw in the viewer rather than distance them.

Oh Boy

The deadpan humour and mild absurdism of this film set over 24 hours in the life of an aimless young man living in Berlin, becomes a deeply moving film about collective memory.

A Touch of Sin

An expertly made and powerful commentary on social inequality in modern day China, told through four overlapping stories with violent resolutions.

Harmony Lessons

Harmony Lessons

An unsettling school drama set in Kazakhstan about a boy bullied by another student with ties to an organised extortion ring. This slow burn film undermines expectations, plays with audience sympathies and sparingly uses dream sequences to powerful effect.

A Hijacking

The realism in this film about a Danish boat captured by Somali pirates delivers a fascinating insight into hostage negotiations as well as delivering a tense thriller.

I Am Devine

A heartfelt, in-depth and entertaining documentary about Harris Glenn Milstead and his alter-ego Devine; muse to John Waters and counter-culture/queer icon.

These Final Hours

These Final Hours

An  end-of-the-world thriller/drama featuring a man attempting to get to a hedonistic party to spend his remaining time on the planet in a state of ignorant bliss. However, he discovers that there could be better ways to use what little time he has left in this constantly surprising and highly accomplished new Australian film.

Valentine Road

A sobering documentary about a hate crime murder committed in a classroom and the subsequent trial, which raises issues concerning community culpability, marginalisation of LGBTI youth, how intolerance escalates into violence and victim blaming.

Blackbird

Another film to examine school violence and persecution, but with the twist of having the main character – a bullied loner who foolishly publishes online a cathartic revenge story – getting falsely accused of planning a high school massacre.

From the films I’ve seen so far I also recommend people check out Ilo IloA World Not Ours and Twisted Trunk, Big Fat Body.  I also had a lot of fun watching I Declare WarPatrick, Lesson of the Evil and Rewind This! And I really urge people to go to at least one or two of the Short Film Packages.

Finally, there are a number of films I’m really hoping to see during the festival and some of those are Leviathan, 3x3D, Omar, Like Father, Like Son, Ginger and Rosa, The Dance of Reality, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Bastards, The Pervert‘s Guide to Ideology and pretty much everything in the Shining Violence: Italian Giallo section.

Have a great MIFF!

Thomas Caldwell
Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator
Melbourne International Film Festival

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