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


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

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

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

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 (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 (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 (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 – Amour (2012)

24 February 2013
Amour: Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant)

Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant)

Even though Amour has been released internationally under its French name, it is still a film titled Love. While many films often have the word ‘love’ in the title, few filmmakers are as bold (or perhaps foolish) to have that loaded word used as the title for their film. This is probably because most films about love are really about romance or other idealised variations about what love is. Few films really explore the question of what it means to love, not necessarily because of the complexity that is potentially involved, but because of the challenge required to express an understanding of love at its purest. Filmmaker Michael Haneke has approached the task by depicting the slow decline of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), an elderly woman living in Paris whose husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) looks after her as her body and then mind start to fail. The result is a triumph for Haneke and a deeply beautiful film.

As a filmmaker renowned for his ability to provoke, challenge and confront audiences with their own hypocrisy, Haneke may not seem like an obvious choice to make a film about love. However, he is perfect because of his ability to remove all traces of sentimentality and romantic notions of love that popular culture has trained audiences to believe in. So instead of young lovers discovering that they are one another’s soul mates, we see an elderly couple whose companionship has long moved on from the moment where most romance films end. Never before has Haneke’s highly formal and almost didactic approach to representing human behaviour so clearly expose him as a humanist at heart.

The film opens with Haneke asserting that the audience are voyeurs, witnesses to a private space and occupying an ethically ambiguous position. It is a favourite technique of Haneke’s and here it is established with a flashforward of the authorities bursting into Anne and Georges’s apartment; literally bursting into the space of the film in the very first frame. The film then goes back in time to show Anne and Georges enjoying a live music concert (we later learn the performer was once a student of Anne’s) before taking a train home together. As they enter their apartment they talk about somebody having broken in and how this concerns them. It is not only a typically Hanekesque moment for both recalling the flashforward and providing a narrative red herring, but it serves as a metaphor for the audience having ‘broken in’ to their lives. Later death becomes the intruder in their home. A pair of scenes involving a pigeon serves a similar purpose as it represents an unwanted visitor and also serves as a calculated distraction from other events. Eventually the pigeon exists to express the kindness that ultimately characterises the film.

Through all the difficult scenes of Anne’s decline and Georges’s frustration, kindness pervades. Even Haneke is kind towards the various supporting characters who commit acts of insensitivity to differing degrees; suggesting they have good intentions without full comprehension of the outcomes. For example, Anne’s former student Alexandre (Alexandre Tharaud) unwittingly comes across as overly dramatic in how he expresses his sympathy, leaving Anne unable to listen to his music anymore. Likewise their daughter Eve (Isabelle Huppert) seems irrational compared to her parents, but Haneke shows us that she has not been able to get accustomed to what is happening to her mother due to other parts of her life demanding her attention.

Finally there is the kindness and affection between Anne and Georges that is initially shown through their daily domestic interaction and later through the scenes of Georges looking after Anne. Both of them struggle with the fact that what is happening to Anne is robbing her of her dignity. The way the pair attempts to make the situation more bearable for the other, often against the wishes of each other, is a significant part of what makes Amour a film of such integrity. The other strength is Haneke’s meticulous framing and camera position so that the camera only ever gets as close to the characters as it needs to, rather than opting for indulgent close-ups at every opportunity to elicit easy sentiment. Amour becomes the opposite of the film that Georges saw as a child and describes to Anne, which was manipulative and completely forgettable, but shamefully left him sad beyond belief afterwards without registering its power at the time. Amour is anything but manipulative or forgettable, but its emotional power is similarly not fully felt until the final credits are rolling.

Unlike the film Georges saw, Amour is not a film to feel ashamed about for having been moved by it. It is distinctively a Haneke film and yet its formal elements and moments of self-awareness seem designed to reward the viewer rather than punish them. 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. The scenario is upsetting, but the execution is genuine and pure, making Amour a film of heartbreaking beauty and Haneke’s masterpiece.

Thomas Caldwell, 2013

85th Academy Awards nominees and predictions

11 January 2013

Australians in contention for Oscars glory

I was on ABC News Breakfast this morning to discuss the 85th Academy Awards nominees and give a few predictions. You can view all the nominees on the Oscars website and watch me discussing them on the ABC website.