(“Integrity with a growl”. I should put that on some business cards.)
(There will be occasional, optional referrals to other pages of Cool Older Shit and I make no apologies for those.)
(Also: Nothing that appears on this blog is “content”. Ever.)
Not doing a list this year. I did think about it. But, honestly, shuffling films into some sort of “this is better than that” hierarchy is a massive, meaningless, time-consuming and ultimately fruitless endeavour / ballache. So, I’m just going to rap a while about the things that I dug in 2013 in no particular order. Although there were five films that towered above all others for me this year. So I’ll start here, with:
Pablo Larraín’s No - A two-pronged celebration of both the outcome of Pinochet's 1988 plebiscite in Chile and the grungy lo-fi joys of U-matic videotape. Just glorious.
Spring Breakers - I've rhapsodised about Harmony Korine's day-glo feverdream at great length already here.
Drug War - I love everything that Johnnie To does, so you won’t find me wheeling out hackneyed phrases like “return to form” here. An exhilarating police procedural that is as hugely entertaining as it is, ultimately, bleak. Imagine To's PTU shot through with the sensibility of David Simon's The Wire.
The Lone Ranger - Another film that I've already written about at passionate length here.
Paulo Sorrentino trained his camera on The Great Beauty of Rome and the expressive crevasses of Toni Servillo’s swaggering, insouciant, hangdog face in this magnificent film that plays like Antonioni’s La Notte spiked with a hypodermic of Lynchian dissonance.
Those were the five standouts, but there were some other moments that have continued to percolate insistently in the last year:
Both Warm Bodies and Oblivion reassured me that, regardless of your apocalyptic flavour of choice, when the end of the world comes, we’ll all go back to listening to vinyl.
The most sensual moment of Blue is the Warmest Colour is fully-clothed - bolognese sauce smeared clumsily across Adèle’s lips as she devours a family meal. A manipulative, exhausting, intimate, intense and enthralling film where nothing feels like a performance - it feels more like eavesdropping or voyeurism. Adèle Exarchopoulos's open, raw vulnerability in particular is extraordinary.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Nicolas Winding Refn is essentially a gifted trickster plagiarist. With Only God Forgives, Refn raids his DVD collection and appropriates his favourite cinematic surfaces (Chris Doyle & Wong Kar Wai; Noé; Cronenberg; Park Chan-wook; Lynch; Argento; Carpenter) but forgoes substance. It isn't a bad film - it's just very irritating and ultimately it isn't about anything. It's all just a pose. Refn is having a WongKarWank. However, the moment where Kristin Scott Thomas casually tosses off the insult “How many cocks can you entertain with that cute little cum-dumpster of yours?” will stay with me for some time...
I was one of the few people happy to see Walter Hill back on the big screen with Bullet to the Head, even if it is just a minor footnote to an amazing body of work. Turns out they do make 'em like they used to. Racial tension, bar brawls and gun fights, all shot through with Hill’s preoccupation with tenacious, brutally-efficient men. “Kinda fun, isn't it? Just you and me, two professionals, only one gets away.” Bullet to the Head makes for a solid triptych with 48 Hrs. and Red Heat. Welcome back, Walter. Don't stay away so long next time, OK?
Quentin Tarantino returned for another rip-roaring rampage of revenge with Django Unchained, a film peppered with memorable moments in the tradition of Howard Hawks ("A good movie is three good scenes and no bad scenes."). From the sight of Dr. King Schultz’s wobbly tooth wagon riding into town, to the immensely satisfying moment when Django utters the endlessly quotable “I like the way you die, boy”, to the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie slams his hand down on the table against a crystal glass, gashing it open. Unplanned, unscripted and entirely unintentional, no-one breaks character as the blood begins to pour.
Other notables that gave me great pleasure this year include the realisation of all my 8-bit dreams writ large in Wreck-it-Ralph and the woefully-underseen and entirely magnificent The Kings of Summer. And the only real fault I can find with Pacific Rim is that terrible, unrepresentative title, which only evokes watery anilingus.
Two films that I seem unable to separate in my memory are Stoker and The Paperboy, straddling both sides of American Gothic a little bit like Nicole Kidman straddling Zac Efron to see if that hoary old chestnut about pissing on a jellyfish sting is true. Stoker comes at things from the chilly, clinical razor-sharp outsider’s perspective of Park Chan-wook, whereas The Paperboy roots around in the dirt in all its sweaty, lustful, grimy squalor. (And I heartily recommend taking a look at Park’s process in staging the spider scene in Stoker via his storyboards here).
A look back at the year would be lacking somewhat without two squat yellow dildo-shaped things giggling uncontrollably over the word "bottom". Over to you, Despicable Me 2:
My highpoints in the head-cracking, explodo stakes included Nick Frost busting out the bar-stools at The World’s End, the President of the United States accidentally dropping a rocket-launcher in the middle of a car chase on the White House lawn in White House Down, and the sight of Mjölnir navigating the curves and corners of London searching for its master in Thor The Dark World.
Ron Howard’s Rush was a blast and is a fine companion piece to Asif Kapadia’s Senna. The real star of Rush is the sound design. Second billing goes to Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography. In third place, Daniel Brühl. And whoever decided not to have Russell Crowe cameo as Richard Burton (as rumoured) deserves an Executive Producer credit.
It was a fine year for the London Film Festival too. Keep a look out in 2014 for the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, in which Jodo recruits a crew of spiritual warriors (including Moebius, HR Giger and Chris Foss) to dream a film that reverberated through the future of science-fiction cinema for almost forty years and counting. And it never even got made. Heartening, beautiful, funny and even occasionally awe-inspiring.
Another LFF treat was Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, a gorgeous, gloriously opaque giallo (or should that be "jaune"?) that was enhanced by the fact that the house curtains accidentally closed five minutes before the end, resulting in the projection of the denouement directly onto the curtains, adding an additional layer of woozy unreality. My initial impression (and this is a film that requires far more than just one viewing): Berberian Studio Apartment.
Loath as I am to talk trash about stuff I didn't like, sometimes I've just got to be that guy. The Most Heinous Piece of Shit award goes to V/H/S, which I've already griped about enough for one lifetime. To revisit that particular tirade, click here.
Runner-Up: Frances Ha. I know a lot of people like this sort of thing, but I’ll never, ever get it. Because I just don’t see the appeal of wallowing in the grumbles and gripes of self-entitled middle-class white people. (You know, every time I hear the theme tune from Friends, I want to stick my fist through a TV screen.) Frances Ha is a Greta Gerwig film where, for a change, Greta Gerwig plays the least irritating character. This isn't an endorsement. I just don't get the whole Greta Gerwig thing at all. She just seems to be Zooey Deschanel 2.0.
I didn’t like Man of Steel much at all. A Superman film can be a lot of things, but I don't think "joyless" and "humourless" should be two of them. Smeared with a grim, bleached-out colour palette, and spectacle that indicates that the visual effects of 1978 are superior to those of 2013, it's jarring to watch a film that clearly cost a lot of money, yet makes an effort to look so grubby and cheap. That effect that looks like a camera pulling focus on CG objects that aren't there? I don't like it. The saddest thing about Man of Steel for me is that it seems embarrassed and apologetic about being a superhero movie. Embrace the hyper-reality & absurdity! Yet, having said all of that, there is one moment that I just can’t shake: Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) taking one last proud, wistful look back at his son Clark before disappearing into the eye of the storm. But I think that probably says more about me than about the film. Have at thee, Jungians!
And that’s a wrap.