Sunday, January 12, 2014

2013: Year in Review: An Introduction

Ranking movies – especially on the basis of something as arbitrary as a 12 month period – is admittedly kind of a silly exercise. It’s easier to rank films of a certain director or actor, or in a certain genre, although they all present difficulties as well. Take 2013 for example – according to some all three of Upstream Color, Her and Gravity are science fiction films – according to others, none of them are. But even if we except that all three are “real” sci-fi – how can you rank three wildly different films, with wildly different budgets and wildly different goals? Throw in the rest of 2013’s films – from all genres – and making something like a top 10 list becomes rather difficult. It would be easy – and tempting – to do what Manhola Dargis does in the New York Times ever year – and just throw out 15-20 titles in random order and leave it at that. I’m not going to do that however for a few reasons. The first being, I like making lists. I know it’s silly but I enjoy doing it. The second being I do believe there is value is setting a criteria for what we each deem the “best” of the year. I also believe that the value in the year end horse race that is Oscar season is not so much the movies and individuals who win awards, but in having an annual conversation about what we define as the best the medium has to offer. Everyone should have their own criteria for determining what that means. Even if you and I have similar tastes in movies, there is bound to be movies we disagree greatly on. That is a good thing. Consensus – which is what awards season is based around – not rewarding the best films per se, but the ones that the greatest number of people can agree on – can be interesting in and of itself, but I always like to seek out the individual lists from critics I like and get their take. When you do a list yourself, there are no compromises.  Awards seasons is full of compromises.

Let me be clear here – I love the Oscars and Oscar season – at least to a certain extent. I used to be one of those people who followed every in and out of the campaign – starting with the fall festivals of Telluride, Toronto and Venice – and heading right through to Oscar night. I don’t do that much anymore. It simply got too tiring – there was too much vitriol and hatred out there in Oscar campaigns and message boards for me. It probably started back in 2005 – where an average film, Crash, beat a great film in Brokeback Mountain. That, in itself, is nothing new. I didn’t agree with the Academy’s choice – but technically, I wouldn’t have agreed had they picked Brokeback either – my favorite of the nominees that year was Steven Spielberg’s Munich – and I thought that both Michael Haneke’s Cache and David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence was better than anything that was nominated. 2005 was a long, ugly Oscar season with such hatred being spewed by supporters of Crash and especially Brokeback Mountain towards each other; it took the fun out of the season. To me, Oscar season has become to many something like that – you pick your favorite film, and then spend all of your time bashing its competition. But what if I don’t want to do that? What if I may think of the films with a realistic shot at winning the Oscar for Best Picture this year, that 12 Years a Slave is the best, does that mean I have to spend all my time bashing Gravity and American Hustle? I hope not. I may not be a huge fan of American Hustle – I think that, like Crash, it’s an average movie – but I cannot really find much in the way of hatred towards it. Last year was the ugliest Oscar campaign since 2005 – Katherine Bigelow’s excellent Zero Dark Thirty pretty much got swift boated out of the race before it began by idiots who thought it endorsed torture, and when that was effectively killed, everyone turned against Spielberg’s excellent Lincoln, because – SHOCK – it fudged a few facts. No one seemed all that upset that eventual best picture Argo was pretty much entirely fiction. This year, the dogs of war have been let loose on Saving Mr. Banks – a film I’m not a big fan of, but one I never expected to be the “full account” of what really happened between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers. Life is too messy to be summarized in a single movie.

My purpose in doing the ridiculously thorough year in review posts that will come over the next few days is simple. First, I want to lay out what I think the best work of the year was. The reason I do a top 30 – as well as separate posts for docs and animation and a top 10 for each individual Oscar category (as well as ensembles) is because I want to expand the conversation a little bit in my small corner of the internet. Some of the films that I list are coming nowhere near awards season this year – that’s okay, only so many can. But I do think that the film world would be richer if instead of writing another piece piling on to the whitewashing of Saving Mr. Banks or the ways that 12 Years a Slave is not the “definitive” slave story (not that it ever pretended to be) or trying to figure out if the Gorfeins are Mike’s parents, or if the various cats are meant to be Llewyn Davis in the Coen’s latest, if instead we discussed what some of the other films I will list mean. Instead of simply singing the praises – again – for the great work by Robert Redford, why can we not discuss the great work by Tye Sheridan in Mud? Instead of just Cate Blanchatt, why not Amy Seimetz? You will find many of the “usual” suspects in this awards season discussed in these posts – many are the “usual” suspects for a reason – they are among the best of the year – but why does the conversation have to be so limited?

As always, I missed some of the movie I should have seen – or else never got a chance to see them. Even when I see about 230 films a year that will happen. Among the films I wish I could have seen are At Berkeley, Viola, In a World, After Tiller, Let the Fire Burn, The Square and Gloria. With the exception of In a World – which I had multiple chances to see and just didn’t get around to it (it comes to video soon, and I look forward to it) – the rest I never had a chance to see – outside of TIFF for a few of them. And two films that would have easily have been mentioned at some point in the following posts had I not considered them 2012 films deserve a special shout-out – Sarah Polley’s brilliant Stories We Tell, which was released here in Canada in the fall of 2012, and I named it the best documentary of that year – and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s exceptional debut film Neighboring Sounds – which I did see in 2013, but by my standard in a 2012 film. I already a few candidates for next year’s list courtesy of TIFF – David Gordon Green’s Joe, Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin, Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin and Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By the Lake – chief among them (along with two candidates for the worst of list next year – James Franco’s Child of God, assuming it gets released, and Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot). Unlike some, I don’t see much of a point in including these films on a 2013 list when few have had a chance to see them yet.

I welcome feedback on my choices. I would rather be told what your thoughts are on the best of the year rather than you simply calling me an idiot for ranking your favorite so low (or not at all) and ranking some piece of shit so high – but I suppose there is room for all. As always though, what follows is my list. If you don’t like it, make your own. Everyone else has.

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