Thursday, 12 December 2013

2013 film countdown, part 1: an unexpected journey

Alright, whoa, this blog hasn't been used in a while. Skimming through the last few posts is like going through old boxes of things at your parents' house and finding dusty keepsakes that make you say, "What was I thinking?" Fortunately, the first post in five years (!) will not be about looking back but moving forward. By looking back. Hmm.

In part inspired by movie and book countdowns of Fletchers Jez and Sam and in part because I have a lot of time to kill these days, I present to you my best and worst in film of 2013. I'll be shamelessly plagiarising a format of Jez and Sam have famously (infamously?) used, listing things in a non-conventional order for added effect; to give it more "oomph", if you will. Is "oomph" still a thing these days?

Anyway, the format is as follows: #10-6, bottom 5, honourable mentions, top 5. Each will have a separate post, and I'll repeat the process for non-2013 films closer to the end of the year. (With the possible exception of the second Hobbit movie, I don't think I will see any other 2013 films this year, while I still plan to watch a few more non-2013 films before the year is done.) So prepare yourself for an 8-post spectacular. Unless I change my mind about the format halfway through.

2013 in film: #10-6

10) Elysium

Neill Blomkamp's follow-up to District 9 was good enough to make me copy and paste Neill Blomkamp's name from IMDb. (It's difficult to remember the spelling, shut up.)

It's the near future and the very wealthy live on Elysium, an orbital space station, while the rest of the world live on an Earth that has turned into a giant slum. Living conditions are appalling and only the few on Elysium have access to miraculous life-saving medical technology. I don't actually get why this technology isn't available everywhere. It'd just make sense and solve a lot of problems. But I guess that's the idealist in me talking, and it does accentuate that vast poverty gap that forms the basis of the film. Anyway, Matt Damon plays a slum native that gets involved in a plot to even things up a little bit, etc. etc., cue action scenes.

This is a solid sci-fi actioner with a smattering of social commentary, which makes it hard not to compare it to District 9, though that's not a bad thing; the depth it adds to the story is refreshing in an era where 3D, CG, and explosions are king. Speaking of which, some of the visuals, especially those of Elysium, are spectacular, and action-wise there's enough happening to keep you interested for the duration of the film. Matt Damon and Jodie Foster are good as always, but the highlight for me was Sharlto Copley (wow, I didn't even need to copy and paste that), the protagonist from District 9, playing the over-the-top baddie of this film. That accent alone deserves a top 10 ranking.

9) Before Midnight

The only sequel to make my top 10, this is the third (and possibly final) part of Richard Linklater's Before series. It's also the most complex.

Some plot spoilers if you haven't seen Before Sunrise and Before Sunset: after the events of the second film, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) end up staying together, getting married, and having two kids. It's nine years later (I do love how Linklater waited about that long to release the movie, much like the gap between Sunrise and Sunset) and the family is on a holiday in Greece, staying at a famous writer's estate. It's clear from the start that the couple are struggling with various issues to do with family and work, and this plays itself out throughout the film.

In some ways, Before Midnight is the most important film in the trilogy; this is what it's all been building up to. There's a lot more history between the two now, as opposed to the first two films. There's more at stake. The issues they discuss have a lot more weight. Linklater also does a good job of making you feel like this relationship has developed organically over nine years.

I'm in two minds about the inclusion of other characters in this film. It introduced an added layer to the two-person dynamic of the series, while at the same time taking away from that charm of seeing just these two people interact with each other for an entire film. That said, the key scenes are still the ones between Jesse and Celine.

This is a great film, and a strong third act in a delightful series.

8) Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett knocks it out of the park in this Woody Allen retelling of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire in modern San Francisco.

Jasmine (Blanchett) arrives at the San Francisco apartment of her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and it's clear that there's something not quite right with her. She's fled from her New York life and, despite flying first class, claims to have no money to her name. She sometimes talks to herself and she constantly lies to cover up some dark secret. Through flashbacks, we are slowly shown what triggered her downward spiral. In the periphery are the lives of others, including her sister's, all in some way affected by her unstable personality.

Acclaimed as one of the best Woody Allen films of recent times (I can't personally account for this as I've seen so few of his films), Blue Jasmine is a multi-layered, often funny, and ultimately harrowing look into a person's life out of control. For me, the clear stand-out is Blanchett's performance as Jasmine. She acts the hell out of it and I'd be very surprised if she doesn't win a few awards for her role.

7) Frances Ha

Greta Gerwig co-writes and stars in this charming little comedy-drama. Or is it a drama-comedy?

20-something New Yorker Frances Halladay, played by Gerwig, has her comfortable status quo disturbed when friend and housemate, Sophie, decides to move in with another friend. This event leads her to reassess her life and questioning her career as a dancer.

Shot in black-and-white and seemingly with a low budget, I liked the understated style of this movie. Thematically, it appealed to me on a personal level more than any other film this year, with the journey to discover oneself mirroring my current situation in real life (or "IRL" for those playing along).

I was really impressed with this one and I'm interested to see more works from Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach.

6) Much Ado About Nothing

Whoa, two black-and-white films in a row. What madness is this? Concluding the first post in this countdown epic is Joss Whedon's low budget and modern take on the Bard's classic comedy of errors not named The Comedy of Errors, starring many familiar Whedonverse faces.

The main action follows two couples, both vastly different in their personalities and relationships. The straightforward romances are complicated by scheming and mistaken identity, usually to comedic effect.

I found this a whole lot of fun. I've never seen the play on stage so I only had the script to go on, but thought this adaptation nails it in the execution. There were only few changes to Shakespeare's original dialogue but it's clear Whedon put a lot of thought into non-dialogue portions of the script. All the beats were just right, it was snappy, the acting was great (Fillion almost steals the show as Dogberry), and it's beautifully shot. It certainly made me appreciate the source material a lot more.

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