Monday, 23 December 2013

2013 film countdown, part 4: the final countdown

Alright. This is it.

So good.

Oh, and I guess I should write about my top 5 films of 2013 as well.

2013 in film: top 5

5) Pacific Rim

Apparently, director Guillermo del Toro couldn't get a live action Neon Genesis movie going so he made his own giant robots vs. giant monsters flick instead.

The human race are in a desperate battle against Kaiju, monsters from a trans-dimensional rift in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Many years into the war, the last remaining Jaegers, giant human-controlled mecha, are corralled together in an effort to fight back against increasingly dangerous Kaiju.

I thought this was a real treat. It does exactly what it says on the tin. To see the giant robots (technically mecha, yes, but "giant robots" sounds better) do battle on the big screen without the stupid stylistic choices of a Michael Bay film was great. Specifically, when you've spent so much on fancy CG and special effects, it's nice to be able to actually see what's happening.

The dialogue and acting in this is not the best, but it does carry a certain charm, like action movies of old. Idris Elba is good as Stacker Pentecost, head honcho of the Jaeger program, and delivers the definitive cheesy line of the movie, "we're cancelling the apocalypse!"

For me, this was the biggest geek-out of the year. It may not be considered the pinnacle of film-making, but it was a hell of a lot of fun, and fun is the name of the game.

4) Amour

From Michael Haneke comes the only foreign-language entry in my top 10, and perhaps the most depressing film of the year.

Georges and Anne are an old French couple, both retired music teachers. One day, Anne suffers a paralysing stroke and Georges has to take care of her. Anne is adamantly against going back to hospital and as her condition deteriorates she loses her will to live. While Anne is undergoing physical duress, the emotional strain on Georges and their relationship becomes increasingly palpable.

This is a heart-wrenching yet beautiful film about the power of love. Emmanuelle Riva is incredible in this and I feel she should have won the Academy Award for best actress (which went to Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook). Though it appears uncharacteristically restrained from Haneke, there are many layers working here. For instance, while Anne is still well (or relatively well), we hear a lot of classical music, as it is an important part of their lives. As things progress, we hear less and less, and the silence in the couple's apartment becomes almost oppressive.

I almost wish I had put down all of my thoughts of this film in writing as soon as I saw it because it is one of those films that would be difficult to watch a second time due to its subject matter.

3) Stories We Tell

The highest-ranked documentary in my list this year is from actress/film-maker Sarah Polley and tells the tale of her family. Presenting differing takes on the same subject, Polley's mother, the film is also a study on how we tell stories based on truth, rumour, and memory, and how sometimes not everything is as it seems.

I thought this was a clever film and the way it handles the topic and the theme simultaneously makes for an entertaining and intriguing hour and a half. Despite a focus on different perspectives--complete, incomplete, reliable, unreliable, etc.-- this is a very personal story for the director, and it is very much her version of it. Which, perhaps, is why it works so well.

2) Gravity

In my first post, I made fun of 3D, CG, and IMAX. I take it back, just for this entry.

Sandra Bullock is Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first space mission while George Clooney is Matt Kowalsky, a veteran astronaut on his last. During a spacewalk, they are hit with disaster and must struggle to survive against the odds.

Bullock, I thought, put in some of her best work in this one. Clooney is, well, Clooney. Not that that's a bad thing. Apart from that, it does away with too much character development and is thrill after sci-fi thrill for most of its duration.

Despite me being, for the most part, anti-3D, this was one film I saw with those silly-looking polarised glasses and is, probably, the first movie whose use of 3D I felt was justified. Not only does it bring us closer to (and further from) the characters, it is also adds to the stunning beauty of the film. It has some of the best cinematography this year and does an excellent job of showcasing the Earth and humanity set against the vastness of space. There's this scene near the start where the gravity of the situation (ay? ay?) is accentuated by an extreme close up of one of the main characters as they literally hurtle through space for what seems like several minutes--one of the most terrifying edge-of-your-seat movie moments of the year. One of the next shots is an extreme long shot, as if to suggest that that character's plight, and that of humans in general, is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

The sound design and music are great, too, with many moments set in the silence of space, the astronauts (and, by extension, the audience) only hearing the noises within their suits and through their comms system. In space, nobody can hear you scream, etc. etc. The music ramps up ominously during particularly exciting sequences but lets the lack of sound do the work for the most part. It was one of those nice touches of science fact placed into a science fiction film.

Speaking of which, one of the more amusing reactions to the film was when Neil deGrasse Tyson ripped on Gravity's inconsistencies and followed up by highlighting some of its scientific merits.

Every year I see maybe a couple of movies that remind me just why I love going to the cinema so much. This year, Gravity was one of them.
This was another, and it is my favourite 2013 film (and favourite overall film) that I saw in 2013. It's also the only one I watched twice this year.

Shane Carruth brings us this enigmatic gem nine years after the release of Primer, his low-budget indie sci-fi classic (can I fit any more descriptives here?).

Kris struggles to piece her life back together after she wakes up to find she has lost weeks in her memory, her house is in a mess, and her belongings and money have been stolen. She meets Jeff, another lost soul, and together they begin to discover similarities to their stories.

Carruth continues to be tight on budget by hiring himself to play a Jeff while also providing the score. Seimetz, also an independent film-maker, is a talent to watch out for, and is excellent as Kris.

Much like Gravity, this is a visual and aural feast, never really relenting with what it presents to you. However, that's where the comparisons end. Unlike Gravity, its shots are short and mostly with a shallow depth of field. Furthermore, the ambient electronic soundtrack is atmospheric yet almost overwhelming at times. These contribute perfectly to the sense of disorientation that the characters are feeling.

Disorientation is something that this film does not lack in. Where Primer was (necessarily) temporally disjointed, Upstream Color is, mostly, narratively sequential. However, it creates that puzzle-like quality by bombarding you with scenes with minimal exposition. Much like the characters in the film, you are forced to figure out for yourself what exactly is happening, how things fit together. At its heart is a message about taking control when everything seems to be controlling you.

There's so much more to this film and I could go on and on about it, but it's best to see for yourself. It's hard to define. I guess you could call it a sci-fi film, but it's also a mystery, and a romance, a drama, a thriller. Ultimately, it's just a really well-made film that deserves attention.

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