ScreenAnarchy's Best Of 2013 - Biggest Surprise

U.S. Editor; Los Angeles, California (@benumstead)
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The year that was 2013 has almost run its course, so the time has come for Team ScreenAnarchy to pool its ever-growing troupe of contributors from the four corners of the planet, gather its collective thoughts and pay special tribute to those films that have made a particularly strong impact over the past twelve months.

Surprises can come in all shapes and sizes. For us at ScreenAnarchy these surprises were films we originally expected to dislike, while others were flicks that seemingly came out of nowhere to our absolute delight and awe. From neon-lit nightmares to the hours we keep in the museum, from cheap thrills to cannibal families, death-dealing judges and kid cops, here are our biggest surprises of 2013.     

Todd Brown, Peter Martin, Ryland Aldrich, James Marsh, Brian Clark, Ben Umstead, Jaime Grijalba Gomez, Shelagh Rowan-Legg, Ard Vijn, Patryk Czekaj, Joshua Chaplinsky, Eric Ortiz Garcia, Niels Matthijs, Kurt Halfyard, Christopher O'Keeffe, Dustin Chang, Jim Tudor, Ben Croll, Pierce Conran, Jason Gorber, Ernesto Zelaya Miñano and Kwenton Bellette contributed to this story.

Only God Forgives

Ben Umstead - East Coast Editor
When it comes to transgressive films I've generally appreciated Nicolas Winding Refn's attitude and approach, but never been fully in love with the offerings. Well, that changed with Only God Forgives. OGF is an abstract action film formed from the moments in-between and parallel to the violence we expect. Ruminative, haunting and surreal, I think it's his first all out masterpiece.

Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg - Contributing writer
I've always approached Refn's films as intellectual exercises in filmmaking; I did not expect to love this film, but I did with great passion.

Ernesto Zelaya Miñano - Contributing writer
Normally I despise artsy, slow-moving cryptic stuff - but it worked for this film. It's an engrossing, beautiful looking movie.

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More about ScreenAnarchy's Best of 2013

omnisemantic1December 19, 2013 11:48 AM

lol i had the exact same with "pain and gain"

CHUDDecember 19, 2013 1:18 PM

What is happening with Kid's Police? Will we get it in the States in any format? I tried looking into it a while back and there was nothing.

Todd BrownDecember 19, 2013 1:22 PM

Man, I really hope so. There's a whole TV series of it, too, which is apparently just as good as the movie and I want to see it!

Will SchusterDecember 19, 2013 1:22 PM

The world needs more Dredd

muckermanDecember 19, 2013 3:55 PM

If you're in L.A. I've seen the DVD at the Mitsuwa market video store. Forget if it had english subtitles, but I think it did because I made note to go back and try to rent it. But yes, an official release would be nice along with an official release for Miike's Ninja Kids.

Liam BillinghamDecember 19, 2013 4:14 PM

Mr. Umstead,

I have to say I'm intrigued by your thoughts on this. OGF satisfied my love for slow moving, odd, introspective cinema, but only superficially. I look to recent Romanian film and Turkey (Ceylan in particular) for this stuff. This film, above all, made me wonder if perhaps Mr. Refn, who as a filmmaker i find it impossible not to admire, may be an overgrown boy with 'artsy' pretensions. Moreover, I worry this film borders, or hell, dives straight on, into a level of gleeful misogyny. There is so much to be admired, but I have mixed feelings about it. For me, his masterwork is Valhalla.

I'd love to talk more about it.

BenUmsteadDecember 19, 2013 7:18 PM

Refn is probably an overgrown boy who happened to be a wunderkind, and so that went straight to his head. He admits to as much with his early aspirations.

The superficiality of the film, I feel, is just as strong as the spiritual elements are i.e the urban, modern, vapid life butting right up against old rituals and deeper beliefs. The detective is, in mythological terms, god, of course, and the father figure. KST is the opposing force for Gosling's stooge/pawn, who in the mythological sense is a sleepwalker figure, someone who senses, knows, but does not always understand what he is seeing, or supposed to do, even. So the film may feel superficial because it merely operates from a place of archetypes. I feel it owns that though.

Liam BillinghamDecember 19, 2013 7:23 PM

Really interesting thought. I actually just put it on the background, but it's deserving of more of my attention than that.
If your feeling is that the film operates in archetypes, how does it justify it's extreme violence? The violence in the film doesn't really feel that rooted to me, and more than that, it doesn't come from a place that feels in synch with how the film operates, at lest. I can appreciate the extreme violence at the end of, say, Antichrist. It felt built into the narrative there, as it did in Bronson and Valhalla. I didn't see it here.

However, what you've been saying has inspired me to watch the film again. I do agree there is more to it than meets the eye, but I often if the violence gets in the way of that.

Dave BaxterDecember 19, 2013 8:19 PM

I'm with Liam on this one. I watched OGF two days ago, went in with zero expectation (I didn't even know what it was supposed to be about, or who was in it besides Gosling), and while I appreciated the very early Lynchian visuals and pace of the film (half the film felt like the dream/vision sequences of Twin Peaks, the other half like Blue Velvet) it all felt very unjustified and void of content, meaning, or impact. It just...was there. I won't argue that maybe you could look at the whole thing as archetypes at play, but I think that definition doesn't address the thinness of its material - archetypes are fundamentally hollow and overly broad elements.

To make a whole film with nothing but stylized archetypes could be alternately defined as making a film that hasn't been developed beyond fundamental concepts, yet making it scene-by-scene anyway. I'm sure that some will dig that, but this seems far from worthy of any "top" list of the year. I can't help but think that if anyone else had made this, it would have been marked as interesting and a director worth watching, but hardly a stellar or original debut.

EDIT: Lol, and i see OGF also made it onto the "Biggest Disappointments" list. Maybe it IS fitting to be on both, as divisive as it seems to have been.

ArnpriorDecember 19, 2013 8:39 PM

HELLS Yeah! FINALLY some love for DREDD!

BenUmsteadDecember 19, 2013 8:42 PM

It certainly is a work that divides people!

My sense of it is that much of the violence is actually off screen or emphasized through other elements other than the image.

The film isn't very rooted, yes. It just sort of floats, but that to me makes it all the more alluring and strange. I love it since it is void of content... in some sense of that word and such.

So in regards to the plotting and development, I know for a fact Refn eliminated a lot of elements, scenes, dialog that was in the script. He paired down, distilled to the most lean, minimal essence.

All this may make more sense if I explain my feelings towards his previous works. These older films have felt largely hollow and devoid of much outside of the anger and violence, so getting to that essence with OGF, just playing in what he's best at (transgressive imagery with operatic undertones) made this one really click for me.

As for "top list" material, keep in mind these are the group lists. Our personal lists will end up looking quite different, though OGF will make it into my top 25 easily.

Dave BaxterDecember 20, 2013 4:37 AM

Jaime: keep tabs on Barroco for us. I can't find any info on rights/release dates, so obviously nothing much has happened with it yet. But I want to know when it finally does.