The theme of the year (if it can ever be boiled down to just one thing) is that "GREED is no longer GOOD, it is complicated." Perhaps this is just fall out from filmmaking projects that likely were conceived at about the low-point of the world economic meltdown of 2008-2009. Nevertheless, the nefarious means of acquiring wealth and fame in pursuit of becoming the 1% was featured in nearly a dozen films where those willing to go through hell to 'get theirs' was examined in various modes: The Counselor, American Hustle, The Bling Ring, The Wolf of Wall St., Spring Breakers, Pain and Gain, and to a lesser extent, The Great Gatsby, Elysium and The Brass Teapot.
As per usual, most of the good movies were hiding in the margins, ignored by the multiplex crowd that keep gorging on franchise extruded superhero noise, kid-oriented CGI animation, and yet another 3 hour tour of Middle Earth. If 90% of everything is crap, then it is up to us to look a little closer to find the good stuff.
The disappointment of several glossy science fiction films movies including Oblivion, Elysium, Pacific Rim and Ender's Game (the less said about the embarrassment that was Star Trek: Into Darkness, the better) was more than offset by the technical bravura of Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity which was a marvel on the big screen, something as significant as Jurassic Park (which itself got a tepid 3D re-release) was a decade ago in terms of how Hollywood can indeed provide great entertainment while pushing technology without sacrificing good storytelling. The more intimate science fiction like Her, Upstream Color, Under The Skin and if you want to stretch into documentary territory, Jodorowsky's Dune, offered satisfaction that there is always fresh soil to till.
It was a horrendous year for American animated movies (oh, how I pine for another year like 2009) that have fallen into a predictable and lame sequel/prequel pattern that has gobbled up all the big studio money for the past half-dozen years. Disney raked in the profits but undoubtedly has consumed Pixar's soul for prequelizing Monster's Inc. and even considering (let alone actually making and wide releasing) Planes. The exception was Miyazaki Hayao's retirement self-eulogy film on life, war and creative endeavours, The Wind Rises, which was indeed fantastic. I regret missing Ari Folman's The Congress on the festival circuit.
And our old friend Harvey is up to his old tricks again, thus I missed out on both Snowpiercer and The Grandmasters, hopefully someone on this side of the pond will get English subtitled prints of the Asian cuts of the films by two of cinema's great popular stylists.
Below are my 13 favourites of the past, quite robust year of 2013, viewed at festivals or in my hometown of Toronto, listed in no particular order
UNDER THE SKIN
Capital “C” cinema, Jonathan Glazer takes a page out of the Stanley Kubrick playbook, and offers a look at the human condition with a detached godlike eye. A buxom Venus fly-trap (Scarlett Johansson who had the year of her career in 2013) entraps men for nefarious other-worldly purposes before possibly finding some sort of moral anchor within herself.
Often obtuse, dabbling in the formal and the deeply intimate, and shot like a motherfucker, Under The Skin is challenging and immersive, visceral and intellectual, playful and vicious. I came out of the screening of this film more elated than any other film this year, knowing I had just seen something that finds new cinematic frontiers whilst standing on the shoulders of giants.
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