Friday, February 28, 2014

The Lofgies - 2013 Edition

It's that time of the year again! Presented here, in alphabetical (not preferential) order are my top ten films of the year. Choosing ten favorites was surprisingly difficult, which testifies to how great a year this was. A lot of strong films didn't make the list.

So, with no further ado….

Here they are!

12 Years a Slave

I didn't expect to like 12 Years a Slave. It's a topic that can go bad so easily. In the wrong hands this film could have been preachy, melodramatic, patronizing, or just a miserable slog. Instead, there's a natural and genuine nature to the horrors that unfold. The observational quality of the cinematography means that the film doesn't make any judgements, it merely reveals events as they occur. The slave owners aren't one-dimensional monsters. The slaves walk a fine line between retaining their humanity and ensuring their survival. There's a lot to take away from this film. What did I take away? Perhaps an abhorrence for the all-too-common attitude of entitlement that accompanies commerce. Too often we believe that we are owed the freedom of others. Yeah, it's a historical film, but the messages are still tragically prevalent in this modern age.

Before Midnight

A small percentage of the population has followed the adventures of Jesse and Celine for almost two decades now. Each installment in this series has come to embody a certain stage of life, portraying the way we slowly crystalize into the people we're meant to be as our hopes evolve. What a pleasure it is to get to know these mature, complex and interesting people! What a joy to watch a serious relationship onscreen! Too often we're presented with only the first chapter in the story, the "meet cute" on the train for Vienna. Not this time. This time romance is a luxury buried behind all the irritations, reoccurring conflicts and slights (both real and imagined). Growing up is a painful business, but one with moments of intimacy and beauty that can make it worthwhile. I'd venture to say that not only is this a beautiful and challenging film, but it's also a very important film. I'll be there in nine years for the next one.

Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d'Adele)

Most of the press on this film has centered around the lesbian sexy times in it. Yes, there are lesbian sexy times. If you aren't into that sort of thing, this probably isn't the film for you. And, as a few reviewers have mentioned, the sex scenes have a whiff of the straight man's fantasy about them which makes them seem a little… false? But, don't let yourself get caught up in that. There's so many other things to love in this movie. The two lead performances are so genuine that I can't imagine the same film with any other actresses. They so perfectly embodied these two girls. The film is filled with carefully sketched details and small truths that lend it a unique texture. Blue is the Warmest Color tells a simple story of love found and lost, one that we've seen a million times before. But, somehow the experience of watching this movie is like feeling it all for the first time.

Frances Ha

I love Frances! She has such a joyful spirit and sense of reoccurring wonder. Sure, she's not the world's most practical girl, but her resilience helps her face the litany of hard knocks that occur throughout this film. Frances defines herself as a dancer, but she isn't cutting it in the highly-competitive dance industry. The most important relationship in her life is with her best friend Sophie, but Sophie is gradually leaving Frances behind. Her boyfriend? Not really a boyfriend. Her apartment? Well, that's in flux. The best section of this film is the hysterical/tragic Paris vacation. I related so strongly to Frances's mental state in those moments, when she tries desperately to keep clinging to an acceptable narrative for her life. How do you define yourself when everything you want to be is drifting away?

The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

The scope of this film is massive, dazzling and ambitious. Years ago lead character Jep wrote a highly regarded novel, but since then he's embraced his life as the heart of Rome's social world. Jep is at every party, watching every absurd performance and wandering through the halls of each museum. He's hungry for conversation, for connections and new experiences. He wants to feel everything and nothing all at once. In one scene, Jep explains to a friend the appropriate behavior for attending a funeral. He demonstrates the proper way to comfort the bereaved, the proper clothes to wear, the proper place in which to sit. In his wisdom, he's figured everything out. But, despite this, life and death still touch him. In the instances that they do, the film becomes a masterpiece.

Gravity

People are going to be talking about Gravity for a very long time. The technical achievements are so great that they achieve a new kind of artistry, proving that CGI can be used in a way that is deeply meaningful. The story at the core of Gravity is simple, fight-to-survive stuff. But, through the unique vision of the filmmaking, that kernel of a story flings us out into distances further than we can imagine, challenging us with starkness, majesty and impossible odds. This is a movie that is both gorgeous and terrifying. It's the kind of achievement that pushes the entire film industry forward, giving us a glimpse into the future of cinema.

Her

Her offers another peek into the future. Its universe is slightly more grounded than that of Gravity, revealing moments and ideas that seem both familiar and strange. It's that line between the familiar and strange that defines so much of this film. It brings us into the most foreign situations, and yet we still relate with the experiences of lead character Theodore. "Her" is about love, but it isn't about the kind of love that is only easy and romantic. Instead, the movie reveals the ways love shapes us, for better and for worse, and how the act of loving another human (or computer) is one of the most dangerous and important things we can do.

Inside Lewyn Davis

This film sits very close to the center of my heart. Lewyn is a tragic character with a deeply wounded soul caught in a cycle where poetry is continuously followed by self-sabotage. A talented artist, he's so removed from practicality or conventionality that the recognition and success he wants is forever out of reach. In the same way, this film denies the viewer any sense of catharsis, creating a story that is both painful and astounding. The music makes it great. The songs form a kind of greek chorus, if greek choruses carried guitars and had the power to whisper the souls of their leads. As this movie shows, sometimes the only place meaning exists is in the chords of a song.

Nebraska

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, David tries to keep everything under control as his father, Woody, grows increasingly difficult to control or predict. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Woody believes he has a winning sweepstakes ticket and he's determined to collect at all costs. Nebraska takes a hard look at the way we are shaped by our families and environments, the things we let float by and the moments we put our feet down. It's quietly funny in odd ways and, to anyone who grew up with a bevy of strange relatives, it will feel uncomfortably familiar. This isn't a pretty film. It takes a dingy and unromantic look at life, but one that still allows moments of significance and levity to shine.

The Wolf of Wall Street

If I had to sum up The Wolf of Wall Street in one word, that word would be "audacious". This isn't a movie content with small victories or quiet moments. Instead, it throws every trick at the screen, talking a million miles a minute and showing you everything you could ever want to see. It's the ultimate personification of its hero, Jordan Belfort, matching him step for step and smarm for smarm. Excess looks simultaneously like the best and worst days of your life. The Wolf of Wall Street, through its very determination not to ask questions, has forced a lot of viewers to ask some important questions about prevailing attitudes of entitlement and the problem of wealth addiction.

Honorable Mentions:

Drinking Buddies

Thought its tone is casual and conversational, Drinking Buddies gets to the core of some painful truths. The movie  refuses to give the viewer an easy way out as it explores the murky area where attraction and friendship intersect.

The Hunt (Jagten)

Mads Mikkelsen brings an ample dose of humanity to a challenging role. The Hunt portrays a man at the center of a witch-hunt, trying to dig his way out from the suspicions and hatred of a community that once embraced him.

In A World…

In a World… introduces us to the seedy underbelly of the voice-over industry. Okay, so the underbelly isn't that seedy, but it is funny, charming and fresh.

Prince Avalanche

Deceptively simplistic, this movie hinges on the performances of its charismatic leads. They're both stuck in the middle of nowhere, but for completely different reasons. Growing up with them is a pleasure that is painful, funny and profound.

Mud

Both an adventure film and a coming-of-age story, Mud surpasses both genres. Two boys come into contact with a mysterious stranger who needs their help. Is he a folk hero or something much more dangerous?

Don Jon

Don Jon explores addiction in ways that are both unique and interesting. It has a great rhythm and sense of its own identity, sending its characters stumbling through a series of events where fantasy never quite lives up to reality.


So, there you go! Thank you for sticking around through all of that. What are your opinions on these films? Which do you think is the best? Do you have a different favorite movie for 2013? Let me know!

4 comments:

  1. Strong list, Sarah. I'm a little surprised Blue is the Warmest Color made your list. I didn't get the impression - at least after viewing - that it left a strong, uh, impression on you.

    Naturally, many of your Top 10's are in mine as well.

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    1. Thank you for your comment! Now, time for your list. :)

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  2. I haven't seen many on this list, but enjoyed your concise and insightful summaries. Nicely done.

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