Monthly Archives: January, 2014

Guest Post: 47 Ronin

My teenage cousin Damo sent me this review of 47 Ronin the other day. I thought it was a pretty good read and I was not intending on writing anything on the film myself, so thought I would publish it here. Some may question the wisdom of employing a teenager to write a film review. But when that gangly teenager knows Ken Watanabe is the boss, well the future is in good hands.

ronin poster

47 Ronin (2013), sounds simple enough – coolish cast, pretty decent sounding story and Keanu Reeves is in it! That guy from the movie about taking the pills! Though this one seemed to lack in certain departments (judging by the trailers) and every other person has panned it, I decided to give it a shot. So here we go.

The film sees Keanu Reeves as an outcast; loving a girl he can’t have; who guessed it? The whole star-crossed lovers thing was a little silly but I got past that. After an incident involving a bewitched lord and some land thieving our man Keanu ends up in exile. So far not a lot had gone on, but I felt something coming and wasn’t really surprised when the head of the dead lord’s Samurais (now called Ronin because they have no master to protect) goes looking for his buddies (other Ronin) to seek vengeance against the dude that took their land. Some five minutes later, he’s traversed half of Japan to seek Keanu Reeves who’s been enslaved to some sort of oriental fight club run by English pirates at some dock. Yada yada yada, they all meet up and get some swords, and all is looking up for the boys! The 47 men have vengeance in mind and travel to where intel tells them they can find the guy that I mentioned earlier. It’s a trap! MY GOD! That took nobody off guard! The boys regroup and decide to strike while the… ah.. Samurai sword is hot? Sorry, felt the need for a Samurai themed metaphor… The fight scenes that follow their attack are generic but Keanu Reeves’ cool extra special powers (he was trained by Japanese Demons called Tengu so look that up) help him kill a dragon/witch/scary/lady. YAY!

ronan keanu and friend

(SPOILERS AHEAD) Together, the Ronin kill all the baddies and vengeance is achieved, the boys go back home and their Shoman (head of all Japan and that) orders them to kill themselves. He grants them an honourable death and everyone’s’ happy. A cool ending in hindsight though, I appreciated that they kept the ending without some sort of Disney like “And then the Shoman decided to let them go because they helped save the day!” type get-up. Then some extra history to finish the movie about how the 47 Ronin shall never be forgotten and then yeah. Run Credits.

47 ronin womanLooking back, the interesting moments were too brief and the script seemed 2nd rate. BUT, the cinematography blew me away and Keanu kills this cool looking animal by rolling under it and stabbing it! A pretty decent effort I thought. Though 47 Ronin was predictable; a little too typecast but I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t call it a waste of money or a bad movie, but it did leave much to be desired…

The international cast was a plus; full of goodness and talent; but if Ken Watanabe had been in it it would have been doubly awesome! Some cool modern Last Samurai (2003) stuff between Watanabe and Keanu Reeves would have been dynamite! Just because I love Ken Watanabe!

SO yeah.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

Damo is my first cousin carrying on the family trade with his film reviewing chops. This is his first ever published review and far superior to my first ever published review. Damo is also a killer singer-songwriter, so give his stuff a play right here and like his music facebook page here.

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Metallica Through the Never

Through the never

For some reason, Metallica seem to inspire a lot of films. The latest addition to this canon, in addition to the excellent doco Mission to Lars (2012) and the reportedly excellent Some Kind of Monster (2004) which I have not seen, is the music video/feature film hybrid Metallica Through the Never (2013).

metallica hetfieldI was not really sure how I would go with this film. Metallica were never a band that I got into that much. As such watching a concert of theirs interspersed with a fictional side-plot would not have been my ideal way to spend 90 minutes in theory. The end result though was a surprisingly satisfying jaunt. It still did not turn me into a particular fan of their tunes, so I imagine that if you are a big fan of the band, that this would be even more satisfying for you. The whole film and the conceit behind it is a little cheesy, but for the most part it is endearingly so. Whilst a Metallica concert plays, a young roadie played by Dane DeHaan (a pretty slick actor to get in this film) sets off into the city on a mission to get something the band desperately needs. On this journey a surreal and shambolic array of occurrences comes to pass. There are riots, a weird masked dude on a horse, car crashes and in perhaps the most striking piece of imagery, a bunch of people are hanged over the road whilst the city burns below them.  What all of this means is not entirely clear. The main focus is on making it look pretty cool and having at least a superficial connection to the songs that the band are playing basically the entire time.

There is plenty of footage of the band doing their thing in concert and this gets more prevalent as the film goes on. Personally, I would have preferred a little more of the side story featuring DeHaan, but stronger Metallica fans may well disagree. It is not like that side story is a particularly fully formed narrative. But the experience is original enough, with the concert going on, cutting back and forth. The major strength of it is that it does manage to have some really cool imagery throughout, invoking all sorts of gothic sources and even biblical references without ever threatening to manage to coalesce into something truly coherent. Nowhere is this more evident than the ending which really is a bit of an abrupt and totally unsatisfying conclusion to a little story that I had gotten at least a little caught up in. However all is forgiven and major bonus points scored due to the fact that Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett uses two guitars throughout the film – one featuring art from the Bela Lugosi film White Zombie (1932) and the other with Boris Karloff as the titular character from The Mummy (1932). How freaking cool is that!

metallica horse man

Metallica Through the Never really works better than it has any right to. For the most part it manages to skirt the self-indulgence that could have buried it, helped by the fact that it does not take itself too seriously. Now all I need is one of my favourite bands to take this really kind of cool approach to the concert film and we will really be talking.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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Run Lola Run

lola cartoon 2

Tom Tykwer is a director who I have had mixed experiences with in the past. I thought the Cloud Atlas (2012) adaptation that he and the Wachowskis served up was a pretty incredible achievement, both story wise and visually. But the only solo film of his I have see in the past is Winter Sleepers (1997), which left me pretty underwhelmed. As a solo director thought, Tykwer is best known for the non-linear Run Lola Run (1998), which I have finally gotten around to checking out.

Lola mannieThe titular Lola spends basically the entire film running around, trying to get her boyfriend Manni out of some trouble he has landed in with a bunch of gangsters. Lola needs cash and she needs it stat. That is pretty much it for storyline. With Run Lola Run the real guts of the film comes from the telling, not the story.  There are a bunch of video game stylings in the film, something that I think is very hard to pull off effectively. These range from standard ones that we are used to such as editing and game style introductions of characters, to ones that I hadn’t seen before. Most notable of these I think is the narrative structure, which is quite literally that of a video game, with Lola having a number of ‘lives’ to complete her mission. The film is best when focusing on its tightly defined core narrative or to use a quite apt video game analogy, the ‘mission’ that Lola is attempting to complete. The film is not successful when it branches outside of that, which it does often when the futures of people that Lola passes on her run are told using still images. This conceit really does not work as it takes you out of the core narrative that the audience should be so caught up in. Not only that, but the fact that something utterly amazing happens to each of these people just after they cross paths with Lola is totally unbelievable. And even though the style and narrative of the film is hyper-real, this still jars.  In the end these sequences just play like twee, ham-fisted attempted illustrations of the butterfly effect.

From the very beginning, time is a theme of the film, with gothic looking clocks looming over the screen. Thematically time is usually used in a broad sense – a person’s finite amount of time on earth and how they use it. Run Lola Run though considers time at a much more micro level, one that is relatable day to day. The rush of a work deadline or to try and catch a bus. Of course the film takes that notion to an extreme, helped along the way by pulsing, hyper techno music that drives you along the whole way through. Performance-wise, both Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu are really good. Potente carries the film as Lola as she is in essentially every scene. She does a really good job of nailing the panic and determination of her character in helping out her boyfriend. I am a fan of a number of Bleibtreu’s other performances such as in Fatih Akin’s In July (2000) and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (1997) which is one of my favourite comedies of all time.  He impresses again here in a bit of a thankless role, at least convincing us why Lola would fight so hard for him. It is important that the both of them are good too, because in the end the film is a nice balance of relationship drama as well as action thriller. However I think unfortunately that some of the ending of the film muddles the message a little. What we are meant to take from the casino scene I am not sure – life is nothing but chance? Gambling is good? Always bet on #20 in roulette? No idea. It was always going to be a difficult film to bring to an entirely satisfying close. But I can’t help wish that Tykwer managed something a little more emphatic.

lola running

When it sticks close to its innovative narrative structure, intriguing video game flourishes and focused story, Run Lola Run is both interesting and at times innovative. The occasions where it goes outside of that structure were less successful for me, and it is perhaps not tense enough to be a truly great thriller, but this is still a film experience worth taking at least once.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

Progress: 100/1001

2014 Progress: 4/101

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Trailer for your Weekend: Dom Hemingway

dom hemingway poster

Dom Hemingway is a film I have heard little bits about for a while now. It stars Jude Law as a bit of  a caricature of a safe cracker, finally out after being in jail for 12 years. The trailer looks pretty cool I think. The film seems to be taking an ultra stylised approach which if it comes off, could be something really special. Of course if it doesn’t come off, it could just be really annoying. Here is hoping for the former. What do you guys think?

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Ben-Hur

hur poster

Even though I am sure I saw it (or at least parts of it) growing up, putting Ben-Hur (1959) into my DVD player, I had managed to keep myself ignorant of the details of the film’s plot. As such, despite the arduous running time, I was pretty excited to get into one of the most celebrated American films in history.

hur hestonThe scope of the film is obvious right from the start, even with the very slow start to the film. The film follows Charlton Heston’s Judah Ben-Hur, a prince/merchant who finds himself a slave. His stock rises and falls throughout the lengthy film. Even though the film looks really sharp though, the feel of it is that of a dated telemovie about Jesus you would buy from an infomercial. That music! Argh. It feels in many ways like it is an adaptation of a play. A bad play though, because the film is so stilted and lacking in any of the searing quality of adaptations of really great plays such as the works of Shakespeare. There are a couple of sequences that manage to distinguish themselves from the tepidness of everything else going on. Most notably the subplot of Ben-Hur’s mother and sister being lepers and his insistence on seeing them. I actually found those sequences quite intense and difficult to watch because of the emotion involved, which is so lacking from a vast majority of the film. For me though, the much celebrated chariot race sequence is not one of those that does not manage to rise above the mire. There was so much build-up to it and then it was just all a bit meh. There was no exhilaration there, not to mention I have definite concerns around the welfare of the animals used to film those scenes. So much of it is totally lacking in excitement because it is just a bunch of horses riding along beside each other and even the final highpoint of the race lacks any punch.

hur chariot

From my perspective there are two major issues that really affect this film. The first is the laborious pace. The film does not really seem to be telling a story that is truly that ‘epic.’ Rather, the scope that is teased early on by the film just turns into it taking so long to actually move anywhere. Think the opening 45 minutes of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), only worse. The second issue is that the narrative itself is totally unfocused. I mean what is the core narrative of Ben-Hur? Killing that dude in the chariot race? Finding Christ? I mean it is all pretty oblique and not only that, none of these narrative strands are either particularly engaging for the audience or well done. None of these issues are helped particularly by the performance of Charlton Heston. Never mind the fact that for me (and I suspect others as well), I cannot see him in a film and forget his turn in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002). He manages to get across some of the emotion of the film, but overall I don’t think this is a very good performance from Heston. He is too rigid and can’t inhabit the role like is required and like he managed to do in The Planet of the Apes (1968).

For a celebrated epic from the golden era of Hollywood epics, I found Ben-Hur to be a strangely flat experience. Riddled with issues, it is one of those films that you should probably see just so you can say you have seen it (plus I guess you may love it). But at around 4 hours in length it is a big time investment for little reward.

Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught

Progress: 99/1001

2014 Progress: 3/101

What podcasts do you listen to?

Yo funky film loving people,

What film podcasts do you listen to on a regular basis? Hit me up with some suggestions and feel free to plug your own podcast mercilessly if you have one. I listen regularly to the /Filmcast and to the Aussie Parallex podcast. I am recording the first episode of my new podcast this weekend and always keen to hear what others are doing in this space.

That’s all I got. What an awkwardly short post. Erm… look at this:

Oh and this:

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The Wolf of Wall Street

wolf poster

Before I launch headlong into my review of Martin Scorsese’s critically beloved and hedonistic new film The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), it is worthwhile giving some context. For many lovers of film, Scorsese is ‘their guy’. By that I mean pretty much whatever he turns out, they love. This is not a criticism of those people in the slightest. It just means that something about Scorsese’s filmmaking, storytelling and the stories he chooses to tell, consistently really connect with them. Malick and Herzog are two directors who I would say are ‘my guy’ in much the same way. Something about what they put out, just works for me. Scorsese, not so much. I don’t dislike him as a director and I like most of his films. But I rarely love them, and the only one of his films that I would consider an absolute all out classic for me personally is Taxi Driver (1976).

Wolf parafeI think this trend continues with Scorsese’s latest film, because whilst I like it, I like it far less than most people seem to. And that is down to a single creative choice that the director makes – the length of the film. It runs to three hours, and is a film that in my view could have been at the very least an hour shorter. Not only that, I think if the film was heavily edited not only would it have been much more enjoyable, it would have been able to convey its critical points a lot better. The film is about showing how heinous the main character Jordan Belfort is (side note, anyone who thinks that the film endorses the actions of this character and his minions in the film is sorely, sorely mistaken), both on a professional and personal level. The issue for me was that it was these professional shortcomings and criminalities that were far more interesting and a far more important societal commentary than what Belfort chose to do in his personal time, but far less time is devoted to them. The personal side of the story – the raging parties, the drug fuelled rampages, the adulterous trysts with prostitutes – these were all an important part of the story. But the point was made with one example of each. We did not need to see three or four of them which meant in the end this focus on the personal ended up taking somewhere in the region of two thirds of the film. Realistically, the points that Scorsese was trying to make about Belfort’s utter despicability as a bloke could have been covered off on in 30 minutes. Instead they totally overshadow the much more interesting examination of Belfort’s life as a grubby stockbroker and what that says about us as a society.

wolf robie

So much of The Wolf of Wall Street is really great though, which makes its shortcomings all the more disappointing. For starters, whilst I would not call it a comedy, it is very funny at times. And it does a great job of skewering Belfort and the goals he has in life, namely to make himself absurdly, filthy rich by making others poorer. This is a man who not only believes that money makes you happier, he genuinely believes that the accrual of money makes you a better person. The scary thing is, and this is something the film does well to make clear, is that there really are people like that out there. Far too many of them. There are also people in this film who can masturbate whilst thinking of nothing but money. God I hope there are not people like that out there.  The film is astute in this analysis, likewise the manner in which it undermines the misogynist and shallow life that Belfort and co use their massive profits to fund. So much of these good aspects and commentaries the film makes are achieved by Scorsese and the writers of the film doing something quite remarkable. They use characters that are nothing really more than caricatures, to make these quite nuanced points. If you have been slightly put off by claims that this film in some way glorifies misogyny and this lifestyle, don’t be. As I have already said but feel the need to repeat, for all the films flaws, this is not one of them. Depiction is not the same as endorsement and rarely has that been truer than here.

There is little doubt in my mind that you will find plenty to like in The Wolf of Wall Street. I certainly did. But having said that, you should be prepared to be in for the long haul. In my view, this would have been a seriously fantastic film if it was anywhere between an hour and an hour and a half shorter.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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2014 Preview: Top Ten Anticipated Films

After looking back at 2013 in film last week, I am kicking things off this week with a quick look forward at the coming year. It is always hard to guess which films will truly deliver. Looking back at my most anticipated list for 2013, only one (To The Wonder) made my top ten and the rest were a bit of a mixed bag. I think part of the reason that not many make my top ten is that my anticipation is usually for bigger budget event films, whilst the films on my top ten often sneak up on me. Anyhoo, on to this year’s list. Who knows if these will be any good, but in alphabetical order, these are the films I’m most excited for this year.

The Armstrong Lie

I continue to enjoy the films of Alex Gibney more and more, so I am definitely keen to check this one out (a film I know has already opened in a bunch of places). I am a moderate cycling fan and even aside from that, the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong is one that I think is pretty interesting to everyone. His mystique has all come crashing down around him and I am hoping that this film gives more of an insight into the lying and bullying side of Armstrong.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

winter capn poster

I am a little anxious about this one. I was a massive fan of the first one, and Marvel seems to be doing very little wrong with all of their properties. However, so much of my enjoyment of the first film came from the fact that it was a period film, boldly setting the action in World War II. Given the timeline of events, that is obviously no longer possible. So here is hoping that this is still a cracker from Marvel.

Godzilla

godzilla 14

A Godzilla reboot sounds like a terrible idea on paper. Until you write the name Gareth Edwards on the paper as the film’s director. Monsters (2010), directed by Edwards, was a monster/alien flick that was really original and had a fair bit of heart about it too. Who knows if he can bring all that out in this reboot, with presumably a lot of studio interference. But I am such a fan of Edwards that I have high hopes he can. This is possible my most anticipated film of the year.

The Hunger Games: Mockinjay – Part 1

mockingjay 14

The second film in the Hunger Games series really blew me away. The character of Katniss has evolved into an incredible heroine with an arc that is epic and interesting. I am not really familiar with what happens at the conclusion of the Hunger Games story so am really excited to take a look at this one. So impressive was the second film, I’m not even that fussed that they have taken the now standard route of splitting the adaptation of the final book in two.

Jupiter Ascending

When I was cutting down this list, it came to a point where I had to choose between this forthcoming Lana and Andy Wachowski film or Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. The quality of the Wachowskis exceptionally difficult adaption of Cloud Atlas got this one in. I’m psyched for Nolan’s film, but any time these two turn their eye to sci-fi, something exceptionally interesting and pretty generally happens.

The Lego Movie

lego 14

I have no idea how this will end up. But if they can stretch out the joyful tone found in the trailers into a cohesive full length effort, this could be one of the real surprises of the year. There is a fantastic voice cast and what looks like a delightful sense of abandon and off-kilter humour going on as well. You just have to look at the appearances of Batman in the trailers so far to see that.

Nymphomaniac (maybe?)

nympho 14

Why the maybe? Lars von Trier is one of the most challenging directors our there. His films are not always successful or easy to watch. But they always make you think. The maybe is because I don’t know if I will have the chance to see this film on the big screen, in von Trier’s preferred, uncensored version. I won’t see it if it is censored, I have major problems with approaches to film and distribution like that. But I really hope that someone in Aus takes a punt on distributing this properly. I think it will be a challenging watch well worth making the effort to see. Even the truly disturbing character posters such as the one above haven’t totally put me off.

These Final Hours

these final 14

This Aussie flick came from no where to take the critics prize at last year’s Melbourne International Festival. On the strength of that, it managed to wrap up a very strong cinematic distribution deal, an increasing rarity for local films. The film, made in Western Australia, is an apocalyptic tale of relationships formed during the last day on earth. Apocalyptic films can go either way, based largely on how the filmmakers deal with the looming end. I have high hopes this one will get it right.

Whatever Terrence Malick releases this year

Depending on the source/scuttlebutt you believe Terrence Malick will release somewhere between zero and three films this year. Due to the unsure nature of any release I was going to leave the great man off this list. But I shamelessly stole the idea for this entry from Germain Lussier’s list over at Slashfilm. It is worth keeping a spot open for Malick too, he is probably my favourite director of all time and every film of his I have seen is an absolute work of art. Here’s hoping we see something, and that it manages to get a wider release than the fantastic To the Wonder.

X Men: Days of Future Past

x men 14

I thought that X Men First Class was one of the better comic origin stories of recent times. So I have been keenly awaiting this next instalment, especially as so much of the really impressive cast names are back on board. Of course, this will cross over with the later set, but earlier made X Men films in a narrative that will either be utterly brilliant, or totally befuddling to those of us who have not read the comic book arc. We shall find out soon.

What do you guys think about my choices? Any you would add, or any of these that you are not at all fussed about?

Trailer for your Weekend: The Unknown Known

unknown known

Errol Morris is a huge name in documentary filmmaking. Whilst I would not say he is one of my personal favourites (I like rather than love his films), there is no doubting the respect that he is held in and the quality of his work. With the cracking title of The Unknown Known, Morris’ next film takes a look at one of the more divisive figures of the last 15 or so years, Donald Rumsfeld. You have to wonder sometimes how Morris gets his subjects to be involved. Just look at the befuddled (and befuddling) Rummy Rumsfeld reading the first memo in the trailer. The trailer has definitely whet my appetite to check out more of this and how Rummy comes off. Docos on political figures are probably not for everyone, but are you guys interested in this?

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2013 in Review: The Top Ten

Ugh, it is so damn hot. This is the third or fourth day in a row over 40 degrees, which is just lame. I whine like this as a way of explaining why this post is a day or two later than I had hoped. I have just not felt like writing after a day at work, especially when our un-air conditioned home is so oppressively hot. I hope you are doing ok if you are in this kind of weather, or the opposite in that crazy cold. Stay safe in these extreme weather times.

Enough of that. Time to celebrate my favourite ten films of 2013. I thought it was a fantastic year of film and spent a huge amount of time narrowing this list down. The reason I expanded it from five to ten is because I have expanded the eligibility to straight to DVD films this year, because I have found that in Australia a lot of really fantastic films are skipping cinemas altogether. There are two films that did not see cinema release on the list and another few in the honourable mentions as well. I saw somewhere around 100-120 films eligible to make this list and there were plenty of crackers. Let’s get into it (once again, titles are hyperlinked if I wrote a full review).

Honourable Mentions: I loved so many films this year. I considered narrowing this list of mentions down. But stuff it, this is meant to be a celebration of film and I loved, loved, loved all of these.

It was a weak year for comedy and I thought The Heat was by far the best of them. Two sorta comedies that really did it for me were the highly original horror-comedy Grabbers and the brilliant coming of age ride The Way Way Back. In arthouse/indie style territory Mud, the beautiful The Loneliest Planet and (shame on me) The Counsellor all wowed me. Plenty of the big name dramas were powerful and engaging stuff including Zero Dark Thirty, Flight, Philomena, Cloud Atlas, Amour and Silver Linings Playbook which I much preferred to the average American Hustle. Whilst there were obvious disappointments, I thought that some of the big blockbusters were fantastic this year and am very surprised not one cracked my top ten. Star Trek into Darkness, Iron Man 3, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug were all a cracking good time on the big screen.

Probably the two strongest sectors of film for me this year were the doco and Australian film, and both feature films below. Other docos I really loved were Chasing Ice and the incredibly powerful West of Memphis about the denial of justice for the West Memphis Three. As an Australian I love to get you interested in the cinema of my own country and The Turning, Satellite Boy, The Great Gatsby (I don’t consider it Australian, but technically it is apparently) and 100 Bloody Acres are all films well and truly worth your time. Finally, a very special honourable mention to my clear number eleven film of the year, which dropped out at the last moment – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I think the most underrated film of the year too.

10. The Conjuring

conjuring 2013

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – James Wan is the best Australian director working today, no matter the genre.  This is probably the scariest film I have ever seen and it kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Yeah it is similar to Wan’s Insidious. But it improves immeasurably on that film. I remember not even being able to watch the trailer of this when it showed at the cinema. And Wan has transferred that into an atmosphere which makes the film fist clenchingly terrifying. A masterful update of the old school haunted house flick from a very clever and creative director.

9. Hunter: For the Record

hunter 2013

This Australian doco is one of the most affecting films I saw this year. It is simultaneously a portrait of the early (West) Australian hip-hop scene and also of a man facing his own mortality. You get intimate access as Hunter manages to grow and learn as a man, right to the end. But this is no whitewashed picture of a perfect guy. There is a frankness to the film and the depiction of its main subject that is pretty rare. You definitely don’t respect everything that he has done. The film though shows that even someone so imperfect (aren’t we all) can provide us with the template for approaching our whole life.

8. Gravity

GRAVITY

When I first saw Cuaron’s exceptional film, I thought it would probably end up my number one. This was no doubt the big screen cinema experience of the year. But so much of the film is caught up in the size of the screen, the quality of the sound and the 3D effects. I will never be able to replicate the experience in my home or even my mind. That is not a criticism at all, but it is perhaps why the film has not stayed with me as perhaps it could have. Sorry don’t mean to sound negative, this is such an amazing film, as you already know I would imagine. Visual splendour like you’ve never seen before and a lean narrative with an underrated human story.

7. The Act of Killing

act of killing 2013

You must see this film. A doco that shines a light on a totally neglected and heinous chapter in human history. But through director Josh Oppenheimer, it is turned into an audacious, creative piece of art. By tapping into two active members of the Indonesian genocide’s love of cinema, he is able to first of all challenge his audience and make them constantly examine and rethink what they are seeing. And secondly, in what is genuinely one of the most exceptional moments ever committed to film, we see his approach bring one of the men to the realisation of exactly what he has done. This is a powerful film that you need to see once, but will probably never be able to watch again.

6. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

silence 2013

Alex Gibney is probably the highest profile doco director working today and I think this is his best film. In many ways it is an auteur piece and some of his decisions really elevate the shocking story. Some of the deaf men who were abused by priests as children serve as ‘talking heads’. They sign, whilst their words are spoken as voiceover. This is one of a number of really clever decisions that Gibney makes and it allows the emotion and devastation that has been wrought on these victims to come out. Like Oppenheimer’s film, one that you won’t enjoy and that will make your blood boil. But most definitely an essential, shocking and timely film.

5. To the Wonder

to the wonder 2013

Technically Terrence Malick’s newest film did get a cinema release in Australia, but I think it only managed one or two screens. I am not really sure why this has gone under the radar so much, it is in the realm of Tree of Life brilliance from the greatest cinema artist of our time. A somewhat simple love story that was shrouded in Malick’s signature imagery (though it must be noted he challenges himself here, showing the intersection between the urban and the rural) and a very much not in a rush approach to story telling. But I think this is Malick’s simplest narrative with the simplest character motivations which in same ways makes it his purest work. Let’s hope we get to see something new from the maestro in 2014 and if you missed this for whatever reason, go back and see it.

4. Byzantium

byzantium 2013

This is like no vampire film I have ever seen. For starters it is oh so pretty, there is almost a sense of Malick in the visual approach. Neil Jordan uses colour, or more specifically a lack of it, to tell us so much. And the narrative builds up such an immersive world of vampire mythology. It is not beholden to any source before it, but it also feels ‘classic’ already. It also features a performance from Saoirse Ronan that is streets ahead of anything else she has ever done whilst also launching Caleb Landry Jones as a supreme talent. I cannot recall a film that combined the classical and the contemporary as well as this film. It also manages to succeed on a number of levels, both as moody atmospheric and very dark horror story as well as a teenage tale of first love. Good luck trying to balance that, but Jordan does in this exceptional and criminally under seen film.

3. Rust and Bone

rust and bone 2013

If you outline the plot of this film in a sentence, it sounds like the biggest pile of pap ever. An orca trainer loses her legs when she is mauled by one of the animals she works with, but finds love and redemption in the arms of a hulking cage fighter.  That is an accurate description of what goes down. But this film made me think more deeply about life than any other film on this list. The spectacular of day to day life is contrasted with the aching, crushing pain that it can bring, often in the one scene. Probably the oldest film on this list, but one that still sticks in my mind.

2. Mystery Road

mystery 2013

In an awesome year for Australian film this is the pick of the bunch and the highest ranked Aussie film in the history of these lists. A film that engages with and dabbles with both genre and Australian society, it is anchored by the second best performance of the year from Aaron Pederson (hint – the best is still to come in my #1). It looks like a Western – widescreen arid imagery, gunfights, and hats – but it is straight up crime. There is a sense of classic Eastwood in Pederson’s character, the cop against the system, who seems to be the only one interested in solving a vicious murder. Cerebral and action packed, the film also features the most original shootout I have seen in a long long time. Do me a favour and check this one out.

The Fourth Ever Kick-Ass Award for Favourite Film of the Year: Fruitvale Station

fruitvale 2013

This film, based on real life events, is quietly powerful. It is the day in the life of a young African American man, trying to make his life right after a stint in prison and risking it all with his unfaithfulness. The day (and this is revealed at the beginning so not a spoiler) will also be his last. But the entire day sheds such a light on contemporary America that is raw and real, especially the treatment of men of colour and the unchecked power of those who possess it (a theme in a number of these films actually). And it is not just applicable in an American context. I’m not American and this is the film that impacted me the most this year. And the performance of Michael B. Jordan in the main role is the best in not just this year, but a number of years. Full of qualities that so little of cinema possesses, Fruitvale Station is a searing film that you won’t soon forget. It left me in a glazed over haze and may well do the same for you.

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