Matt’s Top Ten of 2013

2013 found the thing we call “Film” at a crossroads. As production technology advanced and distribution platforms sprung up like dandelions, outsider auteurs were suddenly empowered to share their vision to an unprecedented degree. At the same time, major studios continued to narrow their priorities and limit the scope of their product. It was an unusual situation—Film (as we recognize it) was evolving into two distinct, non-compatible mediums.Like, can a 2.5-hour studio blockbuster (calibrated to play on thousands of IMAX screens to mass audiences, across all demographics) really be considered the same thing as a 70-minute mumblecore (i.e. niche-audience, VOD) release? What commonalities do they share apart from being flat? It’s time to redefine our terms. It’s been 100 years. Film 1.0 is over.the-bling-ring-israel-broussard-claire-julien-and-katie-chang10. The Bling RingIf there’s one reoccurring theme running through the (majority of) films on my Top 10 list, it’s that of American Entitlement. Our nation’s creation myth is rooted in individualism and reinvention, but at this point in late-capitalism those values have curdled into a petulant want for unearned luxuries. We all think we deserve wealth, professional recognition, and mind-blowing sex. We deserve the perfect relationship. We deserve a life graced with ceaseless glamour.Sofia Coppola’s under-everything (-seen, -appreciated, -stated) docudrama The Bling Ring is the most immediate representation of these surging cultural preoccupations—and not just because there was E! reality series about literally these same exact people. But even though the film is an important sociological document, it’s never a chore to watch. Coppola’s treatment of the material is graceful and assured; that she actually makes the audience feel sympathy for Paris Motherfucking Hilton is a greater technical achievement than anything in Gravity.Pain-Gain-20139. Pain & GainI’m not one of these A-holes who think Michael Bay is secretly a genius. Dude seems like a total bone-chomping ogre, and I don’t even like Armageddon or whatever movie of his it is people point to as a profound example of vulgar Americana or whatever. Allow me to type this one-handed while I make the J/O motion.But! Pain Ampersand Gain—Bay’s weird version of a “one-for-me” flick—is totally enjoyable. Mostly because the film matches Bay’s tacky filmmaking style with equally grotesque content and characters. And it’s always fun to watch good actors play dumb. No one does dimwitted puppy-dog machismo like Mark Wahlberg—and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson proves once again that he’s Hollywood’s foremost ‘roided-up muscle-monster.Does Pain & Gain glorify its characters’ deplorable worldview? Sort of! But the film’s morality is an issue for God and his ecclesiastical bookkeepers to sort out. All that’s important here is that this is an important filmmaker’s best work—something that deserves a spot in the Top 10 in any year.horror-film-review-evil-dead-18. Evil DeadHow does Fede Alvarez’s remake of the 1981 cult-horror classic fit in to 2013’s unofficial theme of the Death of the American Dream? It doesn’t—Evil Dead is just an exceptionally well-made mainstream horror movie. Anchored by Jane Levy’s fantastic central performance, a clever script that quoted the best moments of Sam Raimi’s original without completely regurgitating them (though the film certainly contains plenty of regurgitation), and a plot that smartly reversed the roles of protagonist and antagonist several times, Evil Dead was bold, bloody fun for sophisticated gorehounds everywhere.The film’s only misstep was its tonally incongruous (and totally tacked-on) post-credits Easter egg featuring ersatz Old Spice spokeschin Bruce Campbell. This bum note may have made old school horror geeks squeal with glee, but the movie didn’t need it. Alvarez’s film was strong enough to stand on its own, regardless of how many of its limbs had been hacked off.Spring-Breakers-spring-breakers-30864411-900-6757. Spring BreakersSpring Breakers was easily my most awkward film-going experience of 2013. Maybe it was the uneasy way Harmony Korine’s Girls Gone Wild freak show juxtaposed copious amounts of Disney Princess flesh against the grotesquerie of collegiate hedonism. Or maybe it was the woozy soundtrack stylings of Cliff Martinez and Skrillex. Or maybe it was the fact that I was literally the only person in the goddamned theater. Luckily, I was wearing my “Not Jacking Off” trucker hat that day, so everything was above board.But regardless of method, the one-time Gummo punk has reinvented himself as a stealth multiplex maestro, crafting a multi-layered fever-dream vision of codeine-fueled candy-colored debauchery, perfectly calibrated to function equally well as both a lowbrow wish-fulfillment fantasy and as a satire of white adolescent idolization of black crime culture. Also: shorts in every color!Frances-Ha-Film-still_26. Frances HaNoah Baumbach’s effervescent snapshot of late-20s malaise is the best Woody Allen movie of the year—never mind Blue Jasmine. From its lived-in New York City setting, to the romantic grit of its black-and-white cinematography, to its over-educated gallery of do-nothing bohemians, Frances captures the spirit of Allen’s best work, but with one key difference: it actually understands what the fuck it’s like to be young and alive in the 21st century.The film also speaks honestly and authentically from a female perspective, with star and co-writer Greta Gerwig deserving full co-auteur status for her contributions to the film. The light touch Gerwig brings to the director’s work is a total breath of fresh air after nearly a decade of Baumbach’s embittered beta-male fist-clenching. Some people may dismiss Frances as too slight, but I don’t agree. Figuring Our Shit Out is the most epic quest any of us are ever likely to undertake, and I’ll take it over Hobbit crap any day.movies-the-worlds-end5. The World’s EndOf Edgar Wright’s three previous movies, I thought one was amazing, one was bad, and didn’t really have an opinion about the third. So, all bets were off walking into The World’s End. Would I love it? Would I think it was stupid? Would I choke on my tongue before I even entered the theater? The future was as murky as a glass boot full of Guinness. So it delights me to report that Wright’s Cornetto-Trilogy-concluder 100% delivered—and was the most purely fun movie I saw in 2013.But it’s not just about fun. End is a sobering (pun intended?) sci-fi parable about how the coolest dude at 18 is rarely the coolest dude at 38, and that the BMOC of this world hold onto past glory at their own peril. Thusly, World’s End continued the uniquely British phenomenon of making audience-friendly genre entertainment that’s, you know, actually good. Weird, I know, but that’s just how they do it over there. Also: they say “lorry” instead of “truck.”spike-jonzes-her-movie-review4. HerTraditionally, dystopian visions of the future have depicted the subjugation of humankind by robot oppressors as a violent, nuked-out hellscape. Sure, movies like Terminator and The Matrix have made it clear what kind of physical pain we’re all in for once the machines leapfrog past us on the evolutionary latter. But what about the emotional pain, man?That’s the unique point-of-view brought to this twee (in a good way!) slice of futurism from the always-interesting Spike Jonze. With plenty of his trademark quirk and wistful humanism, Jonze expresses a comfort with technology unique among most big-picture sci-fi visionaries—lovingly depicting a world that we humans may have birthed but are far from fully comprehending.The film gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “computer dating.” Call it Annie-droid Hall. But is Her really where we’re headed? Let’s hope so. I’m really looking forward to wearing those pants.01-inside-llewyn-davis3. Inside Llewyn DavisJoel & Ethan Coen’s latest existential character piece is a movie that feels sad all the way down to its bones—like a too-light raincoat soaked through with grimy Greenwich Village snowfall. In reviews and write-ups, the film’s titular anti-hero is frequently described as an “asshole.” But I don’t really think that’s accurate. Llewyn Davis is the person we all are before we get to wherever it is we’re going. And whether we achieve our wildest fantasies or fall somewhere short, it’s the messy transitional phases that are always the hardest.Llewyn Davis is largely a film about transience; about aimlessly shuffling from one gig, one couch, one apartment, one lover, one city, or one career to another. Thankfully, nothing helps pass the time during a long journey than a pleasant song (or the company of an orange tabby.) Llewyn himself may never attain music world stardom, but his ghost lives on as the ultimate folk story—a ever-present outline of a specific temporal moment, even as the larger silhouette recedes deeper and deeper into the past.only-god-forgives-52. Only God ForgivesStanley Kubrick isn’t around to make Stanley Kubrick movies any more (he’s dead and in hell) so it falls to Danish mid-length haircut enthusiast Nicholas Winding Refn to pick up the slack. The director’s last film, 2011’s lurid conceptual noir Drive got the ball rolling, but his vision really coalesced with January’s pitch-black mercenary-minimalist crime saga Only God Forgives.It’s as if Refn wrote out the titles of Kubrick’s entire filmography along a straight line, then folded the piece of paper in half to join the two ends layering the ice-cold conceptual formalism of Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining directly on top of the sand-in-mouth dirtball noir of Killer’s Kiss and The Killing. Then Refn leaned back in his Eames chair, looked at what he had made and said “let’s make this movie…in Bangkok!”It’s a remarkable film-watching experience—huge props to Cliff Martinez’s disco-goth score and Larry Smith’s Bruegel-with-a-blacklight cinematography. But as Ryan Gosling’s taciturn protagonist might say: “…”upstream_explainer51. Upstream ColorPeople go through different taste phases. Some years the films I like run parallel with Academy Award and/or mainstream preferences. Some years, they don’t. This year I’ve been all about weirdness. And what’s weirder than Shane Carruth’s nine-years-in-the-making Primer follow-up, Upstream Color? But the problem with weird movies is they’re often hard to discuss. How do you explain a nugget of counter-everything programming like Color? Intestinal parasites? Pigs? Psychotropic flowers? Henry David Thoreau? Dallas?Truth is: Upstream Color has everything. Life and death. Malleable identities. Ambition. Mystery. Romance. But at heart, it’s an introverted sci-fi tone poem that strives to break down our entombing notions of individuality—which runs directly contrary to the attitudes frequently satirized this year’s other top films.Like all film fans I have an insatiable hunger for things I haven’t seen before. I don’t need another well-appointed biopic, heartfelt character study, or sweeping historical epic. I’m dying for narratives (or non-narratives) that push forward not just our understanding of film as art, but of reality itself. The only way to combat our society’s pervasive Attitude of Entitlement is to completely reorganize our definition of Self. And that’s not an easy journey—it’s like swimming upstream. 

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9 Responses

  1. Davide says:

    Anyone that has The Bling Ring on their list automatically awesome 🙂 Plus, wow what a great list in general!

  2. Franco says:

    It seems like you’re under the impression that either DRIVE was Refn’s first movie or that he was not Kubrickian until then. Either way I’m confused.

  3. Why you always gotta be dissin’ my syntax, James Franco? Is it ’cause I forgot to mention you during the “Spring Breakers” write-up? Bogus 😉

  4. andyluvsfilms says:

    Ah yes, the glorious Upstream Color, tis a shame so few people will ever get to see this.

  5. Igor says:

    You got 3 out of the 4 “American Dream gone wrong” on the list, so I’m surprised you left out ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. Great list though. Especially with ‘Only God Forgives’. When you fall into that film, like when you fall into Kubrick yes, but also Lynch, you fall far.

  6. Dan Heaton says:

    Very strong list. I didn’t love Upstream Color, but it’s the kind of movie where I can’t argue with anyone who puts it at #1 on their list. I can see the reasons and just had a different reaction. I also really enjoyed Frances Ha, which connected with me by showing the ways that indecision that dominates the early years after college.

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