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December 31, 2013

My Best of 2013


I will admit immediately that my list is going to be idiosyncratic. There are several reasons. Because of the length of travel time involved, half an hour is the shortest, I only see a very small number of films theatrically due to my reliance on public transportation. Also, I've been blessed with a good number of DVDs to review which has kept me busy. I was counting on getting screeners of certain films through my membership with the Online Film Critics Society, but that didn't happen because one of the major studios blew us off this year, and others chose to make their films available online - which I don't mind too much for seeing films that viewed purely for entertainment, but I refuse to do for anything requiring a considered assessment. I plan to see Blue is the Warmest Color eventually, but not hunched over my Macbook.

These are the films that struck a chord with me during this past year . . .

Stoker. As far as I'm concerned, this is as good as anything Park Chan-wook has made, and in some ways better. One of my favorite scenes is of Mia Wasikowska, in a shower. At first you think she is crying about an act of violence, but it is soon revealed that she is laughing. Critics were oblivious to the creative visuals as well as use of sound. Like the other films on this list, I feel confident that Stoker will be "rediscovered" in about ten years.

Only God Forgives. I don't mean to be deliberately contrarian. Maybe it's the Thailand setting that suckered me in. I loved Nicolas Winding Refn's dark journey much more than a lot of critics, as well as the public, far more than Drive. The best parts were those of the two most unforgiving characters portrayed by Vithaya Pansringarm, the Bangkok cop with his own ideas about law enforcement, and alway wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas as the mother with some eyebrow raising ideas about maternal love.

To the Wonder. I was surprised at how Terrence Malick's new film hooked me in. I liked this much more than Tree of Life. Even more elliptical than Tree of Life, with half heard conversations and a hinted at narrative. Why the film was not as embraced as Malick's previous work, I don't understand. For me it was visual poetry.

The Grandmaster. Anyone looking for a martial arts film was missing the point. I chose to get the Hong Kong DVD. From what I have read from various sources, I made the best choice. Like Wong Kar-wai's other films, this is mostly about love and loss. Between this film and new pan-Asian version of Dangerous Liasons, Zhang Ziyi is proving to be a formidable actress.

Broken Circle Breakdown. A film about bluegrass singers, from Belgium? I could have seen this about a couple of months earlier, as part of the Starz Denver Film Festival. Lucky for me, Tribeca Films mailed me a screener. A moving film about a couple brought together by music, and torn apart by the most untimely of tragedies. Currently one of the nine finalists for Oscar consideration in the foreign language division, my favorite of the the films currently in contention.

Best popcorn movie: Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. This will officially get released in the U.S. in 2014. One of the few times I went to see a movie on the big screen. I'm glad I did, because the special effects look a lot better than the Youtube trailers would indicate. Epic goofiness as envisioned by Hong Kong's Stephen Chow and Derek Kwok. Of course I am susceptible to the pleasures of seeing Shu Qi larger than life.

Best new DVD/Blu-ray release: The Big Gundown. Grindhouse Releasing shows how it's done. Sergio Sollima's original 1966 version finally get to be available on Blu-ray. If that's not enough, Enio Morricone's music on the Blu-ray get both an exclusive track, but its own subtitles discussing the various musical queues. And the movie is quite terrific as well. The set comes with Blu-rays of the original 1966 version and the 1968 U.S. release version, a DVD of the 1968 version, AND a soundtrack CD. And the price is less than Criterion usually asks for a single DVD.

One of those rare times when I do shell out for a Criterion release was for the Blu-ray of The Uninvited because, well Gail Russell is so gosh darn pretty in her debut film, and notes were contributed by longtime virtual pal, Farran Smith Nehme, better known by some as The Self-Styled Siren.

See you next year.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 31, 2013 07:31 AM