2013: A Year in Film
2013 was a massive year for film, and for Scannain too. The site received record numbers of visitors and we were a finalist at the Irish Web Awards, in Best Online Daily Publication. We also expanded the writing staff from little old me to an entire team! As part of our end of year celebrations the crew here at Scannain have compiled a list of their favourite films from the year, some under-appreciated films that you may have missed, and of course the stinkers that sullied the good name of film in 2013.
1 – Blackfish - A documentary about SeaWorld’s captivity of whales and the effect this has on the animals is beautifully shot, gravely told and moved me like no other. The film has garnered plenty of controversy and praise since its release – and for good reason. It’s a startling, brave, powerful film that stayed with me long after I left the cinema.
2 – Gravity - Gravity is exhilarating and spellbinding. The visuals are the most astounding thing I’ve seen on a cinema screen for a long time (basically, they’re so gorgeous I wanted to cry), and the simple plot is kept pacy by Bullock’s incredible performance. A masterpiece.
3 – In A World… - What can I say about this film that hasn’t been said already? It’s funny without being silly, clever without being too self-aware and it was written, directed and starred in by one woman. Lake Bell delivers not only a breakout movie, but a movie that stands proudly on its own two feet as one of my favourites this year. Aside from its message, it’s a wonderfully thought out, well-acted film. A delight.
4 – Blue Is The Warmest Colour - I wanted to put this higher on my list; unfortunately, the tribulations of the two main actresses scar this gorgeous film for me. At almost three hours long, “Blue” never feels boring or underpaced – the story that unfolds is deeply poignant and ill resonate with anyone who has ever been young and in love. Adelé deserves all the praise she gets for this role – for a newcomer, she is phenomenal. A one-of-a-kind film that has been sadly marred by what went on behind the camera.
5 – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - The best inspirational video you’ve ever seen, the Ben Stiller directed movie is one to give you the warm fuzzies. There were a lot of powerful, heart-wrenching films this year – Walter Mitty has its faults, but it sets out to make you smile, and succeeds. It’s visually gorgeous and Ben Stiller, in a more serious role than usual, does a great job at playing the dreamy main character. A few problems with characterisation plague the film, and Kirsten Wiig is wasted, but on the whole it’s touching and sweet, perfect for Christmas viewing.
1 - Broken Song - Broken Song is my number one film of last year as it broken down the barriers of hip hop and brought is straight to the where it needs to be – the audience. It showed the pure talent of those involved and it also gave us a look into their lives in a non-evasive, thought provoking way. Most definitely the film of the year for me.
2 - Charlie Casanova - Charlie Casanova is one of those films that divided opinion when it was released. Like REALLY divided opinion. We meet Charlie, an upper class guy who hates all this scumbags who just happen to live on the same planet as him. After knocking down a young girl and letting his deck of cards decided what to do next, decides that is how he is going to lead his life from now on. The film is gritty, dirty and sometimes you will want to look anywhere else but at the screen. But, the film is clever and shows Dublin for what it is, you’ll have to watch it to find out what that is.
3 – Monsters University - Ah who doesn’t love a bit of animated fun! Monsters University launched on to our screen this year and I was one of the first in line to see it! I must admit with the chemistry between Mike and Sulley mixed in with the competition to be the best “scarer”, the film was an instant hit with both adults and kids!
4 - White House Down - White House Down is another film that divided the audiences this year. Some people claiming it was this year’s answer to Die Hard. Personally I enjoyed it. There was some clever scripting with some funny dialogue between the two main characters, Cale (Channing Tatum) and the President (Jamie Foxx). Yes it took a while to get going but when it did, there were some high action scenes which were quite impressive. Overall, this film was quite impressive!
Brian D’s Picks:
1 – Zero Dark Thirty – Featuring one of the most accurate and realistic action sequences in modern cinema, Zero Dark Thirty successfully mixes political drama with unending tension and that’s really impressive when everyone knows what the outcome is. Fantastic acting, directing and cinematography combined with a top class script make Zero Dark Thirty my favourite movie of the year.
2 – Blackfish – Examining the questionable ethics of SeaWorld’s management and staff in relation to the specific treatment of Orca whales, Blackfish is one of the most moving documentaries you are likely to see this or any year. Heart warming,heart breaking and anger inducing it will take you through the full range of emotions. Not to be missed.
3 – Bullhead (Rundskop) – Exploring the murky world of illegal cattle farming, Bullhead focuses primarily on the emotionally stifled Jacky (Matias Schoenaerts) It is a powerhouse of a character study come crime caper and features one of the most moving performances you are likely to see this year, Schoenaerts is incredible in the lead role. An absolute must.
4 – Star Trek: Into Darkness – Star Trek Into Darkness has a humanity that many of its summer season competitors just fail to grasp. It continues were the reboot left off travelling at break neckspeed while successfully reimagining one of the sagas greatest villains and it does it all while managing to keep the story simple. Don’t listen to the haters, who still live in a Star Trek world inhabited by William Shatner, check it out and enjoy.
Robot & Frank – The mere idea of getting an Alzheimer’s suffering former cat burglar to teach his robot butler to break and enter is brilliant and it is delivered in style in this touching story.It is definitely a little sentimental and you can see a mile off exactly where it is going, but it is brilliantly put together and features a lovely performance by Frank Langella as he endeavours to reconnect with his family. Totally unappreciated and deserving of much more praise, definitely worth a look.
The Host – Easily one of the worst movies I have ever seen. The premise is terrible, the script is worse and the execution and acting are diabolical. Worst. Film. Ever.
Brian W’s Picks:
1 – Blue is the Warmest Colour – Coming in at the top spot, yes, it’s the artsy European one with all the lesbian sex. There’s so much more to Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winning feature than that. What Gravity does in terms of spectacle, BITWC achieves in terms of human emotion, intensifying the audience’s relationship to protagonist Adele with lingering, extreme close-ups and prolonged scenes. While the sex-scenes may be excessive, they have their purposes in a film which refuses to pull its punches, in favour of raw, and often cruel, emotion.
2 – Gravity – Suprise, surprise. It’s the big one. There’s no ignoring it. Say what you will about its script or dialogue, you can’t deny that Gravity provides the most visceral cinematic experience of the year, possibly of the decade thus far. It just goes to show what you can do with an experimental director, a big studio budget and one very risky idea.
3 – Before Midnight – They said it couldn’t be done. With two predecessors as warm and captivating as Sunrise and Sunset, nobody could have expected the final film in the trilogy to reach those same heights. It does, but not quite in the manner you’d think. There’s a brutal edge to Before Midnight, Delpy and Hawke playing the romantic couple in the midst of a mid-life crisis. But pushing it along, as ever, is the believability that comes from a perfectly-measured script.
4 – Act of Killing – It’s been a decent enough year for documentary, with the insightful Blackfish and the unforgettable One Direction: This is Us standing out against a competitive field (only one part of that is true). But, in comparison, The Act of Killing is in a league of its own. It’s the perfect fusion of a compelling, almost unbelievable subject and an engaging execution that makes this film utterly unmissable, telling us more about psychopathy than we ned to know.
5 – Mud - Jeff Nichols’ follow-up to the intriguing Take Shelter is a wonderful tale of southern marshlands, mythic cowboys and the fraught nature of teenage experience. Gorgeous cinematography, charged performances and nuanced storytelling all combine to deliver an affecting and heartfelt piece of cinema.
In terms of limited-release, German post-war drama Lore is definitely worth a watch. In the grander scheme of things, I’d have to say The Great Gatsby. Not perfect by any means, but you have to admire Luhrmann’s courage in trying to tackle the greatest novel of the 20th century, and doing so with such stylistic vigour.
A toss up between the heavily-congested, uninventive Now You See Me and the nonsensical R.I.P.D. Come on, Jeff. You’re better than that.
Wreck-It Ralph – I mean come on. In order to save the inexplicably adorable miniature version of Sarah Silverman from his own hubris he had to do the one thing he’d been fighting against for the whole movie? And the bad guy turns out to be not only a tragic figure but a potential future for the hero? And in a move so meta it had me waiting for the Achievement Unlocked chime, the glitchy little princess learns to love her glitch and & finds new life in the arcade as players flock to exploit it? Who wrote this? WHY AREN’T THEY WRITING EVERYTHING?
Iron Man 3 – Finally everybody gets some clever dialogue, instead of this just being the RDJ show. Which of course allows RDJ to steal the show fair and square by injecting some much needed fear and humanity into the tin man – all while paradoxically bringing us the most breath-taking display of superhuman feats this side of Will Smith in Independence Day.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – This movie is almost as good as the twelve minute supercuts of Jennifer Lawrence being adorable on YouTube.
Blue Is the Warmest Colour – Yeah, I came for the explicit lesbian sex. Just like the rest of you. But fuck if they don’t make you work for it. Fair warning, there’s some explicit wiener in there too. For real though this movie reminded me of that scene towards the end of The Prestige when Michael Caine and Hugh Jackman display what “the machine” does for their new theatre manager and he, taken aback, says “You’ll have to forgive me. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen… real magic”.
Before Midnight – This might be a bit of personal bias (Ethan Hawke is my spirit animal) but damn if this movie didn’t bring it all home for me this year. It’s a real study of growing up (they were thirty in the last one but still kids) and how it changes the dynamics between people – even star-crossed lovers. How responsibility can breed resentment and neglect can bring contempt. But also how that eternal kernel of love is always just waiting for a bit of heat – just a touch of friction and care. In much the same way that people grow and change over a lifetime, to the point that they might become unrecognisable compared to their younger selves – true love doesn’t fade, it grows.
Hours – The last movie Paul Walker would ever complete is made all the more tragic by the fact that in one of the first roles where he wasn’t a jock, surfer, racer or other macho archtype – he actually kind of shone.
He plays father to a newborn baby in New Orleans on the eve of Hurricane Katrina. The kid is born early, killing the mother, and has to be put on a ventilator – mere hours before the city is hit and all power goes out. As everybody, including the hospital staff, flees – Walker is left alone in his grief to take care of the baby he no longer wants. Then the generator dies.
What follows is a small but powerful story of a man overcoming loss and finding new purpose while fighting to survive in an increasingly hostile world. Not a bad sign-off. Way to drop the mic dude.
Man of Steel – This was not a Superman movie. Superman doesn’t kill, and Superman doesn’t allow people to die. Superman finds a way. This insistence on bringing all superheroes down to a relatable level is folly. One does not simply humanise their heroes. Like Jor El said in the trailer but apparently forgot in the movie, Superman is supposed to be an “ideal to strive towards”, not a conflicted murderer with daddy issues. Superman doesn’t compromise because compromise is a human conceit. Save your moral quandaries for Batman. He loves that shit.
Star Trek Into Darkness – This was not a Star Trek movie. It was barely a sci-fi movie. Star Trek is about the joy and wonder of exploration and discovery, not the awesome power of unstoppable superweapons and future soldiers. Those things exist in the Star Trek universe but they do not define it. Star Trek celebrates innovation and technological advancement. Star Trek Into Darkness uses both as tools for fear-mongering. Never has a Star Trek movie so completely missed the point of Star Trek. And I saw Nemesis. Twice.
1 – Fruitvale Station – A moving film that will leave you both angry and fulfilled. Michael B. Jordan is flawless here.
2 – Gravity – A satisfying plot that is improved by some of the most mesmeric visuals you’ll see anywhere for a long long time.
3 – The Act of Killing – Joshua Oppenheimer’s shocking documentary is one that will leave you sick to your stomach at such an amazing story. A story brilliantly told and one that had to be told.
Frances Ha – A quirky simple story that revolves around a struggling dancer in New York. No flash, full of exuberance, a beautiful performance by Greta Gerwig, one of the standout films of the year.
The O’Briens – One of the most lacklustre Irish films possibly ever, a straight to DVD mess that has absolutely nothing going for it. Don’t even bother!
1 - The World’s End – The World’s End marks the conclusion of a trilogy by the great Edgar Wright. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were always going to be hard acts to follow but this is a worthy finale. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are back and this time the dynamic duo are drinking themselves out of oblivion, saving the world one pint at a time. Plenty of laughs and some of the best fight scenes of 2013 make this a must-see.
2 - Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa - Even if you’re not a fan of Alan Partridge you’ll like this film. Alan is given his chance to shine in a tense hostage crisis at Norfolk FM. There’s none of the embarrassing awkwardness we usually get from Alan, but all of the jokes, plus bonus shotgun-wielding Colm Meaney!
3 - About Time - Ok, so it’s another by the numbers Richard Curtis film, but I happen to like that sort of thing, and Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams are adorable. You’ll laugh, you might even cry, what more do you want?
UNDER APPRECIATED GEM
Bachelorette - This got slated by the critics in the US and seemed to pass under the radar here; I missed it on first release anyway. When I finally got to see it on a plane over the Atlantic I laughed so much I got strange looks from the other passengers. Bachelorette boasts a great cast including Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan and the awesome Rebel Wilson. This is like Bridesmaids meets Girls only grittier and funnier. Just don’t watch it with your parents!
A Good Day to Die Hard – A Good Day to Die Hard or Die Hard 5, or Dear God why can’t they let this franchise die in peace?
Simon Killer - This dark and fascinating drama had a limited run only in the IFI this year but it deserves to be seen by a wider audience. Simon Killer also made the Irish Times top 10 of 2013 despite this. Brady Corbet gives a mesmerising performance as the deeply troubled Simon who after a break up travels to Paris to hang out and decompress. The film is a rarity in the plot moves along without any expectation or knowledge of what will come next. The film also features the best soundtrack of the year featuring Austra, Spectral Display and LCD Soundsystem for all your hip electro pop needs. Antonio Campos should be a talked about as a great breakthrough director with this electrifying film but sadly it may be relegated to cult status. Perhaps An American Sociopath in Paris is a more marketable title.
Blue is the Warmest Colour – Abdellatif Kechiche is one of the year’s most controversial but also the most beautiful. There are quieting moments of heart rendering tenderness, profound poignancy and lingering sadness which will echo in your bones for a long time. The three hour running time does not overstay its welcome. Shots and scenes play out in all their agonising glory. This is a film that one does not shake off in a hurry but one that will permeate for a long time.
Captain Phillips – Few films have managed to be this claustrophobically tense but director Paul Greengrass also gives us something to thing about and not just a clinic in movie thrills. He is course assisted by a thoughtful script from Billy Ray and the incomparable Tom Hanks doing his best work in a decade
We Steal Secrets/Mea Maxima Culpa – MVP of the year must surely go to Alex Gibney for his sheer output of exceptional work this year. 2013 has undoubtedly been a superb year for documentary features with other notable contenders The Act of Killing and Blackfish garnering great praise. However Gibney’s one-two punch to the Catholic Church and the American Military Industrial complex months apart from each other is too impressive to ignore. Both films use small stories to tell much bigger ones yet both are given equal compassion and care. The story of four deaf men who suffered sexual abuse as boys by the same priest and their quest for justice and Bradley Manning’s leaking of classified information to Wikileaks are both tales of human beings with their backs against the wall who show exceptional courage.
Nebraska - Alexander Payne delivers yet another flawless comedy drama where the laughs come as easy as the tears. Bruce Dern in what has to be the role of his career gives a moving and pitch perfect performance. The man once famous for killing John Wane onscreen may add Academy Award winner to his moniker. Nebraska features a truthfully touching and hilarious screenplay which will ring disturbingly true for most families. The supporting cast is also wonderful with Will Forte, June Squibb and Stacy Keach giving impeccable work.
A Late Quartet – The best ensemble of the year in a simple yet moving drama about the flux of a string quartet after a member suffers from Parkinson’s. Hoffman adds yet another subtly wonderful (and criminally overlooked) performance to a career full of them. Walken too gives a touching performance casting off the shackles of self parody that seem to tether the Academy Award winner from serious consideration.
Olympus Has Fallen – A film so devoid of any careful consideration and sheer stupidity which makes one feel a worse person having seen it. Gerard Butler is so terribly bad yet again that his stably bankable position in Hollywood remains a befuddling mystery. The film features one of the worst production designs of the White House in history. There are literally metres between the footpath outside the White House and its front door – the stupidity of which is staggering. The film also features torture, a comatose Morgan Freeman and Academy Award winning Melissa Leo being reduced to a bloody beaten pulp for no discernible reason other than: “Die Hard in the White House”. Olympus Has Fallen is an irretrievably ridiculous and vile excuse for entertainment.
Jason’s Picks: (which are so verbose as to merit their own post)
1 – The Act of Killing
2 – Blue Jasmine
3 – Before Midnight
4 – Upstream Color
5 – Good Vibrations
The Gareth Evans directed segment from VHS 2 ‘Safe Haven’ was terrific and well worth putting up with the rest of the nonsense. Check it out.
Only God Forgives
1 – Zero Dark Thirty – Katryn Bigelow’s story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, is a tour-de-force of direction anchored by Jessica Chastain’s brilliant central performance. The film is as dogged and determined as her portrayal and flies along as both plot and Chastain begin to unravel.
2 – Short Term 12 – Brie Larson is the key to engaging in this emotional roller-coaster of a film. If she was not up to the challenge then this could have been another made-for-TV special. Instead, due to her, it is an utterly compelling story of the struggle many kids and carers in foster-care system go through on a daily basis.
3 – The Act of Killing – Not for the feint of heart, The Act of Killing, is a raw, often brutal, reminder of the power of cinema. Joshua Oppenheimer’s study of former Indonesian death squad leaders as they recreate their “finest hours” is hard, but worthwhile, cinematic experience. This could easily become one of those films that could change your entire world-view.
4 – Frozen - Frozen is the long gestating Disney animated fable loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen . And boy was it worth the wait! Coupling stunning icy visuals with Broadway calibre songs, Frozen is an enchanting, emotionally charged tale of the power of sisterly love. Oh, and Olaf the talking Snowman is hilarious.
5 – No - This Chilean drama is the story of an ad executive comes up with a campaign to defeat Augusto Pinochet in Chile’s 1988 referendum. That might sound a bit dull, but the film is anything but. Captured on period film with a fantastic central performance from Gael-Garcia Bernal, this is a visual and narrative treat.
Bernie - Richard Linklater’s spin on the true-story of Bernhardt Tiede, a man so beloved by his community that they would forgive him for murder, is a wonderfully warm and layered film. Jack Black is a stand-out in the title role, giving a subtle and nuanced performance which is in stark contrast to his usual on-screen antics. Gather the family, grab the DVD and settle in for a black-comedy with a lot of heart.
R.I.P.D. – Ryan Reynolds needs to stop making comic-book movies, Jeff Bridges should know better , and somebody at the studio should have put some many aside to at least make a stab at decent CGI. A film that should have been Men in Black meets Ghostbusters instead turned out to be a dire waste of everybody’s time with easily the least convincing CGI seen on screen since the invention of the computer.
Paul’s Picks: (again the very verbose Paul gets his own post, so here’s just the list)
1 – Man of Steel
2 – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
3 – The Hobbit : The Desolation Of Smaug
4 – Captain Phillips
5 – Star Trek Into Darkness
1 - The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) - Paolo Sorrentino’s latest and best film is a marvel. Watching Rome’s wealthy elite through the tired eyes of Toni Servillo’s aging writer Jep, it’s no wonder much of Europe is in a mess. Hedonistic, unsympathetic and with little regard for the future, Jep seeks some beauty in his life. Sorrentino ensures he’s surrounded by beauty; the cinematography, soundtrack and dialogue are all ravishing, whilst its themes of money gone mad and upper-class indifference are scarily prescient. Sublime.
2 - Zero Dark Thirty - Bringing a human face to the world’s biggest manhunt, Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker is intense and challenging. Walking a fine line between truth and fiction, controversies about torture pale next to the intelligent script, the no-nonsense performances (Jessica Chastain particularly) and the brilliance of the final showdown. Riveting.
3 - Before Midnight - Another nine years and another wonderful sojourn with Jesse and Céline, arguably the finest romancers in modern cinema. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy know these roles inside out. Meanwhile, their script and co-writer/director Richard Linklater bring tensions, wit and warmth aplenty. Greek tragedy or a happy ending? Either way, this is a rare threequel that really works.
4 – Stories We Tell - It smells like a vanity project, but Sarah Polley’s documentary on the secrets and lies within her own family is a beautifully-judged reflection on the nature of truth and family. Centering around the life and loves of Polley’s mother, the narrative blends honesty in interviews with archive footage and a few surprises to create something genuine and genuinely remarkable.
5 – Blue Jasmine - Woody Allen’s makes his comeback proper with finest and sharpest film in fifteen years. Blending economic satire, class warfare and addiction-fuelled insecurity produces dangerous double-edged dialogue. Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett finds incredible depth and empathy in the role of Jasmine to produce the finest performance of her career. Beautifully bittersweet.
Also-rans: All Is Lost, The Act Of Killing, Blue Is The Warmest Colour
UNDER APPRECIATED GEM
Computer Chess - Oddball in all the right ways. Charming, funny and deliciously retro.
Runners-up: The Gatekeepers, The Selfish Giant, A Field In England, Prince Avalanche.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Adolescent. Dumb. Cheap. A waste of time.
Runnners-up: Only God Forgives, I’m So Excited!, The Hangover Part III, Pieta