Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ten Favorite Films of 2013

These are the films I liked the most this year. I'm hesitant to call this a Top Ten list because I haven't seen everything yet. 

10. American Hustle (David O. Russell)
I actually thought this film was a bit of a mess, narratively, but it was so entertaining. It really proved that cinema's best special effect is still an actor or actress, delivering movie star chops.

9. Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg)
This mumblecore-ish, improvised film started a little slow, but by the end, I was fully invested in the lives of the film's four main characters.

8. 56 Up (Michael Apted)
Michael Apted's documentary series is in its 49th year, chronicling the lives of ordinary citizens. It's a remarkable piece of filmmaking.

7. Her (Spike Jonze)
I thought I'd like it more, but I liked it a lot. Maybe it didn't go far enough for me in terms of exploring what a romantic relationship with an operating system means, but what was there on the screen was pretty flawless. Touching, cerebral, and a fully possible vision of the future (high-waisted pants!).

6. Frozen (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)
Disney's best animated film in years. Broadway-style songs, great story, and two of the biggest narrative surprises I encountered in a film this year.

5. Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron)
The ride of the year. A huge leap in special effects, and an emotionally satisfying story.

4. The World's End (Edgar Wright)
The third of the Cornetto trilogy is Edgar Wright's and Simon Pegg's deepest film yet. And Pegg, as a wrecked man trying to relive his glory days is one of my favorite performances of the year.

3. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
This deserves to win the Oscar. Stunning depiction of Solomon Northrup's journey to a terrifying alternate reality that turns out to be his own country.

2. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
After seeing this sad, perfect third film (I'm hoping for more than a trilogy) in a series, I went back and watched Before Sunrise again, and marveled at how deeply Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy inhabit Jesse and Celine.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis (The Coens)
In some ways, the Coen Brothers' film this most reminds me of is Miller's Crossing, my favorite. A cold tale about a man trying to figure out where his heart lies. I keep thinking about it, and that cat.

And a special prize goes to Scapegoat (Charles Sturridge).
This was a TV movie in the UK in 2012, but it is just now available here on Netflix, and I enjoyed this film as much as I enjoyed anything in the theaters last year. Based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel of the same name, Matthew Rhys plays a mild-mannered classics teacher who meets his doppelganger, an aristocratic thug. They switch places, and the film alternates between comedy, romance, suspense and tragedy. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Two classic fugitive novels

For a while now I've been working my way through the generally accepted crime classics. I happened to get these two novels from the library at the same time. They have a lot in common. Early seventies. Debut novels. Both turned into iconic films. Both about men on the run. And they're both excellent reads, never mind the fact that the man on the run book (or woman on the run, although I can't think of one of those right now) is one of my favorite storylines.

James Grady's 1974 Six Days of the Condor is about a desk-bound CIA agent analyst who is suddenly being hunted by the agency he works for. It's a pretty exciting, quick read, although the cutaways to the CIA agents tracking down the hero were less exciting than the rest of the book.

The 1972 First Blood was my favorite of the two. Just an unrelenting story about two war veterans caught in a no-win situation. This, of course, produced the more famous movie of the two, but the film, while following the essential plotline, is pretty different. Read this, if you haven't. A very dark thriller.