A strange year for me personally and professionally. Living in Cornwall now and finishing my doctorate means I’ve missed many films that would normally have contended but getting a job teaching film at a university has reinvigorated my love of cinema and leaves me excited for 2014, a year in which I hope to return more frequently to the pages of DN. Damn doctorate!
This year however still contained some absolute gems and as ever it was tough to get it to 10. Also as ever, I only included films released theatrically in the year, rather than films seen at festivals, it’s just how I roll. People say as ever, “oh cinema isn’t as good nowadays”, but I think the films on this list, and doubtless those across the DN 2013 canon will prove that idiocy wrong, again.
10. LEVIATHAN | Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel
Motorik, experimental – at times it feels like a Stan Brakhage film, jarring, monotonous and jaw-dropping it is a hypnotic account of life aboard a sea trawler. It conjures the same tone and feeling as both Humphrey Jennings and David Lynch as it captures the feeling and the sense of life on board, which says more than talking heads and inter-titles could. A fantastic example of using the form to do more than just relay information and instead search for a deeper truth.
9. GRAVITY | Alfonso Cuarón
I can’t imagine ever watching this film when it wasn’t on a big screen in 3D. It’s a complete site-specific piece of virtuosity. Incredible spectacle and exercise in adrenaline and tension creation. A rare modern example of a film utilising the uniqueness of the theatrical experience. Proof that there are legs in the multiplex beast yet, given the right level of imagination.
8. THE WAY WAY BACK | Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
I have so much love for this movie. Genuinely funny, it avoids cliché by using nuance and heart to cover familiar scenarios with fresh and different takes. Also, it has the performance of the year by Sam Rockwell who is hilarious and magnetic and elevates the film from decent coming of age to something incredible. A memorable summer romance family comedy that will grow in stature over the years. Mark my words.
7. PRINCE AVALANCHE | David Gordon Green
David Gordon Green beautifully marries his indie sensibilities with his recent Hollywood goofball output in an anti-road movie that is a funny and sweetly moving account of strangled masculinity. Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch are a superb pair and the moving scene where Rudd helps a woman search for her pilot’s license is one of the best in any movie this year.
6. A FIELD IN ENGLAND | Ben Wheatley
Part horror, part road movie, part heist movie, all bonkers. It manages to traverse so many genres and tones and somehow never tips over into home movie re-enactment through a sheer force of cinematic will and devil may care ballsyness. It’s so refreshing to see a British film of such darkness and imagination that dared to be different. ….. repeat viewing.
5. SILENCE | Pat Collins
This Irish road movie following a sound designer as he tries to record silence traces the path from Berlin to a remote island off Donegal and becomes a film about memory, place and acceptance. Beautifully shot and glacial it’s a stirring paean to stoic philosophy of finding peace within and realising that who you are, is who you will be. Beautifully elegiac film making.
4. A HIJACKING | Tobias Lindholm
Captain Phillips got the plaudits and the column inches but this indecently gripping Somali pirate drama got there first and is a balanced and excruciating exercise in realism. The film captures the gruelling length of time the negotiations take and the dehumanising effects on everyone involved including those thousands of miles away in an office. Yet another piece of brilliant Danish drama.
3. AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS | David Lowery
The majority of critics compared it to Malick, suggesting it was Badlands-lite which does this sumptuous Southern Gothic crime tale a massive injustice. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are extraordinary as young bank robbing lovers separated by prison. An extraordinary exploration of how time, and time apart, can be the enemy of passion. Also my favourite score of the year.
2. THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN | Felix Van Groeningen
This was just pipped by Upstream Color at the last minute. This Belgian Bluegrass tragedy was the most shattering cinematic experience of the year. It’s an utterly devastating drama about the loss of a child that through its construction manages to be sexy and funny while also powerfully suggesting that some events cannot be overcome. Also features incredible music and the year’s best tattoos.
1. UPSTREAM COLOR | Shane Carruth
It’s called baggage or they’re called demons but it’s really just experience and Shane Carruth’s beautiful and moving exploration of broken people trying to reclaim their lives is visually stunning, aurally spectacular soulful science fiction. It’s a visceral overwhelming experience that is pure cinema. Movement and moments. There was nothing else like it this year for aesthetic wonder and strange, inexplicable emotional resonance.