Intercut’s Best of 2013
The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and Anonymous)
Inundated with explosions, car chases, aerial shots of heroes leaping between helicopters, it’s easy to become numb to something like murder. Even genocide.
This is where documentaries such as this find their power. Where killing in our society has become common place, losing its power with every gunshot fired across every silver screen, an elderly man dry heaving on a roof-top reaches back and reclaims that severity — that hint of reality that screams at the horror, that brings us face to face with a murderer to whom killing has become nothing if not ordinary. And the horror of discovering he is not some grandiose villain, but just a normal man.
Bastards (Claire Denis)
Certainly the most accessible of Denis’ films while still a challenging narrative that combines some great elements from the vulgar seventies neo-noir with Denis’ elusive film style. It’s difficult to create a more hopeless ending than Arthur Penn did in Night Moves (1975) but Denis accomplished that and more in this film. Bastards shows how depraved the generic thematics of noir can spiral into a nihilistic abyss in the same way that Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Touch of Evil (1958) demonstrated this potential in the fifties.
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
It’s fitting that a trilogy based on real-life romance — from its long shots to its seemingly extemporaneous dialogue — should end in a way so real: Not in a fairy tale castle with servants and happiness seeping between the cobblestones, but in a van, with an ex-wife, and a quarrel. Where previous movies kept the struggle between the two smoldering between the lines, here the row rests squarely in front of the audience. Is fighting in a relationship necessary? Does that mean that love has failed?
The only answer the movie gives? It’s the reality.
Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland)
Comedy of manners set in a post-production studio for a giallo called The Equestrian Vortex which eventually spirals into a breakdown between fact and fiction. Even though this film deals with the mechanics of sound design it has more in common with Barton Fink (1991) than Blow Out (1981). The lead character is a Harry Caul-like expert technician that slowly becomes absorbed in the post-production while his manners become transformed in the process. His trajectory corresponds to the increasingly experimental dissolution of sound and image until his body becomes united with the image of himself projected on the cutting room screen.
Blue is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche)
The controversial film from Abdellatif Kechiche is voracious. From food to sex, to swaying asses and mucus, all filmed in extremely long takes, this film captures, devours, and displays as much as it can, leaving everyone and everything in its wake spent, exhausted, overstimulated…and content.
The Dirties (Matt Johnson)
This film won Best Narrative Feature and the Spirit of Slamdance Award at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival. The Dirties is a no-budget film that tackles the contested topic of bullying in schools and school shootings in innovative ways, not the least of which were the challenging production that the filmmakers overcame to get this film made.
Drinking Buddies (oe Swanberg)
Joe Swanberg is often associated with the mumblecore movement but Drinking Buddies extends beyond that movements notable features by employing well-known actors and using naturalistic cinematography. This film takes place in a Chicago microbrewery and the main characters are employees who, with access to free lager, tend to drink too much, perhaps to dilute the melancholia created by unrequited love. In the end, Drinking Buddies answers the age-old question as to whether men and women can be just friends, and the answer it gives is “no, not really.”
Drug War (Johnnie To)
To’s first crime film shot in mainland China is a cold and calculated take on the methamphetamine smuggling industry in China. Full of intrigue, double-crosses, precise geometric inspired shoot-outs shot with To’s masterful craft, and a fantastic set of characters. Drug War is a must-see from this director, rivaling the excellence of Exiled (2006) and Breaking News (2004).
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
A film inspired by Truffaut and Rohmer’s New Wave work, the power couple turned creative team of Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach created an endearing low-budget black and white film about the difficulty of being an artist without a trust fund in New York. Gerwig is in every scene in this minimalist narrative and is simultaneously awkward, annoying, funny, cute, and charming, much like the film itself.
How I Live Now (Kevin Macdonald)
A film in the vein of recent works like Chronicle (2012) and Attack the Block (2011), How I Live Now is an adaptation of the prize winning novel of the same name. This film is a terrific example of the potential for tasteful and stylistic film with a modest budget dealing with contemporary youth in fantastic and horrible scenarios.
Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami)
Never has the influence of Tati and Antonioni been so evident in Kiarostami’s work than in Like Someone in Love without being derivative of those two masters. Cell-phone calls, sitting in the back of a cab in Tokyo, missed connections, new friends, jealous lovers, and nosy neighbors are all used to explore people striving for a connection and recognition from others.
Night Across the Street (Raul Ruiz)
Ruiz remains one of the most criminally underrated directors from the last twenty years. For someone with his amount of output (119 credits as a director from 1963 to his posthumous films) it is baffling why he has not gained more recognition. However, Ruiz’s penchant for non-confrontation effaces many of the tropes of conventional films is certainly one reason why his worked is not covered, and another reason might be that his films are extremely difficult to categorize. Night Across the Street is less-experimental than some of his more audacious efforts that have come before but it is no less engaging and thought-provoking. This film deals with the real and imaginary memories of Don Celso, an elderly office worker, and the tenuous boundary Ruiz uses for the real and the fantastic erodes, turning the film into a free-form exploration of personal memory and history.
Passion (Brian De Palma)
Marketed as a remake of Alain Corneau’s Crime d’Amour (2010) while turning out to be something entirely different. Passion is another cinema-cannibalizing treatment of suspense, classical mise-en-scene inspired by the best of Hitchcock, and self-plagiarism by one of the most cinephilic directors in the world. References upon references stitched together with De Palma’s expert visual craft makes Passion one of the most intriguing and entertaining releases to come out this year.
Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve)
French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve makes his first American-studio film, a patient combination of thriller and procedural. The A-list ensemble cast is underutilized, only Jackman and Gyllenhaal are given enough screentime, but Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the unusual Detective Loki is inspired. Rain streaked windows dominate Roger Deakin’s spectacular cinematography.
Sightseers (Ben Wheatley)
Director Ben Wheatley’s film is a black comedy in which lovers bludgeon their way across the British countryside, caravan in tow. The couple, attempting to enjoy the pastoral beauty, begin murdering compatriots they find inconsiderate. An undercurrent of class rage buoys the film.
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)
There are many things to appreciate in Spring Breakers. I’m sure many viewers delighted in seeing tween-idols efface their scot-free depictions and partake in this ecstatic sexploitation romp. Others will be attracted to the crude satire of the spring break culture in southern America. What was ultimately most exciting about this film was how Korine manipulated images and sound to produce a mesmerizing meditation on American culture.
Images digitally transform into breasts, asses, and miscellaneous youthful debauchery cut to a mantra-like soundtrack that ultimately makes Spring Breakers less of a calculated satire of a ridiculous American tradition and more like a vulgar, experimental, free-associating exploration of bodies, desire, violence, and fate.
Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie)
Guiraudie’s new thriller about a cruising nude-beach has been favorably compared to Hitchcock by many fans of the film. Closer to early Polanski or Chabrol’s thrillers from the sixties, Stranger by the Lake is tense and insightful film about loneliness and love. Full of graphic, simulated sex scenes that will certainly turn off many viewers off, even though they are not gratuitous in the least, this film looks into how morals become secondary when someone is longing so much for a connection that they can forgive even murder.
Sun Don’t Shine (Amy Seimetz)
The film is the directorial debut of the multi-talented Amy Semeitz, who starred in Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color (2013). He returned the favor by executive producing Sun Don’t Shine. The claustrophobic, noir takes place in steamy Florida, Semietz’s home state. Actress Kate Lyn Sheil’s physical performance drives the work, and her delivery of the last line of the film is one to remember.
A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhang-ke)
Using the wuxia genre to explore class conflict and alienation in contemporary China, A Touch of Sin presents narratives lost between the various digital feeds that provides us with the daily news. Truths are delivered and genre conventions are stretched beyond their ideological limits in this masterful exploration of violence and oppression. Jia’s venture into new territory is not a sign of him “selling out” but rather it demonstrates his desire to explore different cinematic storytelling methods available. Jia is just as committed to exploring contemporary social structures and the way the underprivileged experience alienation and anomie as he was before.
You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Alain Resnais)
Resnais is 91 years old and still making great films that explore the boundaries between the real and fantastic. You Ain’t Nothin’ Yet is a film about performance and imagination and it requires active audience engagement; passive spectators are not invited to the party.
Contributors: Caleb Caswell, Curtis Alexander, and Cody Lang.