We’re particularly thrilled at the groundswell of support for our number one movie of the year, which follows in the footsteps of past RS number ones that weren’t landing atop many lists in their day (2005’s The New World, 2008’s Flight of the Red Balloon, 2010’s Alamar, 2012’s The Deep Blue Sea). It’s a movie that stirred many of us to our core, while it left many others cold. The disparity of reactions to it reveals it as something more profoundly difficult and radical than any consensus choice should ever be.
The different periods in which The Grand Budapest Hotel is set are denoted by three aspect ratios: 2.35:1 for the modern material, 1.85:1 for 1968, and full frame 1.33:1 for 1932. (It has been heartening to see the incremental comeback of the “Academy ratio” box, in ravishing films like Miguel Gomes’s Tabu and Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida.) All of this signifies that The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t take place in the real Europe, so-called, but halfway between there and the Europe of the mediated imagination.
The Wind Rises takes its title from the Paul Valéry poem Le Cimetière Marin: “The wind rises! We must try to live!” Natural elements often manifest themselves as life forces in Miyazaki’s films, and here the wind is practically a separate character, bringing Jiro and Naoko together by blowing away their hats and parasols, only to later symbolize the couple’s tender fragility as specks fly and clouds dissipate in a vast field.
Looks can be deceiving in Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar. For instance, its protagonist is a baker, but he looks like a model. Actor Adam Bakri’s lithe, sculpted handsomeness is the first thing one probably notices about Abu-Assad’s follow-up to his minor 2005 festival sensation Paradise Now. It’s not beside the point to talk about Omar’s movie-star looks (or his fashionable and great-fitting jeans), because it’s the first indication of the smoothness and conventional aesthetics of this well-structured, compelling thriller, the political context of which both defines and helps it transcend its generic trappings.
More so than even Cristian Mungiu, Netzer appears to be the most narratively inclined of these otherwise contrasting filmmakers, and after picking up a handful of awards along the festival circuit, Child’s Pose is poised to become the most high profile Romanian film released in the United States since 2007’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Unfortunately, this attention to straightforward, mostly humor-deprived storytelling often sits uneasily with Netzer’s realist inclinations; while calling to mind some of the country’s initial 21st-century output, his style occasionally strains to bolster the gravity of the narrative.
Arnaud Desplechin’s Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian is a curious case: a scrupulously faithful adaptation of Georges Devereux’s influential work of psychology-cum-anthropology Reality and Dreams that toes a narrow, wobbly line between honoring and subverting traditional therapy’s reliance on the spoken word.
I’d say it’s a fine irony that a movie so determined to satirically skewer groupthink has generated so much of it. Except that The Lego Movie isn’t all that subversive in the first place, notwithstanding its startling opening passages, where armies of little yellow men and women goose-step stiffly and happily through their flawlessly visualized CGI universe, an image to bring Busby Berkeley and Siegfried Kracauer to the edges of their seats.
At once sinuous and almost mournfully droll, Vic + Flo Saw a Bear itself feels a bit like an obstacle course, setting up a number of genre elements (ex-con romance, end-of-the-line resignation, cat-and-mouse games, etc.) only to bob and weave around them. But the central characters are so palpably whittled down by outlaw exhaustion that these narrative switchbacks feel more genuinely disconcerting than the result of a prankish script.
Murmelstein didn’t made it into Shoah, perhaps because he was too strong a personality, perhaps because of the special moral fuzziness of his position: had he been presented as one more voice in that film’s vast catalogue of victims, bystanders, and perpetrators, it might have been harder to make out his strange status as none—and all—of the above. (Not that it’s especially easy to make sense of it now.) But he is the unequivocal star of The Last of the Unjust, an excitable, mesmerizing performer who plays with his legacy like an actor chewing scenery.
There is, then, a tension in Visitors—almost entirely absent from Koyaanisqatsi—between Reggio’s addiction to grand pronouncements and his more wholesome inclination to study, reflect, and observe. That said, the movie is still shot through with the quality that can make Reggio both so fascinating and so deeply off-putting as a filmmaker: the conviction that each of his shots comes pre-drenched with significance and urgency.
The political weight of representation inevitably bears down on the viewer of Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake, an explicit film about amorphous desire that unapologetically combines menace and eroticism, and daringly—and most alienatingly for those who want to be told what to think at the movies—it has no agenda at all. This thoroughly intoxicating experience manages to exploit sex without cheapening it, interrogate without demonizing it.
Paulina García took home the prize for best actress at the Berlin Film Festival, and while there’s nothing overtly cynical or calculated about her performance, there’s something about both the role and the acting that screams “tour de force!” That they do so in a kind of harmony is testament to the cleverness of the film’s writer-director.
If one reads August: Osage County more as a literal tale of a hostile, dysfunctional family struggling through a terrible reunion than as a purposely theatrical work and a thematically loaded tale of demonic American inheritance then it may just come across as silly. Letts’s thunderous plotting guarantees that Wells’s film will be at least intermittently compelling, and the actors undoubtedly relish the juicy roles handed to them, yet, predictably, another magisterial work of theater has been reduced to a showcase for histrionics.
At the end of Casino, the invisible hands of big finance have moved in to take over the gambling industry, pushing out the skill man, the small-time criminals who worked with their hands to build a dream from nothing. That film ended on a shot of the now corporate-owned MGM Lion; the first image in The Wolf of Wall Street is a lion padding through the Stratton Oakmont offices in a commercial. The insidious power of forward progress, and the easy corruptibility of those who manage and manipulate it is the subject of The Wolf of Wall Street, but it is still telling that Scorsese’s chosen to use as a guide an underdog of a sort.
Biggest Critical Head-Slapper, Worst Font, Most Leering Camerawork, Best Opening and Closing Shots, Most Defensive Director, Worst and Best Supporting Actress, Best Serious Scene in a Comedy, The Annual Alfred Molina Award for Overacting, Longest Movie, Best Bad Sex, and so much more. Au revoir, 2013!
A preface, as always, is in order. Because Reverse Shot is not made up of weekly film critics, we don’t have to see the unspeakable garbage that explodes like diarrhea on 3000-plus screens every week. The latest installments of Die Hard, Grown-Ups, The Hangover, and the like therefore went mercifully unseen by most of us. Thus our annual Offenses list is never designed to be a definitive compilation of the truly “worst” movies of the year, but rather a reminder of the handful of movies that lodged in our heads like bundles of earwig larvae.
Her is the first of Jonze’s films to wear its heart more or less on its sleeve, unfiltered through any source texts or self-referential meta devices. It might also be the first of his films to rely heavily on the context of the moment in which it was made, which makes it much harder to evaluate with any perspective. Once we get some distance from the movie’s fears about the effect of technology on human relationships, we might be able to say with greater confidence how well Jonze understands people—or, for that matter, relationships.
The opening title card reads “Some of This Stuff Actually Happened,” which is a good joke except that Michael Bay got there already earlier this year in Pain and Gain. Anyone who’s ever wondered whether the perennially sprung, lunatic quality of Russell’s characters was a case of authorial self-deprecation or self-flattery will find a pretty definitive answer here: American Hustle is the work of somebody angling to be received as a virtuoso outlaw sweetheart—just like the smooth operators onscreen.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a remarkably unromantic film about the solitary wanderer. A lack of sentiment and a disinterest in perpetuating hoary myths have always partly defined the Coens’ films, but perhaps because of the backdrop here—a time and place that often invites simple nostalgic rhapsodizing—this new film feels even more pronounced in its refusal to engage with cliché. The touchstones and signifiers of early sixties Village life are seen as though from a rear-view mirror.