BEST TEN FILMS OF 2013

Like I’ve said numerous times before, 2013 was a spectacular year for movies, especially with the slate of films that were released in the fall.  It was excruciating to compile this list, let alone conclude on ten films.  Most likely, this list will change throughout the years, but for now, here are my ten favorite films of 2013.

10.  PRISONERS

Seeing this film before even knowing what it was about, I was thrown into a dark and morally conflicting world where we dive into child abduction and kidnapping in a painful and humanistic manner.  Denis Villeneuve’s direction, Roger Deakins’ cinematography, and Aaron Guzikowski’s tightly written script works in all manners, creating an thriller wrapped within multiple themes of religion, tragedy, and what we’re willing to do for our own family, even if it’s criminal.  PRISONERS is a refreshing take on cliche genre, and is a multiple viewing considering how dense the film is.  I specifically love Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performances, and this cast works very well together.  It’s a film that deserves more recognition and is an entertaining but an investigation on the relationship between action and reaction.

9.  THE PAST

In simple words, Asghar Farhadi, the director of THE PAST, is a genius.  The way we layers his films, creating an intimate world between a facet of characters all intertwined within difficult relationships.  This film, another dense and pact cinematic experience, is the epitome of careful and detail outlining with the pace moving beautifully and slowly revealing the truth about the overlying situation and the reality of these flawed characters.  It’s an immense accomplishment, surrounding itself with multitudes of conflict, and the infatuation we as humans have with our past and its inability to propel ourselves to progress.  It’s a film many should watch, and can help us understand ourselves in ways that we may never have wanted to discover.  That’s the purity in cinema.

8.  STORIES WE TELL

The best documentary I’ve seen this year is STORIES WE TELL created by the talented Sarah Polley, and it’s obvious why I would appreciate a film like this.  The story, being centered around her family’s ill-structured dynamic, it’s another tale of misfortune, reveling in the past, and the ability to let go.  There are multitude of revealings that happen throughout the film, and once they all hit, the message works so well in tune, emphasizing how truth is as fragmented as our own stories, only connecting to what our memory serves us to remember.  It’s a great work of art, and I hope this film moves towards legendary status.

7.  GRAVITY

A roller coaster ride of an experience with an emotional punch packed within, GRAVITY, Alfonso Cuaron’s most recent picture, is something to behold.  The visuals on this film will easily be regarded as the best that’s ever been done, but the film doesn’t work just because of its special effects, but it’s hinged on Ryan Stone’s growth into surviving and living, rather than peacefully disappearing from existence.  The entire film is a metaphor to how tragedy can inflict our souls, and how we have two options to make: either to overcome or to wither.  Stone’s surmounting hurdles and obstacles are life’s way of making things never easy, but the power of motivation and the will to live can overcome, and the way it all works together creates a powerful and moving piece of work.

6.  THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

The most polarizing film of 2013, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a grand example of a mastermind and auteur of everything cinema.  Yes, it’s a hypnotic and gratuitous watch, infused with sex, drugs, alcohol, and all kinds of debauchery that posts a lost ability to reflect but more to just witness.  But the film is a satire and a commentary of all things evil, and the methods these scums of the States have used throughout time to steal from whoever they can manage.  But we don’t see the victims because Jordan Belfort doesn’t see the victims.  We don’t see character growth because there is no character growth.  We see only one perspective, the shallow and inconsiderate kind, which of these men, to, at the end of day, realize that this kind of life is fraudulent and unkind to all involved.

5.  HER

This is the love story of our generation, our inability to discover true and human relationships, and rely on our computer screens or iPhones to fulfill the emptiness within our souls.  HER is a reflection on our society’s infatuation with illusion, the mere existence we share with someone on the other side.  Spike Jonze creates a world where this has become the standard, not just acceptable behavior.  The film is based in the very near future, not resembling a vast different skyline of Los Angeles or greater technology.  But the near future is a reflection of how close we are to actually falling in love with our computers, and finding our strongest connection with software.  If we really think about it, the behavior we exhume is awkward and definably questionable, but those who dissociate themselves from it are almost looked at outcasts.  HER, with a simple touch of human love and how conflicted we are as people, is an incredible achievement in story telling.  Hail all parties involved as this film will last throughout time.

4.  12 YEARS A SLAVE

Eloquent, graceful, distant, and emotionally careful, 12 YEARS A SLAVE will be the most important film that has come out in the 2000s.  Steve McQueen’s direction is clearly felt, easily having a large creative hand in how the product eventually results.  You’ve got one of the great ensembles piece of the year, with each performance pulling its weight and taking us on this journey of Solomon Northup.  It takes a few viewings to truly understand the grandness of it all, to appreciate the exact execution it took to pull of a passionate, moving, and somber tale one man’s story in a culture that has haunted American history.  It deserves Best Picture, not just for how great the film is, but for important it will be to finally reward this kind of artistry tackling an issue that should’ve been tackled a long time ago.

3.  BEFORE MIDNIGHT

In my opinion, the greatest trilogy I’ve ever seen, BEFORE MIDNIGHT is the icing on the cake, the completed work of three progressive films that get better and better.  A simple and private story of two people falling in love, it’s a realistic but yet also hopeful take on relationships and how love, as twisted as it is, is the only thing we really have in this world that stays throughout time.  Richard Linklater, with the writing aid of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (who play the leads) have enabled us with a new range of filmmaking, ignoring the cliche rules and standards of new age American cinema, allowing us to divulge in words and their eloquent ways of expression.  It’s a study that should be constantly taught in film schools and all media classes as the epitome of risky story telling.  It works so well, and is one of the best films of 2013.

2.  SHORT TERM 12

The battle between #1 and #2 was as difficult as ever, but in the grand scheme of things, both films will be in my all time favorites so it’s really a redundant conversation, but it shows just how good SHORT TERM 12 really is.  It’s a film that nails the honesty and the truth of disturbed and pained children and teenagers, and how the victimization of innocence is what truly ruins this country.  But really, it’s a story of appreciation and finding the good in people.  Stripping away all reputation and background from an individual, and giving each and every person a chance is what’s important here.  Destin Cretton does an invaluable job of displaying these difficult stories where tortured teenagers must find ways to survive, regardless of it being healthy or legal.  The performances from each member of its cast including Brie Larson, Keith Stanfield, and John Gallagher Jr. are all essential components to this vast success of storytelling.  It’s a film that I’ll show my kids, and I hope they’ll show theirs.  It’s a recommendation I’ll always make to people because it’s a true human story, and regardless of what we have or haven’t gone through, we can all understand the difficulties of living with pain, no matter how small or big we think they are.  SHORT TERM 12 is a film you must watch.

1.  BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR

It’s hard to really explain my love for this film, from its grand themes of love, identity, individualism, and the road to happiness, but each and every individual that has seen this film has its own personal affection for it and with very good reason.  It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen.  It’s a visual display of the power in sexual chemistry, and how overpowering it can be to find love within our physical hunger and appetite.  It’s a thesis of conversations ranging from the beauty of art, the difficulties of maturity, literature, food, and all things important in our daily lives.  It’s a reflection of relationships, and how there’s always that one person that has captured our breaths in ways that no other partner ever has.  It creates this small, intimate world of Adele that infatuates our need to find and discover.  Not just in our sexual exploration or our human interactions, but within ourselves, and to find what completes us and makes us whole.  To label this film a “sex infused lesbian movie” is unjust and unfair.  The film is so much more than that, and deserves an audience willing to explore these thoughts and ideas that provide great detail of the difficulties of living.

One can only hope 2014 emulates something similar to 2013.  What a great year for cinema.

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Surviving the Telluride Film Festival & Its Life-Changing Moments

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This is an extremely late post, considering its been almost three weeks now since the 40th Annual Telluride Film Festival has closed shop.  There is not enough time or words to describe the entire experience, that’s something very few people will have enough patience to ever hear or understand.  I’ve been meaning to try and express it all in a blog post, but I feel that I may write a novel instead of an entry.  But simply put, Telluride easily changed my life, but in very particular ways.

First off, Telluride is a such a beautiful pure place.  Surrounded by mountains, rivers, and some of the most picturesque landscape I’ve ever seen, it amazes me that a legitimate film festival takes place every year there.  Not necessarily because of its small size or its intimate community, but mainly how polarizing it sometimes feel to be spending most of your hours watching a screen instead of soaking in the outdoors.  You compare that to the typical nature of American cinema, that clash like two trains heading in different directions.  But then the beauty of Telluride and its correlation with the festival is the emphasis in the art.  I heard so much about how TFF is all about films and nothing else.  No press, no paparazzi (except from the passholders), and no bullshit.  The focus here is about movies, and the purity of the festival goes hand-in-hand with the purity of the town.  It’s such a revelation to experience something like this, where the combination of two such important aspects is a small glimpse of heaven.  I mean, who can ask for anything better than movies and nature?  It’s a rare equation that works so beautifully, and just having that kind of atmosphere alone made the whole trip worth the money and the journey (though it wasn’t as difficult as one would presume).

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The symposium itself was quite the interesting experience, as I’ve never been engaged in such intense and diverse discussions about the artform.  I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t necessarily all positives for me, as I needed time for myself to just contemplate and divulge through my own meditative ways, but overall, the privilege of watching a wide range of films from different countries and cultures with an immensely intelligent and thought-provoking group was a huge blessing.  Being thrown into a room full of people you’ve never met before, it’s uniqueness is understated and is easily worth the application process.  The people in general were pleasant and gave me ton of perspective.  I learned so much that I thought my head was going to explode, and one day I literally thought I was going to pass out.  Though there were struggles with certain criticisms, strong-armed opinions, and a sense of film snottiness that almost overpowered the entire week, at the end of the day, it was such a rarity to be given such a gift that I felt nothing more than just overall gratitude to be a part of it all.  Everyone comes in with different backgrounds, understandings, cultures, beliefs, etc.  Then add in the particular trait of passion and love for film, you get a melting pot of ideas and opinions that always provide for some mind-bending conversations.  As an aspiring writer, there’s nothing better more important than listening to people.  It’s one of my most important activities and methods that I partake in in regards to inspiration and the creative spirit.  Perspective is such a crucial part of my writing identity, mainly because I don’t want rely on my own to be the main source of material.  I may not have gotten much progress done specifically with my own stories or work, but being part of the symposium opened my eyes in so many ways and in so many different levels.

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What I really adored however was the symposiums with the filmmakers and discussing with the symposium alumni.  With the former, it was unreal hearing Asghar Farhadi or Werner Herzog talk about films, their methods, and how the process works for them.  To be given an opportunity to just sit down in a classroom and just listen to these incredible individuals speak was indescribable.  When would I get an opportunity to ask questions to Ken Burns or Steve McQueen (this was during a public discussion for the entire film festival)?  In general, the festival is so intimate that filmmakers, actors, and directors all rub shoulders with the general public, which in itself is amazing.  Watching Jason Reitman get sent to the back of the line for Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known was hilarious and mind-blowing at the same time.  Sitting next to Alexander Payne and talking to him for about 10 minutes with a fellow student before the Polish film Ida (which was one of my favorites of the entire festival) was truly a special moment in my life.  Discussing movies with these immaculate and talented people gave me a real sense of normality to them.  Yes, they are some of the most renown faces of film and the entertainment industry, but they are also human beings.  They have their families, their own hobbies, and their own lives to take care of, and the way they get their films made in as much of a struggle as it is for us lowly folk to just break in.  Nothing comes easy in this line of work, and if you really want it, you must work your ass of constantly and you must stay committed to it.

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Though talking to celebrities and filmmakers was exciting all in itself, being able to talk to the past student symposium participants and see where their lives have taken them was also just as gratifying.  Being given advice, seeing their line of work, and just speaking honestly with more mature and wiser individuals was so important.  I learned and took away so much from them, and regardless of how far these relationships will take me, that time I got to spend with them was itself one of the more important memorable experiences that I had at Telluride.  These people have so much to say, and sometimes people don’t give them the time of day, but it just showed me the necessity I need to have in being open and be willing to connect with an array of people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, etc.  But all those supposed barriers aside, and just connect with another person.  That was special, and I hope to continue to build off of what I learned from that.

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There were many instances and moments throughout those six days that I wish I could overly dissect and share, but I’m getting a headache just thinking about Telluride (in a good way).  From waiting in lines and talking to random strangers, taking a hike and witnessing Telluride’s beauty from up above, riding the gondolas at 1 a.m. after Blue Is The Warmest Colour screening (my favorite film of the festival), and running through a rain storm after the Punch Brothers concert where we were a few meters away from the Coen Brothers.  It doesn’t get much better than the Telluride Film Festival.  As an aspiring writer and filmmaker, I learned and took away so much that adds to my motivation, my necessary involvement in this line of work, and just who I am as a person and how that reflects what I want to create.  Take all the run-ins and pictures, the films, and all the people that I met away from me, I still will have gained something so precious, which is a better sense of identity.  I know myself better, not just from a writer or filmmaker’s point of view, but my own satisfactions in life and what I want to pursue and achieve.  Watching The Past and discussing such deep conversations with Farhadi revealed to me how much I want to share his emphasis in humanity and the individual’s story.  Talking briefly with Alfonso Cuaron and how much he cared about the smaller films allowed me to understand that the superficial benefits like box office returns, critical acclaim, and awards are not the priorities in filmmaking.  The foundation should always be in the story and in the art, regardless of how successful or disappointing the result may be.  And most importantly, be proud and honest to who you are.  Don’t shy away from the things you enjoy or like just because the majority may not support those arenas.  Standing on your own two feet and weathering whatever comes at you is such a vital ability, not just as an artist, but as as a person in general.  There’s always going to be negativity, disinterest, and lack of support from different groups of people, but the person you must be most connected to and support is yourself.  There’s always room to be better, but let that journey take its own pace, and constantly grow in ways that will help you.

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The untold theme of the festival was easily survival, as films like All Is Lost, Gravityand 12 Years A Slave obviously take its specific theme.  But all the other films that played through Telluride told survival stories about love, passion, identity, family, structure, etc.  It’s not just about surviving and weathering the storm, but it’s about the aftermath, and how you as a person will stand.  In all these films, the protagonists attached themselves to one specific thing that kept them going.  If it was from family, their significant other, fame, or freedom, it pushed them to not quit but strive for their goals.  Telluride has given me such an experience where I’m ready to not just survive, but so excel and succeed in writing, film, and as a person.  And success as an individual doesn’t come from fame, money, or qualifications, but through my own character.  Though I dreaded the end of September (because I have no clue what I’m doing next), fear is not an option anymore, and I’m excited for where the road leads.

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(I will blog about the films on the next post).